July 31, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:35 PM


America's Age of Denial: If you told me on October 22, 1962 that America's most formidable enemy in 2008 would be Iran, I would have been flabbergasted." (Tom Engelhardt, July 31 , 2008, Mother Jones)

Thanks largely, however, to one man, Gorbachev, who consciously chose a path of non-violence, after four decades of nuclear standoff in a fully garrisoned MAD (mutually assured destruction) world—and to the amazement, even disbelief, of official Washington—the USSR simply disappeared, and almost totally peaceably at that.

...but that bit is priceless. There was, of course, one official in Washington who wasn't at all surprised that Reaganism had finished off the USSR.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:30 PM


Joe Klein on Neoconservatives and Iran (Jeffrey Goldberg, 29 Jul 2008, Atlantic)

Has profanity ever sounded more like a desperate need to seem macho? And don't we have a pretty standard name for people whose hatred is directed at Jews?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:01 PM


Obama's best strategy? Attack: McCain's 'maverick' myth and ties to Bush should be prime targets. (Jonathan Chait, July 31, 2008, LA Times)

Here's the likely rationale: The public, by a wide margin, wants a Democrat to win the presidency. So all Obama has to do is make himself acceptable and he'll win. Hence the focus on building up his own credentials rather than tearing down McCain.

Perhaps that sounds familiar. Let me refresh your memory: it was the John Kerry campaign strategy in 2004. Four years ago, the conventional wisdom had it that a majority of the voters would reject President Bush, so winning was just a matter of Kerry proving himself as an alternative. People "are looking for some change," one pollster put it at the time, "but the change has to be acceptable. John Kerry has to prove he is acceptable."

So rather than attack Bush, Kerry focused on defining himself. The Democratic National Convention was a model of civility and positive focus. The Republican National Convention, on the other hand, was a full-throated assault on Kerry. I don't need to remind you how it all turned out. [...]

To go on the attack, Obama doesn't need to engage in character assassination and baseless charges, as his opponent has done. All he needs to do is stop letting McCain paint a wildly distorted self-portrait.

Except that it isn't a self-portrait but his public persona, thanks in no small part to folks like Mr. Chait who thought he made a good foil to W. Now the public knows who Maverick is and he has tremendous leeway to go negative. No one, on the other hand, has any idea who the Unicorn Rider is, so if he goes negative that is their perception of him. The comparison to John Kerry is precise. Democrats just keep nominating these liberal ciphers and the GOP just keeps eating their lunch.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:40 PM


America's $53 trillion jumbo loan: The next president and Congress must not let the national debt surprise the country the way the subprime crisis did. (The Monitor Editorial Board, August 1, 2008)

It's true that the $482 billion deficit chasm estimated for fiscal year 2009 doesn't look so deep when taken as a percentage of the overall economy – 3.3 percent of gross domestic product compared to the 1983 nadir of about 6 percent.

But this is just one "mortgage" that the federal government (i.e., taxpayers) must meet. It owes on all the deficits it has accumulated over the years (the national debt), and it has jumbo liabilities to come in the form of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

Adding all those liabilities together, the government has dug itself into a $53 trillion fiscal hole – the equivalent of $175,000 per person living in the United States.

Meanwhile, we've built a $56 trillion mountain of household net worth. We could pay off all the debts and fund all the liabilities and have $3 trillion left over, it just wouldn't make a lick of economic sense to do so.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:30 PM


America's Politically Correct Recession (James Pethokoukis, 7/31/08, US News)

[I]n short, the past four quarters were 4.8 percent, -0.2 percent, 0.9 percent, and 1.9 percent (the last one possibly with a bullet). That certainly does not meet the rule-of-thumb recession definition—back-to-back negative quarters. Nor do those numbers meet the recession definition of the National Bureau of Economic Research unless the economy totally falls off a cliff from here on out.

But so what? Let's just come up with any definition we want to meet our political objectives or justify our recession predictions. Take a look at this howler from the economic consulting firm Global Insight. (Generally, I like its work very much.) According to Chief Economist Nariman Behravesh, "Based on these numbers, it is a safe bet that the domestic economy (excluding net exports) has been in recession since the end of last year."

Oh, that's right—exclude exports. It's not like the ability to sell your wares to the rest of the planet is important. The fact is, net exports had their strongest showing since 1980, adding 2.4 percentage points to real GDP growth. But ignoring inconvenient numbers is so much easier when the opposite reality would serve you so much better.

...that when the final numbers are all in--some time around 2018--the 4th quarter will have been negative.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:59 PM


The HSA Revolution That’s Already Here (John Berlau, 7/28/08, OpenMarkets.org)

The new book America’s Health Care Crisis Solved has been praised as providing a detailed, free-market solution for healthcare’s future. This it does, but what’s almost as fascinating about the book is its description of what is going on in the present, with consumer-driven health savings accounts (HSAs). Almost without notice, HSAs have grown dramatically and have solved for millions of Americans the problem of healthcare’s lack of portability.

First, some background. In the 2003 law that was rightly derided for massively expanding Medicare with a new prescription drug benefit was a separate section that let many more working-age people to take advantage of HSAs. This provision allowed any adult under 65 to open a savings account for medical expenses that receives much of the same special tax treatment as employer-based health care.

As a result of this change, you can qualify for an HSA by getting health insurance with at least an $1100 deductible for individuals or a $2100 deductible for families. So long as you don’t have another insurance policy, you can get a tax deduction for contributing up to $2900 for an individual or $5800 for a family to an HSA. Or your employer can contribute some or all of that amount. In either case, the money grows untaxed and can be withdrawn tax-free for health-care expenses.

And unlike the old flexible spending accounts, which you have to “use or lose” by the end of the year, an HSA can accumulate interest, dividends and capital gains year after year for 20, 30, or even 40 years until you reach the age of 65. And the same insurance policy remains in your hands regardless of whether you change jobs or become self-employed.

The book’s authors — insurance entrepreneur J. Patrick Rooney and longtime HSA advocate Dan Perrin — marshal impressive statistics to shatter critics’ myths that HSAs are only used by the young, wealthy and healthy. Citing statistics from eHealthInsurance.com, the authors note that more than 40 percent of HSA buyers had incomes lower than $50,000 a year, more than 50 percent were age 40 and older, and one-third had been previously uninsured.

And there has been a seven-fold increase to 3.2 million people with HSAs since just after the program began in 2004. In an interview with Open Market, co-author Perrin notes that, by contrast, it took several years to get to just one million individual retirement accounts after those were created.

In the interview, Perrin also credited HSAs with widespread innovations in the health care market. He says that the “minute clinics” that offer cheap and convenient medical services at Wal-Mart and other stores came about in part because of cost-conscious consumers with HSAs. When the government levels the health insurance playing field and consumers are spending their own health care dollars, market innovations arrive that make health care cheaper and better, just as other technologies and services have become cheaper and better when the consumer is in charge.

Much more could be done, Rooney and Perrin write, by the government, employers and insurance companies to make HSAs more accessible. HSA insurance premiums should be made tax-deductible, just as employer-provided insurance premiums are. But HSA have proven themselves as a way of dealing with the costs of U.S. healthcare by empowering patients, rather than empowering governments and limiting choices as socialized medicine does.

...but it does generally take them this many years to figure these things out also.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:16 PM


Conservative Critics of Modernity: Can They Turn Back the Clock? (Robert P. Kraynak, Fall 2001, First Principles)

It is not easy to be a conservative in the modern world. In fact, it takes a high degree of moral courage, for conservatives are almost always on the defensive, fighting for causes that seem hopeless or lost because they go against the most powerful currents of the modern age.

In praising the courage of conservatives, I am referring primarily to cultural rather than to economic or political conservatives. The proponents of free-market capitalism and limited government that are today called conservatives (in the economic and political sense) actually enjoy a certain momentum in their favor so they need not think of themselves as defenders of lost causes. But cultural conservatives are different. They are die-hard adherents of religious, philosophical, and artistic traditions that are out of place in the modern world. They are like dinosaurs who inexplicably missed the mass extinction sixty-five million years ago. As creatures from another era, cultural conservatives were not made for modern civilization and do not fit into the universe of respectable opinion. This gives them the distinction of being the last genuine radicals, and usually makes them the most interesting figures in today’s intellectual circles. To these wonderful pre-historic creatures, I would like to offer some words of encouragement by sketching a broad picture of modern culture that indicates why History is not as overpowering as it sometimes seems to be and why, in the long run, traditional patterns of culture are favored by the natural order of things and even by divine providence.

Let me begin with a simple definition: Cultural conservatives are those daring thinkers who are willing to question the basic assumption of historical progress—the assumption that the modern world as it has developed over the last four hundred years in the West (and now around the globe) is superior in decisive respects to all the civilizations of the past. This question has been raised by many great cultural conservatives and answered in a variety of provocative ways.

One striking example is the Russian writer and former dissident, Alexander Solzhenitsyn; he is a cultural conservative who shocked his audience during the Harvard Commencement Address of 1978 by asking if Western civilization took a wrong turn at the time of the Renaissance when it replaced God-centered societies with Man-centered societies, producing a world of secular humanism that now appears to be spiritually exhausted. Another great thinker who could be classified as a cultural conservative is Leo Strauss whose scholarly writings are dedicated to reviving classical Greek philosophy as a genuine alternative to modern philosophy—a proposal that implies no real progress in philosophy has occurred since its peak 2,400 years ago.

Other cultural conservatives look to the Middle Ages as the high point of Western civilization: For example, Henry Adams, who preferred Gothic cathedrals dedicated to the Virgin Mary to the dynamo of the industrial revolution. Or traditional Catholics, who think that Latin Scholasticism is the peak of Christendom. Or Eastern Orthodox believers, who believe that monasticism and the centuries-old liturgy are the authentic sources of Christian spirituality. Orthodox Jews are also cultural conservatives because they believe that traditional Judaism, faithful to the divinely revealed Mosaic Law, is superior to Reform Judaism. And one should not forget America’s Southern Agrarians, including Richard Weaver, who held fast to the conviction that the Old South, despite the evil of slavery, represented a higher civilization than the more “progressive” industrial and commercial society of the North.

Reflecting on these examples, one may infer that cultural conservatives are driven by a profound dissatisfaction with the modern world and look to the pre-modern world for sources of inspiration, especially for models of lost greatness. The root of their dissatisfaction is the belief that modernity does not constitute unmixed “progress” over the past because the advances in freedom, material prosperity, and technology that we presently enjoy are offset by a decline in the highest aspirations of the human soul—in the aspirations for heroic virtue, spiritual perfection, philosophical truth, and artistic beauty. Seen in this light, modernity is not superior to past civilizations because it has ushered in an un-heroic age. It has sacrificed the highest achievements of culture for a more equitable and secure but more prosaic existence that, in the last analysis, is not justified because it has lowered the overall aim of life and debased the human spirit. [...]

To illustrate the way cultural conservatives might challenge the present order and recover enduring patterns of human nature, I would like to speculate about four idols of the modern age—democracy, women’s “liberation,” modern art, and modern science. Contrary to conventional wisdom, I doubt that these phenomena are as inevitable or as desirable as most people have been led to believe by the dogma of historical progress.

Heck, three of the icons have already been clast, but while Europe demonstrates the reason monarchical republics are preferable to democracies, we're not going to win that one.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:13 AM


Nearly Half of U.S. Adults Now Applaud the Iraq Surge (Lydia Saad, 7/31/08, Gallup)

A new USA Today/Gallup poll finds nearly half of Americans saying the U.S. troop surge in Iraq, now over, has made the situation there better, up from 40% in February and just 22% a year ago. Accordingly, the percentage believing the surge "is not making much difference" has declined from 51% a year ago, and 38% in February, to just 32%.

Poll Shows Obama’s Lead Narrowing in Swing States (Brad Haynes, 7/31/'08, WSJ: Washington Wire)
Quinnipiac University’s latest swing-state polling suggests that Barack Obama’s foreign tour didn’t help him at home.

Since the last Quinnipiac poll six weeks ago, Republican presidential candidate John McCain has pulled within the poll’s margin of error in Florida and Ohio and halved Democratic candidate Obama’s lead in Pennsylvania. In both Florida and Ohio, 46% of likely voters supported Obama compared with 44% for McCain, while Obama leads McCain 49% to 42% in Pennsylvania, down from a 12-point lead in June.

The polling was conducted during and after Obama’s trip to Afghanistan, Iraq, elsewhere in the Middle East and to Europe.

The funniest response to the McCain comparison of Barrack Obama to Britney and Paris Hilton is that he's trying to play on fears of black men preying on white women. Do they really not get that the point is he's a bubble-gum pop star and completely unthreatening? It's an attack on his manhood, not flattery of same.

On the other hand, Friend Perlstein is quite right to note the overtones of Triumph of the Will. Obamism is, after all, pretty much just a cult of personality--though on issues of race and abortion and euthanasia and the like his views too bear comparison to the party of Applied Darwinism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:20 AM

WELL, 40% DEAD (via Jorge Curioso):

The Death of Protestant America: A Political Theory of the Protestant Mainline (Joseph Bottum, August/September 2008, First Things).

America was Methodist, once upon a time—Methodist, or Baptist, or Presbyterian, or Congregationalist, or Episcopalian. A little light Unitarianism on one side, a lot of stern Calvinism on the other, and the Easter Parade running right down the middle: our annual Spring epiphany, crowned in bright new bonnets.

The average American these days would have ­trouble recalling the dogmas that once defined all the jarring sects, but their names remain at least half alive: a kind of verbal remembrance of the nation’s religious history, a taste on the tongue of native speakers. Think, for instance, of the old Anabaptist congregations—how a residual memory of America’s social geography still lingers in the words: the Hutterites, Mennonites, and Amish, set here and there on the checkerboard of the nation’s farmland. The Quakers in their quiet meeting­houses, the Shakers in their tiny communes, and the Pentecostals, born in the Azusa Street revivals, like blooms forced in the hothouse of the inner city.

And yet, even while we may remember the names of the old denominations, we tend to forget that it all made a kind of sense, back in the day, and it came with a kind of order. The genteel Episcopalians, high on the hill, and the all-over Baptists, down by the river. Oh, and the innumerable independent Bible churches, tangled out across the prairie like brambles: Through most of the nation’s history, these endless divisions and ­revisions of Protestantism renounced one another and sermonized against one another. They squabbled, sneered, and fought. But they had something in common, for all that. Together they formed a vague but vast unity. Together they formed America.

In truth, all the talk, from the eighteenth century on, of the United States as a religious nation was really just a make-nice way of saying it was a Christian nation—and even to call it a Christian nation was usually just a soft and ecumenical attempt to gloss over the obvious fact that the United States was, at its root, a Protestant nation. Catholics and Jews were tolerated, off and on, but “the destiny of America,” as Alexis de Tocqueville observed in 1835, was “embodied in the first Puritan who landed on those shores, just as the whole human race was represented by the first man.”

Even America’s much vaunted religious liberty was essentially a Protestant idea. However deistical and enlightened some of the Founding Fathers may have been, Deism and the Enlightenment provided little of the religious liberty they put in the Bill of Rights. The real cause was the rivalry of the Protestant churches: No denomination achieved victory as the nation’s legally established church, mostly because the Baptists fought it where they feared it would be the Episcopalians, and the Episcopalians fought it where they feared it would be the Congregationalists. The oddity of American religion produced the oddity of American religious ­freedom.

The greatest oddity, however, may be the fact that the United States nonetheless ended up with something very similar to the establishment of religion in the public life of the nation. The effect often proved little more than an agreement about morals: The endlessly proliferating American churches, Tocqueville concluded, “all differ in respect to the worship which is due to the Creator; but they all agree in respect to the duties which are due from man to man.” The agreement was sometimes merely an establishment of manners: “The clergy of all the different sects hold the same language,” he added. “Their opinions are in agreement with the laws, and the human mind flows onward, so to speak, in one undivided current.”

Morals and manners, however, count for a great deal in the public square, and, beyond all their differences, the diverse Protestant churches merged to give a general form and a general tone to the culture. Protestantism helped define the nation, operating as simultaneously the happy enabler and the unhappy conscience of the American republic—a single source for both national comfort and national unease.

We tend to remember the Mainline as the strong, unified denominations that emerged from the 1910s through the 1950s: Presbyterians, Methodists, Lutherans, and so on; their churches gently jostling one another along the pleasant, tree-lined streets of the typical American town. But the madly splintering sects that Tocqueville saw in the 1830s—they, too, are what we might stretch to call the Mainline, for even at its greatest, the undivided current of Protestantism never reached the ecclesial unity of a single church. It achieved, instead, a vocabulary: a way we had to understand ourselves outside our political struggles and economic exchanges.

Think of the American experiment as a three-legged stool, its stability found in each leg’s relation to the other legs. Democracy grants some participation in national identity, an outlet for the anxious desire of citizens to take part in history, but it always leans toward vulgarity and short-sightedness. Capitalism gives us other freedoms and outlets for ambition, but it, too, always threatens to topple over, eroding the virtues it needed for its own flourishing. Meanwhile, religion provides meaning and narrative, a channel for the hunger of human beings to reach beyond the vanities of the world, but it tilts, in turn, toward hegemony and conformity.

Through most of American history, these three legs of democracy, capitalism, and religion accommodated one another and, at the same time, pushed hard against one another. There’s a temptation to call Protestant Christianity the most accommodating religion ever known, but, again and again, the churches managed to withstand the politics and the economics of the age. Indeed, what made them good at accommodation was also what made them good at opposition: In the multiplicity of its denominations, Protestantism could influence the nation in churchly ways without actually being a church—without being a single source of religious authority constantly tempted to assume a central political and economic role.

The great fight to abolish slavery, or women’s suffrage, or the temperance struggle against the Demon Rum, or the civil-rights movement: Every so often, there would explode from the churches a moral and prophetic demand on the nation. But, looking back, we can now see that these showy campaigns were mostly a secondary effect of religion’s influence on America. Each was a check written on a bank account filled by the ordinary practice and belief of the Protestant denominations.

As it happens, the denominations were often engaged in what later generations would scorn as narrow sectarian debates: infant baptism, the consequences of the Fall, the saving significance of good works, the real presence of the Eucharist, the role of bishops. And yet, somehow, the more their concerns were narrow, the more their effects were broad. Perhaps precisely because they were aimed inward, the Protestant churches were able to radiate outward, giving a characteristic shape to the nation: the centrality of families, the pattern of marriages and funerals, the vague but widespread patriotism, the strong localism, and the ongoing sense of some providential purpose at work in the existence of the United States.

Which makes it all the stranger that, somewhere around 1975, the main stream of Protestantism ran dry. In truth, there are still plenty of Methodists around. Baptists and Presbyterians, too—Lutherans, Episcopalians, and all the rest; millions of believing Christians who remain serious and devout. For that matter, you can still find, ­soldiering on, some of the institutions they established in their Mainline glory days: the National Council of Churches, for instance, in its God Box up on New York City’s Riverside Drive, with the cornerstone laid, in a grand ceremony, by President Eisenhower in 1958. But those institutions are corpses, even if they don’t quite realize that they’re dead. The great confluence of Protestantism has dwindled to a trickle over the past thirty years, and the Great Church of America has come to an end.

And that leaves us in an odd situation, unlike any before. The death of the Mainline is the central historical fact of our time: the event that distinguishes the past several decades from every other ­period in American history. Almost every one of our current political and cultural oddities, our contradictions and obscurities, derives from this fact: The Mainline has lost the capacity to set, or even significantly influence, the national vocabulary or the national self-understanding.

The nation has passed through even harsher ­periods, of course. In 1843, for instance, the Antislavery Society adopted a resolution that famously read, “The compact which exists between the North and the South is a covenant with death and an agreement with hell.” But since the 1970s, we have faced a unique kind of political dilemma, in which no agreement can be reached even on the terms by which we will disagree with one ­another.

Notice, for instance, how quickly these days any attempt to speak in the old-fashioned voice of moral criticism turns sour and bitter—segueing into anti-Americanism, regardless of its intentions. Many Americans are profoundly patriotic, no doubt, and many Americans are profoundly critical of their country. We are left, however, with a great problem in combining the two, and that problem was bequeathed to us by the death of Protestant America—by the collapse of the churches that were once both the accommodating help and the criticizing prophet of the American ­experiment. [...]

In 1948, as he completed his draft of the U.N.’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Canadian law professor John Humphrey went home and noted in his diary that what had been achieved was “something like the Christian morality without the tommyrot.”

That seems a nearly perfect phrase: Christian morality without the tommyrot. Humphrey meant, of course, all the unnecessary accretions of prayer and miracles and faith and sacraments and chapels. But the phrase might be the motto of all who answer surveys by saying they are “spiritual, but not religious.” It might be the motto of all who have a vague and unspoken—indeed, unspeakable—feeling that it is somehow more Christian not to be a Christian.

It might even be the motto of the Mainline churches today. Of course, without all that stuff about God and church, the morality proves to be empty: cups for us to fill with almost any meaning we want—which, in the actual give and take of public life, will almost always be political and economic meaning. In other words, having gotten rid of all the tommyrot, the liberal Protestant churches can at last agree in nearly every particular.

Unfortunately, they obtained their ecumenical unity at the price of abandoning most of the religious work that ecumenism was supposed to advance. Indeed, the churches’ desperate hunger to mean more in politics and economics had the perverse effect of making them less effective opponents to the political and economic pressures on the nation. They mattered more when they wanted to matter less.

Social nature abhors a social vacuum, and the past thirty years have seen many attempts to fill the place where Protestantism used to stand. ­Feminism in the 1980s, homosexuality in the 1990s, environmentalism today, the quadrennial presidential campaigns that promise to reunify the nation—the struggle against abortion, for that matter: Leave aside the question of whether these movements are right or wrong, helpful or unhelpful, and consider them purely as social phenomena. In their appearance on the public stage, these political movements have all posed themselves as partial Protestantisms, bastard Christianities, determined not merely to win elections but to be the platform by which all other platforms are judged.

Look at the fury, for instance, with which environmentalists now attack any disputing of global warming. Such movements seek converts, not supporters, and they respond to objections the way religions respond to heretics and heathens. Each of them wants to be the great vocabulary by which the nation understands itself. Each of them wants to be the new American religion, standing as the third great prop of the nation: the moral vocabulary by which we know ourselves.

Just as religion is damaged when the churches see themselves as political movements, so politics is damaged when political platforms act as though they were religions. And perhaps more than merely damaged. Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, the killing fields of Cambodia, the cultural revolution in China: We had terrible experiences in the twentieth century when political and economic theories succeeded in posing themselves as religions.

We’re not on the edge of something that frightening today. But the death of Protestant America really has weakened both Christianity and public life in the ­United States—for when the Mainline died, it took with it to the grave the vocabulary in which both criticism and support of the nation could be effective.

That vocabulary was incomplete in many ways, and the churches often failed to provide true Christian witness. But in its everyday practice, Protestantism nonetheless gave America something vital: a social unity and cultural definition that did not derive entirely from political arrangements and economic relations. And America gave Protestantism something in return: a chance to flourish without state interference, a freedom to fulfill the human desire for what lies beyond the material world.

Among conservative Christians, much attention is devoted to the question of whether the hole in public life can be filled by either Catholicism or the evangelical churches. I have my doubts. The evangelicals may have too little church organization, and the Catholics may have too much. Besides, both are minorities in the nation’s population, and they arrive at our current moment with a history of being outsiders—the objects of a long record of American suspicion, which hasn’t gone away despite the decline of the churches that gave the suspicion its modern form.

Perhaps some joining of Catholics and evangelicals, in morals and manners, could achieve the social unity in theological difference that characterized the old Mainline. But the vast intellectual resources of Catholicism still sound a little odd in the American ear, just as the enormous reservoir of evangelical faith has been unable, thus far, to provide a widely accepted moral rhetoric.

America was Methodist, once upon a time—or Baptist, or Presbyterian, or Congregationalist, or Episcopalian. Protestant, in other words. What can we call it today? Those churches simply don’t mean much any more. That’s a fact of some theological significance. It’s a fact of genuine sorrow, for that matter, as the aging members of the old denominations watch their congregations dwindle away: funeral after funeral, with far too few weddings and baptisms in between. But future historians, telling the story of our age, will begin with the public effect in the United States.

As he prepared to leave the presidency in 1796, George Washington famously warned, “Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.” Generally speaking, however, Americans tended not to worry much about the philosophical question of religion and nation. The whole theologico-political problem, which obsessed European philosophers, was gnawed at in the United States most by those who were least churched.

We all have to worry about it, now. Without the political theory that depended on the existence of the Protestant Mainline, what does it mean to support the nation? What does it mean to criticize it? The American experiment has always needed what Alexis de ­Tocqueville called the undivided current, and now that current has finally run dry.

It seems, rather, that something quite different has happened. While both the Catholic Church and the Jewish state have been Americanized/Reformed--with a Tocquevillian Pope and a post-socialist Israel--a portion of the American electorate has become secularized/Europeanized, so that there is an internal anti-Americanism. But this is not a sudden fissure that has opened. After all, the coastal elites have been hostile to Kansas since at least the Scopes trial.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:51 AM


Factors that Improve Online Experience (Sathish Menon and Michael Douma, Idea.org)

Executive summary

This report outlines key findings from surveys that explored factors that drive online experience as expressed by the three different subject groups – nonprofit organizations and cities, web designers and firms, and the general public. The survey’s major findings are:

* Designers underestimate the thresholds for an effective site. Respondents consider a site “effective” when visitors are satisfied with respect to enjoyment, can find information somewhat easily, and never get lost in the site. By at least one point on a five-point scale, visitors have higher expectations for effectiveness than do designers. Nonprofit organizations believe that effective sites do not have “information gaps between what visitors want and what the site provides” and that visitors are at least “somewhat satisfied” with their sites. Designers should give greater consideration to overall effectiveness, thereby reducing the chance of failure for a user to find the information they seek.

* Easy access to complete information is key to visitor enjoyment. All three survey groups believe that the ease with which visitors can find information and the ability to maintain orientation is critical to enjoyment. Both organizations and visitors believe that reducing the gap between what web sites provide and what visitors seek is critical to enjoyment. These variables explain 25% to 30% of the variance in visitor enjoyment; hence, ease of finding information is an important foundation for most sites.

* Good visual design and up-to-date information are critical. Over 80% of designers and organizations believe that good visual design is important. A healthy 50% of the visitors agree. Fully 80% of visitors and organizations believe that up-to-date information is very important. Only 60% of designers believe that to be the case. When budgeting for your project, don’t be overly seduced by fancy graphics and multimedia. Invest in strong, clear design and simple methods to quickly deliver current information to your visitors.

* Visitors want information fast. Web site visitors are looking for simple, accurate, fast, and easy to navigate web sites - preferably with links to information they seek. A significant number of comments revolved around the need for speedy access, including but not limited to download speed, in order to find the information visitors are looking for. Even in a broadband age, visitors value fast sites, both those that are fast loading and those that quickly deliver sought-after information.

* Visitors want a broad range of topics. Relative to designers and organizations, visitors more strongly believe that a broad range of topics is important. Visitors believe sites can be more effective by helping visitors find interesting information - even if they are not looking for it. Designers and content developers can provide ample sidebars that link to other recommended pages, and extensively cross-link to other pages based on keywords.

* Designers are overly optimistic about visitors’ ability to maintain orientation. In the survey, the ability to maintain orientation was defined as visitors’ ability to know “where they are, where they can go next, and which pages are related.” About 70% of designers believe that visitors are almost always able to maintain orientation. That drops to about 30% when non-profit organizations express their view. In contrast, only about 10% of visitors report being able to almost always maintain their orientation. Fewer than 5% report that they tend to get lost frequently. Said another way, your visitors don’t know your site as well as you do, so make sure it is obvious how to find information through meaningful menus, prompts, and not too much clutter.

* Visitors still need handholding. The study asked about hypothetically providing visitors with personal assistance using a site. About 70% of organizations and visitors believe that a personal guide would increase the effectiveness of a web site. Only about 50% of designers believe the same. Designers tend to overestimate the clarity of their designs.

* Visitors point to the lack of breadth and depth of site content as causing an “Information Gap.” Although over 90% of visitors say that they are able to find the information they are looking for, over 50% report that there is a gap between what they are looking for and what typical web sites provide, and 60% think that a personal guide would help them navigate web sites. The reported gap is negatively correlated to visitors’ ability to find information, and positively correlated to the need for a local search engine. This indicates that most web sites are unable to provide the breadth of information that visitors seek. Visitors often request broader and deeper information, when in fact they need to find existing information more easily.

Unfortunately, designers are generally more interested in their design than in the users' experience. We've always tried to keep things as simple as possible here, but suggestions for further simplification are always welcome. Suggestions for complexification aren't.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:31 AM


Nurse gave wrong woman abortion (BBC, 7/18/08)

A nurse who gave a chemical abortion to a patient who had only come for a consultation has been cautioned.

Ann Downer, based at the Calthorpe Clinic in Edgbaston, Birmingham, failed to check the woman's personal details before giving her the drug.

The woman was recalled when Ms Downer realised her mistake but the drug had already taken effect.

The Nursing and Midwifery Council said she could keep her job but would have a caution on her record for three years.

It's the blasde tone of the story that's most chilling.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:28 AM


Pushover parents to blame for generation of children who 'lack discipline and moral boundaries', says teachers' leader (Laura Clark, 30th July 2008, Daily Mail)

A decline in parenting skills has created a generation of children without moral boundaries, a teachers' leader has said.

Philip Parkin warned that teachers are increasingly forced to discipline bad behaviour and take on the role of bringing up children because parents too often pander to their demands.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:20 AM


A Truman for our times: The received wisdom is that President Bush has been a foreign policy disaster, and that America is threatened by the rise of Asia. Both claims are wrong—Bush has successfully rolled back jihadism, and the US will benefit from Asian growth (Edward Luttwak, August 2008, Prospect)

Until 9/11, Islamic militants, including violent jihadists of every sort, from al Qaeda to purely local outfits, enjoyed much public support—either overt or tacit—across most of the Muslim world. From Morocco to Indonesia, governments appeased militants at home while encouraging them to focus their violent activities abroad. Some, like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) funded both militant preachers and armed jihadists. The Saudis financed extremist schools in many countries, including the US and Britain, and had thousands of militant preachers on the payroll in addition to writing cheques for jihadists in the Caucasus, Pakistan and a dozen other places (although not to Osama bin Laden himself, their declared enemy). The UAE rulers who now talk only of their airlines and banks are reliably reported to have handed over sackfuls of cash to Osama in person, meeting him at Kandahar's airfield when flying in to hunt endangered species. Saudi Arabia and the UAE were also the only countries that joined Pakistan in recognising the Taliban as the legitimate rulers of Afghanistan. Other Muslim governments, notably Sudan, Syria and Yemen, helped jihadists by giving them passports and safe havens, while others still, including Indonesia, simply turned a blind eye to Islamist indoctrination and jihadist recruitment.

Other than the Algerian and Egyptian governments, every Muslim state preferred at least to coexist with militant preachers and jihadis in some way. Pakistan did much more than that; its Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, funded, armed and trained both the Taliban in Afghanistan and thousands of jihadists dedicated to killing Indian civilians, policemen and soldiers in Kashmir and beyond.

All this came to an abrupt end after 9/11. Sophisticates everywhere ridiculed the uncompromising Bush stance, "Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists," as a cowboy stunt, but it was swiftly successful. Governments across the Muslim world quickly changed their conduct. Some moved energetically to close down local jihadist groups they had long tolerated, to silence extremist preachers and to keep out foreign jihadis they had previously welcomed. Others were initially in denial. The Saudis, in the person of interior minister Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz, started off by denying that the 9/11 terrorists were Arabs, let alone Saudis, while the UAE princes accused of giving cash to Bin Laden pretended they had never heard of him.

Denial did not last. As they saw American special forces and long-range bombers smashing the Taliban, the Saudis began to admit responsibility for having spread extremism through the thousands of schools and academies they financed at home and abroad. An agonising reappraisal of their own Wahhabi form of Islam continues. The Saudi king has convened an inter-faith conference of Muslims, Christians and Jews—a huge step given the Wahhabi prohibitions of any form of amity with non-Muslims. Inside the kingdom, only less extreme preachers now receive public support. Bin Laden had been the Saudis' enemy for years, but it was only after 9/11 that they began actively to hunt down his supporters and made their first moves to discourage rich Saudis from sending money to jihadists abroad. More than a thousand Saudis have been arrested, dozens have been killed while resisting arrest, and Saudi banks must now check if wire transfers are being sent to Muslim organisations on the terrorist list.

In different ways, other governments in Muslim countries all the way to Indonesia also took their stand with Bush and the US against the jihadists, even though jihad against the infidel is widely regarded as an Islamic duty. Suddenly, active Islamists and violent jihadists suffered a catastrophic loss of status. Instead of being admired, respected or at least tolerated, they had to hide, flee or give it up. Numbers started to shrink. The number of terrorist incidents outside the war zones of Afghanistan and Iraq keeps going down, while madrassas almost everywhere have preferred toning down their teachings to being shut down. In Indonesia, the largest Muslim country, the dominant association of imams condemns all forms of violence without exception.

But it was in Pakistan that Bush forced the most dramatic reversal of policy. He had said that it was with us or against us, and he meant it. President Musharraf was given a stark choice: stand with the US to destroy the Taliban that Pakistan itself had created, or be destroyed. Musharraf made the right choice, shutting down the flow of arms to the Taliban, opening the Shahbaz airfield to US aircraft and giving blanket permission for US military overflights across Pakistan. Nothing will stop the North-West Frontier Province from being as violent as it has been since the days of Alexander the Great. Nothing can dissuade the Pashtuns from their twin passions for boys and guns. And naturally they approve of the Taliban on both counts. But at least the Pakistani state is no longer funding these pederasts. Musharraf also started to remove the bearded extremists who once practically ran Pakistan's ISI, starting with the chief, Mahmood Ahmed, who was replaced within a month of 11th September by the moderate Ehsanul Halqas. It has been less easy for Musharraf and his acolytes to identify and remove the more subtle smooth-shaven extremists in the ISI, who still support the renascent Taliban, but they tried hard enough to trigger at least one of the assassination attempts against Musharraf himself.

What happened in Pakistan within 24 hours of 9/11 was something the world had never seen before: the overnight transformation of the very core of a country's policy—the support of jihad—which derived from the national myth of Pakistan as the Muslim state par excellence. It was as if President Bush had sent an envoy to Italy to demand the outlawing of spaghetti al pomodoro—and succeeded.

Yet one hears well-informed people casually remark that Bush's war on terror has been a total failure. This is not just political prejudice; after all, the dog that does not bark is not heard. But one need not be Sherlock Holmes to recall that 11th September was meant to be the beginning of a global jihad, with a 12th September, 13th September, 14th September and so on.

Not that al Qaeda itself could do it—its one shot had been fired. But the destruction of the twin towers inspired thousands of young Muslims to go down to the local Islamist prayer hall to offer their services to jihadists. The Koran, after all, explicitly promises victory in all things to the believers, making Muslim weakness the source of agonising, if unspoken, doubts about the credibility of the faith itself. That is the true source of the resentment that no policy accommodations in the middle east could possibly assuage. And it was those doubts that induced not only the hapless Palestinians but even westernised, affluent, wine-drinking Tunisians to celebrate the television images of 9/11 with tears of joy, and that of course made Bin Laden the first pan-Islamic hero since Saladin.

The destruction of the twin towers was therefore the most powerful possible call to action. It was quite enough to trigger not just a Madrid, a London or a Glasgow attack, but many more in Europe alone. The main target, however, was bound to be the US itself, as well as American tourists, expatriates, business residents and, naturally, any troops anywhere.

Instead, the global jihadi mobilisation, triggered by post-9/11 enthusiasm for Osama bin Laden, was stopped before it could gain any momentum by all that Bush set in motion: the destruction of al Qaeda training bases in Afghanistan, the killing or capture of most of its operatives, and, most importantly, the conversion of Muslim governments from the support of jihad to its repression.

...but he gets the bigger argument right. For the comparison to be valid W would, of course, have had to accept al Qaeda control of several billion people.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:59 AM


Red Sox, Marlins, Pirates talk three-way trade (Ken Rosenthal, July 30, 2008, FoxSports.com)

In one proposed scenario, the Marlins would trade outfielder Jeremy Hermida and a prospect for Ramirez, and the Red Sox then would flip Hermida and prospects to the Pirates for left fielder Jason Bay and possibly left-handed reliever John Grabow.

The players in the deal, however, remain fluid, according to the source, who described the names as "not set."

Two prominent Marlins prospects who have been mentioned — Class AA right-hander Ryan Tucker and Class A outfielder Michael Stanton — will not be in the trade, Marlins sources said.

For Bay, the Pirates presumably would need to exceed the offer they received from the Braves last week — Class AAA outfielder Brandon Jones, Class AAA shortstop Brent Lillibridge and two pitchers in the low minors.

The Red Sox and Marlins have yet to notify the commissioner's office that they have a deal in place, two sources said. Approval from the commissioner is required for any trade that involves a cash transaction of more than $1 million.

...but why would you then deal Hermida for the same player six years older? [Hermida is the archetypal Sox player, having walked 111 to 389 at-bats in 2005.]

This seems like nothing more than a three-way for the sake of complexity that Michael Lewis notes, in Moneyball, is characteristic of these baseball brights.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:36 AM


Anne Armstrong, Presidential Adviser and Pioneering Politician, Dies at 80 (WILLIAM GRIMES, 7/31/08, NY Times)

Mrs. Armstrong was a prominent figure in Texas and national Republican Party politics when she was appointed counselor to Nixon in 1973. She was the first woman to be named to the cabinet-level position.

In that job, she became highly visible for her willingness to face hostile audiences as the Watergate scandal gathered force. She was, as a reporter for The New York Times described her then, the Nixon administration’s “best, brave front to the public.”

Under Nixon, Mrs. Armstrong created the White House Office of Women’s Programs to provide a liaison between the president and women’s groups. It sought to recruit female appointees to high-level government positions and to broaden opportunities for women in the federal government.

Mrs. Armstrong stayed on as counselor under Ford, who named her to the eight-member Council on Wage and Price Stability. She helped plan the United States bicentennial celebration and, for a time, seemed a likely contender to be Ford’s running mate in the 1976 election.

Instead, she was named ambassador to Britain, where with her breezy, energetic style and the mere fact of being a woman, she seemed to fascinate her host country. She held the post from 1976 to 1977.

...as close as '76 was, she might have made a difference for Ford (though four more years of him might well have been a bigger disaster than four of Jimmy).
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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:33 AM


For White House, Hiring Is Political (CHARLIE SAVAGE, 7/31/08, NY Times)

On May 17, 2005, the White House’s political affairs office sent an e-mail message to agencies throughout the executive branch directing them to find jobs for 108 people on a list of “priority candidates” who had “loyally served the president.”

“We simply want to place as many of our Bush loyalists as possible,” the White House emphasized in a follow-up message, according to a little-noticed passage of a Justice Department report released Monday about politicization in the department’s hiring of civil-service prosecutors and immigration officials.

The report, the subject of a Senate oversight hearing Wednesday, provided a window into how the administration sought to install politically like-minded officials in positions of government responsibility, and how the efforts at times crossed customary or legal limits.

Andrew Rudalevige, an associate professor of political science at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania who studies presidential power, said that while presidents of both parties over the last half-century had sought ways to impose greater political control over the federal bureaucracy, the Bush administration had gone further than any predecessor.

The core premise of "civil service reform" was the elitist notion that elections shouldn't have consequences and that government should be run by professional bureaucrats, anathema to republicanism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:28 AM


Scrabulous brothers launch new Facebook game: Wordscraper (Jemima Kiss, 7/31/08, guardian.co.uk)

The two brothers behind Scrabulous, the unofficial online version of Scrabble that has become a hit among among Facebook users, launched a new online word game last night - Wordscraper.

Developers Rajat and Jayant Agarwalla launched Wordscraper worldwide less than 48 hours after being forced to take their original creation, Scrabulous, offline in the US and Canada in response to a lawsuit from Hasbro.

'Scrabulous' gets a nip-tuck, returns as 'Wordscraper' (Caroline McCarthy – July 30, 2008, C-Net)
The reason for Scrabulous' extreme makeover has its roots in some pretty gray legal matters: the real problem wasn't that it ripped off Scrabble, but that it ripped off Scrabble so blatantly. The colors of the board were the same, the list of rules led to a Wikipedia entry for Scrabble rules, and the two names were similar enough for Hasbro to cry foul.

On Wednesday I spoke to Pete Kinsella, a partner at the Faegre & Benson law firm who specializes in intellectual property, and he gave me his take on the gritty details. "Copyrights are not supposed to protect board games," Kinsella explained. "What copyrights protect is the expression of an idea rather than the idea itself."

Returning as Wordscraper is a way for its creators to keep the game running while avoiding legal complaints. In effect, it's just different enough.

"I think there's a very fine line to walk in this one, and the question is whether Scrabulous went over the line or not in mimicking the colors or everything else," Kinsella assessed (keep in mind that we had this conversation before the advent of Wordscraper), "or whether they could've designed a generic version of the game with the same points system and scoring system, and that would've fallen out of Hasbro's copyrights."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:24 AM


The Orwell Diaries (The Orwell Prize)

‘When one reads any strongly individual piece of writing, one has the impression of seeing a face somewhere behind the page’, wrote George Orwell, in his 1939 essay on Charles Dickens.

From 9th August 2008, you will be able to gather your own impression of Orwell’s face from reading his most strongly individual piece of writing: his diaries. The Orwell Prize is delighted to announce that, to mark the 70th anniversary of the diaries, each diary entry will be published on this blog exactly seventy years after it was written, allowing you to follow Orwell’s recuperation in Morocco, his return to the UK, and his opinions on the descent of Europe into war in real time. The diaries end in 1942, three years into the conflict.

What impression of Orwell will emerge? From his domestic diaries (which start on 9th August), it may be a largely unknown Orwell, whose great curiosity is focused on plants, animals, woodwork, and – above all – how many eggs his chickens have laid. From his political diaries (from 7th September), it may be the Orwell whose political observations and critical thinking have enthralled and inspired generations since his death in 1950. Whether writing about the Spanish Civil War or sloe gin, geraniums or Germany, Orwell’s perceptive eye and rebellion against the ‘gramophone mind’ he so despised are obvious.

Orwell wrote of what he saw in Dickens: ‘He is laughing, with a touch of anger in his laughter, but no triumph, no malignity. It is the face of a man who is always fighting against something, but who fights in the open and is not frightened, the face of a man who is generously angry — in other words, of a nineteenth-century liberal, a free intelligence, a type hated with equal hatred by all the smelly little orthodoxies which are now contending for our souls.’

What will you see in the Orwell diaries?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:07 AM


Bush redefines roles of intelligence agencies (The Associated Press, July 31, 2008)

President Bush approved an order Wednesday that rewrites the rules governing spying by U.S. intelligence agencies, both domestically and abroad, and strengthens the authority of the national intelligence director, according to a U.S. official and government documents.

Executive Order 12333, which lays out the responsibilities of each of the 16 agencies, maintains the decades-old prohibitions on assassination and using unwitting human subjects for scientific experiments, according to a multimedia briefing given to Congress that was reviewed by the Associated Press.

...you've given up on their being useful. Shutter them all and open intelligence completely. The market does a better job than bureaucrats.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:53 AM


What If Iraq Works?: There could be a promising future there (Victor Davis Hanson, 7/31/08, National Review)

These shifting realities may explain both the shrill pronouncements emanating from a worried Iran and its desire for diplomatic talks with American representatives.

Other rogue nations — North Korea, Venezuela, Cuba (not to mention al-Qaeda itself) — also do not, for all their bluster, think that or act as if an impotent U.S military is mired in defeat in Iraq.

Meanwhile, surrounding Arab countries may soon strengthen ties with Iraq. After all, military success creates friends as much as defeat loses them. In the past, Iraq’s neighbors worried either about Saddam Hussein’s aggression or subsequent Shiite/Sunni sectarianism. Now a constitutional Iraq offers them some reassurance that neither Iraqi conventional nor terrorist forces will attack.

None of this means that a secure future for Iraq is certain. After all, there are no constitutional oil-producing states in the Middle East. Instead, we usually see two pathologies: either a state like Iran, where petrodollars are recycled to fund terrorist groups and centrifuges; or the Gulf autocracies where vast profits result in artificial islands, indoor ski runs, and radical Islamic propaganda.

Iraq could still degenerate into one of those models. But for now, Iraq — with an elected government and a free press — is not investing its wealth in subsidizing terrorists outside its borders, establishing fundamentalist madrassas abroad, building centrifuges, or allowing a few thousand royal first cousins to squander its oil profits.

Iraq for the last 20 years was the worst place in the Middle East. The irony is that it may now have the most promising future in the entire region.

...are THE BIG BROTHER: IRAQ UNDER SADDAM HUSSEIN (ELAINE SCIOLINO, February 3, 1985, NY Times Magazine) and Tony Horwitz's Baghdad Without a Map, written before Bushophobes had to pretend Saddam's firm hand was helpful to the Iraqi people.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:36 AM


What Kansas Knows (Peter Ferrara, 7/30/2008, American Spectator)

Few outside the Democrat party understand what has just happened in the historic primary season that recently ended. But in those primaries, the party made a fundamental decision that marks a dramatic turning point in American politics.

Bill Clinton swept up the Democrats in 1992 based on the new politics of the Democrat Leadership Council (DLC), which he headed. The DLC sought to remake the Democrats based on recognition of what had then just happened in the real world of American politics. Reagan's Republicans had won three straight national elections, thrashing unreconstructed liberals like Mondale and Dukakis in landslides.

The DLC sought to accommodate what they saw as the valid components of the Reagan Revolution. The historic battle between capitalism and socialism was over, and capitalism had won. The Democrats had to modify their policies and their rhetoric to recognize that. Most importantly, they had to accommodate the essential vision that led to the political success of the Reagan Revolution -- the American people overwhelmingly favored the policies of economic growth over the policies of taxation and redistribution ("It's the economy, stupid").

This meant that Democrats had to build on, not reject, the essentials of free markets, and the realities of globalization. Democrats didn't have to swallow the whole libertarian agenda to succeed in this new environment. But they had to project an agenda that plausibly would advance economic growth, not ignore it and all of its possibilities and implications, or even actively undermine it. This became Bill Clinton's awkwardly expressed "Grow the Economy" theme, which was meant to imply that it was still the government that would be producing the economic growth through its wise policies, not the decentralized free market by itself.

This meant, in turn, that the Democrats were not going back to income tax rates of 70% and even 90% as in the heyday of the Left. They could still raise tax rates somewhat on "the rich," especially if they promised at the same time to cut taxes for the middle class, a central theme of Clinton's 1992 campaign that was completely forgotten after the election. But it was also time to recognize and embrace the realities of free trade, and the desirability and overwhelming popularity of welfare reform based on work requirements. It was also time to recognize and extend the successes of deregulation.

The Democrats went along with it because having lost 3 straight national elections, and 5 of the last 6, they were hungry for power. President Clinton stumbled out of the gate because he didn't initially lead with this vision that won him the election, but rather with Hillary's old 1930s warhorse vision of socialized medicine. That produced the historic Gingrich Revolution of 1994. The insight that made Clinton's presidency a success is that he then went along with the policies of the Gingrich congressional majorities, attacking and trimming only what could be projected as its excesses. The result was robust economic growth, and even a booming budget surplus, vindicating Clinton's DLC vision. Thus Clinton became the only Democrat since Roosevelt to serve two consecutive terms, with only one more Democrat, Woodrow Wilson, having accomplished that since Andrew Jackson.

BUT THE DEMOCRAT IDEOLOGUES, what Howard Dean later described as the Democrat wing of the Democrat party, hated and despised what they saw as Clinton's sellout.

Just happened?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:03 AM


McCain Ad Compares Obama to Britney Spears (NY Sun, July 31, 2008)

Senator McCain's presidential campaign yesterday released a withering television ad comparing Senator Obama to Britney Spears and Paris Hilton, suggesting the Democratic contender is little more than a vapid but widely recognized press concoction. Mr. Obama's campaign quickly responded with a commercial of its own, dismissing Mr. McCain's complaints as "baloney" and "baseless." Mr. McCain's ad, titled "Celeb" and set to air in 11 battleground states, intercuts images of Mr. Obama on his trip to Europe last week with video of Ms. Spears and Ms. Hilton — both better known for their childish off-screen antics. "He's the biggest celebrity in the world, but is he ready to lead?" the voiceover asks, noting the Illinois senator's opposition to offshore oil drilling and suggesting he would raise taxes if elected. "He doesn't seem to have anything positive to say about me, does he?" Mr. Obama said. "You need to ask John McCain what he's for, not just what he's against."

Obama: McCain Trying to Make Voters 'Scared' of Me (Sunlen Millerm 7/30/08, ABC News)
While campaigning in a traditionally Republican district, Sen. Barack Obama attempted to beat back rumors about him– telling the Springfield, Missouri crowd that Republicans and Sen. McCain are trying to make voters “scared” of him because they don’t have another strategy.

“Nobody thinks that Bush or McCain have a real answer for the challenges we face. So what they are going to try to do is make you scared of me,” Obama warned, “You know he's not patriotic enough. He's got a funny name. You know, he doesn't look like all of those other presidents on the dollar bills.”

Because he is running exclusively on his race he keeps getting stuck with nothing else to talk about when first Hillary and now Maverick corner him on the issues.

McCain: My opponent is an inexperienced over-hyped transnationalist liberal.

Obama: Racist!

McCain Tries to Define Obama as Out of Touch (JIM RUTENBERG, 7/31/08, NY Times)

Although Mr. Obama has been under an intense public spotlight for the last year, he is still relatively new on the national scene, and polls indicate that for all the enthusiasm he has generated among his supporters, many voters still have questions about him, providing Republicans an opening to shape his image in critical groups like white working-class voters between now and Election Day.

Mr. McCain’s campaign is now under the leadership of members of President Bush’s re-election campaign, including Steve Schmidt, the czar of the Bush war room that relentlessly painted his opponent, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, as effete, elite, and equivocal through a daily blitz of sound bites and Web videos that were carefully coordinated with Mr. Bush’s television advertisements.

The run of attacks against Mr. Obama over the last couple of weeks have been strikingly reminiscent of that drive, including the Bush team’s tactics of seeking to make campaigns referendums on its opponents — not a choice between two candidates — and attacking the opponent’s perceived strengths head-on. Central to the latest McCain drive is an attempt to use against Mr. Obama the huge crowds and excitement he has drawn, including on his foreign trip last week, by promoting a view of him as more interested in attention and adulation than in solving the problems facing American families.

Mr. Rutenberg's accusation, that the Unicorn Rider is new and unknown, is patently racist.
'The One'? Take a Number, Sen. Obama (David Montgomery, 7/31/08, Washington Post)
There have been so many Ones. The human imagination seems inclined to think in terms of them: King Arthur, Superman, Anakin Skywalker (or Luke, depending on your cosmology), Bobby Kennedy, John Galt, the Who's Tommy, Frodo, Bob Dylan, Siegfried, Harry Potter, Mighty Mouse, Godot, Joe Gibbs, Storm, Wonder Woman.

The One is the one who has the Answer. He will fix a fallen world. He will bring . . . change we can believe in. [...]

Sometimes he seems to playfully encourage his image as the One. Before the New Hampshire primary, he joked to an audience, "I am going to try to be so persuasive in the next 20 minutes or so that a light is going to shine down from the ceiling. . . . You will experience an epiphany. You will say to yourself, 'I have to vote for Barack.' "

He told House Democrats this week, "This is the moment . . . that the world is waiting for," our colleague Dana Milbank reported.

Also this week, the Obama campaign sent out an e-mail in the name of Michelle Obama to invite folks to contribute money for a chance to be among 10 lucky supporters who will get to "go backstage with Barack" at the Democratic convention in Denver, as if he were that special kind of One: the rock star.

GOP's celeb-Obama message gains traction (CARRIE BUDOFF BROWN, 7/31/08, Politico)
It wasn’t until the last week, however, that the narrative of Obama as a president-in-waiting – and perhaps getting impatient in that waiting - began reverberating beyond the e-mail inboxes of Washington operatives and journalists.

Perhaps one of the clearest indications emerged Tuesday from the world of late-night comedy, when David Letterman offered his “Top Ten Signs Barack Obama is Overconfident.” The examples included Obama proposing to change the name of Oklahoma to “Oklobama,” and measuring his head for Mount Rushmore.

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July 30, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:51 PM


US: Neocon Flap Highlights Jewish Divide (Daniel Luban and Jim Lobe, Jul 30, 2008, IPS)

he fierceness of the controversy surrounding Klein, generally considered a political centrist, highlights the growing antagonism between neo-conservative hardliners and prominent U.S. Jews whose more moderate views are aligned more closely with those of the foreign policy establishment.

The controversy began Jun. 24, when Klein argued in a TIME blog post that the "fact that a great many Jewish neoconservatives -- people like [independent Democrat Sen.] Joe Lieberman and the crowd at Commentary -- plumped for this war [in Iraq], and now for an even more foolish assault on Iran, raised the question of divided loyalties."

Within a day, Abraham Foxman, head of the Anti-Defamation League, accused Klein of espousing "age-old anti-Semitic canards about a Jewish conspiracy to control and manipulate government".

At the point where Abe Foxman is a neocon we're deep in Cloud-Cuckoo Land.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:57 PM


Obama to House Dems: If Sanctions Fail, Israel Will Likely Strike Iran (Jake Tapper, July 30, 2008, Political Punch)

Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, met with House Democrats yesterday, talking about his trip abroad and his observations.

Obama told the caucus, according to an attendee, "Nobody said this to me directly but I get the feeling from my talks that if the sanctions don’t work Israel is going to strike Iran." Others in the room recall this as well.

...sees himself as a disinterested observer of such events.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:10 AM


Obama's Symbolic Importance (Jonathan Weisman, 7/29/08, WP: The Trail)

According to a witness, he was waxing lyrical about last week's trip to Europe, when he concluded, "this is the moment, as Nancy [Pelosi] noted, that the world is waiting for." [...]

"I have become a symbol of the possibility of America returning to our best traditions," he said.

If Barrack Obama had written The Grapes of Wrath: "I'll be all around in the dark - I'll be everywhere. Wherever you can look - wherever there's a fight, so hungry people can eat, I'll be there. Wherever there's a cop beatin' up a guy, I'll be there. I'll be in the way guys yell when they're mad. I'll be in the way kids laugh when they're hungry and they know supper's ready, and when the people are eatin' the stuff they raise and livin' in the houses they build - I'll be there, too. I'll be the warm feeling running up your leg."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:36 AM


Yeah, but can Brian Wilson play cricket? (Andrew Baggarly, July 30th, 2008, Extra Baggs)

Remember the spring training story about Brian Wilson going to India over the winter to teach a clinic on pitching? It was part of a contest to find a “million dollar arm” amid a country with more than a billion people.

Well, the top two finishers – Rinku Singh and Dinesh Kumar Patel — were at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday. They’re both teenagers from the Mumbai area. They’ve been in the U.S. for about 10 weeks and received instruction from former major leaguer Tom House. Singh won the first place prize of $100,000 but wasn’t able to throw three consecutive strikes at more than 95 mph to claim the $1 million grand jackpot. We’ll see if either pitcher progresses enough to earn a pro contract when their year of instruction is up. (Cleveland, perhaps?)

I thought it was interesting that both young men are javelin competitors; so was Felipe Alou, who was in the Pan Am Games for the Dominican Republic and headed for a career in medicine before he was offered a contract to play baseball.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:30 AM


The "No-Bounce" Win and a Bit of History (Steve Lombardo, 7/29/08, Pollster.com)

With little in the way of new polling data--and the milestone of 100 days until Election Day passing--we decided to take a look at where the race stood at this time over the past five election cycles. While this was an unscientific review, we did try and choose the most representative polls (from reputable pollsters) that we could find. The trend from 1988 - 2004 shows that the GOP candidate tends to under-poll in the summer--with the exception, as you can see below, of the 2000 campaign. In each of the other four years, the Republican candidate had been polling significantly behind the Democrat at this point in the race. Each of those times, however, the Republican improved his position, gaining an average of 15 points relative to the Democrat.

That is a staggering number: equivalent to over 18 million votes based on 2004 turnout numbers. So Republicans have come back before--and McCain's campaign narrative does fit with the "comeback kid" storyline--but what this means for 2008 is difficult to say. It could tell us that Republican candidates tend to do better once the electorate is more focused on the issues and the candidates (similar to what we see in registered voter/likely voter screens, where likely voters--those paying more attention--tend to be slightly more inclined to vote for the Republican candidate), or it could simply be a coincidence based on a variety of external factors related to those particular races and polls. Either way, it's interesting to look at:

The dynamics of every election is the same--once the GOP explains who the Democratic nominee is the voters react unfavorably.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:26 AM


Bush Meets Chinese Democracy Activists: Pledges To Air Their Concerns on Trip to Beijing Olympics (ELI LAKE, July 30, 2008, NY Sun)

Before departing for Beijing for the Olympic Games, President Bush is signaling that he will raise concerns from Chinese human rights activists in his meetings with Chinese leaders.

Mr. Bush met yesterday with five Chinese exiles, including Harry Wu, the geologist who spent nearly 20 years in Chinese labor camps and later wrote about his native country's gulags, or the laogai. Also at the meeting was Wei Jingsheng, a man considered by many to be the father of China's democracy movement and the author of the essay "The Fifth Modernization." There was Robert Fu, a Christian minister and former prisoner who handed Mr. Bush a "prayer for China" wristband and urged the president to intercede on behalf of an underground church leader imprisoned in China named Zhang Rongliang, according to the Associated Press. The president also heard from Rebiya Kadeer, a former prisoner and advocate for the rights of China's Muslim Uighur community that seeks independence, and Sasha Gong, a former factory worker who now works for Radio Free Asia's Cantonese Service.

A White House spokeswoman, Dana Perino, said in a statement that Mr. Bush promised to take the message of the five activists to China's high officials next month during the Olympic ceremonies. "The president assured them that he will carry the message of freedom as he travels to Beijing for the games, just as he has regularly made this a priority in all of his meetings with Chinese officials. He told the activists that engagement with Chinese leaders gives him an opportunity to make the United States' position clear — human rights and religious freedom should not be denied to anyone."

Add them to the official US delegation and make the PRC stop the party from entering the country.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:01 AM

PANIC IN GERUND PARK (via The Mother Judd):

Scrabulous Barred to North American Users (HEATHER TIMMONS, 7/30/08, NY Times)

“Boycott Hasbro!”

The rallying cry started early Tuesday after fans of Scrabulous, an online knockoff of the classic board game Scrabble, woke up to find that their game had been abruptly removed from Facebook.com, the social networking site.

To make matters worse, people who tried to download the official Hasbro version of Scrabble found that it did not work either. The authorized game had been the victim of “a malicious attack” on Tuesday morning, its developer said — an attack that came right on the heels of the sudden disappearance of Scrabulous.

It looks like the game might be better at the official Scrabulous site if for no other reason than you can play by email, which notifies you when the other person played. I'm there as orrinj/orrin-at-brothersjudd.com if you want to play.

July 29, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:55 PM


U.S. Reports Drop in Homeless Population
(RACHEL L. SWARNS, 7/29/08, NY Times)

The number of chronically homeless people living in the nation’s streets and shelters has dropped by about 30 percent — to 123,833 from 175,914 — between 2005 and 2007, Bush administration officials said on Tuesday. [...]

Dennis Culhane, a professor of social policy at the University of Pennsylvania and an author of this year’s report, acknowledged that “there are a lot of people in tough housing situations who don’t get counted.” He said the government needed a standard measure and asked communities to count people living in shelters and on the street.

He described the decline in chronic homelessness as “pretty remarkable.”

Mr. Culhane said that Congress and the Bush administration had pushed local communities to focus on finding solutions for the chronically homeless, who accounted for about half of the people living in the nation’s shelters in 2000. HUD has financed the development of between 10,000 and 12,000 new units of supported housing targeted for that population every year over the past four years, he said.

“It affirms the very significant change in policy shift that took place” over the last six years, said Mr. Culhane, who studies homelessness trends and policy, referring to the decline in the numbers of chronically homeless. “We’re moving in the right direction, without a doubt.”

The Bush Revolution rolls on....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:22 AM


Oil falls below $121, lowest since May (Alex Lawler, 7/29/08, Reuters)

Oil fell more than $4 a barrel to below $121 on Tuesday, touching the lowest price since May, as signs of weakening demand outweighed a disruption to Nigerian oil output.

The drop also coincided with a firmer U.S. dollar, which may have reduced the appeal of commodities to some investors, and comments from OPEC's president that oil could fall to $70 or $80 in the long term.

There is no historical basis for the belief they can keep the price that artificially high.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:43 AM


Coburn gets best of Reid on 'omnibus' package (Martin Kady II, 7/28/08, Politico)

Sen. Tom Coburn is used to being a lonely "no" vote on overwhelming Senate votes, but on Monday afternoon, his GOP colleagues came to his defense.

Coburn (R-Okla.) prevailed in blocking a massive package of generally non-controversial bills that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid brought to the floor, angering Democrats and some Republicans while raising Coburn's status as a cult hero to fiscal conservatives. [...]

Coburn is notorious in the Senate for blocking all manner of routine bills that he says include wasteful spending, and has earned the nickname "Dr. No" for his holds on Senate bills.

Republicans stuck together in blocking this bill not because they oppose all of the programs, but because they have decided to block everything small and large this week until they get votes on stalled energy legislation.

The vote sent Reid into one of his trademark tirades on the Senate floor, as he basically accused Republicans of voting against people with strokes, people in wheelchairs and those suffering from Lou Gehrig's disease.

Does anyone take Mr. Reid seriously?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:35 AM


'Scrabulous' disappears from Facebook after Hasbro suit (Caroline McCarthy, July 29, 2008, CNet)

Facebook users in the U.S. and Canada can no longer access Scrabulous, the faux-Scrabble game that quickly became one of the most popular applications on its developer platform.

It is not yet clear whether this was on the part of Facebook or independently on behalf of the Scrabulous creators.

The game's disappearance comes in the wake of a lawsuit filed last week by Hasbro, the game manufacturer that owns the rights to Scrabble in the United States and Canada. In the suit, Hasbro named as defendants the creators of Scrabulous--India-based brothers Rajat and Jayant Agarwalla, and their company, RJ Softwares. The suit asked Facebook to pull the game, citing the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and asked the Agarwallas to close their Scrabulous.com site.

That hasn't happened completely, though. Outside the U.S. and Canada, the rights to Scrabble are owned by game company Mattel, so Hasbro doesn't have jurisdiction there. Both game companies have released separate official Scrabble games for the Facebook platform. Meanwhile, the Scrabulous.com site, which existed before the Facebook application, is still working just fine.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:08 AM


Captain McCain (R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr., 7/29/2008, American Spectator)

Recently an Obama adviser told the New York Review of Books' Elizabeth Drew that "[h]is being a community organizer is the fundamental insight and philosophy of his campaign," whereupon Drew enthuses that this piece of 1960s nonsense is "a fresh, even revolutionary idea about how to govern." Note she is not talking about governing a Chicago slum but rather the United States of America. At times I wonder about Miss Drew's inability to slap her thigh and let out a hearty belly laugh. Something is wrong here.

It is in Obama's origins as a "community organizer" that we see how truly passe he is. He may be 14 years Hillary's junior, but his roots in radicalism are surprisingly similar to hers as an acolyte of Alinsky and a defender of Black Panthers both at the Yale Law School and at a left-wing (viz. Communist!) law firm. Spectator readers have been aware of Hillary's 1960s radicalism since the magazine's earliest reports in 1992. Now even mainstream journalists are reporting it (see the May 19, 2008 Washington Post) upon detecting hypocrisy in her attack on Obama's friendship with Bill Ayers. In the heady days of the 1960s Revolution That Never Came, Ayers was bombing government buildings, among them the Pentagon. Years later in Chicago, while serving with Obama in foundation work, Ayers was brazenly unrepentant. In fact, immediately after 9/11 he announced, "I don't regret setting bombs. I feel we didn't do enough." Hillary at least respects her supporters' intelligence enough to lie about her origins. Obama is sufficiently vain to think he can dupe his supporters by presenting his radical origins as progressive, not "the status quo in Washington." Well, he has hoodwinked Miss Drew. Perhaps mainstream media will be as slow in catching on to Obama as they were to catching on to Hillary.

OBVIOUSLY TO the keen political eye, Obama is a standard-issue left-liberal Democrat, with a resume very similar to the Clintons', albeit without the shattered integrity. Last year in The Clinton Crack-Up I predicted that the younger generation of Democrats would challenge Hillary's nomination and that 2008 would be the last battle between the left wing and the right wing of the historic 1960s generation. Ironically, though the younger generation has whipped Clinton, my prediction is being vindicated. The younger generation's 46-year-old candidate with the rants of the Rev. Wright and other antique radicals whistling in his ears is going to give the left-wing youth of the 1960s one more run against their right-wing rivals.

McCain, as the New York Times's Sam Tanenhaus recently observed, is a member of the 1950s generation but with a rebellious streak. Toughened and matured by Vietnam, he returned to America and, as we shall see, took on the Carter administration's neglect of the military. While doing so he fell in with senior movement conservatives such as Sen. John Tower and with young 1960s movement conservatives such as Dick Allen, later Ronald Reagan's national security adviser, Ed Feulner, later the head of the Heritage Foundation, and John Lehman, President Reagan's secretary of the navy. All support him today. With some anomalies, McCain's platform will be an amalgam of their work. My prediction that the 2008 presidential race will be the last great battle between the 1960s left and the 1960s right is holding up, though the standard-bearer from the left is by 1960s demographics wet behind the ears and the standard-bearer from the right is long in the tooth.

...about how Senator Obama is a victim of racism and Islamophobia, the actual critique from conservatives is that he's a standard issue liberal, indistinguishable from a Stevenson, Dukakis, Kerry or Hillary.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:02 AM


McCain Gains on Obama in New Poll: USA Today/ Gallup Poll Suggests Obama's Trip May Have Energized Voters for McCain (Jill Lawrence, 7/29/08, USA TODAY)

It also reflected a jump in support for the U.S. troop increase in Iraq and a country evenly divided between withdrawing troops with and without a timetable. McCain pushed for the extra troops, and Obama opposed them. Obama wants a timetable, and McCain doesn't.

Obama was ahead 47%-44% among registered voters, down from a 6-percentage point lead he had last month. McCain led 49%-45% among likely voters, reversing a 5-point Obama lead among that group. In both cases, the margin of error is +/—4 points.

...except for purposes of historical comparison. And this is the time of a campaign where a Northern liberal should be at his peak.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:49 AM


Let's give "Blue Dogs" the boot: Pushing conservative Democrats out of Congress could help the party stand up to the GOP. (Glenn Greenwald, 7/28/08, Salon)

On key issue after key issue, it is the Bush White House and Republican caucus that have received virtually everything they wanted from Congress, while the base of the Democratic Party has received virtually nothing other than disappointment and an overt repudiation of its agenda. Since the American people gave them control of Congress, the Democrats in Congress have given the country the following:

Unlimited and unconditional funding for the Iraq war. Vast new warrantless eavesdropping powers and retroactive amnesty for their telecom donors -- measures the administration tried, but failed, to obtain from the GOP Congress. The ability to ignore congressional subpoenas with utter impunity. A resolution formally decreeing parts of the Iranian government to be a "terrorist organization." A failure to outlaw waterboarding, to apply the torture ban to the CIA, to restore the habeas corpus rights abolished by the Military Commissions Act of 2006, to impose the requirement of congressional approval before President Bush can attack Iran. Confirmation of highly controversial Bush nominees, including Michael Mukasey as attorney general even after he embraced the most radical Bush theories of executive power and repeatedly refused to say that waterboarding was torture.

Other than (arguably) the resignation of Alberto Gonzales as attorney general and a very modest increase in the minimum wage (enacted in the first month after Democrats took control of Congress), one is hard-pressed to identify a single event or issue since November 2006 that would have been meaningfully different had the GOP retained control of Congress. The Congress of Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi has been every bit as passive, impotent and complicit as the Congress of Bill Frist and Denny Hastert was. Worse, in contrast to the Frist/Hastert-led Congress, which at least had the excuse that it enabled a wartime president from its own party while he enjoyed high approval ratings, the Reid/Pelosi Congress has capitulated to every presidential whim despite an "opposition party" president who is now one of the most unpopular in modern American history. It's difficult to imagine how even Reid and Pelosi themselves could contest the claim that the Democratic-led Congress, from the perspective of Democratic voters, has been a profound failure.

With those depressing facts assembled, the only question worth asking among those who are so dissatisfied with congressional Democrats is this: What can be done to change this conduct? As proved by the 2006 midterm elections -- which the Democrats dominated in a historically lopsided manner -- mindlessly electing more Democrats to Congress will not improve anything. Such uncritical support for the party is actually likely to have the opposite effect. It's axiomatic that rewarding politicians -- which is what will happen if congressional Democrats end up with more seats and greater control after 2008 than they had after 2006 -- only ensures that they will continue the same behavior. If, after spending two years accommodating one extremist policy after the next favored by the right, congressional Democrats become further entrenched in their power by winning even more seats, what would one expect them to do other than conclude that this approach works and therefore continue to pursue it?

If simply voting for more Democrats will achieve nothing in the way of meaningful change, what, if anything, will? At minimum, two steps are required to begin to influence Democratic leaders to change course: 1) Impose a real political price that they must pay when they capitulate to -- or actively embrace -- the right's agenda and ignore the political values of their base, and 2) decrease the power and influence of the conservative "Blue Dog" contingent within the Democratic caucus, who have proved excessively willing to accommodate the excesses of the Bush administration, by selecting their members for defeat and removing them from office. And that means running progressive challengers against them in primaries, or targeting them with critical ads, even if doing so, in isolated cases, risks the loss of a Democratic seat in Congress.

...but at least they get the big offices and good committee jobs. If they stop running rightwing whackos like Jim Webb and Heath Shuler they lose on all the issues and get treated like they did Gerald Ford and Bob Michel.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:45 AM


'The Hour of Europe' (ANNE APPLEBAUM, July 29, 2008, The Washington Post)

In a very real sense, 2009, not 1992, truly will be the "hour of Europe." By that, I mean that if the chancellor of Germany, the prime minister of Britain, and the president of France — backed by their counterparts in southern Europe, eastern Europe, and Scandinavia — were to walk into the White House on January 21 and propose serious, realistic, new contributions to, say, the war in Afghanistan, the reconstruction of Iraq, the nuclear negotiations with Iran, and perhaps even climate change, the White House would listen.

Or perhaps I should put it more strongly: Not only would the White House listen, either new administration, Democratic or Republican, would immediately offer the Europeans the "leadership" and "partnership" they so often say they desire.

Between the sinking housing market and the soaring price of food, the high price of fuel and low growth, the new president is going to have so much on his plate that a group of Europeans who appear from across the Atlantic announcing, say, a plan to fix southern Afghanistan, would be welcomed with open arms.

In fact, I'll wager I could find a dozen future members of either administration who would roll out the red carpet and greet them like envoys of a fellow superpower if they so desired.

Yet at the same time, I'd also wager that I could not find a dozen current members of any European government who have even thought about coming up with any ideas at all. This is the hour of Europe — but do the Europeans even know it?

Judging by the press and the popular reactions to Mr. Obama's visit there last week, they don't. Just about every account of the speech noted the dearth of applause for its single line encouraging European participation in world events: "America cannot do this alone ... the Afghan people need our troops and your troops" was not a crowd-pleaser. Neither was, "We can join in a new and global partnership" to fight terrorism.

Meanwhile, Germany's chancellor, Angela Merkel, spoke tartly of "the limits" of Germany's contributions to the Afghan cause, making it clear she didn't favor such upbeat talk, while another senior German worried that his colleagues "will have trouble meeting [Mr. Obama's] demand to assume more common responsibility."

...even a historically ignorant lightweight like Barrack Obama wouldn't entrust Europe with any meaningful task.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:37 AM


Our First Transnational President? (Rich Lowry, 7/29/08, Real Clear Politics)

In Berlin, Obama called himself, unironically, a "citizen of the world." The world, however, issues no passports, nor does it have citizens. The world in the way Citizen Obama imagines it -- as a global community to which we all belong -- doesn't exist. Only backpacking hippies, devotees of the Davos World Economic Forum and U.N. bureaucrats speak this way.

Berlin at times sounded as much like Obama's coming-out party as the candidate of a transnational progressivism -- in which global norms are more important than sovereign nations -- as his audition as commander-in-chief.

In Obama's telling, a triumph of American arms and will during the Cold War was transmuted into a victory of a united world. He railed against "walls" of all kinds, even though walls are useful in dividing hostile communities (see, most recently, Israel and Iraq) and, in the form of borders, are the most basic stuff of nationhood. He addressed "people of the world" and told them "this is our moment, this is our time," as if the impossibly disparate people of the world can ever have a common will.

The guy's a member of a black nationalist church, claims to be a world citizen and voters are supposed to think he has their best interest at heart?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:28 AM


If President, McCain Wouldn’t Attend Opening Ceremony (Laura Meckler, 7/29/08, WSJ: Washington Wire)

Sen. John McCain says that if he were president, he wouldn’t attend the opening ceremonies of the Olympic games in Beijing, something President Bush plans to do. McCain, the Republican presidential candidate, cited China’s conflict with Tibet, which seeks autonomy.

“I don’t think I would, particularly in light of the Tibetan situation,” he said Monday when asked about it on CNN’s “Larry King Live.”

...but what of the Uighurs, Taiwan, Hong Kong, the one-child policy, Falun Gong, Christians....

July 28, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:51 PM


All-Stars and Layoffs (BUZZ BISSINGER, 7/26/08, NY Times)

I am not sure why — maybe it was those peanuts going down like pellets of lead. But I found it difficult to square the finances of what was taking place here, All-Stars from the American and National Leagues collectively collecting $392 million in salaries for the 2008 season, juxtaposed with employees from the once-mythic carmaker about to get vivisected.

