October 31, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:19 PM


Obama's a better symbol than president: On Tuesday many Americans will vote for the two-dimensional Obama - the image, the idea. (MARK STEYN, 10/31/08, OC Register)

In Tokyo last week, over 1,000 people signed a new petition asking the Japanese government to permit marriages between human beings and cartoon characters. "I am no longer interested in three dimensions. I would even like to become a resident of the two-dimensional world," explained Taichi Takashita. "Therefore, at the very least, would it be possible to legally authorize marriage with a two-dimensional character?"

Get back to me on that Tuesday night. We'll know by then whether an entire constitutional republic has decided to contract marriage with a two-dimensional character and to attempt to take up residence in the two-dimensional world. For many of his supporters, Barack Obama is an idea. He offers "hope, not fear." "Hope" of what? "Hope" of "change." OK, but "change" to what? Ah, well, there you go again, getting all hung up on three-dimensional reality, when we've moved way beyond that.

Mr. Steyn is going to end up in PC Court again.....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:16 PM


Pulitzer Prize-Winning Author Terkel Dies at 96 (CARYN ROUSSEAU, October 31, 2008, The Associated Press)

For his oral histories, he interviewed his subjects on tape, then transcribed and sifted. "What first comes out of an interview are tons of ore; you have to get that gold dust in your hands," he wrote in his memoir. "Now, how does it become a necklace or a ring or a gold watch? You have to get the form; you have to mold the gold dust."

He would joke that his obsession with tape recording was equaled by only one other man, a certain former president of the United States: "Richard Nixon and I could be aptly described as neo-Cartesians. I tape, therefore I am."

Terkel also was a syndicated radio talk show host, voice of gangsters on old radio soaps, jazz critic, actor in the 1988 film "Eight Men Out," and survivor of the 1950s blacklist.

In 1999, a panel of judges organized by the Modern Library, a book publisher, picked "Working" as No. 54 on its list of the century's 100 best English-language works of nonfiction. And in 2006, the Library of Congress announced that a radio interview he did with author James Baldwin in September 1962 was selected for the National Recording Registry of sound recordings worthy of preservation. Terkel's other interview subjects included Louis Armstrong, Buster Keaton, Marlon Brando and Bob Dylan.

Terkel's politics were liberal, vintage FDR. He would never forget the many New Deal programs from the Great Depression and worried that the country suffered from "a national Alzheimer's disease" that made government the perceived enemy. In a 1992 interview with the AP, he advocated "pressure from below, from the grass roots. That means the people who live and work in cities _ that used to be called the working class, although now everyone says middle class."

Terkel was born Louis Terkel on May 16, 1912, in the Bronx. His father, Samuel, was a tailor; his mother, Anna, a seamstress. The family moved to Chicago in 1922 and ran a rooming house where young Louis would meet the workers and activists who would profoundly influence his view of the world.

"It was those loners _ argumentative ones, deceptively quite ones, the talkers and the walkers _ who, always engaged in something outside themselves, unintentionally became my mentors," Terkel wrote in "Touch and Go."

He got the nickname Studs as a young man, from the character Studs Lonigan, the protagonist of James T. Farrell's beloved trilogy of novels about an Irish-American youth from Chicago's South Side.

Terkel graduated from the University of Chicago in 1932, studying philosophy, and also picked up a law degree. But instead of choosing law, he worked briefly in the civil service and then found employment in radio with one of his beloved "alphabet agencies" from the New Deal, the WPA Writers Project.

His early work as a stage actor led to radio acting, disc jockey jobs and then to radio interview shows beginning in the 1940s. From 1949 to 1952, he was the star of a national TV show, "Studs' Place," a program of largely improvised stories and songs set in a fictional bar (later a restaurant) owned by Studs. Some viewers even thought it was a real place, and would go looking for it in Chicago.

"People were never put down," Terkel recalled in the 1995 book "The Box: An Oral History of Television, 1920-1961." "The stories were about little aspects of their lives. There was no audience and no canned laughter. ... It was one of the most exhilarating times of my life."

The McCarthy-era antipathy toward activists cost him his national TV outlet. But his radio interview show flourished, first at WFMT in Chicago and then, through syndication, in many markets.

In 1939, he married social worker Ida Goldberg, a marriage that lasted 60 years even though she couldn't get him to dance and always called him Louis, not Studs. "Ida was a far better person than I, that's the reality of it," Terkel later wrote of Ida, who died in 1999.

Antipathy towards activists? Do we really honor a social historian by sweeping his history under the rug? Even if that's what he sought to do himself, Talking to Himself (Scott McLemee, 11/14/07, Inside Higher Ed)
In his first autobiography, Terkel noted that he had concealed some things. “There is a private domain on which I’ll not trespass,” as he put it 30 years ago, “nor does it, I feel, matter very much to others.” But the problem with either of his tellings of his own story is that the reader is rushed past some very important matters in his public life. I will come back to that narrative blindspot in due course. [...]

Terkel is a good storyteller, and it is a life full of raw material.. But there are points when his gifts as a performer (to use a word that subsumes his activity in front of the typewriter as well as the microphone) permit him to avoid as much as he expresses. When Talking to Myself appeared 30 years ago, Terkel’s way of discussing McCarthyism was rather jaunty. C’est la vie! How how lucky he was to have been blacklisted! Otherwise, think of the wonderful opportunities he might have missed. He might have ended up respectable and dull.

As the critic John Leonard pointed out at the time, however, that element of jokiness rang false. It seemed to be avoiding engagement with memories of what to have been a painful experience. In the new memoir, it sounds as if Terkel halfway concedes the validity of that point. Almost in so many words:

“I was fading fast,” he recalls. “During the blacklist, you’re not working for a time, you start thinking maybe you ain’t got something you thought you had. I knew my work troubles were for political reasons, but the situation seemed somewhat hopeless. There’s something that’s interesting psychologically, moments when you feel self-doubt: that is, was your talent there to begin with? Maybe you’re not that good....”

Terkel also admits that having the FBI show up at your door was hardly very pleasant. And then the jokey tone returns.Why, he’s afraid that his wife may have been rude to the agents, at times — and that could be embarrassing.....

So the wall of reserve comes down, for a moment, only to go right back up again. No doubt this is a matter of both generational style and personal temperament – of being the product of an era when discussing your troubles was considered bad form, especially for a man. Let alone one whose nickname reflected an enthusiasm for James T. Farrell’s trilogy of novels about a tough Irish working-class kid named Studs Lonigan.

But the reticence goes deeper than that. To get some perspective, we might have a look at an incident in the life of Terkel’s fictional namesake. I’m thinking of a scene near the end of the final novel in Farrell’s series. Studs Lonigan is close to the end of his days — about to succumb, at an early age, to illness and a hard life. It is the early part of the Depression. He’s hanging out with some friends when they see a demonstration. They watch people march by, carrying banners and placards with slogans:

We Want Bread Not Bullets

The sight of a Communist rally has a complicated effect on Lonigan. He barely has words to express it. He has a sense of his own life being deep in a rut — indeed, almost over — while the lyrics of their revolutionary anthem proclaims that “a better world’s in birth.” They seem not just angry but happy. It is a strangely affecting moment, perhaps charged with the author’s own complex feelings. (Farrell himself did not join the party, but was sympathetic to it through the mid-1930s, after which he switched allegiance to Leon Trotsky’s following for a dozen years before settling into a kind of Cold War liberalism.)

So a reader of the novel gets a sense of the ambivalence that one guy named Studs feels upon encountering the Communist movement. But anyone looking for a comparable moment of insight in Terkel’s memoirs will have no such luck.

Now, it is possible that Studs Terkel was never a member of the Communist Party. But someone who mentions, as Terkel does, that he worked in left-wing theater groups, raised money for the Soviet-American Friendship Committee, and supported Henry Wallace’s presidential campaign in 1948 (the last gasp of any serious Communist influence in American political life) was fully integrated into its support network.

He had a relationship of some kind with the party – even if, for whatever reason, he was not a member. Most people who joined in the 1930s and ‘40s were in and out within a few weeks. (The problem of retention was a source of much grief to Communist leaders.) But Terkel’s references suggest a serious and long-term involvement, whatever his formal status may have been.

All things considered, it’s perhaps surprising that he is even as candid as he allows himself to be about his activism. But the lack of any clear sense of when he became affiliated with the movement, and why (and when he parted ways with it, and why) leaves the reader with only a vague sense of what must have been a profound fact of the man’s life.

At one point, Touch and Go quotes the journalist Nicholas von Hoffman: “Once a person joins a group, a demonstration, or a union, they’re a different person.” Terkel endorses the sentiment. “You become stronger as a result,” he adds, “no matter what the outcome.” Unfortunately Terkel leaves this only at the level of general advice, rather than showing how it applied in his own experience. [...]

Terkel was close to the Communist movement during the phase known as the Popular Front – when it abandoned the preposterously belligerent slogan “Towards a Soviet America” for the altogether more palatable catchphrase “Communism is Twentieth Century Americanism.” Its artists and writers and musicians tried to work in popular idioms. As good disciplined cadres, they would still read Stalin’s pamphlets; but they knew that radical doctrine, as such, would only get you just so far.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:36 PM


Palin aide: She's just like Jeb (Joe Follick, October 29, 2008, Herald Tribune)

In an online interview with the original Wonkette, Ana Marie Cox, one of McCain’s top aides – Nicolle Wallace – said Sarah Palin reminds her of former Gov. Jeb Bush.

Wallace, nee Devenish, worked for Bush in the late 1990s.

“Sarah Palin reminds me a lot of Jeb Bush, who was very hands on. He was always in direct contact, email-wise, with reporters. He'd often get back to them before I'd get back to them. She's like that. She's very hands on. Reminds me of my time working for Jeb Bush. She doesn't like a lot of bureaucracy. She gets on her email and deals directly with press and the staff and it's very, very impressive. Very appealing.”

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:21 PM


Poll: Obama leads McCain by one point in battleground states (Mike Sunnucks, 10/31/08, Phoenix Business Journal)

A Halloween Day poll shows John McCain trailing Barack Obama by one point in the “toss-up” states that could decide Tuesday’s presidential election.

The George Washington University Battleground Poll gives Obama and running mate Joe Biden 47 percent, with 46 percent for McCain and running mate Sarah Palin in those states and 4 percent undecided. [...]

The Obama campaign also announced Friday it would run home-stretch advertisements in Arizona (McCain’s home state) and two other traditional “red states” — Georgia and North Dakota — in the last days of the campaign.

...Ronald Reagan rightly took some heat for heading to MN to try and win 50 states at the end of the 1984 campaign, rather than helping to win some congressional seats. But he had the race sewn up and could afford to mess around. Were the Unicorn Rider to biff it on Tuesday you can guarantee that folks will point at this overextension and ask why he didn't focus on the more winnable states.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:17 PM


'US strikes' on Pakistan villages (BBC, 10/31/08)

More than 20 people have been killed in two suspected US missile attacks in northwest Pakistan near the border with Afghanistan, security officials said.

About 15, including an al-Qaeda leader, were killed in an attack near the village of Mirali, North Waziristan.

In a second attack, seven people were killed in South Waziristan.

...and we start attacking jihadi even if they're in Pakistan.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:30 PM


News To Obama: The OECD Says The United States Has The Most Progressive Tax System (Scott A. Hodge, 10/29/08, Tax Foundation)

Barack Obama's admission that his policies would "spread the wealth around" has ignited a nationwide discussion of how progressive the tax system should be and how it should be used to redistribute income among Americans. Obama has been very successful in bolstering the conventional wisdom that the U.S. tax system does not place a significant enough burden on wealthier households and places too much of a burden on the "middle class."

But a new study on inequality by researchers at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in Paris reveals that when it comes to household taxes (income taxes and employee social security contributions) the U.S. "has the most progressive tax system and collects the largest share of taxes from the richest 10% of the population." As Column 1 in the table below shows, the U.S. tax system is far more progressive—meaning pro-poor—than similar systems in countries most Americans identify with high taxes, such as France and Sweden.

Even after accounting for the fact that the top 10 percent of households in the U.S. have one of the highest shares of market income among OECD nations, our tax system is second only to Ireland in terms of its progressivity for households.

The table also shows that the U.S. collects more household tax revenue from the top 10 percent of households than any other country and extracts the most from that income group relative to their share of the nation's income.

The Right likes to gripe a lot about spending, but you'll never reduce it so long as it's mostly rich folks' money.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:24 PM


Daily Presidential Tracking Poll (Rasmussen Reports, October 31, 2008)

It is impossible to overstate the importance of Obama's tax cut promise to his current lead in the polls. Thirty-one percent (31%) of voters now believe that their taxes will go down if Obama is elected. Only 11% believe that will happen if McCain wins (see crosstabs). Obama has made remarkable progress on this issue in recent months. In August, only 9% believed Obama would cut their taxes.

...the McCain campaign has no one but themselves to blame for that number. Running on a piece of legislation rather than a simple mantra--like "cut taxes for 95% of Americans"--just doesn't cut the mustard.

One does enjoy though the repudiation here of the idea that the Reagan formula doesn't work anymore. The Unicorn Rider is running on Reaganomics. The Other Brother and I were talking the other day and noted that if you knew nothing of the two men except what you see in NH tv ads, you'd think Senator Obama was a rightwing Republican.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:20 PM


Kurdistan Would Welcome U.S. Troops Without Pact (Congressional Quarterly, 10/31/08)

The president of Iraqi Kurdistan said Friday that his semi-autonomous region would welcome U.S. troops if Iraq and the United States cannot finalize an agreement governing U.S. troops in Iraq after 2008.