The news out of General Motors the same day as the game had been particularly grim, symbolically marking the end of the American economic empire as we know it. There was talk, so unimaginable as to be surreal given its once-seeming impregnability, that G.M. would eventually have to file for bankruptcy. Among the announced cutbacks: a 20 percent reduction in salaried-worker costs, elimination of health care for older white-collar retirees, and a suspension of the company’s annual stock dividend of $1 a share.

But it was what 74-year-old William Parker told The Times that got to me the most. He has cancer, and he had just been placed on a new drug costing $2,700 a month; with a leaner and meaner G.M. eager to satisfy the warlords of Wall Street, the company would now pay only $50 of what Mr. Parker so desperately needed. “I don’t know what the hell I’m going to do,” he told a reporter. “I’m fighting for my life here.” [...]

There were 64 players represented on American and National League rosters in the All-Star Game. For the American League, the aggregate 2008 salaries for its 32 players was about $215 million, or nearly $7 million a player, based on a database compiled by USA Today. For the National League roster the figure was slightly less, approximately $177 million, or $5.5 million per player. Taken together, the total figure in salaries comes in just shy of $400 million this season, or the rough equivalent of about 2,500 union autoworker jobs at G.M if you include wages and benefits.

“I don’t know what the hell I’m going to do. I’m fighting for my life here.”

At the top is Yankee third baseman Alex Rodriguez, who even without the benefit of Madonna’s company will make $28 million this season and could pay the yearly $32,400 cost of Mr. Parker’s cancer drug without even knowing the money was gone. The same goes for Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter, who has a 2008 salary of $21.6 million. Or Boston Red Sox outfielder Manny Ramirez at $18.9 million, or Ichiro Suzuki of the Seattle Mariners at $17.1 million, or Chicago Cubs pitcher Carlos Zambrano at $16 million, or Houston Astros shortstop Miguel Tejada at $14.8 million, or New York Mets reliever Billy Wagner at what I suppose is a lowly $10.5 million. On the other hand, given the 72 innings of work he has averaged over the past three seasons, that does come out to $145,833 an inning.

Take the salaries of these players and apply a 10 percent cut — half of what is being lopped off at G.M. — and you could easily save the 80 jobs that are being lost at The Chicago Tribune for a savings of $9 million. It’s a pie-in-the-sky suggestion.

Absolutely, if you pay me $100k a year I'll pretend to read the Trib.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:49 PM


Al-Qaeda chemical expert 'killed' (BBC, 7/28/08)

Reports from Pakistan say a leading al-Qaeda chemical weapons expert, Midhat Mursi al-Sayid Umar, has been killed in a missile strike.

Taleban officials in the tribal area of South Waziristan confirmed to the BBC that he was killed in a missile strike that left at least six people dead.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:38 PM


Commendable service (Paul Weyrich, July 28, 2008, Washington Times)

The administration of President George W. Bush is drawing to a close after nearly eight years in office. Therefore, it is time to assess who best fulfilled the promises made during the 2000 presidential campaign. In my opinion, that prize goes to Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, the only Cabinet official to see the Bush administration through from the beginning. [...]

The card-check program, which passed the House in this Congress but failed in the Senate, would do away with the secret ballot. Instead, union organizers would be able to put pressure upon workers to sign up. If a worker refused to vote for a union to organize his plant he could be put under all sorts of pressure to conform. Mrs. Chao clearly is concerned that this program will be enacted in the next Congress.

She told the Wall Street Journal, "The right to a private ballot election is a fundamental right in our American democracy and it should not be legislated away at the behest of special-interest groups." Mrs. Chao also is worried that a new union-friendly Congress will expand the Family Medical Leave Act, which guarantees that employees can take unpaid leave to care for an ill child or for other reasons, and they cannot be replaced while on leave. She also worries that Congress will extend from 60 to 90 days the time which employers must notify employees that they will be laid off. Nor does she like a comparable worth measure pushed by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat. It would force employers to pay the same wages for different occupations. She says the world envies the dynamism of the American economy and points to the flexibility we have in our economy. If all of these measures pass, she fears that flexibility would disappear, and with it would go the dynamic American economy.

If Mrs. Chao has her way, the 110th Congress, in its waning days, will combine and streamline some of the many training programs that overlap and duplicate one another. It is unlikely that effort will succeed in the short time remaining in this Congress. She says the Labor Department has $50 billion in different training programs, most of which never reaches workers. She would like to see that money converted into vouchers to permit workers to help them acquire job-training skills. Congress does not like vouchers for elementary and secondary education, so it is highly probable organized labor's senators would filibuster any such move.

Elaine Chao has achieved as much as she has as a workhorse rather than a show horse. Not that she is incapable of explaining in vibrant terms what she has accomplished. But mainly she has worked hard, making progress in inches rather than in long passes. The president certainly made the right choice in selecting Mrs. Chao. Future secretaries ought to emulate her example.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:12 PM


Bad in Berlin, Perfect in Paris ( (Roger Cohen, 7/28/08, NY Times)

[B]erlin is not his stage. After J.F.K.’s “Ich bin ein Berliner” and Reagan’s “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” Obama could not invoke the new in a setting so replete with cold-war ghosts.

Everything was wrong: a Victory Column setting when he’s not yet victorious, a jejune weave from fighting Communism to fighting terrorism, and an accumulation of worthy platitudes. Presence was absence: the semiotics of yesterday’s world cascaded from America’s Homo Novus.

“This,” Obama told nuclear-energy hating Berliners, “is the moment when we must come together to save this planet. Let us resolve that we will not leave our children a world where the oceans rise and famine spreads and terrible storms devastate our lands.”

Yes, Barack, and let us build lovely castles in the sky that the locusts of infamy will never unravel. [...]

Paris is more his town and it showed.

...a guy who looks out of place in front of a victory column and at home in France. Maybe he could go windsurfing with John Kerry....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:05 PM


Darwin to the Rescue A group of scholars thinks evolutionary science can reinvigorate literary studies (BRITT PETERSON, 7/28/08, Chronicle Review)

In the face of any looming apocalypse, imagined or not, prophets abound. For the literary academy, which has been imagining its own demise for almost as long as it has been around, prophets seem always to look to science, with its soothing specificity and concreteness. As the modern discipline of literary criticism was forming in the early 20th century, scholars concentrated their efforts on philology, a study that was thought to be more systematic than pure literary analysis. When the New Critics made their debut in the 1920s and 30s, their goal was to give a quasi-scientific rigor to literary theory: to lay out in detail the formal attributes of a "good poem" and provide guidance as to how exactly one discovered them. Later the Canadian critic Northrop Frye, in his 1957 Anatomy of Criticism, famously queried: "What if criticism is a science as well as an art?" And some of the poststructuralist thought that began to filter into America from France in the 1960s took as its bedrock linguistic and psychoanalytic theory.

But very few pro-science activists suggested that literary scholars should actually work the way scientists do, using such methods as accumulating data and forming and testing hypotheses. Even Frye argued that, while the critic should understand the natural sciences, "he need waste no time in emulating their methods. I understand there is a Ph.D. thesis somewhere which displays a list of Hardy's novels in the order of the percentages of gloom they contain, but one does not feel that that sort of procedure should be encouraged."

Over the last decade or so, however, a cadre of literary scholars has begun to encourage exactly that sort of procedure, and recently they have become very loud about it. The most prominent (at least in the nonacademic media) are the Literary Darwinists, whose work emphasizes the discovery of the evolutionary patterns of behavior within literary texts — the Iliad in terms of dominance and aggression, or Jane Austen in terms of mating rituals — and sets itself firmly against 30 years of what they see as anti-scientific literary theories like poststructuralism and Marxism.

Of course, Marx, Freud and the rest are just the competition for Darwinists, not the antithesis. But give them credit for recognizing that the theory is only useful for charting intelligent designs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:37 AM


Q&A: 'Hamas Curbing Groups Firing Rockets': Interview with Mohamed Bassyouni, head of the Egyptian Shura Council's Foreign Relations Committee (Adam Morrow and Khaled Moussa al-Omrani, Jul 28, 2008, IPS)

Israel has kept its borders with the Hamas-run enclave hermetically sealed. Egypt, meanwhile, has kept its own border with the Gaza Strip closed, citing the absence of a formal border agreement. The precarious situation has led some critics to accuse Egypt of aiding Israel's ongoing siege of Gaza, which has resulted in untold hardships for the strip's roughly 1.5 million inhabitants.

IPS: Israel has repeatedly accused Palestinian resistance factions in the Gaza Strip of violating the truce by firing short-range rockets at targets in Israel. Is there any validity to these claims?

MB: Hamas is fully committed to following the terms of the ceasefire. But there are some smaller factions and individuals -- lacking direction and leadership -- that are not. Hamas has actually taken steps to detain those found firing missiles on Israel from the Gaza Strip.

There is a big difference between Hamas launching a missile salvo at targets in Israel and one of these rogue groups or individuals firing off a couple of rockets. Egypt has requested that Israel distinguish between the two and respect the terms of the tahdia in order to make progress on subsequent phases of the agreement.

...is that Hamas needs to put down the other groups and treat Egypt like an enemy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:31 AM


Rights Issue Looms as Bush Heads to China: Diplomacy During Games Is Subject Of Intense Debate (Michael Abramowitz, 7/28/08, Washington Post)

With President Bush set to leave next week for the Olympics in Beijing, the White House is coming under increased pressure from lawmakers and advocacy groups to make a public statement of concern about the crackdown on human rights and freedom in China.

White House aides said it is likely that Bush, who has focused considerable attention to the cause of Chinese religious freedom, will worship at a church in Beijing during his trip, but they say the rest of his schedule remains in flux. What the president will do or say in Beijing is the subject of considerable debate within the administration, several officials said, but they expressed doubt that Bush would do much to embarrass the Chinese leadership during an event it considers something of a coming-out party for China as a world power.

Bush has repeatedly made clear his view that he is going to China as a sports fan and does not see the Olympics as a good opportunity to make political points.

But for the Chinese it's exclusively political and, therefore, this is going to be the onlky mistake of his father's that he repeats, coddling the butchers in Beijing. There's no place for Americans at this dog and pony show but especially not for one representing all of us. A visit to a church doesn't change the fact that he's bowing before an evil regime.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:13 AM


Rings are real thing for top fantasy players (Cleveland Plain-Dealer, July 28, 2008)

First-place money is sweet. Trophies keep on giving.

But they don't mean a thing if your fantasy league ain't got that bling - as in 14-karat gold, cubic zirconia.

That's right, fantasy ballers. Jostens Inc., the Minneapolis firm that pumps out Heisman Trophies, college bowl rings, World Series and Super Bowl rings and school class rings by the thousands, also delivers fantasy-football rings - custom-made with the winner's name, league, year and the unmistak able heft and sheen of the boulderlike bands that the pros wear.

"Some people may think it's a bit ex treme," acknowl edged Jostens spokesman Rich Stoebe.

But fantasy junkies demanded, so the company delivered.

Jostens (jostens.com) handcrafts rings for fantasy football, baseball, basketball and hockey. Prices range from about $100 for the basic signet to $319 for the Deion Sanders of fantasy football: the Franchise IV.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:57 AM


Go Ahead, Laugh at Obama: Don’t listen to what they say. The presumptuous — er, presumptive — Democratic nominee is funny. (Byron York, 7/28/08, National Review)

And this was about a man who made up his own pretend presidential seal and motto, Vero Possumus; a man who, upon securing the Democratic nomination, said, “I am absolutely certain that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal”; a man who has on a number of occasions seemed to forget that he is not, or at least not yet, the President of the United States, who has misstated the number of states in his own country, who has forgotten on which committees he serves in the U.S. Senate. Professional comedians — and their audiences — couldn’t find anything funny about any of that?

Now, after Obama’s world tour, there are already cracks in the Times-imposed conventional wisdom. Confronted with something of an official ban on Obama humor, there is emerging a new strain of Obama humor — zings at the candidate’s hauteur, his presumptuousness, and, especially, his most zealous admirers in the press.

It's revealing that the three recent presidents who had no sense of humor aboiut themselves were LBJ, Nixon and Carter--all unmitigated disasters.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:52 AM


McCain takes aim at Obama’s character (BEN SMITH & JONATHAN MARTIN, 7/28/08, Politico)

As Senator Barack Obama traveled overseas, the campaign against him appeared to take a decisive new turn with Senator John McCain zeroing in on his Democratic opponent’s character.

In a year when polls show an easy victory for a generic Democratic candidate, McCain has until now been loathe to employ the tack many strategists see as essential and which anonymous e-mailers and commenters with no apparent links to his campaign have been practicing since last summer: hitting Obama not on his record or his platform, but on his values and person.

The Democrat’s Achilles’ heel in this model is an inchoate sense among some voters that the new arrival on the national stage with the unusual biography—and who’s the first black nominee from either party—isn’t American enough.

It's Northern liberal politics and policies that distance them from America, which is why they rage against William Jennings Bryan, Anti-Intellectualism, Kansas, etc. There's nothing distinctive about Barrack Obama.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:48 AM


NFL, NBC Plan Kickoff of Free Football on Internet Sports World to See How Online Offering Affects Viewership (SAM SCHECHNER and MATTHEW FUTTERMAN, July 26, 2008, Wall Street Journal)

Football fans will soon be able to watch some of the biggest professional games on the Internet.

The National Football League and General Electric Co.'s NBC Sports will announce Monday that they plan to stream on the Web 17 regular-season games, mostly Sunday night matchups -- the first time the league has widely distributed complete games live on the Internet in the U.S.

July 27, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:30 PM


NATO Counter-Attack Kills Dozens of Insurgents in Afghan Battle (VOA News, 27 July 2008)

Afghan officials say up to 70 militants have been killed in a battle with NATO and government forces in eastern Afghanistan, near the Pakistani border.

The governor of Khost Province, Arsallah Jamal, says Afghan and NATO forces mounted a counterattack early Sunday after nearly 100 militants overwhelmed guards at a government center in the Spera district and killed two police officers.

...is the resurgence.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:27 PM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:49 AM


Gaza Strip: Hamas crackdown on armed groups after deadly blast (al Bawaba, 27-07-2008)

Clashes broke out in Gaza City early on Sunday, injuring at least six people, as Hamas-run security forces pressed a territory-wide crackdown on rival Palestinian factions after a deadly bombing. The fighting erupted overnight when Hamas-run police units moved to arrest members of the Army of Islam, a small armed group believed to have links to Al-Qaeda.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:43 AM


Sweet Nothings: A close reading of The Speech. (Andrew Ferguson, 08/04/2008, Weekly Standard)

[I]n the heart of Europe, before 200,000 breathless admirers, Obama pulled himself up to his full height, lifted his chin, unlimbered those eloquent hands, and said nothing at all.

Obama's "nothing" is sometimes interesting anyway; there are pointers in the vacuousness, as I saw when I read the full text on his campaign's website. He began the speech, as he often does, with a summary of his own life history, which elided into a history of the Cold War--mixing the two together, with his customary grandiosity. The history was nicely written up but not news. And the lesson he drew from it was, to be kind, idiosyncratic: The West's victory in the Cold War, he said, proved that "there is no challenge too great for a world that stands as one."

This will come as a surprise to anyone who lived through the Cold War or has even read about it. The thing about wars, even cold ones, is that the world doesn't stand as one; that's why there's a war. And in the Cold War the Soviet side was as united as the West; more so, probably. Left out of Obama's history was any mention of the ferocious demonstrations against the United States in the streets of Paris and West Berlin during the 1960s and 1980s, when American presidents were routinely depicted as priapic cowboys and psychopaths. Probably a fair number of the older members of Obama's audience had been hoisting those banners themselves 25 years ago.

So if "standing as one" didn't win the Cold War, what did? Obama didn't stop to answer, since his own reading of history seems to deny the premise of the question. Instead he hustled on to the present moment. Now, he said, "we are called upon again." To do what? Presumably to stand as one all over again, in the face of "new promise and new peril." Included in the latter are terrorism, global warming, and nuclear proliferation. But those perils aren't the worst of it. "The greatest danger of all is to allow new walls to divide us from one another."

The sentence is the heart of the speech and an instance of Obama's big weakness--his preference for the rhetorical flourish over a realistic account of things as they are. Most politicians share the weakness, and the preference has proved wildly attractive to Obama's supporters. But think it through: "New walls to divide us" is just a metaphor, a trope. A trope can't be the "greatest danger of all." A terrorist setting off a nuclear bomb in London--that's a danger. A revolution in Islamabad--that's a danger. A figure of speech is just a figure of speech.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:52 AM


A Long Wait at the Gate to Greatness (John Pomfret, July 27, 2008, Washington Post)

[I]s China really going to be another superpower? I doubt it.

It's not that I'm a China-basher, like those who predict its collapse because they despise its system and assume that it will go the way of the Soviet Union. I first went to China in 1980 as a student, and I've followed its remarkable transformation over the past 28 years. I met my wife there and call it a second home. I'm hardly expecting China to implode. But its dream of dominating the century isn't going to become a reality anytime soon.

Too many constraints are built into the country's social, economic and political systems. For four big reasons -- dire demographics, an overrated economy, an environment under siege and an ideology that doesn't travel well -- China is more likely to remain the muscle-bound adolescent of the international system than to become the master of the world.

In the West, China is known as "the factory to the world," the land of unlimited labor where millions are eager to leave the hardscrabble countryside for a chance to tighten screws in microwaves or assemble Apple's latest gizmo. If the country is going to rise to superpowerdom, says conventional wisdom, it will do so on the back of its massive workforce.

But there's a hitch: China's demographics stink. No country is aging faster than the People's Republic, which is on track to become the first nation in the world to get old before it gets rich. Because of the Communist Party's notorious one-child-per-family policy, the average number of children born to a Chinese woman has dropped from 5.8 in the 1970s to 1.8 today -- below the rate of 2.1 that would keep the population stable. Meanwhile, life expectancy has shot up, from just 35 in 1949 to more than 73 today. Economists worry that as the working-age population shrinks, labor costs will rise, significantly eroding one of China's key competitive advantages.

Worse, Chinese demographers such as Li Jianmin of Nankai University now predict a crisis in dealing with China's elderly, a group that will balloon from 100 million people older than 60 today to 334 million by 2050, including a staggering 100 million age 80 or older. How will China care for them? With pensions? Fewer than 30 percent of China's urban dwellers have them, and none of the country's 700 million farmers do. And China's state-funded pension system makes Social Security look like Fort Knox. Nicholas Eberstadt, a demographer and economist at the American Enterprise Institute, calls China's demographic time bomb "a slow-motion humanitarian tragedy in the making" that will "probably require a rewrite of the narrative of the rising China."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:46 AM


Labour considers 'suicide' election (Eddie Barnes, 7/27/08, Scotland on Sunday)

PANICKING Labour ministers are considering a 'suicide election' to give the party a fresh start under a new leader, following their humiliating defeat at the hands of the SNP in the Glasgow East by-election.

Senior figures disillusioned with Gordon Brown want a senior Cabinet minister to take over the party leadership and head immediately to the polls either this autumn or next spring, even if defeat is the likely option.

They believe such a move would be better than Brown clinging on to office until 2010 when, they fear, the party would face a wipe-out on the scale of that inflicted on the Tories by Labour in 1997.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:42 AM


Oil May Become GOP's 2008 Issue: Cost of Gas Touches a Chord With Voters (Michael D. Shear and Paul Kane, 7/27/08, Washington Post)

Four-dollar-a-gallon gas has done something that few Republicans thought possible just a few months ago: given them hope.

United behind a renewed push for offshore oil drilling, Republican members of Congress and the party's presumptive presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain, think they have found their best political issue of the 2008 campaign.

McCain strategists and GOP leaders on Capitol Hill say the issue, which polls suggest Americans favor by healthy margins, lets Republicans demonstrate their plans to address the anger over high gas prices as well as the broader economic distress that many voters feel.

Because most Democrats, including Sen. Barack Obama, are opposed to increased drilling, McCain and the GOP have already begun casting their rivals as unconcerned about gas prices and unwilling to wean the country from foreign oil.

Drilling for more oil isn't weaning, nor can the GOP count on keeping prices high enough for gas to be an issue.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:36 AM


Flight’s First Fatal Trip (MATTHEW L. WALD, 7/27/08, NY Times)

The arc of safety improvements has been dramatic. Boeing, reaching back to the beginning of the jet age, found one fatal accident for every 30,000 commercial jet flights in 1959. By 2006, the rate for all airliner flights had dropped to one accident for every 4.2 million flights by Western-built commercial jets, according to the Flight Safety Foundation, a nonprofit research group. (Lieutenant Selfridge nonetheless stands at the head of a rather long queue. Boeing counted 26,454 deaths of people on commercial jets between 1959 and 2006, and an additional 934 on the ground.)

Still, an American’s chance of dying in a plane crash last year was one in 432,484, according to the National Safety Council, while the chance of dying in a car was one in 19,216. The lifetime risk? According to the council, one in 5,552 for planes, one in 247 for cars. The airplane risk is dominated by smaller planes, often flown by a single pilot who may not be a professional.

Crash rates in Europe are comparable to those in the United States, and Asia and the Pacific are rapidly improving. Latin America shows some gains. (But don’t ask about Africa, where there is minimal ground-based equipment, like navigation aids, weather reporting and radar, and where planes fly with more maintenance problems and are often overloaded.)

It is very hard today, for instance, if not impossible, to fly an American jetliner into a mountain, because satellites can tell a crew where the plane is even when visibility is zero. But it took the crash of a Boeing 757 flown by American Airlines, in December 1995, to prompt the Federal Aviation Administration and the airlines to make sure all airliners had the new equipment.

No matter how good the newer windows, the bakers don't buy them until the old ones are broken.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:54 AM


Olympics threatened by Islamic separatists: Little-known Muslim group claims responsibility for a series of explosions in Chinese cities and warns that its next target will be the Beijing Games (Tania Branigan, July 27 2008, The Observer)

A Muslim separatist group yesterday claimed responsibility for a series of fatal explosions in several Chinese cities and threatened to target the Olympic Games, due to begin on 8 August.

Chinese officials dismissed video statements by spokesmen claiming to represent the little-known Turkestan Islamic Party, who warned that they would attack next month's Games and said they were to blame for the previous blasts. A US terrorism-monitoring firm published a transcript of their video.

The Chinese authorities have repeatedly alleged that extremists from the restive northwestern region of Xinjiang - known as East Turkestan by separatists among the Uighur Muslim population - were targeting the Olympics.

Maybe some good could come of the venue after all.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:41 AM


John McCain slams Barack Obama for canceling on the troops (DON FREDERICK AND ANDREW MALCOLMJuly 27, 2008, LA Times)

The 30-second spot zings Obama for making time for a gym workout while in Germany last week, but removing from his itinerary a stop at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. The ad continues:

"Seems the Pentagon wouldn't allow him to bring cameras.

"John McCain is always there for our troops.

"McCain. Country first."

Senator Obama's political inexperience is most obvious in instances like this, where he conforms to the stereotype of the Northern liberal.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:29 AM


Challenges await Barack Obama at home: His overseas trip was a success, analysts from both parties agree. But rival John McCain is building an assault on the domestic issue of energy. (Doyle McManus and Michael Finnegan, 7/27/08, Los Angeles Times)

Barack Obama conquered the Middle East and Europe last week, but on Saturday he returned to face a more challenging battleground: middle America.

Obama, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, wrapped up his weeklong overseas tour with a statement that -- for all the television coverage his travels from Afghanistan to Britain received -- he was eager to get back to domestic issues.

"We've been out of the country for a week," he told reporters outside the British prime minister's official residence at 10 Downing Street. "People are worried about gas prices. They're worried about home foreclosures."

...to the extent that most Americans even noticed he was gone all they took away from the trip is that Germans really like him.

July 26, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:54 AM


Johnny Griffin, 80, Jazz Saxophonist, Dies (BEN RATLIFF, 7/26/08, NY Times)

Mr. Griffin’s modest height earned him the nickname the Little Giant; his speed in bebop improvising marked him as the Fastest Gun in the West; a group he led with his fellow saxophonist Eddie (Lockjaw) Davis was informally called the Tough Tenor band, a designation that was eventually applied to a whole school of hard-bop tenor players. And in general, Mr. Griffin suffered from categorization. [...]

Johnny Griffin was born in Chicago on April 24, 1928, and grew up on the South Side. He attended DuSable High School, where he was taught by the famed high school band instructor Capt. Walter Dyett, whose other students included the singers Nat (King) Cole and Dinah Washington and the saxophonists Gene Ammons and Von Freeman.

Mr. Griffin’s career started in a hurry: at age 12, attending his grammar school graduation dance at the Parkway Ballroom in Chicago, he saw Ammons play in King Kolax’s big band and decided what his instrument would be. By 14 he was playing alto saxophone in a variety of situations, including a group called the Baby Band with schoolmates, and occasionally with the blues guitarist and singer T-Bone Walker. At 18, three days after his high school graduation, Mr. Griffin left Chicago to join Lionel Hampton’s big band, where he switched from alto to tenor. From then until 1951 he was based in New York City but mostly on the road.

By 1947 he was touring with the rhythm-and-blues band of the trumpeter Joe Morris, a fellow Chicagoan, with whom he made the first recordings for the Atlantic label. He entered the United States Army in 1951; stationed in Hawaii, he played in an Army band.

Mr. Griffin was of an impressionable age when Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie became forces in jazz. He heard them both with Billy Eckstine’s band in 1945 and, having first internalized the more balladlike saxophone sound earlier popularized by Johnny Hodges and Ben Webster, became entranced by the lightning-fast phrasing of bebop, as the new music of Parker and Gillespie was known. In general his style remained brisk but relaxed, his bebop playing salted with blues tonality.

Beyond the 1960s his skill and his musical eccentricity continued to deepen, and in later years he could play odd, asymmetrical phrases, bulging with blues honking and then tapering off into state-of-the-art bebop, filled with passing chords.

In the late 1940s he befriended the pianists Elmo Hope, Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk; he called these friendships his “postgraduate education.” After his Army service he went back to Chicago, where he worked with Monk for the first time, a job that altered his career. He became interested in Monk’s brightly melodic style of composition, and he ended up as a regular member of Monk’s quartet in New York in 1958. In 1967 he toured Europe with a Monk octet.

from John Barrett Jr.

I was planning to play something off THE LITTLE GIANT on my show tomorrow, along with maybe one of his recordings with Monk and the Tough tenors band. I might also play Carla Bley's version of "Misterioso" off the THAT'S THE WAY I FEEL NOW Monk tribute, as both Griffin and guitarist Vernon Bullock (who died earlier this morning) appear on it. I'd like to do more, but it's also Hank Jones' 90th birthday on Thursday, so we're doing 90 minutes of his music. So much work preparing the stuff on this show, most of which comes from my collection ... and I wouldn't give it up for nothin'. Click the 'Listen Live' button at http://www.widr.org between 12 noon and 3PM EST and hear my nerdy self if you're so inclined.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:41 AM


Obama's Narcissism (Jack Kelly, 7/26/08, Real Clear Politics)

In a news conference Wednesday in Sderot, an Israeli city subject to frequent rocket attacks by Palestinian terrorists, Sen. Barack Obama addressed the doubts many Israelis have about his commitment to their security.

"In terms of knowing my commitments, you don't have to just look at my words, you can look at my deeds," Mr. Obama said. "Just this past week, we passed out of the Senate Banking Committee, which is my committee, a bill to call for divestment from Iran, as a way of ratcheting up the pressure to ensure that they don't obtain a nuclear weapon."

Sen. Obama is not a member of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee. He had nothing to do with the advancement of the bill he referred to. [...]

"For him to fabricate the claim, out of whole cloth, that the Senate Banking Committee is his committee strikes me as another sign of Obama's megalomania," said Web logger John Hinderaker (Power Line). "That, plus more evidence that he is totally at sea without a teleprompter."

...he made himself a nuclear physicist.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:32 AM


SPIEGEL INTERVIEW WITH AUTHOR LEON DE WINTER: 'The Europeans Are Chasing Illusions': Dutch author Leon de Winter talks with SPIEGEL about his new novel, which is set in 2024, the threats mounting against Israel and the assimilation of Muslims in Europe. (Der Spiegel, 7/25/08)
SPIEGEL: Mr. de Winter, your new book -- "The Right of Return" -- is a novel, but it actually describes a political vision. In the book, it is the year 2024, and Israel has shrunk to just a few square kilometers around Tel Aviv, which is surrounded by enemies. Are you simply playing with some ideas here or is this a serious prediction?

Leon de Winter: Both. Israel is menaced by two threats. On the one hand, by the hatred of its enemies, which today is primarily stirred up by Iran, and on the other hand, by the erosion spreading throughout Israeli society. There are three groups that have little in common: the Orthodox Jews, the Israeli Arabs and the secular Jews, who currently make up the majority of the population. But this majority is dwindling. The conflict between these three lifestyles is every bit as much of a threat -- if not even more dangerous -- to the existence of Israel as its outside menaces. [...]

SPIEGEL: This is not the first time that you have made skeptical remarks about Israel's future. This story sounds like the proclamation of a catastrophe.

De Winter: And that's what it is. [...]

SPIEGEL: Do you think the conflict in the Middle East can be resolved through negotiations, or will the strongest win out in the end?

De Winter: It will depend on who gives up first -- who won't be able to take it any longer because it costs too much: too much energy, too much time, too much blood. And that will be the secular Jews, who have no ideology, who merely want to live their lives.

SPIEGEL: In your vision, many Jews leave Israel and emigrate to Europe or America, where life is easier. In the real Israel, an increasing number of Jews are acquiring a second passport, but it doesn't look like they really want to leave. It's more a modern form of life insurance, just in case things go wrong.

De Winter: It's more than that. Immigration compensates for emigration because Russian Jews are still coming into the country. Nevertheless, take a look at Los Angeles or New York, where there are now large communities of ex-Israelis. And you even have them here in Holland. I wonder what will happen if it comes to a new conflict with Hezbollah. Very soon, the majority of Israelis will live within range of the rockets launched by Hezbollah and Hamas. Contrary to Islam, Judaism has a very weak tradition of martyrdom. In the end, we are powerless against a people who are prepared to sacrifice everything.
...and the fools made it a European one. In the long run, we may find out they were right to reject the Messiah 2,000 years ago, but we already know you can't build a healthy republic having rejected messianism sixty years ago.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:29 AM


Randy Pausch, 47; terminally ill professor inspired many with his 'last lecture': His speech at Carnegie Mellon University after a pancreatic cancer diagnosis became an Internet phenomenon and bestselling book.
By Valerie J. Nelson, July 26, 2008, LA Times)

Randy Pausch, a terminally ill professor whose earnest farewell lecture at Carnegie Mellon University became an Internet phenomenon and bestselling book that turned him into a symbol for living and dying well, died Friday. He was 47.

Pausch, a computer science professor and virtual-reality pioneer, died at his home in Chesapeake, Va., of complications from pancreatic cancer, the Pittsburgh university announced.

When Pausch agreed to give the talk, he was participating in a long-standing academic tradition that calls on professors to share their wisdom in a theoretical "last lecture." A month before the speech, the 46-year-old Pausch was told he had only months to live, a prognosis that heightened the poignancy of his address.

Delivered last September to about 400 students and colleagues, his message about how to make the most of life has been viewed by millions on the Internet. Pausch gave an abbreviated version of it on "Oprah" and expanded it into a best-selling book, "The Last Lecture," released in April.

Yet Pausch insisted that both the spoken and written words were designed for an audience of three: his children, then 5, 2 and 1.

A Beloved Professor Delivers The Lecture of a Lifetime (Jeff Zaslow, September 20, 2007, Wall Street Journal)

It can be an intriguing hour, watching healthy professors consider their demise and ruminate over subjects dear to them. At the University of Northern Iowa, instructor Penny O'Connor recently titled her lecture "Get Over Yourself." At Cornell, Ellis Hanson, who teaches a course titled "Desire," spoke about sex and technology.

At Carnegie Mellon, however, Dr. Pausch's speech was more than just an academic exercise. The 46-year-old father of three has pancreatic cancer and expects to live for just a few months. His lecture, using images on a giant screen, turned out to be a rollicking and riveting journey through the lessons of his life.

He began by showing his CT scans, revealing 10 tumors on his liver. But after that, he talked about living. If anyone expected him to be morose, he said, "I'm sorry to disappoint you." He then dropped to the floor and did one-handed pushups.

Clicking through photos of himself as a boy, he talked about his childhood dreams: to win giant stuffed animals at carnivals, to walk in zero gravity, to design Disney rides, to write a World Book entry. By adulthood, he had achieved each goal. As proof, he had students carry out all the huge stuffed animals he'd won in his life, which he gave to audience members. After all, he doesn't need them anymore.

He paid tribute to his techie background. "I've experienced a deathbed conversion," he said, smiling. "I just bought a Macintosh." Flashing his rejection letters on the screen, he talked about setbacks in his career, repeating: "Brick walls are there for a reason. They let us prove how badly we want things." He encouraged us to be patient with others. "Wait long enough, and people will surprise and impress you." After showing photos of his childhood bedroom, decorated with mathematical notations he'd drawn on the walls, he said: "If your kids want to paint their bedrooms, as a favor to me, let 'em do it."

While displaying photos of his bosses and students over the years, he said that helping others fulfill their dreams is even more fun than achieving your own. He talked of requiring his students to create videogames without sex and violence. "You'd be surprised how many 19-year-old boys run out of ideas when you take those possibilities away," he said, but they all rose to the challenge.

He also saluted his parents, who let him make his childhood bedroom his domain, even if his wall etchings hurt the home's resale value. He knew his mom was proud of him when he got his Ph.D, he said, despite how she'd introduce him: "This is my son. He's a doctor, but not the kind who helps people."

He then spoke about his legacy. Considered one of the nation's foremost teachers of videogame and virtual-reality technology, he helped develop "Alice," a Carnegie Mellon software project that allows people to easily create 3-D animations. It had one million downloads in the past year, and usage is expected to soar.

"Like Moses, I get to see the Promised Land, but I don't get to step foot in it," Dr. Pausch said. "That's OK. I will live on in Alice."

[originally posted: 9/26/07]

July 25, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:41 PM


Whatever Happened to Liberal Humor? (Jason Maoz, 07.24.2008 , Commentary: Contentions)

While R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. and P.J. O’Rourke and Andrew Ferguson and Rush Limbaugh and a host of others were giving the lie to the caricature of conservatives as uptight Pecksniffs, the counterculture’s Politics of Rage was evolving into a more sedate, more deadly political correctness, effectively killing off liberal humor.

Once upon a happier time, liberals prided themselves on maintaining a certain detached bemusement. Recognizing - and lampooning - the foibles of even one’s own idols and icons was considered a sign of sophistication, bestowing on its practitioners, deservedly or not, an élan of witty bonhomie.

He ventured forth to bring light to the world: The anointed one's pilgrimage to the Holy Land is a miracle in action - and a blessing to all his faithful followers (Gerard Baker, 7/25/08, Times of London)
And it came to pass, in the eighth year of the reign of the evil Bush the Younger (The Ignorant), when the whole land from the Arabian desert to the shores of the Great Lakes had been laid barren, that a Child appeared in the wilderness.

The Child was blessed in looks and intellect. Scion of a simple family, offspring of a miraculous union, grandson of a typical white person and an African peasant. And yea, as he grew, the Child walked in the path of righteousness, with only the occasional detour into the odd weed and a little blow.

When he was twelve years old, they found him in the temple in the City of Chicago, arguing the finer points of community organisation with the Prophet Jeremiah and the Elders. And the Elders were astonished at what they heard and said among themselves: “Verily, who is this Child that he opens our hearts and minds to the audacity of hope?”

It's easy if you don't have to worry about offending people.

Zemanta Pixie

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:38 AM


"The X-Files: I Want to Believe": This suspenseful, intimate movie reminds us why we've always believed in Mulder and Scully. (Stephanie Zacharek, Jul. 25, 2008, Salon)

It's hard to say if "The X-Files: I Want to Believe" is exactly the movie fans of the revered series -- which aired from 1993 to 2002 -- are hoping for. The relatively straightforward plot involves only minor trickery, and you don't need much previous knowledge of the "X-Files" universe to follow it. The director, Chris Carter, the creator of the original show, has dispensed with the convoluted mythology that bogged down the show in the last third of its run. "I Want to Believe" comes off like a solid -- if not great -- episode from one of the show's early seasons, a reasonably suspenseful story made by a director with a sturdy sense of how to tell a story.

Yet it's the very modesty of "I Want to Believe" that makes it so admirable. Carter doesn't try to meet or exceed fans' expectations so much as create an intimately scaled dramatic universe for his fiercely beloved characters, Dana Scully and Fox Mulder, to inhabit, circa 2008.

'The X-Files: I Want to Believe': Back in the Spookiness Racket (NICOLAS RAPOLD, July 25, 2008, NY Sun)
An earlier spin-off feature, subtitled "Fight the Future" and released at the show's height in 1998, roiled with the show's febrile matrix of extraterrestrial intrigue. In "I Want to Believe," the series's creator, Chris Carter, who directs from a script he wrote with a longtime show scenarist, Frank Spotnitz, puts his faith in a stand-alone story. It's essentially a Frankensteinian B-horror premise that gives its star duo the excuse to muse on whether they still believe.

Neither agent is officially in the spookiness racket anymore. Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) is putting her medical degree to work as a pediatric surgeon at a Catholic hospital. The FBI, stymied by the case of an agent's disappearance, enlists her to coax out Fox Mulder (David Duchovny). He's still in hiding from the military, as per the un-summarizable state of affairs left by the series finale way back when.

The case, introduced with a parallel-action opening belying years of finding fresh ways to begin episodes, is standard-issue: grisly murders (limbs and bodies found buried in the snow), tracked by an unsavory psychic (Billy Connolly as Father Joe, a pedophile ex-priest). Against the wintry backdrop of a whited-out countryside and occasionally Vancouver, Mulder and Scully trade references, regrets, and avowals, though she's also hesitant and preoccupied with a dying patient. Aggressively useless FBI investigators (headed up by Amanda Peet and Xzibit) festoon the proceedings with police manpower and insinuations.

The play of skepticism and headlong curiosity that first gave the pair their appeal is deadened by Scully's unease about the whole endeavor, and its romantic corollary is tossed off with an almost amusing casualness. Deprived of the paranoid pleasures of the show's "mythology," the writers serve up some Slavs engaged in involuntary body-part acquisition and stir up a vague Catholic menace via Father Joe and a hard-nosed priest administrator at Scully's hospital. (Contemporary markers include a dig at President Bush and a regrettable clue involving the Massachusetts marriage certificate of two male villains.)

Maybe this would be okay television, but like an unflattering close-up, this particular X-file loses its mystique when it is blown up to feature length.

With the exception of the episodes written by Darin Morgan, the only reason to watch the show after the first couple seasons was for the mythology development and the characters--the plots were pretty redundant.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:04 AM


What's Not on Obama's Schedule (Jim Miklaszewski and Courtney Kube, 7/25/08, NBC: First Read)

A U.S. military official tells NBC News they were making preparations for Sen. Barack Obama to visit wounded troops at the Landstuhl Medical Center at Ramstein, Germany on Friday, but "for some reason the visit was called off."

One military official who was working on the Obama visit said because political candidates are prohibited from using military installations as campaign backdrops, Obama's representatives were told, "he could only bring two or three of his Senate staff member, no campaign officials or workers." In addition, "Obama could not bring any media. Only military photographers would be permitted to record Obama's visit."

The official said "We didn't know why" the request to visit the wounded troops was withdrawn. "He (Obama) was more than welcome. We were all ready for him."

If there are no cameras on hand to film Barack Obama is he on the base?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:49 AM


Rebel With a Cause:: Bobby Jindal's Spiritual Journey (ROBERT COSTA, July 25, 2008, Wall Street Journal)

Mr. Jindal, a convert to Roman Catholicism, is being mentioned as one of John McCain's top choices for the Republican vice-presidential nomination. And his strong religious faith is often cited as a potential bonus for the ticket.

Hinduism is a diverse religion, with varying interpretations. Mr. Jindal, speaking from his office in Baton Rouge this month, said his parents raised him "in a monotheistic home with a firm belief in a God with traditional values -- the same sort of values you find in the Ten Commandments and other mainstream religions." Recalling their religion as "not a faith that was necessarily tied to a particular historical scripture or revelation," Mr. Jindal said, his parents "made their faith their own."

It is rare for Hindus to convert to Christianity or any other religion. According to a survey released by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life earlier this year, eight in 10 American Hindus who were raised in the faith remain so as adults.

"I did not have an overnight epiphany like so many people do," said Mr. Jindal, calling his conversion a "very intellectual-based journey," where he studied countless religious texts. "Given my background and personality, that was an important part of the process." But, he notes, "I don't think you can 'read' yourself into faith. I had gotten to the point where I knew what history had to say about this person named Jesus and what he had done on Earth. . . . I think at some point you have to take a leap of faith."

As a teenager, Mr. Jindal said he sought out chaplains at nearby Louisiana State University as he grasped for a religious identity to call his own. During a youth group's Easter season musical production in 1987 at LSU's campus chapel, a black-and-white video of the Passion played during intermission. "I don't know why I was struck so hard at that moment," said Mr. Jindal. "There was nothing fascinating about this particular video. . . . But watching this depiction of an actor playing Jesus on the cross, it just hit me, harder than I'd ever been hit before," he said. "If that was really the son of God, and he really died for me, then I felt compelled to get on my knees and worship him."

"It was liberating," said Mr. Jindal about his moment.

Thankfully, he didn't follow the Obama path or he'd be a Hindu Nationalist....
Zemanta Pixie

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:41 AM


The Democrats & National Security (Samantha Power, 8/14/08, NY Review of

The performance and perception of recent presidents have had the greatest impact in shaping the public trust on national security. But other factors have given Republicans the edge over Democrats. The demographics of the US military are such that the officer corps and rank-and-file have traditionally leaned to the Republican side. Many US service members are observant Christians. During the last few years Democrats in political life have begun to embrace faith unselfconsciously, refusing to allow the Republican political establishment to usurp this terrain. Still, the military will likely continue to recruit a greater percentage of soldiers from red states in the South and middle America than from the coasts or major urban areas. With so many soldiers and officers counting themselves as Republicans, voters naturally associate the party with the country's primary symbol of security, those in uniform.

The Republican domestic agenda may also influence voters' perceptions about national security. The party that opposes strict gun control laws, seeks to crack down on illegal immigrants, wages a "war" on drugs, extols the "three strikes and you're out" approach to criminal sentencing, and has few qualms about capital punishment has been seen as "tougher," regardless of the effectiveness of these policies.

This faith in Republican toughness has had profound electoral consequences. Since 1968, with the single exception of the election of George W. Bush in 2000, Americans have chosen Republican presidents in times of perceived danger and Democrats in times of relative calm. [...]

Since Vietnam there has never been a more auspicious time for the Democratic Party to establish close relations with the US military. Building on Obama's October 2002 speech explaining his opposition to the war in Iraq, Democrats can continue to argue that Obama and his party will never do what the Republicans have done: send US service members to fight unnecessary wars. He will not stretch the US military and military families to their breaking points by extending tours of duty beyond what is tolerable.

How was she supposed to know that by the time this was published Senator Obama would be calling for 18 more months in Iraq and a massive escalation in Afghanistan?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:39 AM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:21 AM


It’s America, Obama: A modest dissent to the citizen of the world. (Victor Davis Hanson, 7//25/08, National Review)

What disturbed me about Barack Obama's Berlin speech were some reoccurring utopian assumptions about cause and effect — namely, that bad things happen almost as if by accident, and are to be addressed by faceless, universal forces of good will.

Unlike Obama, I would not speak to anyone as “a fellow citizen of the world,” but only as an ordinary American who wishes to do his best for the world, but with a much-appreciated American identity, and rather less with a commonality indistinguishable from those poor souls trapped in the Sudan, North Korea, Cuba, or Iran. Take away all particular national identity and we are empty shells mouthing mere platitudes, who believe in little and commit to even less. In this regard, postmodern, post-national Europe is not quite the ideal, but a warning of how good intentions can run amuck.

Barrack Obama at least settles the argument about whether singularities exist and whether any light or information comes out of them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:00 AM


Bush and Singh push nuclear deal (BBC, 7/25/08)

US President George W Bush has telephoned Indian PM Manmohan Singh to discuss the controversial civil nuclear deal between the two countries.

The White House said the two men talked of their determination to cement a major civilian nuclear energy agreement between their countries.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:57 AM


New torture memo from 2002 is disclosed: Interrogators would be on safe ground if they had an 'honest belief' that suspects would suffer no 'prolonged mental harm,' the Justice Department told the CIA. (LA Times, July 25, 2008)

The Justice Department in 2002 told the CIA that its interrogators would be safe from prosecution for violations of anti-torture laws if they believed "in good faith" that harsh techniques used to break prisoners' will would not cause "prolonged mental harm."

That heavily censored memo -- obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union, which released it Thursday -- approved the CIA's harsh interrogation techniques method by method, but warned that if the circumstances changed, interrogators could run afoul of anti-torture laws.

"Although an honest belief need not be reasonable, such a belief is easier to establish where there is a reasonable basis for it," said the memo, dated Aug. 1, 2002, and signed by then-Assistant Atty. Gen. Jay Bybee, the Washington Post reported.

The memo was issued the same day he wrote a memo for then-White House Counsel Alberto R. Gonzales defining torture as "extreme acts" causing pain akin to death or organ failure.

...that a procedure Chrisatopher Hitchens underwent just for yucks was torture?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:37 AM


Obama Sings the Song of Himself: A flat performance in Berlin. (John F. Cullinan, 7/25/08, National Review)

As always, there’s no lack of self-regard: “Now the world will watch and remember what we do here — what we do with this moment.” But there’s a complete absence of irony in a phrase that unconsciously recalls Lincoln’s modest prediction that “the world will little note or long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they” — the honored dead — “did here.”

If Senator Obama were a Republican wouldn't we be subjected to learned--though thoroughly conjectural--analyses of his "narcicisstic personality disorder" from psychiatrists?

You know, like the ones accusing George W. Bush of being insane for ordering the Surge, which the Left now claims it knew all along would succeed, or even for toppling the genocidal dictator in the first place.

Pride (in the Name of Love): The Obama vision thing. (Kathleen Parker, 7/25/08, National Review)

Why is it so hard for Obama, knowing what he knows now, to say that he should have supported the surge?

To review Obama’s statements on the surge since it began is to understand why: pride.

Over and over again — even after Gen. David Petraeus reported in late 2007 that the surge was working — Obama said: It’s not working. It won’t work. It’s a mistake. He essentially was betting his presidential hopes on the surge’s failure.

But the surge did work — and the mistake is Obama’s.

Most Americans would have little trouble forgiving Obama for not believing the surge would be effective. It was a gamble, as are all strategies in war. Even with reports on the ground that locals seemed increasingly willing to rise up, there was reason enough by 2007 to doubt the wisdom of America’s commander in chief.

It is less easy to forgive the kind of wrongheaded stubbornness now on display. As recently as July 14, Obama wrote in a New York Times oped that “the same factors that led me to oppose the surge still hold true.” He mentioned the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, money spent in Iraq and said that the surge had failed to produce “political accommodation.”

Fine. But the larger, more important point is that the surge was necessary and successful. Those facts outweigh all other considerations past and present. Moreover, a recent U.S. embassy report stated that 15 of 18 benchmarks set by Congress for Iraq are being met in a “satisfactory” fashion.

Obama has fallen to pride in part because he has bought his own myth. By staking his future on a past of supernatural vision, he has made it difficult to admit human fault. The magic isn’t working anymore. And Obama, the visionary one, can’t even see what everyone else sees: He was wrong.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:26 AM


Playing Innocent Abroad (David Brooks, 7/25/08, NY Times)

Obama’s tone was serious. But he pulled out his “this is our moment” rhetoric and offered visions of a world transformed. Obama speeches almost always have the same narrative arc. Some problem threatens. The odds are against the forces of righteousness. But then people of good faith unite and walls come tumbling down. Obama used the word “walls” 16 times in the Berlin speech, and in 11 of those cases, he was talking about walls coming down.

The Berlin blockade was thwarted because people came together. Apartheid ended because people came together and walls tumbled. Winning the cold war was the same: “People of the world,” Obama declared, “look at Berlin, where a wall came down, a continent came together and history proved there is no challenge too great for a world that stands as one.”

When I first heard this sort of radically optimistic speech in Iowa, I have to confess my American soul was stirred. It seemed like the overture for a new yet quintessentially American campaign.

But now it is more than half a year on, and the post-partisanship of Iowa has given way to the post-nationalism of Berlin, and it turns out that the vague overture is the entire symphony. The golden rhetoric impresses less, the evasion of hard choices strikes one more.

When John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan went to Berlin, their rhetoric soared, but their optimism was grounded in the reality of politics, conflict and hard choices. Kennedy didn’t dream of the universal brotherhood of man. He drew lines that reflected hard realities: “There are some who say, in Europe and elsewhere, we can work with the Communists. Let them come to Berlin.” Reagan didn’t call for a kumbaya moment. He cited tough policies that sparked harsh political disagreements -- the deployment of US missiles in response to the Soviet SS-20s -- but still worked.

In Berlin, Obama made exactly one point with which it was possible to disagree. In the best paragraph of the speech, Obama called on Germans to send more troops to Afghanistan.

The argument will probably fall on deaf ears. The vast majority of Germans oppose that policy.

We need not quarrel over whether Senator Obama is a pacifist when he reveals so much by his use of the passive voice--"a wall came down."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:17 AM


Obama's path to presidency is far from clear: The Democrat is winning fans on his trip abroad, but is struggling to gain real ground against McCain at home. Some key Clinton backers remain alienated (Peter Nicholas, 7/25/08, Los Angeles Times)

Fresh polls show that he has been unable to convert weeks of extensive media coverage into a widened lead. And some prominent Democrats whose support could boost his campaign are still not enthusiastic about his candidacy.

Several new surveys show that Obama is in a tight race or even losing ground to Republican John McCain, both nationally and in two important swing states, Colorado and Minnesota. One new poll offered a possible explanation for his troubles: A minority of voters see Obama as a familiar figure with whom they can identify.

Republicans are moving to exploit this vulnerability, trying to encourage unease among voters by building the impression that Obama's overseas trip and other actions show he has a sense of entitlement that suggests he believes the White House is already his. [...]

Many voters still seem to be puzzling over who Obama is, even after a race that has lasted a year and a half. By 58% to 47%, voters identity more with the values and background of McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, than with Obama, according to a newly released Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll.

Obama may also be slipping in some key states. He lost a narrow lead in Colorado, falling 5 percentage points in the past month, and now trails McCain 46% to 44%, a new Quinnipiac University poll found. In Minnesota, Obama fell 8 percentage points, though he still leads McCain 46% to 44%, the survey found. The polling spanned the five days before Obama went abroad and the first four days of his trip.

At a time when nearly three-quarters of Americans believe the nation is on the wrong track, the political climate would suggest that McCain, whose party controls the White House, might lag by large margins. Yet a national Fox News poll released Thursday showed that Obama's 4-point lead over McCain in June had shrunk to a single point. The new Journal/NBC poll showed Obama leading by 6 points, unchanged from the month before.

The McCain camp ought not be whining about how presumptuous Senator Obama is being but playing up that he's campaigning where he's most comfortable. The divergence of the Democrat's absolutely typical northern liberal nominee from the values of the American people is--as it always is--the GOP's best issue. That their opponent is playing into the stereotype is a gift.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:13 AM


Pakistan draws a bead on Baitullah (Syed Saleem Shahzad, 7/25/08, Asia Times)

He is reclusive like Taliban leader Mullah Omar and popular like al-Qaeda's Osama bin Laden, and he pledges his allegiance to both.

This is Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, whom the Pakistani security agencies have tried their best to engage, but he remains defiant, so much so that he is even suspected of being an agent for India's Research and Analysis intelligence agency.

Baitullah, who operates in the South Waziristan tribal area on the border with Afghanistan, has frequently fallen out with the Afghan Taliban for directing his jihadis against the Pakistani security forces rather than sending them to Afghanistan.

Initially, this pleased American and European intelligence agencies as he turned the tide from the Afghan battlefield to Pakistan. But now Baitullah is viewed with extreme suspicion as he has proved to be a man who always achieves what he sets out to do, and jihadis from around the world are flooding into his camps to be trained for global jihad. This in turn has allayed the fears of the Afghan Taliban, who realize they will be ensured a smooth supply of fighters to Afghanistan.

For these reasons, Baitullah is now a marked man.

Which is why they can't win the war--concentrating power just creates targets.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:08 AM


Huge Crowds Left with Mixed Feelings (Mark Waffel and Josh Ward, 7/24/08, Der Spiegel)

"I want to be here for our 'Ich bin ein Berliner' speech," Julie Hagedorn, 38, a Canadian living with her German husband in Berlin told SPIEGEL ONLINE before the speech. "I want to hear it with my own ears when Obama says 'Ich bin ein Europäer (I am a European)."

This sentiment of hoping that the speech would signal the beginning of a new relationship and healing process between Europe and the United States was shared by many of those in the crowd. "This is a rare event," said Alla Samkova, 68, a native Muscovite who has been living in Berlin for 45 years. "In the end it doesn't matter what he says; it only matters that he's here."

Still others -- many others -- expressed joy at being able to get a far-off glimpse of the man promising so much change for the US and the world. "To put it cynically, it's always nice to see a country getting rid of its own junta, even if it elected it itself," said Carsten Winkler, 43, a native Berliner working in the solar industry.

The folks at the New Yorker could take a lesson from Mr. Obama on how to satirize his campaign.

July 24, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:23 PM


A stunning victory (Fraser Nelson, 7/25/08, The Spectator)

It’s official – the SNP has taken Glasgow East with a majority in what is, quite simply, a stunning victory. [And quite result for Cameron, he’s pushed the Liberal Democrats into third place, getting real traction in a constituency where Tory vote is normally no higher than staff members and blood relatives]. This is most momentous Scottish by-election since Hillhead in 1982. The SNP’s greatest victory since the Hamilton by-election which put it on the map in 1967. And a result which ha

Catastrophe for Labour as SNP triumphs in Glasgow East (Severin Carrell and Allegra Stratton, July 25 2008, The Guardian)
Gordon Brown suffered his most severe byelection setback in a summer of electoral routs early this morning as the Scottish National party won a dramatic victory in the Glasgow East contest, taking the once staunch Labour seat with a majority of 365 votes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:04 PM


Pine-Tarred and Feathered (Jim Kaplan, 7/24/08, SI.com)

Earlier in the season, Yankee third baseman Graig Nettles had noticed extensive pine tar on Brett's bat and informed Martin. They had waited for a propitious moment to complain. McClelland measured the bat against the 17-inch width of home plate and discovered pine tar up to 23 inches from the knob. Whereupon, he ruled the homer illegal and the batter out, thus ending the game with the Yankees winning, 4-3.

The scene that followed will be replayed as long as there is videotape. Bug-eyed with rage, accelerating from zero to 60 faster than any test car on the Bonneville Salt Flats, Brett charged out of the dugout with the 6'6" McLelland in his sights. Fortunately, another umpire, Joe Brinkman, interceded, and Brett was merely ejected rather than indicted for assault and battery or worse. The Royals appealed McClelland's ruling.

With the game over, at least temporarily, those of us who covered baseball and lived in the Big Apple had time to react and reflect. New York had always been home to the crazy and unexpected, and this was no different. For a city that had endured an economic crisis, the Son of Sam killings and the "Bronx is Burning" blackouts/riots of just a few years earlier, this zaniness was tame by comparison, though still familiar in Gotham City.

The personae were perfectly cast. Brett always seemed to be in the headlines. After batting .390 in 1980 for the highest average since Ted Williams' .406 in 1941, he had left Game 2 of the World Series with hemorrhoid pain and cheerfully endured minor surgery and endless ribbing ("Let's get to the bottom of this.") The future Hall of Famer would win batting titles in a record three decades and join the 3,000 hit club.

Billy Martin could hardly open his mouth without creating controversy. As a player, he had been traded from his beloved Yankees in 1957 following his role in the Copacabana nightclub rumble on his 29th birthday and years later was sued for breaking the jaw of an opposing pitcher. While managing five teams over 16 seasons including the Yankees five times, he slapped a traveling secretary and got fired at various stops for roughing up another pitcher, fighting with a marshmallow salesman and saying -- five years to the day before the Pine Tar Game -- of Yankees slugger Reggie Jackson and Watergate felon/team owner George Steinbrenner: "The two of them deserve each other -- one's a born liar, the other's convicted." Whatever his indiscretions off the field, Martin was a genius as a manager, winning five division titles, two pennants and a World Series. Hence the famous Sports Illustrated cover reading: "Baseball's Fiery Genius."

The pine-tar incident loomed so large -- and so weird -- that it made the front page of the New York Times. While American League President Lee MacPhail pondered the appeal, Times columnist Ira Berkow had some fun after the bat arrived at league headquarters:

Berkow: "Were there any fingerprints on it?"

(MacPhail's assistant) Bob Fishel: "I didn't see any."

Berkow: "Are there any now, after you held it?"

Fishel: "Not mine. I can tell you that. I held it by the ends."

Berkow: "As if you were eating corn on the cob?"

Fishel: "Sort of, but without the margarine."

Berkow: "Margerine?"

Fishel: "Butter's high in cholesterol."

...who Billy put in CF when they resumed the game, to show his contempt for the ruling (no peeking)?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:59 PM


Another Peek Inside the Brain of the Electorate (Libby Copeland, 7/24/08, Washington Post)

So a bunch of academics decides to revisit one of the defining books of modern American politics, a 1960 tome on the electorate. They spend years comparing interviews with voting-age Americans from 2000 and 2004 to what Americans said during elections in the 1950s. The academics' question: How much has the American voter changed over the past 50 years?

Their conclusion -- that the voter is pretty much the same dismally ill-informed creature he was back then -- continues a decades-long debate about whether Americans are as clueless as they sound.

Reader, before you send that outraged e-mail, consider that you may be an exception. You, of course, are endlessly fascinated by the debate over domestic wiretapping, but it's possible your neighbors think FISA is a hybrid vehicle. In fact, it's quite possible your neighbors are Republicans only because that's what their parents were, and ditto for the Democrats across the street. They couldn't even mumble a passable definition of "liberal" or "conservative."

"You could get depressed," says the University of Iowa's Michael Lewis-Beck, one of the political scientists who wrote "The American Voter Revisited," released last month and inspired by 1960's "The American Voter."

...would, of course, like us to care as much about their jobs as they do. But there's a reason we have a representative democracy instead. Voters don't need much more than a glimpse and a snippet to know whether someone likely represents their views or not. The rest is inside baseball.

In fact, the sole premise of the Obama candidacy is that you can tell he's different by looking at him, ‘This Is the Moment’: And now we are loved again? (Victor Davis Hanson, 7/25/08, National Review)

Besides the usual rock-star stuff that he excels at, Obama still does not do history well. He started, as in now usual, almost immediately by mentioning his race (“I know that I don’t look like the Americans who’ve previously spoken in this great city.”) But that simply was not true, given the fact that for the last seven years both American Secretaries of State — who have been the faces of American foreign policy in Europe — were African-American.

Voters just aren't big on different.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:54 PM


Let me praise the humble hot dog (Larry Roberts, 7/24/08, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

There are so many kinds of dogs and so many places to find them. You've got your white hots in Rochester, N.Y.; your New Jersey rippers (deepfried in oil until the dog splits); coneys in Detroit; Chicago dogs in, well, where else; and Italian dogs, resting in a hoagie roll and hidden by fried peppers and onions and potatoes in Newark, N.J.

I know that my family's eating habits have been directed by my desire to try every one possible. My son recently called to tell me about finding in Manhattan a deep-fried hot dog wrapped in bacon and topped with red kimchee puree, since he knew that I had chowed down on regular kimchee dogs in Toronto.

Oh, the tales of those dogs! Perhaps the best bonding experience I had with my father was the night I was standing on a stool behind the counter of his Dayton, Ohio, pharmacy, counting pills from a large bottle and putting them into small boxes. I won't tell you how young I was, but it was an early evening and he made a telephone call and moments later here came Pete, and I knew him only as Pete, the Greek owner of Pedro's Chili House next door. He had a plate with the smallest hot dogs I had ever seen, covered with his special soupy chili. It was my first experience with the affinity Ohio Greeks had with chili and an experience I would repeat in Dayton, Cincinnati and Toledo, where Rudy's, a Greek joint, did battle for my hot dog dollars with the legendary Tony Packo's Hungarian hot dogs -- of "M• A• S• H" fame.

Chili on frankfurters was something I had never seen in New York City, where my grandfather and I used to have lunch down the street from Willoughby Camera, where he worked on 32nd Street with a view of Madison Square Garden at one end and Leo's hot dogs at the other. What made Leo's palatable to my grandfather was that they were Hebrew National and definitely kosher. Topped with sauerkraut and bolstered by a cold drink of pineapple juice, they were a great way to visit with the man who got me into the photo business. Alas, like most of my New York, the storefront is now empty.

The next wave of pooch parlors includes Gray's Papaya, Papaya Dog and a burgeoning group of imitators. It's dogs and kraut and/or onion sauce and a choice of very sweet fruit drinks for less than $4. Of course, it used to be less than $3, but they still are a bargain.

...God's gift to the inebriated.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:36 PM


Obama Echoes Reagan in Call for Global Unity (JENNIFER PARKER, July 24, 2008, ABC News)

"I come to Berlin as so many of my countrymen have come before. Tonight, I speak to you not as a candidate for president, but as a citizen -- a proud citizen of the United States, and a fellow citizen of the world," Obama said, standing before Berlin's famed Victory Column in Berlin. [...]

"People of Berlin – people of the world – this is our moment. This is our time," he said.

A "citizen of the world?" And they wonder why he can't convince voters he's a patriot?

Note how differently Reagan cast himself, and us, in his Bitburg speech, as crusaders for the downtrodden rather than as one-worlders:

[T]oday freedom-loving people around the world must say: I am a Berliner. I am a Jew in a world still threatened by anti-Semitism. I am an Afghan, and I am a prisoner of the Gulag. I am a refugee in a crowded boat foundering off the coast of Vietnam. I am a Laotian, a Cambodian, a Cuban, and a Miskito Indian in Nicaragua. I, too, am a potential victim of totalitarianism.

In Obamaworld there apparently are no such victims nor any oppressors nor any moral imperative for us to intervene on the side of the one against the other. When he does get around to mentioning some folks who could use our help it's bloggers--flattering to his base but rather trivial--and he's asking a bunch of Euros if we "world citizens" are going to help. We all know the world answer.

Obama’s Ego Trip: Will the candidate’s European progress backfire? (Nicholas Wapshott, 24 July 2008, City Journal)

There is little doubt that Europeans would overwhelmingly vote for Obama if given the chance. The Guardian reported last week that the British, who turned on Tony Blair after he tied himself to President Bush’s mast and who generally disapprove of the Iraq War, prefer Obama over John McCain by 53 percent to 11. (The remaining 36 percent expressed no opinion.) In Germany, according to the Telegraph, the figures are even more stark, with Obama attracting 67 percent support to McCain’s 6.

Part of Obama’s popularity has to do with Europe’s intense antipathy toward Bush. The president has made little effort to woo the Europeans over the last seven years, and he studiously ignored their leaders’ efforts, through the United Nations, to postpone the invasion of Iraq. [...]

The continent is considerably to the left of America, and its people are generally more liberal on such matters as abortion, the death penalty, and gun control. On all three issues, Obama has shown himself prepared to shift to more conservative positions in order to be more electable. If the Europeans have noticed this pragmatic change of tack, they have put it out of their minds. Further, Obama’s early and long-standing opposition to the Iraq War has made him a standard bearer for an anti-Americanism that is now rife throughout the European Union. Many Europeans see his unusual family background and his mixed ethnicity as confirmation of their belief that he is not quite wholly American—that he is even, perhaps, un-American.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:26 PM


Oil price falls as speculators bale (David Uren | July 25, 2008, The Australian)

SPECULATORS are quitting their bets that oil prices will continue rising, sending the oil price tumbling below $US125 a barrel for the first time in six weeks and promising further relief at the bowser for Australian motorists. [...]

The oil price has fallen by 15 per cent from its record of $US147.50 a barrel set two weeks ago, with no sign that its decline has ended. [...]

Most of the world's oil is produced at a cost of less than $US60 a barrel.

Talk about being divided by a common language....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:23 PM


DNC organizers didn't pay fuel tax? What a gas! (The Denver Post, 07/23/2008)

So, let's get this straight: While the rest of us poor schlubs have been grimacing as we put $4 a gallon gas into our cars, local organizers of the Democratic National Convention have been pumping tax-free gas into theirs?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:30 AM


Science too slow on mobile phone cancer risk: expert (AP, 24th July 2008)

The head of a prominent cancer research institute issued an unprecedented warning, telling staff to limit mobile phone use because of the possible risk of cancer.

University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute director Ronald Herberman said it took long to get answers from science and people should take action now — especially when it comes to children.

Dr Herberman's warning is contrary to numerous US studies that don’t find a link between increased tumors and mobile phone use...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:21 AM


McCain Makes Significant Gains in Four Key Battleground States: Majority of Voters in Colorado, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin Favor Keeping Troops in Iraq, According to Quinnipiac-washingtonpost.com-Wall Street Journal Survey
(Chris Cillizza, 7/24/08, washingtonpost.com)

Republican John McCain has quickly closed the gap between himself and Democratic rival Sen. Barack Obama in several key battleground states even as the Arizona senator struggles to break through the wall-to-wall coverage of Obama's trip to Europe and the Middle East this week.

Wandering around the Middle East embracing the policies of George Bush and repudiating your own prior positions apparently isn't the way to boost poll numbers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:59 AM


The Real Question: Should Oil Be Cheap?: Expensive oil hurts, but there's a business case to be made for a floor under the price of crude (John Carey, 7/23/08, Business Week)

[A]mite Foundry's resurgence is just one of countless examples of a deeper truth: Expensive energy, in many ways, is good. Why? When the price of oil goes up, people will use less, find substitutes, and develop new supplies. Those effects are just basic economics. Things are so painful now, many economists say, because of the past two decades of cheap oil. Prices stayed low in part because they didn't reflect the full cost of extras such as pollution, so there was little incentive to use energy more wisely. If those extras had been counted, the country would be better prepared for both today's soaring prices and the day that global oil production begins to decline.

That's why there is growing interest, from both the left and right, in a policy that uses taxes to put a floor under the price of oil. Above a certain level—say $90—there would be no tax. But if the world market price dropped below that, taxes would kick in to make U.S. users pay the target amount.

Expensive energy is a powerful medicine. It may hurt when taken, but it brings long-term cures for a host of ills. It compels companies and people to put fewer miles on the car, ditch the SUV, or install more efficient heating, as Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor did: The hospital saves $1 million annually with a system it installed two years ago. Higher costs are beginning to nudge America away from its traditional traffic-congested suburban sprawl to denser, less car-dependent communities. Utah has a government-sponsored bike-to-work program. "When the Republican governor of the reddest state in the union is promoting bicycling as a preferred mode of transportation, you know people are paying attention to the price signals," says Keith Bartholomew, professor of urban planning at the University of Utah.

These changes are saving lives—fewer traffic deaths—and improving health as people get out of their cars. A study from Washington University in St. Louis suggests that 8% of the rise in obesity since the 1980s was due to low gas prices, which led to less walking and biking and more restaurant meals. Silicon Valley engineer Andy King parked his Chevy Suburban in favor of a bike for commuting and says he has dropped 35 pounds since February. "It's good for my body and soul," King says.

High energy prices also water the flowers of innovation, making investments in alternatives pay off and juicing the search for more oil. [...]

With oil demand slowing and supplies headed up, prices are off more than $20 from their July 11 record of $147.27. "I don't think anyone believes prices that high were here to stay," says Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist A. Denny Ellerman.

Just as the low prices of the late 1980s and '90s undid some positive effects of expensive oil, the mere possibility that prices could fall is weakening the market forces pushing toward greater energy efficiency. What really drives behavior is not the actual price, but the perception of where costs will be over the long term.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:55 AM


Ending A War (James Brady, 07.24.08, Forbes)

No matter who wins in November, the war in Iraq will stop one day. But just how do you end a war? The so-called "forgotten war" in Korea ended at 10 p.m. on July 27, 1953--55 years ago on Sunday--with an uneasy truce that still holds half a century later.

...with half the Iraqi people enslaved under a brutal Stalinist dictatorship. The Korean War isn't over.

July 23, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:29 PM


McCain Camp's Fake Press Pass Lampoons Obama, Media (John Bentley, 7/22/08, CBS News)

John McCain’s campaign had a little fun at Barack Obama’s expense tonight, issuing a fake press pass to the McCain traveling press on the bus as we landed at the airport here. The front of the pass identifies the McCain press corps as the “JV Squad” and has the caption “Left Behind to Report in America.”

The reverse side features a Frenchman pouring a glass of wine with the same caption en francaise (“Laisse en arriere pour faire un rapport en Amerique”).

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:23 PM


WSJ/NBC Poll: Obama Maintains Lead Over McCain (Susan Davis, 7/24/08, WSJ: Washington Wire)

Barack Obama remains ahead of rival John McCain in the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll with a six-point advantage, 47%-41%. Obama’s lead is exactly the same as it was a month ago in the June WSJ/NBC poll. [...]

However, the Arizona Republican senator has an 11-percentage-point advantage over Obama when voters were asked which candidate’s background and set of values they identify with more—58% said that candidate was McCain, while 47% said Obama. In contrast, 34% said McCain does not represent their values, while 43% said Obama does not.

It's been funny to listen to the commentariat hail as a successful foreign trip one on which Senator Obama is going around conceding that W and Maverick were right on all the major issues. It's certainly understandable that the campaign felt they had to get this over with while everyone is on vacation, but hard to see why pundits think it's helpful.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:07 PM


Howard's migrant milestone to sink (George Megalogenis, July 24, 2008, The Australian)

THE Australia that John Howard left behind for Kevin Rudd is making babies, going to work, de-unionised and hooked on immigration. [...]

Trade union membership began its slide under the Hawke-Keating Labor government, and Howard's administration completed the process by reducing coverage to less than 20 per cent last year - a point of no return, demographically speaking.

Each party has done its bit to secure lower trade union membership. From 46 per cent of the workforce in 1986 to 30 per cent in 1997 following Labor's restructure of the economy, and down again to 19 per cent by last year.

Imagine the nation a decade from now. If what happened in the Howard era were repeated, trade union coverage would have clicked back to single digits.

The last outpost would be the bureaucracy. Trade union membership in the public sector fell from 55 per cent in 1997 to 44 per cent last year. So Howard didn't quite win the culture war here, and if Rudd wanted to throw comrades a bone, he could allowthem to re-unionise the bureaucracy.

The latest issue of Australian Social Trends, the bureau of statistics annual stocktake of people and policy concerns, contains one last irony for the Howard era.

The Coalition thought it was making political capital by forcing single mothers to go back to work. What it got was a backlash in lower-income electorates.

Yesterday's data, however, confirmed a sharp improvement in the employment rates for sole parents with dependent children over the course of Howard's final term - from 48 per cent in jobs in 2004 to 55 per cent last year.

Howard got single mums working again. But they didn't thank him, and helped deliver government to Labor.

...we occasionally change the party in power, but never the policies.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:51 PM


Cuba under Raúl: Creeping toward capitalism?: Since Raúl Castro took the helm in February, he's rolled out a series economic changes, including allowing Cubans to buy cellphones and giving farmers profit-incentives (Sara Miller Llana and Matthew Clark, 7/23/08, The Christian Science Monitor

The island nation's economy has struggled mightily since losing the support of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. Free-market reforms within a socialist system, like the kind embraced by China, had been rejected by Fidel Castro, who ruled for a half century. But there are signs that younger brother Raúl, who permanently replaced Fidel in February, may orchestrate a move toward a more capitalist economy.

Raúl's reputation as a pragmatist is unfurling expectations here that the era of asceticism and austerity is coming to a close. Major agricultural reforms have been unveiled. And in a speech earlier this month, he seemed to be preparing the populace for an economic shift.

...the notion the economy was okay until the USSR fell or the idea that poverty under Castro was an "ascetic" matter.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:47 PM


Dear Illinois Bloggers, Radio Hosts, and Citizens,

I don't know where you stand on the Illinois Constitutional Convention, but I will be debating Al Salvi on the issue live and streaming on the internet on Tuesday night (29th).

Whatever your opinion, I would argue that this is THE issue in IL (nearly everything else is pre-determined), and offers all Illinoisans a shot at an improved state.

I attached a flyer to this e-mail, and would love for the event to get some publicity. It will be broadcast LIVE from WKRS (1220 AM & www.wkrs.com) and podcast after the event, so your readers/listeners will have a chance to listen even if they miss it on Tuesday. Call-ins will be welcomed, so your readers/listeners may want to be part of the debate by calling in and asking questions.

If you have any questions, please e-mail me or call me. If you can attend, there is seating for 3-400, with FREE pizza and a cash bar.


Bruno Behrend
Host - Extreme Wisdom Radio Show
Co-Author - Illinois Deserves Better; Co-Founder - Illinois Citizens Coalition
Listen Live - http://1220wkrs.com/pages/93518.php

(847) 343-4250

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:35 PM


Harvard Law Reviewed: Kicking down doors. (Elise O’Shaughnessy June 1990, Vanity Fair)

The new president of the Harvard Law Review was somewhat taken aback by the deluge of media coverage that followed hard on the heels of his election. The New York Times ran a “First Black” headline, which probably won’t be the last time that label is affixed to Barack Obama. The twenty-eight-year-old law student says he wasn’t going to run for the office until a black friend talked him into it. “There’s a door to kick down,” the friend argued, “and you’re in a position to kick it down.”

First Black Elected to Head Harvard's Law Review (FOX BUTTERFIELD, February 6, 1990, NY Times)
Mr. Obama was elected after a meeting of the review's 80 editors that convened Sunday and lasted until early this morning, a participant said.

Until the 1970's the editors were picked on the basis of grades, and the president of the Law Review was the student with the highest academic rank. Among these were Elliot L. Richardson, the former Attorney General, and Irwin Griswold, a dean of the Harvard Law School and Solicitor General under Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard M. Nixon.

That system came under attack in the 1970's and was replaced by a program in which about half the editors are chosen for their grades and the other half are chosen by fellow students after a special writing competition. The new system, disputed when it began, was meant to help insure that minority students became editors of The Law Review.

Harvard, like a number of other top law schools, no longer ranks its law students for any purpose including a guide to recruiters.

It's an honorary post rather than merit-based?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:50 PM


You can listen to the whole album here

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:30 AM


Newspaper misspells its name on front page (Daily Telegraph, 23 Jul 2008)

This Monday readers of New Hampshire’s Valley News were surprised to see the paper's name spelled "Valley Newss" on the front page masthead.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:26 AM


Shrimp-Like Fossil Confirms Antarctica Was Once Warmer (Michael Reilly, 7/23/08, Discovery News)

Windswept and frigid, Antarctica's Dry Valleys region is among the most inhospitable on Earth. But it wasn't always that way.

Scientists have discovered the fossil of a 14 million-year-old crustacean lurking in the sediments of an ancient lake. Together with well-preserved mosses, these tiny cousins of shrimp -- called Ostracods -- offer new evidence that the icy continent was once much warmer.

Led by Mark Williams of the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom, a team of researchers sifted through sediments left by the ancient Lake Boreas, looking for signs of Antarctica's climate history. What they found stunned them.

...are the only ones who believe in a static environment.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:20 AM


What Might Have Been: Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich were making progress on entitlement reform, until . . .: a review of The Pact: Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich and the Rivalry That Defined a Generation, by Steven M. Gillon (Fred Siegel, 18 July 2008, City Journal)

[I]t’s easy to forget that the 1990s were, relatively speaking, a decade of government reform. Governors like Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin pioneered welfare reform, while cerebral mayors like Steve Goldsmith of Indianapolis, John Norquist of Milwaukee, and Rudy Giuliani of New York tackled efficiency, urban design, and crime, respectively. Clinton and Gingrich were the comparable figures on the national stage. Unlike most of their fellow politicians on both sides of the aisle, they shared an intellectual interest in how to make government work.

The two men, bitter enemies who seemed to embody the never-ending hostilities of the 1960s, worked together to pass both national welfare reform and the North American Free Trade Agreement—impressive achievements, especially in the aftermath of the political spanking that Clinton had handed Gingrich in 1995, after the speaker tried, in effect, to govern from the House floor. By the end of 1997, their mutual hostilities notwithstanding, they were ready for a new and even greater collaboration. For the first time in 30 years, the federal government enjoyed a surplus. Standing at $70 billion then, the surplus was projected to grow to $4.5 trillion over the next 15 years. Here was a chance to address widely held fears, particularly prevalent among younger voters, that Social Security and Medicare were headed for insolvency. With Clinton’s second-term chief of staff, North Carolina businessman Erskine Bowles, serving as the indispensable intermediary, the two rivals began discussing how to tackle entitlement reform.

But news of cordial policy conversations between the leaders of the warring camps spread consternation among militants in both parties. Republican conservatives, led by Congressman Tom DeLay of Texas, thought Gingrich was going soft on Clinton and considered deposing him as speaker. Similarly, Congressman Dick Gephardt of Missouri, the Democratic minority leader, was suspicious of any compromises with Gingrich; Gephardt, like most liberals, was already alienated from Clinton because of the president’s support for NAFTA. Clinton and Gingrich each had to wonder if the other was leading him into a trap.

When they sat down face to face—appropriately enough, in the Treaty Room in the East Wing of the White House—the outlines of a deal were readily apparent, explained Clinton aide Bruce Reed, one of the many staffers Gillon interviewed. The president agreed that some measure of choice would have to be incorporated into the existing Social Security system in the form of privately managed individual retirement accounts. In return, the speaker agreed to drop his demand for new tax cuts. The two concurred that the retirement age for collecting full Social Security benefits would have to increase. Finally, they decided to form a commission led by Louisiana Democratic senator John Breaux, a man trusted by both sides, which would recommend ways to bring private-sector reforms to Medicare.

Clinton was to unveil the outlines of the plan on January 27, 1998, in his State of the Union speech. But on January 21, the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke, and American politics has never fully recovered from that disaster.

In failing to Reform SS when he had a Congress eager to do so, Bill Clinton lost his shot at being a great president and we've wasted a decade getting around to the inevitable.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:04 AM


Is McCain inching towards Pawlenty? (Dana Bash, 7/23/08, CNN)

It's VP tea leaf reading season, and a Republican source who attended a small private meeting with John McCain Tuesday in New Hampshire tells CNN that the GOP candidate dropped a serious hint about Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty.

The Republican source said "out of the blue" McCain told the gathering that he thinks they are "really going to like" Pawlenty.

..is that it isn't Mitt.
Zemanta Pixie

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:52 AM


The Hold Steady performs in The Current studio (Mary Lucia, July 22, 2008, MPR: The Current)

Songs performed: "Constructive Summer," "Sequestered In Memphis," "Lord, I'm Discouraged," and "Cheyenne Sunrise."

Zemanta Pixie

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:48 AM


In Search of Realism (Joseph Loconte, July 23, 2008, First Things: On the Square)

As is well known, the Bush doctrine represents a remarkable about-face for an administration that initially swore off “nation-building.” Its repudiation of decades of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East—stability at the cost of freedom—has been no less astonishing. Nevertheless, despite its candor, the document leaves probing questions about America’s democracy agenda unanswered. Can a self-declared Islamic state, for example, support the political doctrines of equality, pluralism, and individual freedom? How can the United States promote democratic reform in societies that have little or no experience with these ideals?

Clues to some of the answers may be found in Florence, where Pocock’s story begins. In Florentine thought, he writes, there was “no ambiguity in the general assent that when men are not virtuous, the world becomes problematic and even unintelligible.” The problem, in other words, is located primarily in human nature—its naturally selfish will to power. “Republics existed to mobilize the intelligence and virtue of all citizens,” writes Pocock. “Their stability was dependent on their doing so and if they failed they became governments of a few, whose intelligence and virtue were doomed to decline by their finite and insufficient character.”

We might call this “republican realism”—the fact that self-government depends on citizens who are self-governing. The American Founders, down to the last man, held to this view as a core democratic doctrine. They worried that republican virtue might not exist in ample supply in the United States. “Even if every Athenian citizen had been a Socrates,” warned Madison in The Federalist, “every Athenian assembly would have been a mob.” Rice acknowledges the challenges facing emerging democracies. She admits that democratic development is “never fast or easy” and that “few nations begin the democratic journey with a democratic culture.” Instead, they must create and sustain it over time “through the hard, daily struggle to make good laws, build democratic institutions, tolerate differences, resolve them peacefully, and share power justly.”

What she doesn’t say, what the Bush administration has mostly failed to explain to the American people, is the fearsome difficulty—and the terrible frailty—of this task in states ravaged by despotic governments and religious extremism. How many Americans believed in late 2001, after the toppling of the Taliban in Afghanistan, that the nation today would remain threatened by the forces of tyranny and nihilism?


Afghanistan Doesn't Need a 'Surge' (ANN MARLOWE, July 22, 2008, Wall Street Journal)

Afghanistan needs many things, but two more brigades of U.S. troops are not among them.

Barack Obama said: "We need more troops, more helicopters, better intelligence-gathering and more nonmilitary assistance to accomplish the mission there." Mr. Obama should have supported the surge in Iraq, but that doesn't mean that advocating one in Afghanistan makes sense.

Afghanistan's problems are not the same as Iraq's. Its people aren't recovering from a brutal, all-controlling tyranny, but from decades of chaos and centuries of bad government. Afghanistan, unlike Iraq, is largely illiterate and has a relatively undeveloped civil society. Afghan society still centers around the family and, for men, the mosque. Its society and traditions are still largely intact, in contrast to Iraq's fractured, urbanized and half-modernized population.

The Afghan insurgency has no broad popular base and doesn't mirror an obvious religious or ethnic fault line. It is also far more linked with Pakistani support than the Iraqi insurgency or militias were with Iran. Afghanistan needs a better president, judiciary and police force -- and a Pakistani government that is not playing footsie with the Taliban.

The possibility exists that Afghans might be better served by choosing not to try to have a central state.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:39 AM


A Depression? Hardly (Robert J. Samuelson, July 23, 2008, Washington Post)

The Great Depression of the 1930s -- the last time the term rightly applied -- was industrial capitalism's worst calamity. U.S. unemployment peaked at 25 percent in 1933; it averaged 18 percent for the decade. From 1929 to 1933, 40 percent of U.S. banks failed. People lost deposits; businesses and consumers lost access to credit. Over the same period, wholesale prices dropped a third, driving farmers and firms into bankruptcy. Farm foreclosures, shantytowns (called "Hoovervilles," after the president) and bread lines followed.

This was a social as well as economic breakdown. Our present situation bears no resemblance to this. In June, unemployment was 5.5 percent, slightly below the average since 1960 of 5.8 percent. It's true that banks and investment banks -- Citigroup, Merrill Lynch, Wachovia -- have suffered large losses. But on the whole, the banking system seems fairly strong. Although profits in the first quarter of 2008 were down 46 percent from 2007, they totaled $19 billion even after $37 billion set aside for loan loss reserves. Overall corporate profits are still running at a near-record annual rate of $1.5 trillion.

As yet, the present economic slowdown does not even approach the harshest post-World War II slump. The back-to-back recessions of 1980 and 1981-82 (as dated by the National Bureau of Economic Research) constituted, for most people, one prolonged downturn. Unemployment peaked at 10.8 percent in late 1982. In 1981 and 1982, housing starts were down almost 50 percent from their 1978 peak. From 1979 to 1982, the economy stagnated; output lurched down, then up and then down. There had been nothing like that since the 1930s. [...]

The paradoxical thing about today's economy is its strength. No kidding. Consider all the hand grenades lobbed at it. Higher oil prices. The housing implosion. Large layoffs in affected industries: autos, airlines, construction, mortgage banking. The "credit squeeze" triggered by losses on "subprime" mortgages. Despite all that, the economy hasn't collapsed. It's merely weakened. Output in the first quarter of 2008 was actually 2.5 percent higher than a year earlier.

One does sometimes wish for the power to Life-on-Mars people who bitch and moan about the current 25-year expansion.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:12 AM


Wary of China, Russians look West (Dmitry Shlapentokh, 7/24/08, Asia Times)

[F]or those who interweave China's economy with other aspects of the country - what these Russians perceive as essential traits - they see China as a threat.

The main reason is one of demographics. Russia's 142 million population is declining, while China's 1.3 billion-plus is growing. Across Russia, one finds posters calling for bigger families and radio broadcasts that paint population decline as a catastrophic development that could lead to Russia's disintegration.

Russians fear a Chinese spillover into their eastern regions. They acknowledge that Chinese migrants are very hardworking and they could even transform Russia's vast tundra into rice paddies. But (white) Russians fear they will be absorbed into the Chinese multitude.

One of my interlocutors said she believed this was inevitable, and her only consolation was that by the time it happened she would not be alive.

The Russian view of the Chinese as hardworking and obedient to often ruthless masters fits the old image of peril from the East that has been historically associated with the Mongols/Tatars, the only people to have actually conquered Russia, in the 13th century.

In the late Boris Yeltsin and early Putin era, the image of the Mongols was recast due to the popularity of "Eurasianism" - the political/philosophical creed that regards Russians as a unique blend of Orthodox Slavs and Muslims of mostly Turkic origin. The Mongols were credited with forging this unique "symbiosis". Now, however, the old image of the Mongols is back, and they are seen as ruthless conquerors who brought Russia horrific suffering, regardless of any positive aspects of their rule. These Mongols are often associated with the Chinese, and Asians in general.

The implication of this lingering fear of the Chinese among the populace, even when their positive qualities, such as hard work, are acknowledged, is that Russia continues to be oriented toward the West, especially Europe. This despite concerns over an advancing North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the United States' planned missile defense system in Europe.

Russians regard Europe as much closer to them than the people of the East. Many hope that "Old" Europe - notably Germany and France - will recognize that economically, militarily and demographically, Russia is essential to them as a fellow Christian, Caucasian civilization that faces the same pressures from the East.

We need not worry about alienating Russia, not just because it's so weak but because it has nowhere to go.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:41 AM


China’s Role In African Politics Appalling (Last Moyo, 7/17/08, The Zimbabwe Independent)

China’s Africa policy –– a document that describes the framework of its trade with Africa espoused by the communist government in January 2006 –– shows that China’s relationship with Africa in general and Zimbabwe in particular, is fraught with not only some head-swaying contradictions, but also a serious ethical and moral vacuum that exposes China to be shrewd, selfish, calculating, greedy and primitive because it prioritises its economic and political interests over ordinary people’s human rights in its dealings with African countries.

For example, regardless of Zimbabwe’s international isolation due to its human rights abuses, China continues to be Zimbabwe’s biggest investor strategically positioning itself to exploit our valuable natural resources to develop its ever burgeoning economy at the expense of the basic freedoms and entitlements of the ordinary citizens of Zimbabwe.

According to the Jamestown Foundation, a leading source of information about the inner workings of closed totalitarian societies, since the Zimbabwean crisis began in 2000, Chinese firms such as China International Water and Electric, National Aero-Technology Import and Export Corporation (Catic) and North Industries Corporation (Norinco) have clinched mouth-watering deals in mining, aviation, agriculture, defence and other sectors in an avowed all weather friendship with Mugabe’s regime. While some critics argue that China’s relentless support for Zimbabwe in the Security Council is based on the close historical ties dating back to the struggle for independence, it is now crystal clear to everybody that China has always pursued self-serving policies that are solely based on its economic and political considerations. If indeed –– as the available evidence seems to suggest –– China’s current policy position in Zimbabwe is primarily motivated by its economic greed, then Zimbabweans will have no reason not to believe the growing suspicion that the support for the liberation struggle in the seventies was simply based on China’s need to spread communism and create geopolitical alliances in the cold war and halt the spread of free market and liberal principles across Africa. The fact that ethics therefore may have played no part presents China as an opportunistic power whose development can be directly linked to the tears, pain and in some cases, blood of African men, women and children.

Olympic Bars Won't serve 'blacks' and Mongolians? (Asia News, 7/19/08)
Bar owners around the Workers' Stadium in downtown Beijing say that public security officials are telling them not to let in "blacks" and Mongolians, and many of them have even had to sign a pledge.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 AM


Hollywood's conservative underground 'Friends of Abe' group meets quietly (Amy Fagan, July 23, 2008, Washington Times)

A group of politically conservative and centrist Hollywood figures organized by actor Gary Sinise and others has been meeting quietly in restaurants and private homes, forming a loose-knit network of entertainers who share common beliefs like supporting U.S. troops and traditional American values. [...]

"A Friend of Abe is someone who has reverence for those who serve in our military and believes that American liberal democracy is a unique success, different from others, and it's worthy of the respect of our popular culture ... of Hollywood in particular," said screenwriter Lionel Chetwynd, who helped organize Friends of Abe luncheons when they began four years ago.

Mr. Chetwynd said Friends of Abe generally find themselves at odds with the rhetoric of their hard-left colleagues in Hollywood.

Craig Haffner, a producer who also attended the gatherings, said Friends of Abe is "not a political action group; people are gravitating to it because they love their country."

While the group is not organizing any political activities, some of its members are taking action into their own hands.

Actor Jon Voight, Mr. Boone, Mr. Chetwynd and Mr. Haffner have stepped forward and actively campaigned for Mr. McCain's presidential bid. Mr. Boone said he talked to McCain campaign staffers last week about how he and other stars can help. Supporters now are assembling a formal organization for Mr. McCain in Hollywood, a few of the leaders said.

Meanwhile, many want to produce more movie and theater projects with a positive American message and stronger emphasis on positive cultural values instead of films that paint America as "the great Satan," Mr. Boone said. Mr. Chetwynd said such efforts have been under way for several years, well before the Friends of Abe luncheons began.

July 22, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:50 PM


Exposing Bush's historic abuse of power: Salon has uncovered new evidence of post-9/11 spying on Americans. Obtained documents point to a potential investigation of the White House that could rival Watergate. (Tim Shorrock, Jul. 23, 2008, Salon)

A prime area of inquiry for a sweeping new investigation would be the Bush administration's alleged use of a top-secret database to guide its domestic surveillance. Dating back to the 1980s and known to government insiders as "Main Core," the database reportedly collects and stores -- without warrants or court orders -- the names and detailed data of Americans considered to be threats to national security.

According to several former U.S. government officials with extensive knowledge of intelligence operations, Main Core in its current incarnation apparently contains a vast amount of personal data on Americans, including NSA intercepts of bank and credit card transactions and the results of surveillance efforts by the FBI, the CIA and other agencies. One former intelligence official described Main Core as "an emergency internal security database system" designed for use by the military in the event of a national catastrophe, a suspension of the Constitution or the imposition of martial law. Its name, he says, is derived from the fact that it contains "copies of the 'main core' or essence of each item of intelligence information on Americans produced by the FBI and the other agencies of the U.S. intelligence community."

Some of the former U.S. officials interviewed, although they have no direct knowledge of the issue, said they believe that Main Core may have been used by the NSA to determine who to spy on in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. Moreover, the NSA's use of the database, they say, may have triggered the now-famous March 2004 confrontation between the White House and the Justice Department that nearly led Attorney General John Ashcroft, FBI director William Mueller and other top Justice officials to resign en masse.

The Justice Department officials who objected to the legal basis for the surveillance program -- former Deputy Attorney General James B. Comey and Jack Goldsmith, the former head of the Office of Legal Counsel -- testified before Congress last year about the 2004 showdown with the White House. Although they refused to discuss the highly classified details behind their concerns, the New York Times later reported that they were objecting to a program that "involved computer searches through massive electronic databases" containing "records of the phone calls and e-mail messages of millions of Americans."

According to William Hamilton, a former NSA intelligence officer who left the agency in the 1970s, that description sounded a lot like Main Core, which he first heard about in detail in 1992. Hamilton, who is the president of Inslaw Inc., a computer services firm with many clients in government and the private sector, says there are strong indications that the Bush administration's domestic surveillance operations use Main Core.

Hamilton's company Inslaw is widely respected in the law enforcement community for creating a program called the Prosecutors' Management Information System, or PROMIS. It keeps track of criminal investigations through a powerful search engine that can quickly access all stored data components of a case, from the name of the initial investigators to the telephone numbers of key suspects. PROMIS, also widely used in the insurance industry, can also sort through other databases fast, with results showing up almost instantly. "It operates just like Google," Hamilton told me in an interview in his Washington office in May.

Since the late 1980s, Inslaw has been involved in a legal dispute over its claim that Justice Department officials in the Reagan administration appropriated the PROMIS software. Hamilton claims that Reagan officials gave PROMIS to the NSA and the CIA, which then adapted the software -- and its outstanding ability to search other databases -- to manage intelligence operations and track financial transactions. Over the years, Hamilton has employed prominent lawyers to pursue the case, including Elliot Richardson, the former attorney general and secretary of defense who died in 1999, and C. Boyden Gray, the former White House counsel to President George H.W. Bush. The dispute has never been settled. But based on the long-running case, Hamilton says he believes U.S. intelligence uses PROMIS as the primary software for searching the Main Core database.

Hamilton was first told about the connection between PROMIS and Main Core in the spring of 1992 by a U.S. intelligence official, and again in 1995 by a former NSA official. In July 2001, Hamilton says, he discussed his case with retired Adm. Dan Murphy, a former military advisor to Elliot Richardson who later served under President George H.W. Bush as deputy director of the CIA. Murphy, who died shortly after his meeting with Hamilton, did not specifically mention Main Core. But he informed Hamilton that the NSA's use of PROMIS involved something "so seriously wrong that money alone cannot cure the problem," Hamilton told me. He added, "I believe in retrospect that Murphy was alluding to Main Core." Hamilton also provided copies of letters that Richardson and Gray sent to U.S. intelligence officials and the Justice Department on Inslaw's behalf alleging that the NSA and the CIA had appropriated PROMIS for intelligence use.

Hamilton says James B. Comey's congressional testimony in May 2007, in which he described a hospitalized John Ashcroft's dramatic standoff with senior Bush officials Alberto Gonzales and Andrew Card, was another illuminating moment. "It was then that we [at Inslaw] started hearing again about the Main Core derivative of PROMIS for spying on Americans," he told me.

Through a former senior Justice Department official with more than 25 years of government experience, Salon has learned of a high-level former national security official who reportedly has firsthand knowledge of the U.S. government's use of Main Core. The official worked as a senior intelligence analyst for a large domestic law enforcement agency inside the Bush White House. He would not agree to an interview. But according to the former Justice Department official, the former intelligence analyst told her that while stationed at the White House after the 9/11 attacks, one day he accidentally walked into a restricted room and came across a computer system that was logged on to what he recognized to be the Main Core database. When she mentioned the specific name of the top-secret system during their conversation, she recalled, "he turned white as a sheet."

An article in Radar magazine in May, citing three unnamed former government officials, reported that "8 million Americans are now listed in Main Core as potentially suspect" and, in the event of a national emergency, "could be subject to everything from heightened surveillance and tracking to direct questioning and even detention."

The alleged use of Main Core by the Bush administration for surveillance, if confirmed to be true, would indicate a much deeper level of secretive government intrusion into Americans' lives than has been previously known. With respect to civil liberties, says the ACLU's Steinhardt, it would be "pretty frightening stuff."

The Inslaw case also points to what may be an extensive role played by the NSA in financial spying inside the United States. According to reports over the years in the U.S. and foreign press, Inslaw's PROMIS software was embedded surreptitiously in systems sold to foreign and global banks as a way to give the NSA secret "backdoor" access to the electronic flow of money around the world.

In May, I interviewed Norman Bailey, a private financial consultant with years of government intelligence experience dating from the George W. Bush administration back to the Reagan administration. According to Bailey -- who from 2006 to 2007 headed a special unit within the Office of the Director of National Intelligence focused on financial intelligence on Cuba and Venezuela -- the NSA has been using its vast powers with signals intelligence to track financial transactions around the world since the early 1980s.

From 1982 to 1984, Bailey ran a top-secret program for President Reagan's National Security Council, called "Follow the Money," that used NSA signals intelligence to track loans from Western banks to the Soviet Union and its allies. PROMIS, he told me, was "the principal software element" used by the NSA and the Treasury Department then in their electronic surveillance programs tracking financial flows to the Soviet bloc, organized crime and terrorist groups. His admission is the first public acknowledgement by a former U.S. intelligence official that the NSA used the PROMIS software.

According to Bailey, the Reagan program marked a significant shift in resources from human spying to electronic surveillance, as a way to track money flows to suspected criminals and American enemies. "That was the beginning of the whole process," he said.

After 9/11, this capability was instantly seen within the U.S. government as a critical tool in the war on terror -- and apparently was deployed by the Bush administration inside the United States, in cases involving alleged terrorist supporters. One such case was that of the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation in Oregon, which was accused of having terrorist ties after the NSA, at the request of the Treasury Department, eavesdropped on the phone calls of Al-Haramain officials and their American lawyers. The charges against Al-Haramain were based primarily on secret evidence that the Bush administration refused to disclose in legal proceedings; Al-Haramain's lawyers argued in a lawsuit that was a violation of the defendants' due process rights.

According to Bailey, the NSA also likely would have used its technological capabilities to track the charity's financial activity. "The vast majority of financial movements of any significance take place electronically, so intercepts have become an extremely important element" in intelligence, he explained. "If the government suspects that a particular Muslim charitable organization is engaged in collecting funds to funnel to terrorists, the NSA would be asked to follow the money going into and out of the bank accounts of that charity." (The now-defunct Al-Haramain Foundation, although affiliated with a Saudi Arabian-based global charity, was founded and based in Ashland, Ore.)

The use of a powerful database and extensive watch lists, Bailey said, would make the NSA's job much easier. "The biggest problems with intercepts, quite frankly, is that the volumes of data, daily or even by the hour, are gigantic," he said. "Unless you have a very precise idea of what it is you're looking for, the NSA people or their counterparts [overseas] will just throw up their hands and say 'forget it.'"

Which is what Americans are supposed to prefer, rather than have the feds use precise data to target the enemy?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:54 PM


City gives DNC host committee pass on gas tax (Daniel J. Chacon, 7/22/08, Rocky Mountain News)

The committee hosting the Democratic National Convention is using the city's gas pumps to fill up on fuel, avoiding state and federal highway taxes, officials said today.

The gas tax holiday was a bad idea, but giving one to the Democratic Party and not the rest of America is a worse one.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:08 PM


Homemade Limoncello (Recipe from Shelly Culver, 07/22/2008, Contra Costa Times)

2 pounds lemons

1 quart clear grain alcohol such as vodka

6 cups purified water

2½ cups granulated sugar

1. With a very fine grater, zest the lemons. Put zest and vodka in a tightly sealed jar or bottle large enough to accommodate at least a quart of liquid.

2. Place container in a cool, dark and dry place for at least 3 to 5 days. Shake the jar at least twice a day. Zest will turn white when flavoring is done. Strain the zest from the liquid through a fine sieve; discard the zest and set aside the flavored vodka.

3. Place 6 cups water in a saucepan over low heat and add sugar. Heat, stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves and syrup is clear.

4. Cool syrup to room temperature and mix with lemon vodka. Strain the sweetened lemon vodka through several changes of coffee filters and store in tightly sealed bottles in the refrigerator. Chill and enjoy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:03 PM

Fresh Corn Soup with Poblano Chilis (Recipe from Dr. Preston Maring, Kaiser Oakland, 07/22/2008, Contra Costa Times)

1 chili of choice

1 ounce queso fresco or feta cheese

2 tablespoons milk

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 medium onion, minced

1 medium carrot, minced

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 teaspoons dried or 2 tablespoons fresh thyme

2 teaspoons dried basil or 2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped

½ teaspoon crushed red chilis

5 cups corn kernels, approximately 10 ears (cut these off the cob in a large bowl)

1 quart chicken stock

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoon finely chopped cilantro

1. Skewer the chili. Blacken it over the stove top burner. Put it in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap to steam a little. When cool, rub off the skin with a paper towel or peel it off with your fingers. Mince the chili.

2. In a mini-processor or blender, puree the cheese and add milk until a creamlike consistency is achieved.

3. Heat the oil in a large pot over low heat. Add the onion, season with a little salt, cover and "sweat" until soft, about 5 minutes. ("Sweating" the veggies means cooking them so they get soft, but not brown and crunchy.
The latter wouldn't be good in a yellow soup.)

4. Add the carrots, cover and sweat for another 5 minutes. Add garlic, herbs and crushed red chilis, then cover and sweat for 5 minutes. Add corn, season with salt, cover and sweat 5 minutes. Add chicken stock, bring to a boil, cover and simmer 5 minutes.

5. Puree in blender in batches for 3 minutes, remembering the safety tip of covering the lid with a towel to let the steam escape and prevent hot soup from spraying all over the kitchen. Return soup to the pot and season with salt and pepper.

5. Ladle soup into bowls, top with diced roasted chilis and cilantro. Drizzle with the cheese "cream" and serve. This is absolutely worth the effort.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:55 PM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:31 PM


Demographic Trends Could Make It Harder for Obama and Democrats (Michael Barone, 7/22/08, US News)

[U]nder the new electoral vote distribution, Bush's 286-to-252 electoral vote margin in 2004 becomes 294-to-244. Bush would have lost in 2004 if Ohio had not gone his way; under the projected post-2010 apportionment, Bush would have won 276-to-262 if Ohio had not gone his way. The demographic trends reflected in these projections would not prevent Barack Obama from being elected this year and re-elected in 2012, but they would make it marginally more difficult. Demography, modestly, favors the Republicans, and more than modestly over the long haul; see my May 2007 article in the Wall Street Journal.

Thus the permanent conservative majority.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:05 PM


Cost of Loan Bailout, if Needed, Could Be $25 Billion (DAVID M. HERSZENHORN, 7/23/08, NY Times)

The proposed government rescue of the nation’s two mortgage finance giants will appear on the federal budget as a $25 billion cost to taxpayers, the independent Congressional Budget Office said on Tuesday even though officials conceded that there was no way of really knowing what, if anything, a bailout would cost.

The budget office said there was a better than even chance that the rescue package would not be needed before the end of 2009 and would not cost taxpayers any money. [...]

Under generally accepted accounting principles, Mr. Orszag said that the net worth of the mortgage giants at the end of the first quarter of 2008 was about $55 billion. He also said that the companies held more than $80 billion in capital at the end of March and for regulatory purposes were considered to be "adequately capitalized" by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

But on a fair value basis, the value of the mortgage companies’ assets exceeded their liabilities at the end of March by just $7 billion, a thin cushion considering liabilities at the time of $1.6 trillion, and an indication of why there have been numerous calls for the companies to raise additional capital.

All this fuss over such chump change? $25 billion hardly qualifies as a serious bookkeeping error in a $3 trillion budget.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:01 PM


Identical twins marry, give birth to identical twins (Daily Telegraph, 7/22/08)

When identical twin sisters Diane and Darlene Nettemeier met identical twin brothers Craig and Mark Sanders a decade ago, they could never have guessed just how much of their lives would be based around perfect sets of two.

The sets of twins, from Texas, fell in love, went on a double date to Las Vegas, and won thousands of dollars at poker.

Sensing they were on a winning streak, they got engaged on the same day, married at a joint ceremony (officially "quarternary marriages"), and built a pair of homes, side by side.

Soon afterwards, despite a million-to-one odds, Diane and Craig went on to have identical twins of their own - Colby and Brady, now seven.

But the happy unions weren't all down to incredible odds - one decade after they started dating Craig, 44, and Diane, 37, are returning to the Twin Day festival in Twinsburg, Ohio, where they met in 1998.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:55 PM


Why India Will Beat China: An entrenched and vibrant democracy will ultimately drive India to outperform China socially and economically (William Nobrega , 7/22/08, Business Week)

The advantage comes in the form of an entrenched and vibrant democracy that will ultimately drive India to outperform China socially and economically. Messy, frustrating, and more often than not agonizingly slow, India's democracy would seem to be chaotic at the surface. But if you look deeper you will quickly see why the tortoise will win this race. Let's take a look at two of the major advantages that India's democracy provides:

• Property Rights: As India becomes urbanized many families will choose to sell or borrow against their land so that they can start businesses, buy apartments, or provide education opportunities for their children. India is at the beginning of a gradual migration that is being driven by the development of high-end manufacturing and other sunrise industries that will require a vast pool of semiskilled and skilled labor. This migration will create an increasingly urban India that is expected to attract more than 200 million rural inhabitants to urban centers by 2025, primarily in what are known as secondary or "B & C" cities.

This transition will facilitate the sale of land holdings by an estimated 30 million farmers and 170 million other individuals indirectly tied to the agricultural sector. The sale of these holdings is expected to generate more than $1 trillion in capital by 2025. This capital will have a multiplier effect on the Indian economy that could exceed $3 trillion. The development of the mortgage-backed security and asset-backed security markets, driven by financial institutions like Citigroup (C), will create the liquidity required to free up this capital.

China, by contrast, has no rural property rights. China's 750 million rural residents who lease land are at the mercy of the local and regional government as to what compensation they will receive, if any, when they are forced from the land as a result of development, infrastructure improvements, etc. Additionally they have no right to borrow against their lease, and as such they have no assets. In fact, the Chinese government's official figures state that more than 200,000 hectares of rural land are taken from rural residents every year with little or no compensation. According to some estimates, between 1992 and 2005 20 million farmers were evicted from agriculture due to land acquisition, and between 1996 and 2005 more than 21% of arable land in China has been put to non-agriculture use.

The result is not unexpected, with over 87,000 mass incidents (or riots) reported in 2005, a 50% increase from 2003. Many provincial governments in China have begun to use plainclothes policemen to beat, intimidate, or otherwise subdue any peasant that dares to oppose these land grabs. And, as would be expected, the beneficiaries from these policies are developers and corrupt government officials.

• Rule of Law: The rule of law is a fundamental cornerstone of any modern society. India has a legal system that has been in place for well over 100 years. This legal system is internationally respected and includes laws that protect intellectual property as well as physical property. The rule of law creates predictability and stability that allows entrepreneurial behavior to flourish. This is clearly evident in India, with more than 6,000 companies listed in the stock exchanges, compared to approximately 2,000 in China. More telling is the fact that of the 6,000 listed companies in India only approximately 100 are state-owned. This stands in stark contrast to China, where more than 1,200 of the 2,000 companies listed on the exchanges are state-owned.

Can there be any doubt as to where the next Microsoft (MSFT) or Intel (INTC) will be created? Certainly not China!

...is that finish line for these two isn't even halfway to where we are.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:50 PM


India-U.S. Nuclear Deal Is in Sight: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh survives a no-confidence vote inside a raucous Parliament, paving the way for a nuclear pact with the U.S. (Mehul Srivastava and Nandini Lakshman, 7/22/08, Business Week)

The Indian government won a vote of confidence July 22, with 275 members of Parliament voting to support the coalition of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, vs. 256 who voted against. The victory opens the way for India to ratify a long-delayed nuclear accord with the U.S.

It was a hot, rumor-filled day in New Delhi as members of Parliament gathered for a vote of confidence tied to the controversial nuclear power deal with the U.S. Arriving at the Lok Sabha, the lower house of Parliament, deal advocate Singh flashed a victory sign as he was mobbed by journalists. With the government's survival likely coming down to just a few votes, ambulances carried ailing parliamentarians to stretchers and wheelchairs that were waiting to take them inside. Three members of Parliament even showed up with suitcases stuffed with $750,000 in cash that they claimed was bribe money offered to them to abstain rather than voting no.

Inside, critics of the nuclear deal, including Communist Party members who only recently left the ruling coalition over their opposition to the pact (BusinessWeek.com, 7/18/08), tried to shout down pro-government speakers. Among those they heckled was Finance Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram, who tried to cast the nuclear deal as not only important for India's economic expansion but also as a way to keep pace with the country's longtime rival to the north. "I don't want to be envious of China," he told Parliament over shouts of derision from opponents.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:18 AM


Christopher Nolan’s Achievement: The Dark Knight (Thomas S. Hibbs, July 22, 2008, First Things: On the Square)

Beyond good and evil, The Joker is off the human scale. In preparation for the role, Ledger studied the voices of ventriloquist dummies aiming for a chilling effect in which the voice itself sounds “disembodied.” Ledger and Nolan looked at Francis Bacon paintings to try to capture the look of “human decay and corruption.” As in William Peter Blatty’s definitive depiction of demonic evil in The Exorcist, so too here—the demon’s target is us, to make us believe that we are “bestial, ugly, and not worthy of redemption.”

If there were a purpose, it would be akin to that pursued by Mr. Glass (Samuel Jackson) in Shyamalan’s Unbreakable, whose amoral destruction has as its goal the discovery of someone at the other end of the spectrum, his complement. As The Joker says to Batman, “Why would I want to kill you? What would I do without you? You complete me.” So he taunts Batman, “You’re just like me—a freak.”

The Joker espouses a nihilist philosophy concerning the arbitrariness of the code of morality in civilized society; it is but a thin veneer, a construct intended for our consolation. If you tear away at the surface, “civilized people will eat each other.” As The Joker puts it, “madness is like gravity; all it takes is a little push.” In a wonderfully comic take on a Nietzschean sentiment, he sums up his beliefs: “Whatever does not kill you makes you stranger.” His character also illustrates the parasitic status of evil and nihilism. A thoroughgoing nihilist could not muster the energy to destroy or create. As The Joker puts it at one point, he’s like the dog chasing a car; he has no idea what he would do if he caught it.

The Joker’s attempt to bring down the entire system of civilization has the scope and feel of terrorism; in fact, the film features many genuinely terrifying scenes. Here Nolan shares Shyamalan’s sense that true suspense and fear require restraint in the direct depiction of gore and the development of characters with whom the audience is sympathetic. In addition to Batman, there are a number of other admirable characters in The Dark Knight. In a film brimming with terrific performances, three stand out: Lieutenant and then Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman), the assistant D.A. Rachel (Maggie Gyllenhaal, replacing Katie Holmes from Batman Begins), and especially the fearless crime fighting D.A. Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), whose tragic undoing at the hands of The Joker is the “arc” upon which the plot pivots. These three illustrate the costs of defending the innocent and fighting against evil, the costs borne by those who would be decent in an indecent world. If in certain prominent instances in this film, the hopes of the audience for these characters are dashed, the film does not succumb to The Joker’s vision. It is not nihilistic; it is instead about the lingering and seemingly ineradicable longing for justice and goodness that pervades the film. As Batman put it in the original film, “Gotham is not beyond redemption.”

In his excellent, Promised Land, Crusader State, Walter MacDougall draws out the point that isolationism like Barrack Obama's doesn't proceed from regard for the people you don't choose to intervene on behalf of but from fear that we'll be contaminated by their societies and what we have to do in order to help.

Zemanta Pixie

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:14 AM


Oui Oui! French golfer causes a stir after taking a pee in bushes off the 6th fairway at the Open (Liz Hull, 18th July 2008, Daily Mail)

It is a problem which faces many a golfer caught short mid-way through a round.

But when Frenchman Benjamin Herbert encountered his own water hazard while playing at the British Open yesterday, he knew just what to do.

With little regard for the strict etiquette at the prestigious course, the 21-year-old promptly dropped his pants and spent a penny in the rough.

One time at Sankaty Head, I was caddying for a ladies foursome with one of the older guys who'd been out drinking the night before and was a tad bowellistically challenged. On the 5th tee he tore the towel off of one of the bags and retreated deep into the woods as the women cringed.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:47 AM


U.S. ready to cut farm aid to push WTO free trade deal (AP, 7/22/08)

"We are prepared to reduce our overall trade-distorting domestic support to $15 billion" a year, U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab said at a news conference at the World Trade Organization. [...]

Developing countries argue that sharp cuts in domestic agricultural subsidies by the United States and other rich countries hold the key to the successful conclusion of the ongoing free trade talks.

Some things are more important than principles.

Zemanta Pixie

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:44 AM


Relative Stability Brings Opportunities for Foreign Investors (Wolfgang Reuter and Bernhard Zand, 7/22/08, Der Spiegel)

With state coffers brimming with that kind of cash, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has decided to head for Berlin this week. He aims to convince foreign companies -- and particularly German firms -- to join the reconstruction effort. And his overtures toward German industry are "more than just a courtesy in the run-up to a state visit," says German-Iraqi surgeon and Hanover resident Hassan al-Haddad from Hanover. Maliki recently involved Haddad in a plan to build 10 hospitals back in Iraq, each with 400 beds. The prime minister has called on Haddad to "find a German company that can really tackle this project." Maliki and his team are working intensively to nurture the delicate upswing that is taking place in Iraq -- now that a measure of stability and security has returned to the country.

Iraq simply does not have the resources to rebuild on its own, and this has prompted the government to woo foreign companies and investors along with engineers, petroleum industry experts and doctors, like Haddad. Slowly but surely, European and American companies are beginning to trust the incipient peace, although it is often shattered by bombings, like the one last Tuesday that left 33 people dead near Baghdad.

Although, bizarrely, Senator Obama opposes the policy that made this kibnd of development and his own visit possible, Obama Won't 'Rubber Stamp' Military Decisions (TERRY MORAN, MELINDA ARONS and KATIE ESCHERICH, July 21, 2008, ABC News)
Obama is seeing a vastly different Iraq than the one he saw when he last visited more than two years ago. Violence and American casualties are way down, and the streets of Baghdad are bustling again.

So far this month, five U.S. troops have been killed in combat, compared with 78 U.S. deaths last July. Attacks across the country are down more than 80 percent. Still, when asked if knowing what he knows now, he would support the surge, the senator said no.

"These kinds of hypotheticals are very difficult," he said. "Hindsight is 20/20. But I think that what I am absolutely convinced of is, at that time, we had to change the political debate because the view of the Bush administration at that time was one that I just disagreed with, and one that I continue to disagree with -- is to look narrowly at Iraq and not focus on these broader issues."

Which raises the question: why does he hate Iraqis?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:58 AM


Plot to divide the Taliban foiled (Syed Saleem Shahzad, 7/22/08, Asia Times)

The story of the current infighting in the Taliban starts in the labyrinth of the regional war theater with the emergence of one Aminullah Peshawari, a well-respected Salafi academic whose influence spread from the Pakistani city of Peshawar in North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), the tribal areas of Mohmand and Bajaur to the Afghan provinces of Kunar and Nooristan.

Aminullah was a known anti-establishment figure and used to meet Osama bin Laden, but he was neither a militant nor operated any militant group. He was a credible anti-American voice in the region.

After the US invasion of Afghanistan and the defeat of the Taliban, the US Federal Bureau of Investigation started operations in Pakistan against al-Qaeda's sympathizers. The Pakistani security apparatus was aware that it had to play its cards very cleverly in its newfound role as a partner in the "war on terror". Pakistani officials thus approached Aminullah and warned him of possible arrest and of being sent to the US detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The noose was tightened so much that the respected Salafi academic was left with no choice but to blindly follow the footsteps of the Pakistani security agencies, which were desperate that he announce his support for the Laskhar-i-Taiba's commander in Mohmand Agency, Shah Khalid.

Previously, Khalid's group had been banned from operating inside Afghanistan because of his closeness with the Pakistani security agencies. Aminullah's support allowed Khalid to operate in the region freely. Both Aminullah and Khalid were now on the payroll of the ISI and Saudi intelligence.

Aminullah moved around with armed guards and a string of four-wheel drive vehicles in the city of Peshawar. The same protocol was given to Khalid. These sort of allowances and the money helped their networks thrive and they boasted of several successful operations in Afghanistan.

This month, North Waziristan's Gul Bahadur made public his differences with Baitullah Mehsud and summoned a meeting at which he (Gul) was appointed as the chief of Pakistani Taliban. Khalid emerged as one of Gul's main followers.

Other local Taliban and al-Qaeda commanders, however, suspected that Khalid had links to the state apparatus. A respected Taliban deputy commander in Nooristan province in Afghanistan and Kunar province's Mufti Yousuf advised Khalid to submit to the local discipline of the Taliban instead of operating a separate jihadi network. The advice went unheeded. As a result, tension mounted between Khalid and Omar Khalid, alias Abdul Wali, the regional commander installed by the Taliban.

As for Gul Bahadur in North Waziristan, the Taliban did not want to challenge him as he is a grandson of the legendary anti-British resistance fighter, Faqir of Ipi, and they were not sure he was an ISI proxy.

However, Omar Khalid suspected a few ISI-backed Taliban commanders in the Pakistani tribal areas would aim to take advantage of his and Gul Bahadur's differences, and Khalid was one of them, in addition to Haji Nazeer of South Waziristan.

So the decision was taken to confront the pure proxies of the ISI, Khalid being the first. He was advised by Omar Khalid to leave the area at once. Khalid agreed, and one of his comrades, Haji Namdar from Khyber Agency, provided him with a base in the agency. But last Tuesday, one of Khalid's men killed a deputy of Omar Khalid's group.

This situation in the most important strategic backyard of the Taliban, which guarantees them access to Nooristan and Kunar provinces across the border, was of major concern to Taliban leader Mullah Omar, who also wanted to clarify just who the ISI's contacts were.

Mullah Omar assigned two of the Taliban's most respected regional commanders to intervene. They were Ustad Yasir of the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar and Pakistan's Khyber Agency, and Qari Ziaur Rahman of the Afghan provinces of Nooristan and Kunar and the Pakistani agencies of Mohmand and Bajaur.

These commanders arrived in Mohmand Agency on Friday, but on that day the Taliban's local commander had already begun fighting Khalid, conclusively beating him and capturing his network's arsenal and assets.

As a follow up, Mullah Omar's delegates, including Ustad Yasir and Qari Ziaur Rahman, issued a strict warning that such intra-Taliban bloodletting was not acceptable and that in the future all fighters would work under one umbrella with no stand-alone activities tolerated. This is a clear message to the rivals of Baitullah.

Meanwhile, the Pakistani government has tried to play the killing of Khalid and his fellow jihadis to its advantage. The bodies were taken to Peshawar in a procession arranged by various Salafi organizations. The highest political figure of a Salafi political party to have received direct patronage from Riyadh, Allama Sajid Mir, attended prayers in Peshawar and held a press conference in which he maintained that the majority of the Taliban were deviants, terminology generally used by the Saudi religious apparatus against al-Qaeda.

The Pakistani national press played up the incident under banner headlines of discord among the supporters of the Afghan battle against coalition forces.

Baitullah Mehsud hit back by announcing a deadline for NWFP's secular and liberal government, which signed a peace deal with the Taliban, to resign within five days or face the consequences. But at the same time the Taliban resumed operations in NWFP - a clear aggressive gesture against the state's writ.

The Taliban and al-Qaeda have come out of this sideshow in the tribal areas as strong as ever, and more recruits keep pouring in.

Official: 25 Taliban killed or wounded in clashes in western Afghanistan (AP, 7/22/08)
U.S.-led coalition and Afghan troops clashed with and called in airstrikes on Taliban militants in western Afghanistan, killing and wounding more than 25 insurgents, an Afghan official said Tuesday.

The joint force has been battling militants in Bala Buluk district of Farah province since Monday afternoon, said regional police spokesman Rauf Ahmadi.

Two police officers were wounded in the fighting, which also involved coalition airstrikes on the militants' positions, Ahmadi said. 1st Lt. Nathan Perry, a coalition spokesman, said that militants used two roadside bombs, small arms and rocket-propelled grenades to attack coalition patrols in Farah on Monday and Tuesday. No coalition troops were killed, but Perry would not say if any were wounded.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:55 AM


F-16 sale and Taiwan (Richard Halloran, July 22, 2008, Washington Times)


The four F-16 fighter planes lined up with military precision, wingtip-to-wingtip on the ramp in the desert heat, jet engines throttled back while the ground crews ducked underneath to give them last-minute safety checks. Then, one by one, the pilots taxied to the runway, went to full throttle, and roared into the air for gunnery and bomb training.

At the top of their tails, the F-16s carried white tailbands inscribed "Gamblers," the nickname for the 21st Fighter Squadron of the Republic of China Air Force (ROCAF) on Taiwan. The Gamblers are posted permanently at this U.S. Air Force Base for advanced training because they don't have the air space or the target ranges on their island home.

Moreover, USAF fighter pilots, a breed not known for reticence, claim that Luke AFB provides the finest training in the supersonic F-16 in a world in which more than 4,000 of the fighters are flown in 25 air forces from Bahrain to Venezuela. The F-16s may be best known for the Israeli Air Force raid into Iraq that destroyed Saddam Hussein's nuclear reactor at Osirak in 1981. Every Israeli bomb hit the target. [...]

The F-16s under consideration now are models C and D with improved navigation, advanced missiles, and more powerful engines. They can attack in bad weather and at night and would pose a potential threat to the launch sites of 1,400 Chinese missiles aimed at Taiwan across the 120-mile-wide strait separating the island from the mainland.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:34 AM


Chavez says Venezuela needs Russia for protection (Associated Press, July 22, 2008)

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez called on Tuesday for a strategic alliance with Russia to protect the South American country from the United States.

Worked for Cuba, thanks to a naive young senator in the White House, not so well for Nicaragua with an elderly Cold Warrior.

July 21, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:13 PM


The Disadvantages of an Elite Education: Our best universities have forgotten that the reason they exist is to make minds, not careers (William Deresiewicz, American Scholar)

The first disadvantage of an elite education, as I learned in my kitchen that day, is that it makes you incapable of talking to people who aren’t like you. Elite schools pride themselves on their diversity, but that diversity is almost entirely a matter of ethnicity and race. With respect to class, these schools are largely—indeed increasingly—homogeneous. Visit any elite campus in our great nation and you can thrill to the heartwarming spectacle of the children of white businesspeople and professionals studying and playing alongside the children of black, Asian, and Latino businesspeople and professionals. At the same time, because these schools tend to cultivate liberal attitudes, they leave their students in the paradoxical position of wanting to advocate on behalf of the working class while being unable to hold a simple conversation with anyone in it. Witness the last two Democratic presidential nominees, Al Gore and John Kerry: one each from Harvard and Yale, both earnest, decent, intelligent men, both utterly incapable of communicating with the larger electorate.

But it isn’t just a matter of class. My education taught me to believe that people who didn’t go to an Ivy League or equivalent school weren’t worth talking to, regardless of their class. I was given the unmistakable message that such people were beneath me. We were “the best and the brightest,” as these places love to say, and everyone else was, well, something else: less good, less bright. I learned to give that little nod of understanding, that slightly sympathetic “Oh,” when people told me they went to a less prestigious college. (If I’d gone to Harvard, I would have learned to say “in Boston” when I was asked where I went to school—the Cambridge version of noblesse oblige.) I never learned that there are smart people who don’t go to elite colleges, often precisely for reasons of class. I never learned that there are smart people who don’t go to college at all.

I also never learned that there are smart people who aren’t “smart.” The existence of multiple forms of intelligence has become a commonplace, but however much elite universities like to sprinkle their incoming classes with a few actors or violinists, they select for and develop one form of intelligence: the analytic. While this is broadly true of all universities, elite schools, precisely because their students (and faculty, and administrators) possess this one form of intelligence to such a high degree, are more apt to ignore the value of others. One naturally prizes what one most possesses and what most makes for one’s advantages. But social intelligence and emotional intelligence and creative ability, to name just three other forms, are not distributed preferentially among the educational elite. The “best” are the brightest only in one narrow sense. One needs to wander away from the educational elite to begin to discover this.

What about people who aren’t bright in any sense? I have a friend who went to an Ivy League college after graduating from a typically mediocre public high school. One of the values of going to such a school, she once said, is that it teaches you to relate to stupid people. Some people are smart in the elite-college way, some are smart in other ways, and some aren’t smart at all. It should be embarrassing not to know how to talk to any of them, if only because talking to people is the only real way of knowing them. Elite institutions are supposed to provide a humanistic education, but the first principle of humanism is Terence’s: “nothing human is alien to me.” The first disadvantage of an elite education is how very much of the human it alienates you from.

Whipper-snappers these days don't even believe me when I tell them this, but my Freshman year at Colgate I had the only color tv on my floor, one of two or three in the entire dorm. For Rudolph, the Bob Hope Special (which had been filmed on campus) and the US-Finland hockey game we had 40+ people in our room. We had a hall phone--one guy with a girlfriend back home had a room phone. And one guy had a car--his Dad's old Country Squire wagon.

If you visit the campus today it looks like you're at an SUV dealer's lot.

A rather middle class institution has become a bastion for the wealthy. Where our parents were often teachers, salesmen, cops, etc., theirs are almost all doctors, lawyers and businesspeople.

And one of the ways the change in class composition really manifests itself is in the way they treat--or try to avoid treating--staff, security, local tradesmen, etc. They seem to think anyone who isn't in class with them--fellow student or prof--is pretty much a servant. It's like they're the Eloi, surrounded by Morlocks.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:39 PM


Is there any empirical evidence that it's even bad? Isn't Phil Gramm right, that it's mostly just whining?

We Can't Handle the Truth: The surest way to create a campaign controversy (Andrew Ferguson, 07/28/2008, Weekly Standard)

Former Texas senator Phil Gramm ran for president in 1996. He raised $20 million, spent nearly all of it, and won zero delegates. Political observers had long thought such a feat was impossible, and it remains astonishing even in hindsight. Recently we were reminded how he managed to pull it off.

Earlier this month, Gramm gave an interview to the Washington Times in which he asserted that the U.S. economy wasn't in a recession. We are, however, in a "mental recession," he said--a loss of consumer confidence, stoked by hysterical media reports, that threatens to tip the economy into a real recession.

This is all true. You could look it up: A recession is two consecutive quarters of economic contraction, and the economy didn't contract last quarter. But Gramm was pilloried for his factual statement. Before his interview with the Times, it was assumed (by professional assumers) that Gramm would be offered a high-ranking economic-policymaking job in a McCain administration, maybe even secretary of the Treasury; now assumers are assuming he'll never get such a cool job--especially after he made matters worse by insisting a day later that the fact he had asserted was, in fact, a fact: "Every word I said was true."

To which the general reaction was: So what?

Both Brothers voted for him anyway....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:49 PM

FORTY YEARS LATE... (via Gene Brown):

China warns ExxonMobil to drop Vietnam deal: report (AFP, 7/20/08)

Diplomats in Washington have contacted senior figures in the world's largest oil firm to protest the deal, which they say could be a breach of Chinese sovereignty, the Sunday Morning Post reported citing unnamed sources close to the US firm.

"If it was simply a legal question it would be easy," one of the sources told the newspaper.

"Vietnam would probably prevail in international mediation. But it's political, too. China's concerns make the situation much more complicated for a company like Exxon... China is a very important player in the international oil industry."

...but it wouyld be fun to fight a war with China in defense of the Vietnamese.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:23 PM


We’re Not Laughing at You, or With You (LEE SIEGEL, 7/21/08, NY Times)

When The New Yorker’s editor, David Remnick, defended the incendiary illustration in a statement invoking the spirit of satire as something “meant to bring things out into the open, to hold up a mirror to the absurd,” he was, it could be argued, mischaracterizing his subject. For satire has always taken as its target conventions, sentiments and injustices that are universally recognizable and complacently accepted, and not at all hidden phenomena that have to be roughly revealed.

From within the deranged Left the notion that Obama is being subjected to a campaign of racial and religious hatred may be gospel, but from without it's a gnostic one.

Now, at first blush, we might say to ourselves: "Big deal, it's just an in-joke and the rest of us -- non-New Yorker readers -- weren't supposed to get it." But there are a number of problems, as hinted at here, The good humor man: Who invented jokes, and why do we laugh at them? Jim Holt discusses the history of funny. (James Hannaham, Jul. 21, 2008, Salon)

Which theory of the evolution of humor do you find most convincing?

Well, there are these three theories of humor. The Superiority Theory -- that you laugh when you realize that you're better than someone else, so nasty jokes, racist jokes, jokes about gays and cuckolds and drunkards and henpecked husbands conform to that theory. Then there's Freud's Release Theory, which says that jokes are about ventilating forbidden impulses. The setup gets the forbidden material past the censor, and the punch line liberates your forbidden impulses for a moment. All of the psychic energy you used to repress them gets released and you laugh, expressed in chest-heaving, spasmodic laughter.

But then there's the one that makes the most sense to me, the Incongruity Theory, that jokes are about the pure intellectual pleasure we take in yanking together things that seem utterly dissimilar and perceiving similarities. In the 17th century, "wit" simply meant intelligence. As the meaning evolved, it came to mean the ability to see resemblances between apparently dissimilar things. Today it means the ability to see, to perceive or to take pleasure in absurdities or incongruities. That's the highest form of humor. As jokes get funnier, they rely more on incongruity and less on hostility and superiority or on sex and naughtiness. [...]

I have a special fondness for those jokes that are jokes only in terms of form, where the setup makes you expect something clever, and instead the punch line is shockingly mundane, or crude. For instance, Why did the monkey fall out of the tree?

I don't know.

Because it was dead. Why can't Marilyn Monroe eat M&M's?


Because she's dead.

That conforms to the classic joke paradigm, though. You think there's a semi-serious query in the setup, and it dissolves into nothing, and there's that sort of tension -- even after you told me the one about the monkey being dead, I still tried to solve the Marilyn Monroe one, and laughed partly to cover up my own obtuseness.

That's another terrible thing about jokes, they function as a test for social inclusion. If you're among friends and someone tells a joke and you're the one who doesn't get it, you're doubly excluded -- first of all, you miss out on the fun of it, then everyone looks at you.

Not only does the cover's dependence on exclusion violate all kinds of liberal taboos--as well as unintentionally revealing how distant American intellectuals are from the mainstream of the country--but, since most are excluded and because the humor is--putatively, at least--supposed to be satirical, it appears to rely on the sort of Superiority and Release that are anathema to liberalism. They tried to poke fun at racism by indulging in overblown racist tropes, but since this is the first racist art we've seen as regards Senator Obama they come of as the racists themselves.

And you wonder why we say the Left exists to amuse us?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:20 PM


Behind Afghanistan lies Pakistan: The US is wising up about Pakistan, where Al Qaeda and the Taliban find safe haven. (CS Monitor, July 21, 2008)

Thankfully, Washington is starting to pay more attention to this part of the world. Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama visited Afghanistan over the weekend, and last week, Republican candidate John McCain elevated the region's importance by speaking extensively about it. Both recognize the critical role that Pakistan plays.

Meanwhile, Gen. David Petraeus is talking with Pakistani officials about how to better wage a counterinsurgency in the tribal areas. And last week, the leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee pushed a bipartisan bill that provides a far more balanced US approach to Pakistan.

The most significant achievement of the President's foreign policy is forging a strategic alliance with Pakistan's nuclear-armed mortal enemy and they think this attention is sudden?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:18 PM


Political Blocs Realign in India Ahead of Confidence Vote (SOMINI SENGUPTA, 7/21/08, NY Times)

The confidence vote, scheduled for late Tuesday and apparently extremely tight, pivots around India’s deepening strategic and commercial ties with the United States. It is the first time in the history of independent India that a foreign policy disagreement threatens to bring down a democratically elected government.

Mr. Singh, 75, spoke first. “Every single decision, every policy initiative we have taken,” he said, “was taken in the fullest confidence that we are doing so in the best interest of our people and our country.” Late evening, speaking to reporters outside parliament, he struck a note of confidence, saying he was certain of victory.

Mr. Singh’s Congress Party-led coalition took power in 2004 with support from four Communist parties. Their relationship grew increasingly embattled and snapped recently, when Mr. Singh said he would proceed with the nuclear agreement initiated by the United States.

The Communists, who opposed deepening relations with Washington, have since linked arms with Kumari Mayawati, the nation’s most powerful Dalit politician, as Indians on the lowest rungs of the caste ladder are also known. The two factions do not agree on many things, except both are bent on bringing down this government.

On Monday, Ms. Mayawati, 52, spoke against closer ties to the United States and in a bald political appeal to Muslim voters, alleged that Washington’s moves to isolate Iran would make life difficult for India. She warned Mr. Singh not to press ahead with the nuclear agreement as an issue of “personal honor.”

It was a radical departure for Ms. Mayawati, who in an interview only three weeks ago, said she did not know enough about the nuclear agreement to render an opinion.

Wouldn't stop Barack Obama.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:17 PM


NYT wanted "timetables" in McCain op-ed (Jonathan Martin, 7/21/08, Politico)

The New York Times Op-Ed page editor, in rejecting John McCain's opinion piece on Iraq, explained that he wanted to hear more detail on the GOP candidate's plan for the country -- including information about "timetables."

McCain, of course, has steadfastly rejected any timeline for withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.

It would be terrific to have an article from Senator McCain that mirrors Senator Obama's piece," wrote David Shipley, the Op-Ed editor, in an email last Friday to a McCain aide that I've obtained in full. "To that end, the article would have to articulate, in concrete terms, how Senator McCain defines victory in Iraq. It would also have to lay out a clear plan for achieving victory -- with troops levels, timetables and measures for compelling the Iraqis to cooperate."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:16 PM


The Protocols: An Introduction (Rachel Shukert, July 16, 2008, Jewcy)

Shortly before the beginning of seventh grade, when I entered the public school system for the first time after spending my earliest formative years at Nebraska’s only Jewish day school (student body: 37), my mother came to me with a warning. It wasn’t her intention to scare me, she explained, but she wanted to make sure I was prepared for some of the challenges that lay ahead.

“What challenges?” I asked. “What do you mean?” I wasn’t expecting the schoolwork to give me any trouble, and my grandmother had recently furnished me with several new back-to-school ensembles from the Limited that I was certain could at least partially smooth over my problem of not having any social skills.

My mother paused for a very long time before she spoke. “It’s possible that you may have to face some…anti-Semitism.” [...]

What my mother didn’t tell me is that they would mostly come from other Jews.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:08 PM


After 49 years, Charles Van Doren talks (Alex Beam, July 21, 2008, IHT)

Now 82, Van Doren is telling pretty much all, in an article scheduled for publication in next week's New Yorker. The classically educated Van Doren - St. John's College; Columbia; the Sorbonne - pulls no punches describing his Mephistophelian epiphany, when he first appeared on nationwide television in a show he knew was fixed.

"Papa, forgive me! Mama forgive me! Uncle Carl, forgive me!" he writes, referring to his famous uncle, Columbia professor Carl Van Doren. "I've remembered that moment for more than forty years."

Speaking from his home, Van Doren said he had no idea how people will react to his story. "I hope the reaction is positive, but it may be a disaster," he said. "I'm a little nervous about it, to tell you the truth."

Van Doren writes at some length about his dealings with Julian Krainin, a producer for WGBH's "American Experience" program. In 1991, Krainin almost lured Van Doren back onto television to participate in a PBS episode, "The Quiz Show Scandal." In his New Yorker article, Van Doren strongly implies that Krainin - "skilled in the art of journalistic seduction" - was less than honest in his dealings with him.

"He never conveyed that suspicion to me when I was dealing with him," Krainin said in a telephone interview. "He may want to portray himself more as a victim than an active operator."

In Van Doren's life, history did repeat itself. When Krainin co-produced "Quiz Show," the 1994 Robert Redford movie about the scandal, he sent Van Doren a $100,000 contract to sign on as a consultant.

Van Doren wanted to say yes, without realizing that this was 1956 all over again, except now it was Robert Redford offering him money. Van Doren's wife, Geraldine, saw the moment for what it was: Mephistopheles taking a second pass at her husband's soul.

Van Doren turned down Redford's money, and saw the movie in a theater like everyone else.

...like a demos fooled.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:25 PM


Dead Left: a review of The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism By Naomi Klein (Jonathan Chait, July 30, 2008, New Republic)

Her achievement, and it is no small feat, has been to revive economicism--and more grandiosely, materialism--as the central locus of left-wing politics.

From the time of Marx, and through the Depression, the left concerned itself primarily with economic inequality. The analysis of injustice in terms of class conflict and the forces of production was the canonical one. But the postwar boom--the authors of the Port Huron Statement famously described themselves as "bred in at least modest comfort"--turned the left's attention to foreign policy and national security in the Cold War, and to civil rights, and to feminism. By the 1980s, left-wing politics had withdrawn almost entirely into academia and other liberal enclaves, which it ruthlessly policed for any dissent from the verities of multiculturalist dogma and identity politics.

This evolution can be seen in Klein's own family. Her grandfather was a Marxist fired by Disney in 1941 for trying to organize animators. Her father fled the United States for Canada to avoid service in Vietnam, and joined Physicians for Social Responsibility. Her mother directed the anti-pornography film Not a Love Story. And Naomi Klein, like most campus leftists of the 1980s, directed her ideological energies toward the denouncing of various -isms within academia. (She later recalled, with admirable remorse, that she was known as "Miss P.C.") [...]

The Shock Doctrine has a single, uncomplicated explanation for everything that ails us. It identifies the fundamental driving force of the last three decades to be the worldwide spread of free-market absolutism as it was formulated by Milton Friedman and the department of economics at the University of Chicago. The free marketers, Klein argues, understand full well that the public does not support their policies, which she summarizes as "the elimination of the public sphere, total liberation for corporations and skeletal social spending." And so they have decided that the free-market program can be implemented only when the public has been disoriented by wars, coups, natural disasters, and the like. The "shock doctrine" is the conservative plan to implement pro-corporate policies through the imposition and exploitation of mass trauma. [...]

The notion that crises create fertile terrain for political change, far from being a ghoulish doctrine unique to free-market radicals, is a banal and ideologically universal fact. (Indeed, it began its dubious modern career in the orbit of Marxism, where it was known as "sharpening the contradictions.") Entrenched interests and public opinion tend to run against sweeping reform, good or bad, during times of peace and prosperity. Liberals could not have enacted the New Deal without the Great Depression. [...]

Klein locates the beginnings of the shock doctrine in Chile, where in 1973 a military coup led by Pinochet displaced a democratically elected socialist government, and implemented economic policies urged upon him by Friedman and other Chicago School free-marketers. Chile offers the closest example of a case study that fits Klein's thesis. But even here the facts do not fit quite as tightly as she would like. Through most of her narrative, Klein depicts Pinochet as a pure puppet of Friedman. "For the first year and a half," she writes, "Pinochet faithfully followed the Chicago rules." But a half-dozen pages later, while explaining away the impressive economic growth that followed under Pinochet, she writes that "it's clear that Chile never was the laboratory of 'pure' free markets that its cheerleaders claimed."

In fact, Chile under Pinochet (roughly contemporaneously with New Zealand) ended up pioneering the Third Way rather than free market absolutism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:13 PM


Poll: Half of U.S. says press pro-Obama (ALEXANDER BURNS, 7/21/08, Politico)

Half of Americans think the press is trying to help Sen. Barack Obama win the presidential election, according to a new poll by Rasmussen Reports.

In an automated survey of 1000 likely voters, Rasmussen found that 49 percent of respondents believed reporters would favor Obama in their coverage this fall, compared with just 14 percent who expected them to boost Sen. John McCain. The number of Americans who see pro-Obama bias in the press has increased by five percent in the last month.

According to Rasmussen’s numbers, less than a quarter of voters – 24 percent – now trust the press to report on the election without bias.

...than the press gets when you ask people if they're pro-Osama.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:50 AM


Conservative Thinkers Think Again (PATRICIA COHEN, 7/20/08, NY Times)

For some on the right, the conservative decline is simply the result of veering away from the golden age of Ronald Reagan. Jonathan Rauch, a writer and a guest scholar at another Washington research organization, the Brookings Institution, said that many conservatives still believe that “Reagan got it right and the party has strayed too far.” He noted that the Heritage Foundation runs a feature on its Web site titled “What Would Reagan Do?”

...to remember that, while he actually governed the country, Reagan was reviled by the Right for record tax hikes, saving SS, immigration amnesty, negotiating with Gorbachev, massive deficits, the incompetence of the Iran-Contra scandal, trusting aids like Baker and Dartman, etc.
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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:34 AM


Their Fair Share (Wall Street Journal, July 21, 2008)

[T]he latest IRS data have arrived on who paid what share of income taxes in 2006, and it's going to be hard for the rich to pay any more than they already do. The data show that the 2003 Bush tax cuts caused what may be the biggest increase in tax payments by the rich in American history.

The nearby chart shows that the top 1% of taxpayers, those who earn above $388,806, paid 40% of all income taxes in 2006, the highest share in at least 40 years.

The top 10% in income, those earning more than $108,904, paid 71%. Barack Obama says he's going to cut taxes for those at the bottom, but that's also going to be a challenge because Americans with an income below the median paid a record low 2.9% of all income taxes, while the top 50% paid 97.1%. Perhaps he thinks half the country should pay all the taxes to support the other half.

A tax code that isn't sufficiently regressive that people have to reckon--to at least some degree--with the costs of the services they demands is dangerous.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:54 AM


Surgeons will get 'survival bonus' every time they save a patient's life (David Derbyshire, 21st July 2008, Daily Mail)

Britain's largest hospital trust is planning to pay doctors every time a patient survives the operating table or leaves hospital without picking up an infection.

...so they may need to be reminded that the patient's life matters...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:16 AM


Al Qaeda's Market Crash (Ralph Peters, 7/21/08, New York Post)

Yes, al Qaeda had little or no connection to Saddam Hussein's Iraq - but the terrorists chose to declare that country the main front in their struggle with the Great Satan. Bad investment: Their behavior there was so breathtakingly brutal that they alienated their fellow Muslims in record time.

Fighting enthusiastically beside the once-hated Americans, Iraq's Sunni Muslims turned on the terrorists with a vengeance. Al Qaeda's response? It kept on butchering innocent Muslims, Sunni and Shia alike. Iraq exposed al Qaeda as a fraud.

Where do Osama & Co. stand today? They're not welcome in a single Arab country. The Saudi royals not only cut off their funding, but cracked down hard within the kingdom. A few countries, such as Yemen, tolerate radicals out in the boonies - but they won't let al Qaeda in. Osama's reps couldn't even get extended-stay rooms in Somalia, beyond the borders of the Arab world.

And the Arab in the (dirty) street is chastened. Instead of delivering a triumph, al Qaeda brought disaster, killing far more Arabs through violence and strife than Israel has killed in all its wars. Nobody in the Arab world's buying al Qaeda shares at yesterday's premium - and only a last few suckers are buying at all.

Guess what? We won.

The partisan hacks who insisted that Iraq was a distraction from fighting al Qaeda have missed the situation's irony: Things are getting worse in Afghanistan and Pakistan not because our attention was elsewhere, but because al Qaeda has been driven from the Arab world, with nowhere else to go.

Al Qaeda isn't fighting to revive the Caliphate these days. It's fighting for its life.

Unwelcome even in Sudan or Syria, the Islamist fanatics have retreated to remote mountain villages and compounds on the Pakistani side of the Afghan border. That means Afghanistan's going to remain a difficult challenge for years to come - not a mission-impossible, but an aggravating one.

...if you and I can't ride our burro down a dirt trail in Waziristan?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:09 AM


Obama Comes to the Aid of Late Night Writers (Jaime Sneider, July 21, 2008, Campaign Standard)

Last week, comedy writers for the late night shows bemoaned their inability to write jokes about Obama. Alas, there's nothing funny about the Great One--at least not in the minds of Harvard-educated white guys suffering from liberal guilt. In the off case they've been shamed into actually doing their jobs, they should check out this clip from the weekend. Obama said he expects to work with world leaders as president for the next 8 to 10 years.

The refusal of the Obama camp to release his standardized test scores would be less suspicious if he didn't sound so unintelligent every time he speaks.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:07 AM


A battle over 'the next war': Many military officers are pushing back against Defense Secretary Gates' focus on preparing for more 'asymmetric' fighting rather than for a large, conventional conflict. (Julian E. Barnes and Peter Spiegel, 7/21/08, Los Angeles Times)

Air Force Maj. Gen. Charles J. Dunlap Jr. is not a fighter pilot, wing commander or war planner. But he is waging what many officers consider a crucial battle: ensuring that the U.S. military is ready for a major war.

Dunlap, like many officers across the military, believes the armed forces must prepare for a large-scale war against technologically sophisticated, well-equipped adversaries, rather than long-term ground conflicts like Iraq and Afghanistan.

First, however, they face an adversary much closer to home -- Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates.

For more than 30 years, the Pentagon establishment considered it an essential duty to prepare for a war of national survival. But under Gates, that focus has fallen from favor.

In public speeches and private meetings, Gates has chastised many commanders as ignoring wars in Iraq and Afghanistan while they plan for speculative future conflicts.

"We should not starve the forces at war today to prepare for a war that may never come," Gates said in a stinging address last month, one of a series he has delivered. Gates even has coined a term for what he sees as a military disorder: "next-war-itis."

...just about government bureaucrats defending the gigantism of their department.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:02 AM


Dangers of 'the best military' (William J Astore, 7/22/08, Asia Times)

When did American troops become "warfighters" - members of "Generation Kill" - instead of citizen-soldiers? And when did we become so proud of declaring our military to be "the world's best"? These are neither frivolous nor rhetorical questions. Open up any national defense publication today and you can't miss the ads from defense contractors, all eagerly touting the ways they "serve" America's "warfighters." Listen to the politicians, and you'll hear the obligatory incantation about our military being "the world's best".

All this is, by now, so often repeated - so eagerly accepted - that few of us seem to recall how against the American grain it really is. If anything - and I saw this in studying German military history - it's far more in keeping with the bellicose traditions and bumptious rhetoric of Imperial Germany under Kaiser Wilhelm II than of an American republic that began its march to independence with patriotic Minutemen in revolt against King George.

So consider this a modest proposal from a retired citizen-airman: a small but meaningful act against the creeping militarism of the George W Bush years would be to collectively repudiate our "world's best warfighter" rhetoric and re-embrace instead a tradition of reluctant but resolute citizen-soldiers.

When communism and fascism were in vogue it was fashionable to argue that democracies weren't capable of fielding militaries as effective as those of closed societies, but it's pretty hard to argue that when we're the last viable military left. The reality, meanwhile, is that America has fielded the world's best fighting force--regardless of whether professional or drafted--since at least the Civil War.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:59 AM


U.S. highway trust fund veers toward crisis: Count it among the victims of rising gas prices. Billions of dollars in road projects are at risk (Richard Simon, 7/21/08, Los Angeles Times)

Soaring gasoline prices are hurting Uncle Sam in the wallet too.

As motorists cut back on their driving and buy more fuel-efficient cars, the government is taking in less money from the federal gasoline tax.

The result: The principal source of funding for highway projects will soon hit a big financial pothole. The federal highway trust fund could be in the red by $3.2 billion or more next year.

The fund, set to finance about $40 billion in transportation projects next year, is increasingly strained. And the problem has taken on greater urgency as lawmakers face a backlog of projects to maintain the nation's aging interstate highway system and ease traffic congestion.

They hired the roads, make the mobile welfare queens pay for them.
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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:57 AM


James Dobson might endorse John McCain: Barack Obama's 'radical positions on life, marriage and national security force me to reevaluate the candidacy of our only other choice,' the conservative Christian leader says. (Associated Press, July 21, 2008)

Conservative Christian leader James C. Dobson has softened his stance against Republican presidential hopeful John McCain, saying he could reverse his position and endorse the Arizona senator.

"I never thought I would hear myself saying this," Dobson said in a radio broadcast to air today. " . . . While I am not endorsing Sen. John McCain, the possibility is there that I might."

...everyone else expected to hear you say it.
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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:54 AM


Bible class OK'd for high schools (AP, July 21, 2008)

The Texas State Board of Education has given final approval to establishing Bible classes in public high schools, rejecting calls to draw specific teaching guidelines and warnings that it could lead to constitutional problems in the classroom.

The Legislature passed a law in 2007 allowing Bible courses to be offered as an elective. They are supposed to focus on the history and literature of the Bible without preaching or disparaging any faith. [...]