“If the United States requests, I am confident the Kurdish regional parliament and people of the Kurdistan region . . . would welcome that,” Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan Regional Government, said at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

Barzani said he hopes that the two countries do conclude a status of forces agreement to govern the future U.S. troop presence beyond the Dec. 31 expiration of a U.N. mandate. And despite expressing doubts about whether the Iraqi parliament will approve the draft accord, Barzani gave it a strong endorsement.

“This agreement is better than any other alternative available,” he said through a translator, saying its approval by Iraqis was still possible.

While the practical implications of basing U.S. troops in Kurdistan are not clear, the mere discussion of it could strengthen perceptions of Kurdish autonomy.

There's plenty of time to decide whether there will be a Sunnistan in Iraq, but there won't be a Kurdistan.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:11 AM


CVS slashes generic drug costs, escalates price war: Using the products as loss leaders, the drugstore giant will sell 90-day supplies of more than 400 medications for $9.99 and offer discounts for cash-paying patients at its in-store medical clinics. (Lisa Girion and Andrea Chang, 10/31/08, LA Times)

One of the nation's largest drugstore chains ratcheted up a price war Thursday, offering deep discounts on generic prescriptions amid national concern about the spiraling cost of healthcare.

Drugstore giant CVS Caremark Corp. announced it would sell 90-day supplies of more than 400 medications for $9.99 and offer discounts for cash-paying patients at its in-store medical clinics.

The price war was unleashed by Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the country's largest retailer, a few years ago. Since then, many grocery stores have followed suit.

The price competition makes generic drugs just about the only healthcare bill that isn't escalating. The lower prices provide a measure of relief to consumers who are struggling with rising health insurance premiums and other out-of-pocket expenses or have lost coverage altogether.

Now savvy shoppers can buy many prescriptions for less than laundry detergent, face cream or a pound of deli meat.

The U.S. Economy at Risk for Deflation: The U.S. economy has all the ingredients—slowing job and wage growth, slack consumer demand—for a deflationary cycle, without strong financial markets to cushion the blow (James Cooper, 10/31/08, Business Week)
When policymakers at the Federal Reserve voted to slash interest rates at their Oct. 28-29 meeting, it's a good bet the threat of deflation played a role in the decision. That concern is bound to get more attention in coming months as inflation begins to fall amid a progressively weaker economy and the financial crisis. Deflation is an economic disease caused by a sustained drop in overall demand and falling prices that forces businesses to cut prices ever deeper. It was last seen in the U.S. in the 1930s and in Japan in the 1990s, when the inflation rate fell to zero and then turned negative for several years.

Deflation is a nasty situation that can give central bankers palpitations. It's especially onerous for borrowers. Because prices are falling, people who already owe money have to pay back loans in dollars that will buy more goods than the dollars they borrowed. For new loans, it raises the real, or inflation-adjusted, cost of credit, the opposite of what monetary policy needs to do to combat falling demand. Plus, in the effort to boost spending, policymakers cannot cut the target rate below zero. At that point, negative inflation can keep the real rate high enough to restrict economic growth.

Actually, his BW colleague, Chris Farrell, has explained why this is and has been a deflationary epoch. The Roots of Deflation (Chris Farrell, MAY 14, 2004, Business Week):
"The world is shifting from an era of structural inflation to one of deflation, in which prices for most manufactured goods and tradable services fall rather than rise," observed Eisuke Sakakibara, Japan's former vice-finance minister. Chief Executive Jack Welch got it right several years ago when he ran General Electric: "Inflation has yielded to deflation as the shaping economic force."

Of course in the current environment you can almost hear the sound of Wall Street veterans scoffing. They are fond of quoting the legendary investor John Templeton, "The four most expensive words in the English language are 'this time is different.'" They've been burned by too many new eras, new economies, and revolutionary transformations. Inflation is the economic condition we know.

Many baby boomers and Wall Street traders remember when inflation reached double-digit levels in the 1970s, peaking at over 14% in 1980. Inflation was eventually contained through a combination of factors, including a tough anti-inflation battle waged by the Fed under the leadership of Paul Volcker and his successor Alan Greenspan. The consumer price index averaged 7% in the '70s, 5.5% in the '80s, 3% in the '90s, and 2.5% in the early 2000s. The odds of another bout of double-digit 1970s-style inflation are remote. Still, now that the economy is picking up steam and the job market is getting better, the widespread expectation is for resurgence in inflation. Rising prices are such an embedded part of our society that we all assume inflation is the economy's natural state.

Yet every once in a great while the established economic order is overthrown. Within a span of decades, technological changes, organizational upheavals, and new ways of thinking transform economies. From the 1760s to 1830s, steam engines, textile mills, and the Enlightenment produced the Industrial Revolution. The years 1880 to 1930 were shaped by the spread of electric power, mass production, and mass democracy.

This time is different. Or maybe I should say, it's back to the future. From 1776 to 1965, America's overall price level was essentially flat. Inflationary flare-ups were mostly associated with major wars until the post World War II era. These inflationary conflagrations were quickly extinguished in the aftermath of war. The rest of the time stable to falling prices dominated, especially in the latter part of the 19th century, the last time there was a tightly integrated global economy.

It's sometimes obvious when a historic divide is crossed. The 1929 stock market crash. The 1973 oil shock. Far more often, "change creeps upon us incrementally, punctuated by upheavals that, often as not, are rationalized as part of business as usual," said the late, legendary financier Leon Levy. "Only later do we realize that the world has been turned on its head." Levy called these events "a tap on the shoulder." Deflation may have taken a lot of people by surprise in 2003, but the price trend didn't emerge overnight. It had been building for years, a secular undertow to all the cyclical twists and turns in the economy. There were many deflation taps on the shoulder.

Among the most important were the chairmanship of two inflation hawks at the Federal Board: Volcker and Greenspan; the rise of retailing giant Wal-Mart and its low everyday price strategy; the commercial embrace of the Internet, an inherently deflationary technology; a falling price level in Japan in the late 1990s; the vicious global price cutting wars that erupted following the financial collapse of Asia's emerging markets; China transforming itself into the developing world's leading economic juggernaut; and Corporate America's outsourcing high-pay, high-skill white-collar and skilled jobs to low-pay, well-educated workers in developing nations like India, China, and Malaysia.

The emergence of deflation as the dominant price trend will dramatically impact businesses, workers, investors, the government, and the economy over the next several decades. "Of all the recording devices that can reveal to an historian the fundamental movements of an economy, monetary phenomena are without doubt the most sensitive," wrote the French historian Marc Bloch. "But to recognize their importance as symptoms would do them less than full justice. They have been and are, in their turn, causes. They are something like a seismograph, which not only measures the movements of the earth but sometimes provokes them."

Deflation, like inflation before it, is taking on a momentum of its own. The promise of a fast growing deflationary economy is enormous. But so are the pit falls for everyone from the worker on the factory floor to the CEO of a major multinational corporation to the head of the Federal Reserve Board.

Deflation in America reflects fundamental changes on the economy's supply side. At the same time, a new international monetary system has evolved that contains a bias toward lower prices. Deflation is built on three fundamental changes dating back to the late 1970s and early 1980s: (1) the embrace of market capitalism at home and abroad; (2) the spread of information technologies; and, most importantly for understanding the economy of the next half-century, (3) the triumph of the financier. None of these factors is new, but what is surprising is how powerfully each change has informed and reinforced the other.

So, when central bankers reacted to the aberrational spike in oil prices as if it were indicative of systemic inflation they "raise[d] the real, or inflation-adjusted, cost of credit." This was particularly unfortunate because it cranked up the cost of adjustable rate loans far beyond what the money being borrowed was worth.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:59 AM


Northern Star Rising (Eugene Robinson, October 31, 2008, Washington Post)

My view of Sarah Palin has changed in the two months since John McCain named her as his running mate. I'm guessing that McCain's view of Palin may be changing, too, and not entirely in a good way.

I thought Palin was a lightweight; she's not. I thought she was an ingenue; she is, but only as long as her claws are sheathed. I thought she was bewildered and star-struck at her sudden elevation to national prominence; if she ever was, she isn't anymore. I thought she was nothing but raw political talent and unrealistic ambition; it turns out that she has impressive political skills. I thought she was destined to become nothing more than a historical footnote; I now think that Democrats underestimate her at their peril.

At this point, only McCain's most loyal lieutenants could have been surprised when Palin told ABC's Elizabeth Vargas that she's already looking beyond Tuesday's election toward her own political future. Asked whether she would just pack it in and go back to Alaska if she and McCain lose, Palin replied: "I think that, if I were to give up and wave a white flag of surrender against some of the political shots that we've taken . . . I'm not doing this for naught."

No, she's doing it for Sarah -- and doing it increasingly well.

The recent sniping by neocons and McCain aides and the anti-Palin ad from the Obama camp come about two weeks too late--the pro-Palin backlash is in full swing.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:52 AM


Mood Shift Against Free Trade Puts Republicans on Defensive (GREG HITT and BRAD HAYNES, 10/31/08, Wall Street Journal)

From Oregon to Georgia to upstate New York, skepticism about the benefits of free trade is rippling through campaigns for several House and Senate seats, many of them races where Democrats are running strong. Lawmakers elected on promises to slow down on trade could find it hard to walk back from those pledges once in office -- particularly if labor unions and other Democratic constituencies critical of the Bush and Clinton Administrations' open trade policies keep a focus on the issue.

President Bush's efforts to win passage of trade deals with South Korea, Panama and Colombia stalled after trade concerns helped to put Democrats in charge of the House and Senate in 2006.

Most Democrats don't call for blatant protectionist measures such as steep tariffs, or a return to import quotas such as those that governed automotive trade in the 1980s. Instead, Democrats, starting with Presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama, talk about the need for trade to be fair, and insist that trading partners be required to meet higher standards for environmental controls and workers' rights to unionize.

Republican candidate Sen. John McCain is a free trader and has surrounded himself with like-minded advisers such as Stanford University economist John Taylor. Mr. Taylor headed international economic policy in President Bush's first-term Treasury Department and is a candidate to be Treasury Secretary should Mr. McCain win the White House.

Other McCain economic advisers, such as former Congressional Budget Office director Douglas Holtz-Eakin, former eBay Chief Executive Meg Whitman and former Hewlett-Packard Chief Executive Carly Fiorina, are longstanding proponents of open markets.

Sen. Obama has hedged his bets on trade.

...a President Obama might well face a Congress without enough Republicans to pass new Fre Trade agreements. Recall that it was the GOP that gave Bill Clinton this key component of his legacy.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:46 AM


The PLO's Professor (Philip Klein, 10.31.08, American Spectator)

Liberals have defended Khalidi as a "respected academic," and amid all of the political noise and accusations flying back and forth between the two camps, it's easy to see how some voters would tune out when conservatives refer to him as a former "PLO spokesman." But without engaging in the semantic debate over what word should be applied to his complex and long-standing relationship with the terrorist group, a TAS analysis of contemporaneous news accounts dating back to the 1970s as well a look at Khalidi's own writings leave no doubt that a close relationship existed.

While living in Lebanon from the early 1970s through 1983 (where the PLO was based at the time), Khalidi was frequently cited in the press as being close to the organization, and he even used the word "we" while speaking on the group's behalf. He was described as a "director" of Wafa, the PLO's official news agency, and he thanked Arafat for research assistance in the preface of one of his books. In 1991, Khalidi was part of the Palestinian delegation to the Madrid peace talks with Israel -- by his own account, he did so at the request of the PLO.

Before delving into the details, it's worth entertaining the legitimate question of why Khalidi's background and writings should raise concerns about Obama himself.

The L.A. Times story from April about their relationship answers this question quite clearly. Not only did Obama know Khalidi, but the professor was his "friend and frequent dinner companion" who Obama was close enough to that he attended the 2003 going away party thrown when Khalidi was moving to New York.

In his toast, Obama went out of his way to thank Khalidi (and his wife Mona) for "consistent reminders of my own blind spots and own biases," and he added that the conversation they engaged in was necessary around "this entire world." Given that America is on the cusp of electing Obama, a man of little experience about whom very little is known, it is perfectly fair to learn more about Khalidi, whose viewpoints Obama thought the whole world needed to hear.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:21 AM


Saving the Universe Darkly: a review of Donnie Darko (2001), Written and Directed by Richard Kelly (Art Livingston, Gilbert)

Sometimes an artist, if he possesses enough artistic integrity, can create something more true than his conscious beliefs could anticipate. Oscar Wilde made a habit of writing morality fables completely contradicting his decadent aestheticism. Donnie Darko is a prime example of profound theological vision lurking beneath surface confusion. Director Richard Kelly's audio track on the CD version actually trivializes his own creation, and he seems oblivious. One hopes it stems from modesty, but I can't detect it. Most curious.

The tale is as complex and as simple as a Charles Williams novel, which this story remarkably resembles. A viewer could (just) possibly interpret it as the psychotic delusions of a teenaged paranoid schizophrenic, one who sees visions of a six-foot rabbit who tells him to perform such acts as destroying his school's water pipes and planting an ax into the skull of the school mascot's statue, while writing on the ground, "They made me do it." Frankly, if I were Donnie, I would like the credit myself. Well, could be just a story about a nutty kid. But nowhere as interesting as the alternative interpretation, internally consistent, that a highly disturbed young man has become the genuine conduit for saving the universe.

This reading of the action so enriches the meaning that, after my fourth viewing of the movie, it continues to reveal new insights. But one must accept the plot on its own terms by not coming to it with preconceived notions of how a time travel story usually plays out. This requires a little information so as to get oriented: an airline engine inexplicably falls on Donnie's bedroom and he wakes on a golf course, where he begins having visions of Frank (the bunny rabbit from Hell). What unfolds is that somehow an unstable tangent universe has been created, and Donnie gains access to understanding what is happening and realizes that, unless someone (Donnie himself) can permit a portal for the disappearance of that world, our universe will be destroyed. Oh, we even get an explanation for Frank that is plausible in the context of the story.