Supporters say schools will have all the constitutional guidance they need. The purpose of the classes is to teach biblical content and its context in modern society, including culture, art and public policy.

The adopted rule follows broad guidelines used for English and social studies classes. It says courses should follow applicable law and "all federal and state guidelines in maintaining religious neutrality and accommodating the diverse religious views, traditions, and perspectives of students in their school district."

Courses shall not "endorse, favor, or promote, or disfavor or show hostility toward, any particular religion or nonreligious faith or religious perspective," the rule says.

"I think that's pretty specific," said Jonathan Saenz of the conservative Free Market Foundation. "The constitutional safeguards are there."

Mark Chancey, associate professor in religious studies at Southern Methodist University, has studied Bible classes already offered in about 25 districts for the Texas Freedom Network.

The study found most of the courses were explicitly devotional with almost exclusively Christian, usually Protestant, perspectives.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:49 AM


From a heckler to a deal maker (David D. Kirkpatrick, July 21, 2008, NY Times)

McCain returned from the 2000 campaign with a new national reputation and a new political sophistication.

Over the next eight years, he mastered the art of political triangulation — variously teaming up with Lott against the president or the new Republican leaders, with Democrats against Republicans, and with the president against the Democrats — to become perhaps the chamber's most influential member.

"He was looked upon as the magic ingredient in any legislative deal; the addition of John McCain was going to greatly improve its chances of success," said Ross K. Baker, a Rutgers University political scientist who studies the Senate.

Former Senator Tom Daschle, the Democratic leader until 2004, agreed. With the possible exception of the two party leaders, he said, "I can't think of many senators more influential." Daschle said that McCain's power easily surpassed that of Lott's successor as leader, Bill Frist, because many senators discounted Frist as the White House's agent.

And Harry Reid has done nothing. It's Maverick's chamber.
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July 20, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:04 PM


Brilliant Harrington retains Open (Rob Hodgetts, 7/20/08, BBC Sport)

Padraig Harrington successfully defended his Open Championship title with a four-shot victory over Ian Poulter at Royal Birkdale. [...]

Veteran Greg Norman, 53, slipped back with a 77 to end joint third on nine over with Swede Henrik Stenson.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:59 PM


The Panda That Roared (RICHARD BERNSTEIN, 7/20/08, NY Times)

In the last few weeks the movie has provoked a deeper discussion, even a degree of soul-searching and critical self-examination of the sort that China, which has an amazing mix of ambition, self-confidence and insecurity, goes through from time to time.

The main question being asked is: How could Western filmmakers have used Chinese themes to create such a brilliant animated movie with such widespread appeal to the Chinese themselves?

Why, in other words, doesn’t China itself seem to be able to use its rich traditions to such brilliant cinematic and commercial effect?

“Besides borrowing a number of sequences from classic kung fu movies in China, the animated comedy grasped the essence of our culture,” Lu Chuan, a young Chinese movie director, wrote in a much noted commentary in China Daily.

“As a movie director, I cannot help wondering when China will be able to produce a movie of this caliber,” Mr. Lu said.

Or, as Wu Jiang, president of the China National Peking Opera Company, said, according to Reuters: “The film’s protagonist is China’s national treasure and all the elements are Chinese, but why didn’t we make such a film?”

Because your society stifles creativity and expression?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:39 AM


India the Key to U.S.-Pakistan Relationship (Jim Hoagland, 7/20/08, Real Clear Politics)

Pakistan has created the world's toughest foreign policy challenge. Its military and civilian governments have for decades profited from stirring tribal warfare in Afghanistan, then been too frightened of or complicit with their own fundamentalists to push for significant social change at home.

But Qureshi was persuasive when he outlined his determination to improve relations with India. His recent trips there convince him that the two nations must put aside hostility and help make each other rich: "We must capitalize on this opportunity."

India's growing economic power will leave its neighbor in the dust unless Pakistan becomes part of that prosperity. Pakistan's future will be determined by its relations with India, not by increased U.S. aid or maintaining its support for tribal war in Afghanistan.

...not to realize by now that a nation's relationship with India and America is inextricably intertwined. If Pakistan can't get along with India it has us both to reckon with, which is why we're down with India retaining nukes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:34 AM


'Revolutionary' plans for welfare (BBC, 7/20/08)

Welfare reforms due to be unveiled - including abolition of the incapacity benefit system - will "transform lives", says minister James Purnell.

The work and pensions secretary said they would offer more help to return to work, but responsibility was "vital".

There are also plans to force long-term unemployed people to work for benefits, according to a draft leaked on Friday.

Tory leader David Cameron said it was "great" the government had taken up ideas recently proposed by his party.

He promised the government the support of Conservative MPs to get the measures in the Welfare Green Paper through Parliament if they faced a rebellion by Labour backbenchers.

We've a strong psychological desire to see ourselves as unique, but the similarity of politics across the Anglosphere puts paid to the notion.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:28 AM


Abortion, remarkably, remains an issue in U.S. politics (Albert R. Hunt, 7/20/08, Bloomberg News)

That abortion has such resonance in American politics is remarkable on several levels: It's not an issue of top-tier importance to voters, and very few elections anywhere have been determined by it. It's the province of a small clique - devout believers and political opportunists - on both sides.

By contrast, there are huge issues in the American presidential election, underscored by Obama's current trip to the Middle East and Europe.

If Senator Obama applied his abortion standard to the Middle East--that killing is an acceptable way to deal with an unwanted problem--we could exterminate every Palestinian, Iraqi, and half the Afghans before we'd reached the Roe body count.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:24 AM


Democrats: It's not easy being green: Eco-friendly convention vexes caterers, organizers, spinners (Valerie Richardson, July 20, 2008, Washington Times)

Only three state delegations have agreed to eliminate entirely their carbon footprints by purchasing travel offsets, despite the pleas of convention organizers.

The heavily vegetarian "Lean 'N Green" menu has touched off a slew of gripes, ranging from caterers who can't find enough Colorado-grown organic vegetables to Denver City Council member Charlie Brown calling menu planners "the food police."

The biggest environmental disaster to befall the convention hit two weeks ago, when the Barack Obama campaign announced that the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee would make his acceptance speech at Invesco Field at Mile High stadium.

The decision to move to the stadium threw a Chernobyl-sized wrench into the sustainability plan. Switching the venue from the Pepsi Center, which seats fewer than 20,000, to Invesco, which holds 78,000, threatens to saddle the convention with the Shaquille O'Neal of carbon footprints.

Democratic officials have remained tight-lipped on the environmental impact of the move, saying they're still crunching the kilowatt numbers.

The telecast of his speech will be ecoporn!

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:20 AM


Rise in food prices has Bolivian coca farmers planting rice (AP< 7/20/08)

Soaring food prices may yet achieve what the United States has spent millions of dollars trying to do: persuade Bolivian farmers to sow their fields with crops other than coca, cocaine's raw ingredient.

The unlikely advocate for change is the Bolivian president, Evo Morales, who as leader of a powerful coca growers' union fought U.S. crop-substitution programs for two decades. But rising grain prices and food shortages have made Morales reconsider, and he is now asking coca farmers to supplement their crops with rice and corn as a way of holding down coca production while helping to feed the poorest country in South America.

U.S. programs have often banned the planting of coca - a small, green leaf sacred to Andean peoples and the base ingredient of cocaine - as a condition for farmers to receive aid for trying new crops.

In his own twist on alternative development, Morales is willing to split the difference: Growers can maintain up to one "cato" of coca - about a tenth of a hectare, or a third of an acre - which earns them about 720 bolivianos, or $100, a month while they receive a loan to plant other products.

July 19, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:39 PM


Musial (Joe Posnanski, 7/18/08)

Stan Musial never got thrown out of a game. Never. Think about this for a moment. Musial played in 3,026 games in his career, or about as many as his contemporaries Joe DiMaggio and Johnny Pesky played combined. He played across different American eras — he played in the big leagues before bombs fell on Pearl Harbor, and he retired a few weeks before Kennedy was shot. He played when Jimmy Dorsey and Glenn Miller ruled the Top 40 charts, and he played when Elvis was thin, and he played when Chubby Checker twisted. He played before television, and after John Glenn orbited the earth. And he never once got thrown out of a baseball game. [...]

Joe Black used to tell a story — he was pitching against the Cardinals, and as usual the taunts were racial. “Don’t worry Stan,” someone in the Cardinals dugout shouted, “with that dark background on the mound you shouldn’t have any problem hitting the ball. Musial kicked at the dirt, spat, and faced Black like he had not heard anything. But after the game, Black was in the clubhouse, and suddenly he looked up and there was Stan Musial. “I’m sorry that happened,” Musial whispered. “But don’t you worry about it. You’re a great pitcher. You will win a lot of games.”

Chuck Connors, the Rifleman, used to tell a story — he was a struggling hitter for the Chicago Cubs in 1951. He asked teammates what he should do. They all told him the same thing: The only guy who can save you is Musial. So Connors went to Musial and asked for his help. Musial spent 30 minutes at the cage with an opposing player. “I was a bum of a hitter just not cut out for the majors,” Connors said. “But I will never forget Stan’s kindness. When he was finished watching me cut away at the ball, Stan slapped me on the back and told me to keep swinging.”

Ed Mickelson only got 37 at-bats in the Big Leagues, but he has a story too. Musial invited him to dinner — he was always doing that stuff — and there Mickelson explained that he felt so nervous playing ball, that he could hardly perform. Musial leaned over and said quietly, “Me too, kid. Me too. When you stop feeling nervous, it’s time to quit.”

Well, there are countless stories like that, stories about Musial’s common decency and the way he could make anyone around him feel like he was worth a million bucks.

“Musial treated me like I was the Pope,” Mickelson said, and he was still in awe more than 50 years later.

Those were the emotions Musial inspired in his time. He was so beloved in New York, that the Mets held a “Stan Musial Day.” In Chicago, he once finished first in a “favorite player” poll among Cubs fans, edging out Ernie Banks. Bill Clinton and Brooks Robinson, growing up about an hour apart in Arkansas, were inspired by him.

Of course, it was mostly the playing. Stan Musial banged out 3,630 hits even though he missed a year for the war. He hit .331 for his career, banged 1,377 extra base hits (only Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds have hit more), stretched out more than 900 doubles and triples (only Tris Speaker has more) and played in 24 All-Star Games. He had that quirky and unforgettable swing, that peek-a-boo stance, and he probably inspired more famous quotes by pitchers than any other hitter.

Preacher Roe (on how to pitch Musial): “I throw him four wide ones and try to pick him off first base.”

Carl Erskine (on how to pitch Musial): “I’ve had pretty good success with Stan by throwing him best pitch and
backing up third.”

Warren Spahn: “Once he timed your fastball, your infielders were in jeopardy.”

Don Newcombe: “I could have rolled the ball up there to Musial, and he would have pulled out a golf club and hit it out.”

And so on. Maybe pitchers felt in awe because there seemed no way to pitch him, no weaknesses in swing, fastballs up, curveballs away, forkballs in the dirt, he hit them all. In 1947, he had his most famous season, his season for the ages, .376 average, 46 doubles, 18 triples, 39 home runs, 135 runs, 131 RBIs. And yet, the thing about Musial, is that for more than 20 years he was pretty much always like that. Four other times he hit better than .350. Four other times he hit more than 46 doubles. He hit double digit triples eight times in all, he hit 30-plus homers five times, he walked more than twice as often as he struck out.

I suspect Musial can never be reflected in numbers because his resume is so all encompassing — it’s like Bob Costas said, he never hit in 56 straight games, and he did not hit 500 home runs (never hit 40 in a season), and he did not get 4,000 hits, and he did not hit .400 in any year. He was, instead, present, always, seventeen times in the Top 5 in batting average, sixteen times in the Top 5 in on-base percentage, thirteen times in the Top 5 in slugging percentage, nine times the league leader in runs created. To me, the best description of Musial through his stats is to say that 16 times in his career Musial hit 30 or more doubles. It might not make for a great movie. But all his baseball life Stan Musial hit baseballs into gaps and he ran hard out of the box.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:30 PM


Sovereignty or Justice! (Diana Mukkaled, 7/19/08, Asharq Alawasat)

The claim that International Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo is targeting Sudan’s sovereignty before even verifying Ocampo’s reasons for prosecuting Bashir is weak and primarily lacks professional sensitivity.

In the Arab media we find ourselves in a predicament, which it seems, will not be the last of its kind.

Targeting the president of an Arab republic with an indictment or serious charge such as that which has been leveled against al Bashir could be taken as the targeting of a country; however, it is targeting sovereignty with justice.

Confronting the indictment must be preceded by proving the injustice that surrounds it. But for sovereignty to precede justice, this is a violation of the rights of those groups and victims, estimated at tens of thousands, as they remain in their [refugee] camps with no real indications of when their ordeal will be dealt with.

The sovereign who isn't just to his people has no right to claim sovereignty.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:37 AM


Cosmic Markdown: EPA Says Life Is Worth Less (David A. Fahrenthold, 7/18/08, Washington Post)

This value is routinely calculated by several agencies, each putting its own dollar figure on the worth of life -- not any particular person's life, just that of a generic American. The figure is then used to judge whether potentially lifesaving policy measures are really worth the cost.

A human life, based on an economic analysis grounded in observations of everyday Americans, typically turns out to be worth $5 million to $8 million -- about as much as a mega-mansion or a middle infielder.

Here's the amazing thing: the value of 300 million American lives isn't even included in our massive $56 trillion household net worth.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:30 AM


Ghosts of 1976 in Today's Campaign (Michael Barone, 7/17/08, Real Clear Politics)

Looking back over the last 40 years, the presidential campaign that most closely resembles this year's is the contest between Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter in 1976. The Republicans were the incumbent presidential party that year, as they are now, but the Democrats had a big advantage in party identification -- on the order of 49 percent to 26 percent then, far more than today.

The Republican president who had been elected and re-elected in the last two campaigns, Richard Nixon, had dismal favorability ratings, far lower than George W. Bush's. His name could scarcely be mentioned at the Republican National Convention. The Democratic nominee was a little-known outsider, with an appeal that was based on the idea that he could transcend the nation's racial divisions. Jimmy Carter, a governor from the Deep South, had placed a portrait of Martin Luther King Jr. in the state Capitol in Atlanta.

Ford's political situation then was far more parlous than McCain's today. An early summer Gallup poll showed him trailing Carter by 62 percent to 29 percent. He had barely limped through the primary contests against Ronald Reagan, who continued his campaign up through the mid-August national convention.

I think it's Germond and Witcover who attribute much of Ford's comeback to his set of staged casual conversations with Joe Garagiola. Maverick would excel at that sort of folksy dog and pony show.

July 18, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:43 PM


Fundamentalism with nuances: a review of Hamas in Politics by Joeroen Gunning (Sreeram Chaulia, 7/17/08, Asia Times)

In the book's early chapters, Gunning parses through Hamas' political philosophy. One core belief in the movement is that a genuine Islamic state cannot be imposed by force but must be willed by a clear majority of the people. To achieve this endpoint, Hamas advocates "education" and "socialization" through a network of charities, mosques, orphanages and schools. Gunning notes the tension between respecting popular will and seeking to "prepare society" into wishing for an Islamic state. By presuming to know what is in the best interests of the masses, Hamas' vision carries the dangers of "forcing people to be free". (p 91)

Other paradoxes lie in Hamas' endorsement of "free will" for all human beings, but with the rider that they must submit themselves to God's will by obeying the sharia. Political leaders are expected to ensure that people behave in accordance with God's laws, but rulers have to first win the consent of the ruled through free nation-wide elections. Gunning remarks that Hamas' ideal political system is "neither a theocracy nor a democracy but a hybrid" that contains echoes of Western social contract theories. He contrasts it with the models of Takfiri jihadi outfits like al-Qaeda, which see no need for elected legislatures.

Breaking with the dominant theme in Islamic jurisprudence, Hamas refrains from insisting that legislators be qualified religious experts. The vast majority of its current municipal councilors and legislators are secular professionals. Hamas' proposed legislature in an Islamic state would have no authority to pass fatwas (rulings) and no automatic seating for religious scholars. The movement also rejects Iran-style vetting of candidates for elections by a religious tribunal.

Hamas' internal organizational structure is consistent with its ideology. The elected shura (council) is its highest legislative body. Not even charismatic leaders like Ahmad Yassin, Abd al-Rantisi or Khalid Mish'al can overturn the council's collective will. In Hamas' collegial leadership culture, grooming family members for political succession is condemned. Consensual leadership prevents splits in the organization but also militates against flexible decision making. [...]

Gunning's crucial deduction is that if elections are held regularly, Hamas is likely to pay heed to shifts in the popular mood and compromise on a few principles. For instance, Hamas' take on the status of women progressed over time from arch conservative to active encouragement of female political participation. In 2006, Hamas played down its "destruction of Israel" goals and did not field al-Qassam fighters as candidates to avoid alienating undecided voters wedded to a two-state solution. Concerns over losing mass popularity also constrained Hamas from elevating its skirmishes with Fatah into a civil war (fitnah).

Hamas' rhetorical opposition to the peace process with Israel has been implacable. However, it intermittently refrained from attacking Israeli targets in 1996 and again since early 2005. In February 2007, it went so far as to agree to "respect" past pacts between the PLO and Israel. Gunning explains these puzzling actions as not only tactical concessions to gain relief from Israel's targeted assassinations but also as deference to Palestinian public opinion.

Unlike during the 1990s, Hamas today cannot afford to be seen as blatantly contradicting the popular will, since its dependence on winning elections has increased. Its 2003, 2005 and 2008, its ceasefires with Israel were propelled by major shifts in public opinion in favor of halting violence. Yet, Gunning sees an unresolved internecine tug-of-war within Hamas between "pragmatists" (Gaza based politicians) and "absolutists" (paramilitary leaders and refugees). The latter category is not amenable to the vagaries of public opinion and is more steadfast on the vow of relentless jihad.

The 1996 waves of suicide bombings, for example, were spanners thrown by the "absolutist" external leadership to disrupt rapprochement between the "pragmatic" internal leadership and the PA. According to Gunning, the "pragmatists" need incentives to keep Hamas on the path of compromise, but Israel and the US have lately been doing everything that strengthens the "absolutists".

...is that's where the absolutists hide out.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:51 PM


Strike kills 2 Afghan tribal leaders, NATO says (Carlotta Gall, July 19, 2008, IHT)

American Special Forces troops and Afghan commandos killed two influential tribal leaders and a number of their followers in western Afghanistan in a joint airborne operation on Wednesday night, military officials said Thursday.

So, how did this work? The salafist high command was sitting around one day and decided their cult should cluster in a free-fire zone where all of our resources are concentrated rather than disperse and lay low until our attention wanders? Are they getting enough oxygen in that cave?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:36 PM


Oil falls again: Is the bubble bursting? (ADAM SCHRECK 07.18.08, AP)

[I]ndustry experts who just days ago thought there was more juice left in oil's meteoric run, are reconsidering.

"If this is not the bubble's implosion, than it's a reasonable facsimile," analyst and trader Stephen Schork said in his daily market commentary. "Time will tell. Nevertheless, for the time being we no longer care to hold a bullish view."

Light, sweet crude for August delivery fell 41 cents Friday to settle at $128.88 on the New York Mercantile Exchange - well below its trading record of more than $147 a week earlier.

The average price of a gallon of regular gas fell about a penny for the day, to $4.105, according to auto club AAA, the Oil Price Information Service and Wright Express. Diesel prices dipped three-tenths of a cent to $4.842 a gallon.

Some analysts said a nationwide average of $4 or even lower could be in the offing - almost unthinkable in a summer when there has seemed to be no relief at the pump - although they cautioned that there is no guarantee prices will stay low.

"We're going to see some relief from that relentless march higher," Kloza said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:46 PM


Keeping His Eye on the Ball (Dana Milbank, July 17, 2008, Washington Post)

Yesterday's T-ball game, the 19th of his presidency -- followed by a dinner last night in honor of Major League Baseball, the third of his presidency -- brought to at least 95 the number of sporting-related events he has participated in during his time in the White House. He has done no fewer than 18 such events so far this year -- already passing his previous record of 13 in both 2001 and 2007.

The 95 sports events (with hundreds of athletic teams) are more than double the number of Cabinet meetings Bush has held (45), more than quadruple the number of meetings he has had with Russia's Vladimir Putin (22). The 19 T-ball games he has held are more than twice the number of meetings he has had with China's Hu Jintao (nine). And the three dinners he has held in honor of professional baseball are nearly equal to the five state dinners he has hosted during his entire presidency.

Find me a man who prefers meetings to sporting events--Wilson? FDR? LBJ? Richard Nixon? Jimmy Carter?--and I'll show you a bad president.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:40 PM


The Audacity of Vanity (Charles Krauthammer, 7/18/08, Real Clear Politics)

There's nothing new about narcissism in politics. Every senator looks in the mirror and sees a president. Nonetheless, has there ever been a presidential nominee with a wider gap between his estimation of himself and the sum total of his lifetime achievements?

Obama is a three-year senator without a single important legislative achievement to his name, a former Illinois state senator who voted "present" nearly 130 times. As president of the Harvard Law Review, as law professor and as legislator, has he ever produced a single notable piece of scholarship? Written a single memorable article? His most memorable work is a biography of his favorite subject: himself.

It is a subject upon which he can dilate effortlessly. In his victory speech upon winning the nomination, Obama declared it a great turning point in history -- "generations from now we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment" -- when, among other wonders, "the rise of the oceans began to slow." As economist Irwin Stelzer noted in his London Daily Telegraph column, "Moses made the waters recede, but he had help." Obama apparently works alone.

Obama may think he's King Canute, but the good king ordered the tides to halt precisely to refute sycophantic aides who suggested that he had such power. Obama has no such modesty.

After all, in the words of his own slogan, "we are the ones we've been waiting for," which, translating the royal "we," means: "I am the one we've been waiting for." Amazingly, he had a quasi-presidential seal with its own Latin inscription affixed to his podium, until general ridicule -- it was pointed out that he was not yet president -- induced him to take it down

He lectures us that instead of worrying about immigrants learning English, "you need to make sure your child can speak Spanish" -- a language Obama does not speak. He further admonishes us on how "embarrassing" it is that Europeans are multilingual but "we go over to Europe, and all we can say is, 'merci beaucoup.'" Obama speaks no French.

We'll give him that.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:57 AM


A Cast of 300 Advises Obama on Foreign Policy (ELISABETH BUMILLER, 7/18/08, NY Times)

Every day around 8 a.m., foreign policy aides at Senator Barack Obama’s Chicago campaign headquarters send him two e-mails: a briefing on major world developments over the previous 24 hours and a set of questions, accompanied by suggested answers, that the candidate is likely to be asked about international relations during the day.

One recent Q. & A. asked, for example, whether Mr. Obama supported the decision by Iraq’s prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, to include a timetable for American troop withdrawal in any new security agreements with the United States. The answer, provided to Mr. Obama with bullet points, was yes — or “a genuine opportunity,” as he put it in a speech on Iraq this week.

Behind the e-mail messages is a tight-knit group of aides supported by a huge 300-person foreign policy campaign bureaucracy, organized like a mini State Department, to assist a candidate whose limited national security experience remains a concern to many voters.

One might feel more comfortable having them face the Persian threat if their number didn't suggest a staggering level of ignorance on the part of their chief as well as a complete absence of managerial skill.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:50 AM


Barrack Obama in West Lafayette, IN (7/16/08)

Throughout our history, America's confronted constantly evolving danger, from the oppression of an empire, to the lawlessness of the frontier, from the bomb that fell on Pearl Harbor, to the threat of nuclear annihilation. Americans have adapted to the threats posed by an ever-changing world.

Most of us are too distant n space or time to have the memory of the day those treacherous Nips dropped the big one on Pearl seared into our memory, but you can understand why a guy from Hawaii is so familiar with the event.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:57 AM


Scotland's hunger for independence proves annoying in England (Sarah Lyall, July 17, 2008, NY Times)

Stuck in a chronic sports slump, Britons are eternally searching for a home-grown tennis star with a fighting chance of winning Wimbledon. Their latest is 21-year-old Andy Murray, who this summer demonstrated traditional British come-from-behind pluck in advancing to the quarter finals. He finally lost to the eventual champion, Rafael Nadal.

But there was a small problem. Murray is Scottish, and fiercely so. Asked once who he planned to support in the World Cup soccer tournament, he replied: "Anyone but England."

And many English people found his recent behavior at Wimbledon - he emitted warlike whoops, bared his teeth and flexed his biceps in a provocative manner - more suited to a remake of "Braveheart" than to the gentle green courts of west London.

"Part of the reason some of us have found it difficult to like him is that he is so obviously Scottish," the columnist Stephen Glover said bluntly in The Daily Mail. Or, as Tony Parsons wrote in The Daily Mirror: "If the English can survive the attentions of the Luftwaffe, the IRA and Al Qaeda, then I quite fancy our chances against Andy Murray."

Their vehemence was surprising. The English usually tend to regard the Scots as their slightly prickly but relatively harmless and quashable northern cousins. But lately, there has been a newfound resentment in England that has mirrored a growing confidence and sense of nationalistic entitlement - a general flexing of the biceps - in Scotland. With relations at their uneasiest point in decades, there is even talk that unless the balance of power can somehow be renegotiated, the union is in danger of unraveling.

"This is about a shift in British attitudes," said Joyce McMillan, a columnist for The Scotsman newspaper. "We've always been seen as slightly exotic or decorative. But if we start on as if we were some kind of self-determining nation, it provokes a kind of atmosphere of hurt and anger, like 'Oh, what was wrong with the way we were ruling you? Why aren't you grateful?"'


Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:50 AM


The self-destructive gene: Al-Qaeda’s biggest weakness is its propensity to kill indiscriminately (The Economist, 7/17/08)

THE mangonel was the big gun of antiquity. But this siege engine, used to catapult rocks, burning objects or dead animals into fortified cities, troubled Islamic scholars. Some early authorities disallowed it on the ground that it was an indiscriminate weapon.

From the Crusades onwards it met with greater approval. Ibn al-Nahhas al-Dumyati, a classical writer on jihad who fought the Crusaders, ruled that mangonels could be used against the enemy “even if there are women and children among them, even if there are Muslim prisoners, merchants or those who have been granted safe conduct”.

Such opinions are cited today in religious rulings defending the September 11th attacks or arguing that weapons of mass destruction may be used against America. But Jihadists of al-Qaeda’s sort disregard long-standing injunctions against wanton slaughter. Worse, they claim the right to declare takfir, or apostasy among Muslims. When combined with a puritanical religious practice known as salafism—imitating the earliest Muslims, known as the salaf, and treating later Islamic practices with contempt—this creates an especially violent and intolerant kind of Muslim.

Salafi-takfiri jihadists cannot build political alliances; they regard even Hamas and Hizbullah, Israel’s main foes, as corrupted by politics. And once they start to spill blood, they become ever more indiscriminate: first they attack the “apostate” rulers or their foreign backers, then the ministers, then the security forces, then the civil servants, then anybody who objects to the violence, and so on. Those who recoil at the carnage, or object to the religious strictures imposed at gunpoint, are treated as apostates. At some point, though, local populations turn against their supposed champions.

No one's ever killed more people indiscriminately than the United States and yet the End of History has gone global in the wake of the havoc we wreaked. Al Qaeda's problem is that it has nothing positive to offer that can compete with the Anglo-American model, but then neither did any of our other foes in the Long War--France, the USSR, the Nazis, etc.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:46 AM


The Iron Timetable (Washington Post, July 16, 2008)

At the time he first proposed his timetable, Mr. Obama argued -- wrongly, as it turned out -- that U.S. troops could not stop a sectarian civil war. He conceded that a withdrawal might be accompanied by a "spike" in violence. Now, he describes as "an achievable goal" that "we leave Iraq to a government that is taking responsibility for its future -- a government that prevents sectarian conflict and ensures that the al-Qaeda threat which has been beaten back by our troops does not reemerge." How will that "true success" be achieved? By the same pullout that Mr. Obama proposed when chaos in Iraq appeared to him inevitable.

Mr. Obama reiterated yesterday that he would consult with U.S. commanders and the Iraqi government and "make tactical adjustments as we implement this strategy." However, as Mr. McCain quickly pointed out, he delivered his speech before traveling to Iraq -- before his meetings with Gen. David H. Petraeus and the Iraqi leadership. American commanders will probably tell Mr. Obama that from a logistical standpoint, a 16-month withdrawal timetable will be difficult, if not impossible, to fulfill. Iraqis will say that a pullout that is not negotiated with the government and disregards the readiness of Iraqi troops will be a gift to al-Qaeda and other enemies. If Mr. Obama really intends to listen to such advisers, why would he lock in his position in advance?

"What's missing in our debate," Mr. Obama said yesterday, "is a discussion of the strategic consequences of Iraq." Indeed: The message that the Democrat sends is that he is ultimately indifferent to the war's outcome -- that Iraq "distracts us from every threat we face" and thus must be speedily evacuated regardless of the consequences. That's an irrational and ahistorical way to view a country at the strategic center of the Middle East, with some of the world's largest oil reserves.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:44 AM


Dierks Bentley, Country Crooner, On Mountain Stage (NPR.org, July 7, 2008, Mountain Stage)

In 1927, the Victor Talking Machine Company sent record producer Ralph Peer from New Jersey to Bristol to make what came to be known as the first commercial country music recordings. Peer captured the music on tape just a few blocks from where the now-restored Paramount stands. Bentley's concert was recorded in celebration of the 80th anniversary of those first recordings.

A native of Phoenix, Ariz., the country singer has cultivated a cult-like following, in part by playing on the road nearly 300 days a year. While researching country music for The Nashville Network by day and performing at night, Bentley signed a deal with Capitol Records. His 2003 self-titled debut showed a genuine love for artists like Merle Haggard and Waylon Jennings, and spawned the hit single "What Was I Thinkin'."

-Dierks Bentley (MySpace)
-REVIEW ARCHIVES: Long Trip Alone by Dierks Bentley (Metacritic)
Bentley had them up and dancing (Erin Harde, 7/14/08, The Leader-Post)

Dierks Bentley demands a lot from his fans. If his Sunday evening performance at Craven was any indication, audience members had better be prepared to dance and sing -- in front of 23,500 people.

During an energetic and interactive 85-minute set under a hot sun and blue sky, Bentley worked up a lather as he raced around the stage, slapped hands and even hauled up one cowgirl to teach him how to dance. [...]

Bentley often showcased his musicians and easily chatted with them in between songs. The tight-knit group gathered close for one bluegrass ditty that featured a banjo and upright bass. Bentley also brought one guitarist out to the catwalk with him for "My Last Name," which Bentley preceded by thanking the men and women who serve in the military, including the men in his own family. "Bless Those Guys," he said after finishing the song.

Zemanta Pixie

July 17, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:57 PM


How global events can affect the Muslim vote (B Raman, July 17, 2008, Rediff)

As the date for the vote of confidence government nears and the possibility of a premature general election looms large, a question often debated is the attitude of the Indian Muslims to the Indo-US nuclear deal. Do they regard it as anti-Muslim because of the perceived anti-Muslim policies of the administration of US President George W Bush? That is the question which has been raised again and again by the critics of the deal and of Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh.

In this connection, it would be pertinent to take note of the attitude of the Muslims in the Ummah as a whole since that could have an impact on the attitude of the Indian Muslims. The strongest criticism of India's developing relations with the US came from sections of the Muslims of the Ummah immediately after Bush's visit to India in March, 2006.

The criticism was not specific relating to the nuclear deal. It was more in relation to what they saw as India's co-operation with the US and Israel in the war against jihadi terrorism.

Not that incorporating India more formally into the Anglosphere is just about surrounding Islam--it's also aimed at the PRC...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:48 PM


The State of Play on Trade: Trade deals with Colombia, Korea, and Panama, all rife with political import, are stalled in Congress. In the meantime, some U.S. exports lag (Avi Salzman , 7/17/08, Business Week)

In its Decatur (Ill.) factory, Caterpillar (CAT) assembles a line of the heaviest-duty off-highway trucks, behemoths specialized for use in mining, quarry, and construction operations. One model, the $1.2 million, 163,089-lb. 777F truck, can hit a top speed of 40 mph even while carrying 100 tons of dirt, enough to fill 350 wheelbarrows. Caterpillar has seen a robust market in recent years for these monster trucks, but is worried that companies in other countries will start to eat away at that business. That's because Caterpillar's customers are saddled with an extra cost every time they buy one of the machines. When Caterpillar ships the truck to Colombia, a $180,000 tariff is assessed, even though nearly every product made in Colombia enters the U.S. duty-free.

A trade deal the Bush Administration negotiated with Colombia could change all that, eliminating tariffs on virtually all U.S. products. But the Colombia deal, as well as major agreements with Korea and Panama, has stalled in Congress. These agreements have become a potent issue in the Presidential campaign. Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) traveled to Colombia two weeks ago and expressed his support for the Colombia deal, while Senator Barack Obama (D-Ill.) has said he wants to reevaluate various trade deals, including the North American Free Trade Agreement, to increase protections for U.S. workers.

Caterpillar lobbyist Bill Lane says delays for deals like the one with Colombia will mean a loss of market share for U.S. companies. "Having a time-out on trade, it means ceding our competitive advantages," Lane says. "We don't want to find ourselves in a situation where Canadian goods get duty-free treatment but ours don't."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:39 PM


Top U.S. golfer left looking for an emergency caddy at the Open after his blonde wife decides the weather is well below par (Liz Hull, 17th July 2008, Daily Mail)
Whatever the reason for her absence, her 48-year-old husband had a face as black and thunderous as the skies when he stepped on to the first tee to begin his round at around 7.30am.

The American, whose wife is his regular caddy, was forced to find an emergency replacement at the 11th hour to take over her duties instead.

A source at the course said: 'The weather was awful and many commentators were joking that Brenda had simply refused to go out in the wind and rain.

'Rumours were rife that they'd had a furious row about it.

'Calcavecchia had a face like thunder when he arrived at the first tee.

'Brenda usually caddys for him and did so during his practice session on Wednesday. But when it came to playing the real thing yesterday she failed to show and he had to find a local lad to replace her.

'He can't have been to happy about it, the new caddy would have no idea of his game.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:38 PM


Pew: Perceptions of Obama's Religion Affect Democrats More Than Republicans (Gary Andres, July 17, 2008, Campaign Standard)

The Pew study reveals nearly four out 10 (37 percent) are off in one way or another when it comes to knowing Obama’s religion. That 37 percent breaks down this way: 12 percent think he’s Muslim, 10 percent say they “don’t know and have heard different things,” and 15 percent answer they “don’t know and haven’t heard enough.” Given all the controversy about his church and his pastor earlier in the year, the lack of knowledge about his religion says a lot about the average American attention span on this issue.

The Pew survey also suggests the notion that Obama is Muslim hurts him among Democrats, but not Republicans. For example, of the Democrats who think he’s a Christian, Obama draws 90 percent support. But among those who say he is a Muslim, he only garners 62 percent--a gap of 28 points.

How much attention does the average voter need to pay to decide who they're voting for? The last week in October you look up and its a Southwestern conservative vs a Northern liberal again--how hard is that?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:31 PM


Trial of Guantanamo detainee can start, judge rules (Carol J. Williams, 7/17/08, Los Angeles Times)

The first trial of a Guantanamo prisoner since a war-crimes tribunal was created nearly seven years ago can begin Monday, a federal judge in Washington ruled Thursday.

Lawyers for Yemeni prisoner Salim Ahmed Hamdan had urged U.S. District Judge James Robertson to halt the trial, contending that the defendant, a former driver and body guard for Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, had the right to challenge the tribunal's constitutionality before his trial could go forward.

Robertson's ruling was a victory for the Bush administration, which has sought to speed up prosecution of terrorism suspects as the November election approaches.

Funny, we thought a defeat for the enemy was a victory for all Americans.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:26 PM


Oil's 3-day dip nears $16 (Kenneth Musante and Beth Braverman, 7/17/08, CNNMoney.com )

The decrease may mean that the market has finally realized that the fundamentals cannot sustain such large prices, said Peter Beutel, an oil analyst with Cameron Hanover.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 PM


Tiger Woods is out of sight, but not out of mind at British Open (Christopher Clarey, July 16, 2008, IHT)

Tiger Woods is home in Florida with a postoperative left knee, coping with the disorienting fact that for the first time in nearly 12 years, he will miss a major championship and that is not expected back until next season.

"It would be interesting to see how he would play the course this year, wouldn't it?" asked Cooney, 34, who followed Woods when he won the Open at St. Andrews in 2005.

"Personally, I don't think the event is devalued without him here," Omara said. "The course is hard enough as it is, so whoever wins will deserve it. But you can bet that no matter who wins, Tiger's name will get brought up afterward. So it will be devalued in that sense."

Actually, there is no need to wait until after the victor's Claret Jug is awarded. Even in absentia, Woods remains the talk of the tournament, with nearly every interview session featuring at least one, and usually several, queries about the meaning of life after Woods.

"I just hope they taught the engraver how to put an asterisk on the trophy," cracked Geoff Ogilvy, the talented, agile-minded Australian, who is ranked third in the world. "Then everyone will know what the tournament was all about."

...is that for our contest we can just have you pick the winner of the tournament.

Since the website was down for a while yesterday and overnight we'll accept picks up until noon Thursday.

Zemanta Pixie

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:15 AM


The Humor Deficit (Howard Kurtz, 7/17/08, Washington Post)

Barack Obama has committed the unpardonable sin of not giving us anything to laugh at.

I mean, what's with that guy? How dare he not serve as an object of our amusement?

Apparently, comics are treading lightly when it comes to St. Barack. There's a bit of racial sensitivity, for one thing. And the senator is not an easy target. He's eloquent, knows how to spell potato, doesn't toss around such phrases as "dead or alive" and is a strong family man. What exactly do you make fun of?

...and not been bothered by the idea of Kitty being raped and killed, but even he knew there were 50 states. Senator Obama is a target rich environment--with every unscripted appearance serving up more canon fodder. The Left is just too afraid to fire.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:06 AM


Bush hosts T-ball game, MLB players at dinner (AP, 7/16/08)

Bush presided over a Tee Ball game on the South Lawn, then hosted a social dinner Wednesday in honor of Major League Baseball for about 240 players, members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, baseball officials and fans, administration officials and lawmakers.

The group, which included Baltimore Orioles first baseman Kevin Millar, eight-time MLB all-star pitcher John Smoltz and Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg, dined on crab salad, rib-eye steaks and a dessert called "Peanuts and Cracker Jack."

Afterward, in his third White House performance, country musician Kenny Chesney sang about summertime, drinking wine from Dixie cups and seeing the world from the seat of an "old blue chair."

"It doesn't get better than this," Bush said after the performance in the Rose Garden. "Country music in the Rose Garden celebrating baseball."

Bush hosts 'Tee Ball on South Lawn' (Jeff Seidel, 7/16/08, MLB.com)
Everything made this warm July afternoon feel and look like a special baseball day. A small stadium-like facility was constructed on the White House's South Lawn, not too far from where the President greeted the World Series champion Boston Red Sox just before the start of this season.

There was a field outlined on the grass. In addition, miniature grandstands were built down the left- and right-field lines, plus a set of bleachers in right-center field. The outfield fence -- with yellow topping all around -- made the field look like a miniature stadium. It was 80 feet to the left-field fence and 85 to right, but 110 to straightaway center.

"That's going to take a good poke," Greenberg told the crowd.

Greenberg drew a laugh with that, but he was right as just one ball in the two games played came close to the fence.

The first game pitted the Central versus the Eastern teams. Game Two brought together the Western and the Southern squads. Scores weren't kept, and the kids were encouraged to keep running all the time -- with broadcasters Mike and Mike treating it like a Major League broadcast by giving biographical information about each player when he or she stepped up to the plate and then calling the play like a real game.

Chesney got everyone's attention with his rendition of the National Anthem before the first contest. Then, during the break between the two games, the United States Postal Service unveiled a commemorative stamp for the 100th anniversary of the song "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," which Chesney then sang for the crowd.

The players also got some help from game commissioner Frank Robinson, filling in for Nolan Ryan, who was sick and couldn't attend. Players also got the chance to talk to base coaches like Smoltz, Millar, Sandberg and Monday.

Smoltz said participating in this event brought back some memories for the Atlanta pitcher, who said he's progressing well in the rehab from the right shoulder surgery that's sidelined him for the season.

"Seeing kids play a game that you do for a living, that I've prospered from and been able to do a lot of things [with], is pretty neat," Smoltz said. "It [makes] me remember my days of tee ball."

Sandberg said he had similar feelings and was impressed with what the event was all about.

"Being here at the White House, and really for what it represented, [it was great] to be part of that. It just speaks very well of what Little League means and how important it is. It was just fun for me to be here," Sandberg said. "They were having a blast. Just to take baseball back to that level and what it means to hit a baseball and to make it to first base -- it's a big deal."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:47 AM


In Mecca, a King Is Giving Lessons in Peace: A survey among pilgrims to the Muslim holy sites shows that they return home with sentiments of greater tolerance. Meanwhile, in Madrid, the Saudi king dialogues with Christians and Jews. Cardinal Tauran is there to represent the pope. An important document (Sandro Magister, 7/16/08, Chiesa)

[T]he Muslims who every year go as pilgrims from Pakistan to Mecca do not for this reason return more inclined to violence and more hostile toward the West and Christianity. The opposite happens. The pilgrimage instead increases sentiments of peace and tolerance, not only toward those of the same faith, but also toward non-Muslims.

About 2 million Muslims make the pilgrimage to Mecca each year, from the eighth day until the twelfth day of the last month of the Islamic lunar calendar. Their number is fixed in advance, and set in proportion to the populations of the various countries. In Pakistan, one must participate in a public lottery in order to be allowed to make the voyage. Those whose numbers are chosen will go to Mecca, the others will not.

The three scholars at Harvard – David Clingingsmith, Asim Ijaz Khwaja, and Michael Kremer – conducted the study on a twofold sample of Pakistani citizens: 800 who made the pilgrimage, and 800 who remained at home.

The survey reveals that the pilgrims are more devout when they return from Mecca. They pray more, they go to the mosque more often, they observe fasting more faithfully. They also tend to abandon the use of amulets and the practice of customs that are not genuinely Islamic.

Men's attitudes toward women also improve. On the pilgrimage, they find themselves side by side in equal numbers, carrying out the same rituals. And this has increased the number of those in favor of more education for girls, and their admission to professional life.

A positive impact is also shown from the encounter with Muslims from other countries with other ways of interpreting and living Islam, Shiite and Sunni. At their return from Mecca, many maintain that it is possible to live in harmony with everyone. And this sentiment is also extended to non-Muslims. Pilgrims to Mecca are clearly more willing than those who remain at home to consider the believers of other religions as worthy of equal respect.

On recourse to violence and hostility toward the West, pilgrims to Mecca are more inclined to peace than those who remain at home. When asked whether the goals for which Osama bin Laden is fighting are correct, the pilgrims answer no twice as often as the others. And when asked whether the methods used by Osama bin Laden are correct, the 'no's of the pilgrims are almost one third as numerous.

The most famous example of the moderating effect of the pilgrimage is Malcolm X, who was tragically murdered just as he and Martin Luther King were trading places.
Zemanta Pixie

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:32 AM


Dems rip Bush draft rule on abortion (Martin Kady II, 7/16/08, Politico: The Crypt)

Democrats are pouncing on a Bush administration proposal that would require medical practices and hospitals that receive federal aid to certify that they will not fire or refuse to hire doctors who refuse to offer abortion services and types of birth control.

The draft rule, first reported by The New York Times, is known as a "conscience clause" because it would allow nurses and doctors who have ethical or moral objections to abortion or birth control to refuse to prescribe or provide those services to patients. The rule proposes to cut off money to any grant recipient or hospital that refuses to hire doctors and nurses who object to abortion.

...is there a political advantage for Democrats in defending the idea that your tax dollars should be used to discriminate against Christians? The reality is that in large swathes of the country there are no doctors who perform abortions, not just because they have to live with themselves but because they have to face their neighbors.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:16 AM


The End of Oil's Boom?: A 10% correction over the past week could signal the end of a long bull run for crude oil (Moira Herbst, 7/16/08, Business Week)

Analysts say the two-day sell-off reflects the market's recognition of reduced demand in the U.S., even if longer-term trends remain bullish. Oil traders, it seems, may have finally noticed the public's reaction to high energy prices. "For a while the market heightened all bullish news and discounted anything bearish," says Joel Fingerman, president of FundamentalAnalytics.com, a Chicago-based energy consulting firm. "But people are giving up their Humvees and pickup trucks, and the market is starting to care."

Analysts say that while oil traders have been betting on surging demand from developing countries such as India and China, reduced demand in the U.S. is now sending bearish signals the markets can't ignore. Moreover, Energy Dept. data released July 16 showed a 3 million barrel jump in U.S. crude inventories, to 296.9 million barrels; analysts had expected a decline. Moreover, U.S. demand for energy products has fallen 2% from the same period last summer, according to a four-week average federal regulators release weekly. "I think this is a precursor to a much bigger sell-off," says Peter Beutel, president of Cameron Hanover, an energy risk-management firm in New Canaan, Conn. "It's very possible we have seen the worst this [price surge] is going to do to us. The tide is starting to change."

Fingerman points to the 5% drop in U.S. gasoline demand from the same time a year ago as evidence of a "structural shift in the car economy."

Betting on Oil's Return to Earth: Lehman's lonely oil contrarian, Ed Morse, says the price bubble will burst before you hear Auld Lang Syne (Steve LeVine, 7/16/08, Business Week)
Edward L. Morse, Lehman Brothers' (LEH) chief energy economist, says the oil bubble (he dubs it Oil Dot-com) will burst by New Year's. Not only that, he predicts a plunge to about $93 a barrel. Pretty audacious as prognostications go, at a time when Goldman Sachs (GS) foresees $200 a barrel. To that Morse just replies that he's the one talking sense. "We are trying to keep our heads in a wild market," he says.

Morse is the most prominent oil contrarian on Wall Street. Before joining Lehman two years ago, he taught international monetary policy at Princeton University, was Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for international energy policy in the Carter Administration, co-founded consultants PFC Energy, and was publisher of Petroleum Intelligence Weekly. "He likes to be a provocateur," says Frank Verrastro, director of energy at the Center for Strategic & International Studies in Washington, who served with Morse under Carter. Morse has made bold predictions that Russian oil would weaken Saudi Arabia's predominance (bad call) and that scarce production capacity would drive prices up (bingo).

The 66-year-old Morse gives several reasons for being bearish. First, oil has long been cyclical. Why should the pendulum stop now? Second, Morse thinks China's go-for-broke industrial economy is slowing, leading to a "radical" reduction in its oil demand after the summer. Third, he foresees a big buildup in oil inventories this fall and, longer term, a greater flow of crude as new deepwater drilling rigs reach equipment-starved producers in the Gulf of Mexico. Finally, 13 million barrels a day of new refinery capacity will be available by 2013, making hard-to-process crudes more marketable.

The world isn't governed rationally, but suppose that this afternoon Democrats--who supposedly care about emissions--offered W and the GOP tax rate cuts in exchange for carbon consumption taxes. We'd be able to maintain an artificially high price of gasoline with catastrophic effects on the many vile regimes that are currently getting rich off of oil. We'd force innovation in the energy field. And we'd reduce the burden on something we want--people increasing their income--while raising the burden on that which we don't--consumption--thereby making possible and increasing personal savings.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:02 AM


'Netroots' reassess their candidate (Katharine Q. Seelye, July 17, 2008, NY Times)

The convention, formerly YearlyKos and now Netroots Nation, or NN08, bills itself as "the most concentrated gathering of progressive bloggers to date." About 2,000 bloggers, activists, officeholders, vendors and others are expected to attend, with 200 members of the mainstream news media tracking them (yes, roughly one old-media type for every 10 new-media hipsters).

The convention comes as some in the netroots are questioning Senator Barack Obama's commitment to their values and whether their faith in him as a different kind of politician was misplaced. Most of the discontent stems from Obama's vote to give legal immunity to the telecommunications companies that participated in the Bush administration's program of wiretapping without warrants, after he had said he would vote to block it. [...]

[W]hile the Obama campaign has shown prowess organizing and raising staggering sums online, the candidate's relationship with the netroots has been tentative. Straw polling last year showed the netroots preferred John Edwards over Obama as the Democrats' nominee.

Part of the problem stems from a difference in style. The netroots can be reflexively confrontational and demand ideological purity.

Obama took issue with those tactics in 2005, writing in a memorandum that candidates who wanted to win the trust of voters could not demonize those who disagreed with them or always be ideologically pure.

"To the degree that we brook no dissent within the Democratic Party, and demand fealty to the one, 'true' progressive vision for the country," Obama wrote, "we risk the very thoughtfulness and openness to new ideas that are required to move this country forward."

Democrat centrists duel with 'netroots': Soul of party staked as prize (Christina Bellantoni, July 17, 2008, Washington Times)
Markos Moulitsas is confident that the soul rests firmly on his side - the "netroots."

He will make that case Friday when he discusses the party's future with Democratic Leadership Council Chairman Harold E. Ford Jr. They will square off at the Netroots Nation conference inspired by Mr. Moulitsas' Daily Kos blog, carrying out the second part of a pact forged last summer on NBC's "Meet the Press."

A video promo posted at DailyKos.com depicts the panel discussion as a "Texas Shootout," though the dialogue was civil when Mr. Moulitsas attended the DLC's annual meeting last month.

Mr. Ford argues that for Democrats "to win and do well, it will take a merging of both factions, every part of the party." Mr. Moulitsas, however, insists that Democrats need to hold intraparty primary battles to purge candidates and elect "better" politicians.

,,,but it's fun to watch the Left go ballistic as their candidate's stumble to the Right demonstrates how out of touch they are with America, kind of like the Beltway Right's shock when the party utterly rejected Rudy and Mitt.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:09 AM


McCain's humor often backfires (BEN SMITH, 7/17/08, Politico)

Rooted in a time before there was political correctness, and before there was the South Park backlash against political correctness, McCain's wisecracking persona is cutting at times, self-deprecating at others, and always amused by the political process swirling around him. Even in his pursuit of the White House, the candidate has - sometimes to the dismay of his handlers - managed to keep his sense of humor.

As he campaigns through the densest media thicket in American history, it's become clear that McCain hasn't acquired the layer of polish that produced, for instance, Ronald Reagan's gentle, oft-repeated jokes and Bill Clinton's colorful, folksy yarns.

McCain's humor, by contrast, makes him the political counterpart of the radio host Don Imus (whom he has defended): It's sharp, unrehearsed, and at times, way, way over the line. This cycle, he's drawn winces, and worse, for everything from a joking reference to domestic violence to a now-notorious little ditty about bombing Iran. Earlier in his political career, the Arizona press reported that he'd cracked a rape joke that would now probably end any politician's career, a joke his aides then and now say he doesn't recall making.

To McCain's friends and supporters, the humor is a mark of his authenticity. To his detractors, some of the jokes are offensive and out of touch with contemporary mores.

...is to be in opposition to contemporary mores.

July 16, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:15 PM


GREAT BLACK HOPE: a rejection of Obama at the polls this fall could bring lefty riots—or worse. (Russ Smith, 7/16/08, NY Press)

[I]f Obama loses (unlikely, but not out of the question), especially by a small margin, there’s sure to be a firestorm from the Left that will make the Florida recount of 2000 seem like a student- council election. Obama, of course, is seen as—finally!—the president who will return the United States to the halcyon 1,000 days of Camelot when John F. Kennedy brought to the White House not only “vigah” but a sense of optimism.

Never mind that had Richard Nixon, with the shift of a few hundred thousand votes in key states, won the 1960 election there would’ve been disappointment among his supporters but no great surprise. It doesn’t matter that Kennedy was a hawk, a fiscal conservative and, as a surrogate for his father’s dashed ambitions, a rather grubby politician. All that changed when he was assassinated; and ever since then Democrats have tried in vain to recreate his (largely retrospective) charismatic leadership.

In my discussions with friends under the age of 30—including one of my kids—who are enthusiastically plumping for Obama, they continuously compare the “post-racial” candidate to the Kennedy brothers (the inspirational ones, not Teddy), exclaiming that a new dawn is coming to America. I find this fairly comical—although keeping those thoughts private, since I already have a list of professional enemies that could fill the Manhattan white pages—since what they know about the 1960s is gleaned from lefty professors or nostalgic parents.

Of course, in order to win Senator Obama would have to run as far to the Right as JFK did.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:13 PM


A Confusion of Tongues: Why Britain struggles to assimilate immigrants (Theodore Dalrymple, Spring 2008, City Journal)

Acting recently as an expert witness in a murder trial, I became aware of a small legal problem caused by the increasingly multicultural nature of our society. According to English law, a man is guilty of murder if he kills someone with the intention either to kill or to injure seriously. But he is guilty of the lesser crime of manslaughter if he has been sufficiently provoked or if his state of mind at the time was abnormal enough to reduce his responsibility. The legal test here is a comparison with the supposedly ordinary man—the man on the Clapham omnibus, as the legal cliché has it. Would that ordinary person feel provoked under similar circumstances? Was the accused’s state of mind at the time of the killing very different from that of an average man?

But who is that ordinary man nowadays, now that he might come from any of a hundred countries? The accused in this instance was a foreign-born Sikh who had married, and killed, a native-born woman of the same minority. The defense argued—unsuccessfully—that an ordinary man of the defendant’s traditional culture would have found the wife’s repeated infidelity particularly wounding and would therefore have acted in the same way.

Isn't it a bigger problem that Britain's culture has been degraded to the point that serial infidelity isn't an excuse for his action?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:09 PM


Cracking Code Pink: Why does the peace movement have to dress and act like an irritating children's birthday party? (Cintra Wilson, 7/16/08, Salon)

Code Pink welcomes anybody "willing to be outrageous for peace." But despite its emphasis on "joy and humor," its ruckus-raising techniques often cause me and my liberal community, who tend to agree with its politics, to regard them with distaste and embarrassment. Why did these shrieking middle-aged women in pink novelty hats believe this manner of protest was going to be effective in Congress, let alone in an almost completely co-opted media climate that seems hellbent on ignoring them?

...while you're an ineffective leftwing nutjob? Ms Wilson and friends have had just as little effect.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:50 PM


Obama releases list of approved jokes about himself (Andy Borowitz, 7/16/08, Jewish World Review)

A traveling salesman knocks on the door of a farmhouse, and much to his surprise, Barack Obama answers the door. The salesman says, "I was expecting the farmer's daughter." Barack Obama replies, "She's not here. The farm was foreclosed on because of subprime loans that are making a mockery of the American Dream."

A horse walks into a bar. The bartender says, "Why the long face?" Barack Obama replies, "His jockey just lost his health insurance, which should be the right of all Americans."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:46 PM


Doves Outnumber Hawks in Jewish Community (Daniel Luban, 7/16/08, IPS)

A new poll suggests that U.S. Jews hold views about the Middle East that are considerably more dovish than frequently acknowledged, with large majorities favouring diplomacy with Iran, supporting a two-state solution in Israel/Palestine, and advocating U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. [...]

[S]upport for Israel was not particularly high on the priority list of respondents. Only 8 percent described Israel as one of the two most important issues for them in the upcoming election, placing it seventh on the list of issues; far more important were the economy (55 percent) and the war in Iraq (33 percent).

...than the anti-Zionism of American Jews?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:02 PM


'Idiot's Veto' not worth the cost (ROGER SIMON, 7/16/08, Politico)

This week, the New Yorker magazine published a cover depicting Barack and Michelle Obama as dangerous radicals. In the cover illustration, they are standing in the Oval Office giving each other a fist bump. He is wearing a turban and she is wearing an Afro and has an AK-47 slung over her shoulder. They are burning an American flag in the fireplace and a picture of Osama bin Laden is hanging on the wall.

The New Yorker was kidding. It was satirizing those people who hold stupid misconceptions about the Obamas.

Fly-over country gets it (Democracy in America, 7/16/08, Economist.com)
WHILE the New Yorker's Obama cover should have run its course as a news story by now, I will apologetically continue its relevance just long enough to note that Timothy Egan hits the nail on the head in a New York Times op-ed today as to what we can take away from this tempest in a teapot. Namely, that all the ruckus came from high-minded blue-staters who were deathly afraid that those nit-wits living in places where people still drive pick-up trucks would be too thick-necked and thick-headed to get the joke. But it turns out voters can actually think analytically without shopping at Whole Foods. Mr Egan investigates in Missoula, Montana, a town known for fly-fishing and taciturn manly-men and not too far from that red-state where Dick Cheney hunts and fishes. He concludes that "they get it as well. Irony, it turns out, does cross the Hudson River."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:54 PM


Facebook face-off: Scrabble vs. Scrabulous (Rafe Needleman – July 16, 2008, Webware)

What's a seven-letter word for, "So long, Scrabulous?" [...]

In conjunction with Electronic Arts, that official Hasbro Scrabble app is now up, in beta. How does it compare to Scrabulous? Pretty well. Too well, actually. While Scrabulous fans will see no reason to switch to the official Scrabble app, newcomers to the game on Facebook (like me), will find Scrabble easier to get into, easier to use, and just as competitive and fun.

The two apps have a lot in common. Both let you quickly and easily invite people from your list of friends. Both let you manage multiple games. Both keep track of games scores and multiple-game ratings. Both have useful features that let you shuffle the tiles in your rack, chat with your competitors, look up valid two-letter words and access a Scrabble-official word look-up feature.

Scrabble's game interface is more intuitive than Scrabulous, and it looks nicer, too. The screen automatically redraws when an opponent makes a move or leaves a message; Scrabulous requires a manual refresh. This is not a big deal if you're playing a drawn-out asynchronous game with a correspondent, but if you want to play in real-time with someone it's a drag to use Scrabulous.

I've been in two near continuous matches since I joined Facebook, one against the dastardly Chris Rohlfs (who gets more bingoes than a whole church basement full of old Catholic ladies) and one against the Mother Judd, Sister Judd and Other Brother. It's a great time killer. Join and challenge me.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:38 PM


Self-Interest Is Bad?: Enough with the hectoring (Andrew Ferguson, 07/21/2008, Weekly Standard)

Oh, terrific. Now we have two of them--two presidential candidates, presumptive nominees of their respective parties, who insist they will not rest until they have inspired all of us stick-in-the-mud Americans to reach celestial heights of personal fulfillment by committing ourselves to a life of service. Service to what? Service to .  .  . something or other. The phrase that both John McCain and Barack Obama use is a "cause higher than yourself" or "greater than self" or alternatively a "cause greater than your own self-interest." Whatever the precise wording--for now, let's just use an unpronounceable acronym, CGTYOSI--we'll be hearing it a lot till November. [...]

Whoever wins the White House, the heart sinks to imagine the rhetorical tone of the next administration, thanks to John McCain's regret over his years as a rebellious midshipman and Barack Obama's vanity over the years he spent berating slumlords on the South Side of Chicago. For four long years the rest of us will be hectored about pursuing a cause greater than our self-interest, with the unavoidable implication that as we go through the day getting our kids out of bed, packing their lunches, helping them with homework, dragging ourselves to our jobs, enduring an hour's commute, so we can make enough money to meet our mortgage, attending PTA meetings, feeding the dog, going to church, mowing our neighbor's lawn while he's on vacation, planning a birthday party, saying a prayer for a sick friend, picking up a six-pack for our brother-in-law on the way home, writing a check to the Red Cross, shopping for an old roommate's wedding gift, pretending to listen to the tedious beefs of a co-worker, telephoning an aging aunt, and otherwise doing what it is we need to do to make our lives mean something, we are merely pursuing what our two presidential candidates consider our selfish interest. Because we haven't joined one of their national service programs.

For now, of course, each of the two men, McCain and Obama, points to himself as an exemplar of service--even as he avoids his family, neglects his job, and hands his everyday obligations over to poorly paid subordinates, all so he can fulfill his lifelong ambition of becoming the most powerful and celebrated man in the world. What do you know: They think their self-interest is a cause greater than their self-interest. Funny how that happens.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:29 PM


Pious Populist: Understanding the rise of Iran's president (Abbas Milani, Nov/Dec 2007, Boston Review)

The unwieldy social and ideological coalition that brought Khomeini to power shared nothing but enmity for the Shah. With his departure, those differences emerged with full force. While religious activists like Ahmadinejad embraced Khomeini’s theocratic project, the technocratic middle classes hoped to use Khomeini against the Shah and then create a secular, democratic republic. The urban poor joined the coalition when Khomeini and his allies promised them economic benefits—free houses and free electricity, more wages, and less pressure from the government and their own bosses. No sooner had the Shah departed than the network of religious organizations, with a mosque in nearly every town and neighborhood, began quickly to dominate the revolution: in late 1979 the country voted in a referendum to become an Islamic Republic.

In the immediate aftermath of the revolution, and as a direct result of clerical dominance, Iran experienced an Islamic version of the Reign of Terror, resulting ever since in cycles of violence. Iran is something of an ethnic and religious quilt. At least a quarter of its 70-plus million people speak Turkish. Another six or seven million are of Kurdish origin. Yet another two to three million speak Arabic, and at least a million are Baluchis, who live in an area bordering Pakistan. During the Pahlavi era, the Shah and his father mimicked the Ataturk model (which banned Turkey’s Kurds from speaking Kurdish) and tried to solve Iran’s ethnic difficulties by enforcing a unified “Persian identity” and making it illegal for ethno-linguistic minorities to speak or teach their native languages.

When the central government appeared vulnerable after the revolution, simmering ethnic grievances erupted. In Iran’s Kurdish region, civil war broke out, leaving thousands dead. (The only job Ahmadinejad held before becoming mayor of Tehran was in the mid 1990s, when he was named the governor of Ardibil, which was populated predominantly by Turkish-speaking Iranians.)

Moreover, the regime’s attempt to impose its understanding of Islamic traditions—from mandating headscarves to banning unveiled women from television or films—created social strife in the country’s modernized cities. Some of the new strictures produced comical results: Hollywood films were shown with the women eliminated from every scene. Or “illicit” affairs between unmarried lovers were written out of scripts and replaced with more chaste relations, such as that of brother and sister.

Ayatollah Khomeini also began a massive purge of the military, which he suspected of harboring royalist tendencies. The Iranian air force, in particular, was decimated. After the government claimed to have aborted a coup attempt by a group of pilots, three hundred pilots were reportedly executed by firing squad. A new force, called the Revolutionary Guards of the Islamic Republic and composed of devout young men, often from the countryside, was created to safeguard the revolution and its leaders. Ahmadinejad would join them soon after the war with Iraq began in 1980. Their conservative cultural ethos and rancor against secular intellectuals and the middle class gradually emerged as the regime’s social paradigm. The regime began a massive policy of nationalizing and confiscating factories and banks owned by the elite of the Shah’s rule.

The bureaucracy no less than the military was purged. By harassing women who refused to wear the veil and pressuring men who did not display piety and devotion in their appearance, the regime facilitated the largest emigration in Iran’s history. The long war with Iraq, together with Saddam’s decision to bomb defenseless cities like Tehran, would accelerate this process. Those who left tended to be the more educated middle classes. Today at least two million—by some estimates, four million—live in exile.

In November 1979, with the country engulfed in military conflicts with ethnic minorities and clashes with the central government, and with many cities beset by strikes and student unrest, a new crisis emerged when radical Islamic students, encouraged and supported by the secular left, took over the American embassy in Tehran. In early planning for the takeover, the organizers asked the Islamic Student Association of each university to send two representatives to a clandestine plenary meeting. As scholars Alireza Haghighi and Victoria Tahmasebi have reported, Ahmadinejad, then an engineering student, was one of two delegates from the College of Science and Technology. When he heard of the plans, he demurred; he wanted them to first seek a fatwa from Ayatollah Khomeini. But the organizers wanted to give their leader “plausible deniability.” A few weeks later, when it emerged that Khomeini was bent on turning the hostage crisis into political theater to consolidate his own power, Ahmadinejad tried to join the student leadership committee. This time he was told he was not welcome. The episode became particularly important when, years later in the days after Ahmadinejad’s election as president, some of the former American hostages claimed that Ahmadinejad had been their guard, even their interrogator. All evidence, including an investigation by the CIA, has indicated that the allegations were untrue.

Khomeini used the hostage crisis—and the preoccupation with the embassy takeover in Iran, the United States, and much of the West—to pass a draconian constitution that placed virtually all power in the hands of an unelected ayatollah. He had come to power officially promising a democratic republic, though his own doctrine of the rule of the judges had circulated widely among his followers. From exile in Paris (where he went after Saddam Hussein expelled him from Iraq in 1978), he had said that no clergy would hold office when the revolution won power. But once back in Iran and empowered by the revolution, he placed virtually all power in his own hands and claimed a legitimacy founded on divine right, not popular will. If anyone dared remind him of his democratic promises, he resorted to an important concept of Shi’ism called tagiyeh. Much like Jesuitical equivocation, tagiyeh allows the pious to prevaricate in the service of preserving the faith or leading the faithful. (Khomeini was also a great admirer of Plato, and his doctrine of the guardianship of the jurist (velayat-e faqih) bears striking resemblance to Plato’s ideal of a republic ruled by a philosopher king, just as his idea of tagiyeh is similar to Plato’s idea of the noble lie.)

In Iran, as scholar Arash Naraghi has shown, Khomeini has even tinkered with his own theory of the rule of the jurist. Initially, according to his interpretation of the law, the purpose of such a government was to implement Shari’ah (religious law.) When faced with the practical problems of running a modern polity based on religious laws that were a thousand years old, however, Khomeini offered a new variant of his theory. Now, the ultimate goal of Islamic government is the preservation of the state itself, and all rules of Shari’ah, even the pillars of faith, are subject to change, depending on the interests of the state. In the new version the state is everything, and Shari’ah is but its tool.

As a nod to the democratic aspirations of the movement that had brought him to power, Ayatollah Khomeini allowed constitutional provisions for a powerless, but elected, presidency and a unicameral parliament. But even these weak institutions were circumscribed by the power of unelected mullahs. An appointed institution called the Council of Experts, composed of clerics and experts in Shari’ah, had veto power over all laws it deemed inimical to the letter or spirit of Islam. Initially of uncertain significance, it turned out to be a key factor in the clergy’s control of the county. During the presidency of the reformist Khatami (1997–2005), for example, the Council of Experts rejected more than two hundred laws passed by parliament in a two-year legislative term. The same council has also claimed for itself the right to veto candidates for any election in the country. In one election for the parliament (or Majlis), they rejected more than three thousand candidates, most of them supporters of Khatami-style reform. [...]

[A]hmadinejad’s meteoric rise was soon followed by a no less spectacular fall from grace. One problem was that Ayatollah Khamenei and other leaders of the Islamic Republic came quickly to see that Ahmadinejad and his verbal outbursts were becoming a serious liability. Nothing was more emblematic of this problem than his vocal anti-Semitism, which, like much else in his vision, was not acquired casually but has roots in his experiences during the early days of the revolution.

Soon after the creation of the Islamic Republic, a series of lectures and discussions were held in Tehran led by a stridently conservative cleric, Mohammad Taghi Mesbah-Yazdi, and a philosophy professor named Ahmad Fardid. A student of German philosophy and a disciple of Heidegger, Fardid believed that Freemasons and Jews have for the past century conspired together to dominate the world. When Ayatollah Khomeini won power Fardid abandoned his sycophantic royalism and became not just a devout Moslem, but a passionate advocate of the rule of mullahs as the necessary and anointed prelude to the return of the Hidden Messiah. Together with Mesbah-Yazdi—Ahmadinejad’s religious mentor—Fardid forged key elements of an Islamic pseudo-fascist ideology founded on a sour brew of anti-Semitism, Heideggerian philosophy, and Khomeini’s theory of the guardianship of the jurist.

Whatever their sources, Ahmadinejad’s anti-Semitic comments were—according to a widely held view in Iran—a key reason for the two U.N. resolutions against Iran.

His domestic policies have been comparably disastrous. For much of the past quarter of a century, the Islamic Republic of Iran—having emerged from the authoritarianism of the Pahlavi dynasty—faced a number of fundamental choices about basic social and economic organization: state planning vs. market coordination; private property vs. public ownership; technocracy vs. piety as a measure of public service; women as subordinate vs. women as equal citizens; export of revolution vs. consolidation of power at home; nuclear power and a full fuel cycle vs. accommodating the international community; fundamentalism vs. acceptance of eclectic new ideas and changing interpretations of the canon; and finally, East vs. West.

In navigating these positions, Ahmadinejad has often embraced ideas and practices that are now widely rejected elsewhere. He has shown little affection for the private sector, advocates statism and a more highly planned economy, and has all but destroyed private banking in Iran. He initially defended some rights for women, such as their ability to watch soccer games at public stadiums, but backed off in the face of stiff opposition from the traditional clergy. And although he has been consistent in his advocacy for the poor—he increased the minimum wage by sixty percent and ordered the establishment of a “Love Fund” to help poor young men defray the cost of marriage—his policies often seem ill-conceived. His casual comment that the stock market is a form of gambling and should be banned led to a massive sell off and a steep fall in stock prices. He has a penchant for throwing money at any problem. One policy, for example, gave low-interest loans to small businesses willing to hire new employees, in an attempt to create jobs and stem inflationary pressures. But because his administration failed to exercise oversight, the loans were used by employers for purposes other than job creation. According to some members of parliament, similar failures of oversight explain the disappearance of hundreds of millions of dollars of governmental funds. Ahmadinejad’s government has not only spent the entire windfall revenue from oil price increases, but he nearly depleted the currency fund set up to protect the government when the price of oil falls. As always the poor—now a quarter of the country’s population—bear the brunt of these disastrous inflationary policies.

In international relations, Ahmadinejad’s faltering program has had three key components. The first is the idea of exporting the Islamic Revolution and creating a “Shia revolutionary arc” in the Muslim world. Like Trotsky, who rejected the idea of socialism in one country, Ahmadinejad believes that Iran’s Islamic Revolution will survive only if it helps lead other Muslims in the fight against a weak and declining West. In recent months, he has talked more ambitiously about Muslims generally, and not only about Shias.

The second component of his program is the idea that the Islamic regime can maintain its dignity and achieve its goals only if it stands firm on plans for a nuclear weapons program. For Ahmadinejad, Khatami and his chief negotiator on the nuclear issue, Rouhani, committed treason when they agreed to suspend the nuclear program. A few days after Iran announced that it had enriched uranium successfully, Ahmadinejad and his allies declared that “the West can do nothing,” adding that Iran must push forward aggressively with all aspects of the program. Shortly after Putin’s recent and historic visit to Iran, Ahmadinejad made two incredible claims in a televised interview: first, that Iran has won the public-opinion battle around the world over the legitimacy of its nuclear program, and that the West might soon give up its opposition to Iran’s nuclear program; and second, still more incredibly, that “Iran is now one of the nine nuclear powers in the world” and that the other eight must begin to share their global power with Iran.

The third component of Ahmadinejad’s foreign policy is intimately linked with the second, and is referred to by the Iranian policy establishment as the “Asia Look.” According to this notion, Iran’s future no longer rests with the declining West but with the ascendant East—particularly China and India. Multi-billion-dollar oil and gas agreements with both countries, and negotiations for the construction of a new pipeline connecting Iran to India through Pakistan and eventually to China, would allow Iran to have a rapidly growing market for the country’s oil and gas. Moreover, both China and India have nuclear technologies they could share with Iran and, based on their past behavior, neither is likely to “meddle” in Iranian domestic affairs, particularly on issues of human rights and democracy. Ahmadinejad is further convinced that Russia (with its new, more muscular foreign policy and its desire to embarrass the United States) and China (with its insatiable appetite for energy) would never allow the passage of a U.N. resolution against Iran.

* * *

The failure of nearly every aspect of Ahmadinejad’s program—including his failure to fight corruption or improve the economic plight of the poor—has caused his domestic popularity to decline sharply.

Ayatollah Khamenei has long understood that the Revolution is no basis for running a successful state and society, but Mahmoud doesn't get it, so he's toast next election.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:22 PM


Why Some Terrorists Make the Choice to Leave al Qaeda (Alex Kingsbury, July 16, 2008, US News)

Learning the answers to why some terrorists abandon their brethren, says one terrorism expert, is critical to understanding the "radicalization cycle."

The failure of the terrorist group to provide for its members, for instance, or a failure to meet the expectations of recruits might be key to splintering cells from the inside. "It appears that terrorist cell members who maintain contact with friends and family outside the organization are more likely to withdraw," terrorism expert Michael Jacobson writes in an upcoming paper published in the journal of the Combating Terrorism Center at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. "Perhaps in part in recognition of this, [9/11 hijacker Mohamed] Atta had forbidden the 18 other hijackers in the United States from contacting their families to say goodbye."

...once you atomize them you control them easier.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:16 PM


Monkey Business: Spain apes the Declaration of Independence. (Wesley J. Smith, 07/21/2008, Weekly Standard)

[W]hy grant apes rights? After all, if the Spanish parliament deems these animals insufficiently protected, it can enact more stringent protections, as other countries have. But improving the treatment of apes--of which there are few in Spain--is not really the game that is afoot. Rather, as Pozas chortled after the environment committee of the Spanish parliament passed the resolutions committing Spain to the Great Ape Project, this precedent will be the "spear point" that breaks the "species barrier."

And why break the species barrier? Why, to destroy the unique status of man and thus initiate a wholesale transformation of Western civilization.

Specifically, by including animals in the "community of equals" and in effect declaring apes to be persons, the Great Ape Project would break the spine of Judeo-Christian moral philosophy, which holds that humans enjoy equal and incalculable moral worth, regardless of our respective capacities, age, and state of health. Once man is demoted to merely another animal in the forest, universal human rights will have to be tossed out and new criteria devised to determine which human/animal lives matter and which individuals can be treated like, well, animals.

Singer and Cavalieri put it this way in the introduction to The Great Ape Project: Equality Beyond Humanity, the collection of essays they edited in 1993, with contributions by noted opponents of a human-centric ethics such as primatologist Jane Goodall and Ingrid Newkirk of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals:

Our request comes at a special moment in history. Never before has our dominion over other animals been so pervasive and systematic. Yet this is also the moment when, within that very Western civilization that has so inexorably extended this dominion, a rational ethic has emerged challenging the moral significance of membership of our own species. This challenge seeks equal consideration for the interests of all animals, human and nonhuman.