What we have then is a profound understanding of a basic Christian concept, to which St. Paul refers when calling the Church "the Body of Christ," and Charles Williams extends to all creation in his concept of Coinherence--all being interrelated and interlocking as each part depends on all the other parts. I cannot see how Kelly could have put it there by accident.

It's been our experience that it isn't uncommon for an artist to stumble into telling the One Story accidentally.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:10 AM


Why White Supremacists Support Barack Obama: How do racists, anti-Semites and all-purpose hate-mongers view the possibility of America’s first black president? Not necessarily the way you think they would. (David Peisner, 10/31/08, Esquire)

"The corporations are running things now, so it’s not going to make much difference who's in there, but McCain would be much worse. He’s a warmonger. He’s a scary, scary person--more dangerous than Bush. Obama, according to his book, Dreams Of My Father, is a racist and I have no problem with black racists. I’ve got the quote right here: 'I found a solace in nursing a pervasive sense of grievance and animosity against my mother’s white race.' The problem with Obama is he’s being dishonest about his racial views. I’d respect him if he’d just come out and say, 'Yeah, I’m a black racist.' I don’t hate black people. I just think it’s in the best interest of the races to be separated as much as possible. See, I’m a leftist. I’m not a rightist. I hate the transnational corporations far more than any black person." [...]

"White people are faced with either a negro or a total nutter who happens to have a pale face. Personally I’d prefer the negro. National Socialists are not mindless haters. Here, I see a white man, who is almost dead, who declares he wants to fight endless wars around the globe to make the world safe for Judeo-capitalist exploitation, who supports the invasion of America by illegals--basically a continuation of the last eight years of Emperor Bush. Then, we have a black man, who loves his own kind, belongs to a Black-Nationalist religion, is married to a black women--when usually negroes who have 'made it' immediately land a white spouse as a kind of prize--that’s the kind of negro that I can respect. Any time that a prominent person embraces their racial heritage in a positive manner, it’s good for all racially minded folks. Besides, America cares nothing for the interests of the white American worker, while having a love affair with just about every non-white on planet Earth. It’d be poetic justice to have a non-white as titular chief over this decaying modern Sodom and Gomorrah."

His support for abortion is another reason for the Applied Darwinists to want him elected. One need look no farther than the question of which candidate will kill black babies to understand non-traditional support for the Democrat this year.

Loathing Sarah Palin: The Two Months Hate of feminists. (Joseph Epstein, 10/27/2008, Weekly Standard)

The liberal women I know--and most of the women I seem to know are liberal--loathe Sarah Palin. They don't merely dislike her, the way one tends to dislike politicians whose views are not one's own, they actively detest her. When her name comes up--and it is they who tend to bring it up--their complexions take on a slightly purplish tinge, their eyes cross in rage. "Moron" is their most frequently used noun, though "idiot" comes up a fair number of times; "that woman" is yet another choice. A wide variety of adjectives, differing only slightly in their violence, usually precede these epithets. [...]

Strongly liberal women get most agitated over the issue--though of course to them it is no issue but a long since resolved matter--of abortion. Abortion, to be sure, is the great third-rail subject in American politics. But when a male politician is against abortion, these women can write that off as the ignorance of a standard politician, if not himself a Christian fundamentalist, then another Republican cynically going after the fundamentalist vote. A woman not in favor of abortion is something quite different.

And it is all the more strikingly different when the same woman not only holds this opinion on abortion but acts on it and knowingly bears a child with Down syndrome, a child that most liberal women would have thought reason required aborting. What else, after all, is abortion for?

A few months ago Vanity Fair ran an article about the discovery that the playwright Arthur Miller, with his third wife, the photographer Inge Morath, 40 or so years ago had a Down syndrome son. Miller promptly clapped the boy into an institution--according to the article, not a first class one either--and never saw the child again. Most people would have taken this for a heartless act, one should have thought, especially on the part of a man known for excoriating the putative cruelties of capitalism and the endless barbarities of his own country's governments, whether Democratic or Republican. Yet, so far as one can tell, Arthur Miller's treatment of his own child has not put the least dent in his reputation, while Sarah Palin's having, keeping, and loving her Down syndrome child is somehow, by the standard of the liberal woman of our day, not so secretly thought the act of an obviously backward and ignorant woman, an affront to womanhood. "Her greatest hypocrisy," proclaimed Wendy Doniger, one of the leading feminist lights at the University of Chicago, "is her pretense that she is a woman."

October 30, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:12 PM


Population of New Zealand over time. Census ni...

Image via Wikipedia

Flight of the Conchords: 'Love is like a piece of tape' (Robert Cushman, 10/27/08, National Post)
It hurts to come late to a cult. The natural impulse is to take out one's frustration on the object that's being venerated. But with Flight of the Conchords, there's no chance. This show is wonderful.

For those who don't know, which I'm fondly hoping means most people over 30, the Flight of the Conchords come from New Zealand and they're a band, and I can't help it if that sentence looks ungrammatical. Seems like all the good plural band-names were taken. Anyway, Flight aren't that plural, as there are only two of them. One, the taller and broader and clumsier of the two, is called Jemaine, and he's played by Jemaine Clement. The more compact of the two, marginally more competent especially at dealing with girl-friends, is Bret, played by Bret McKenzie. (The way he pronounces it, it sounds like Brit, and that's not just me, because some non-New Zealanders on the show hear it that way too, and get confused.) So, yes, the actors have the same names as their characters. They explain this at some length in the show's trailer, which is in heavy rotation on the Comedy Network, and is unique among that station's ads in that it actually makes you want to watch the product it's plugging. (Most make you run screaming from the very idea.) Jemaine and Bret hawk their wares with exactly the kind of casual downbeat solemnity that they project in the show itself. Jemaine grins. Bret smirks. They're self-deprecating even when self-promoting.

-TORRENT: Flight of the Conchords, BBC Radio Show
-AUDIO: Flight of the Conchords: Hilariously Deadpan (David Dye, 8/31/07, NPR: World Cafe)

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:06 PM


McCain wins easily among Americans in Israel (Jewish Telegraph, 10/30/2008)

American voters in Israel supported John McCain over Barack Obama by a margin of more than 3 to 1.

According to a poll by the nonpartisan Votefromisrael.org, 76.3 percent said they had voted for McCain for U.S. president, while 23.7 percent chose Obama.

Young Jews More Likely To Vote GOP Than Their Elders
McCain Draws Support from Orthodox and Russians
(Brett Lieberman, Oct 30, 2008, The Forward)
That survey, compiled from the monthly averages of Gallup’s daily tracking polls, including interviews with more than 500 Jewish registered voters each month, found that while 74% of Jews aged 55 and over were supporting Obama, only 67% of those under 35 said they’d vote for the Democratic nominee.

“It’s counter intuitive,” said Lydia Saad, Gallup’s senior editor.

But this finding does fit into other data showing that younger Jews are trending conservative politically. A study of the 2004 Jewish vote by the Solomon Project, an effort to record Jews’ civic involvement, found younger voters were slightly more likely than older Jews to support Republican George W. Bush over Democrat John Kerry. That analysis found 23% of voters under 30 voted for Bush, compared to 20% of those ages 45 to 60 and 17% among the 60-plus crowd.

This finding doesn’t come as much of a surprise to voters like Zach Hanover, a 19-year-old sophomore at The George Washington University who plans to vote for McCain when he casts his first ballot. Hanover, an Orthodox Jew reared in Memphis, where his father, a Democrat, would drag him to rallies with Bill Clinton and Al Gore, said his decision to be a Republican was an easy one.

“I just made a bullet list — abortion, taxes, spending, size of government — almost word for word it was the Republican platform,” said Hanover, adding that the traditional values he shares as an Orthodox Jew fit well with the values embraced by the GOP. “If you look at the biblical liturgy, the Judaic religion is about life.”

The religion requires a Republican vote, the ethnicity doesn't.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:53 PM


Don’t trust anyone who’s over 30 Rock (Kat Angus and Jen McDonnell, 10/29/08, Canwest News Service)

After weeks of watching Tina Fey conquer the world with her Sarah Palin impersonation, we finally get a fresh episode of her NBC sitcom, 30 Rock tonight. In celebration of the third season premiere, we're counting down the Top 10 moments from this consistently hilarious, woefully low-rated show.

The entire Fireworks episode, but this line in particular:

Tracy Jordan: Dr. Spacemen, when they check my DNA, will it tell me what diseases I might get, or help me to remember my ATM PIN code?

Dr. Leo Spaceman: Absolutely. Science is whatever we want it to be.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:52 PM

THE NEXT CONTRACT (repost due to technical difficulties):

The GOP's Road Back (Peter Wehner, October 27, 2008, Washington Post)

[B]arack Obama is, in important ways, a testimony to the conservative disposition of the country. He resists the label "liberal" as if it were lethal (which it is in presidential politics) and has praised President Ronald Reagan for "delivering the right message at the right time" regarding the size of government and regulations.

Obama has tacked right since winning the Democratic nomination. He repeats often that he favors tax cuts for almost everyone. He stresses that he is against a government-run health-care system and supports charter schools and merit pay. He has professed a newfound attachment to the Second Amendment, terrorist surveillance, offshore drilling and applying the death penalty for rape of a child. He speaks about lowering the number of abortions rather than highlighting his plans to eliminate restrictions on them. Obama trumpets his willingness to engage in cross-border strikes in Pakistan and has toughened his views on meeting with dictators such as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

An Obama victory, then, would be a partisan, rather than an ideological, win.

But saying that conservatism is in better shape than the GOP is not to say it doesn't face challenges. It would be silly and self-defeating for Republicans to repudiate conservatism's core principles of a strong national defense, limited government, constitutionalism and protection for unborn children. Yet it would be shortsighted to believe that the issues that worked more than a quarter-century ago will carry the day.

People forget that Reagan was a creative intellectual figure; facing "stagflation," he introduced supply-side economics. In the aftermath of Vietnam and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, he argued that rollback rather than containment was the way to win the Cold War. A deeply principled conservative, he crafted innovative policies to meet the demands of his time.

Conservatives are in a similar position today. Issues such as welfare and crime, which helped conservatism achieve dominance, are not as potent as they were. And while taxes and spending remain important, stagnant wages and middle-class anxieties, the housing and credit crisis, health care, immigration, energy, and the environment also command domestic attention. Conservatives need to convince the public that they have a compelling agenda to address these issues.

It is also a mistake to focus just on America, consider that Canadian New Zealander, and British conservative parties, the Australian liberal party, and even French and German conservative parties have all remade themselves in recent years along Thatcherite/Third Way lines and have assumed or are on the verge of governing power. However, in the case of Britain, Australia, and America in 2000 and maybe America again on Tuesday, they have done so at the expense of Thatcherite opponents suffering from exhaustion. There seems to be some sense in which the adoption of First Way (capitalist) methods to achieve Second Way (welfare state) ends leads to a kind of nervous breakdown over time on the part of whichever sort of party--Left or Right--embraces the Third Way. Thus, just as the Tories eventually ditched Margaret Thatcher herself, Bill Clinton's successors and Tony Blair's have more or less reverted to the Second Way and George W. Bush's to the First. However, as the rise of David Cameron demonstrates, and the intentional opacity of the Unicorn Rider confirms, some time in the wilderness can help a party reconcile itself -- at least for public consumption -- to the need to ditch the old ways.

As much as Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich, and George W. Bush have accomplished over the last sixteen years, a good bit remains to be done and that unfinished business provides the roadmap for Republican resurrection.

In essence, what the Third Way (as we define it anyway) does is to recognize that the First Wayers are correct that wealth is created most effectively where freer markets obtain, but also to recognize that the uncertainties associated with such freedom lead to unacceptable insecurity for many people and that, therefore, government must guarantee a sufficient safety net (the Second Way). In fact, all of human history really just boils down to the competing impulses towards freedom (male) and security (female) and that governing philosophy that best satisfies both is most likely to be successful politically. Happily, it appears that real world success follows that political success.

So here are a set of proposals that the Republican Party can converge around. Each requires that conservatives accept that the underlying policy is going to endure irrespective of their ideological opposition to it but affords them an opportunity to achieve the policy in a manner that vindicates their own core principles:

(1) Personal Social Security Accounts:

The fight against government guaranteed retirement funding ended when Ronald Reagan and Bob Dole saved the Second Way version of SS. The remaining question is how best to pay for the program. The basic Third Way insight is that, given the fact that most people pay into the program for forty or fifty years, and that over that long a period of time a stock market fund has a higher return than the interest the federal government can collect on the money, it makes sense to allow people to buy stocks with the money they're paying in.

George W. Bush was obviously unsuccessful in convincing Senate Democrats of the wisdom of this reform in 1995, but he won two elections running on it and there remains sufficient hysteria over the pending collapse of SS that it is a viable issue to run on.

It will be argued that Democrats will simply squash it again. But it ought to be possible to build in enough incentives to win over the votes for passage. These would include: maintaining the current SS guarantee for anyone whose account is underfunded on retirement; means-testing, with a forfeit of the account payout for those above a certain measure of wealth; federal funding of the accounts for the unemployed, disabled, etc. As the generation that survived the Depression and ushered in the New Deal dies off and is replaced by older folks who have had mutual funds, IRAs and 401ks for decades, resistance to this sort of reform from within the Democratic Party will diminish.

It will be objected that the credit crunch and wild market swings make this a sub-optimal time to propose putting the nation's entire retirement egg into the market basket. But reports on the minimal withdrawals from current private programs are tracking with our earlier experiences after the '87 crash, the S&L crisis, and the post-911 drop. The hoi polloi seem to be a lot harder to panic out of the markets than the best and the brightest. Republicans ought not underestimate people's capacity to see beyond today's tribulation to tomorrow's payoff.