Should that come to pass, the ancien régime (as they view it) based on the sanctity and equality of human life would crumble. In its place would emerge a society sufficiently hedonistic to eschew moralizing about personal behavior (Singer has defended bestiality), but also humbled to the point where people would willingly sacrifice our own flourishing "for the animals" or to "save the planet" and utilitarian enough to countenance ridding ourselves of unwanted human ballast (Singer is the world's foremost proponent of infanticide). Thus, in the world that would rise from the ashes of human exceptionalism, moral value would be subjective and rights temporary, depending on the extent of each animal's individual capacities at the time of measuring.

Most important in the minds of many proponents of the Great Ape Project, religion--above all, orthodox theistic religions that view humankind as at the center of Creation--would be sapped of its remaining vitality. Pozas's spear point is aimed right between the ribs of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, all three of which are loathed by the materialists who have brought the Great Ape Project to the brink of its first triumph.

Thus, no one should be surprised that Richard Dawkins, bitter proselytizer for atheism, has been a strong supporter of the Great Ape Project from its inception.

...just hating on God.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:12 PM


The Democrats' Popularity Fetish: Global approval is overrated. (James Kirchick, 07/21/2008, Weekly Standard)

In the simplistic narrative of the Obama boosters, President Bush and his party's successor, John McCain, are cranky nationalists who view the world through the barrel of a gun. But the fact is, in this election it is the Democratic candidate who is proposing policies profoundly at odds with his promise to restore America's preeminent place in the world.

Take the issue of trade. In Senate debates earlier this year, Obama vocally opposed free trade deals with both South Korea and Colombia. Asked what Congress's failure to pass the Colombia Free Trade Act would mean for bilateral relations between his country and the United States, Colombian president Alvaro Uribe replied, "It would be very serious."

But Obama hasn't just opposed free trade pacts with our closest allies in Asia and Latin America. During the Democratic primary, in an attempt to shore up the votes of rust-belt blue-collar workers in states like Ohio and Pennsylvania, he vowed to renegotiate NAFTA, the free trade pact between the United States, Canada, and Mexico. A minor scandal erupted when it was revealed that Obama's chief economic adviser had reassured Canadian officials that his boss's protectionist rhetoric was just campaign sloganeering. After he clinched his party's nomination, Obama tried to confirm that the Canadians' fear was unfounded in an interview with Fortune magazine, saying that "sometimes during campaigns the rhetoric gets overheated and amplified."

Given his anti-trade voting record, though, it's hard to know whether to take Obama's latest statements seriously. His easy ability to go from calling NAFTA a "big mistake" to disavowing the comments months later doesn't inspire confidence in his supposedly unshakable principles, never mind his ability to send a positive message to the world that America is open for business.

Indeed, so put off was he by Obama's protectionist rhetoric that British foreign minister David Miliband in May sent Obama an implicit warning to unmoor himself from the agenda of American labor unions. "The problem is not too much trade, the problem is too little trade," he told the Financial Times. "That is our position as a British government, and it will be articulated clearly and consistently." Alarmed at Obama's anti-NAFTA rhetoric, Canada's National Post opined, "The treaty is simply too integral to our prosperity to take anything about it for granted," and suggested that should the United States even consider renegotiating NAFTA, Canada, America's largest supplier of oil, should threaten to cut off supplies.

Also disconcerting to many around the world is Obama's promise--articulated in a debate last August--to meet with a variety of anti-American dictators without preconditions. He has since tried to backtrack from this off-the-cuff remark, yet its utterance showed Obama's remarkable hubris--his apparent belief that seemingly intractable world problems will be easier to solve simply by dint of his charming personality. He is far from alone in this belief. Writing recently in the Boston Globe, Mark Oppenheimer suggested that "given Obama's popularity abroad, it's possible to imagine that his meetings would embolden pro-American or pro-Western forces wherever he went."

Yet negotiating with tin-pot tyrants is a double-edged sword. For every despot a President Obama meets with, he runs the risk of demoralizing the democracy activists suffering under the despot's boot, and the neighboring countries threatened by said tyrant's hegemony. An unconditional meeting with Venezuela's Hugo Chávez, for instance, would rightly anger Colombians, as Chávez's Venezuela has provided assistance to Colombia's antigovernment FARC guerrillas.

...isn't it germane that no one--other than a couple teachers--actually likes the most popular girl?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:48 PM


German football club creates cemetery for fans (Aislinn Simpson, 16/07/2008, Daily Telegraph)

Football supporters in Germany have taken loyalty to their club to a new level by opening a fans' cemetery just yards from their stadium.

Supporters of Hamburg HSV will from now on have the option of being buried in their club colours on a football stand-shaped lawn reached via a goal-shaped entrance and, most importantly, within earshot of their team's Nordbank arena.

You could at least make the sport mildly entertaining by putting the graveyard on the field and making them kick around tombstones, check each other into plinths and hurl guys into open graves that seal automatically.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:36 PM


Boston OF J.D. Drew wins All-Star game MVP award (Mike Fitzpatrick, 7/16/08, AP)

J.D. Drew waited 11 seasons to make an All-Star team, and just a few pitches to get a huge hit.

Drew hit a tying, two-run homer in his first All-Star at-bat Tuesday night and took home MVP honors after a wild Midsummer Classic.

The Boston outfielder also singled and finished 2-for-4 to help the American League beat the NL 4-3 in 15 innings in a game that lasted 4 hours, 50 minutes.

"One of those undescribable events," Drew said near second base, booed by the scattered crowd that remained at about 1:50 a.m.

He was nearly asked to do more than hit.

"He might have been a little more of an MVPer if we went a couple more innings. He might have pitched," AL manager Terry Francona of the Red Sox said. "He's been begging me a long time to pitch, and we almost got close."

Drew said he would have been ready to take the mound if the AL ran out of pitchers

...but yesterday had to be especially sweet. Nancy has been the Sox MVP this season, now the MVP of the gathering of the game's best, and headed for October and two rings in the first two years of his contract.

Meanwhile, one of the team's impossibly numerous prospects was the MVP of the Futures Game at Yankee Stadium on Sunday.

Zemanta Pixie

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:31 PM


Obama Informs NAACP His Election Will Not End Racism (Jake Tapper, July 15, 2008, Political Punch)

"Our work is not over," Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, told the NAACP last night at the civil rights group's convention. "Just electing me President doesn’t mean our work is over, we got more work to do."

They don't make Messiah's like they used to....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:27 PM


PECAN COBBLER (ELIZABETH PUDWILL, 7/15/08, Houston Chronicle )

* 8 eggs
* 2 cups light corn syrup
* 1/3 to 1/2 cup flour
* 1/4 cup ( 1/2 stick) butter
* 1/2 teaspoon salt
* 1 pound brown sugar
* 1 (9-inch) unbaked pie crust
* 1 pound pecan pieces

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, beat eggs well. Add corn syrup; mix. In a separate bowl, combine flour and melted butter. Add flour mixture to eggs. Stir in salt and sugar and beat by hand until well-mixed.

Place crust in the bottom of a large, deep casserole or pie plate (I used a 10-inch oval dish). Sprinkle the pecans evenly over the crust. Pour the filling mixture on top, being careful that the pecans stay evenly distributed.

Bake for about 1 hour and 10 minutes (check after 50 minutes) or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Serve warm or cold; top with vanilla ice cream if desired.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:07 PM


May We Mock, Barack? (Maureen Dowd, 7/16/08, NY Times)

When I interviewed Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert for Rolling Stone a couple years ago, I wondered what Barack Obama would mean for them.

"It seems like a President Obama would be harder to make fun of than these guys," I said.

"Are you kidding me?" Stewart scoffed.

Then he and Colbert both said at the same time: "His dad was a goat-herder!"

When I noted that Obama, in his memoir, had revealed that he had done some pot, booze and "maybe a little blow," the two comedians began riffing about the dapper senator's familiarity with drug slang.

Colbert: Wow, that's a very street way of putting it. 'A little blow.'

Stewart: A little bit of the white rabbit.

Colbert: 'Yeah, I packed a cocktail straw of cocaine and had a prostitute blow it in my ear, but that is all I did. High-fivin.' '

Flash forward to the kerfuffle -- and Obama's icy reaction -- over this week's New Yorker cover parodying fears about the Obamas.

...does anyone anticipate that he'll turn out to be a coward come crunch time? Why should they have anticipated their own cravenness?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:48 AM


Animated Cartoons at JibJab | Animated Cartoons at JibJab | Funny Parodies at JibJab

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:28 AM

LIKE JOSH HAMILTON'S 27th and 28th...:

Democrats see a need for further economic stimulus (Peter S. Goodman and David M. Herszenhorn, July 16, 2008, NY Times)

Many economists have concluded that a second dose of government stimulus spending is required to prevent a broad economic unraveling and provide relief to millions of Americans grappling with joblessness, plunging home prices and tight credit.

Democratic leaders in Congress have already begun fashioning a package of proposed measures, but on Tuesday, President George W. Bush and the Federal Reserve chairman, Ben Bernanke, both pronounced such action premature.

"Our economy has demonstrated remarkable resilience," Bush said at a morning news conference, even as he acknowledged that growth had been "slower than we would have liked."

...W can put his tax cutting record way out of reach with one more.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:22 AM


Wall-E doesn't say anything: The movie robot is pushing conservatives' buttons, but they're missing the bigger picture. (Charlotte Allen, July 13, 2008, Los Angeles Times)

I'm a conservative, and I just love the movie "Wall-E." That makes me an outcast among many of my fellow conservatives who have judged Pixar's post-apocalyptic cartoon about a trash-compacting robot to be a carbon-phobic, Al Gore-worshiping, global-warming panic-mongering assault on capitalism, President Bush and U.S. prosperity.

The movie is set 700 years in the future, when humans have befouled their planet with so much litter that they have fled in a spaceship, leaving behind Wall-E to compress the junk and pile it into skyscrapers. Then he meets Eve, a technologically advanced robot sent to Earth to scope out signs of its habitability.

Sounds innocent enough. But at Pajamas Media, the Internet news site whose motto is "Sending the [Liberal Mainstream Media] Down the River," film critic Kyle Smith deplored "Wall-E" as an exercise in class betrayal by Pixar's parent company, Disney, which earns billions of dollars serving its theme-park visitors the same slurpy food and slothful fantasies that characterize life on the spaceship in which the obese, shop-aholic Earthlings live. On National Review Online's blog, Shannen Coffin decried "Wall-E" as "Godforsaken dreck," while syndicated columnist Jonah Goldberg faulted the movie's "hypocrisy" and "Malthusian fear-mongering."

But the worst blow for me came from my favorite Web film critic, Dirty Harry, who championed such earlier Pixar offerings as "The Incredibles" and "Ratatouille" for their celebration of the conservative values of heroic individualism and democracy that rewards talent no matter where it comes from. To Harry, "Wall-E" was a betrayal, not least because it included a single line of gentle Dubya parody: A videotaped president of the mega-corporation whose robots run the spaceship advises his bloated subjects to "stay the course." That was too much for Harry, who lamented, "Have we lost Pixar ... to Bush Derangement Syndrome?"

...but it's galling when conservatives just act dumb.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:51 AM


The Success of the Surge Seemingly Puts Obama on the Defensive (Jake Tapper, July 15, 2008, Political Punch)

Though a majority of the American people support ending the war in Iraq and think the invasion was a mistake, Republicans have tried to put Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, into a box as he prepares for his first trip to Iraq since securing his party's presidential nomination.

Weeks ago, after Obama said he would be willing to listen to commanders in the ground to "refine" his policy, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Republicans said Obama was flip-flopping.

Then after Obama clarified that he is sticking by his plans to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq within 16 months, McCain and Republicans painted him as an intransigent partisan whose pending trip to Iraq is nothing more than a photo op.

"Senator Obama is departing soon on a trip abroad that will include a fact-finding mission to Iraq and Afghanistan," McCain said today at a town hall meeting in Albuquerque, "And I note that he is speaking today about his plans for Iraq and Afghanistan before he has even left, before he has talked to General Petraeus, before he has seen the progress in Iraq, and before he has set foot in Afghanistan for the first time. In my experience, fact-finding missions usually work best the other way around: first you assess the facts on the ground, then you present a new strategy."

July 15, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:48 PM


Poll shows racial division on Obama's candidacy (Adam Nagourney and Megan Thee, July 16, 2008, NY Times)

More than 80 percent of black voters said they had a favorable opinion of Obama; about 30 percent of white voters said they had a favorable opinion of him.

Nearly 60 percent of black respondents said that race relations are generally bad, compared with 34 percent of whites. Four in 10 blacks say that there has been no progress in recent years in eliminating racial discrimination; fewer than 2 in 10 whites say the same thing. And about one-quarter of white respondents said they thought that too much had been made of racial barriers facing black people, while one-half of black respondents said not enough had been made of racial impediments faced by black people.

...is overcoming racial barriers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:10 PM


Lieberman attacks Obama's principles (Matthew E. Berger, 7/15/08, NBC: First Read)

“What Sen. Obama does not seem to understand is that, had we taken the course he had counseled and retreated from Iraq, the United States would have suffered a catastrophic defeat that would have left America and our allies less safe not just in Baghdad, but in Kandahar and Karachi and Tokyo and London,” he said.

Lieberman also accused Obama of not taking principled stands, suggesting he “said he would be open to changing his plan for Iraq after going there and talking to General Petraeus -- only to change that position a few hours later after being heatedly criticized by organizations like Moveon.org?”

...is different than attacking those of someone who does.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:53 PM


The New Yorker's Obama Cover: Fanning the Fire (EBOO PATEL, JULY 15, 2008, ABC News)

My wife called as I was staring at the cover of this week's New Yorker, trying to decide whether the depiction of Barack Obama dressed in traditional Muslim garb giving his machine-gun-toting wife a fist tap in the Oval Office was "tasteless and offensive" (as both the Obama and McCain camps stated) or mere humorous satire.

It's probably useless trying to explain humor theory to people who acknowledge that their ideology forbids them to kid about the guy, but ask yourself a really basic question: what is it they were supposed to be satirizing?

In their derangement, the Left imagines this massive campaign to portray Senator Obama as a crypto-Muslim Medinian Candidate. And, indeed, there were a few hints to that effect from the Clinton camp, but they were more desultory than systematic and Republicans would rather attack from the playbook that always works: he's just a garden-variety Northern liberal. Why confuse the issue?

Effective satire requires an established and recognizable template that you can subtly play off of in order to show the humor inherent in the original. But for anyone outside the lunatic fringe--of both parties--this magazine cover is the original, the first time we've seen the accusations. Thus, it isn't satire but a statement.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:21 PM


Alleged Al-Qaeda Driver Testifies on Interrogation Tactics (Jerry Markon, 7/15/08, Washington Post)

Salim Ahmed Hamdan, the alleged al-Qaeda driver who faces an historic military trial next week, testified Tuesday that a female interrogator elicited information from him using sexually suggestive behavior that was offensive to him.

Hamdan, a former driver for Osama bin Laden, told a military court conducting a pretrial hearing that during questioning in 2002 a woman interrogator "came close to me, she came very close, with her whole body towards me. I couldn't do anything. I was afraid of the soldiers.''

"Did she touch your thigh?," asked Hamdan's lawyer, Charles Swift.

"Yes...I said to her 'what do you want?'' Hamdan said. "She said 'I want you to answer all of my questions.'''

"Did you answer all of her questions after that?'' Swift asked. Hamdan said he did.

First Guantanamo video released (BBC, 7/15/.08)

A videotape of a detainee being questioned at the US prison camp in Guantanamo Bay has been released for the first time.

It shows 16-year-old Omar Khadr being asked by Canadian officials in 2003 about events leading up to his capture by US forces, Canadian media have said.

The Canadian citizen is accused of throwing a grenade that killed a US soldier in Afghanistan in 2002. [...]

"I'm not a doctor, but I think you're getting good medical care," one of the officials responds.

Mr Khadr says: "No I'm not. You're not here... I lost my eyes. I lost my feet. Everything!" in reference to how his vision and physical health were affected.

"No, you still have your eyes and your feet are still at the end of your legs, you know," a man says.

Sobbing uncontrollably, Mr Khadr tells the officials several times: "You don't care about me."

Man, these guys make Christopher Hitchens look like Jeremiah Denton.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:58 PM


Want Obama in a Punch Line? First, Find a Joke (BILL CARTER, 7/15/08, NY Times)

[T]here has been little humor about Mr. Obama: about his age, his speaking ability, his intelligence, his family, his physique. And within a late-night landscape dominated by white hosts, white writers, and overwhelmingly white audiences, there has been almost none about his race.

“We’re doing jokes about people in his orbit, not really about him,” said Mike Sweeney, the head writer for Mr. O’Brien on “Late Night.” The jokes will come, representatives of the late-night shows said, when Mr. Obama does or says something that defines him — in comedy terms. [...]

When Mr. Stewart on “The Daily Show” recently tried to joke about Mr. Obama changing his position on campaign financing, for instance, he met with such obvious resistance from the audience, he said, “You know, you’re allowed to laugh at him.” Mr. Stewart said in a telephone interview on Monday, “People have a tendency to react as far as their ideology allows them.”


Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:16 PM


Barack Obama purges Web site critique of surge in Iraq (JAMES GORDON MEEK, July 14th 2008, NY Daily News)

Barack Obama's campaign scrubbed his presidential Web site over the weekend to remove criticism of the U.S. troop "surge" in Iraq, the Daily News has learned.

The presumed Democratic nominee replaced his Iraq issue Web page, which had described the surge as a "problem" that had barely reduced violence.

...that, around the Obama house, when Barry farts they beat the dog?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:27 PM


Hilgenbrinck retires to enter priesthood (Associated Press, July 15, 2008)

When he was playing professional soccer in Chile, Chase Hilgenbrinck would seek comfort in the churches to satisfy his spiritual needs and remind him of childhood Sundays spent at Holy Trinity in his hometown of Bloomington, Ill.

Even after moving back to the United States last Christmas to play Major League Soccer -- a dream of his, but just one of them -- Hilgenbrinck felt the pull of his religion.

"I felt called to something greater," Hilgenbrinck said. "At one time I thought that call might be professional soccer. In the past few years, I found my soul is hungry for something else."

Belarus referee banned for being drunk (Richard Bright, 11/07/2008, Daily Telegraph)

A top referee has been suspended after allegedly going on a vodka binge before officiating a key league game. The referee claimed he had back pain but was later allegedly found to be drunk.

It's inhuman to require that anyone attending a game be sober.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:55 AM


So Much for the 'Looted Sites' (MELIK KAYLAN, July 15, 2008, Wall Street Journal)

A recent mission to Iraq headed by top archaeologists from the U.S. and U.K. who specialize in Mesopotamia found that, contrary to received wisdom, southern Iraq's most important historic sites -- eight of them -- had neither been seriously damaged nor looted after the American invasion. This, according to a report by staff writer Martin Bailey in the July issue of the Art Newspaper. The article has caused confusion, not to say consternation, among archaeologists and has been largely ignored by the mainstream press. Not surprising perhaps, since reports by experts blaming the U.S. for the postinvasion destruction of Iraq's heritage have been regular fixtures of the news.

Up to now, it had seemed a clear-cut case. It stood to reason that a chaotic land rich with artifacts would be easy to loot and plunder. Ergo, the accusations against the U.S., the de facto governing authority, had been taken on faith. No one had bothered to challenge the reports, the evidence or the logic, not least because many ancient sites were in hostile terrain and couldn't be double-checked. By implication, the U.S. had been blamed for that too: After all, the presiding authority is effectively responsible for allowing no-go areas to exist where such things can occur.

Yet, paradoxically, there always was thought to be enough evidence to adduce blame.

It was only ever a convenient talking point for those who opposed regime-changing Iraq.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:45 AM


McCain's School Choice Opportunity (CLINT BOLICK, July 15, 2008, Wall Street Journal)

Fifty-two percent of Hispanic voters have a favorable view of school choice, according to the poll, while only 7% had an unfavorable view. When asked about vouchers specifically, 32% expressed a favorable opinion compared to 13% unfavorable.

But where the poll really gets interesting is on school choice as an electoral issue: 65% of those surveyed reported that they would be more likely to support a candidate for office who supports school choice, including 35% who said they would be "much more likely." Only 19% said they would be less likely to vote for a pro-school choice candidate.

These numbers were high regardless of whether the person was of Mexican, Puerto Rican or Cuban descent. They also transcended party affiliation: 67% of Republicans, 70% of independents and 63% of Democrats preferring pro-school choice candidates. And 70% of those who prefer pro-school choice candidates -- including 66% of Democrats -- said they would cross party lines to vote for a candidate who supports school choice over one who opposes it.

Barack Obama has hinted at being open to serious education reform. Before the Wisconsin primary in February, he praised Milwaukee's highly successful school-voucher program. But, facing furious criticism from the establishment, which is disproportionately influential in Democratic politics, he backtracked.

John McCain has been a consistent supporter of school choice and passionately endorsed it during one of the Republican debates, although the issue is far from a mainstay of his campaign. His appointment of pro-school choice former Arizona Superintendent Lisa Graham Keegan as his campaign's top education adviser may signal a new emphasis.

Sen. Obama will count heavily on teachers' unions for support. The unions, though, have nowhere else to go. Hispanics do. If Mr. Obama opposes school choice, he will cede to his opponent a huge opportunity to make inroads among Hispanic voters -- if Sen. McCain seizes it.

...is that the voters who want them are winnable for Maverick.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:35 AM


Every Time I Try to Crawl Out, They Pull Me Back in! (Grasping Reality with Both Hands: The Semi-Daily Journal Economist Brad DeLong, 7/11/08)

The chance that American taxpayers will actually lose any money if Ben Bernanke and Henry Paulson decide that Fannie and Freddie need government support is very low:

* The interest payments they have coming in are greater than the interest payments they have going out.
* Their government guarantee is itself a very valuable asset that they have made a lot of money off of in the past and will make more off of in the future.
* They are not even in liquidity trouble--unless they begin to have problems rolling over their discount notes...
* As long as it is generally understood that they are too big to fail, they should not even have liquidity problems--absent a depression that bankrupts many currently-solvent homeowners, that is.

Nevertheless, there is now a risk that Fannie and Freddie will need some form of government support in the next month:

* The situation could require a lot of government-provided liquidity at any moment
* It and might even require more liquidity than the Federal Reserve can provide with its current balance sheet. Either the Fed needs to be given the power to pay interest on reserves immediately--so that it can swap interest-paying reserve deposits for mortgages next week--or this has to become not Fed but Treasury business.

The game the Fed and the Treasury are playing right now is as follows:

* Keep risky asset prices from collapsing...
* So that the flow of savings to finance construction and manufacturing expansion continues...
* So that employment declines in construction and supporting occupations are roughly balanced by employment expansions in export and import-competing manufacturing and supporting occupations...
* So that the economy does not fall into a depression deeper than that of 1982...
* In which case all bets are off

Supporting Fannie and Freddie may be something Ben Bernanke and Henry Paulson decide we need to do in order to win this keep-the-economy-near full employment game:

* They are not in the business of rescuing feckless financiers from bankruptcy.
* If their actions do have the consequence of rescuing some feckless financiers from bankruptcy, that is a side effect of their keeping the financial crisis from spilling over and destroying the jobs of millions of Americans.
* To have the government step back in order to teach feckless financiers a lesson is simply not worth destroying the jobs of millions of Americans.
* They are grownups with good judgment and as much experience in this business as anybody.
* They are backstopped by committee chairs--Chris Dodd and Barney Frank--of equally good judgment.

Bernanke and Paulson have asked for additional regulatory authority:

* They should get it.
* Fannie's and Freddie's troubles make it more and more clear that the financial-market deregulation agenda of the late 1990s that Phil Gramm spearheaded was a more serious mistake than almost of any of us realized back at the time...
* There are a bunch of options if push comes to shov:
o Having the government formally guarantee GSE debt.
o Having the government provide capital to the GSEs.
o Having the government guarantee GSE preferred.
o Putting the GSEs into "conservatorship."
* The moral-hazard worriers in the Treasury will probably favor the last--that option penalizes GSE shareholders in the same way that Bear Stearns and LTCM shareholders and principals were penalized. The cautious will favor the first option, as running the least risk of aggravating uncertainty.

The conservative case, that you should let such institutions fail in order to teach people a lesson about risk, is at obvious odds with the desire to get folks to accept such new institutions as privatized Social Security that are specifically designed to exploit greater risk-taking.

Nationalization: A Solution for Housing (Sebastian Mallaby, July 14, 2008, Washington Post)

ationalization is healthier than the other options.

Start with the fact that, despite loud official denials until last night, the government will have to inject money into the mortgage lenders. Intervention may be precipitated as early as today if Freddie has trouble with its plan to borrow $3 billion in the markets. Even if the lenders escape the bond market equivalent of a bank run, which is what destroyed Bear Stearns, they are likely to succumb to a variant that might be called an "equity run."

Investors know that Fannie and Freddie need to raise fresh capital, diluting existing shareholders. So they have been marking the shares down, which means that, to raise any given sum, Freddie and Fannie must sell an even greater percentage of themselves to new investors. The prospect of a larger dilution drives the stock down further, setting off a vicious cycle: Last week the firms' shares lost nearly half their value. The upshot: Fannie and Freddie can't raise the equity that everyone knows they need.

If public money is going to be injected, the question is how to provide it. For politicians squeamish about nationalization, the easiest course is to have the Fed lend to Fannie and Freddie. The Fed confirmed last night that it stood ready to act, and after all that has happened over the past year, the public would probably accept emergency Fed loans as part of the new normal. But in addition to bailing out private investors and undermining market discipline, a Fed rescue would put taxpayers on the hook with little to no compensatory upside.

If the government is going to risk taxpayers' cash, it should inflict punishment on private players and demand an equity-type payoff. So the issue is whether to become a minority shareholder or, at the other extreme, the sole one.

Paulson made clear last night that he favors a minority stake. But from a purely financial perspective, it would be better to buy the whole caboodle. If the government is going to supply a rescue, why share the upside? The worry about adding to the federal debt turns out to be a digression. Although Fannie and Freddie owe an astronomical amount, they are owed a roughly similar amount. The net effect of nationalization on the federal debt would be modest.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:58 AM


Contra Expectations: Obama isn't Jimmy Carter--he's Ronald Reagan (Eli Lake, July 30, 2008, New Republic)

Before unpacking the Obama view of the war on terrorism, let's dismiss the comparisons to Jimmy Carter. A bit of a refresher course in the horrors of the late 1970s: Jimmy Carter pledged to enshrine human rights as a central value in U.S. foreign policy. That was an admirable goal, but Carter didn't just inject human rights into U.S. foreign policy; he allowed it to rule policy, no matter the implications for the fight against communism. During the Carter era, the United States cooled its relations with vital client states like the Shah's government in Iran and the Somoza regime in Nicaragua, even as they fought for their lives. The locus classicus of this critique was, of course, Jeane Kirkpatrick's Commentary essay, "Dictatorships and Double Standards," where she excoriated the Carter administration for its studied neutrality as pro-American autocrats fell to Marxist-Leninist revolutionaries. She concluded that Carter's foreign policy was incapable of distinguishing between real democratic activists and would-be totalitarians who cloaked their ambitions in the rhetoric of democratic self-determination. "Liberal idealism need not be identical with masochism, and need not be incompatible with the defense of freedom and the national interest," she wrote.

Does her critique apply to Barack Obama, too? That's what John McCain has, in essence, alleged. But to understand why this charge won't stick--and to understand the intellectual DNA of the Obama approach to counterterrorism--you need to review the careers of Richard Clarke and Rand Beers.

....that voters who carefully review the careers of these two men may have more nuanced views of the minutiae of Senator Obama's potential foreign policy. All of those voters combined will fit comfortably in a Starbucks bathroom.
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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:33 AM


Belgian Premier Leterme Submits Resignation (Der Spiegel, 7/15/08)

Belgians woke up to a case of déjà-vu on Tuesday morning, learning that Prime Minister Yves Leterme had resigned overnight, plunging the country into yet another political crisis.

Leterme had offered to resign after failing to meet a deadline to reconcile parties from both sides of Belgium's linguistic divide on a path to reform the federal state.

King Albert II is now "weighing" whether to accept the resigination and has begun consulting with political leaders on how to resolve the crisis.

Leterme said in a statement that the "communities' conflicting visions of how to give a new equilibrium to our state have become incompatible," adding that the "federal model has reached its limit."

When you have to talk about multiple "communities" you aren't talking about a nation anymore.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:26 AM


Obama's Enigma (David S. Broder, July 13, 2008, Washington Post)

Obama's case is more challenging than the typical candidate's post-primary adjustment. For one thing, he is more opaque than the usual nominee. No one in recent decades has emerged as the party standard-bearer from so truncated a political career: four years in the U.S. Senate, during which he has yet to lead on any major domestic or foreign policy issue, preceded by largely anonymous service in the Illinois state Senate.

There have been few occasions when Obama's professed beliefs could be tested against his action. And in the fight for the nomination, virtually no issues emerged on which Obama's stands were seriously challenged by his opponents.

He won by convincing a narrow majority of Democratic voters that he could mobilize otherwise distrustful and alienated citizens with his promise to change Washington and to introduce a more open and less partisan brand of politics. Because his personal credibility was such a key to his success -- and remains so -- the changes now occurring in his positions have a significance far beyond themselves. [...]

Obama will be in trouble only if the pattern continues to the point that undecided voters come to believe that he has a character problem -- that they really can't trust him.

Although John Kerry had done nothing in the Senate for longer than Mr. Obama has, he was similarly a cipher coming out of the primaries and, likewise, the first impression people got of him was of a guy who had no core. The inability of liberal Democrats to run on what they actually believe can't help but make them seem untrustworthy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:18 AM


An immigration conundrum in Japan (Peter Taberner, 7/16/08, Asia Times)

Immigration policy has always launched heated debate in Japan, where decades of government administrations have failed to create an expansive legal framework for migrant workers. But a declining population will perhaps create a fresh awareness and cultural outlook concerning foreign nationals living and working in Japan.

Last month, a new immigration plan proposed by 80 Liberal Democrat lawmakers and led by the party's former secretary general, Hidenao Nakagawa, pushed for Japan to loosen its borders and by 2050 to have 10% of the Japanese population consisting of immigrants - an intake of at least 10 million people.

The proposal claims that the population is shrinking as deaths now outnumber births and immigration remains tightly controlled. According to communications company CNC Japan KK, the number of Japanese will shrink to just under 90 million in 2055, from the current total of 127 million.

Nakagawa's plans are revolutionary; not only adjusting numbers to cope with labor market shortages but also inviting workers' family members to live in Japan.

...with having robots tend them as they died off?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:13 AM


Hamilton's performance memorable ( RICHARD JUSTICE, 7/15/08, Houston Chronicle)

His swing is sweet, his power effortless.

Josh Hamilton was cheered by a sellout crowd and mobbed by his teammates as he added another chapter to a season sprinkled with magic dust.

Hamilton had one of those performances that will be the measuring stick for all future ones in the State Farm Home Run Derby on Monday night at Yankee Stadium. [...]

Back from drug and alcohol addiction that derailed his career, Hamilton broke Bobby Abreu's mark for one round. Abreu hit 24 home runs in the first round in 2005 at Detroit's Comerica Park.

Hamilton's tale of redemption has made national news this season, and he retold a story Monday afternoon about a vivid dream he had two years ago — he was being interviewed at Yankee Stadium after participating in the Home Run Derby.

Mind you, his dream came while Hamilton was banned from Major League Baseball and before this year's All-Star Game was awarded to the venerable ballpark in its final season.

"Obviously, the dream, I didn't know how many I would hit," Hamilton said in a TV interview after his huge first-round performance. "I just feel blessed to have played here."

With the crowd of 53,716 chanting his name — undoubtedly warmed by his improbable journey to stardom — Hamilton connected on 13 consecutive first-round cuts before falling short of the fences on his final two.

"I got chills," he said.

...that an exhibition event at an exhibition game was more memorable than any other '08 sporting event except Tiger's Open.
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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:59 AM


Friend Driscoll on one of the most repulsive of Hollywood's heroes (joining the CPUSA or a front group was a youthful mistake of vacuous people--dying an unrepentant Stalinist was a mark of evil).

Meanwhile, here's Andrew Breitbart on the Stalinism of modern Hollywood, Mr. Spielberg, tear down this wall (Andrew Breitbart, July 14, 2008 , Washington Times)

[I]n this land of superficiality and augmented assets, the inconvenient truth is that, in Hollywood, absolute conformity to the Democratic Party is a well-constructed facade. The environment is not so much unfavorable to the Grand Old Party as it is utterly totalitarian. There's simply no lifestyle choice that receives a worse response at dinner parties.

Convicted murderer? Has anyone optioned the rights to your story?

Avowed Marxist? Viva la revolucion!

Scientologist? Do you take Visa or Mastercard?

Syphilitic drug abuser? Let's talk!

Conservative? You should go.

Only proclaiming one's self a practicing Christian is met with greater disdain - making Christian Republicans the gold standard in Hollywood pariah status. Fortunately, their Savior - that dude from Mel Gibson's highest-grossing blockbuster that was shunned by the major studios - wrote the script on how to live with an unpopular point of view.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:50 AM


My Plan for Iraq (BARACK OBAMA, 7/14/08, NY Times)

The differences on Iraq in this campaign are deep. Unlike Senator John McCain, I opposed the war in Iraq before it began, and would end it as president.

The Senator's opposition to liberating Iraq raises a fundamental question: if you don't think America should depose a genocidal, terrorist-sponsoring, expansionist dictator who's used weapons of mass destruction and is in violation of numerous UN mandates then is there any people who can realistically hope for American assistance when they dream of liberty or are they SOL should you win?
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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:41 AM


'2 people who love each other': THE OBAMAS | Michelle's brother once said of Barack: 'Nice guy. Too bad he won't last.' He was wrong. (STEFANO ESPOSITO, 7/13/08, suntimes.com)

It took two years for Obama to finally propose. Though she knew he didn't fear commitment, Michelle had become a bit irritated with his struggle over whether marriage had become an outdated institution.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:32 AM


Has Barack Obama Peaked Too Soon? (Bonnie Erbe, 7/14/08, US News)

Has Obama peaked too soon? If upcoming polls find his lead to have evaporated long term and this weekend's findings turn out to have been more than just "statistical noise," then the answer will be "yes." If so, it might just be a bit of poetic justice. A little less than a year ago, Sen. Hillary Clinton was the media-anointed front-runner for the Democratic nomination. Then last winter, she was deemed to have peaked too soon.

Along came a rock star, a messiah, the Democrats' great hope, in the form of one Sen. Barack Obama. Clinton was tossed aside as so much detritus.

Lots can happen between now and November. Obama can regain the support of media figures who seem to have turned on him since he secured the nomination. Clinton supporters are hoping he will choose her as his running mate, but it remains to be seen if even that will be enough to woo her dispirited supporters into the Obama fold.

She peaked too soon, and that may just be what is happening to him right now.

Actually, she peaked too late and started winning primaries rather easily once she started running as Bill, but had lost her air of inevitability by then, which had been the sole rationale for her candidacy. Senator Obama peaked in Iowa and could only win caucus states and those Democratic primaries where the black vote is decisive or where no Democrat could carry the state in the general. The minimal bounce he got out of securing the nomination showed him to be a spent force.

July 14, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:08 PM


Television Review | ‘China’s Stolen Children’: Sold by the Thousands, Thanks to a One-Child Policy (NEIL GENZLINGER, 7/14/08, NY Times)

For the Chinese, the primary sport at the Beijing Olympics is likely to be spinning, in the public relations sense. That makes this just the right time for a documentary like “China’s Stolen Children,” Monday on HBO. The film reminds us that China still has serious problems and a government that doesn’t seem terribly interested in fixing them.

The film, by Jezza Neumann, examines parallel phenomena that appear to be linked to the nation’s one-child policy: children are being kidnapped and sold by the thousands, and parents are selling their children. The film, we’re told, was shot clandestinely, so it is perhaps not surprising that it feels fragmentary and incomplete. But if it is even remotely accurate, it captures a callousness toward life and family that is difficult to comprehend by the standards of the West, where the news media go into overdrive when a single child turns up missing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:57 PM


Labor set to remain member of Bush's nuclear club (Lenore Taylor, July 15, 2008, The Australian)

THE Rudd cabinet is considering Australia's continued involvement in US President George W. Bush's Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, despite Labor claims before the election that membership could force Canberra to establish uranium enrichment plants and accept the world's nuclear waste.

A cabinet paper being prepared for Resources Minister Martin Ferguson and Industry Minister Kim Carr is understood to canvass conditions for continued involvement in the GNEP -- an international collaboration of nuclear fuel suppliers and users -- and Australia's possible future involvement in the international forum on the development of the next generation of nuclear reactors.

The Government will face a backlash from the conservation movement if it proceeds with plans to stay in the nuclear partnership or continues the Howard government moves to join the Generation IV International Forum.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:42 PM


Special helmet which beams infrared light into the brain could cure dementia (Rupert Neate, 14/07/2008, Daily Telegraph)

For eight years, George W. Bush has wielded a special ray that causes dementia in the Left.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:14 PM


McCain Tops Obama in Commander-in-Chief Test; Stays Competitive on Iraq (GARY LANGER, July 14, 2008, ABC News)

One reason McCain can push back on Iraq is his advantage as commander-in-chief — a striking one, albeit perhaps not surprising given his military background. Seventy-two percent of Americans — even most Democrats — say he'd be a good commander-in-chief of the military.

By contrast, fewer than half, 48 percent, say Obama would be a good commander-in-chief, a significant weakness on this measure. (McCain's rating is much improved from his unsuccessful campaign for the Republican presidential nomination in 2000, when 56 percent said he'd be a good commander-in-chief — no more than said so, at the time, about George W. Bush.)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:56 PM


Plans to clear undergrowth from gay sex spot branded discriminatory (Richard Alleyne, 08/07/2008, Daily Telegraph)

Bristol City Council wants to prune bushes and remove cover from an area known as the Downs to improve the landscape and encourage rare wildlife.

But its own gay rights group has opposed the move, claiming that cutting back the bushes was "discriminating" to homosexual men who used the area for late night outdoor sex known as dogging.

Well, both sides do want to preserve habitat for animals.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:06 PM


Obama Tells Teachers Union He Opposes Vouchers (ELIZABETH GREEN, July 14, 2008, NY Sun)

Senator Obama is saying decisively that he does not support private school vouchers, while sticking with his support for incentive pay for teachers based on their students' performance.

Mr. Obama made the remarks yesterday in a telecast speech to the American Federation of Teachers' national convention in Chicago after the union voted overwhelmingly to endorse his presidential bid.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:32 PM


Spokesman says Obama will not sponsor Cup car (Chris Jenkins, 7/11/08, The Associated Press)

"The Obama campaign will not be sponsoring a car in the Sprint Cup Series, though we will continue to look for ways to reach out to voters and convey Senator Obama's message of change." said Bill Burton, an Obama campaign spokesman.

Sports Illustrated first reported the proposal on its Web site, saying Obama's campaign is in talks with BAM, a part-time operation that hasn't raced in recent weeks, to sponsor its No. 49 car in the Aug. 3 race at Pocono.

It would be a fairly bold move within a sport whose competitors spend all year turning left on the track but tend to lean to the right politically.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:36 AM


Making It: How Chicago shaped Obama (Ryan Lizza, July 21, 2008, The New Yorker)

One day in 1995, Barack Obama went to see his alderman, an influential politician named Toni Preckwinkle, on Chicago’s South Side, where politics had been upended by scandal. Mel Reynolds, a local congressman, was facing charges of sexual assault of a sixteen-year-old campaign volunteer. (He eventually resigned his seat.) The looming vacancy set off a fury of ambition and hustle; several politicians, including a state senator named Alice Palmer, an education expert of modest political skills, prepared to enter the congressional race. Palmer represented Hyde Park—Obama’s neighborhood, a racially integrated, liberal sanctuary—and, if she ran for Congress, she would need a replacement in Springfield, the state capital. Obama at the time was a thirty-three-year-old lawyer, university lecturer, and aspiring office-seeker, and the Palmer seat was what he had in mind when he visited Alderman Preckwinkle.

“Barack came to me and said, ‘If Alice decides she wants to run, I want to run for her State Senate seat,’ ” Preckwinkle told me. We were in her district office, above a bank on a street of check-cashing shops and vacant lots north of Hyde Park. Preckwinkle soon became an Obama loyalist, and she stuck with him in a State Senate campaign that strained or ruptured many friendships but was ultimately successful. Four years later, in 2000, she backed Obama in a doomed congressional campaign against a local icon, the former Black Panther Bobby Rush. And in 2004 Preckwinkle supported Obama during his improbable, successful run for the United States Senate. So it was startling to learn that Toni Preckwinkle had become disenchanted with Barack Obama.

Preckwinkle is a tall, commanding woman with a clipped gray Afro. She has represented her slice of the South Side for seventeen years and expresses no interest in higher office. On Chicago’s City Council, she is often a dissenter against the wishes of Mayor Richard M. Daley. For anyone trying to understand Obama’s breathtakingly rapid political ascent, Preckwinkle is an indispensable witness—a close observer, friend, and confidante during a period of Obama’s life to which he rarely calls attention.

Although many of Obama’s recent supporters have been surprised by signs of political opportunism, Preckwinkle wasn’t. “I think he was very strategic in his choice of friends and mentors,” she told me. “I spent ten years of my adult life working to be alderman. I finally got elected. This is a job I love. And I’m perfectly happy with it. I’m not sure that’s the way that he approached his public life—that he was going to try for a job and stay there for one period of time. In retrospect, I think he saw the positions he held as stepping stones to other things and therefore approached his public life differently than other people might have.”

...have been the ones who didn't spend their whole lives calculating how to get there: Washington, Coolidge, Ike, Reagan, W. They have vision that extends beyond their own career, so are able to compromise, because it isn't a personal affront to do so and are less vulnerable to the sort of petty scandals that engulf the schemers, like Nixon & Clinton, who have to try and protect their administrations at all cost.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:27 AM


Cuba revives its private farms: In a series of reforms aimed at improving self-sufficiency and curbing costly food imports, Raul Castro has the idle lands around cities planted. (Carol J. Williams, 7/14/08, Los Angeles Times)

President Raul Castro spurred the planting of idle lands around cities with a series of reforms in recent months aimed at improving self-sufficiency. The moves included making land available free to those willing to till it and easing a strangling national bureaucracy that once controlled a farmer's every step, from seed procurement to sales price.

Castro has unleashed an ambitious effort to lift output of high-ticket items, raising prices paid to meat and milk producers and freeing growers from obligations to sell their food to the state.

He has made seeds, tools and fertilizers available through a new network of country stores and challenged a population that is 80% urban to grow what it eats.

But a swift expansion in meat and dairy production remains a daunting task, as few farming co-ops have money to pay for cattle even when the prices for their products are increasingly enticing. Predictions of quick results appear to echo the excess ambition of the failed drive in 1970 to harvest 10 million tons of sugar and the unfulfilled plans of past decades to provide each family with its own milk cow.

The government expects to cut food imports by at least 5% next year, Deputy Agriculture Minister Juan Perez Lama told journalists in Havana in early June. He also predicted that rice imports could be halved within five years -- a herculean task considering that Cuba last year imported $170 million worth from Vietnam, China and the United States.

Cuban state enterprises grew about 10% of the 700,000 tons of rice consumed last year. Private farmers produced about twice that. Although 70% has to be imported, scholars point to the rise in the small-farm output begun a decade ago.

"It's an impressive goal [to halve rice imports] but I do think Cuba is in a unique position to achieve it," said Catherine Murphy, a San Francisco Bay Area sociologist working on development projects in Latin America.

China has demonstrated what high growth rates you can achieve when you start from nearly nothing, but it also shows the limits. It will die off before its people ever get rich. Cuba could face the same problem unless it also invites evangelization and radically reforms its culture.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:21 AM


Midnight in the kindergarten of good and evil (Spengler, 7/14/08, Asia Times)

Is morality possible without religion? Since German philosopher Immanuel Kant offered a "what-if-everybody-did" rule in 1788, modern philosophers have cracked their skulls against the problem without success. Kant's rule requires you to tell the truth at all times, for example, when a pederast inquires as to your child's route home from grade school. It was not a popular idea. Twentieth century secular philosophers declared the problem irrelevant. According to existentialists like Martin Heidegger, another German philosopher, authenticity rather than virtue is what is important, even if leads to Nazi party membership, while pragmatists like the just-deceased American philosopher Richard Rorty assert that we cannot make objectively true statements about anything.

Most atheists still want to know how to tell right from wrong, however. They are alarmed by the return of religious wars and the violence associated with religious fanaticism. Sadly, the withdrawal of the philosophers has put the secular morality project into the hands of mere mechanics, the so-called brain scientists. Those who think abstractly about thought, the metaphysicians, can offer no secular solution, and the matter has gone by default to the lab technicians.

Call it the kindergarten of good and evil.

...and tell them to craft their replacement for God and they keep handing you back God-shaped bits.

In Japan, Buddhism may be dying out (Norimitsu Onishi, July 14, 2008, IHT)

When it comes to funerals, though, the Japanese have traditionally been inflexibly Buddhist — so much so that Buddhism in Japan is often called "funeral Buddhism," a reference to the religion's former near-monopoly on the elaborate, and lucrative, ceremonies surrounding deaths and memorial services.

But that expression also describes a religion that, by appearing to cater more to the needs of the dead than to those of the living, is losing its standing in Japanese society.

"That's the image of funeral Buddhism: that it doesn't meet people's spiritual needs," said Ryoko Mori, the chief priest at the 700-year-old Zuikoji Temple here in northern Japan. "In Islam or Christianity, they hold sermons on spiritual matters. But in Japan nowadays, very few Buddhist priests do that."

Mori, 48, the 21st head priest of the temple, was unsure whether it would survive into the tenure of a 22nd.

"If Japanese Buddhism doesn't act now, it will die out," he said. "We can't afford to wait. We have to do something."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:55 AM


Abandon preconceptions, all ye who enter here (Mercurius Goldstein, 11 July 2008, Online Opinion)

In the USA, at least 50 flowers boom (one for each state), and many more in the different systems and approaches available nationwide. The population size and historical differences in schooling mean that there is room for everybody. From this arises a sense of reassurance that any policy initiative, no matter whether it's mainstream, innovative, radical, reactionary or just plain kooky, can find a home somewhere.

The counter-intuitive effect of all this messy diversity is that it takes a considerable amount of heat out of the debates, and lets in more light. Everybody knows they can get a hearing, and a chance to run with their ideas in some form, somewhere.

By contrast, Australia's small population and relatively small number of centralised administrations mean there is far less policy room for different approaches or ideas to run in parallel. New South Wales for example runs one of the world's largest education bureaucracies, managing more schools than does any single system in America. And the NSW HSC is perhaps the largest examination of its kind anywhere in the world.

This means that in Australia, an ascendant policy idea can affect a far larger proportion of schools and students than can a single plan in America. In relative terms, the stakes are much higher here for any given iteration of policy or curriculum, and this seems to drive a more combative, winner-takes-all approach to the debates.

The other key characteristic that moulds our thinking about education is the differing level of involvement of government(s) in our school systems. Most of us have ideological preconceptions about the virtues or vices of big or small government. In embarking on this next comparison, I invite the reader to consider government involvement from a pragmatic rather than ideological standpoint. Let's look at what works in our two countries:

Many Australians look with varying degrees of horror at the lack of US government safety nets in education, health and social security. Part of what fuels this horror is the assumption that, if the government won't help, nobody will, and people just "fall through the cracks". This may be so in Australia, but in America, the safety nets are of a different character from that with which we are familiar, and so we tend to overlook them.

For while the instinct of many Australians is to look first to government for solutions, for most Americans, government is the last place they would think of looking. The American myth (and I use that term in its broader, explanatory sense) of self-sufficiency drives a more localised and community-oriented approach to common problems than that which exists in Australia. Safety nets are much more likely to be sought and provided at the level of the district, neighbourhood or even street-by-street. Thus the safety nets that exist here tend be micro-financed and much less visible to the statisticians' gaze than the publicly accounted mass initiatives we see in Australia.

There are very few top-down approaches in the USA because the top is often too politically or fiscally weak to impose them, and because in any case the grass roots often resist what they deem to be “government interference”, thank you very much.

This is in stark contrast to Australia's ongoing preference for commissions, inquiries and summits: because they are more likely to produce concrete action (believe it or not!) than are sporadic grassroots attempts to mobilise a sparser and more apathetic population.

NCLB May Boost Science Scores, Too, Study Says (Eddy Ramírez, 7/11/08, US News)
A study by the Center for Civic Innovation at the Manhattan Institute found that Florida elementary schools that were under pressure to improve their math and reading scores made greater gains in science than schools that didn't face similar pressure under that state's accountability system. The findings counter what many critics of No Child Left Behind and other high-stakes testing regimes have said for years: that the focus on reading and math comes at the expense of other subjects that are not tested, and that this crowding effect has led to lower achievement levels in "low stakes" subjects such as science, social studies, and the arts.

Marcus Winters, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute who coauthored the study, says it's difficult to pinpoint why science scores improved. He leans toward the "spillover effect" theory; that if students have strong math and reading skills, they are more likely to master other subjects, including science.

...you can acknowledge your complete ignorance.

July 13, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:19 AM


Australia's Strategic Importance (Richard Halloran, 7/13/08, Real Clear Politics)

When Prime Minister Kevin Rudd of Australia took office last December, there was widespread speculation in Australia, Asia, and the United States that his foreign and defense policy would favor loosening ties with the United States and tilting toward China. [...]

[Australia's Defense Minister, Joel] Fitzgibbon said his ministry was deep into drafting a new White Paper on defense, the first in eight years, and it would re-emphasize Australia's commitment to its alliance with the US. Even with a new government in Canberra, he said, Australia's reliance on the US for security "certainly hasn't changed." The White Paper is due to be published in March 2009.

He applauded a budding concept at the Pacific Command, which holds that the US need not take the lead in every contingency in Asia and the Pacific. Rather, others should be encouraged to lead while the US takes a supporting role. Some US officers call it "leading from the middle," others "leading from within," and still others "leading from behind." Fitzgibbon said Australia was ready to carry out its responsibilities.

Although a nation with a relatively small population of 22 million, Australia has been integrated into the US security posture in Asia because of its strategic location next door to Southeast Asia and the South Pacific. Fitzgibbon said the new White Paper would focus on Australia's role in that region. Said a senior US officer: "If they are there, we don't have to be there."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:10 AM


Wynton And Willie: Two Men Playing The Blues (All Things Considered, July 12, 2008)

Nelson says that music hasn't changed much in his lifetime.

"It's all music," Nelson says. "You got so many notes and there's so many words to throw in there, and you get different people mixing it up different ways. But you put it all together, and that's music."

Marsalis adds that the common ground between them makes playing together a natural fit.

"We're all part of the same root," Marsalis says. "It's like eating barbecue: Texas people barbecue; Louisiana people barbecue catfish. We taught them what to do with a catfish. We don't have to come together to do that, you know?

"All American root music is the same: We play shuffle rhythms, we play the blues, we have songs that we know. It was no strain for us, or to play with each other's songs on the album — all songs that I grew up hearing, of course. Willie is a part of that whole history."

"Its kinda like gettin' together more than coming together for the first time," Nelson adds. "We've always played basically the same."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:37 AM


U.S. Aid Was a Key to the Hostage Rescue (SIMON ROMERO, 7/13/08, NY Times)

While the Colombians devised and carried out the operation with a team of more than a dozen elite Colombian commandos disguised as aid workers, television journalists and rebels, they did so with some important assistance from the United States, which provides Colombia with $600 million of aid a year as part of a counterinsurgency and antinarcotics project that has made Colombia the top American military ally in Latin America.

For instance, the Americans provided emergency signaling technology on the two Russian-built Mi-17 helicopters used in the operation, only one of which landed, in addition to tiny beaconing systems placed with all the commandos. An American audio system to transmit the operation live to personnel in Bogotá was also put on the helicopters, but it did not work well when the sounds were drowned out by the noise the rotor blades generated.

While the Colombians and Americans generally agreed on the details of the operation as it was put into motion, some differences emerged, like when American officials resisted a plan to place two former rebels among the commandos aboard the helicopter, apparently in an attempt to assuage any concerns the guerrillas might have in handing over their captives.

In the end, just one former rebel member took part in the mission aboard the helicopter. On July 2, a small number of diplomats, military officers and intelligence officials gathered in a safe room at the American Embassy to monitor the operation.

The mission, originally intended to last 8 minutes on the ground as the hostages boarded the aircraft, ended up taking more than 25 minutes. The delays intensified the anxiety in the safe room in Bogotá, which was relieved only when an American military official in direct contact with a colleague in San José del Guaviare proclaimed, “Helos with pax,” military slang for helicopters with passengers.

“Fifteen pax, all airborne, all good to go,” he continued, and embassy officials quickly scrambled to push ahead with a plan to get the three rescued Americans on an Air Force C-17 bound for Texas.

Colombia Trade Deal Is Threatened (STEVEN R. WEISMAN, 7/13/08, NY Times)
In recent months, nearly 100 newspapers in the United States have endorsed the Colombia trade agreement. So have many top Democrats, including Mayor Richard M. Daley of Chicago. And Mr. Uribe, who was already popular in Congress, was widely lionized after the dramatic rescue of hostages in Colombia on July 2.

Yet the trade agreement remains a long shot, because of opposition by American labor unions, Democratic leaders in Congress and Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:32 AM


France's Broken Social Model (Jurgen Reinhoudt, 7/14/08, Real Clear Politics)

That France's famed social model is economically inefficient and morally flawed--as opposed to being economically inefficient but morally virtuous--is an argument brought home with eloquence and vigor by Timothy Smith in his book France in Crisis (Cambridge University Press, 2006). Originally published in 2004, the book has not received the attention it deserves.

To say that France's social model is far from perfect is an understatement: in spite of the state absorbing more than 50% of GDP, France has suffered, since the 1980s, from rising child poverty rates, persistently high unemployment, a chronic sense of economic malaise, and the continual enrichment of the system's "insiders" at the expense of the system's "outsiders." More importantly, France's social model fails to deliver precisely what it proclaims to: economic justice, inter-generational fairness, economic opportunity and social protection, particularly to young workers entering the labor market, minorities, immigrants, middle-aged women and other vulnerable groups.

For those who wonders how France's large welfare state could afford to fail so many--and confer so many privileges on the over-privileged few--Smith's book is a must read.

Smith, a Professor of Comparative Public Policy at Queens University, Canada, is an admirer of Social-Democratic welfare states such as Sweden or the Netherlands. No right-winger, Smith admires these countries for their labor market flexibility, progressive taxation structures and active income re-distribution policies. France, Smith points out, lacks all three: France's labor market is remarkably inflexible, something that benefits white, male, middle-class white-collar workers at the expense of women, minorities, immigrants, young workers, and the unemployed. France's taxation structure can easily be described as regressive: it contains large tax breaks for independently employed professionals and wealthy families with numerous children, while poor and lower middle-class families must pay one of the highest Value Added Tax rates in the world. And just as important, France lacks effective income re-distribution policies, with its pension programs re-distributing tens of billions of Euros in reverse, from economically struggling workers to upper-middle-class French retirees, the wealthiest age group in French society today.

The "insiders" in the French system are people who benefit from France's well-known perks, including lifetime job security; 6 weeks or more paid vacation; a generous medical system that is a complex public-private hybrid; and a steady, dependable source of income.

France's special-interest groups, encompassing not only privileged public sector worker but also upper-white-collar workers (cadres) have carved out positions of extraordinary economic privilege for themselves, with the support of left-of-center and right-of-center governments, while saddling the non-privileged public (the so-called "outsiders") with the bill and, often, a lifetime of economic exclusion.

...is that they celebrate imprisoning themselves in an socio-politico-religio-economic model that's been relentlessly anti-human.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:23 AM


Lady Thatcher to be honoured with State funeral (Katie Nicholl and Simon Walters, 7/13/08, Daily Mail)

Margaret Thatcher is to be given the ultimate accolade of a State funeral when she reaches the end of her days – the first British Prime Minister since Winston Churchill to be afforded such an honour.

But the possibility of a formal procession could be jeopardised by fears that there are insufficient troops available to line the route because the Armed Forces are so overstretched in Afghanistan and Iraq.

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July 12, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:22 PM


Democracy’s Keeper: a review of ARK OF THE LIBERTIES: America and the World By Ted Widmer (DAVID OSHINSKY, NY Times Book Review)

What made America unique, Widmer says, was the millennial outlook of the Europeans who first settled here. A vast and isolated continent gave them the freedom to save what was precious from the Old World and to seek perfection in the New. From the top of society to the bottom, these colonists “lavished attention on obscure bits of Scripture that seemed to favor the wilderness, the West and the defeat of large powers by small ones.” Their settlements became the fulfillment of a biblical prophecy, guided by divine will.

Widmer is adept at tracing the pull of millennialism over generations, from Puritanism to the Great Awakening to the American Revolution and beyond. And he shows how seamlessly it entered the political realm. Most colonists had welcomed England’s authority so long as it remained distant and ineffective. When that changed in the 18th century, big trouble followed. Political resistance now became a religious duty, a sign of obedience to God. As Widmer makes clear, the ensuing struggle for independence took place against the backdrop of African enslavement. Still, the extraordinary changes it produced — the debunking of monarchy, the insistence on representative government, the catalog of rights for white men — gave the world a glimpse of what the future could be.

“The American Revolution,” Widmer writes, “was also a foreign policy revolution.” Though the infant United States lacked the military muscle to impose its will beyond its own borders, it plunged forward with the moral certainty of a chosen people. (How else can one explain the audacious Monroe Doctrine, which proclaimed an end to European colonization of the entire Western Hemisphere?) Over time, as the nation’s strength began to match its aspirations, Americans expanded their divine mandate to include the acquisition of territory by force. “Manifest Destiny,” a term coined by a New York journalist in 1845, justified expansion on the grounds that God had chosen the United States “to overspread the continent” with its “yearly multiplying millions.”

The result was war with Mexico, which Americans remember (if at all) as an easy land grab and a nice training ground for future Civil War generals. Widmer carefully reminds us of the conflict’s seamy underside — the anti-Catholicism and strident claims of racial superiority. It was, he suggests, a war waged solely to advance America’s “lust for land,” and it aroused furious opposition. Among the critics was Representative Abraham Lincoln, whose world vision for America included tolerance and restraint.

But then Widmer veers off course. He races through the rest of the 19th century, explaining only that “American foreign policy was notably calmer” in these years. He loses the threads of his argument while all but ignoring the forces of immigration and industrial technology, which turned the United States into the New World colossus. When he picks up the story again, around 1900, the narrative is less about tracing the impact of powerful ideas on America’s global vision and more about ranking the foreign policies of modern presidents, ending with George W. Bush.

For Widmer, who worked in the Clinton administration, Democrats outperform Republicans. His heroes include Woodrow Wilson, whom he describes as the guiding spirit behind the United Nations and movements for human rights. Many historians would agree, while also emphasizing the rigid, self-destructive behavior that kept Wilson from achieving his key goals as president, like America’s entry into the League of Nations after World War I.

If there’s a president who doesn’t need further buffing, it’s Franklin D. Roosevelt. No such luck here. In Widmer’s hands, Roosevelt becomes Superman, vanquishing the Great Depression, global fascism and “the colonial system that had governed much of the world.” He might have achieved even greater things — though it’s hard to imagine what was left — had it not been for those annoying conservative Republicans, who pop up periodically in the book to start trouble. “Frankly,” Widmer says, “it is a wonder that he accomplished a tenth of what he did.”

...is that you have to accept that God didn't want us to take Eastern Europeans, Chinese, Africans, etc. aboard the Ark, but to leave them instead in the Gulag.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:16 PM


An Army That Learns (David Ignatius, July 13, 2008, Washington Post)

The U.S. Army has done something remarkable in its new history of the disastrous first 18 months of the American occupation of Iraq: It has conducted a rigorous self-critique of how bad decisions were made, so that the Army won't make them again.

Given that we've made the same mistakes after every single war we've ever fought, starting with the Revolution, the notion that we'll avoid them next time thanks to a study is either touchingly naive or dangerously deluded. Democracies do war well, peace badly.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:07 PM


‘The Leopard’ Turns 50 (RACHEL DONADIO, 7/13/08, NY Times)

The novel tells the story of Don Fabrizio, the world-weary, cleareyed Prince of Salina, scion of an old feudal family and lover of astronomy. It opens in 1860 with the landing in Sicily of forces intent on unifying Italy and ends in 1910, when a priest comes to assess the reliquaries of the prince’s now aged spinster daughters. In between, it recounts the fortunes of the prince’s favorite nephew, Tancredi, who supports the unification efforts of Giuseppe Garibaldi more out of opportunism than idealism and eventually becomes a diplomat. Tancredi’s career is made possible only by his marrying money — which inevitably means marrying down. To the horror of his aunt, the devastation of a cousin who loves him and the wry comprehension of his uncle, Tancredi falls in love with Angelica, the beautiful daughter of an upwardly mobile landed peasant father and an illiterate mother not fit for polite company. It is Tancredi who speaks the novel’s most famous line: “If we want things to stay as they are,” he tells his uncle, “things will have to change.”

Tancredi’s declaration lies at the heart of “The Leopard,” at once a loving portrait of a vanished society and a critique of its provincialism. “The Sicilians never want to improve for the simple reason that they think themselves perfect,” the prince tells a Piedmontese aristocrat who tries to persuade him to become a senator. “Their vanity is stronger than their misery; every invasion by outsiders ... upsets their illusion of achieved perfection.”

In Italy’s postwar intellectual scene, dominated by Marxists after years of Fascism, Lampedusa’s novel was at first seen as quaint and reactionary, a baroque throwback at the height of neorealism in cinema and class-consciousness in all the arts. (According to David Gilmour’s excellent 1988 biography, “The Last Leopard,” the novelist was neither a Fascist nor a staunch anti-Fascist and “remained too skeptical and disillusioned to be a genuine democrat or a liberal.”)

Lampedusa was born in 1896 into an aristocratic family that had been in Sicily for centuries. A veteran of World War I, he spent his days reading European and American literature and discussing it in Palermo cafes. He married a Latvian aristocrat and intellectual, Alessandra Wolff. The couple had no children. Acutely aware he would be the last Prince of Lampedusa, he began to write about his Sicilian world.

Encouraged by the recent literary success of his cousin, the poet Lucio Piccolo, Lampedusa sent his manuscript to Mondadori, which rejected it on the recommendation of Elio Vittorini, another Sicilian novelist who worked as a consultant. A committed Marxist whose own writing was intent on dignifying the working class, Vittorini found “The Leopard” too celebratory of the aristocracy.

...than those who don't (didn't) react against the 20th Century?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:58 PM


Obama downplays language 'land mine' (Liz Sidoti, 7/12/08, ASSOCIATED PRESS)

"[I] don't speak a foreign language. It's embarrassing," Mr. Obama said, chuckling as his audience did the same.

Can't you just see them wincing in faculty lounges across America and Europe?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:36 AM


Dick Cheney enters hospital for annual checkup (The Associated Press, July 12, 2008)

It was always inevitable they'd find a way to ease him out so W could name the first black/female vp.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:41 AM


'Swing and a high fly ball': Red Sox games on the radio fan waves of joy across New England (Andrew Ryan, July 12, 2008, Boston Globe)

The sound buzzes in the background of cookouts and on back porches on shirt-sticking nights, a murmur as constant in the summer as chirping crickets.

It fills the silence in taxis and tollbooths and deep woods cottages that have no cable television. It can be followed from campfire to campfire in far northern Maine, and from blanket to blanket on a glimmering day on Nantasket Beach in Hull.

For 82 summers Red Sox baseball has been broadcast on the radio, a faithful companion of warm weather. The tick-tock of balls and strikes offers a lifeline to elderly shut-ins, sets a rhythm for cooks and dishwashers in steamy restaurant kitchens, and passes time in bodegas, back porches, and sailboats bobbing close to shore.

"I cannot imagine summertime without it," said Karen Kevra, a Grammy-nominated flutist in Montpelier, Vt., who carries a pocket radio in the orchestra pit to check scores at intermission. "It is the background music."

I had to work the night of Game 7 in 2003, but that was no problem because baseball on the radio is perfection. After an obviously spent Pedro managed to close out the 7th I headed home, secure in the knowledge that the outstanding bullpen would take over, but had to stop and get milk. At the checkout counter the radio was--of course--on and it sure as heck sounded like Pedro was back out for the 8th. I asked the clerk and he just shook his head. Rode the rest of the way home with Grady Little's hate crime unfolding on the car radio. Didn't even bother to listen to the extra innings.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:35 AM


On the Trail of Evil in the Midst of War (GINIA BELLAFANTE, 7/12/08, NY Times)

Foyle’s War,” the British drama commissioned by the ITV network to fill the void created by the departing “Inspector Morse” eight years ago, has lasted as long as the Second World War itself, the setting for the show’s crime solving, but the tenure has hardly bred fatigue. The sixth season, which was seen in England earlier this year (and begins on Sunday on PBS as part of “Masterpiece Mystery!”), had been slated as the last, but fans apparently refused to think in funereal terms, and the series’s creator, Anthony Horowitz, has since discussed charging on.

“Foyle’s War” is exacting in its period details and outstanding in its personalization of political disturbance and fury. At the center is Detective Christopher Foyle (Michael Kitchen), shut out of the action on the front lines and sent to Hastings on the south coast of England to counter war’s residual malfeasance: the murder, bribery and wretchedness committed by profiteers, the politically ambitious and, nearly as often, those whose psychological balance war has irreparably destabilized.

The series borrows from Graham Greene (topically it is “The Third Man” without the noir worldview) and from Tolstoy the conceit that war penetrates every psyche and circumscribes most human interaction. Guilt, rage, prejudice, so diffuse when the bombs are dropping, regularly make the innocent suspect.

Interesting that Michael Kitchen carries the show with an affectless manner that has made him an ideal sociopath on other British mysteries.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:30 AM


Tony Snow, former Bush spokesman, dies at 53
(Associated Press, July 12, 2008)

In that year and a half at the White House, Snow brought partisan zeal and the skills of a seasoned performer to the task of explaining and defending the president's policies. During daily briefings, he challenged reporters, scolded them and questioned their motives as if he were starring in a TV show broadcast live from the West Wing.

Critics suggested that Snow was turning the traditionally informational daily briefing into a personality-driven media event short on facts and long on confrontation. He was the first press secretary, by his own accounting, to travel the country raising money for Republican candidates.

Although a star in conservative politics, as a commentator he had not always been on the president's side. He once called Bush "something of an embarrassment" in conservative circles and criticized what he called Bush's "lackluster" domestic policy.

Most of Snow's career in journalism involved expressing his conservative views. After earning a bachelor's degree in philosophy from Davidson College in North Carolina in 1977 and studying economics and philosophy at the University of Chicago, he wrote editorials for The Greensboro (N.C.) Record, and The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk.

He was the editorial page editor of The Newport News (Va.) Daily Press and deputy editorial page editor of The Detroit News before moving to Washington in 1987 to become editorial page editor of The Washington Times.

Snow left journalism in 1991 to join the administration of President George H.W. Bush as director of speechwriting and deputy assistant to the president for media affairs. He then rejoined the news media to write nationally syndicated columns for The Detroit News and USA Today during much of the Clinton administration.

Robert Anthony Snow was born June 1, 1955, in Berea, Ky., and spent his childhood in the Cincinnati area. Survivors include his wife, Jill Ellen Walker, whom he married in 1987, and three children.

In one of our favorite spoonerisms, The Wife accidentally referred to him as Snowy Toe one time and so he remained ever after. There aren't a whole lot of pols and pundits for him you have affectionate nicknames.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:22 AM


Iran missile tests 'destroyed old equipment and showed no new capabilities' (Robin Gedye, 12/07/2008, Daily Telegraph)

Iran's missile test this week demonstrated no new capabilities and may not have included one of the longer-range missiles that Iran said was among those launched. according to a US official familiar with the intelligence.

A demonstration that combines current weakness with hostile intent is a good way to get yourself Osiraked.

July 11, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:56 PM


Militant Gains in Pakistan Said to Draw Fighters (Eric Schmitt, 7/10/08, NY Times)

WASHINGTON — American military and intelligence officials say there has been an increase in recent months in the number of foreign fighters who have traveled to Pakistan’s tribal areas to join with militants there.

The flow may reflect a change that is making Pakistan, not Iraq, the preferred destination for some Sunni extremists from the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia who are seeking to take up arms against the West, these officials say.

The American officials say the influx, which could be in the dozens but could also be higher, shows a further strengthening of the position of the forces of Al Qaeda in the tribal areas, increasingly seen as an important base of support for the Taliban, whose forces in Afghanistan have become more aggressive in their campaign against American-led troops.

According to the American officials, many of the fighters making their way to the tribal areas are Uzbeks, North Africans and Arabs from Persian Gulf states. American intelligence officials say that some jihadist Web sites have been encouraging foreign militants to go to Pakistan and Afghanistan, which is considered a “winning fight,” compared with the insurgency in Iraq, which has suffered sharp setbacks recently.

Imagine how long it would take to track all these guys down in their own countries even if the CIA were marginally competent. Instead they voluntarily flood a free-fire zone.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:13 PM


Glow Fading?: The latest NEWSWEEK Poll shows Barack Obama leading John McCain by only 3 points. What a difference a few weeks can make. (Jonathan Darma, 7/11/08, Newsweek)

A month after emerging victorious from the bruising Democratic nominating contest, some of Barack Obama's glow may be fading. In the latest NEWSWEEK Poll, the Illinois senator leads Republican nominee John McCain by just 3 percentage points, 44 percent to 41 percent. The statistical dead heat is a marked change from last month's NEWSWEEK Poll, where Obama led McCain by 15 points, 51 percent to 36 percent.

Obama's rapid drop comes at a strategically challenging moment for the Democratic candidate. Having vanquished Hillary Clinton in early June, Obama quickly went about repositioning himself for a general-election audience--an unpleasant task for any nominee emerging from the pander-heavy primary contests and particularly for a candidate who'd slogged through a vigorous primary challenge in most every contest from January until June. Obama's reversal on FISA legislation, his support of faith-based initiatives and his decision to opt out of the campaign public-financing system left him open to charges he was a flip-flopper. In the new poll, 53 percent of voters (and 50 percent of former Hillary Clinton supporters) believe that Obama has changed his position on key issues in order to gain political advantage.

is Bob Dole, who's turn came up in the only losable cycle of the last forty years. And, even then, had Perot followed through on the discussion about withdrawing and endorsing Mr. Dole, he'd have won.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:02 PM


The truth about our post-American world: Fareed Zakaria’s twists and turns in his hot new political book mirror the deep disarray running through the Washington Beltway. (Sean Collins, June 2008, the spiked review of books)

Zakaria believes the news of terrorism and Iraq dominates the headlines because we are fearful. He writes of a ‘cottage industry of scaremongering’ that has flourished in the US and the West generally since 9/11. He also blames the media technology that spreads news – especially violent images – around the world immediately. Unfortunately, Zakaria cannot explain the focus on terror and Americans’ sense of vulnerability; he does not make an effort to explore this issue in any depth (1).

Instead, he moves on to his central point: that a focus on conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere has meant we have missed the real story – the economic rise of the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) and other emerging markets. These countries now account for more than half of the world’s economic growth since 1990, and represent over 40 per cent of the world economy (measured at purchasing power parity). In 2006 and 2007, 124 countries grew at a rate of four per cent or more, including more than 30 countries in Africa.

Zakaria is right to highlight that recent global economic growth is a remarkable development. However, he does not stop at simply noting this important trend; he goes on to claim that this is the third of ‘three tectonic power shifts’ over the past 500 years. According to Zakaria, the first was the rise of the Western world, from the fifteenth century to the late eighteenth century; the second was the rise of the US, from the late nineteenth century until about 1990; and the third is the ‘rise of the rest’ over the past two decades. But formulations such as these (like the ‘internet revolution’ or Thomas Friedman’s ‘flat world’) are just gimmicks. Zakaria does not really undertake a systematic historical analysis, and two decades is far too short to determine an era’s place in history.

Zakaria points out that economic prosperity has brought real benefits. For example, in China alone growth has lifted more than 400 million people out of poverty. But he is quick to point out that this growth is also problematic. One expression is how increased demand from China and India has increased oil prices generally. This price rise has also filled the coffers of America’s oil-state foes, such as Iran and Venezuela. But, as Zakaria notes, ‘the most acute problem of plenty is the impact of global growth on natural resources and the environment’. He cites water shortages and climate change, among other issues.

In viewing growth as problematic and potentially destructive, Zakaria raises a common theme of our time. Rather than celebrate the benefits of growth, such as a reduction in poverty, Zakaria and others emphasise the downsides that accompany development. This gloomy outlook reveals more about the commentator than the reality on the ground.

...if forcing the End of History on a billion Indians and a billion Chinese is so important, why isn't forcing it on a billion Muslims?
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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:31 PM


'Hellboy II': The Red Menace Rides to the Rescue (STEVE DOLLAR, July 11, 2008, NY Sun)

Thanks to its one-two punch of pulp-fiction archetypes and an encyclopedic grasp of demonology — and a considerable degree of cockeyed humor — 2004's "Hellboy" was the comic-book superhero movie for people who hate comic-book superhero movies. It didn't hurt to have the Mexican director Guillermo del Toro ("Pan's Labyrinth") and his fabulist imagination at the helm of the obsessively detailed costumes and design, which extended to elaborately conceived monsters, mythological contraptions, and the crime-fighting freaks of nature led by that cigar-chomping, kitten-loving spawn of Satan: Hellboy.

Photo Credit: Egon Endrenyi

COMIC RELIEF Selma Blair and Ron Perlman as the title character in Guillermo del Toro's 'Hellboy II: The Golden Army.'