(2) Paul O'Neill Child Accounts:

The former Treasury Secretary's specific proposal called for a federal deposit of $2,000 at birth and then $2,000 per year until age 18 that would be put in a rather conservative stock index to be drawn upon starting at age 65. When he proposed it three years ago and anticipated an annual return of 6% such an account was estimated to grow to $1,013,326 over such a timeframe.

(3) Universal Health Savings Accounts:

The key insight here is twofold: (1) people like the idea that every citizen will have medical coverage; but, (2) it's mostly stupid for them to have comprehensive coverage throughout their lifetimes since we're generally healthy when young but then consume a massive amount of healthcare when old.

HSAs provide a way--like the O'Neill accounts--to sock away and make money during those healthy years so that you have a lot of it for the dying time. Universality in this instance need not require a federal contribution from birth to retirement. Employee/employee contributions could be required.

(4) Personal Unemployment Accounts:

Chile has already experimented with such a system, but basically you and your employer would pay into an account that you'd then be able to draw on if you were fired or quit your job.

Taken together, this set of accounts provides the social security net that the Second Way demands, but does so in a way that utilizes First Way principles, investment in free markets and a transfer of power away from the State and bureaucrats to the individual.

(5) Tax Reform:

There are as many plans for tax reform as there are tax payers (lower mine, lower yours, raise his) but there are two broad conservative principles can guide a broader reform plan: first, shift away from taxing income to taxing consumption generally; and, concurrently, tax eternalities specifically via Pigovian taxes.

The ideas here, that the tax code should encourage savings rather than consumption and should force people to bear the costs of their behavior upon society are well-suited to a Puritan Nation and the latter forms the basis for an:

(6) Energy Policy:

As part of the wider tax reform the GOP would propose vastly increasing the tax on gasoline. Not only would this tend to drive down consumption and liberate us from dependence on oil produced by enemyregimes, it would make gas expensive enough that alternative energy sources were made viable and would foster innovation. At the same time, it would not have government picking and choosing which innovative ideas to fund.

(7) Free Trade Reform:

The chief obstacle to obtaining the next round of free trade agreements is not, as the Right would have it, labor or environmentalists, or Europeans, or Democrats or whoever, but the agriculture subsidies that farm state Republicans have been only too happy to defend and maintain over the years.

Developing nations quite correctly point to this assistance that our federal government provides to our farmers and asks why they should be expected to ask their people to compete against us on a playing field that we've slanted in our favor. Phasing out ag subsidies would allow us to come to the trade table with cleaner hands and, at this point in the nation's history, is pretty much just Welfare Reform for the wealthy. Farmer Brown is long gone.

(8) Immigration Reform:

This is the most bitter point of contention that the GOP needs to get past in house, or it is not going to be a successful party at the national level. Polls consistently show that Americans are not anti-immigrant so much as they are anti-illegality. They are reasonably unbothered by the presence within our borders of twelve million illegal aliens, but quite bothered that they came illegally.

The solution is easy enough, though it will be unacceptable to those who are genuinely anti-immigrant (which would only provide clarity anyway): the current immigration system needs to be reformed in such a manner that it allows nearly all of those who seek to come to America to do so by going through a few legal channels. (Those barred could include criminals, political undesirables, etc.) Obviously some program would have to be implemented to legally document those who are already here. Providing a few visible though pointless hoops for them to jump through would quell some of the anger on the Right, but none of the steps should be too onerous or arduous.

(9) Campaign Finance Reform:

We need only look at the current campaign, between two candidates who we were assured would run an exemplary race, to see that the system leaves a lot to be desired. Republicans are quite properly repelled by the notion of public financing and object to current limitations on free speech, but have been largely silent about how they'd improve a system that, let's be honest, makes us all feel contempt for the processes of our own democracy. There is a clear conservative interest in cleaning up a system that is widely seen as corrupting and that fosters disregard for the Republic itself.

This seems to be an area where attempts to regulate the system have made matters worse, because all they've done is force donors and candidates to disguise what they're about without removing any money or the apparent influence of money from the equation. A set of reforms that restricted all political contributions to individuals only, that removed limits on contributions, that required immediate public reporting of all contributions and that required broadcasters to provide set airtime to candidates would not necessarily solve a lot of problems, but it might streamline the system a bit and make it more aboveboard.

(10) Line Item Veto Constitutional Amendment

The ability of the Executive to remove the discrete tax and spending provisions that campaign contributors and lobbyists currently spend money to get inserted in bills is another way to clean up the system. The Court having held it unconstitutional after the GOP passed it last time, it must now be revived via amendment to the Constitution.

There are certainly other items that the GOP can reorganize itself around, but those would appear to address many of people's main concerns right now. And the important thing is that it is more a reorganizing effort than a rethinking effort. These ideas have been percolating and really just await the sort of concerted enunciation and repetition that Ronald Reagan, Newt Gingrich and George W. Bush brought to prior successful Republican campaigns. The party isn't out of ideas, just out of breath. A legislator, like John McCain or Bob Dole, isn't generally who you look to for an agenda and for a sweeping vision of governance. They're who you have hammer out the details and make the compromises to put the plans into effect. They need to be on board, but not necessarily steering the ship. The next GOP agenda will be better carried by a strong executive voice at the RNC, by talk radio hosts and columnists, and by whichever one of the excellent group of governors we nominate next time.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:26 PM


US election watch: The case for McCain: As Americans everywhere prepare to go to the polls, Swedish politician Mathias Sundin - who spent a month this summer working as a volunteer for John McCain - explains why he’s rooting for the Republican candidate. (Mathias Sundin, 10/30/08, The Local)

For me as a Swede, the issues which affect Sweden and the rest of the world mean the most to me: free trade, foreign policy, and economic policy. And of course who the candidates are as people is also important.

Free trade has made it possible for hundreds of millions of people to lift themselves out of poverty, and has also benefited western economies like Sweden and the United States. Obviously, it involves increased competition which can result in some people losing their jobs. But if you have a dynamic economy, like America has had for many years, people eventually get new jobs.

Sweden is a small, export dependent country. The world’s largest economies need to continue to support free trade, both for Sweden’s sake and for the sake of the world’s poor. McCain has long been a diehard supporter of free trade, while Barack Obama’s rhetoric, unfortunately, has been strongly against free trade.

McCain also has an idea he calls the “League of Democracies”. It would be a forum for cooperation among the world’s democracies. It could, for example, take action on occasions when the UN isn’t working or can’t fulfill its mission of halting genocides.

The UN’s agenda is often hindered by dictators. The world’s democracies are by no means all saints either, but they do have public opinion to consider and in general democracies act morally more often than dictators.

As a Swede, I think that it’s important that the US not leave Iraq too soon. This is a unique opportunity to build the world’s first democratic Arab country. Withdrawing troops to quickly would put this endeavor at risk. I understand that Americans are tired of the war, but both the United States and the world at large would benefit from a democratic Iraq.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:22 PM


Viswanathan Anand retains world chess title (Reuters, Oct 30, 2008)

Indian chess Grand Master Viswanathan Anand successfully defended his world title on Wednesday by defeating Russian Vladimir Kramnik in a match-play series in Bonn, Germany.