Mr. del Toro's visionary fancies raise the ante for fans of his art-house fare, and they surely provide an unexpected bonus for the rock-'em, sock-'em popcorn munchers in the multiplexes. Handed a $72 million budget for the "Hellboy" sequel, Mr. del Toro goes for the gusto. He gorges on computer-generated effects like steroids, creating opening and closing battles royale that exploit the multiplicity of destructive entities: whether it's flesh-eating airborne orbs that chatter like angry ferrets or the eternally dormant Golden Army (mechanized robot warriors whose rise from the mists of history promises the end of mankind) of the title.

All that stands in their way is Hellboy, whom actor Ron Perlman again plays as a beer-drinking, fight-craving, film-noir tough guy with a big, gooey soft spot underlying his crusty veneer.

"Hellboy II: The Golden Army": The fanciful, witty follow-up to "Hellboy" is so beautiful, you may forget it's a "special-effects" movie. (Stephanie Zacharek, Jul. 11, 2008, Salon)
There's so much to look at in "Hellboy II" -- so many weird beings with crepelike skin, or eyes in all the wrong places -- that the picture runs the risk of being excessive. But in the end, its grandness works because it's so well balanced by the expressions on the actors' faces (even when those faces are laden with latex and makeup), or by offbeat little touches like the troupe of cats who cautiously emerge from beneath Hellboy's bed after he and Liz have had a particularly noisy dust-up. I confess I've come to dread movies in which the hero faces down an "army" of anything: Elaborate battles are now a staple of fantasy movies, and the big CGI showdowns of the "Lord of the Rings" pictures set a standard that everyone is now trying to top. But bigger isn't necessarily better -- in fact, it seldom is. Even del Toro seems to realize that, and he constructs the climactic battle sequence so that it caps off everything in the story that's come before -- the movie ends with an emphatic (if somewhat open-ended) period instead of three exclamation marks.

And as with the first "Hellboy," del Toro is most interested in using fantasy to explore the humanity of his decidedly nonhuman characters. There are some new ones, including Johann Krauss (his voice belongs to Seth MacFarlane), a walking suit of armor that serves as a container for a personality, which is essentially an ectoplasmic vapor. (The fact that Krauss is German gives Hellboy, who was rescued from the Nazis as an infant, no end of wisecrack material -- although his prejudices aren't permanent.) There's some domestic strife between Liz and Hellboy, who strive to do good in the world even as they're finding it difficult do right by each other. Blair and Perlman have a lovely, prickly give-and-take here: Their recurring annoyance with each other is part of the electricity of their love.

And in "Hellboy II" del Toro has created an expanded role for the wonderful Doug Jones as Abe Sapien. (In "Hellboy," David Hyde-Pierce was the voice of Abe, but Hyde-Pierce realized that Jones was so completely responsible for the shaping of the character that, magnanimously, he withdrew his name from the credits. In "Hellboy II," the voice we hear belongs to Jones.) It was only a matter of time before a deeply romantic creature like Abe fell in love, and in "Hellboy II," he does. As he explains to Hellboy in his most lovesick moment: "She's like me -- a creature from another world," a simple way of explaining how wonderful it feels to be connected to someone when you've spent your life feeling isolated.

Special effects have so radically taken over the content of mainstream movies -- particularly summer blockbusters -- that they've reached the point of being nothing special at all. We're still seeing more action movies that use special effects to beat the audience into a state of something resembling awe (as "The Incredible Hulk" did) than ones that put the focus on live performers, using special effects judiciously and with some sense of how they need to serve a story and its characters (à la "Iron Man").

But Guillermo del Toro's "Hellboy II: The Golden Army" is something else again: It's too wildly fanciful, too witty, too operatic in its vision, to fit comfortably into any of the convenient folders we might use to keep our mainstream entertainments sorted in our minds. I left the theater so enraptured, so energized, that it didn't immediately register that I'd just seen a "special-effects" movie, although, of course, I had.

REVIEW: of Hellboy 2 (Steven Greydanus, Christianity Today)
Is the human race worth saving?

That's the unanswered question looming in the background of Hellboy II: The Golden Army, Guillermo del Toro's sprawling, take-no-prisoners follow-up to his comparatively timid first stab at Mike Mignola's unconventional comic book superhero four years ago.

The red-skinned, cigar-chomping Hellboy (Ron Perlman) is still a demon fighting on the side of the angels, alongside pyrokinetic girlfriend Liz Sherman (Selma Blair), amphibious empath Abe Sapien (Doug Jones) and their colleagues at the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense. But does an ungrateful, greedy world deserve their efforts? Given a choice between heroism and happiness, between saving the world and saving one's beloved, will self-interest always win out?

Amid a welter of eye-popping creature-feature smackdowns and stunning visions of grotesquerie, Hellboy II finds time to toy with questions like these. If Hellboy II is a Middle Movie, as it seems to be, answers may or may not be forthcoming in Hellboy III.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:20 PM


Rise of the Vampire Weekend: How a preppy New York rock band made it big with no album and a boost from the blogosphere. (Fred Goodman Jul 11 2008, Conde Nast: Portfolio)

Much of the credit for Vampire Weekend's success goes to the music: a brainy, preppy, tongue-in-cheek take on Afro-pop that has drawn comparisons to Paul Simon and Talking Heads. But the band's continuing popularity—its self-titled album on XL Recordings has passed the 300,000 mark in the U.S. (no mean feat in a shrinking CD market); it is currently the No. 2 album on iTunes; and Vampire Weekend will appear at Europe's major summer music festivals and shows in Japan and Australia—is the result of making wily use of the old and new. In a reversal of sorts, the band's following was established in the blogosphere and made the jump to the mainstream record industry.

In early 2006, four Columbia University students started Vampire Weekend, playing college parties and recording a no-budget, three-song EP. Singer-guitarist Ezra Koenig sent one track, "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa," to one of his favorite music blogs, Benn Loxo du Taccu, which focuses on African pop music. Blogger Matt Yanchyshyn liked the tune enough to post it in October 2006 along with a nice notice. Whether it was the record itself or the notion that a New York band was being touted on an African music board, bloggers at bigger alternative rock sites like Stereogum and Music for Robots jumped on the band, and "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa" became a popular online track.

"Vampire Weekend was revered by the blogosphere very early on—and most bloggers by and large are educated and more affluent," says Matt Wishnow, founder of the online independent music retailer, Insound.com. "People responded to them being worldly."

Not wanting to be left behind, mainstream media seconded the band's hip cachet. Late Show With David Letterman showcased Vampire Weekend in February; Saturday Night Live followed in March. A raft of general-interest magazines, from New York to GQ to Teen Vogue, profiled the group. "I was surprised by the fashion and lifestyle magazines," Wishnow says. Adds a source close to the band: "MTV definitely wanted to be part of their story. They were very aware of them."

That kind of response piqued interest in the record industry. Traditionally, record companies signed bands, then marketed them by trying to influence and co-opt gatekeepers like radio programmers and music journalists, but bloggers have proved to be elusive targets.

"I don't know if this is advice for bands, but it's definitely advice for labels," says Wishnow, who points out that many of Vampire Weekend's earliest champions, including the young A&R executive who signed them to XL Recordings, were working in New York, probably moving in the same circles. "If they want to refine their online eyes and ears, they have to ask, 'What do bloggers want to see when they hold up a mirror?"

Gorman Thomas?


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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:57 PM


Conservative club bans women after they ask to change television channel (Daily Telegraph, 11/07/2008)

A 125-year-old Conservative club has banned women from its sports room after one of them asked if the TV could be switched from golf to a music channel.

Her request prompted a complaint, and an immediate ban on women by the club's committee, which was eventually endorsed in a members' vote after bitter campaigning from both sides.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:12 PM


Hezbollah gains controlling role in Lebanon government (Raed Rafei, 7/11/08, LA Times)

Two months after fighting in the capital left scores dead, squabbling Lebanese factions on Friday formed a new Cabinet that gives the Shiite militia Hezbollah and its allies control over key ministries and the power to veto major decisions.

The newly formed Cabinet will serve only until the middle of next year, when elections may determine whether Hezbollah and its allies, which are supported by Iran and Syria, or the Western-backed coalition led by Sunni leader Saad Hariri will take control of the country in the coming years.

...just several nations artificially cobbled together.
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Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:24 AM


Barack McGovern Clinton (Peter Wehner, 7/11/08, National Review)

Andrew Sullivan, one of Barack Obama’s most ardent defenders, has written this:

The right doesn’t know what to make of Obama because he has transcended their Rovian categories. So he either has to be a radical like McGovern or a hollow opportunist like Clinton. He is, in fact, neither.

Obama may, in fact, be both.

Sen. Obama’s instincts seem to be, and his few legislative accomplishments are unquestionably, those of an orthodox liberal. It is not by accident that National Journal — a respected, non-partisan publication — named Obama the most liberal person in the Senate in 2007. In a chamber that includes Ted Kennedy and John Kerry, that is, in its own way, quite an achievement. Sen. Obama is arguably the most liberal Democrat running for the presidency since McGovern and, in fact, Obama’s stand on Iraq (until the last few weeks, anyway) very much mirrors McGovern’s “Come Home, America” rallying cry.

Where Obama differs from McGovern is in his style and countenance.

What's more significant in electoral terms is where Bill Clinton differed from both. He'd governed a conservative Southern state so he actually had a history of governance that jibed with middle American values and was prepared to move back to the middle after the debacle of his first two years.

George McGovern mistakenly thought that America was a liberal nation because Democrats had won so many elections during his lifetime. He was the last of the true believers. Generally, Democratic nominees have been more like John Kerry, lifelong liberals forced to run Right in the general. Inevitably, this process makes them look like hollow men, whether they are or not. Senator Obama is virtually indistinguishable from John Kerry.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:54 AM


What Happened to Obama's $100 Million June? (Jake Tapper, July 11, 2008, Political Punch)

Sen. Barack Obama's fundraisers were predicting an unreal fundraising month for their candidate.

“One hundred million dollars this June — it’s definitely within reach,” Obama fundraiser Wade Randlett said last month to The Hill. [...]

But in today's Wall Street Journal, Christopher Cooper and Susan Davis report that "June fund-raising for Sen. Obama appears to be falling below the expectations of some supporters. The campaign hasn't released its June numbers, but people close to the fund-raising operation say the total will likely be just over $30 million. While this isn't a poor showing, it is an underwhelming haul for a campaign that has ballooned in recent months, has promised a true, 50-state electioneering effort and has told its biggest fund-raisers that it wants to collect $300 million in general-election cash by mid-October."

...is that the month is never November.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:36 AM


Rangel Rents Apartments at Bargain Rates (DAVID KOCIENIEWSKI, 7/11/08, NY Times)

While aggressive evictions are reducing the number of rent-stabilized apartments in New York, Representative Charles B. Rangel is enjoying four of them, including three adjacent units on the 16th floor overlooking Upper Manhattan in a building owned by one of New York’s premier real estate developers.

Mr. Rangel, the powerful Democrat who is chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, uses his fourth apartment, six floors below, as a campaign office, despite state and city regulations that require rent-stabilized apartments to be used as a primary residence.

Mr. Rangel, who has a net worth of $566,000 to $1.2 million, according to Congressional disclosure records, paid a total rent of $3,894 monthly in 2007 for the four apartments at Lenox Terrace, a 1,700-unit luxury development of six towers, with doormen, that is described in real estate publications as Harlem’s most prestigious address.

The current market-rate rent for similar apartments in Mr. Rangel’s building would total $7,465 to $8,125 a month, according to the Web site of the owner, the Olnick Organization.

The Olnick Organization and other real estate firms have been accused of overzealous tactics as they move to evict tenants from their rent-stabilized apartments and convert the units into market-rate housing.

Tensions are especially inflamed in Harlem, where the rising cost of living and the arrival of more moneyed residents have triggered anxiety over the future of the historically black neighborhood. And Vantage Properties, a company established by Olnick’s former chief operating officer, has attracted billions in private equity financing by promising investors that it can aggressively convert tens of thousands of rent-stabilized apartments, many in Harlem.

Yet Mr. Rangel, a critic of other landlords’ callousness, has been uncharacteristically reticent about Olnick’s actions.

State officials and city housing experts said in interviews that while the law does not bar tenants from having more than one rent-stabilized apartment, they knew of no one else with four of them. Others suggested that the arrangement undermines the purpose of rent regulation.

“There are families who manage to get two, when one tenant marries another, things like that,” said Dov Treiman, a lawyer who publishes The Housing Court Reporter, a legal trade publication. “But I’ve never heard of any tenant managing to get four.”

Mr. Rangel’s use of the fourth apartment as an office, in addition to his 2,500-square-foot residence, was especially troubling to some advocates, given the city’s chronic shortage of housing for low- and moderate-income residents.

“Whether it’s an elected official or not, no one should have four apartments, especially when one is being used as an office,” said Michael McKee, treasurer of the Tenants Political Action Committee, who was not aware of Mr. Rangel’s situation when he was interviewed.

If rent-control actually benefited the poor at the expense of folks like congressmen it wouldn't exist.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:30 AM


The Red, White and Eat Your Greens Party (David Montgomery, 7/11/08, Washington Post)

The folks organizing (if you want to call it that) the Democratic National Convention have spent all week trying to squash a major flapdoodle involving political correctness and color that threatened to confirm every negative stereotype about how Democrats are so hilariously sensitive to the full rainbow of creation and secretly want to legislate good behavior and punish the pursuit of wallowing, self-indulgent, unhealthy happiness.

The colors white, black and brown (skin) were not implicated.

We're talking about red, yellow and "blue/purple" (vegetables).

Oh, and green. Especially green. Green food, green buying, green selling, green money, green -- absolutely everything.

This will not be another story making fun of the Denver 2008 Convention Host Committee's Lean 'N Green guidelines for caterers and restaurants feeding conventioneers Aug. 25-28.

But if you must know, for your own reasons, here they are:

"Lean: Half of the meal (or 50 percent) of the plate is made up of fruits and/or vegetables. A colorful meal -- include at least three of the following five colors: red, green, yellow, blue/purple, and white (garnishes not included). No items are to be fried.

"Green: 70 percent or more of ingredients by pre-cooked weight are certified organic and/or grown or raised in Colorado. 70 percent or more of ingredients by pre-cooked weight are fresh (and not pre-processed)."

Mocking these standards would be wrong. Especially after the committee's strong statement posted on its Web site, entitled "Fiction Fuels Frivolous Food Fight."

As the committee's Greening Director, Parry Burnap, explained in the statement --


Greening Director? Is that like, Dancing Instructor? Or Tanning Protector? Or Programming Selector?

...is the New York football J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:25 AM


'What's Wrong With Senator Obama?' (Bob Beckel, 7/11/08, Real Clear Politics)

My 14 year old son loves Barack Obama. He plays the "Yes We Can" music video by will.i.m so often he can recite Obama's New Hampshire speech (from which the video was made) word for word. Obama gave his 'Yes We Can' speech after losing the New Hampshire primary to Hillary Clinton. That refrain, meant to encourage his supporters after the loss, quickly became the mantra for Obama's campaign.

Far from needing encouragement, his supporters were energized by the New Hampshire defeat. My kid kept bugging me to get behind Obama. I tried to tell him as a political analyst for Fox News I had to stay neutral. He wasn't buying that and reminded me that his grandfather (my dad) had been involved in the civil rights movement and "if granddaddy was still around he would be for Obama". That was followed by "you're a wuss".

So I was a little surprised last week when my son asked me, "What's wrong with Senator Obama?" I asked why. "Because he sounds different", he says. Thinking the kid was referring to Obama's recent moves to the center on some issues I tell him every candidate for president repositions for the general election. My son gives me one of those teenage 'what planet are you on' looks and says, "never mind."

It took awhile but I realized my point about Obama's repositioning on Iraq, FISA, etc meant nothing to my kid. All he knew was that the "Obama of Summer" was somehow different than the Yes We Can "Obama of Winter" - and it bothered him. To my kid it wasn't a question of issues, but a perception that somehow Obama had changed. As Barack Obama learned this week it is a perception shared by thousands of his supporters who do understand the issues and, unlike my son, can vote.

Anybody old enough to remember the commercial where the young goalie just lost the big hockey game and his dad gives him a Lifesaver and tells him not to worry about it, he lost the big one too?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:18 AM


Keeping score is a long-lost tradition for baseball: Tracking a game can be as easy as accessing a cellphone. But for some fans, using a pen and paper is still the best way. (Chris Hine, 7/11/08, Los Angeles Times)

Dave Eisenberg had just witnessed baseball history -- his Dodgers became the fifth team ever to win a game without getting a hit. There was only one problem for Eisenberg, aside from the Dodgers' hitting woes.

"I didn't keep score," said Eisenberg, a six-year season-ticket holder. "But I really wish I had. The game was unbelievable."

After the improbable 1-0 Dodgers' win over the Angels on June 28, Eisenberg changed his ways, and began keeping score.

When history was nearly made again on Monday -- as Dodgers pitcher Hiroki Kuroda took a perfect game into the eighth inning -- Eisenberg was ready. Not with a pencil and game program, but with a $50 software application on his hand-held computer.

"I was keeping score Monday. It was one of the most exciting games I've been to in a long time," he said. "I kept score for the chance to record history. We were disappointed that it didn't happen, but we were thrilled for Kuroda."

Eisenberg has embraced a time-honored task that requires a fan to pay reasonably close attention to an entire game -- in an era when the stadium-going experience is full of reasons not to. There are long lines at the bathroom or the beer stand, distractions on the scoreboard and in the stands, and, at least among Dodgers fans, a long-standing tradition of leaving early.

And the attentiveness requirement isn't the only impediment. There's always the danger of ridicule.

"People laugh at me, and they look at me really strange and they say, 'Why do you keep score? What are you going to do with that?' " said South Pasadena resident Kelly Wallace, who keeps score at approximately 30 Dodgers games a season.

...but before you're 18 and after you're about 25, what's the point if you aren't keeping score? The sports where you can't are, by definition, crappy.
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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:09 AM


How Hostages, And Nations, Get Liberated (Charles Krauthammer, 7/11/08, Real Clear Politics)

Everyone knows it will take the hardest of hard power to remove the oppressors in Zimbabwe, Burma, Sudan and other godforsaken places where the bad guys have the guns and use them. Indeed, as the Zimbabwean opposition leader suggested (before quickly retracting) from his hideout in the Dutch embassy -- Europe specializes in providing haven for those fleeing the evil that Europe does nothing about -- the only solution is foreign intervention.

And who's going to intervene? The only country that could is the country that in the last two decades led coalitions that liberated Kuwait, Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan. Having sacrificed much blood and treasure in its latest endeavor -- the liberation of 25 million Iraqis from the most barbarous tyranny of all, and its replacement with what is beginning to emerge as the Arab world's first democracy -- and having earned near-universal condemnation for its pains, America has absolutely no appetite for such missions.

And so the innocent languish, as did Betancourt, until some local power, inexplicably under the sway of the Bush notion of hard power, gets it done -- often with the support of the American military. "Behind the rescue in a jungle clearing stood years of clandestine American work," explained The Washington Post. "It included the deployment of elite U.S. Special Forces ... a vast intelligence-gathering operation ... and training programs for Colombian troops."

...think Tom Cruise was the hero in A Few Good Men.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:25 AM


The illusion of calm in Tibet: After a botched response to bloody riots in Tibet in March, the Chinese authorities have ruthlessly restored order. But anti-Chinese resentment is deep-seated (The Economist, 7/10/08)

The slow and cackhanded reaction is puzzling nonetheless. China, after all, faces tens of thousands of protests and riots every year, most swiftly contained. This month in Guizhou province, some 30,000 people protested in Weng’an county at the authorities’ handling of the death of a girl they believed raped and murdered. It turned into an ugly riot. But those involved were soon detained. There was also a purge of the local political leadership, blamed for losing public confidence.

The security forces and political apparatus had long been nervous in Tibet especially. Indeed they had been gearing themselves for just such an outbreak of violence. The government’s public claims that Tibet was stable were disingenuous, as was their dismissal of past unrest as ancient history. A series of anti-Chinese protests from 1987 to 1989 culminated in the imposition of martial law in Lhasa for more than a year.

Since then, officials, not least the hardliner Mr Zhang, who was appointed in 2005, have never let down their guard. In 2006 the security forces, fearing attacks by Tibetan terrorists (not that any are known to be active), staged what the government described as the biggest protection operation in the region’s history. The occasion was the grand opening of Tibet’s first rail link with the rest of China. Official records say this involved a series of exercises for dealing with terrorist and other “sudden incidents” (ie, riots), heightened surveillance of monasteries and the deployment of thousands of paramilitary troops along the railway line. In October last year police and paramilitary officers in Lhasa rehearsed rapid-response measures to cope with possible disturbances during the national-day holiday and the Communist Party’s congress in Beijing.

In 2006 officials responsible for religious and ethnic affairs in Tibet circulated a secret document predicting that the train link could create instability in urban areas. Sure enough, ethnic-Han Chinese, many of them recent migrants hoping to profit from a train-related tourism boom, were the main targets of the violence in Lhasa.

Even if officials had ignored such warnings, the protests at Lhasa’s monasteries on March 10th and 11th were the biggest in the city since 1989 and provided ample warning of bigger trouble ahead. And Tibetan radicals outside China—not including the Dalai Lama, who supports the Beijing games—had made no secret of their plans to use the Olympics to publicise their grievances. On March 13th, the eve of the riots, security in central Lhasa was visibly tighter than normal in the city, which is ringed by military encampments. That day one of the Dalai Lama’s representatives sent a letter to a senior official in Beijing, warning him that unless managed carefully the situation in Tibet might become “difficult for all of us to handle”.

Yet by 1.30pm on March 14th, as the riots began to spread beyond the area near the Ramoche Temple, the security presence had all but disappeared from that part of the city. Once the riots began to spread, officials may have worried that any effort to control them would lead to bloodshed that would damage China’s image in the build-up to the games. But it is also possible that some officials actually wanted the violence to escalate, as a pretext to impose blanket security on the city long before the Olympics. They might have calculated that tensions in Lhasa were likely to present a growing security headache in the run-up to the games, and that foreign scrutiny would become more intense. By refraining from an immediate bloody crackdown they might even gain international kudos for avoiding a Tiananmen-style response. Chinese officials may have been genuinely surprised that, in the event, Western reaction was overwhelmingly negative.

This response was fuelled by a widespread perception outside China, encouraged by reports from Tibetans in exile, that large-scale bloodshed had indeed occurred. But it is still not known whether the security forces shot anyone at all during the unrest of March 14th and 15th in Lhasa. Figures used by Tibetans abroad have fudged the issue. The Dalai Lama himself says more than 200 people have been killed by Chinese security forces since March. But he and his aides have provided scant detail. There is little doubt that several were shot in other parts of the plateau, most notably in Sichuan, where several dozen may have been killed.

In the case of Lhasa the Tibetan government-in-exile has published a list of only 23 Tibetans killed on March 14th and 15th. But it is unable to provide a consistent account of these incidents. In an interview with The Economist in May, the Dalai Lama admitted he was uncertain about how the unrest developed in Lhasa and the details of any shooting by the security forces there: “There is a lot of confusion and contradictory information.”

No photographs have come to light from Lhasa of violence by police or troops on March 14th or 15th, nor of any resulting casualties. Photographs of dead bodies displayed in the streets of Dharamsala, the seat in exile in northern India of the Dalai Lama, are said to be those of Tibetans shot in Sichuan. Yet camera-equipped mobile phones are widely used in Lhasa and internet services remained uninterrupted during the rioting. Georg Blume of Die Zeit, a German newspaper, who arrived in Lhasa on March 15th just after the riots, says he expected to hear residents describe a massacre. But in nearly a week of interviews he was unable to confirm any reports of killings by the security forces.

The relay of the Olympic torch through Lhasa was much curtailed for security reasons—though officials claimed the truncation was somehow related to the devastating earthquake in Sichuan in May. Officials must have been deeply relieved. Their original plans for three days of ceremonies across Tibet would have been a security nightmare—and would have been even worse had there been no crackdown in March. Foreign journalists and tourists as well as a sprinkling of Tibetan exiles would have poured in. Disgruntled Tibetans would have sensed an opportunity.

Whether deliberate or incompetent, the authorities’ failure to stop the rioting at the outset has been a bigger setback for Tibet’s long-term stability and China’s foreign relations than any official is likely to have calculated on March 14th. Chinese officials appeared to condone the xenophobic outcry triggered by Western criticism of the clampdown. The party, after all, prides itself on its nationalist credentials. But the outburst has also shaken party officials. They are ever fearful that they might become the target of their own citizens’ anger. The earthquake helped restrain the nationalist anger. But as Sharon Stone, an American actress, found in May when she suggested that the earthquake could have been karmic retribution for the clampdown in Tibet, it is easily reawakened.

The Dalai Lama expresses little optimism. He says that because of the unrest the Chinese government might now rally round the view held by some of its officials that “they can’t trust any Tibetans”. It might, he said, step up “demographic aggression” by sending more ethnic-Han Chinese into the region. The Dalai Lama talks of reports that the Chinese have fenced off land and speculates that this might be given to settlers. He even says he had heard a report that 1m of them might come in to Tibet once the Olympic games are over.

Attending the Olympics will make placating China the only mistake of his father's that W repeated in 8 years.

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July 10, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:33 PM


Hamas arrests Gaza rocket squad (BBC, 7/10/08)

The al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a Palestinian militant group, says three of its members have been detained by the larger rival group Hamas.

The move comes after al-Aqsa militants fired two rockets into Israel from the Gaza Strip on Wednesday.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:07 PM


New and improved (Lexington, Jul 10th 2008, The Economist)

If there is a problem with all this repositioning, it is that it is not going far enough for most American moderates. Mr Obama has punted on partial-birth abortion rather than denouncing the whole gruesome procedure. He has insisted on putting restrictions on faith-based social services that most churches find unacceptable. On July 3rd he held not one but two press conferences on Iraq—one in which he seemed to suggest that he would adjust his policy in the light of new realities, another in which he insisted that his position “has not changed”. Mr Obama needs to embrace centrism as a matter of conviction rather than flirting with it as an instrument of political expediency. Otherwise the accusations of flip-flopping that did John Kerry so much harm in 2004 will begin to bite.

...until the freakshow of a convention. Are they going to not seat his own caucus-selected delegates?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:12 PM


Barack W. Bush?: Of late, Obama seems to be promising a third Bush administration. (Victor Davis Hanson, 7/10/08, National Review)

Obama is now a gun-rights advocate. Like Bush, he applauded the Supreme Court’s overturning of a Washington, D.C., ordinance banning the possession of handguns.

The senator, also like Bush, supports the death penalty. He recently objected to the court’s rejection of a state law that allowed for the execution of child rapists.

And although Obama is still pro-choice, he now — like the president — thinks “mental distress” should not justify late-term abortion.

In addition, the new Obama would like to continue — and even expand — Bush’s controversial faith-based initiative program of involving churches in government anti-poverty programs. [...]

During the primaries, Obama seemed to advocate the dismantling of the North American Free Trade Agreement. But now candidate Obama has little desire to overturn the present Bush trade policies.

On foreign policy and the war against terror, Obama once leaned left in his primary battles against Hillary Clinton. But his latest mutations move him once again closer to George W. Bush.

For all his prior talk of the loss of civil liberties, a President Obama, like President Bush, would give telecommunication companies exemption from lawsuits over tapping private phone calls at government request.

Obama wants to continue Bush’s successful multilateral efforts to fight the Taliban in Afghanistan, and now praises the Bush-inspired six-party talks with North Korea that led to the apparent dismantling of Pyongyang’s nuclear program. Like Bush, he advocated expanding the military after the Clinton-era troop cuts. Obama once advocated lifting the embargo against Cuba — but no longer. Like Bush, he thinks that it is wise to leave it be.

There is suddenly not much difference when it comes to the Middle East, either. Palestinian supporters were dismayed to hear Obama promise that Jerusalem must be Israel’s eternal and undivided capital.

Obama once criticized Bush for his unwillingness to meet directly with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and exaggerating the danger from Iran, which supposedly didn’t “pose any serious threat.” Lately though, he agrees with the president that Iran now in fact is a “grave threat.”

...whichever candidate convinces the American people that he's most like Bill Clinton/George W. Bush will be the next president. That's an especially difficult for the candidate of the Looney Left who just knocked off Hillary Clinton, but you can't blame him for trying the 180.

Obama's Liberal Shiver (Froma Harrop, 7/10/08, Real Clear Politics)

Watching liberals grope for first aid as Barack Obama does an about-face on their most cherished issues, one recalls a scene from the 1950 movie "All About Eve."

Theater critic Addison DeWitt takes great offense when a manipulative young actress tries to sneak her schemes past him. He snarls, "Is it possible, even conceivable, that you've confused me with that gang of backward children you play tricks on -- that you have the same contempt for me as you have for them?"

Obama has indeed shown contempt, or at least insensitivity, toward the thinking liberals who handed over their hearts based on his stances concerning -- among other things -- warrantless wiretapping, campaign finance reform and our continued presence in Iraq.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:06 PM


Obama's Changes Raise Issue: Can You Believe in Him? (Mort Kondracke, 7/10/08, Real Clear Politics)

It's perfectly reasonable that Obama take steps to make it clear that he really does love and appreciate the country and that he shares middle-class values. So, he's put the pin back on. In TV images as he speaks, he's practically wrapped in American flags. He's re-explained his ancestry and his upbringing.

He has a problem with white working-class voters, and if he takes his position to appeal to them -- or changes positions -- it's probably no big deal.

Obama also endorsed aspects of President Bush's faith-based initiative. White working-class voters do love their guns, their churches and law and order, after all.

It also undoubtedly helps Obama with the crucial independent vote for him to cause dismay among his supporters on the MoveOn.org left -- as he did by dropping his pledge to filibuster the grant of legal immunity to telecommunications companies taking part in Bush's terrorist surveillance program.

I happen to think it was the right decision on the merits -- and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act reform bill needed to be passed promptly, so Obama was bowing to reality.

But much more dubious -- in fact, raising questions of character -- is his abandonment of a solemn promise to run his general election campaign with public funds if his Republican opponent did.

It's okay to lie about God, abortion, the War on Terror and the Bill of Rights to try and cozy up to middle America, but thou shalt not lie to the wonks about campaign financing!

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:03 PM


Brussels is not prepared for what might hit it if Britain’s Conservative Party wins the next election">Europe’s Tory nightmare (Charlemagne, Jul 10th 2008, The Economist)

If opinion polls are to be believed, the Conservatives will form the next British government by the spring of 2010. As a Tory victory draws closer, two things may happen: the Irish will become harder to isolate; and talk of a two-speed Europe will become more dangerous and destabilising for the EU. In truth, for the two-speed Europe camp, little Ireland is barely a prize. But pushing a sullen Britain into an outer circle would clear the way for all sorts of Euro-integration. Such federalists have their mirror-opposites in Britain. Eurosceptic hardliners dream that Britain could negotiate a nice free-trade pact with the EU, like a giant Norway or Switzerland (but without as much fish or cheese). The odds are still against Britain walking out. But the country has changed in ways that Brussels underestimates. A cool-headed majority on both sides would surely regret it if Britain accidentally fell out of the union, without proper debate.

Today’s Conservatives would form the most Eurosceptic government since Britain joined the club in 1973. Unlike previous Tory bosses, David Cameron does not have to accommodate pro-Europeans in the party, let alone in his inner circle (just three Tory members of Parliament voted with the government on the Lisbon Treaty in March, and all were over 60). It is true that Mr Cameron does not want to “bang on” about Europe, alienating voters whose distaste for the EU is matched only by their desire never to hear anything about it. Indeed, the EU is unlikely to be one of Mr Cameron’s top three campaign themes. But once elected, a Conservative government is sure to pick some fights.

England and Ireland belong to the Anglosphere.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:41 PM


Rove ignores House subpoena (Ben Evans ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Former White House adviser Karl Rove defied a congressional subpoena and refused to testify Thursday about allegations of political pressure at the Justice Department, including whether he influenced the prosecution of a former Democratic governor of Alabama.

Rep. Linda Sanchez, California Democrat and chairman of a House subcommittee, ruled with backing from f

...in the difference between the wielding of vs yielding to political pressure.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:23 PM


After the FISA Fight: An Interview with Sen. Russ Feingold (Brian Beutler, 7/10/08, The Media Consortium)

Russell Feingold: [T]he problem is that there's this fear, that sort of grows over time, that somehow Democrats are gonna get hit over the head by claims that they're soft on terrorism. And it always rears its head, especially when we're heading into a recess period or an election period.

When they're in the cloakroom they say they'll do what the Lefties want, then they get to the floor and represent the voters...the bastards....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:20 PM


Bryan 'Bomber' Wells (Daily Telegraph, 10/07/2008)

Bryan "Bomber" Wells who has died aged 77, was an off-spin bowler for Gloucestershire and Nottinghamshire, and one of the funniest and most eccentric county cricketers of the 1950s and 1960s.

Overweight and undertrained, Bomber Wells could hardly have looked less like a professional sportsman. This unathletic impression was confirmed by his bowling run-up, or rather his lack of run-up. As he himself explained, he took two steps when he was cold and one when he was hot; and sometimes he simply delivered the ball from a stationary position.

Once at Worcester, by pre-arrangement with Roly Jenkins, who was batting, Wells managed to bowl an entire over while the cathedral clock struck 12. Sir Derrick Bailey, 3rd Bt, the Gloucestershire captain, was furious, and complained to Wells that he was making the game look ridiculous. [...]

Inevitably, many batsmen were unprepared for Bomber's delivery. Playing as a young man for the Gloucestershire Nondescripts against Witney, he bowled out a batsman called Len Hemming, who was immediately called back as he had not seemed to be ready.

With the next ball Bomber bowled him out again. "If you think I'm staying here for him to get his bloody hat-trick," Hemming told the fielders, "you've got another think coming."

Years later Hemming was asked about this story. "I've no recollection of it at all," he said, "but I'm all in favour of it."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:15 PM


Gramm: We need more leadership, less whining (CNN, 7/10/08)

Phil Gramm, a top adviser to Sen. John McCain, on Thursday stood by his comment that the country is in a "mental recession," and said he was trying to say the nation's leaders, not its people, were "whiners." [...]

The comments came in a Washington Times interview published Thursday.

"We have sort of become a nation of whiners. You just hear this constant whining, complaining about a loss of competitiveness, America in decline," said the former Texas senator. "You've heard of mental depression; this is a mental recession."

Gramm also said the media was responsible for fostering unnecessary anxiety over the state of the economy. "Misery sells newspapers," he said. "Thank God the economy is not as bad as you read in the newspaper every day."

No one actually wants politicians to tell them the truth.
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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:05 PM


President George Bush: 'Goodbye from the world's biggest polluter' (Robert Winnett, 10/07/2008, Daily Telegraph)

The American leader, who has been condemned throughout his presidency for failing to tackle climate change, ended a private meeting with the words: "Goodbye from the world's biggest polluter."

He then punched the air while grinning widely, as the rest of those present including Gordon Brown and Nicolas Sarkozy looked on in shock.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:19 AM


Cleaner skies explain surprise rate of warming (New Scientist, 7/09/08)

GOODBYE air pollution and smoky chimneys, hello brighter days. That's been the trend in Europe for the past three decades - but unfortunately cleaning up the skies has allowed more of the sun's rays to pierce the atmosphere, contributing to at least half the warming that has occurred.

Since 1980, average air temperatures in Europe have risen 1 °C: much more than expected from greenhouse-gas warming alone.

Given that Tricky Dick was responsible for the Clean Air Act and one of his henchmen,. George HW Bush, for the cfc ban, it seems fair to blame pro-environment Republicans for global warming.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:00 AM


Israel Fears the Womb More Than the Bomb (Peter Hirschberg, 7/10/08, IPS)

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has laid it out in the starkest possible terms for his fellow Israelis. If they do not relinquish control of the occupied territories, he has warned them, Israel will ultimately cease to exist as a Jewish and democratic state.

If Israel does not extract itself from the West Bank and a Palestinian state is not established alongside the Jewish state, he said in an interview late last year, Israel will find itself trapped in an apartheid-like reality. "The day will come when the two-state solution collapses and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights," he said. "As soon as that happens, the state of Israel is finished."

Olmert's conviction is driven by what many Israelis call "the demographic threat" -- a scenario in which Arabs, due to their higher birth rates, outnumber Jews in the geographic area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, which includes Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Once the demographic balance tilts against Israeli Jews, Olmert has warned, they will find themselves in a quandary in which a Jewish minority rules over an Arab majority. When that happens, he explained, Israel will be confronted by a battle it cannot win: Palestinians will abandon their demand for a separate, independent state in the West Bank and Gaza and instead will demand one-person, one-vote in a single state -- a demand that will become irresistible within the international community, as happened with South Africa.

The other threat is the p[otential for rapid Reformation and the end of this last phase of the Long War. Israel is no better an ally than South Africa was, but we cut the latter loose as soon as we didn't need them in the Cold War. The demographics of democracy are heavier with no strategic counterbalance.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:58 AM


Scientologists are bastards: minister (The Australian, July 10, 2008)

A SOUTH Australian minister has attacked the Church of Scientology, branding its members as "bastards".

Education and Children’s Services Minister Jane Lomax-Smith made the comment to a group of protesters outside the church’s offices in Adelaide. [...]

Ms Lomax-Smith was critical of Scientology’s tax-free status as a religious organisation.

"They should be taxed – the bastards," she told the small group of protesters from an internet collective called Anonymous.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:55 AM


Harper has changed Canada's progressive image (Les Whittington, 7/10/08, Toronto Star)

Like Bush, Harper has rejected the stiff emission-reduction goals of the Kyoto Protocol as unattainable and an unfair burden on industrialized nations competing with fast-growing economies like India and China that are not committed to similar cutbacks.

And Harper, like his U.S. counterpart, has sought to keep his country's negotiated climate change commitments to a minimum.

A senior Canadian official privy to this year's closed-door G8 talks in Japan told the media that Harper succeeded in helping to convince the other participants that a joint agreement to cut greenhouse gases should stick to realistic targets and steer clear of "aspirational" goals. [...]

Harper used this G8 meeting to push two foreign policy priorities – Afghanistan and human rights. He told the media that in the discussions, G8 leaders expressed unanimous support for the effort by Canada and other countries to bring stability to Afghanistan in the face of a Taliban insurgency.

Conservatives achieve, liberals aspire.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:52 AM


Obama walks the abortion minefield (CARRIE BUDOFF BROWN, 7/10/08, Politico)

Those who work on the frontlines of the abortion debate couldn’t quite believe what they were hearing: Obama, in an interview with a Christian magazine, seemed to reject a mental health exception to the ban on late-term abortions. They feared that Obama, like Democrat John Kerry in 2004, was adopting a view favored by abortion opponents to appeal to conservatives.

After days of examining his initial comments and a subsequent clarification that he supports a mental health exception – as long as the woman suffers a diagnosed illness and is not just “feeling blue” – some activists are satisfied, while others are far from it or just plain confused.

“That kind of statement really feeds into the wingnut argument that women have abortions because they are frivolous about that decision, because we are having a bad hair day,” Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women, said in an interview Wednesday.

The Abortion Vote the GOP is Planning to Use to Bring Down Obama (Jake Tapper, January 10, 2008, Political Punch)

Republican operatives have been examining Obama's record in Springfield, Illinois, and think they have caught Obama voting the wrong side of an abortion bill that will turn off the public "like partial birth abortion cubed," in the words of one GOP operative.

The bill would have required medical care for babies born during unsuccessful abortions -- an issue no Democrat trying to win over independents and Republicans would want to spend any time discussing.

The Republican party, of course, plans on attacking whoever wins the Democratic nomination. Clinton will be called partisan and shrill; Edwards a slick trial lawyer; Obama too inexperienced. Whoever wins will be painted as too liberal for America.

But Obama's abortion vote, the GOP hopes, may prove to be the sort that Clinton alludes to when she suggests he has not been vetted, his having been blessed by the Gods of Fate during his 2004 US Senate campaign.

In Obama's 2004 Senate race, both a multimillionaire Democratic primary opponent and a multimillionaire GOP general election opponent self-combusted in ugly divorce-related scandals and the latter's replacement was out-of-state ultra-conservative Republican Alan Keyes who was not difficult for Obama to defeat.

Two days after the New Hampshire primary, Obama still has yet to have a negative TV ad run against him.

The Illinois legislation would have mandated medical treatment to any child born as a result of a failed abortion. Clinton faults Obama for having voted "present" on the bill -- abortion-rights allies in Illinois say Obama was unquestionably on their side and voted present as part of a legislative strategy -- but on other occasions Obama voted against the bill.

Republicans suspect Americans will find the vote indicative of out-of-the-mainstream liberal views.

On March 27, 2001, the Illinois Senate Judiciary Committee passed out of committee legislation that would have banned any abortion procedure "that, in the medical judgment of the attending physician, has a reasonable likelihood of resulting in a live born child shall be undertaken" unless another doctor were present to assess the viability of the fetus and provide he or she with medical care. If a live child was born, the law would have mandated that the doctor provide medical care for the baby, which would be legally "recognized as a human person."

Read it HERE.

That bill passed out of committee by a vote of 7 to 4; Obama voted against it. (See the vote tally HERE).

That same month, voting on a bill (read it HERE) that would "protect the life of a child born alive as the result of an induced labor abortion" on the floor of the Illinois Senate, Obama was one of 13 legislators to vote "present." The bill passed 33-6.

Obama at the time said he took particular issue with the part of the bill that defined a "born alive" child as “every infant member of the species homo sapiens who is born alive at any stage of development.”

"Whenever we define a pre-viable fetus as a person that is protected by the equal protection clause or other elements of the Constitution," Obama said at the time, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, "we’re saying they are persons entitled to the kinds of protections provided to a child, a 9-month-old child delivered to term …That determination then essentially, if it was accepted by a court, would forbid abortions to take place."

In March 2002, a similar bill came before the Illinois Senate Judiciary Committee that would have required "a physician inducing an abortion that results in a live born child" to "provide for the soonest practicable attendance of a physician other than the physician performing or inducing the abortion to immediately assess the child's viability and provide medical care for the child."

That bill (read it HERE) was passed out of the committee 6-3, with one "present" vote. Obama voted against it. (See the vote tally HERE.)

That bill was never voted upon in the full Senate, but the next month -- in a 31-11 vote, with 10 "present" votes -- Obama voted against a bill that stated "all children who are born alive are entitled to equal protection under the law regardless of the circumstances surrounding the birth." (Read the bill HERE.)

A federal version of the bill, after all, became law in August 2002. "This important legislation ensures that every infant born alive -- including an infant who survives an abortion procedure -- is considered a person under federal law," President George W. Bush said at the signing ceremony. "This reform was passed with the overwhelming support of both political parties, and it is about to become the law of the land."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:46 AM


The call of the weird: Knights Templar, comedy accents and giant snails? It must be silly season (Rachel Cooke, 10 July 2008, New Statesman)

I must ring my travel agent. Suddenly, the schedules have turned very weird, which suggests to me that summer is here. When they dish up shows that you instinctively know are the cause of some anxiety for commissioning editors, it's time to stock up on factor 20 and obligingly disappear, thus missing the worst offenders.

On BBC1, a series called Bonekickers (Tuesdays, 9pm) has started. It's by Matthew Graham and Ashley Pharoah, the creators of Life on Mars, and it is seriously loony. I was going to describe it - sarcastically - as CSI meets Channel 4's Time Team, but then I read a piece in which Graham described it in exactly those terms, thus providing a fascinating insight into the creative processes of 21st-century scriptwriters: take two successful shows, stick them in the writerly equivalent of a KitchenAid blender, and try not to wrinkle your nose at the resulting dramatic goo.

Given their work on Life on Mars we were willing to give it a shot, but the protagonists are so psychotically anti-religious that you end up rooting for the evil Christian fundamentalists who are trying to trigger Helter Skelter--presumably not their intent.

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July 9, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:48 PM


Many-named species pose registry problem (Philadelphia Inquirer, 7/07/08)

Any good pulp-fiction villain has an alias or two, in order to throw police off the trail. Let's hope the breadcrumb sponge never turns to crime. It has 56.

That's just one of the curiosities that has emerged from an international effort to catalog all living things in the ocean.

To date, scientists working on the World Register of Marine Species (www.marinespecies.org) have found 31,366 species with at least two names, and 767 with 10 or more, says Rutgers biologist Edward Vanden Berghe. [...]

Extra names can arise from disagreements over where to draw the line between species, or simply from ignorance. About 1,400 "new" marine species are reported each year in various, sometimes obscure, publications.

If stuff won't evolve, just rename and reclassify it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:14 PM


Obama, Clinton Split on FISA Vote (Siobhan Gorman, 7/09/08, WSJ: Washington Wire)

Obama said he would work to eliminate a provision to grant conditional immunity to phone companies alleged to have participated in the National Security Agency’s warrantless surveillance program, but amendments attempting to pare back or strip immunity from the surveillance bill were defeated Wednesday, as expected.

Obama won the nomination, in part, by running to Clinton’s left, but he has been tacking right since clinching the nomination in early June–which today landed him to Clinton’s right on the spy bill, which overhauled the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Obama’s own campaign Web site has become a hotbed of debate over his support for the compromise bill, spawning four groups in which opponents of Obama’s position vastly outnumber supporters—22,957 to 38. The “Get FISA Right” group blog on MyBarackObama.com was flooded with disappointed supporters after Wednesday’s vote, with more than 60 writing in within 90 minutes of the vote.

...between needing the looney Left to help retire your campaign debt and needing normal people to vote for you if you're to keep it competitive in the Fall. Change the nomination results and the votes would be reversed. Although, we can take him at his word that he worked to have the proviso removed. The result, after all, would be consistent with his other "work" in the Senate: ineffective.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:11 PM


Merkel warns Obama not to use landmark for 'electioneering' (Deborah Cole, 7/09/08, AFP)

The conservative leader said that while she would be pleased to meet the US Democratic presidential hopeful, it would be wrong for him to hold a "campaign rally" at the historic symbol of German unity.

"It is unusual to do electioneering abroad," spokesman Thomas Steg told reporters.

"It is unusual to hold election rallies abroad. No German candidate for high office would even think of using the National Mall (in Washington) or Red Square in Moscow for a rally because it would not be seen as appropriate."

...who would have welcomed that stadium gig Barry has lined up...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:07 PM


Poland urges closer U.S. ties after Russia shield comment (Patryk Wasilewski, 7/09/08, Reuters)

Russia's angry response to U.S. plans to build a missile shield underlines the need for Europe to seek closer security ties with the United States, a top aide to Polish President Lech Kaczynski said on Wednesday.

...that's called a paradoxical effect.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:50 PM


Voters Reject Obama's call for Bilingualism (Rasmussen, July 09, 2008)

Barack Obama said yesterday that “instead of worrying about whether immigrants can learn English,” Americans “need to make sure your child can speak Spanish.” A national telephone survey conducted last month by Rasmussen Reports found that U.S. voters overwhelmingly disagree with the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.

Eighty-three percent (83%) place a higher priority on encouraging immigrants to speak English as their primary language. Just 13% take the opposite view and say it is more important for Americans to learn other languages.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:33 PM


Serial rabbit killer uses Google maps to find victims (Roger Boyes, 7/09/08, Times of London)

The roll call of victims is growing longer by the day. They have names like Rocco, Fussel, Marianne and Fluffy — and a special five-man police unit has a file on each and every one of the unfortunate animals.

The so-called Bunny Murders — 40 domestic rabbits killed at night in their hutches, heads and sometimes paws sliced off, their bodies drained of blood — is stunning communities across western Germany.

"Nobody knows where the killer will strike next," says Inspector Volker Schuette, who is a member of the investigation team.

One theory is that a group of Satanists is behind the wave of killings since there is an almost ritualistic pattern.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:27 PM


China Warns Sarkozy Not to See Dalai Lama (STEVEN ERLANGER, 7/09/08, NY Times)

President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, whose office announced Wednesday that he would, after all, attend the opening ceremonies of Beijing’s Olympic Games, was warned by China on Tuesday not to meet with the Dalai Lama in France next month.

China’s ambassador to France, Kong Quan, told reporters there would be “serious consequences” for Chinese-French relations if Mr. Sarkozy meets the Dalai Lama, asserting that it “would be contrary to the principle of non-interference in internal affairs.”

...Mr. Sarkozy needs to grasp that we don't recognize such a principle where evil regimes are concerned. Their internal affairs are the affair of decent people everywhere.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:25 PM


Hot Mic Catches Jesse Jackson Hammering Obama; Jackson Apologizes (Jake Tapper, July 09, 2008, Political Punch)

Apparently unaware of a hot microphone, Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr., founder and president of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, made a crude and disparaging remark (apparently involving genitals) about how Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, might be alienating African-Americans with various moral instructions.

Jackson has issued this apology, saying: "For any harm or hurt that this hot mic private conversation may have caused, I apologize. My support for Senator Obama’s campaign is wide, deep and unequivocal. I cherish this redemptive and historical moment. My appeal was for the moral content of his message to not only deal with the personal and moral responsibility of black males, but to deal with the collective moral responsibility of government and the public policy which would be a corrective action for the lack of good choices that often led to their irresponsibility."

A fake spat with the Rev is the first smart thing this campaign has done--too bad Jesse had to engineer it for them.

N.B.: One interesting thing to note is that, provided that the Reverend Jackson was referring to himself as one of the "nuts", his comment can be read as self-deprecating, true, and non-scatalogical. Think that's what he meant?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:14 PM


The foundations of Wilsonian foreign policy and its permutations under George W. Bush; a review of Ark of the Liberties: America and the World by Ted Widmer (Art Winslow, LA Times)

Woodrow Wilson is a tip-of-the-tongue name in foreign policy circles these days, largely because the members of the Bush administration are seen as revamped Wilsonians. Former Middle East envoy Dennis Ross, in his recent book Statecraft, identifies them as such, citing their belief in the transformative power of the United States and its role as an example and their conviction that divine providence guides their work -- with the profound difference, Ross notes, that Wilson "believed fervently in collective security and international law," which would limit national sovereignty and also "constitute a practical and a moral inhibition on the use of force."

Similarly, Council on Foreign Relations fellow Walter Russell Mead contends, in Power, Terror, Peace, and War, that the new claque of Wilsonians, neoconservatives who have dominated Republican foreign-policy debates in recent years, have "radically restructured the Wilsonian agenda" and that the secular shapers of progressive internationalism have lost out to evangelicals and other fundamentalists, who argue "that only a much more aggressive pursuit of American ideological values can deal with the security threats we now face" and promote "specifically Christian rather than liberal secular humanist values in foreign policy."

The persistence of this blend of idealism and religious ideology in politics -- along with a belief in American exceptionalism and its accompanying missionary outlook -- is a recurring theme in Ted Widmer's Ark of the Liberties. "In many ways," he asserts, "we still live in Wilson's world." Whereas Wilson "is often given credit for inventing a new way of thinking about U.S. foreign policy, it is probably more accurate to say that he tapped into old feelings that had never entirely disappeared." (Those feelings went against the isolationism of his time: Wilson's post-World War I idea of a coalition of the willing was the League of Nations, but Congress balked at U.S. membership.) Ark of the Liberties is in part a search for the roots of those Wilsonian impulses, which Widmer traces to pre-Revolutionary days, and in part a summary of the foreign-policy orientation of administrations from the country's creation to the present, often as evidenced in officials' speechifying. The gamut of American history, from George Washington's farewell address (in which he argued for a foreign policy of neutrality) to nation-building in Iraq, is on display.

The title Ark of the Liberties is taken from a passage in Herman Melville's White-Jacket that also refers to Americans as "chosen people" and holds that "God has predestined, mankind expects, great things from our race." Linking Melville's phrase with Noah's ark, the ark of the covenant and the first ship to arrive in Maryland, the Ark and Dove, Widmer suggests that the conceptual terrain "has always been interpreted by Americans as a voyage on behalf of all humanity," that in essence "it is a voyage in search of freedom . . . so that we can make its coordinates known to the rest of mankind."

In this historical endeavor, Widmer finds "a glorious arc" (he was a foreign-policy speechwriter for the Clinton White House; whether homonyms were encouraged is unknown) reaching from the Declaration of Independence to the Gettysburg Address to Wilson's Fourteen Points (which included a suggestion to adjust colonial claims in the Versailles negotiations, giving equal weight in sovereignty questions to the populace affected) to President Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill's 1941 Atlantic Charter (among its calls: economic cooperation, curtailment of force and the right of people to choose their form of government) to the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

It's Wilsonianism even though it predates the Revolution and the neocons are Evangelical fundamentalists not secular progressives?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:52 PM


Do natural disasters stimulate economic growth? (Drake Bennett, 7/08/08, The Boston Globe)

Traditionally, analysts have cautioned that Chinese growth figures should be greeted with skepticism, but according to one school of economic thought, there may be something to the idea that the quake served as a brutal stimulus. In fact, some economists argue that despite the widespread destruction they leave behind, hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, volcanic eruptions and ice storms can spur economic growth.

Rebuilding efforts provide a short-term boost by attracting resources to the region, economists say. By destroying old factories and roads, airports and bridges, the disasters allow new and more efficient infrastructure to be built, forcing the transition to a sleeker, more productive economy in the long term.

"When something is destroyed you don't necessarily rebuild the same thing that you had," said Mark Skidmore, an economics professor at Michigan State University. "You might use updated technology, you might do things more efficiently."

Studies have found that earthquakes in California and Alaska helped spur economic activity there, and that countries with more hurricanes and storms tend to see higher rates of growth. Some of the most recent studies have found a link between disasters and subsequent innovation.

The baker is too lazy to care how much antiquated technology costs him.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:50 PM


'Hellboy' star is at ease in his mask (Rick Bentley, 7/08/08, FRESNO BEE)

Ron Perlman has a face made for makeup. But he's OK with that.

He says some of the most comfortable roles of his career have been those that called for lots of makeup. That list includes mane man Vincent in the TV series Beauty and the Beast and his title character in Hellboy.

"I was more comfortable behind the mask than naked like this," Perlman says during an interview at the Four Seasons Hotel, talking about Hellboy II: The Golden Army, which opens Friday. "The makeup made me freer because it was no longer me. It was a transformed version of me. It made acting more possible."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:11 PM


Senate Backs Wiretap Bill to Shield Phone Companies (ERIC LICHTBLAU, 7/09/08, NY Times)

The plan, approved by a vote of 69 to 28, marked one of Mr. Bush’s most hard-won legislative victories in a Democratic-led Congress where he has had little success of late. And it represented a stinging defeat for opponents on the left who had urged Democratic leaders to stand firm against the White House after a months-long impasse.

“I urge my colleagues to stand up for the rule of law and defeat this bill,” Senator Russell D. Feingold, Democrat of Wisconsin, said in closing arguments.

But Senator Christopher S. Bond, the Missouri Republican who is vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said there was nothing to fear in the bill “unless you have Al Qaeda on your speed dial.”

...so are congressional Democrats to an accordion.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:54 PM


Germany plans to give vote to babies (Harry de Quetteville, 09/07/2008, Daily Telegraph)

Dozens of German politicians have tabled a new law to extend voting rights to babies, toddlers, children and teenagers.

The bill, which has won the cross-party backing of some heavyweight German politicians, would wipe away decades of "exclusion" and "discrimination" against minors.

Currently the voting threshold in Germany is 18, with an exception in some states, where 16 year olds able momentarily to put aside the cares of adolescence are allowed to cast a ballot.

But that does not go far enough for the new law's backers, who want to ensure voting rights from cradle to grave.

On the bright side, they don't have any kids anymore.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:06 PM


How the Left Can Avoid a New Education War: A battle is brewing between portions of the civil-rights community and teacher unions over the future of liberal education policy. (Richard D. Kahlenberg, July 9, 2008, American Prospect)

The battle, which can broadly be characterized as one between portions of the civil-rights community and teacher unions, is a movie we've seen before -- most explosively in the New York City teacher strikes of the 1960s -- and it doesn't end well. Sen. Barack Obama should follow the lead of legendary teacher-union leader Albert Shanker and recognize that both sides in the debate need to bend.

The first coalition, led by the self-described "odd couple" of the Rev. Al Sharpton and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein of New York City, casts the debate in civil-rights terms. Calling itself The Education Equality Project, this faction, which also includes Mayor Cory Booker of Newark and Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee of Washington, D.C., sees recalcitrant teacher unions as a major impediment to poor- and minority-student achievement, and alleges that unions care more about their own members than they do about students. Sharpton remarked, "If we're going to move forward, we're going to have to be able to have new alliances here -- that might mean some old relationships with teacher unions, principal unions, and all are going to be a little troubled."

As long as blacks vote Democrat in lockstep and their kids don't give as much money as or organize like Labor, the Party is always going to put the union ahead of the children.

Fenty: D.C. Schools Test Scores Up (David A Nakamura, 7/09/08, D.C. Wire)

Could Mayor Adrian Fenty's school takeover be working faster than anyone could have imagined, or did former School Superintendent Clifford Janey's reforms finally take hold--a year after Fenty fired him?

That's the question today after Fenty and schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee announced that test scores for public school students rose on reading and math across the board on the latest D.C. Comprehensive Assessment System exams. (These are the tests that measure wehther schools have made adequate progress under No Child Left Behind.)

According to preliminary results provided by the administration, 46 percent of elementary school students scored proficient in reading and 40 percent in math, up 8 points and 11 points, respectively, from last year. At the secondary level, the news was just as good. Thirty nine percent scored proficient in reading and 36 percent in math, up 9 points in both categories.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:59 AM


Centrist Shifts Threaten Obama's Support Among Liberals: Candidate Defends Himself Against Accusations of Flip-Flopping (JAKE TAPPER, July 9, 2008, ABC News)

At a town hall in Georgia Tuesday, Obama defended himself against accusations of flip-flipping and said critics who make the charges "haven't been listening".

"This whole notion that I am shifting to the center or flip-flopping on this, that and the other ... the people who say this apparently haven't been listening to me," he said, describing himself as "progressive and squarely in the Democratic camp."

To clarify, Obama said he does not believe government is the solution for everything...

Whew, now that we have that cleared up....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:02 AM


Beware of the narcissist: Plucked eyebrows may reveal a personality disorder (Roger Dobson, 09/07/2008, Daily Telegraph)

Visible cleavage, plucked eyebrows and a cheery smile are all warning signs of a narcissistic personality, psychologists have discovered.

Observers are quick to pick up on such signals and use them to categorise people at a glance, according to a new study.

Such accuracy and speed of detection may have evolved to allow people to steer clear of narcissists and thus avoid the downsides of their behaviour, which include self-deception and a lack of regard for others, the researchers believe.

Hellboy, Evil, and the Cross: The Hellboy sequel opening soon is just the latest in a long line of films about battling supernatural baddies—with the Cross often wielded as a weapon of goodness. (Steven D. Greydanus, 07/08/08, Christianity Today)

Hellboy's world—like those of other recent supernatural-themed films including Constantine and Ghost Rider—seems significantly shaped by Christian culture. (All three of these films are based on comic books; other recent comic-book movies lacking supernatural themes have offered similar instances of religious imagery, including Daredevil and X2.) [...]

As a "good demon," Hellboy may be a walking oxymoron, but he's the singular exception to the rule. The first Hellboy movie establishes the occult world as a distinctly unfriendly place; the title character aside, demons are creatures of pure evil, existing only to destroy and consume. Moreover, those who battle them use crosses, crucifixes, rosaries and other recognizable emblems of Christian faith.

In this regard, Hellboy is heir to a movie tradition going back to the B-movie Hammer horror films of the 1950s and '60s, particularly those directed by Terence Fisher (The Devil's Bride, Horror of Dracula), a high-church Anglican. Fisher's films depict demons, vampires and all creatures of evil helpless before the inexorable power of the cross.

Bela Lugosi's Dracula in 1931 may have cringed from a crucifix dangling from a potential victim's neck, but Fisher turned the cross into a weapon capable of damaging and even destroying evil. (The Christian worldview of Fisher's Hammer horrors has been explored at some length by Presbyterian clergyman Paul Leggett in Terence Fisher: Horror, Myth and Religion.)

Fisher's "weaponized" portrayal of crosses, crucifixes, holy water and the like has greatly influenced the portrayal of evil in pop entertainment, from Hellboy and Constantine to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The Church also has some sort of role combating the powers of darkness in films like Van Helsing and John Carpenter's Vampires, even if crosses and other Christian symbols may not have the power they do elsewhere.

At the same time, the Christian influence originally so significant in Fisher's world is often vestigial at best in these later stories. Too often, notions of faith and God are nearly or entirely absent, the Church is little more than an eccentric world power, and the cross little more than a talisman or magic charm.

In other films, though, real Christian belief and the Church as an institution relying on faith against the gates of hell comes to the surface, perhaps most obviously in The Exorcist and more recently The Exorcism of Emily Rose. These films depict spiritual warfare in a less stylized but also more ambiguous way, with the tide of battle not so black-and-white as in a Hammer horror film. (Emily Rose director Scott Derrickson, a Christian, has discussed how horror films can be a good medium for pointing to God.)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:58 AM


Quietly, Brazil Eclipses an Ally (SIMON ROMERO and ALEXEI BARRIONUEVO, 7/08/08, NY Times)

[M]r. da Silva has steadily peeled himself away from Venezuela’s leader and quietly supplanted him as he nurtures Brazil into a regional powerhouse.

Today the two leaders, often partners but sometimes rivals, offer starkly different paths toward development, and it is Brazil’s milder and more pragmatic approach that appears ascendant. Amid the decline of American influence in the region, the Brazilian president is discreetly outflanking Mr. Chávez at almost every turn in the struggle for leadership in South America.

Mr. Chávez has been nationalizing foreign companies and trying to assemble an anti-American bloc of nations. His regional credentials suffered last week, though, when his ideological rival, President Álvaro Uribe of Colombia, organized a dramatic rescue of 15 hostages held in the jungle by Colombian rebels.

Mr. da Silva has diversified Brazil’s already strong industrial base and created an ample political coalition with almost a dozen neighbors. Huge recent oil discoveries in Brazilian waters have allowed him to blunt Venezuela’s efforts to use its oil largess to win influence. Venezuela’s economy has shown signs of stumbling, while its dependence on trade with Brazil has intensified.

The key to Brazil’s success has been a lucky confluence of global economic trends, like rising demand for commodities like soybeans and sugar-based ethanol, but also the quiet stewardship of Mr. da Silva, a former auto plant worker. He has raised Brazil’s profile across the region in part by adopting a less confrontational approach to Mr. Chávez than that of the United States.

Lula's adoption of the Third Way, of course, represents the continuing influence of America in the region, not decline.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:04 AM


Cheeta, Tarzan star and world's oldest chimpanzee, hopes for Hollywood recognition (Rupert Neate, 08/07/2008, Daily Telegraph)

Cheeta, the chimp star of 12 Tarzan films in the 30s and 40s, could soon get the recognition he deserves - a star on Holywood's Walk of Fame.

The 76-year-old chimpanzee has been snubbed for the honour seven times in the last 20 years, but a video to go with the re-release of country hit Convoy could see him strike lucky at last.

Ana Martinez-Holler, of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, said fans are campaigning for him to be awarded a Hollywood star.

"I will tell you I got a lot of emails. Fans were upset," she said. "This is not a Pulitzer Prize. This is a tourist attraction. The least favourite part of my job is telling these people that they aren't selected. I get called all kinds of things, and I don't even vote."

After Syracuse lost the 1987 NCAA title game, I straggled back to our New Orleans hotel room in time to see Maureen O'Sullivan on Letterman. She was in her '70s by then, seemingly prim and proper. But then she started talking about how Cheeta had a psychotic gay crush on Johnny Weismuller and had to be ankle-chained during shoots of publicity stills or he'd try raping his co-star. The host sat there gape-mouthed as did his audience.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:59 AM


Perfection? Hint: It’s Warm and Has a Secret (DAVID LEITE, 7/09/08, NY Times)

TOO bad sainthood is not generally conferred on bakers, for there is one who is a possible candidate for canonization. She fulfills most of the requirements: (1) She’s dead. (2) She demonstrated heroic virtue. (3) Cults have been formed around her work. (4) Her invention is considered by many to be a miracle. The woman: Ruth Graves Wakefield. Her contribution to the world: the chocolate chip cookie.

One day in the 1930s, Mrs. Wakefield, an owner of the Toll House Inn, in Whitman, Mass., 23 miles south of Boston, was busy baking in her kitchen. Depending on which of the many legends you subscribe to, the fateful moment may have happened when a bar of Nestlé semisweet chocolate jittered off a high shelf, fell into an industrial mixer below, and shattered, or when Mrs. Wakefield, in a brilliant move to make her Butter Drop Do cookies a bit sexier, chopped up a bar of chocolate and tossed in the pieces. Whether by accident or design, her Toll House Chocolate Crunch Cookies delighted her customers and became the culinary mother to an august lineage that almost 80 years later is still multiplying and, in some cases, mutating.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:51 AM


John McCain's radical tax plan: He voted against Bush's tax cuts, but now, despite a ballooning deficit, he wants to slash taxes even further -- with most of the benefits going to the rich. (Justin Jouvenal, Jul. 09, 2008, Salon)

he centerpiece of his economic plan is a tax-cut proposal more sweeping than anything envisioned by George W. Bush.

"The choice in this election is stark and simple," McCain said at the Denver town hall. "Senator Obama will raise your taxes. I won't. I will cut them where I can."

But according to a respected, independent group of tax-policy experts, McCain’s plan would balloon the deficit and provide a windfall to the wealthy while affording only nominal relief to middle-class taxpayers. McCain has moved toward the Republican base on a handful of issues this campaign season, but his tax plan might actually shift the erstwhile deficit hawk to the right of the current president.

..and all we have to show for it is the most prosperous quarter century in world history....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:47 AM


Ruth Greenglass, Key Witness in Trial of Rosenbergs, Dies at 84 (DENNIS HEVESI, 7/09/08, NY Times)

The Rosenberg investigation can be traced to 1945, when a Soviet cipher clerk, Igor Gouzenko, defected to the West and stunned intelligence officials by revealing that the Russians were engaged in extensive spying against their wartime allies. At the time, David Greenglass was an Army sergeant assigned as a machinist to the Manhattan Project, the program to develop the atomic bomb, at Los Alamos, N.M.

When Mr. Rosenberg, an avowed Communist, found out about his brother-in-law’s assignment, he recruited Mr. Greenglass to gather information about the Manhattan Project, including documents, handwritten notes, sketches of the bomb and the names of scientists.

One afternoon in September 1945, in the Rosenberg apartment in Knickerbocker Village on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, Mr. Greenglass dictated his notes to someone sitting before a Remington typewriter. Who was sitting at that typewriter, Ethel Rosenberg or Ruth Greenglass? Fifty-seven years after the Rosenberg trial the question remains.

In 1950, after confessing to his role as a spy, Mr. Greenglass agreed to testify against the Rosenbergs. At the time, he had not yet been sentenced.

A main element in the prosecution was the threat of indictment, conviction and possible execution of Ethel Rosenberg as leverage to persuade Julius Rosenberg to confess and to implicate other collaborators. Those collaborators had already been identified, largely from what became known as the Venona transcripts, a trove of intercepted Soviet cables.

But with little more than a week before the trial was to start, on March 6, 1951, the government’s case against Mrs. Rosenberg remained flimsy, lacking evidence of an overt act to justify her conviction, much less her execution.

Prosecutors had been interrogating Mrs. Greenglass since June 1950. In February 1951, she was interviewed again. After reminding her that she was still subject to indictment and that her husband had yet to be sentenced, the prosecutors extracted a recollection from her: that in the fall of 1945, Ethel Rosenberg had typed her brother’s handwritten notes.

Soon after, confronted with his wife’s account, Mr. Greenglass told prosecutors that Mrs. Greenglass had a very good memory and that if that was what she recalled of events six years earlier, she was probably right.

The transcripts of those two crucial interviews have never been released or even located in government files. But at the trial, Mr. Greenglass testified that his sister had done the typing. Called to the stand, Mrs. Greenglass corroborated her husband’s testimony.

In his summation, the chief prosecutor, Irving Saypol, declared: “This description of the atom bomb, destined for delivery to the Soviet Union, was typed up by the defendant Ethel Rosenberg that afternoon at her apartment at 10 Monroe Street. Just so had she, on countless other occasions, sat at that typewriter and struck the keys, blow by blow, against her own country in the interests of the Soviets.”

On June 19, 1953, the Rosenbergs were put to death in the electric chair at Sing Sing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:39 AM


Philanthropist Templeton dies at 95: Investor used wealth to urge religious study (AP, July 9, 2008)

Mr. Templeton created the $1.4 million Templeton Prize - billed as the world's richest annual prize - to honor advancement in knowledge of spiritual matters. Winners have included Mother Teresa, Billy Graham and Soviet dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

Mr. Templeton wanted the monetary value to surpass that of the Nobel Prize to show that advances in spiritual fields were just as important, Mr. Lehr said. Next year's prize is expected to be almost $2 million, he said.

Mr. Templeton was born in Tennessee, graduated from Yale University and became a Rhodes Scholar, earning a master's degree in law at Oxford University. He later moved to Nassau and became a naturalized British citizen.

Mr. Templeton launched his Wall Street career in 1937 and was considered a pioneer in foreign investment, choosing companies and nations that were foundering or at points of what he called "maximum pessimism," Mr. Lehr said.

In 1939, he borrowed money to buy 100 shares each in 104 companies selling at $1 per share or less, including 34 companies that were in bankruptcy, Mr. Lehr said. Only four turned out to be worthless, and Mr. Templeton turned large profits on the others, he said. [...]

Mr. Templeton was influenced by the Unity School of Christianity, which takes a non-literal view of heaven and hell, and he often started his mutual fund's annual meetings with a prayer, Mr. Lehr said. The philanthropist also was a member of the Presbyterian Church and a board member of the Princeton Theological Seminary.

In 1987, he established the John Templeton Foundation to fund projects that could reconcile religion and science. The Pennsylvania-based nonprofit has an estimated endowment of $1.5 billion and awards some $70 million in annual grants.

Associated Press John Templeton created the $1.4 million Templeton Prize, ensuring that the reward was greater than that of the Nobel Prize to publicize the significance of spiritual development.

Its mission is to serve as a catalyst to answer the "big questions," Mr. Lehr said. Grants have been awarded to studies ranging from evolutionary biology and cosmology to love and forgiveness.

-VIDEO: Sir John Marks Templeton (1912-2008) (Acton)
-OBIT: Sir John Templeton, philanthropist, dies at 95 (Robert D. Mcfadden, July 9, 2008, NY Times)

In a career that spanned seven decades, Sir John dazzled Wall Street, organized some of the most successful mutual funds of his time, led investors into foreign markets, established charities that now give away $70 million a year, wrote books on finance and spirituality and promoted a search for answers to what he called the "Big Questions" — realms of science, faith, God and the purpose of humanity.

Along the way, he became one of the world's richest men, gave up American citizenship, moved to the Bahamas, was knighted by the Queen of England and bestowed much of his fortune on spiritual thinkers and innovators: Mother Teresa, Billy Graham, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the physicist Freeman Dyson, the philosopher Charles Taylor and a pantheon of Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus.

Inevitably, the Templeton charities engendered controversy. Critics called his "spiritual realities" a contradiction in terms, reflecting a fundamental incompatibility between science and religion. To many, the very idea of "progress" in religion seemed strange, and giving grants for "discoveries" in the field invited accusations that science was being manipulated to promote religion.

But Sir John was unmoved.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:30 AM


Obama Is Not a God (Courtney E. Martin, July 9, 2008, American Prospect)

The public reaction has got me thinking about the inevitable tarnishing of Obama's golden image. His profound charisma, his gift for public speaking, and his inspiring biography have led a country of lefty voters, especially the young, to idolize him. Obama maintained this angelic persona through the primaries, but sooner or later, the halo is going to fall. In anticipation of that moment -- or many moments, as they case may be -- I hope that Democratic voters, especially the young, can shift the tenor of their support for Obama. After all, he is not a god; he is just a man.

...you needed to be told this.

Obama's online muscle flexes against him: Fans use his Web site to rip shifts in policy (John McCormick, 7/08/08, Chicago Tribune)

The same Internet-fueled power that led to historic gains in organizing and fundraising for Sen. Barack Obama's presidential campaign is now providing a platform for fiery dissent in a most unlikely place: his own Web site.

Amid criticism from the left that he has eased toward the center on a number of issues in recent weeks, the presumptive Democratic nominee has angered some of his most ardent supporters while triggering something of an online mutiny. Thousands are using MyBarackObama.com to angrily organize against him because of a changed position on terrorist wiretap legislation that awaits Senate action as early as Wednesday.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:17 AM


McCain's Latest Iran Joke (Michael D. Shear, 7/08/08, The Stump)

Responding to a question about a survey that shows increased exports to
Iran, mainly from cigarettes, McCain said, "Maybe thats a way of killing them."

He quickly caught himself, saying "I meant that as a joke" as his wife, Cindy, poked him in the back.

A two-fer!

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:00 AM

REAL REALISM (via Jim Yates):

Signs Point to Impending Syrian Breakaway From Iran (SANA ABDALLAH, 7/08/09, Middle East Times)

Speculation is growing that Syria is ready to distance itself from Iran and come to the Western fold if the United States and its allies ultimately reward Damascus with political, financial and military support.

Officially Damascus insists that its third-party negotiations with Israel, held through Turkish mediation, and which are expected to soon be upgraded to face-to-face talks, are not taking place at the expense of its strong strategic relationship with Tehran.

But leaked information says otherwise. [...]

"Syria will abandon Iran as soon as it can," according to Lebanese political analyst George Alam, who added that Damascus can do without Iran in financial terms.

He told the Middle East Times Syria would quickly receive additional assistance from U.S.-allied, oil-rich Arab Gulf states, so the Arab country was not losing much by giving up its relationship with Iran.

Other commentators say that ideologically, the secular Baathist Arab regime in Syria has little in common with Iran's Persian and Shiite Islamic revolutionary leaders – another factor that raises speculation of Syria shifting its alliances and improving its strained ties with some of the powerful U.S.-allied Arab nations, such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Alam argued that the Syrian-backed Hezbollah – Iran's closest ally in Lebanon – was aware it would be the "first to pay a price" in any progress being made in the Syrian-Israeli negotiations and a future rapprochement with the United States, which labels Hezbollah as a "terrorist" organization.

The Ba'athist regime has natural enemies in Hezbollah and Iran and desperately needs the West to prop up its brutal dictatorship. We should give them nothing, but regime change.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:26 AM


Obama running in place on Iraq (ROGER SIMON, 7/8/08, Politico)

Obama was goaded into the planned trip by John McCain, who, along with the Republican National Committee, has been keeping track of the number of days since Obama last visited Iraq. A clock on the RNC website counts the days, hours, minutes and seconds since Obama was last in Iraq. (As I write this, it has been more than 912 days.)

McCain has been to Iraq many times, and it hasn’t changed his mind. He says that if he is elected president, he would eventually withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq, but only “with victory and honor.”

Even though such trips are of limited value — how much do the highly protected, highly isolated VIPs actually get to see? — Obama’s campaign decided he should actually go there as long as he was going to keep talking about the place.

But the trip has already turned into a trap.

Because Obama is a logical guy, he said there was a logical reason for him to go to Iraq. He was going to talk to military people there, he said, and “continue to refine” his Iraq policy.

“I am going to do a thorough assessment when I’m there,” he said at a news conference last week in Fargo, N.D. “When I go to Iraq and I have a chance to talk to some of the commanders on the ground, I’m sure I’ll have more information and continue to refine my policy.”

More information? To refine his policies? Oh, boy. What a reason to make a campaign trip!

Because Obama has already committed to removing all combat brigades from Iraq within 16 months of taking the oath of office, and because most Democrats are very much opposed to the war, his statements were seen as a blunder at best and a flip-flop at worst.

What Obama should have said is: “Though my mind is totally closed on the subject of Iraq, I have agreed to go there because it will be good publicity and the Republicans will have to shut up about how long it’s been since I have been to Iraq.”

Which he did not say. Instead, he got besieged with questions and had to have a second news conference, where he was forced to say pretty much the same thing.

The poor guy is stuck on the defensive for the next four months and he's only effective in scripted appearances mouthing pabulum to acolytes.

Obama Tells Kids to Stay in School, Learn a Foreign Language (Bonney Kapp, 7/08/08, FOX: Embeds)

At his Georgia town hall meeting, Obama cautioned kids not to drop out of school to pursue a far-fetched dream. Addressing a mostly African American crowd outside Atlanta, Obama joked, “You can’t find a job unless you are a really, really good basketball player. Which most of you brothers are not. I know you think you are. But you’re not. You are overrated in your own mind. You will not play in the NBA. You are probably not that good a rapper. Maybe you are the next Little Wayne, but probably not. In which case you need to stay in school.”

On a roll, Obama then said they’d be much more employable if they know a foreign language, and said we should be emphasizing foreign language study in classrooms. “It’s embarrassing when Europeans come over here, they all speak English, they speak French, they speak German. And then we go over to Europe and all we can say is merci beaucoup.”

Obama shows signs of being trail-weary: The Democrat makes the most of the occasional break with his family but can't seem to escape the spotlight (Peter Nicholas, 7/09/08, Los Angeles Times)
Being Barack Obama would seem an ego-enlarging thrill, with ecstatic crowds at every stop and -- if the polls are right -- a better than 50-50 shot at becoming president.

Watching him on the trail in recent days, though, it often appears as if the unrelenting attention and prolonged campaigning are getting wearisome. He told a customer at an Indiana diner two months ago that he had lost 7 or 8 pounds. He said he was learning to get by on four-to-five hours' sleep.

Since late last month, after Obama clinched the nomination, his movements have been tracked as never before. He is trailed constantly by a corps of reporters and camera crews, even when his public day of campaigning ends.

When the candidate goes to the gym, takes his wife to dinner or sets up a folding chair on an athletic field to watch his daughter play soccer, the journalists follow in case anything might happen.

Many of these are private moments, but as Obama is discovering, the Democratic presidential nominee has no private life. Any display of spontaneity or deviation from the scripted message can alter the course of his campaign.

Finishing a swing through some Western states Saturday, Obama vented about the loss of personal space that has accompanied his political rise.

"I've never been a big entourage guy," he said during a news conference as his plane flew from Montana to St. Louis. "And so one of the adjustments of being a candidate is not being able to go take a walk somewhere without having a big fuss. And that takes some getting used to."

The point was demonstrated vividly on his campaign plane a few days before, when Obama had to use the bathroom at the back of the aircraft -- the lavatory in front being temporarily unavailable.

Obama's betrayal on campaign finance (DANIEL KOFFLER, 7/9/08, Politico)
Barack Obama’s decision to renege on a promise he made last fall and opt out of public financing for the general election triggered widespread public outrage. Coming from centrist and center-left pundits, such condemnations of Obama make a certain amount of sense. Those who believe that reducing the amount of money in politics produces better government ipso facto, and especially those who believe full public financing of elections is the ideal, have good reason to be angry with Obama. Given his past commitments to public financing, they also have reason to feel somewhat betrayed.

But what sense can we hope to make of the denunciations soi-disant conservatives have unrelentingly heaped on Obama? Take it for granted that the candidate’s gambit was every bit as unprincipled and politics-as-usual as the most vociferous attacks on him make it out to be.

Wall-E for President (FRANK RICH, 7/06/08, NY Times)
For me, Mr. Obama showed signs of jumping the shark two weeks back, when he appeared at a podium affixed with his own pompous faux-presidential seal. It could have been a Pixar sight gag. In fact, it is a gag in “Wall-E,” where, in a flashback, we see that the original do-nothing chief executive of Buy N Large (prone to pronouncements like “stay the course”) boasted his own ersatz presidential podium.

For all the hyperventilation on the left about Mr. Obama’s rush to the center — some warranted, some not — what’s more alarming is how small-bore and defensive his campaign has become. Whether he’s reaffirming his long-held belief in faith-based programs or fudging his core convictions about government snooping, he is drifting away from the leadership he promised and into the focus-group-tested calculation patented by Mark Penn in his disastrous campaign for Hillary Clinton. Mr. Obama’s Wednesday address calling for renewed public service is unassailable in principle but inadequate to the daunting size of the serious American crisis at hand. The speech could have been — and has been — delivered by any candidate of either party in any election year since 1960.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:18 AM


Why Sunday? Urban, Kidman have reasons (Courtney Hazlett, 7/08/08, The Scoop)

By now it’s pretty much common knowledge that Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban named their baby Sunday Rose, and thus re-opened the vault of bad celebrity baby names. [...]

[T]he name is her last jab at Scientology. “Nicole is a Catholic, and Sunday was an important religious day for her until she was involved in Scientology,” said the source. “She’s still bitter about her experience with Scientology and the fact her baby’s name could be perceived as one last jab doesn’t exactly upset her.”

It's easier to forgive her bad marital choice anyway since it was never consummated.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:56 AM

BIG BLUE MOSQUE (via Mike Daley)

Islam, the Law, and The Sovereignty of God: Accommodating Qur’anic principles to the civil religion (Mark Gould, June/July 2008, Policy Review)

A central tenet of the Islamist position is that Shari’a (or sometimes the Qur’an and Sunna) can function as a constitution in Islamic states, promoting good and forbidding evil, ensuring, when embodied institutionally, that law is in accord with Muslim precepts. This viewpoint runs counter to post-Enlightenment legal positivism, where constitutional provisions are reduced to procedures and where parliaments, perhaps representing the people, may pass any law that is justified procedurally. I argue that the positivist position is misguided, that valid laws must be both procedurally justified and legitimated in light of constitutional values and where the procedures themselves are legitimate. If this argument is sensible, the Shari’a might well make up a set of substantive values and still be able to constitute constitutional principles. The substantive regulation of legislation does not, in itself, rule out an “Islamic constitution.”

This conclusion is not, however, dispositive of the question of the viability of a constitution rooted in the Shari’a. We have to ask whether there are structural constraints on the type of substantive regulation consistent with a constitutional system. If so, is Shari’a consistent with these structural constraints? To some degree, our answer to these questions depends on our characterization of constitutions and constitutionalism. If we associate the two and suggest that they require the construction of a limited government accountable to the people, we may be limiting “constitutionalism” to a form of governance found in the “West,” and we may preclude, by definition, the possibility of any other form of constitutionalism. This model of a “liberal constitution” appears to be “culture bound.” The regulation of political activities by Shari’a might entail a different form of “constitutionalism” from the one found in the West.
A constitutional regime makes the formulation of new laws that are accepted as procedurally valid both possible and legitimate.

In contrast to arguments for a robust model of liberal constitutionalism, this paper argues for a minimal notion of constitutionalism, one that is not culture bound. Constitutionalism minimally enables the “constitution”/construction of a procedural system where new law is accepted as valid. If the capacity to validate new law is a necessary attribute of a constitutional government, a Shari’a grounded in, even if not always manifesting, the sovereign and unalterable will of God is incapable of fulfilling this universal constitutional task. [...]

In the “west,” a standard but by no means universally accepted theory of constitutional adjudication argues that its goal is to support the democratic procedures that ground liberal constitutional states. This viewpoint may be explicated conveniently in a discussion of procedural justification (often labeled, erroneously, “legitimation”), which is paradigmatic of the view that constitutions and constitutionalism develop in tandem with, and are the public law manifestations of, formally rational legal procedures.

Max Weber’s discussion4 of “rational-legal legitimation” may be taken as paradigmatic. There laws are treated as “legitimate,” i.e., as justified, when they are the due-process outcome of formally rational procedures. This is a form of “legitimation” through procedures. Here the mechanism of “legitimation” differs completely from the one Weber adopted in his discussion of traditional legitimation, where laws are accepted as legitimate when consistent with traditional values that constitute tradition as sacred. Weber implicitly presumes that as traditional values wane in importance they are replaced by procedures that facilitate innovation, that allow for legislation that articulates new laws that are accepted as obligations.5

Instead of tracing the development of moral value-commitments and at the same time the development of the norms of procedural justification, Weber created a social theory that substitutes the one for the other, substitutes rational-legal procedures for traditional values. Thus, moral obligation appears to give way to procedural rationality, while rational values and non- or irrational procedures take a back place in his analysis. As important, the relationship between justification through procedures and legitimation through values is not analyzed. Consequently, Weber fails to recognize that the structure of legitimating values and justifying norms alters in the social development of societies, as does their interrelationship. Activities must be both legitimate and justified if they are to be accepted as valid and continually and effectively reproduced. If the system is to function smoothly, constitutive procedural norms must themselves be legitimate; if rational-legal procedures are to justify successfully, values must emerge that are compatible with those procedures. These values legitimate the procedures’ capacity to justify.

Why do these analytical distinctions matter? The importance of maintaining the analytical autonomy of legitimation and justification is manifest in the fact that they may be empirically independent. A norm may be justified procedurally while at the same time it may be incompatible with institutionalized societal values. Judicial review embodies this principle, recognizing that procedurally justified outcomes may be constitutionally illegitimate. For example, in procedurally correct ways, Congress could pass and the president could sign a law imprisoning all Muslim-Americans for the duration of the war on terror. Such a law would be unconstitutional, illegitimate, and, we may hope and expect, overturned in the courts. [...]

Islam is a multifarious religious tradition. Here I focus on the dominant Sunni tradition. I do not deal with variations in that tradition in the many social and cultural circumstances where it has been and is found. 6 I characterize the logic of religious commitments, the obligations that motivate and legitimate activities, not religious dogma.

Eschatology and soteriology. While soteriology, the theology of salvation, is of paramount importance in Christianity, eschatology, the theology of the last judgment, is of primary significance in Islam. Christians believe in original sin. No Christian, on her own, has the capacity to be saved. God sacrificed his Son to enable salvation; people are saved, or not, through God ’s grace.

In Islam, humans are created with a sound nature, a natural understanding of their obligations to God. They are, however, forgetful and subject to Satan ’s temptations. God’s messengers, and most especially his last and final messenger, Muhammad, remind them of their obligations. Thus God has informed believers how they must act to be saved. God has requested nothing that believers cannot do. If they follow his commandments, on the Day of Judgment God will judge them fairly, weighing the good against the bad, including them among the saved.

These rules are not easy to follow, but Muslims believe that God does not want to create hardship and asks nothing that cannot be accomplished by men and women endowed with a sound constitution, a fitra, which guides each person to God. Unlike in Christianity, where original sin precludes salvation without God ’s grace, here each person’s nature enables her to act in ways that merit God’s grace.

The concern with one’s eternal fate is as manifest in Islam as in Christianity, but its manifestation is different. The Early Meccan suras, those learned first by most Muslims, focus on the Day of Judgment, on God ’s judgment of people in light of his commandments (which are codified in the later suras to be revealed, in the Hadith and in the Shari’a). God is merciful, but believers are told to fear his wrath if they fail to conform to the duties he has revealed for them; thus Muslims are highly motivated to fulfill God ’s commandments, knowing that at the Last Judgment, “Whoever does an atom’s weight of good will see it, and whoever does an atom’s weight of evil will see it also” ( q 99, 8–9). The structure of their religious commitment is embedded in this eschatology. In Christianity, in contrast, a soteriology of grace is enunciated which requires deeds but which centers more concretely in faith. The incarnation of God in Jesus, not in a text articulating a set of rules and regulations, embodies men ’s hopes even as it increases their uncertainty.

It will be easy enough for Sunni Islam to adopt the sort of monkey-see/monkey-do constitutional democracy that so many other secular or non-monotheistic states have reformed into here at the End of History. But without being based, as the American Founding is, on the Fallen nature of Man and Messianism, it's going to be the sort of cheap imitation that is just making places like Europe more comfortable as their people die off.

Hope for Fools: Why the doctrine of original sin is 'curiously liberating.': a review of Alan Jacobs's Original Sin: A Cultural History (Jason Byassee, 7/08/2008, Christianity Today)

If the book were primarily a defense of the doctrine (which it is not), then its attack could be summarized as two-pronged. First, original sin makes sense of the empirical evidence. Like much of Christian teaching, original sin doesn't make sense in itself, but it makes sense of a lot of other things. Jacobs quotes Blaise Pascal to that effect: "But for this mystery, the most incomprehensible of all, we remain incomprehensible to ourselves."

Second, original sin has a deeply political function. In one of G. K. Chesterton's matchless aphorisms, only an understanding of sin can allow us to "pity the beggar and distrust the king." It makes for what philosopher Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy called "the Christian democracy of the dead," in which recognition of humanity's common plight undergirds positive social relations.

I find both of these tacks debatable. But neither should keep us from reveling in Jacobs's deep pool of wisdom and occasionally breathtaking prose. John Milton tried to imagine the unimaginable: What was it like to be unfallen? Or, in Jacobs's words: "How can we, the fallen and the fearful, even guess what it might be like to have the easy freedom of sinlessness, to go to one's bed at night anxious for nothing, never suspecting peril in any rustling of the leaves or of the mind?" Amid yeoman's work with historical and literary sources, Jacobs's prose often sings&#mdash;and as this sentence suggests, it's not because he's showing off.

His light-hearted defense of Augustine's fascination with men's inability to control their libidos rests on Dante's notion of contrapasso--as Adam rose up in proud disobedience, "every man knows" what part manifests our original disobedience and subsequent punishment. Jacobs positively exults in the story of St. Martin of Tours telling the Devil that he, too, could repent. Origen and others may have been anathematized for holding this hope, but Jacobs rests his case with, "Better to hope too much than too little."

These are just highlights of Jacobs's engagement with premodern sources. His dealings with modern utopian efforts to act as though original sin were not; his provocative description of America's original sin (racism really doesn't qualify for him); his criticism of Bill Buckley and friends for missing Edmund Burke's underdeveloped sense of original sin--they all delight. And this English professor is not too tweed-coated to dip into pop culture--the Hellboy films and George Thorogood's "Bad to the Bone" come in for sympathetic yet critical exegesis, too. Careful when you open this book--it could keep you up at nights.

July 8, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:56 PM

GOOSE, MEET GANDER (via Glenn Dryfoos):

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:45 PM


Obama's Hot Air (NICHOLAS WAPSHOTT, July 9, 2008, NY Sun)

Mr. McCain's attractiveness to Democrats that Mr. Obama has failed to reach is making the party's traditional backers deeply anxious. At a New Jersey fundraiser a couple of weeks ago attended by Governor Corzine, the deep pocketed Democratic donors I spoke to split between those who accepted Mr. Obama's candidacy with a heavy heart and half expected him to lose and those who were in plain despair at his prospects.

One longtime giver, who had backed Mrs. Clinton to the end, was so certain Mr. Obama would be defeated he said the very thought of the general election "makes me nauseous."

Mr. Obama's response to Mr. McCain's remarkable popularity has been to reach out as fast as he can to the independent and blue collar voters the Arizona senator has thus far called his own. For Mr. Obama, this means junking positions that kept his devoted MoveOn.org fan base sending their $20 bills, putting in their place policies that until recently Mr. Obama openly derided.

Contrary to his previous announcements: Mr. Obama now favors capital punishment, if not for murderers, at least for child rapists; he now thinks maintaining a mother's mental health is no reason for an abortion; far from poking fun at those who "cling to guns," he now says he thinks the Washington D.C., handgun ban was illegal all along; far from sneering at those who "cling to religion," he has cosied up to evangelical Christians and encouraged "faith based initiatives"; he now believes public campaign financing is too flawed to accept; he now thinks it rash to take tea with the world's tyrants without "preparations."

Most important of all, at least to his battalions of young volunteers, he is now not sure he can order a couple of brigades home from Iraq safely every month. His previous position, that he would tell the top brass to proceed with a total withdrawal from Iraq with immediate effect, is to be "revised."

It may be undignified, but Mr. Obama is doing the right thing by throwing overboard policies not wanted on the next stage of his journey. Winning candidates traditionally accommodate the views of their primary supporters before jettisoning them ahead of the general election.

That's certainly the conventional wisdom, but the reality is that no candidate who's had to significantly revise his positions has ever gone on to win the general, at least not in the modern era. That's why the only Democrats to win in the past forty years have been Evangelical Southern governors--they could run as they'd been forced to govern by political reality in their states.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:52 PM


Give the family a cake with tiny bubbles (ELIZABETH PUDWILL, 7/08/2008, Houston Chronicle)


* 3 sticks butter
* 3 cups sugar
* 3 eggs
* 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
* 1 (12-ounce) can 7UP
* 3 cups sifted flour

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a Bundt pan.

Cream butter, sugar and eggs; add vanilla. In three rounds, alternate adding 7UP and flour into the mixture. Pour cake mixture into the prepared pan. Bake for 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:29 PM


Janet Napolitano and the New Third Way: Arizona's governor has contained Republicans, reinvigorated Democrats, and provided a new model for progressive politics in the West. (Dana Goldstein | July 7, 2008, American Prospect)

Though Napolitano successfully turned a $1 billion deficit into a surplus during her first term, the state is back in the red this year, putting the conservative opposition in no mood to create new programs. Nevertheless, Napolitano is engaged in an ongoing battle with the state legislature to make more low- and middle-income children eligible for public health insurance. She is also trying to convince Arizonans to approve an increase in the sales tax in order to fund new transportation infrastructure, including a light rail line connecting Tucson, Phoenix, and Flagstaff. The balancing act between big policy proposals and stubborn budgetary restrictions is one with which Napolitano is familiar; her governing record is full of tit-for-tat deals that ensured many of her priorities were pushed through. By exempting developers from contributing to costs for new roads, for example, Napolitano has persuaded the homebuilder's association, Arizona's most powerful industry lobby and a traditional foe of mass transit, not only to support her transportation initiative but to kick in $100,000 toward advertisements convincing voters to approve it.

Napolitano has taken a similar tack on education. She managed to enact universal, full-day kindergarten in 2004 by pairing the program with conservative-friendly tax cuts. In order to secure a $100 million pay raise for K-12 teachers, she gave in to Republican demands for a $5 million private school voucher program for special-ed students, a deal she calls one of her biggest concessions. "I don't like vouchers," she says with typical bluntness.

But for every compromise, there are times when Napolitano put her foot down hard and fast. On the environment, she enrolled Arizona in a Western Climate Initiative that seeks to impose a regional cap-and-trade system on carbon emissions. She has also exercised her veto power more often than any governor in Arizona's history; state Republicans have bestowed upon her the moniker "Governor No." She nixed legislation that would have made it a crime for day laborers to look for work on public streets, and in May she pulled $1.6 million that Maricopa County police were using to conduct immigration raids in the Latino community. Being the savvy operator and former attorney general that she is, Napolitano immediately announced she was reinvesting the funds in a program to track down at-large fugitives. And although she signed one of the most restrictive anti-immigration bills in the country, an employer sanctions law that enforces stiff penalties for hiring undocumented workers, she did so in large part to prevent Republicans from placing an even more punishing measure on the state's November ballot.

...but to get your partisans to accept the Third Way you always have to pretend that yours is new and different and not associated with those distasteful past compromises.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:07 PM


Jeb Inc.: Since leaving office, he has remade himself into a capitalist-entrepreneur extraordinaire but can’t escape a nagging question (St. Petersburg Times, 7/7/2008)

"Being governor of my beloved state of Florida was my dream job,'' Bush said. His tenure was marked by "a great many new initiatives'' that improved Florida's economy, education system and quality of life, he said. "Ultimately, my record speaks for itself."

When Bush came to the governor's office in January 1999, he reported that he had a net worth of about $2-million, much of it earned in partnership with a friend of his father, Miami real estate developer Armando Codina.

While in office, Bush noted that his family finances suffered because of his public service. He left Tallahassee in January 2007 reporting a net worth of $1.3-million.

Despite the dropoff, Bush declined a state pension — the only living governor to do so. His spokeswoman, Kristy Campbell, says he opted out because he believed that he should serve the state for eight years and "not make a career out of the office.''

Jeb's Legacy (Mark R. Howard, 3/1/2006, FloridaTrend)
With a bias toward technology, an appreciation of a knowledge-based economy and an orientation toward policy driven by data, Bush rarely changed direction once he'd set a course. He persevered in the face of significant family issues, and his popularity survived head-on encounters with intractable issues, unions, legislators and hurricanes. He vetoed millions of dollars of expenditures authorized by his Republican friends in the Legislature but maintained enough clout that lawmakers never felt comfortable overriding his line-item edits.

"He has been the most effective governor in modern political history. From 1967 on, he has almost no peer," says Pete Dunbar, a Tallahassee attorney and former legislator who has seen 40 sessions come and go. "He was able to mobilize his public persona in a way that let him be effective better than any governor that precedes him for at least a generation."

Parts of Bush's legacy will likely endure for some time: New standards in emergency preparedness and response that have become models for the nation, for example; a new scope of powers for the governor's office, particularly in influencing the selection of judges; a state land-acquisition plan he'd once attacked; and Everglades restoration, which he went to bat for in a big way.

The state's head-turning progress in K-12 education, despite its significance, is absent from that first tier only because it's the most likely to wither from inattention. None of Bush's likely successors at this point appears to have either the understanding of policy or the passion Bush marshaled to keep the educational boulder moving. And move it he did. While some continued to criticize the FCAT, Bush's policies -- grading schools, holding systems accountable -- forced communities back into schools, narrowed achievement gaps between whites and minority groups, and stimulated significant achievement gains overall.

Bush also set a high standard in the number of women, Hispanics and African-Americans he appointed to positions ranging from appellate judges to water management board members. He named Toni Jennings, with whom he had sparred while she was Senate president, as the state's first woman lieutenant governor. He appointed the state's first Hispanic Supreme Court justice, Raoul G. Cantero III, and he and President Bush helped elect Mel Martinez, the state's first Hispanic senator. As University of South Florida political scientist Susan MacManus points out, he translated his knowledge of trends in Florida's demographics and voting patterns into effective campaign strategies, capitalizing both on the growing number of Hispanic voters and high turnout rates in conservative, rural counties that campaigners often ignore.

In a party where the guy who's next always wins the nomination, it's his for the asking. Even without the hierarchical advantage, he's the ideal candidate: a successful Southern governor; Hispanic and Catholic by marriage; smart, personable and familiar with the process; conservative enough for the Party and Third Way enough for the electorate...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:51 PM


'Burn Notice': Firearms and Foreplay (BRENDAN BERNHARD | July 8, 2008, NY Sun)

Returning to the small screen this Thursday for a second season, "Burn Notice" certainly celebrates a very American "modern hero." Here, it's Michael Westen, the compulsively helpful CIA spy turned freelance operative played by Jeffrey Donovan with a style that's as crisp as his uber-cool suits. Like most shows on USA ("Monk," "Psych"), this one can border on the cartoonish and is rarely if ever believable, but its thematic core is rock-solid. [...]

Westen's voice-over narration remains one of the show's major selling points; he provides us with his views on air bags in cars (a nuisance during twisty, stop-start evasive maneuvers), how to pass yourself off as someone you're not, how to get someone to divulge how his security system works (you criticize it, and in reaction he starts defending it, and thus explains it), how to drill through a floor without electrocuting yourself, etc.

Westen's first job for Carla is to steal a computer database from a private military company (that is, mercenaries). This, somewhat unfortunately, involves Westen pretending to be an English client with an unconvincing Cockney accent, though it seems to pass muster in Miami. Still, it's one of the few times in the series when Mr. Donovan's limitations as an actor have been exposed. On the other hand, it does lead to a particularly enjoyable sequence in which Westen is forced to pretend that Fiona and Sam, who are doing surveillance for him and have been spotted by the mercenaries, are complete strangers whom he's ready to start shooting. He knows that if Fiona and Sam see him fire a gun at them, they'll realize he's using them to make his cover story more convincing and act accordingly.

"It takes a good marksman to shoot you at 50 feet from a moving car," he informs us. "But it takes a great marksman to miss, while making it look as if they're trying to hit you — or markswoman, as the case may be."

The markswoman would be Fiona, who neatly shoots a bullet that lands between Westen's feet. He responds with a shot of his own that no doubt misses her lovely Irish brow by about 3 inches. It's gunplay as foreplay, and they're both enjoying it enormously. As for the mercenaries, they're finally convinced that Westen is who he says he is. Job done. Time for Westen to go over and fix Mom's coffeemaker.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:42 PM


Believer in Chief: Faith and the presidency from JFK to George W. Bush:Randall Balmer's God in the White House: How Faith Shaped the Presidency from John F. Kennedy to George W. Bush a review of (Gary Scott Smith, July/August 2008, Books & Culture)

Intrigued and inspired by Carter's claim that he was a "born again" Christian, many evangelicals voted for Carter in 1976. Despite Carter's genuine piety and pursuit of numerous policies that reflected biblical priorities, most evangelicals deserted him in 1980. Initially galvanized by their desire to defend "the integrity of evangelical institutions against governmental interference," Balmer argues—rather than by opposition to abortion—evangelicals, who had generally been politically disengaged, created the Moral Majority and similar organizations in the late 1970s to support candidates and policies consistent with their values. Upset by Carter's refusal to try to outlaw abortion and his promotion of politically liberal policies, the Religious Right played an active role in helping elect Ronald Reagan, a divorced and remarried man who "had the weakest claim to evangelical faith" of the three major candidates. Preoccupied with the economy and the Soviets, Reagan neglected many key aspects of the Religious Right's agenda. Nevertheless, most evangelicals loyally supported Reagan in the 1984 election and throughout the turmoil and scandals of his second term.

In 1988, evangelicals helped Episcopalian George H. W. Bush defeat Michael Dukakis, "the first truly secular major-party candidate for president," but they embraced him less enthusiastically than Reagan. Although Bill Clinton professed to be a Christian, attended church regularly, and used evangelical rhetoric, his personal traits—especially his sexual infidelity—and liberal political policies irritated and offended many members of the Religious Right.

Evangelicals were attracted to George W. Bush's Christian testimony, "compassionate conservativism," and pledge to "restore decency and honor to the White House." The 2000 election demonstrated that candidates' faith had become important to many Americans, but voters were more concerned with the candidates' sincerity than with the particularities of their religious commitments. Aided by John Kerry's refusal to openly discuss his faith and his own frank professions of faith, Bush captured a large percentage of the votes of regular church attenders, enabling him to narrowly win reelection in 2004.

...the notion that JFK won despite rather than because people thought he'd follow Christian moral teachings appears unsustainable.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:36 PM


July Leader Lost in 6 of Last 9 Competitive U.S. Elections (Lydia Saad, 7/08/08, Gallup)

With Barack Obama leading John McCain by no more than six percentage points in Gallup's early July polling, the 2008 race currently fits best into the "competitive" category. Given that assumption, Gallup's election trends from a comparable point in previous presidential election years offer no strong indication of whether Obama or McCain is headed for victory in November.

...just to keep it competitive.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:32 PM


Poland Avoids Missile Defense Topic With Obama (DESMOND BUTLER, 7/08/08, AP)

Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski said Tuesday that Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain would carry out the Bush administration's missile defense plans in Poland if he were elected.
Related Articles

But Sikorski said he received no such assurances from Democratic candidate Sen. Barack Obama. Though the two spoke by phone Monday, Sikorski said he avoided discussing missile defense, the most urgent issue in Polish-American relations.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:26 PM


Holy Cows: George W Bush - buffoon or great leader?: Sameh El-Shahat argues that George W Bush has been the most under-rated president... ever. (Sameh El-Shahat, 08/07/2008, Daily Telegraph)

Bush may not have the slickness of his predecessor, but he is a man you can trust and who prefers to tell it like it is.

This is refreshing, and very scary for us who are used to our politicians always talking grandly about principles and hiding behind political mumbo-speak.

The fact is you guys hate Mr Bush because he is not a hypocrite and you are used to hypocrites as your leaders. We hate what we don’t understand.

Yes, yes, all you bleeding heart liberals are cringing out there. I can just hear you. But the fact is, Mr Bush has had to take some very tough decisions and the world needs people who can not only talk but also act tough and admit mistakes.

Of course you think Mr Obama is going to make a difference, but as I write this, he’s already giving all the signs of somebody who will say anything to get into power only to act in exactly the same way as the Washington clique he aims to replace!

Hating George W. Bush is not only dull and unoriginal, but it shows a complete lack of understanding of the world in which we live in.

You want liberty but you don’t want to defend it... right.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:21 PM


Friend Ed has found her.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:20 PM


Oil prices drop $9 over two days (Clifford Krauss, July 8, 2008, IHT)

Oil prices plunged for the second consecutive day on Tuesday, dropping $5.33 a barrel, to $136.04, and causing a sell-off of oil stocks.

Oil analysts said the immediate reasons for the sudden drop in price included the strengthening of the dollar in recent days and the apparent veering northward of Bertha, the first hurricane of the 2008 hurricane season, meaning it was likely to miss the oil and natural gas facilities in the Gulf of Mexico.

They also noted that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran had dismissed the possibility that war with the United States and Israel was imminent in remarks to reporters in Kuala Lumpur, relieving worries that Iran might try to block oil shipments in the Strait of Hormuz.

it's bogus.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:13 AM


Louisiana Confounds the Science Thought Police: Neo-Darwinism is no longer a protected orthodoxy in the Bayou State's pedagogy (John G. West, 7/07/08, National Review)

During the first decades of the 20th century, the nation’s leading biologists at Harvard, Princeton, Columbia, and Stanford, as well by members of America’s leading scientific organizations such as the National Academy of Sciences, the American Museum of Natural History, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science were all devoted eugenicists. By the time the crusade had run its course, some 60,000 Americans had been sterilized against their will in an effort to keep us from sinning against Darwin’s law of natural selection, which Princeton biologist Edwin Conklin dubbed “the great law of evolution and progress.”

Today, science is typically portrayed as self-correcting, but it took decades for most evolutionary biologists to disassociate themselves from the junk science of eugenics. For years, the most consistent critics of eugenics were traditionalist Roman Catholics, who were denounced by scientists for letting their religion stand in the way of scientific progress. The implication was that religious people had no right to speak out on public issues involving science.

The same argument can be heard today, not only in Louisiana, but around the country. Whether the issue is sex education, embryonic stem-cell research, or evolution, groups claiming to speak for “science” assert that it violates the Constitution for religious citizens to speak out on science-related issues. Really?

America is a deeply religious country, and no doubt many citizens interested in certain hot-button science issues are motivated in part by their religious beliefs. So what? Many opponents of slavery were motivated by their religious beliefs, and many leaders of the civil-rights movement were members of the clergy. Regardless of their motivations, religious citizens have just as much a right to raise their voices in public debates as their secular compatriots, including in debates about science. To suggest otherwise plainly offends the First Amendment’s guarantees of freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

It is also short-sighted. The history of the eugenics crusade shows that religiously motivated citizens can play a useful role in evaluating the public claims of the scientific community. It is worth pointing out that unlike such “progressive” states as California, Louisiana was spared a eugenics-inspired forced-sterilization statute largely because of the implacable opposition of its Roman Catholic clergy.

...it was the political cost of being associated with the Holocaust.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:03 AM


REVIEW: Willie Nelson & Wynton Marsalis, Two Men With The Blues (Michael Quinn, 02 July 2008, BBC)

Let's cut to the chase: this is phenomenal music made to seem all the more astonishing for being delivered with such consummate ease that it sounds almost casually thrown off.

In early 2007 two of contemporary American music's greatest icons, jazz trumpeter and composer Wynton Marsalis and country music legend Willie Nelson, teamed up for a couple of unforgettable nights at New York's Lincoln Center.

The souvenir from those evenings proves to be one of those rare recordings that leaves you simultaneously exhilarated at having eavesdropped on two magnificent musicians working in perfect harmony, and devastated at not having been there in person.

Two Men With The Blues may well be one of the greatest live albums ever made. It crowns Nelson as one of the most charismatic performers of his generation and underlines the incredible virtuosity of Marsalis in a value-for-money collection of classic Blues standards.

Marsalis & Nelson Meet in a Bluesy Middle (WILL FRIEDWALD | July 7, 2008, NY Sun)

In the 1950s, there wasn't much talk about the intersection of jazz, which was becoming increasingly academic, and country, which was becoming increasingly mainstream. Northern and urban listeners had experienced little contact with the Western swing bands of a generation earlier, most famously that of Bob Wills, which adroitly combined country and jazz; fewer still knew of Charlie Parker's assertion that he loved to "listen to the stories" that he heard in the great country songs.

Armstrong himself later "covered" several hits by Hank Williams, including "Cold, Cold Heart." Eventually, someone asked the trumpeter directly about the Jimmie Rodgers "Blue Yodel No. 9" and he confirmed that it was him — as if there could be any doubt. Ten months before his death in 1971, Armstrong revisited "Blue Yodel" in the company of Cash, the country-music industry leader of the day, on an episode of Cash's TV variety show (which has recently been released on DVD by Sony Music Legacy). Armstrong's doctor had ordered him to give up playing the trumpet, so this duet marks one of his last known solos on the instrument. Cash can't yodel like Rodgers, but no matter, he makes yodelicious moaning noises while Armstrong puts down his horn and scats along with him.

As with Armstrong and Cash, duets are par for the course for Willie Nelson, who must be the only artist to have recorded with Frank Sinatra, Dolly Parton, Bob Dylan, Ray Charles, and Julio Iglesias. He also is no redheaded stranger to jazz trumpeters: In 1970, Miles Davis named a song in his honor, which was especially remarkable at the time since Mr. Nelson wasn't yet a national "crossover" name and was still pretty much known only in Nashville. Seventeen years later, Mr. Nelson guest-starred with former Charles Mingus brassman Jack Walwrath on a Blue Note album.

As the title of the new album indicates, and as Armstrong, Rodgers, and Cash all knew well: The blues are the common ground where Messrs. Marsalis's and Nelson's idioms meet. "Two Men With the Blues," which was recorded during four performances in January 2007 at the Allen Room in Jazz at Lincoln Center, includes myriad variations on the classic blues form, starting with Jimmy Reed's "Bright Lights, Big City" and the early jazz perennial "Basin Street Blues." On the bouncier "Ain't Nobody's Business," Messrs. Nelson and Marsalis follow Bessie Smith's treatment of the folk theme (rather than that of Mississippi John Hurt). Mr. Nelson also volunteers an older original of his in the basic 12-bar mold, "Rainy Day Blues."

As with the earlier country-jazz hybrids, which occasionally found Rodgers struggling to find his rhythm in Armstrong's jazzy riffs, the most difficult feat for the current duo is finding a compatible cadence; the only time Messrs. Nelson and Marsalis fail to do so is on "Caldonia," a fast novelty blues by Louis Jordan.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:55 AM


Suspect excesses? (Bruce Fein, July 8, 2008, Washington Times)

President Bush's post-Sept. 11, 2001, excesses are alarmingly reminiscent of Joseph Stalin and Mao Tse-tung.

Boy, they just don't make Reynolds Wrap like they used to...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:47 AM


US set to sign Czech radar deal (BBC, 7/08/08)

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is set to sign a deal to base part of Washington's controversial missile defence system in the Czech Republic.

The treaty, to be signed in Prague, would pave the way for a tracking radar system to be set up near the city.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:22 AM


McCain newly assertive on judicial philosophy (AVI ZENILMAN & BEN ADLER, 7/8/08, Politico)

Despite his background as a lawyer and law lecturer at the University of Chicago, Barack Obama has said little from the stump about legal issues, particularly what sort of justices he’d want on the Supreme Court, whose makeup is likely to be shaped for decades to come by the next president’s nominees.

John McCain, who has no legal background and who generally has not made matters of jurisprudence one of his signature issues in the Senate, has recently been more aggressive in offering his views on the law while campaigning.

...a liberal judicial philosophy is a political liability....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:18 AM

MEET JOHN DOE (via Glenn Dryfoos):

Obama’s Campaign Shifts to a Bigger Stage for His Big Night (JIM RUTENBERG and BRIAN STELTER, 7/08/08, NY Times)

Borrowing from the political repertory of John F. Kennedy, Senator Barack Obama will accept his party’s nomination outside of the main Democratic convention hall this August, in the Denver Broncos’ football stadium that seats more than 75,000 people. [...]

Though clearly enticed by what they believe will be a powerful television image of Mr. Obama speaking before tens of thousands of people, his aides said Monday that they hoped to open the convention to regular voters who typically did not attend party conventions.

Where's Leni Reifenstahl when you need her?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:12 AM


The Struggle to Define Barack Obama (Thomas Edsall, 7/08/08, Real Clear Politics)

The struggle to define Barack Obama over the next seventeen weeks will pit the two presidential campaigns against each other, along with independent 527 groups determined to put their own stamp on the contest. Just as importantly, the battle will take place in the context of the contemporary politics of race.

On the Democratic side, the drive will be to portray Obama as a success story, an exemplar of deeply-rooted American egalitarian traditions, significantly advancing the national commitment to freedom and justice.

On the Republican side, the effort will be, rather, to link Obama to the powerful negative stereotypes of black Americans that were once widely prevalent, triggering bias -- proponents of such ads hope -- and stirring up the kind of race prejudice which underpinned that other American tradition -- slavery and Jim Crow.

Last we checked, Adlai Stevenson, George McGovern, Walter Mondale, Mike Dukakis, and John Kerry weren't black, and that's all this election is about: Barry is a Northern liberal and he has to run away from that fact. His black nationalism is gravy, not the main course.

Indeed, we're much more likely to see this sort of black on black ideological violence as Senator Obama tries to ditch the identity politics that won him the nomination, Lurching With Abandon (Bob Herbert, 7/08/09, NY Times)

Senator Obama is not just tacking gently toward the center. He’s lurching right when it suits him, and he’s zigging with the kind of reckless abandon that’s guaranteed to cause disillusion, if not whiplash.

So there he was in Zanesville, Ohio, pandering to evangelicals by promising not just to maintain the Bush program of investing taxpayer dollars in religious-based initiatives, but to expand it. Separation of church and state? Forget about it.

And there he was, in the midst of an election campaign in which the makeup of the Supreme Court is as important as it has ever been, agreeing with Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas that the death penalty could be imposed for crimes other than murder. What was the man thinking?

Thankfully, a majority on the court left the barbaric Scalia-Thomas-Obama (and John McCain) reasoning behind and held that capital punishment would apply only to homicides.

“What’s he doing?” is the most common question heard recently from Obama supporters.

For one thing, he’s taking his base for granted, apparently believing that such stalwart supporters as blacks, progressives and pumped-up younger voters will be with him no matter what. A taste of the backlash this can produce erupted on the candidate’s own Web site.

Thousands of Obama supporters flooded the site with protests over his decision to support an electronic surveillance bill that gives retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies that participated in the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program. The senator had previously promised to filibuster the bill if it contained the immunity clause.

There has been a reluctance among blacks to openly criticize Senator Obama, the first black candidate with a real shot at the presidency. But behind the scenes, there is discontent among African-Americans, as well, over Mr. Obama’s move away from progressive issues, including his support of the Supreme Court’s decision affirming the constitutional right of individuals to bear arms.

Obama's Astounding Bad Faith (Rich Lowry, 7/08/08, Real Clear Politics)

What makes Obama’s “textbook” dash to the center so extraordinary is not just its speed, but how it falsifies the very essence of his candidacy. It’s as if Bill Clinton won the Democratic nomination in 1992 and announced suddenly that actually he was not a “new kind of Democrat”; or if George W. Bush, after winning his party’s nomination in 2000, forswore “compassionate conservatism”; or if John McCain, after winning the GOP nomination this year, declared in favor of a hard deadline for withdrawal from Iraq.

In the past few weeks, Obama has broken two pledges (to take public financing in the general election and to filibuster legal immunity for telecoms that cooperated with the government in terrorist surveillance); has belittled his own rhetoric during the primary campaign (saying it could get “overheated and amplified” on the issue of trade); redefined his promise to meet without preconditions with the leaders of hostile states until it’s basically meaningless; endorsed a Supreme Court decision striking down a Washington, D.C., gun ban his campaign had previously said he supported; and made muddy, centrist-sounding statements about his positions on Iraq and abortion that he had to go back and try to clarify.

Has there ever in recent political memory been so much calculation and bad faith by a politician who has made so much of eschewing both? We now know that Barack Obama is not naive, but his ardent supporters are. Obama exhorted them to “believe” — one of his favorite words — in him and his virtue above all, and as soon as they gave him the nomination he wanted, he showed how foolishly credulous they had been. When it comes to triangulating, he’s Hillary Clinton without the baggage.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:09 AM


Saudi Expects Deal Soon on Constructing Border Wall with Iraq (Yosuf Al-Hamadi, 7/08/08, Asharq Al-Awsat)

Saudi Interior Minster, Prince Naif Bin Abdulaziz has disclosed the Kingdom's Interior Ministry was near completing an agreement on building a border wall between Saudi Arabia and Iraq. He said that the calculation of the time frame for completing demarcation of borders between Saudi Arabia and the State of Qatar started last week [6 July] with the signature of the joint report.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:02 AM


Beijing flicks the safety switch (Wu Zhong, 7/09/08, Asia Times)

Shifting from an overtly idealistic agenda to a much more pragmatic approach, the Chinese government has quietly softened its public aspirations ahead of the Beijing Summer Olympics next month.

Original slogans such as "To hold the best Olympic Games in history" and "The harmonious Olympics" are seldom, if ever, shouted these days. In their place, one hears "Hold a safe and sound Olympics" and "Hold a fruitful Olympics".

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:57 AM


Sudan signs crucial election law (BBC, 7/08/08)

Sudan's parliament has passed a new electoral law, taking a crucial step towards holding the first democratic election in more than 20 years. [...]

Under the 2005 deal, the south is autonomous and is due to hold a referendum in 2011 on whether to secede.

Realignment into coherent nations and regime-change via elections, such is the violence of our peaceful option.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:54 AM


Beijing's silence hints at school coverup (Antoaneta Bezlova, 7/09/08, Asia Times)

Poorer places like Sichuan, where the May 12 earthquake struck, struggled to comply with Beijing targets. Local government coffers were not deep enough to pay for teachers' salaries and construct new school buildings just as children of the baby-boom generation were entering the classroom. Money was raised through bank loans and donations, creating a pile of debts.

The dearth of funds led to cutting corners in school construction and the so-called "three without" schools emerged in rural areas - classrooms built without standardized design, without construction supervision and without quality control.

"We have a saying in our industry that bridges are gold, roads are silver and schools are worse than scrap iron," said Chang, a construction engineer with projects in Sichuan province who wants only his surname used. "Contractors make very little money out of school projects and they often squeeze their profit from the construction material."

Seismologists and construction experts have pointed to the lack of reinforcing iron bars in many of the collapsed school buildings and the use of substandard slab floors.

...warehouses them in deathtraps.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:21 AM


Now it's war against India in Afghanistan (Sudha Ramachandran, 7/09/08, Asia Times)

The suicide bomber who crashed an explosive-laden car into the Indian Embassy in the Afghan capital Kabul on Monday not only killed 41 people and injured more than 140, he sent a powerful message to Delhi that its significant presence and growing influence in Afghanistan through its reconstruction projects are now in the firing line.

Among the dead were four Indians, including Defense Attache Brigadier R D Mehta, diplomat Venkateswara Rao and two guards at the embassy, who were personnel of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police - a paramilitary outfit. The attack is said to be among the deadliest in Kabul since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. [...]

Indian experts say that the needle of suspicion points to the Taliban and its backers in the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan's intelligence agency. This is the view in Kabul as well. While Afghanistan's Interior Ministry said the "attack was carried out in coordination and consultation with an active intelligence service in the region" - alluding to the ISI - Karzai said the bombing was the work of the "enemies of Afghanistan-India friendship", an implicit reference to Pakistan.

Pakistan's Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani was quick to deny the allegations, saying that Pakistan "needed a stable Afghanistan".

India and Afghanistan enjoy a close relationship nowadays, a matter that irks their common neighbor and traditional foe, Pakistan.

India’s Nuclear Pact With U.S. Near Completion (SOMINI SENGUPTA, 7/08/08, NY Times)
A day after India’s prime minister left for the Group of 8 summit meeting in Japan with his government intact and enough political strength to seal a landmark nuclear deal with the United States, his Communist backers announced Tuesday that they would withdraw their support of his government, ending months of political strain and allowing the government to advance its negotiations with the International Atomic Energy Agency. [...]

The Communists have resolutely opposed the nuclear deal, on the grounds that it would fortify strategic ties with the United States.

India's fight over 'national interest'
(Soutik Biswas, 7/08/08, BBC News)
What constitutes the national interest in India, a country trying to reconcile economic growth and inequality at home and pining to claim its place in the world at the same time?

Is it a landmark nuclear deal with the United States under which India will get access to US civilian nuclear technology and fuel? [...]

India's dour communists hate anything to do with the US - they argue that the deal would give the Americans undue influence over India's foreign and nuclear policy.

Wrong, says the government.

In the words of the architect of the deal, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the agreement is historic and does India good. It is "an offer you cannot refuse".

...they'd visit India, not Europe.

Indian Ocean Nexus (Martin Walker, Wilson Quarterly)

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July 7, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:20 PM


Healthier Than Europe Is (DANIEL JOHNSON, July 7, 2008, NY Sun)

Perhaps the most striking difference between Europe and America today is that Americans are much more likely to be actively religious.

I came across a suggestive text by one of the greatest empirical students of democracy who has ever lived: Alexis de Tocqueville. Religion, he wrote, "is more needed in democratic republics than in any others. How is it possible that society should escape destruction if the moral tie is not strengthened in proportion as the political tie is relaxed? And what can be done with a people who are their own masters if they are not submissive to the Deity?"

If the symbiosis of faith and democracy in America was evident, even in Tocqueville's time, how much more true it is today. But one is also struck by his sombre words about the "destruction" of society if morality is not strengthened to compensate for a more liberal political system. If anything, Europe has moved in the opposite direction.

The European Union has abandoned the Christian morality and adopted an aggressive secularism — one reason why the French and Dutch rejected the constitution in their referendums three years ago. But at the same time the European Union has become even less democratic, by centralizing its judiciary, legislature, and executive.

Tocqueville was a Catholic, whose view of human nature tended toward an Augustinian pessimism; for him, original sin was the key to the human condition. But you do not need to share his outlook to agree that there is an element of hubris in societies that acknowledge no moral authority beyond themselves.

Yeah, you do.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:31 PM


The Democrats' foreign-policy game (Stuart Gottlieb, 7/07/08, CS Monitor)

The message Democrats are sending to the world is clear: You cannot trust America to honor its trade agreements, even with developing nations struggling to enter the global middle class. This is a far cry from Obama's Lincolnesque promise in his Democratic nomination victory speech June 3rd to restore "our image as the last, best hope on earth." [...]

Despite lofty promises, the policies they are most aligning themselves with leave them vulnerable to Republican charges of "defeatism" – that America cannot compete in a world of open markets and cannot successfully finish the job in Iraq. [...]

Stuart Gottlieb was a Democratic foreign-policy adviser and speechwriter in the US Senate from 1999 to 2003.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:27 PM


Big Bang on the Bayou (Ken Connor, 7/06/08, Townhall)

Secularists have exploded over the passage of the "Louisiana Science and Education Act". The Act was recently signed into law by Governor Bobby Jindal after having been passed by an overwhelming majority of the Louisiana legislature. The Act protects the freedom of "teachers, principals, and other school administrators" in elementary and secondary schools to promote "critical thinking skills, logical analysis, and open and objective discussion of a variety of scientific theories including, but not limited to, evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning."

In other words, the act provides for the freedom and support of teachers and school boards to present varied analyses on these and other scientific issues. So why are the denizens of blogs like the Huffington Post in such a huff? Because "science" is their "truth," and it is blasphemous to question their beliefs.

Secularists are unwilling to have their orthodoxy challenged. Just as Galileo had to fight against the church and government of his day, those who dare to question today's "settled" theories are banished by scientific and political Inquisitors. The implications of being wrong are too much to fathom; therefore, the secularist worldview must go unchallenged.

Academic freedom and the pursuit of scientific knowledge are laudable goals and are often parroted by secularists in defense of their pursuits. But, when those pursuits veer from politically correct orthodoxy into the exploration of a differing opinion or analysis, secularists will not reciprocate that freedom. Their usual response is not to critique the substance of the opposing opinion or analysis, but to transmute any opposition out of the realm of science and into religion. Thus, any analysis that calls into question any aspect (no matter how small) of the theory of evolution becomes an educational and/or constitutional crisis.

...but given how few Americans believe in the ideology already, isn't it too late for protectionism to save it?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:47 PM


Yellowcake removed from Iraq nuclear site (Alissa J. Rubin and Campbell Robertson, July 7, 2008, IHT)

American and Iraqi officials have completed nearly the last chapter in dismantling Saddam Hussein's nuclear program with the removal of hundreds of tons of natural uranium from the country's main nuclear site.

How drunk was Joe Wilson on that little CIA junket?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:16 AM


Are Democrats backpedaling on abortion rights?: As feminist Obama supporters, we believe Clinton voters will come around -- but not if the party adopts an abortion reduction strategy. (Kate Michelman, Frances Kissling, 7/07/08, Salon)

[I]t's so remarkable that in recent weeks, Democrats, including Sojourners founder Jim Wallis, have suggested that the party may need to take another crack at tempering its strong platform support for abortion rights by making "abortion reduction ... a central Democratic Party plank in this election." In a recent interview with ABC News, Wallis said he planned to talk to his "good friend" Barack Obama about an abortion reduction plank, and said he had discussed the idea with party chairman Howard Dean and had the support of at least one member of the Platform Committee, the Rev. Tony Campolo. "Abortion reduction should be a central Democratic Party plank in this election," Wallis told ABC News. "I'll just say that flat out." [...]

[T]elling women that the Democrats' commitment to abortion rights is what should drive their vote, while simultaneously suggesting, as Wallis and his allies do, that given the choice, having a baby is a more moral choice than abortion, will be understood for what it is: condescending and sexist.

It's always a good thing to remind the Decent Left that, whatever lies they tell themselves so they can sleep at night, they're just enabling the Party of Death.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:26 AM


Chávez in danger (Stephanie Blankenburg, 07 July 2008, New Statesman)

[T]he November regional elections come at a time, at which the internal tensions and contradictions of the Bolivarian Project to transform Venezuela from a rentist oil state into a productive and participative developmental state are coming to a head: Chávez has little more than four months (and perhaps even less than this) to come up with a solution to a very difficult equation.

One central variable in this equation is the private business sector. On 11 June, Chávez announced a series of economic measures to revive private sector participation in long-term productive investment projects.

Stopping short of “pro-market” measures, such as a devaluation of the Bolivar and a wholesale lifting of capital controls, his olive branch included the abolition of a recently introduced tax on financial transactions, a government finance initiative for public-private investment projects and a significant flexibilisation of capital controls for imports worth up to US$50,000 by already registered companies. In addition, Chávez also announced a wide-ranging programme of subsidies for small agricultural producers.

The smirking faces of the leading members of Venezuela’s business community – mainly bankers - lined up in a neat row to face their president, said it all: They are not falling over themselves to take up the offer, and they don’t have to. Sky-high profit rates in the financial and service sectors make relatively lower and much more long-term returns from productive investment unattractive.

Poor Cindy Sheehan, first Saddam, now Hugo?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:22 AM


Libya: Jailed Islamic Group 'Preparing' to Renounce Armed Violence (Mohammed Al Shafey, 7/07/08, Asharq Al-awasat)

Leaders of the Libyan "Al-Jama'ah al-Islamiyah al-Muqatilah" [The Islamic Fighting Group] are close to reaching an ideological consensus that condemns armed violence, Asharq Al-Awsat has learned. [...]

Asharq Al-Awsat has learned that Abdullah al-Sadiq, the amir of the Fighting Group who is held in BuSalim Prison with the Al-Qaeda leaders sent a written message a few days ago to Saif al-Islam al-Qadhafi thanking him for the initiative of opening a dialogue with the Libyan Islamists regardless of the outcome. Numan Uthman, who fought against the Russians in Afghanistan, said: "I have been a party to these contacts from the beginning at the request of the Al-Qadhafi Foundation for Development and directly through Engineer Saif al-Islam as well as at the request of the imprisoned leaders of the group, specifically the group's amir Abdullah al-Sadiq, deputy amir Abu-Hazim, and Sheikh Abu-Mundhir al-Saidi, the official in charge of Shariaa. Bin-Uthman described the dialogue with the leaders of the Fighting Group as a new approach by the state that was strongly opposed to the fundamentalists after some members of the Fighting Group participated in an attempt to assassinate Libyan leader Colonel Muammar al-Qadhafi. He said that what is exciting in the matter is that the one in charge of the dialogue is Engineer Saif al-Islam, the son of the colonel himself. Bin-Uthman revealed that he personally met with some elements inside the BuSalim Prison that were wearing a red overall, in other words, they have sentenced to execution. He said that the jurisprudential review includes a re-diagnosis of reality, especially in light of what he described as "the American onslaught on the Islamic world while focusing on the importance of preserving security and stability in Libya". He revealed that the released fundamentalist members of the Fighting Group "have been given 10,000dinars each to start a new decent life and 300 dinars each in immediate assistance from the Prison Administration on the day they were released".

The dialogue sessions are a new blow to the leaders of Al-Qaeda and to Bin Laden's deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri who had announced the joining of the Fighting Group to Al-Qaeda and who is personally in charge of the Libyan members in the organization.

Do you suppose John Kerry and Barack Obama even know that Libya is reforming?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:59 AM


The Coming of the Car-Bot: In the near future, autonomous driving will lead to safer roads and great fuel-efficiency (David Kiley, 7/07/08, Business Week)

Imagine the scene: You're driving your car to an office building in New York City, five minutes from a job interview. No worries. You have already dialed into the car's memory the parking garage where it's going to stay, and prepaid the bill. You shut the door. And off it goes. Driverless. And the chances of the car getting into an accident while it travels five or six treacherous city blocks are less than if the hopeful job applicant had tried to park it himself under time pressure.

Does it sound too good to be true? A sign of the end of civilization as we know it? Too far into the future to care? It depends on whom you ask. But some researchers, engineers, and auto companies believe that such automation is not only on the way to becoming commonplace in the next 20 years, but essential to reducing the carbon footprint of vehicles from the U.S. to China and everywhere else. Oh, and as the technology necessary to achieve the "autonomous" car arrives in stages every few years—some of it is already here, in options such as electronic stability control and blind-spot detection—it promises to sharply reduce traffic fatalities.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:36 AM


Speak easy: Human Rights Commission gets it right with Mark Steyn decision (SALIM MANSUR, 7/05/08, Edmonton Sun)

The problem with the CHRC's use of section 13(1) to put a chill on free speech has been known for some time, and decried mostly by those of conservative persuasion subjected to the farcical hearings of the human rights tribunals.

But it took the clownishness of the CIC complaint to make it amply clear to an increasing number of Canadians why the censorious provision of section 13(1) is a blot on Canadian democracy.

There is irony here that it took Elmasry and his cohorts in the CIC to lodge their complaint of no merit against Maclean's, and in the process put the human rights tribunals in the dock of public opinion as no other previous complainant had done.

Through the ages clowns have served many purposes apart from providing humour.

Shakespeare and Moliere used clowns to illuminate absurd situations, to expose the emperor when he is without clothes or when the law is an ass, and to make clowns utter words others would dare not say out of propriety or fear of reprisal.

This is what the CIC cohorts did as clowns for Canadians, revealing to them the scandalous redundancy of the Human Rights Act section 13(1).

Thus does comedy serve its conservative purposes once again.
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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:25 AM


America's special grace (Spengler, 7/08/08, Asia Times)

To ascribe a special grace to America is outrageous, as outrageous as the idea of special grace itself. Why shouldn't everyone be saved? Why aren't all individuals, nations, peoples and cultures equally deserving? History seems awfully unfair: half or more of the world's 7,000 or so languages will be lost by 2100, linguists warn, and at present fertility rates Italian, German, Ukrainian, Hungarian and a dozen other major languages will die a century or so later. The agony of dying nations rises in reproach to America's unheeding prosperity.

An old joke divides the world into two kinds of people: those who divide the world into two kinds of people, and those who don't. America is one of the things that sorts the world into polar opposites. To much of the world, America is the Great Satan, the source of the plague of globalization, the bane of the environment, the Grim Reaper of indigenous cultures, the carrier of soulless industrialism, and the perpetrator of imperial adventures. To hundreds of millions of others it is an object of special grace. Whether one subscribes to the concept or not, America's grace defines one of the world's great dividing lines, perhaps its most important.

Violent antipathy to America measures the triumph of the American principle, and the ascendance of America's influence in the world. America's enemies make more noise than her friends, but her friends are increasing faster than her enemies. America's influence in the world leapt as result of her victory in three world wars, including the fall of communism in 1989. Arguably, America is ascending even faster today, despite the reverses in its economic position and the strains on its military resources.

Victory in the fourth phase of the Long War (actually four since just 1914--and that's only if we don't count the French capitulation) couldn't help but add to the ascent.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:16 AM


Bush carves out a legacy in Asia (M K Bhadrakumar, 7/08/08, Asia Times)

As Bush heads toward Japan for the Group of Eight (G-8) summit in Hokkaido, he anticipates he's likely wrapping up two Asian legacies - and if luck holds, three. Beware the lame duck. As the Washington Post summed up, "George W Bush's presidency seems exhausted and irrelevant, but that's a dangerous illusion. The Decider remains in command ..." Clearly, North Korea has begun disabling its plutonium production facility at Yongbyon under the watchful eyes of US inspectors. Rice's consultations in Beijing last week galvanized the process. The White House announced that Bush proposed to attend the opening ceremony of Beijing Summer Olympic Games in August.

Meanwhile, a second Asian legacy for the Bush era is also gaining traction. On Wednesday, on the sidelines of the G-8, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will inform Bush that New Delhi has decided to give the final push to the civilian nuclear cooperation agreement with the US. The Indian deal goes way beyond Kim Jong-iI's "denuclearization". It is a major non-proliferation move. India will surrender its right to test nuclear weapons; India's nuclear program will come under US monitoring and control; and India's capacity and will for augmenting its weapon stockpile will remain under US scrutiny.

Equally, there is an enormous business spin-off. The US-India Business Council estimated the downstream business to be in the region of US$150 billion. It isn't merely pork-barrel politics. Washington's influence on the making of Indian economic policies will greatly increase. Then there is the foreign policy spin-off. The deal becomes a powerful tool for the US to encourage Delhi to continue to harmonize its foreign policy with US global strategies.
The deal leads to the dismantling of US embargoes on the transfer of military technology to India and the "interoperability" between the armed forces of the two countries becomes realizable. Most important, India will join the US missile defense program, which Delhi sees as vital for neutralizing China's strategic capabilities. Thus, from the US perspective, Delhi is taking a decisive step toward a congruence of objectives with Washington where the principal elements are: a) making the US-India strategic partnership irreversible; b) seeking US good offices as a facilitator in the normalization of India-Pakistan relations; c) ensuring US support in standing up to Chinese "hegemonism"; and d) availing of US backing for India's emergence as a world power.

No wonder, while paying lip service to the deal as critical to India's energy security, Washington left no stone unturned for months ensuring Delhi didn't develop second thoughts.

The big question now is whether Bush's gargantuan appetite for Asian legacies will be satiated. The indications are Bush is contemplating a far more ambitious legacy - India-Pakistan relations. Just think of two nuclear adversaries reconciling so that the world can sleep more peacefully. There will be a lot on Bush's mind following his meeting with Manmohan on Wednesday. He has three weeks to mull over before he hosts Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani for lunch at the White House on July 28. Like his Indian counterpart, Gilani is also not the real power center in Islamabad. Bush knows they are malleable individuals, but he prefers to deal with them, since their desire for a legacy can't possibly be any less than his. It is what could be called a "win-win" situation.

A lot of back-channel activity has been going on between Delhi, Islamabad and Washington. Nine-tenths of the way to a framework agreement on Kashmir have been covered. Much credit goes to President Pervez Musharraf, but there is a broad consensus among Pakistani politicians for normalization of relations with India. Plainly speaking, the Pakistanis are tired and they desperately want to ensure that all is quiet on their eastern front so that they can devote themselves with full energy to the nation's existential crisis.

The rivalry for gaining parity with India is proving too costly and deflects Islamabad from its national priorities of countering the rising tide of religious extremism and militancy. Besides, the nuclear deterrence has in any case ensured that a belligerent India would think twice before embarking on any adventurism. Islamabad, therefore, would be inclined to have a relook at the Kashmir saga so that relations with India aren't held hostage.

How George W Bush became an African hero (David Blair, 07/07/2008, Daily Telegraph)
[T]he most right-wing president in recent memory has become the unlikely darling of anti-poverty activists for his unsung efforts to help Africa. [....]

Combating Aids once played virtually no part in America's development policies. Mr Bush has established the biggest fund ever devoted to fighting an epidemic.

The President's Emergency Plan for Aids Relief, funded to the tune of Pounds 7.5 billion, is paying for hundreds of thousands of Africans to receive the life-saving drugs which hold Aids at bay.

Mr Bush has also made America the biggest single donor to the Global Fund for Aids, tuberculosis and malaria, contributing one third of its Pounds 5 billion.

No other leader has given as much money to the World Food Programme as Mr Bush. America now provides about half of all the emergency food aid distributed across the globe.

Countries which desperately need this help often have viscerally anti-American governments. The rulers of Sudan and Zimbabwe, where millions depend on emergency food supplies, probably do not grasp the irony of the man they vilify keeping so many of their own people alive.

Bob Geldof, the anti-poverty campaigner, has often praised Mr Bush's "Africa story". Overall, however, this side of the president's legacy has earned him few votes and precious little international credit.

The point, as Mr Geldof stresses, is that Mr Bush helped Africa anyway.

This just in: W is governing for the world's future, not for headlines in today's fishwrap.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:11 AM


Obama’s apple pie campaign (JONATHAN MARTIN & BEN SMITH, 7/7/08, Politico)

Obama offered a clear new version of his complex family story: “I was raised by a single mom and my grandparents. We didn’t have much money, but they taught me values straight from the Kansas heartland where they grew up.” His African father and his upbringing abroad were never mentioned, and he was pictured in six images surrounded by ordinary-looking white people.


July 6, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:12 AM


Hebrew tablet suggests tradition of resurrected messiah predates Jesus (Ethan Bronner, July 6, 2008, NY Times)

A 3-foot-tall tablet with 87 lines of Hebrew that scholars believe dates from the decades just before the birth of Jesus is causing a quiet stir in biblical and archaeological circles, especially because it may speak of a messiah who will rise from the dead after three days. [...]

Daniel Boyarin, a professor of Talmudic culture at the University of California at Berkeley, said that the stone was part of a growing body of evidence suggesting that Jesus could be best understood through a close reading of the Jewish history of his day.

"Some Christians will find it shocking - a challenge to the uniqueness of their theology - while others will be comforted by the idea of it being a traditional part of Judaism," Boyarin said.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:09 AM


Reasons to Temper Our Pessimism (Richard Halloran, 7/06/08, Real Clear Politics)

The young woman, an editor, said in a private conversation that "there's not much going on in our country today that makes me proud to be an American."

She sympathized with Michelle Obama, wife of the presumptive Democratic candidate for president, Senator Barack Obama, for the flak she took after being widely quoted: "For the first time in my adult lifetime, I'm really proud of my country." Ms. Obama is 44 and thus suggested that she had not been proud of America for two decades.

Neither the editor nor Ms. Obama, however, seemed to be so pessimistic as a couple who said in personal correspondence: "Our country is dying." Nor did they go so far as the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the Chicago preacher who was even more widely quoted as calling on God to damn America.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:03 AM


United Arab Emirates Cancels Iraqi Debt (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, 7/06/08)

The United Arab Emirates canceled all its Iraqi debt Sunday and moved to restore a full diplomatic mission in Baghdad by naming a new ambassador.

It's part of a recent warming between Iraq's Shiite-led government and its mostly Sunni Muslim neighbors. Washington has pushed Gulf states like the UAE to restore ties with the war-torn country. Jordan named an ambassador last week, and Kuwait and Bahrain say appointments are imminent.

The Emirates' official news agency quoted the country's president Sunday as saying the UAE was canceling all $4 billion in debt owed by Iraq.

...it's odious.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:24 AM


Restoring Past Glory in Old Kabul: Ambitious Project Pumps New Life Into Crumbling Historic District (Candace Rondeaux, 7/06/08, Washington Post)

Work to restore Murad Khane began in 2006 under the auspices of the Kabul-based Turquoise Mountain Foundation. The development organization was born of a meeting of minds between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Britain's Prince Charles when they met during a state visit in Britain in 2004.

Turquoise Mountain is run out of an old fort a few miles from Murad Khane by Rory Stewart, an Oxford-pedigreed Scottish writer and diplomat. Seed money for the group came from Prince Charles and proceeds from Stewart's book, "The Places in Between," a chronicle of his 600-mile walk across Afghanistan in 2002, three months after the fall of the Taliban.

In a country where aid workers like to talk of "capacity building" and "local empowerment," Turquoise Mountain stands out as one of the few groups that is actually transforming trash into treasure. Since the project started in August 2006, workers have hauled away an estimated 10,500 cubic yards of garbage. About 50 homes that were awash in refuse have been restored or received emergency repairs.

Once a nest of seedy entertainment halls, Murad Khane was known for years as one of Kabul's most notorious red-light districts. Located in the center of the city near the Kabul River, it was developed in the 18th century by Afghanistan's founding ruler, Ahmad Shah Durrani. Durrani built several ornate structures to house members of his court from the Qizilbash tribe, an ethnic group that predominates in Murad Khane today. In the 1920s, dozens of buildings with elaborate wood carvings were erected in Murad Khane's 20-acre maze of stone-paved alleys and more modest mud-brick homes. Many of those buildings were demolished as part of a Soviet master plan to modernize Kabul; others were destroyed by decades of neglect and by the civil wars of the 1990s.

The hope is that using traditional Afghan techniques to rebuild the district in the heart of old Kabul will inspire other similar projects in the city and across Afghanistan, said John Elliott, a spokesman for Turquoise Mountain. "We believed that these things -- like culture, like traditional architecture, like history, like identity -- are really, really important for Afghanistan's future," Elliott said. "They're something that all Afghans can unite around, regardless of ethnicity."

...the Taliban hate history just as much as the Communist does.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:20 AM


Leading Men: Barack Obama and John McCain Want the Biggest Role in Politics, Yet Each Candidate Has Very Different Star Qualities to Offer (Stephen Hunter, 7/06/08, The Washington Post)

Wonderful moment in John Ford's "The Searchers," from way back in 1956: John Wayne, as the surly, violent Ethan Edwards, signals to his young compadre that it's time to move on in their pursuit of Scar, the Comanche chief who's murdered their family and kidnapped the youngest daughter, Debbie.

"Let's go, blankethead," he scowls to the young Martin Pawley.

I love the Duke's pronunciation of the word "blankethead"; it radiates contempt for the young and the untested. Ethan is using the blast of scorn to tell the young man not only to get going to his horse but to get going in growing up, to acquire sand, grit, salt and all the other granular metaphors for old-guy toughness and savvy. Blankethead: It's a three-syllable telegram on the theme of the fecklessness of youth, and nobody but Wayne could turn it into poetry.

But in the same instant, I remember Will Smith in the original "Men in Black." The hotshot young cop has been recruited to an alien-hunting team secretly HQ'd in a New York bridge, and now he's working for Tommy Lee Jones and Rip Torn. Torn and Jones are babbling about something and not paying attention to Smith. There's a moment of frustration on the young face, and he interrupts with his own blast of scorn: "Hey, old guys !"

It's a voice full of impatience, annoyance, even contempt, suggesting they haven't the energy, the quickness or the attention span to take care of business. It's on him, now, the new guy, the kid: He's got to keep them from wandering off, losing track, drifting as the old are wont to do.

Both those moments come to mind when contemplating the politics of the day. That's because, while the next few months can be dissected from many angles, the template that the Obama-McCain race seems to demand is familiar to anyone who has paid the slightest attention to popular culture over the years: old star/young star.

The Duke v. Fresh Prince results would make Fritz v. Gipper look competitive.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:13 AM


U.S. employers challenge crackdown on illegal immigrants (Julia Preston, July 6, 2008, NY Times)

Under pressure from the toughest crackdown on illegal immigration in two decades, employers across the United States are fighting back in state legislatures, U.S. courts and city halls.

Business groups have resisted measures that would revoke the licenses of employers of illegal immigrants. They are proposing alternatives that would revise U.S. rules for verifying the identity documents of new hires and would expand programs to bring in legal immigrant laborers.

Although the pushback is coming from both Democrats and Republicans, in many places it is reopening the rift over immigration that troubled the Republican Party last year. Businesses, generally Republican stalwarts, are standing up to others within the party who accuse them of undercutting border enforcement and jeopardizing U.S. jobs by hiring illegal immigrants as cheap labor.

Blocking Christan immigrants and protecting jobs for special interests at the cost of economic growth can't be a long term policy for a conservative party.

A fiesta at Fenway (Boston Globe, July 6, 2008)

With the Red Sox down in the Bronx playing the Yankees, more than 6,000 people descended on Fenway Park yesterday afternoon for the Comcast Latino Family Festival and an afternoon of community building, healthcare awareness, and entertainment.

The festival featured music, dancing, games, and performers, including popular acts Don Omar, Amarfis, N'Klave, and Alexander, as well as professional Latino clowns from Worcester and Lawrence.

Attendees were greeted by booths showcasing about two dozen local community and healthcare organizations including Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Massachusetts, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, the Latino Professional Network, and the YWCA.

The event was designed "so that members of the community can be engaged and learn about health issues, and [we] can increase community awareness of health concerns and provide entertainment," said Marc Goodman, a Comcast spokesman.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:04 AM


China is a rising star, but unusually weak and poor (Jacques deLisle, 7/06/08, Philadelphia Inquirer)

Yet China is unusual for a rising power. More than the United States or the Soviet Union or Great Britain during their periods of ascension, China is still weak. Despite a massive military modernization program, China's capabilities remain limited, especially its ability to project conventional force over distance.

Moreover, China is still poor. True, its economy is now the world's second-largest in "purchasing power parity" terms (a measure that adjusts for lower costs of many goods and services in less developed countries). And China's economy has been growing at more than 10 percent a year for much of the last three decades.

In the more common exchange-rate-based measure of economic size, however, China trails Germany. China's economy is vast, but then, so is its population. Great powers ordinarily do not rank below the world median in per-capita income. But China does. By World Bank measures, it is a lower-middle-income country. Average income does not much surpass $2,000 - or a still-modest $5,400 or so in purchasing power parity terms.

Challenges posed by this relative poverty are made worse by severe inequality and an aging population. By the most common measures, China's society has greater inequality than that of the United States (where inequality is much higher than in almost any other developed economy) and most other countries, especially in East Asia. Chinese urbanites have incomes more than three times those of rural residents. Average income in Shanghai is nearly tenfold that of China's poorest provinces. Policies to redress still-rising inequality are just beginning. If zealously pursued, such policies could threaten the growth that has underpinned China's rise and its rulers' legitimacy.

China also will grow old before it gets rich. Senior citizens are the fastest-growing age group in China. The proportion of Chinese above age 65 soon will approach that in the United States, and it is much higher than in other developing countries. The graying of China stems from harsh population-control policies adopted a quarter-century ago to avoid economically ruinous population growth. But the increasing ratio of retirees to workers imperils investment rates and productivity gains that have sustained China's growing economy and geopolitical clout.

...on the lingering racism of the "Yellow Menace" mentality. If the Han looked like Norwegians, even the fact there's a billion of them wouldn't be enough to scare anyone.

July 5, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:03 PM


US jamming operation hoodwinked rebels in Ingrid Betancourt rescue (Martin Arostegui and Philip Sherwell, 05/07/2008, Daily Telegraph)

The jamming operation, high above the Amazonian rainforest canopy, was the key, final element in an elaborate plan to hoodwink César into surrendering the communist rebels' most prized assets: the former presidential candidate Ms Betancourt, 46, three American defence contractors and 11 Colombians.

At a rendezvous point in a jungle opening he was told they were to be ferried by helicopter supplied by the "International Humanitarian Group" to a base where Alfonso Cano, the overall supremo of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc), wanted to question them. César, a commander notorious for his cruelty, decided to comply with the instructions.

He had tried to contact Cano on four separate occasions, unaware that intelligence aircraft were intercepting or blocking his radio and satellite phone communications.

In fact the orders were fake, sent to him by Colombian intelligence teams that had infiltrated the Marxist rebel force with well-paid double agents.

The audacious rescue in Operation Checkmate involved "a combination of electronic penetration of Farc's command and control and human infiltration into its guerrilla units", said John Marulanda, a Colombian special forces officer.

The Colombian mission was backed by a multi-billion dollar US spy operation and dozens of American officials who worked full-time at the US embassy in Bogota on rescuing the three anti-narcotics contractors, captured when their plane crashed in 2003.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:13 AM


Scorn on the 4th of July for Yanks? Not anymore (Ken Davidoff, July 4, 2008, Newsday)

The Fourth of July serves as a traditional baseball landmark, one of those natural points of assessment. It probably won't surprise you to learn that here with the Yankees, it has been something so much more.

Yes, back in George Steinbrenner's prime, you could feel the heat turned up in the Yankees' clubhouse on this day. Most certainly, you didn't want to lose on The Boss' birthday. And you'd have a far nicer holiday if you resided in first place.

So go ahead and regard Friday as another failed test for Steinbrenner's club and for first-year Yankees manager Joe Girardi. Another warning sign in a season in which there's little indication of an imminent turnaround.

Only without the old ramifications.

...for the Rays to replace the Yanks as the Sox big rivals.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:53 AM


'Burn' star happy to share limelight (Luaine Lee, 7/05/08, MCCLATCHY NEWSPAPERS)

It's a little difficult to tell the good guys from the bad guys on USA's Burn Notice, and that's one of the things that make the character-driven thriller unique.

When star Jeffrey Donovan was cast as the spy who is driven in from the cold, he knew a lot about Bruce Campbell, who was to play his unkempt cohort, Sam.

"I actually had heard about him through a friend of mine who knew him," says Donovan. "So I knew just of him, but that's not to say that I wasn't a fan of his because I don't actually know many actors - because I don't go to the movies and I don't watch television. But now that I've gotten to know him, I couldn't ask for a better costar. And I'm sure actors say that all the time, but they're lying. I know all of them. They're lying. And this is the truth. You can't ask for a better actor coming from his huge career; to come and grace us on this show has been just a blessing for us."

You've got four days to get caught up before the new season starts.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:50 AM


1,215 troops in Iraq mark 4th of July by re-enlisting (Washington Times, July 5, 2008)

More than 1,000 American troops serving in Iraq celebrated Independence Day by signing up Friday for extended service in the military.

At least 1,215 service members, including at least two husband-and-wife couples, re-enlisted for periods ranging from two to six years at the ceremony held at Camp Victory, which used to be the spacious Al-Faw palace of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

Gen. David H. Petraeus, the head of U.S.-led coalition forces in Iraq, said he was "proud of their decision to re-enlist and help the people of Iraq win their most important battle ... freedom." The soldiers, Marines, sailors and airmen then broke into "God Bless America."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:45 AM


If It’s Wooden and Old and Once Kept Time, Call Him (KATIE ZEZIMA, 7/05/08, NY Times)

For nearly all of Robert Coffin’s life, the passing of time has been marked by the ticking of many, many clocks.

Mr. Coffin, now 90, first repaired a clock while a pupil at the grammar school in this seaside village of 900 people. He has collected, sold, made and fixed clocks — only those that run on cogs and springs, “nothing electric” — ever since, and is now known as the man to call in eastern Maine if a clock needs fixing.

“Clocks are second to my wife, and I mean that,” Mr. Coffin said before settling into his workshop, which is filled with clocks, miniature figurines and hundreds of tools and parts. “It’s almost my life, if you will.”

Mr. Coffin is among a dwindling number of craftsmen who repair antique wooden clocks. The work requires patience and painstaking skill, including an ability to replicate wooden pieces that have not been manufactured for centuries.

“The business is rare,” said Alexander H. Phillips, a clockmaker in Bar Harbor, Me., who is a friend of Mr. Coffin. “You just don’t have that element of craftsmanship anymore.”

...would be better off learning a craft?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:38 AM


Why Europe loves Barack Obama (Bill Schneider, 7/04/08, CNN)

When Barack Obama comes to London, I am certain that 50,000 people will turn out to cheer him on,'' a British executive assured me when I visited the British capital recently.

"Americans?'' I asked.

"No, not Americans,'' he responded. "English people. You see, we want change, too.''

Spend a few days in western Europe talking about American politics and you discover that you are in deepest Obamaland. Not much different from Berkeley, California, or the South Side of Chicago.

So Obamaland is Europe, Berzerkly and the South Side and Democrats can't figure out why they lose elections?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:21 AM


U.S. not prepared for possible asteroid strike, group says (John Johnson, 7/05/08, Los Angeles Times)

A group of scientists, joined by a member of Congress, used the 100th anniversary of the Tunguska asteroid event this week to draw attention to their belief that the United States is not doing enough to defend the planet against the dangers posed by near-Earth objects.

Nothing uglier than scientists whoring for grant money.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:17 AM


Barack Obama now wears his patriotism on his lapel (Peter Nicholas, 7/05/08, Los Angeles Times)

He seldom goes out in public now without a flag pin stuck in his lapel. He devoted an entire speech to patriotism this week in Independence, Mo. Visually reinforcing the message, he stood in front of a quartet of large American flags.

None of this is an accident. Polling shows that on the threshold test any serious presidential candidate must pass, Obama has ground to cover.

A CNN poll released one day after the Illinois senator gave his patriotism speech showed that a quarter of registered voters surveyed questioned Obama's love of country. Nearly 30% of the respondents who described themselves as independents -- a coveted slice of the electorate -- believed he lacks patriotism, according to the survey.

...he's so hollow he might pop.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:59 AM


Something borrowed (UNION-TRIBUNE EDITORIAL, July 5, 2008)

Sen. Barack Obama is borrowing an idea from President George Bush. And, luckily, it happens to be one of the president's better ideas.

...that it is not possible to know with certainty what the idea that follows this introduction will be. The Senator has back-tracked and flip-flopped on so much that it could involve anything from trade to Iraq to abortion to wiretapping to...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:53 AM


The Ascendancy of Jesse Helms (Fred Barnes, 08/11/1997, Weekly Standard)

Next to Ronald Reagan, Jesse Helms is the most important conservative of the last 25 years, and episodes like this help reveal that Helms is the most inner-directed person in Washington. He has his own set of priorities, and he doesn't waver. He has a style all his own, too. He's invariably straightforward (invoking a Latin idiom was an aberration). He never softpedals or dilutes his conservatism, even in private. On Weld, the easy course would be to let the nomination sail through, which it would absent Helms's objection. But Helms doesn't shy from tough, unpopular stands. Indeed, his relentless, unswerving application of conservative principles to practically every issue is precisely what has made him a major player in Washington and national politics. Helms follows a simple formula: Implacability equals strength. It works. He can't be buffaloed -- or ignored. Even acting alone, Helms has enormous sway, as Weld has had to learn.

No conservative, save Reagan, comes close to matching Helms's influence on American politics and policy in the quarter-century since he won a Senate seat in North Carolina. Barry Goldwater flamed out after 1964, though he lingered in the Senate until 1987. Newt Gingrich single-handedly grabbed control of the House of Representatives for Republicans, but he hasn't done much with it. Richard Nixon, conservative at heart, got the two big issues wrong by embracing big government and detente. Strom Thurmond has been reliably conservative for a half-century, but not a leader. Jack Kemp altered conservative economic thinking -- nothing more. But Helms has led on everything from promoting human rights in China to opposing gay rights at home. And, at 75, he's still out front.

Now the world is finally beating a path to Helms's door. In 1976, Helms rammed a "morality in foreign policy" plank through the Republican national convention that all but officially ended the Kissinger era in American foreign policy. Earlier, Helms had created an international incident over then-secretary of state Henry Kissinger's decision to bar exiled Russian novelist Alexander Solzhenitsyn from visiting President Ford. Yet last fall, Kissinger flew to Greensboro, N.C., to raise money for Helms's reelection. It was his second appearance to aid Helms. Another ex-secretary of state and Kissingerite, Larry Eagleburger, spoke at a Helms rally in Fayetteville. After the election, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright delivered a speech at the Helms Center in Wingate, flying home with a carry-out order of barbecue Helms had bought for her. Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, the ranking Democrat on Foreign Relations, is working closely with Helms to restore the committee's power and prestige. The point here is that Helms has gained strange, new respect not as many conservatives have -- by moving left. Helms has earned it the hard way -- by not moving at all.

I have two tests for measuring Helms's impact: the Trent Lott test and the George Bailey test. Let's start with Lott. He and Helms, in their twenties, gained Capitol Hill experience by working for conservative southern Democrats. They were elected to Congress the same year, 1972. The question is, Who has done more, Lott or Helms? Lott advanced through the leadership ranks to become House Republican whip before jumping to the Senate in 1988. He was elected majority leader last year. What has he accomplished? Lott was a capable leader of House Republicans when they were in the minority, and he brokered the deal last year that led to welfare reform, a minimum-wage hike, and the Kennedy-Kassebaum health-care bill. This year, he played a prominent role in negotiating the budget deal with President Clinton. That is about the sum of his major achievements.

The Helms list is so much longer that Helms, who regards boastfulness as a mortal sin, is too self-conscious to recite it. In fact, when I asked him to name his top 10 accomplishments, he declined to name even one. (His aides are less reticent.) But in politics alone, Helms has made history. He's an event- making politician, not merely one who's served in eventful times. He helped make direct mail not only a key fund-raising tool for conservatives but also an alternative medium for the Right. From it came the New Right, the bulging faction of social conservatives without which Reagan wouldn't have won the White House in 1980. Of course, if not for Helms, Reagan wouldn't have been politically viable in 1980 in the first place. Four years earlier, Helms and his sidekick Tom Ellis engineered an astonishing upset victory for Reagan in the North Carolina primary that resurrected his candidacy. Had Reagan lost in North Carolina -- and his handlers were already negotiating to get him out of the race -- his presidential bid would have died early and ignominiously in 1976, and his prospects in 1980 would have been uncertain at best.

Helms has also been a magnetic force on ideology and policy, pulling the entire national debate to the right. Positions he noisily took in Washington two decades ago, almost alone, are now part of mainstream conservatism. Among them: the balanced-budget amendment, a flat tax, school prayer, curbs on food stamps, legislation banning abortion. In the 1980s, Helms pressured the Reagan administration to intensify anti-Communist activism in Central America, Asia, and Africa and to reject arms-control concessions. And on issues where others turned squeamish, he spoke out. Helms confronted the homosexual lobby in Washington on gay rights, AIDS research, and government sanction of the homosexual way of life. He has paid a price for this. His speeches are picketed by gay activists (he had to slip in the back door of an Atlanta hotel for a fund-raiser last year), and a 15-foot condom was put over his house in Arlington, Va.

Amazingly enough, Helms is an able and resourceful executive who uses his staff to maximize his influence. He delegates rather than micromanages. Most pols, Lott especially, are chronic micromanagers. Given a long leash by Helms, his staffers "have clout beyond what other congressional aides have," says conservative strategist Jeffrey Bell. Thus, in the 1970s, John Carbaugh and James Lucier acted with such audacity in foreign affairs that Helms was accused of operating his own State Department. In the 1980s, Deborah De Moss exerted a powerful influence on Latin American policy. Now, Ellen Bork is becoming a force in foreign-policy debates. Thiessen, the committee spokesman, has found he's free to bludgeon foes. In a TV appearance, Thiessen told Canadian foreign minister Lloyd Axworthy he should apologize to the American people for siding with Cuba in the shootdown of two Cuban-American planes. Afterwards, Thiessen feared he'd gone too far and jeopardized his job. Should have been tougher with Axworthy, Helms told him. Once empowered, Helms aides remain close to him after they leave his staff. He has a network of talented lawyers, lobbyists, and consultants ready to assist him at a moment's notice: Carbaugh, Charles Black, Marc Rotterman, Alex Castellanos, Darryl Nirenberg, Steven Phillips, David Keene.

For what it's worth, Helms also has another gift that most politicians lack: He spots new talent around the world. When Margaret Thatcher was a minor British MP in 1974, Helms hosted her in Washington. He gave her office space and arranged appointments for her. In 1989, he met with Boris Yeltsin, whom President Bush and his aides dismissed as a loutish rival to their favorite Russian, Mikhail Gorbachev. Helms was impressed and began to talk up Yeltsin in Washington. In 1989, he learned of Harry Wu, the exiled Chinese dissident, and invited Wu to testify on Capitol Hill. They became warm friends, and Wu has since emerged as an international human-rights hero. During Clinton's first term, Helms admired the gritty performance of U.N. ambassador Albright. After the 1996 election, he urged Erskine Bowles, the White House chief of staff, to prod President Clinton to name her secretary of state. Clinton did, prompting Helms to order his staff never to criticize Albright. Most surprising was Helms's discovery of John Ashcroft, now a rising star in the Senate. Helms traveled to Missouri in 1974 to campaign for Ashcroft for state auditor, sight unseen. He had heard only that Ashcroft was a conservative.

Now for the George Bailey test -- after the Jimmy Stewart character in It's a Wonderful Life who was shown what the world would have been like if he'd never lived. Let's narrow the test from a lifetime to the past 12 months. What wouldn't have happened in Washington if Helms had stayed in Raleigh, N.C., as a WRAL-TV commentator?

There would be no pending reorganization of the State Department, in which two agencies will be abolished. There would be no United Nations reform. Richard Lugar of Indiana would be Senate Foreign Relations chairman in place of Helms, and he has minimal enthusiasm for revamping State, folding the U.S. Information Agency and the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency into it, and emasculating the Agency for International Development. Lugar tried to strip U. N. reforms from legislation appropriating back U.N. dues. He lost 75-23 on the Senate floor.

What's surprising to many is that Helms, neither a detail man nor a lover of process, delved into such cold fare and did it deftly. His reputation as strictly an outside player, harrumphing on behalf of one lost cause after another, may be the received wisdom in Washington about Helms, but it's wrong. Helms calibrates his maneuvering according to how much power he has, and in this case, as Foreign Relations chairman, he has a great deal. He started with an idea. "I became convinced early on that the foreign-policy apparatus was not operated for the American people, but so the striped-pants boys could stick out a pinkie, have a cocktail, and sound profound somewhere around the world," he told me. "When I got to the Senate, I found I was exactly right."

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July 4, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:07 PM


Bush Welcomes 72 New U.S. Citizens (SARAH ABRUZZESE, 7/04/08, NY Times)

On his last Fourth of July in office, President Bush welcomed 72 men and women on Friday as they prepared to take the oath of citizenship at the annual Independence Day ceremony at Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson.

Addressing the honorees, who hailed from 30 countries, Mr. Bush spoke of the path to citizenship, Jefferson’s legacy and the ideals of the Declaration of Independence, written 232 years ago.

“When you raise your hands and take the oath, you will complete an incredible journey,” Mr. Bush said. “That journey has taken you from many different countries; it’s now made you one people. From this day forward, the history of the United States will be part of your heritage. The Fourth of July will be part of your Independence Day. And I will be honored to call you a fellow American.”

His remarks were interrupted at several points by protesters, some of whom shouted, “Impeach Bush.” As members of the audience of about 3,000 urged the demonstrators to be quiet, Mr. Bush addressed the disturbances, saying, “We believe in free speech in the United States of America.”

President Bush Attends Monticello's 46th Annual Independence Day Celebration and Naturalization Ceremony (George W. Bush, Monticello, Charlottesville, Virginia, 7/04/08)

In a life full of accomplishments, Thomas Jefferson was especially proud of the Declaration of Independence. Looking back 232 years later, it's easy to forget how revolutionary Jefferson's draft was. (Audience interruption.)

At the time, some dismissed it as empty rhetoric. They believed the British Empire would crush the 13 colonies in the field of battle. And they believed a nation dedicated to liberty could never survive the world ruled by kings. (Audience interruption continues.)

Today we know history had other plans. After many years of war, the United States won its independence. The principles that Thomas Jefferson enshrined in the Declaration became the guiding principles of the new nation. And at every generation, Americans have rededicated themselves to the belief that all men are created equal, with the God-given right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. (Applause.)

Thomas Jefferson understood that these rights do not belong to Americans alone. They belong to all mankind. And he looked to the day when all people could secure them. On the 50th anniversary of America's independence, Thomas Jefferson passed away. But before leaving this world, he explained that the principles of the Declaration of Independence were universal. In one of the final letters of his life, he wrote, "May it be to the world, what I believe it will be -- to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all -- the Signal of arousing men to burst the chains, and to assume the blessings and security of self-government."

We honor Jefferson's legacy by aiding the rise of liberty in lands that do not know the blessings of freedom. And on this Fourth of July, we pay tribute to the brave men and women who wear the uniform of the United States of America. (Applause.)

We also honor Jefferson's legacy by welcoming newcomers to our land. And that is what we're here to celebrate today. (Audience interruption.)

Throughout our history, the words of the Declaration have inspired immigrants from around the world to set sail to our shores. (Interruption continues.) These immigrants have helped transform 13 small colonies into a great and growing nation of more than 300 [sic] people. They've made America a melting pot of cultures from all across the world. They've made diversity one of the great strengths of our democracy. And all of us here today are here to honor and pay tribute to that great notion of America. (Applause.)

Those of you taking the oath of citizenship at this ceremony hail from 30 different nations. You represent many different ethnicities and races and religions. But you all have one thing in common -- and that is a shared love of freedom. This love of liberty is what binds our nation together, and this is the love that makes us all Americans.

One man with special appreciation for liberty is Mya Soe from Burma. As a member of the Shan ethnic group, Mya faced discrimination and oppression at the hands of Burma's military junta. When he tried to reach local villagers -- when he tried to teach local villagers how to read and write the Shan language, the regime interrogated him and harassed him. In 2000, he left a life of fear for a life of freedom. He now works as a painter in the Charlottesville community. Today we welcome this brave immigrant as a citizen-to-be of the United States of America. (Applause.)

I'm sure there are other stories like Mya's among you. But we must remember that the desire for freedom burns inside every man and woman and child. More than two centuries ago, this desire of freedom was -- had inspired the subjects of a mighty empire to declare themselves free and independent citizens of a new nation. Today that same desire for freedom has inspired 72 immigrants from around the world to become citizens of the greatest nation on Earth -- the United States of America. (Applause.)

I congratulate you. I welcome you. I wish you all a happy Fourth of July. Thanks for inviting me. May God bless you, and may God continue to bless the United States of America. (Applause.)

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:57 AM


Obama: Mental Distress Can't Justify Late Abortion (JIM KUHNHENN, 7/04/08, AP)

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama says "mental distress" should not qualify as a justification for late-term abortions, a key distinction not embraced by many supporters of abortion rights.

It's awfully revealing that a guy who's done and said so little still has so much to run away from before he can be a viable national candidate.

A Man of Seasonal Principles (Charles Krauthammer, 7/04/08, Real Clear Politics)

In last week's column, I thought I had thoroughly chronicled Obama's brazen reversals of position and abandonment of principles -- on public financing of campaigns, on NAFTA, on telecom immunity for post-Sept. 11 wiretaps, on unconditional talks with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad -- as he moved to the center for the general election campaign. I misjudged him. He was just getting started. [...]

Two weeks ago, I predicted that by Election Day Obama will have erased all meaningful differences with McCain on withdrawal from Iraq. I underestimated Obama's cynicism. He will make the move much sooner. He will use his upcoming Iraq trip to finally acknowledge the remarkable improvements on the ground and to formally abandon his primary season commitment to a fixed 16-month timetable for removal of all combat troops.

The shift has already begun. Yesterday, he said that his "original position" on withdrawal has always been that "we've got to make sure that our troops are safe and that Iraq is stable." And that "when I go to Iraq . . . I'll have more information and will continue to refine my policies."

He hasn't even gone to Iraq and the flip is almost complete. All that's left to say is that the 16-month time frame remains his goal but that he will, of course, take into account the situation on the ground and the recommendation of his generals in deciding whether the withdrawal is to occur later or even sooner.


And with that, the Obama of the primaries, the Obama with last year's most liberal voting record in the Senate, will have disappeared into the collective memory hole.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:22 AM


Jesse Helms, Conservative Force in the Senate, Dies at 86 (STEVEN A. HOLMES, 7/5/08, NY Times)

In a 52-year political career that ended with his retirement from the Senate in 2002, Mr. Helms became a beacon for the right wing of American politics, a lightning rod for the left, and, often, a mighty pain for Presidents whatever their political leaning.

Ronald Reagan, a friend who could thank Mr. Helms for critical campaign help, once described him as a “thorn in my side.” Mr. Helms was known for taking on anyone, even leaders of his own party, who strayed from his idea of ideological purity.

“I didn’t come to Washington to be a yes man for any President, Democrat or Republican,” he said in an interview in 1989. “I didn’t come to Washington to get along and win any popularity contests.”

Perhaps his most visible accomplishments in the Senate came two decades apart. One was a 1996 measure that tightened trade sanctions against the Marxist government of Fidel Castro in Cuba. The other, a 1973 amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act, prevented American money from going to international family planning organizations that, in his words, “provide or promote” abortion. He also introduced amendments to reduce or eliminate funds for foreign aid, welfare programs and the arts.

David A. Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, said recently that Mr. Helms’s contribution to the conservative movement was “incredibly important.”

For one thing, he said, Mr. Helms was alert to technological change, especially the importance of direct mail, and readily signed fund-raising letters that helped conservative organizations get started.

Mr. Helms was also instrumental in keeping Mr. Reagan’s presidential campaign alive in 1976 when it was broke and limping after a series of defeats in the Republican primaries.

And in the Senate, Mr. Keene said, Mr. Helms was a rallying point for conservatives. As chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, he supported Mr. Reagan on issues like aid to the Nicaraguan Contras. “Without Jesse, it would have been hard for Reagan to hold the line,” he said. [...]

He was also well known for holding up votes on treaties and appointments to win a point. His willingness to block the business of the Senate or the will of Presidents earned him the sobriquet “Senator No” — a label he relished.

We were humbled when we got permission to use one of his speeches in our book.

-OBIT: Former Senator Jesse Helms Dies (DAVID ESPO AND WHITNEY WOODWARD , 7/04/08, AP)

"Compromise, hell! ... If freedom is right and tyranny is wrong, why should those who believe in freedom treat it as if it were a roll of bologna to be bartered a slice at a time?" Helms wrote in a 1959 editorial that foretold his political style.

-OBIT: Jesse Helms, right wing US senator, dies aged 86 (Nico Hines, 7/04/08, Times of London)
-OBIT: Former U.S. senator Jesse Helms dies ( Johanna Neuman, 7/04/08, Los Angeles Times)
The key to Helms' longevity was a political strategy that allowed him to win election without appealing to the mainstream. The use of direct mail to solicit campaign funds nationally was pioneered in the 1960s, but Helms perfected the approach. He sought campaign contributions from conservatives nationally, then used their money to air inflammatory advertisements that energized the passions of his conservative base at home.

"He needed the white vote to win," said Merle Black, a professor of political science at Emory University. "To get that, he had to use explicit racial themes. His was a kind of primitive conservatism."

Helms never won with more than 56% of the vote but he maintained a devoted core constituency.

"He was a loud and clear voice for muscular, principled conservatism," said Whit Ayres, a pollster for many Southern candidates. "He was ideologically consistent, and he didn't bend with the wind.

Because, as we all know, the 40% are the mainstream....
-OBIT: Ex-Senator Jesse Helms dies at 86 (BBC, 7/04/08)
He became known for his refusal to ratify international treaties and obstinate blocking of other executive actions, the BBC's Jonny Dymond says.

It was Mr Helms who stopped the US paying its dues to the UN; Mr Helms who blocked ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and the Kyoto Protocol on global warming; and Mr Helms who opposed the use of US troops in Bosnia.

"I will not support sending American soldiers to fight and to die for the sake of an agreement not yet reached which may offer no more than the promise of a brief pause while all sides prepare for the next round of Balkan wars," Mr Helms said.

Before he became chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he attacked accords such as the Panama Canal Treaty and the Salt II arms reduction pact.

As committee chairman he clashed with the Clinton administration. Its multilateral approach to foreign relations did not fit in with his view of how America should operate.

He also helped sink the administration's attempts to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in 1999, and in 2000 made it clear that a modified 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty would not pass the Senate.

Mr Helms never cared very much what his critics thought, our correspondent says - and if he had, he certainly would not have been so outspoken about what he perceived to be the ills of modern life.

-OBIT: Senator Jesse Helms (Daily Telegraph, 04/07/2008)
A fervent anti-Communist, his closest known foreign associate was Roberto d'Aubuisson, the leader of the El Salvadorean Right and the man identified by the State Department as responsible for the assassination of archbishop Oscar Romero while he was saying Mass.

Helms had also supported Pinochet in Chile and had been the only senator to back the Argentine junta against Britain during the Falklands war. He once advocated the invasion of Cuba and was one of the few American conservatives to back the white apartheid regimes in Southern Africa. [...]

In contrast to his public reputation, in private Helms as known as a courtly southern gentleman with impeccable manners, unswervingly loyal to family, friends and employees. Yet he also had a quick temper which could flare up when things were not going his way, or when people disagreed with him, a temper which he sometime employed to good effect.

In 1997, Helms had an ugly spat with the British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, at a meeting at which Cook insisted that America should pay its debt to the UN "in full and on time".

"We saved your bacon two times this century," Helms retorted furiously "and when we need something, you don't give us a thing".
Article continues

Helms went on to equate New Labour with Neville Chamberlain finishing with a lyrical peroration on the wonders of Margaret Thatcher.

The meeting ended after 20 minutes when Helms stood up abruptly: "Nice of you to come," he drawled acidly, having made his point.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:17 AM


The ’60s Begin to Fade as Liberal Professors Retire (PATRICIA COHEN, 7/04/08, NY Times)

Baby boomers, hired in large numbers during a huge expansion in higher education that continued into the ’70s, are being replaced by younger professors who many of the nearly 50 academics interviewed by The New York Times believe are different from their predecessors — less ideologically polarized and more politically moderate.

“There’s definitely something happening,” said Peter W. Wood, executive director of the National Association of Scholars, which was created in 1987 to counter attacks on Western culture and values. “I hear from quite a few faculty members and graduate students from around the country. They are not really interested in fighting the battles that have been fought over the last 20 years.”

Individual colleges and organizations like the American Association of University Professors are already bracing for what has been labeled the graying of the faculty. More than 54 percent of full-time faculty members in the United States were older than 50 in 2005, compared with 22.5 percent in 1969. How many will actually retire in the next decade or so depends on personal preferences and health, as well as how their pensions fare in the financial markets.

Yet already there are signs that the intense passions and polemics that roiled campuses during the past couple of decades have begun to fade. At Stanford a divided anthropology department reunited last year after a bitter split in 1998 broke it into two entities, one focusing on culture, the other on biology. At Amherst, where military recruiters were kicked out in 1987, students crammed into a lecture hall this year to listen as alumni who served in Iraq urged them to join the military.

In general, information on professors’ political and ideological leanings tends to be scarce. But a new study of the social and political views of American professors by Neil Gross at the University of British Columbia and Solon Simmons at George Mason University found that the notion of a generational divide is more than a glancing impression. “Self-described liberals are most common within the ranks of those professors aged 50-64, who were teenagers or young adults in the 1960s,” they wrote, making up just under 50 percent. At the same time, the youngest group, ages 26 to 35, contains the highest percentage of moderates, some 60 percent, and the lowest percentage of liberals, just under a third.

When it comes to those who consider themselves “liberal activists,” 17.2 percent of the 50-64 age group take up the banner compared with only 1.3 percent of professors 35 and younger.

“These findings with regard to age provide further support for the idea that, in recent years, the trend has been toward increasing moderatism,” the study says.

The professors here will tell you that the students themselves gravitated away from the Leftwing nuts because you can't afford to indulge in such nonsense when your degree is a career stepping stone. In a delicious irony, the commodification of education has killed the campus Left--Capitalism won.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:13 AM


How Reagan Made It Possible for Bush To Attack Iraq ... Iran-Contra's 'Lost Chapter'
(Robert Parry, 6/30/08, Consortium News)

As historians ponder George W. Bush’s disastrous presidency, they may wonder how Republicans perfected a propaganda system that could fool tens of millions of Americans, intimidate Democrats, and transform the vaunted Washington press corps from watchdogs to lapdogs.

To understand this extraordinary development, historians might want to look back at the 1980s and examine the Iran-Contra scandal’s “lost chapter,” a narrative describing how Ronald Reagan’s administration brought CIA tactics to bear domestically to reshape the way Americans perceived the world.

...half the time the Brights tell us how moronic the Gipper and W are and the other they tell us they're evil masterminds who've hoodwinked 300 million Americans...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:11 AM


Obama, New and Not Improved (Der Spiegel, 7/03/08)

Now there seems to be a new Barack Obama on the hustings. First, he broke his promise to try to keep both major parties within public-financing limits for the general election. His team explained that, saying he had a grass-roots-based model and that while he was forgoing public money, he also was eschewing gold-plated fund-raisers. These days he’s on a high-roller hunt.

Even his own chief money collector, Penny Pritzker, suggests that the magic of $20 donations from the Web was less a matter of principle than of scheduling. “We have not been able to have much of the senator’s time during the primaries, so we have had to rely more on the Internet,” she explained as she and her team busily scheduled more than a dozen big-ticket events over the next few weeks at which the target price for quality time with the candidate is more than $30,000 per person.

The new Barack Obama has abandoned his vow to filibuster an electronic wiretapping bill if it includes an immunity clause for telecommunications companies that amounts to a sanctioned cover-up of Mr. Bush’s unlawful eavesdropping after 9/11. [...]

The Barack Obama of the primary season used to brag that he would stand before interest groups and tell them tough truths. The new Mr. Obama tells evangelical Christians that he wants to expand President Bush’s policy of funneling public money for social spending to religious-based organizations -- a policy that violates the separation of church and state and turns a government function into a charitable donation. [...]

On top of these perplexing shifts in position, we find ourselves disagreeing powerfully with Mr. Obama on two other issues: the death penalty and gun control.

Looks like he's losing the German vote....

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:06 AM


Balancing Act: The Other Wilsonianism (Peter Beinart, Summer 2008, World Affairs)

For close to a century, American liberals have had such a theory, even if at times it has been submerged by events. That theory has not been rendered moot by the passage of decades; to the contrary, it has never been more relevant. It is called collective security.

The phrase “collective security” will forever be linked to Woodrow Wilson, the leader who presided over America’s emergence as a great power. Wilson was a progressive, which meant, among other things, that he was an optimist about human cooperation. Against Social Darwinists who celebrated competition because it hardened the strong and culled the weak, Wilson insisted that selfishness was neither natural nor good. In a nation bitterly divided between rich and poor, urban and rural, immigrant and native born, he saw unregulated self-interest as leading not to progress, but to civil war, as America’s fractious tribes trampled one another in their drive for power.

When Europe collapsed into war in 1914, Wilson applied this view to the international scene. He blamed the carnage of the First World War on the balance of power system that for centuries had defined European statecraft. Echoing the Social Darwinists at home, balance of power advocates celebrated unregulated self-interest on a global scale. If nations focused narrowly on their own defense and security, they argued, banding together against whoever amassed too much power, they would create a rough equilibrium among rivals, almost like an evenly balanced scale. And with no one power, or group of powers, capable of overwhelming its rivals, the balance of power would keep the peace. For Wilson, however, the theory was decisively repudiated at the Marne. Even before America entered the fray, he began to imagine a new postwar order, one that replaced anarchy with rules, competition with cooperation. When the bloodshed finally ended, he hoped, the balance of power would give way to collective security.

Whereas in the past nations had banded together in competing alliances, Wilson envisioned them joining in a single global alliance: not against one another but against war itself. Every member would swear an oath against aggression, and if any nation violated the pledge, it would find itself in a war of one against all. The global alliance would be called The League to Enforce Peace or, later, the League of Nations. And through it, Wilson declared in May 1916, “Coercion shall be summoned not to the service of political ambition or selfish hostility but to the service of a common order, a common justice and a common peace.”

In the decades after Wilson exited the political stage, American liberals held fast to his vision, even as events made it impossible to achieve.

Even the Europeans aren't yet so soul-dead that they'll succumb to the EU, but Americans are going to shuck 88 years of opposition to the League? And the Left wonders why no one thinks them patriotic....
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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:23 AM


Obama's trade pledge may hurt U.S. (Andres Oppenheimer, July 4, 2008, Miami Herald)

When I asked Mexican President Felipe Calderón about Democratic presumptive presidential candidate Barack Obama's pledge to renegotiate the U.S. free-trade agreement with Mexico, I expected him to say that such a move would be catastrophic for Mexico.

Interestingly, his first reaction was to say that it would be catastrophic for the United States.

The 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement among the United States, Mexico and Canada was be raised by Republican presumptive nominee Sen. John McCain during his just concluded visit to Mexico. McCain is courting U.S. Latino voters, claiming that his pro-NAFTA stance makes him a better friend to Latin America than Obama.

In a wide-ranging interview at the presidential palace, Calderón – a conservative by Mexican standards – told me that he sees a dangerous protectionist wave in the United States. Reopening NAFTA, as Obama proposes, would hurt the United States as much as Mexico, he said.

No Way to Treat an Ally: Democrats disdain Colombia. (Mona Charen, 7/04/08, National Review)

The rescue of three Americans from the jungles of South America is a terrific Fourth of July present to the nation. (And John McCain gets high marks for timing in being present for the happy event.) American contractors Keith Stansell, Thomas Howes, and Marc Gonsalves had been captured by the Colombian communist guerrilla group FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) when their antinarcotics surveillance plane crashed in rebel territory five years ago. At the time, considering the weakness of the Colombian government, the growing strength of the neighborhood bully Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, and the terror that FARC inflicted upon the Colombian people, the future looked grim for them and for the hundreds of hostages held in various remote areas. Ingrid Betancourt, a former presidential candidate who was likewise snatched and held by FARC, was freed with the Americans on July 2.

The rescue operation involved deception. Colombian army officers disguised themselves as FARC guerrillas in order to fly the hostages by helicopter to a supposed meeting with the FARC commander. When she saw them sporting Che Guevara T-shirts, Betancourt told reporters, “I thought, ‘This is FARC.’” Hmm, is this the same Che Guevara that adorns so many dorm rooms and faculty lounges at America’s leading institutions of higher learning? It is. The same Che whose photo, superimposed over a Cuban flag, decorated the Houston Obama for president office? Obama may not have known of this, but it gives you the flavor of some of his enthusiasts.

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July 3, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:13 PM


God Bless America (Harry V. Jaffa, April 16, 2008, Claremont.org)

What exactly did these words, of both the Declaration of Independence and the Gettysburg Address, mean? They meant that there was no difference, between one human being, and another human being, that made one the master and the other the servant. As Jefferson once put it, some men are not born with saddles on their backs, nor are others born booted and spurred to ride them. That a man or woman rides a horse corresponds with the difference in their natures. No injustice is done to the horse! That an ox should pull a plow, while a man walks behind, is according to nature. In these cases, servitude follows from the laws of nature. But these same laws of nature tell us that when a human being is subjected to other human beings as if he were a horse or an ox, the laws of nature are violated. All human beings are accordingly equal in their right not to be enslaved, and in their right to be in secure possession of their lives, liberties, and property. To this end they have a right to be governed only by laws to which they have consented.

That all men are created equal does not mean that human beings are the same, or equal, in size, strength, beauty, virtue, or intelligence. There are obviously great differences in individual aptitudes and talents in sports, music, mathematics, speaking, and writing. They are also unequal in the virtues, among them courage, temperance, and justice. But as Jefferson once said, the fact that Sir Isaac Newton may be the most intelligent of living human beings does not give him any right whatever to my person or my property.

If there is no natural authority of any human being over any other—leaving aside the temporary authority of parents over children—how does lawful authority arise? In the words of the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780, "The body politic is formed by a voluntary association of individuals; it is a social compact by which the whole people covenants with each citizen and each citizen with the whole people that all shall be governed by certain laws for the common good."

It cannot be too greatly emphasized that the political community is a voluntary association. In obeying the law, we are obeying ourselves. In obeying the law we seek to provide a greater security for the rights which we have from God and nature, but which rights we cannot provide for by ourselves alone. The "just powers of government" arise for no other purpose than the protection of those rights which are antecedent to government. Governments exist to protect these rights; the rights themselves do not come from government. In the protection of these rights, no citizen is entitled to greater, or to less protection, than any other. Here is the original meaning of the equal protection of the laws. No one is entitled to greater protection than any of his fellow citizens, because of his wealth, birth, or intelligence. Nor is any one entitled to exemption from taxation or from service in the common defense, because of any claim of superior personal worth.

Once the political community comes into being as a result of the unanimous consent of those who form it, this community must have a government capable of acting. It cannot, however, act by unanimous consent. Such government must, at first, be by majority rule. It must be understood, however, that the authority of the majority is bounded and limited by the purposes for which unanimous consent had originally been given. The majority represents the community in determining how the rights of everyone, minority no less than majority, are to be served. It is to spell out the boundaries of majority rule, and to assert the indefeasible rights of minorities, that constitutions are peculiarly necessary.

In the government of the political community, officers in all its branches will have lawful powers, by which they can give lawful orders. The president as commander-in-chief of the armed services has unique authority to command the use of force in the execution of the laws. We do not however suppose his person to be endowed with rights greater than those of anyone else. We the people have endowed him with powers necessary for our protection. The powers which he enjoys under the Constitution are for our benefit, not his. Thus civic or political inequality arises necessarily from original equality and is consistent with it.

A free society, so far as possible, has a level playing field. But within the human family, there is a great variety of talents, and of energy, and of ambition. Equality of opportunity leads necessarily to inequality of results. Equality of rights leads necessarily to inequality of wealth. A war against wealth is a denial of the equality of rights. James Madison, in the tenth Federalist, observed that there is a "diversity in the faculties of men from which the rights of property originate." The equal protection of unequal faculties of acquiring property is "the first object of government." As Abraham Lincoln wrote: "that some should be rich shows that others may become rich, and hence is just encouragement to industry and enterprise." It is the encouragement to industry and enterprise, arising from the recognition of human equality, which makes a free society more productive, with more wealth, more widely distributed, than any other form of human society.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:01 PM


Church-State Relations in America and Europe: Robert Kraynak on America's Civil Religion (ZENIT, 25 MARCH 2005)

Alexis de Tocqueville admired the way Americans were able to combine the spirit of religion with the spirit of liberty in the 1830s.

Robert Kraynak, professor of political science at Colgate University and author of "Christian Faith and Modern Democracy: God and Politics in the Fallen World" (Notre Dame), explains in the first part of this three-part interview how civil religion prevented a totally secular democracy from arising in America for nearly 200 years, and how it might be a good model for other nations.

This is the first of a three-part interview.

Q: Recently, Cardinal Ratzinger described the American model of church-state relations as more hospitable to religious truth and institutions than European models. What features of the American model might be more hospitable to religion?

Kraynak: The American model of church-state relations was best described by Alexis de Tocqueville in "Democracy in America" more than 150 years ago. He expressed his admiration, much like Cardinal Ratzinger today, for the way Americans were able to combine the spirit of religion with the spirit of liberty.

The crucial point for Tocqueville was the distinction between laws and customs. By law, Americans separated church and state; but in their customs or mores, Americans insisted on a prominent role for religion in public and private life. This meant Americans rejected the model of Great Britain, which established a national Church of England, and the practice of regional princes in Germany, who gave legal support to their own denominations.

By rejecting state establishment, Americans never experienced the problems of clerical power and were able to develop a robust pluralism where the various Christian churches pursued religious orthodoxy as voluntary associations on roughly equal terms, although reformed Protestant churches had a historical advantage.

While favoring voluntary worship, Americans also believed that religion had a public role in promoting republican virtue. Hence, they developed a nondenominational civil religion that was expressed in the Declaration of Independence's doctrine of God-given natural rights — the belief that liberty derived from "the laws of Nature and Nature's God" and that inalienable rights were endowments of the Creator.

This republican religion was later expressed in Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, which said that "this nation under God" will enjoy a new birth of freedom — a sentiment also echoed in the Pledge of Allegiance and in countless public statements connecting the blessings of American freedom with God's providence and judgment.

For nearly 200 years, this civil religion prevented a totally secular democracy from arising in America, while allowing and even protecting a deeper piety based on the revealed truths of Christian faith in the many Protestant, Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches of America.

American piety is thus a special blend of three elements: the disestablishment of religion, a republican civil religion of God-given natural rights, and pluralism in the pursuit of Christian orthodoxy.

Q: A recent article in the New York Times described the strong collaborations between Christian and non-Christian politicians in Italy. Some European states even subsidize the Church. Why might Cardinal Ratzinger think the United States is a better model?

Kraynak: In comparing attitudes to religion, Cardinal Ratzinger reportedly said that "from many points of view the American model is better. ... Europe has remained bogged down in caesaro-papism." I think Cardinal Ratzinger meant that a lingering Christian establishment in Europe may be holding back a renewal of spiritual life that could be unleashed by voluntary religious participation and pluralism as in America.

Italy, for example, looks like it has state-sponsored Catholicism with the government's historic ties to the Christian Democratic Party, public schools that have crucifixes in classrooms, the Pope living next door and Christian art and churches publicly supported everywhere. But the people seem to lack religious zeal and have disregarded Catholic teaching in legalizing divorce, abortion and gay marriage, as well as in their alarmingly low birthrates.

The same is true of England and the Scandinavian countries: officially Anglican or Lutheran but practically indifferent or hostile to Christianity — and much more openly anti-Christian than Italy, which still has an affectionately pro-Catholic feel.

France is the extreme case in embracing a totally "laicized" state — enforcing a ban on all religious displays in public schools and all references to God by public officials. This is state-sponsored secularism that also suppresses religious vitality.

Cardinal Ratzinger looks at most European nations — he could have mentioned Canada as well — and he sees the worst possible combination of historical residues of Christian establishment and utter indifference to Christian faith; a post-Christian world that would not even allow a reference to the Christian heritage of Europe in the Constitution of the European Union.

By comparison, the American situation looks relatively healthy: higher rates of church attendance and professions of faith — although secular forces in the U.S. judiciary, universities and the media are trying to create a secular America just like Europe and Canada. And one cannot forget that the Catholic Church and Protestant denominations in America have been rocked by scandals and divisive battles that have damaged the faith.

Even if we grant the relative superiority of the American condition today — which I am prepared to do — the question Cardinal Ratzinger leaves unanswered is whether Europe could be saved by adopting some features of the American model, such as disestablishment and pluralism, without possessing other vital elements — namely, a civil religion of God-given natural rights and a belief in Christian orthodoxy.

I think that a nondenominational civil religion is feasible for Europeans to adopt as a basis for human rights. Even the French could come to see that their historic commitment to "the rights of man" is better grounded in the belief that humans are made in the image of God rather than in the skeptical reason of the French Enlightenment.

Professor Kraynak, whose book is marvelous, is more optimistic about the French than they warrant.
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[originally posted: 4/19/05]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:46 PM


Children labelled hyperactive really 'just naughty' (Rebecca Smith, 03/07/2008, Daily Telegraph)

Teachers are misdiagnosing some children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder when they are just naughty, psychiatrists have warned.

Only half of children teachers suspected of having ADHD were diagnosed with the condition by a mental health expert, a study found.

...if you'd let them just drug the kids without any diagnosis they would.
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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:37 PM


Colombia: The rise and fall of Farc (Jeremy McDermott, 03/07/2008, Daily Telegraph)

[I]n 1982, spurred by civil wars in Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala, the Farc fundamentally changed their purpose and set out to take power and impose a Marxist regime in the Colombia.

They also decided to use drugs trafficking as a source of revenue.

As the drugs cartels of Pablo Escobar in Medellin and the Rodriguez Orejuela brothers in Cali began to export hundreds of tons of cocaine, drug crop cultivation increased in Colombia.

And with the growth in coca crops came the growth of the Farc. [...]

Backed by money from Washington and in the post-9/11 environment, Colombia increased its defence spending, offered rewards for those prepared to desert the Farc or deliver intelligence on the rebel group.

Tens of million of pounds have been handed over to informers, and this year alone there have been 1,000 desertions from the warring factions.

March this year showed how vulnerable the Farc had become. Raul Reyes, a member of the organisation's ruling body, the Secretariat, was killed as he slept in a rebel camp within Ecuadorean territory.

The Colombian air force bombed the camp, sparking a major international incident which is still unresolved.

A week later another member of the Secretariat, "Ivan Rios" was killed by his own bodyguard, who went on to claim the bounty the government was offering.

Then the founder and leader of the rebel army, Marulanda, died at the end of March, aged 78. Never had the Farc been without his leadership and guidance in 44 years of fighting.

Now with this latest rescue the Farc are shown to be in a chaotic state, their command, control and communications shattered, many units isolated and feeling abandoned in the face of army offensives.

...thanks to Uribe and W.

Uribe's hostage triumph (The Economist, 7/03/08)

This time the army relied on trickery rather than surprise or force. A former hostage who escaped last year supplied details of the jungle camps where the hostages were being held in the remote south-eastern departments of Guaviare and Vaupés. Army intelligence agents, posing as senior FARC members, communicated with the guerrilla commander guarding the hostages. They gave him a false order purporting to be from the FARC’s new leader, Alfonso Cano, that the hostages were to be taken to a helicopter sent by a humanitarian organisation—mimicking the arrangements when six other captives were released earlier this year after mediation by Venezuela’s president, Hugo Chávez.

Once on board the helicopter, the two guerrilla escorts were overpowered and the army agents, some dressed in Che Guevara T-shirts, broke the news to the hostages that they were flying to an army base and freedom. “We couldn’t believe it. The helicopter nearly fell because we jumped for joy,” said Ms Betancourt.

The operation is the latest of several devastating blows suffered this year by the FARC, which mixes an antiquated Marxism-Leninism with drug-trafficking and racketeering. [...]

The United States supplies Colombia with military aid and training. It has given particular help in intercepting FARC communications. Juan Manuel Santos, the defence minister, said that he had co-ordinated the rescue plan with American officials.

The FARC claimed to want to swap its trophy hostages (who at one point numbered around 60, including Colombian politicians and military officers) for jailed guerrillas. But e-mails from Mr Reyes’s computer, seen by The Economist, show that their real aim was to use them to embarrass Mr Uribe politically and to gain international recognition.

They wanted the president to “demilitarise” a swathe of territory to allow talks. Mr Uribe was resolutely against that: during past peace talks the FARC used a similar enclave for recruiting and training while continuing to kill and kidnap. The guerrillas also want the European Union to drop them from a list of terrorist organisations—an aim that Mr Chávez supported, calling for their recognition as a “belligerent force”.

Mr Uribe faced much pressure to bow to the FARC’s demands, both from the hostages’ families and, less understandably, from France. (At Mr Sarkozy’s request he freed a jailed guerrilla leader who has returned to action.) Ms Betancourt’s mother was particularly bitter in her criticism of the president during her tireless campaign for her daughter’s release. But Ingrid Betancourt was full of praise for Mr Uribe and for the “impeccable” army operation. She said the biggest blow suffered by the FARC had been when the president succeeded in changing the constitution to allow him to run for—and win by a landslide—a second term in 2006.

That statement must have been particularly sweet for Mr Uribe.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:33 PM


Obama Opens Door to Altering Iraq Policy (JENNIFER LOVEN, 7/03/08, AP)

Democrat Barack Obama opened the door Thursday to altering his plan to bring U.S. troops home from Iraq in 16 months based on what he hears from military commanders during his upcoming trip there.

"I am going to do a thorough assessment when I'm there," he told reporters on the airport tarmac here. "I'm sure I'll have more information and continue to refine my policy."

During his presidential campaign, Obama has gone from the hard-edged, vocal opposition to Iraq that defined his early candidacy to more nuanced rhetoric....

....to acknowledge that up until now his policy has been a function of ignorance of facts on the ground.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:23 PM


A Religious Idea Called "America": How Puritanism Created It, What It Means, Why It Matters (David Gelernter, February 13, 2006, Bradley Lecture)

Americanism, or the religious idea called “America,” seems like a secular idea. It can and has been professed by devout atheists. Its creed, a central element of Americanism, is completely secular in tone--of course there’s no canonical version, but most people would agree that it calls for liberty, equality, and democracy for all mankind--or something on those lines.

I’ll argue that despite all this, Americanism is profoundly Christian in its inspiration and worldview.

It is in fact profoundly Puritan.

It is in fact profoundly Biblical.

It in fact emerged not just from the Bible, but especially from the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible.

It’s no accident that a seventeenth century American Puritan should have written, regarding his fellow-Puritans: “We are the children of Abraham; and therefore we are under Abraham’s covenant.”

The strongly Puritan nature of Americanism and the classical Hebraic character of Puritanism are both indispensable to a clear picture of America.

I’ll discuss a third element too. Biblical origins, Puritan teaching--and finally the emergence of full-blown Americanism in the nineteenth century. [...]

That you don’t have to be a Christian or Jew or deist or anything at all to believe in America or Americanism is important--fundamental. It’s also true that you can hum the opening measures of a Bach mass without converting to Christianity.

But of course Christianity inspired the Bach Mass. And Christianity inspired the American religion, too--in a far more direct sense.

Many people describe Americanism as a civil religion, or merely a type of patriotism. But the millions of desperate people all over the world who have said, devoutly, “I believe in America”--especially in the last 100 years or so--weren’t referring to an American civil religion or American patriotism. When they said “I believe in America,” they weren’t speaking of a nation either. They were expressing belief in a religious idea of enormous, transporting power.

Jews in pogrom-ridden czarist Russia, masses of west Europeans who turned out to cheer Woodrow Wilson, Nazi victims during the war, refuseniks and dissidents in Soviet prisons over the last decades of communist rule, Polish labor Unionists in the 1970s and ‘80s, Chinese students in Tien-an-min square--obviously America didn’t always justify these beliefs, but often it did. And by “America” these believers meant a religious ideal that told absolute truths about human life which had to be accepted--ultimately--on faith.

The American religion has two parts--not only the Creed, but a doctrine about America’s duty and her special standing and responsibilities in the world--a doctrine I’ll call American Zionism.

The Creed is a standard element in nearly all discussions of Americanism. Most definitions--mine included--say basically the same thing.

American Zionism is based on another widely recognized aspect of Americanism. In earlier centuries, the analogy between America and Ancient Israel, or the European settlements in colonial America and Ancient Israel, was heard constantly. It was derived from the corresponding analogy between England or Britain and Ancient Israel. There’s nothing new in this observation.

But it seems to me that we ought to recognize that this analogy gave rise to beliefs that are tantamount to Zionism--not to the modern version, but to biblical Zionism, which is based on two ideas: a chosen people and a promised land. Both elements were understood by the biblical prophets to imply privileges and duties. The chosen people is closer to God than any other and is held to higher standards. The promised land flows with milk and honey and must be made by its inhabitants into a beacon of sanctity for the whole world--in the end of days it shall come to pass, the prophet says, “[t]hat the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established at the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and nations shall flow unto it. . . . For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. . . . Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree, and none shall make them afraid.” (Michah 4:1-4)

In short, I’ll argue that the analogy between America and ancient Israel was no mere figure of speech. It implied a doctrine that made assertions and imposed duties. That doctrine was Zionism. Zionism, suitably adjusted, is a fundamental part of Americanism, which is another reason why the idea of Americanism as a merely secular or civil religion doesn’t hold up.

Puritanism, which is basic to my story, performed a strange historical trick. It vanished. In the early nineteenth century it seems to drop out of history. It was a powerful, robust approach to Protestant Christianity; yet the historical record shows that it simply disappears. But it might be more correct to say that it didn’t disappear, but merely changed shape.

I’ll argue that Puritanism in fact metamorphosed into Americanism. Or died and was reborn as Americanism.

Puritanism didn’t merely influence Americanism. It turned into Americanism. In a sense, the molten bronze of Puritanism became the solid metal of the American Religion. [...]

To see what the American religion is, we have to start with Puritanism. America is the Puritan nation. Europeans have always seen that clearly enough; Americans might as well, too.

Hatred of Puritanism happens to be one of the best-established bigotries of modern times. “Puritan” has been an insult for hundreds of years. It suggests rigid, austere, censorious--exactly the kind of religion secularists love to hate. Puritans were rigid and censorious, up to a point. Most caricatures are partly true. But they were much else besides. They were creative thinkers about man’s spiritual role in the modern state and the modern world.

Puritanism was a British invention of the Elizabethan age. It reflected the unhappiness of English Protestants who saw the Church of England as not really Protestant or insufficiently Protestant; who wanted a purified church with no hierarchy or no Catholic-style hierarchy, where each Christian dealt directly with the Bible and the Lord. Puritans were Calvinists who believed in predestination, in salvation through saving grace; whose faith centered on the Covenant of Grace, as they called it, that the Lord had made with Abraham--which made a pool of grace available to the “visible saints” who were predestined by the Lord for salvation.

Queen Elizabeth tolerated the Puritans. But things changed when she died and the Stuarts came to power. James I announced that he would make the Puritans “conform themselves or I will harry them out of the land.” He meant it, and persecuted Puritans set sail in rising numbers for the New World in search of religious freedom Things were even worse for British Puritans under Charles I and Archbishop Laud; Puritan emigration to America increased. By the mid seventeenth century, many Puritan settlements were solidly established in America, especially--though not only--in New England.

American Puritanism differed in significant ways from its British parent. It usually sought to be more rigorous, and to push Puritan premises to their logical conclusions. American Puritans often described their settlements as covenant communities. The community as a whole conceived itself as having a convenant with the Lord, or a vow agreed to by both sides. John Winthop wrote, for example, that “thus stands the cause betweene God and us. Wee are entered in a covenant with him for this work.” If the community behaves well, God treats it well. If the community violates the covenant, “The Lord will surely breake out in wrath against us.”

* * *

Americanism came to consist of a creed in the context of the “American Zionism” doctrine. Puritanism played the decisive role in shaping this doctrine.

Winthrop again wrote in 1630 that the Lord was “jealous of our love and obedience, just as He told the people of Israel, ‘You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore will I punish you for your transgressions’” (Amos 3:2). This highly significant verse--therefore will I visit all your sins upon you” is another translation--is the verse most frequently used in traditional Jewish literature to define the idea of a “chosen people.”

In the literature of Puritanism, Britain, and even moreso America, the analogy to ancient Israel recurs constantly. After all, the experience of the American Puritans really did suggest the experience of ancient Israel. These Puritans really had fled a “house of bondage” as it seemed to them, and made a dangerous journey to a pagan land where they struggled to establish themselves. American Puritans thought of themselves as ancient Israel reborn, and said so often.

Before Winthrop and his group set out, for example, John Cotton preached them a sermon on this verse from II Samuel: “Moreover I will appoint a place for my people Israel, and I will plant them, that they may dwell in a place of their own, and move no more” (II Sam. 7:10). As God had “planted” Israel in the promised land, He would plant the Puritans in a new promised land.

Cotton’s whole sermon likened the Puritans traveling to America to biblical Jews heading for Israel. The Puritans would inhabit their new settlements, Cotton said, “as well by gracious promise as by the common, and just, and bountiful providence of the Lord.”

On the way, Winthrop himself, in his famous essay, composed an elaborate comparison between the Puritans and Ancient Israel. “Wee shall finde,” he wrote, “that the God of Israell is among us.” And there are innumerable references to this analogy in the literature of the growing Puritan settlements in America.

The eminent New England theologian Thomas Shepard wrote: “ What shall we say of the singular providence of God bringing so many shiploads of His people through so many dangers, as upon eagles’ wings, with so much safety from year to year?”

He is echoing two Hebrew verses:

Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto myself.” (Exod 19:4). And, “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with the wings of eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31).

And he is restating the message that the Puritans of New England are ancient Israel reborn; God’s new chosen people.

There are (as I say) countless similar references. And in later generations we hear the consequences of this doctrine of American Zionism from many thinkers on many occasions.

Including Thomas Jefferson, for example, who referred to his countrymen in his first inaugural address as “possessing a chosen country, with room enough for our descendents to the thousandth and thousandth generation.” And in his second inaugural, even more plainly: “I shall need,” he said, “the favor of that Being in whose hands we are, who led our fathers, as Israel of old, from their native land and planted them in a country flowing with all the necessaries and comforts of life.” (An updated version of “flowing with milk and honey.” Jefferson was always up-to-date.)

In the context of American Zionism, it was natural for Americans to believe that they were setting an example for the whole world; leading the whole world out of the house of bondage into--or at least, toward--the promised land of liberty.

* * *

We hear from the Puritans not only American Zionism, but premonitions of the American creed of liberty, equality, and democracy.

These don’t emerge from the Bible and Christianity only; the Puritans were Englishmen, heirs to the tradition of English liberty and law. Both were important to Puritan thinking. But what’s often neglected is the fact that liberty, equality, and democracy all had Biblical roots, so far as the Puritans understood them.

Liberty for the Puritans meant, first of all, the kind of national religious liberty Israel had won by escaping Egypt. They believed in religious freedom--for themselves. But Roger Williams was a Puritan, too, and he founded Rhode Island as a Puritan community with a startling twist--religious freedom for everyone.

Eventually the idea of the Exodus from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land took on a broader meaning. Thus we have a committee of the Continental Congress made up of John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson--they don’t make congressional commitees like they used to--asked to design a seal for the brand new United States.

Their proposed seal shows Israel crossing the Red Sea, lit by the divine pillar of fire, with the motto, “Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God.” The seal was never adopted, but the same theme emerges repeatedly in sermons of the period, which were almost certainly more influential with the public at large than the works of British or French enlightenment philosophers.

Democracy of a sort was characteristic of several Puritan settlements. One important example: the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut, of May 1638, have been described in recent decades as the “first written constitution of modern democracy.”

They were drawn up in response to a sermon by Thomas Hooker before the general assembly in Hartford. Hooker based himself on the Biblical verse in which Moses is recapitulating his instructions to Israel in the wilderness--“Take ye wise men, and understanding, and known among your tribes, and I will make them rulers over you” (Deuteronomy 1:13). By “take ye” Hooker understood, as other commentators have also, some sort of democratic choice. He interpreted the verse to mean “that the choice of public magistrate belongs unto the people, by God’s own allowance. . . . The foundation of authority is laid, firstly, in the free consent of the people.”

Pastors continued to cite this verse--in connection with the powerful denunciation of monarchy in First Samuel--to mean that the Bible required democracy. Various sermons repeated this assertion up to and during the Revolution and in the years following--for example, in the 1788 sermon before the New Hampshire General Court by Samuel Langdon, former president of Harvard, called “The Republic of the Israelites an Example to the American States.”

Equality is the trickiest element of the Creed to trace. American Puritans were not believers, ordinarily, in the doctrine that all men are created equal. But we do find this doctrine curiously foreshadowed by Alexander Whitaker, an Anglican rather than Puritan minister, in an essay called “Good Newes from Virginia,” which he sent back to England for publication in 1613. Whitaker asserts that American Indians must be well-treated by European settlers: after all, “One God created us, they have reasonable soules and intellectuall faculties as well as wee; we all have Adam for our common parent: yea, by nature the condition of us both is all one.”

Whitaker asserts, in other words, that all men were created by the one God, have the same rational souls, and have Adam for their common parent. Thus all men are equal--“by nature the condition of us both is all one”--both Englishmen and Indians; Christians and pagans.

So it is possible to read the Bible and find the equality of man written at the very beginning of Genesis. In fact, it’s not just possible--it’s easy. The Jewish religious tradition drew this conclusion many centuries before the European settlement of America. Novak points this out. A celebrated passage in the midrash asserts that the “greatest general principle in the Torah” is the verse that reads, “these are the generations of Adam” (5:1), because it tells us that all men have the same parents. In another midrash God says to Moses, “Do I care about distinctions among people? Whether it is an Israelite or Gentile, man or woman, male slave or female slave, whoever does a good deed shall find its reward.” Another midrash notes that men treat the rich and poor differently, but “God does not act that way; all are equal before him, women, slaves, rich and poor.”

But how did Jefferson and the founding fathers actually hit on this principle that “all men are created equal”? Enlightenment philosophy was certainly one influence and the English tradition another. But Abraham Lincoln had a different interpretation, looking back, which he gave in an 1858 speech in Illinois.

After quoting from the Declaration that all men are created equal, Lincoln said:

This was their [the founding fathers’] lofty, and wise, and noble understanding of the justice of the Creator to His creatures. Yes, gentlemen, to all His creatures, to the whole great family of man. In their enlightened belief, nothing stamped with the Divine image and likeness was sent into the world to be trodden on, and degraded, and imbruted by its fellows. They grasped not only the whole race of man then living, but they reached forward and seized upon the farthest posterity.

This is, of course, Lincoln speaking and not Jefferson. But the fact that Lincoln supplied the explicit link between the Declaration and the Bible is, I think, suggestive and significant.

* * *

To sum up: Puritanism laid the basis for Americanism; it foreshadowed American Zionism and the American creed. It did so on the basis not of philosophical or legal argument, but of Christian belief based on the Bible. And, of course, biblical passages dealing with man and the state and the organization of a state--such as they are--are mainly located in the Hebrew Bible.

[originally posted: 6/10/07]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:11 PM


Larry Harmon, longtime Bozo the Clown, dead at 83 (Associated Press, July 3, 2008)

Although not the original Bozo, Harmon portrayed the popular frizzy-haired clown in countless appearances and, as an entrepreneur, he licensed the character to others, particularly dozens of TV stations around the country. The stations in turn hired actors to be their local Bozos.

"You might say, in a way, I was cloning BTC (Bozo the Clown) before anybody else out there got around to cloning DNA," Harmon told the AP in a 1996 interview.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:57 PM


Sarkozy wasn't told of Betancourt rescue plan (The Associated Press, July 3, 2008)

As it meticulously planned and executed its daring rescue of Ingrid Betancourt and 14 other hostages, French officials in Paris say, Colombia kept one person out of the loop: President Nicolas Sarkozy.

That was extraordinary because Betancourt is a dual French-Colombian national, her captivity was a cause célèbre in France and Sarkozy had maintained a drumbeat of diplomatic pressure to try to spring her from the hands of Colombian rebels.

...you get treated like the Democratic nominee, not the Republican.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:20 PM


It's a summer to love: Maine lobster on the grill, potato-shrimp salad with a sexy green goddess -- backyard entertaining is a patriot act. (Russ Parsons, July 4, 2007, LA Times)

Shortcakes with strawberry ice cream


2 cups flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

3 tablespoons sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup chilled butter, cut into 8 pieces

3/4 cup whipping cream

1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Combine the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt in a food processor and pulse to mix well. Scatter the butter cubes over the mixture and pulse until it forms the consistency of cornmeal, with a few larger lumps of butter left intact. Add half of the cream and pulse it into the mixture. Add the remainder of the cream, bit by bit, until the mixture forms a mass that pulls cleanly away from bottom and sides of the work bowl. You may not use all of cream.

2. Alternatively, the dough can be made by hand. Combine the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Scatter the butter cubes over the mixture and, using a pastry cutter or fork, work them into the mixture until it is the consistency of cornmeal and only a few larger lumps of butter are left intact. Pour half the cream lightly over the mixture and stir it in with a fork. Continue adding cream, a little at a time, until the mixture comes together as one mass. You might not use all of the cream.

3. On a lightly floured work space, quickly and lightly knead the dough until it is smooth and cohesive. Gently roll out the dough to one-half-inch thick. Cut out biscuits with a 3-inch biscuit cutter, or lightly floured juice glass. Gather the leftover dough together, knead again briefly and roll out again. Cut remaining biscuits.

4. Place the biscuits on an unbuttered baking sheet and bake until light brown and slightly crusty, about 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool slightly before splitting and serving. Makes 8 to 10 biscuits.

Strawberry ice cream and assembly

2 pints ripe strawberries,


About 3/4 cup sugar, or to taste, divided

1/2 cup sour cream

1 cup whole milk

1 cup half-and-half

1 cup whipping cream


1. Quarter one pint of the strawberries lengthwise and if they are very large, cut them in half again crosswise; the pieces should be no larger than about one-half inch. Sprinkle over about 2 tablespoons of sugar, depending on how sweet they are. The mixture should be fairly sweet as cold diminishes flavor. Toss to mix well and set aside for at least 1 hour to let the berries fully soften and release their juices.

2. Whisk together the sour cream, milk, half-and-half, whipping cream and one-half cup sugar. Chill for 1 hour and freeze according to manufacturer's instructions; if your ice cream maker makes less than 1 quart, you may need to do this in two batches. When the ice cream is almost solid, add the strawberries and their syrup to the ice cream maker to churn 3 to 4 minutes to combine. The ice cream will be a pale pink, and there should be chunks of strawberries visible. The ice cream can be served immediately, or it can be packed into a container and frozen solid for up to 2 days; let it soften briefly at room temperature before serving.

3. Up to 1 hour before serving, quarter the remaining pint of strawberries lengthwise and toss with about 2 tablespoons of sugar, or to taste. Toss to mix well and set aside for at least 1 hour to let the berries soften and release their juices.

4. Split the shortcakes horizontally and place each bottom half on a dessert plate. Top with a scoop of strawberry ice cream and spoon the sugared strawberries and syrup over the top. Set the shortcake top half atop the ice cream at a jaunty angle.

[originally posted: 7/04/07]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:08 AM


Hillaryland at War: Hillary Clinton’s campaign had it all: near-death moments, hard-won triumphs, dysfunctional relationships—and a staff consumed with infighting over how to sell their candidate. It was a battle that revealed why she came so close to victory, as well as why she didn’t make it. (Gail Sheehy, August 2008, Vanity Fair)

Nobody knew how to run a woman as leader of the free world.

Perversely, in my view, Hillary’s chief strategist proved to be an old-fashioned sexist. Penn did not appreciate the strength of her character as a woman. He and Bill Clinton insisted that she not run as a woman. They ran her as tougher than any man. They also put her out in front as her own attack dog, never an appealing role for a candidate, and one that Senator Obama’s surrogates played for him. In the losing rounds of the five-month primary season, Hillary loyalists repeatedly challenged Obama’s manhood, openly proclaiming to reporters that she was “the only candidate with the testicular fortitude to be president.”

But four of the Big Five—Doyle, Ickes, Wolfson, and Grunwald—argued that Hillary’s warmer, kinder, compassionate side needed to be displayed as well as her fight face. Ickes and Wolfson had both seen a turnaround in her first Senate campaign in New York, where her charm and humor and genuine empathy came through.

“Everybody already knows Hillary is plenty tough,” Ickes argued. “If they know she’s a tough operator, who could kick aside anyone who gets in her way, and they still don’t like her, she needs to show the very human side of herself.”

But the others got nowhere with Bill and Penn, who later protested to me, “They were consistently opposed to her taking on Barack Obama, but they never had another strategy for winning.”

After all, what does Bill Clinton know about politics? The Democrats' terror of running for Bill's third term has already cost them two elections and her the nomination.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:05 AM


Colombians Briefed McCain Before Rescue (Juliet Eilperin, 7/03/08, Washington Post)

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) spoke repeatedly Tuesday and early Wednesday about how he would work as president to free three American hostages held by leftist guerrillas in Colombia, but he declined to reveal one key fact: Colombian President Álvaro Uribe and his aides had briefed him Tuesday evening about the plan to rescue the Americans, along with 12 other captives.

"I congratulate President Uribe, the military, the nation of Colombia. This is great news," McCain told reporters Wednesday afternoon, adding that Colombian officials would continue working to free "all the other innocent people who are being held hostage" by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

The presumptive GOP nominee revealed his knowledge of the Colombian military's mission only after the hostages -- including Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt and three Americans, Thomas Howes, Marc Gonsalves and Keith Stansell -- were freed Wednesday.

Given how anti-Colombian the Democrats are, it's all too easy to see one of them warning FARC.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:00 AM


McCaskill: Obama’s commitment on Iraq has not changed (DAVE HELLING, 7/03/08, The Kansas City Star)

Sen. Claire McCaskill says Sen. Barack Obama’s commitment to withdraw troops from Iraq has not changed — although the timetable might be adjusted “based on circumstances” in that country.

“Barack Obama has never said this is written in stone,” the Missouri Democrat told reporters in Kansas City on Wednesday. “He’s always said ‘I will obviously take into account what commanders on the ground say.’ ”

McCaskill — considered one of the likely Democratic nominee’s most visible surrogates — was asked on MSNBC Tuesday about a report in The New Yorker suggesting that Obama’s withdrawal position might have to be adjusted.

....you accept the notion that he hasn't made any.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:14 AM


Shalom, Hamas: Tweedy, unapologetically hawkish ex-spymaster Efraim Halevy may just be the only Israeli capable of legitimizing talks with Hamas. (Laura Rozen, July 01, 2008, Mother Jones)

At first glance, Efraim Halevy seems an unlikely champion of the virtues of engaging terrorists. The former chief of the Mossad, perhaps the world's most paranoia-inducing intelligence service, Halevy helped negotiate Israel's historic 1994 peace treaty with Jordan, but also had a role in developing his country's policy of targeted assassinations of terrorist leaders. Reserved, with some of the British formality of his youth—his family immigrated to Israel when he was a boy—Halevy, 73, brings to mind John LeCarré's George Smiley. And a tweedy, unapologetically hawkish ex-spymaster may just be the only advocate capable of legitimizing a notion effectively ostracized in US politics: talking to the Palestinian militant group Hamas. [...]

Beyond Halevy, Israeli hawks arguing in favor of engagement include former Shin Bet chief Yaakov Perry, who along with three other former top Israeli security officials urged the government to pursue peace with the Palestinians in 2003. ("We should talk with Hamas on issues that are hurting Israel," Perry told me. "Not negotiations, but talks.") Former top diplomat and Mossad official David Kimche has traveled to Washington to suggest that the administration pursue engagement with Syria, and former Israeli foreign minister Shlomo Ben-Ami visited DC in March to promote talks with Israel's adversaries. "We need you to do diplomacy, because the military option does not work," Ben-Ami said at a private dinner. "We need a benign superpower who is able to engage."

There was a palpable urgency to his words, and for good reason. "Look, I am a Zionist," Kimche told me when we met in a Tel Aviv shopping mall. "I believe very strongly we need to have a state here. And I believe strongly that the only way to thrive is by reaching peaceful relations with our neighbors and reaching a two-state solution. If we have one state for two peoples, it will be our doom. It will have to become an apartheid state, an anti-democratic state."

...pro-Hamastan is pro-Zion.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:34 AM


Bad Rap on the Schools (Jay Mathews, Wilson Quarterly)

As even some of the experts who appear in Two Million Minutes note, the notion that the United States is losing the international economic race is implausible. China and India may be growing quickly, but they remain far behind and are weighed down by huge, impoverished rural populations. Both countries are going to continue to send many of their brightest young people to study at U.S. universities. Stupidly conceived and administered immigration laws give many of these foreign students little choice but to leave once they receive their degrees. Given the chance, many more are likely to stay in the United States, where the jobs pay better; creativity in all fields, including politics, is encouraged; and—another blow to education critics—the colleges their children would attend are far better and more ­accessible.

Most commentary on the subject leaves the impression that China and India are going to bury the United States in an avalanche of new technology. Consider, for example, a ­much-­cited 2005 Fortune article that included the claim that China turned out 600,000 engineers in the previous year, India graduated 350,000, and poor, declining America could manage only 70,000. The cover of Fortune showed a buff Chinese beach bully looming over a skinny Uncle Sam. The headline said, “Is the U.S. a 97-Pound Weakling?”

This argument be­came a favorite target for collectors of bad data, including Carl Bialik, The Wall Street Journal’s “Numbers Guy,” educational psychologist and author Gerald W. Bracey, and a Duke University research team led by Vivek Wadhwa. The source of the China numbers seemed to be the China Statistical Yearbook, a Chinese government publication, which said that the country produced 644,000 engineering graduates in 2004. But a subsequent McKinsey Global Institute report said that about half of those “engineers” would be no more than technicians in the United States. Bialik could not find a source for the 350,000 Indian engineers, but National Science Foundation officials told him that the real number was unlikely to be anywhere near ­that.

In a 2005 report, the Duke researchers concluded that the United States produced 137,437 engineers with at least a bachelor’s degree in the most recent year, while India produced 112,000 and China 351,537. “That’s more U.S. degrees per million residents than in either other nation,” Bracey said in The Washington Post. Yet he found the discredited numbers still presented as fact by Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, Secretary of Commerce Carlos M. Gutierrez, and Senator John W. Warner (R.-Va.).

The Fortune article belongs to an emerging genre of news stories that raise hysterical alarms about the deficiencies of American education in international comparisons while completely overlooking the complexities involved in such studies.

In “More Than a Horse Race” (2007), Jim Hull, a policy analyst at the Center for Public Education, which is affiliated with the National School Boards Association, analyzed four major studies of school achievement around the world. When Hull looked carefully at the numbers, he found that the United States did much better than the headlines suggest. In reading, only three nations’ students did significantly better than their U.S. elementary and high school counterparts. “The reading performance of U.S. ­fourth ­graders was particularly strong,” Hull said. “They scored above the international level . . . while our 15-­year-­olds scored slightly above the average.” In science, fourth and ­eighth ­graders were above the international average, and only three countries did significantly better than the United States at the elementary school ­level. (It is worth noting that the studies Hull examined did not include India and China, in part because schooling is
so minimal for so many children in these two countries that their performance isn’t comparable.)

Hull also examined the frequent charge that American students fare well in international comparisons at earlier ages but fade as they enter their teen years. Some studies did show U.S. ­fourth ­graders doing relatively well, eighth graders about average, and high school students below average. But when the American Institutes of Research, a ­