The 38-year-old former world number one won by 6.5-4.5 after a draw in the penultimate round to take an unassailable lead in the 12-match contest, the World Chess Federation website (www.fide.com) said.

Anand, currently world number five, regained the world title he won in Mexico last year where he edged out defending champion Kramnik by one point.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:13 PM


Erica Jong Tells Italians Obama Loss 'Will Spark the Second American Civil War. Blood Will Run in the Streets' (Jason Horowitz, October 30, 2008, NY Observer)

Here's a translation of Jong's more spirited quotes to the Milan-based Corriere, as selected by [Christian] Rocca [...

"My friends Ken Follett and Susan Cheever are extremely worried. Naomi Wolf calls me every day. Yesterday, Jane Fonda sent me an email to tell me that she cried all night and can't cure her ailing back for all the stress that has reduces her to a bundle of nerves."

"My back is also suffering from spasms, so much so that I had to see an acupuncturist and get prescriptions for Valium."

"After having stolen the last two elections, the Republican Mafia…"

"If Obama loses it will spark the second American Civil War. Blood will run in the streets, believe me. And it's not a coincidence that President Bush recalled soldiers from Iraq for Dick Cheney to lead against American citizens in the streets."

"Bush has transformed America into a police state, from torture to the imprisonment of reporters, to the Patriot Act."

Anyone else find it curious that none of these stories on the first 100 days of Magic so much as mention Democrats rolling back the Police State and releasing the political prisoners?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:58 PM


President Obama: We Still Don’t Know Who He Really Is (Mort Kondracke, 10/30/08, Real Clear Politics)

After 22 months that he’s been campaigning, after thousands of speeches, dozens of debates and reams of position papers, it’s still not clear if he is a pragmatic post-partisan unifier or a populist liberal ideologue.

Some conservatives think he’s further out than that — a dangerous radical who really is a pal of unrepentant former Weatherman Bill Ayers and a disciple of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright — but the evidence for that from his campaign behavior is next to nonexistent.

But as Obama delivered his “closing argument” this week, beginning Monday in Canton, Ohio, it remained impossible to tell how far left Obama will tilt on economics or how energetically he will reach out to Republicans.

Obama’s appeal to independents (like me) has always been in lines like this one from Canton: “Understand, if we want to get through this [economic] crisis, we need to get beyond the old ideological debates and divides between left and right.

“We don’t need bigger government or smaller government. We need a better government — a more competent government, a government that upholds the values we hold in common as Americans.”

It’s pretty clear that, under Obama, the size of government will grow.

The fact that utter pabulum like that, which Mortimer knows isn't even true, appeals to his sort is just embarrassing. But it is the case that to the extent the Unicorn Rider has been able to stay a blank he's allowed people to fill in the person they wish he was.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:44 PM


The next new chant: 'No we can't' (Todd Domke, October 30, 2008, Boston Globe)

My crystal ball channels future TV shows, like this one from Jan. 20, 2009. . . [...]

Obama: "I promised hope. I hope you'll let me change my promises."

Audience: "Yes, you can!"

Obama: "Since we're broke, I don't think we can afford an expedition to Mars. Do you?"

Audience: "No, we can't!"

Obama: "Congress just voted for another $300 billion of stimulus, so we can't afford most of my new spending programs."

Audience: "No, we can't!"

Obama: "We can't afford to cut taxes for 95, or even 5, percent of Americans."

Audience: "No, we can't!"

Obama: "We can't afford to hire you folks for government jobs."

(Dead silence)

Obama: "Just kidding."

Audience: "Yay!"

Brokaw: "Chris, it seems like he's inaugurating a new era of humor and humility. Obama might enjoy a longer honeymoon than any president since George Washington."

Matthews: "Yes. And shouldn't we end the two-term limit for presidents? I don't think we can get enough of this guy in just eight years."

Obama: "Not since Franklin Roosevelt, who needed four terms, has a president faced such a challenge. But with hope and a change in promises, we cannot fail."

Audience: "No, we can't!"

Andrea: "I'm turning around to interview Joe Biden. Mr. Vice President, I see that David Axelrod has taken the duct tape off your mouth. What do you think of the inaugural address?"

Joe Biden: "Mark my words, when our enemies test the mettle of this young, inexperienced president in a totally gratuitous crisis, they will be surprised. He is no longer a politician. He's a magician."

Okay now, we're among and we promise not to let your secret out, but doesn't a part of you want him to win just because it will be so hilarious watching all their gonfalon bubbles get pricked?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:32 PM


FOX News Poll: Obama's Edge Over McCain Narrows (Dana Blanton, 10/30/08, FOXNews.com)

As the candidates make their closing arguments before the election, the race has tightened with Barack Obama now leading John McCain by 47 percent to 44 percent among likely voters, according to a FOX News poll released Thursday. Last week Obama led by 49-40 percent among likely voters.

...but there's certainly a sense that as push gets closer to shove the momentum is with Maverick/Palin.

BTW: has anyone, besides The Wife, noticed that if you look at it quickly Obama Biden looks like Osama Bin Laden.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:12 AM


First NH snowfall officially recorded (Union Leader, 10/30/08)

New Hampshire has officially started its snowfall tally for the 2008-09 season with 1.8 inches of snow recorded overnight in Jefferson, according to the National Weather Service.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:07 AM


At Rallies of Faithful, Contrasts in Red and Blue (MARK LEIBOVICH, 10/30/08, NY Times)

Supporters of Senators Barack Obama and Joseph R. Biden Jr. often look like Benetton-colored billboards, decked out for their candidates in Obama-Biden hats, T-shirts and buttons. Supporters of Senator John McCain and Gov. Sarah Palin like logo merchandise, too, but tend more toward pompoms (yes, pompoms), homemade signs (“Pitbulls 4 Freedom”), flag pins and chest paint.

There is more dancing at Democratic rallies, more shouting out at Republican ones. They chant “Yes, we can” (or “Sí, se puede”) at Obama and Biden rallies, “U.S.A.” and “Drill, baby, drill” at McCain and Palin rallies; the D’s bounce to blaring folk-rock and Motown (Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder) and the R’s counter with country-pop (including Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5”) and arena rock ( AC/DC).

Democratic rallygoers seem more worried about Ms. Palin than about Mr. McCain.

In audience volume, age and enthusiasm, Ms. Palin’s rallies have more in common with Mr. Obama’s than with Mr. McCain’s. Fans often crush toward Mr. Obama and Ms. Palin after they are finished speaking, clicking cellphone cameras over their heads. [...]

There is an edge at Obama rallies, but it is less of frustration, more of fear.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:50 AM


Stocks open sharply higher after GDP report (Martin Zimmerman, October 30, 2008, LA Times)

Stocks jumped on Wall Street today as a government report showed the U.S. economy contracted less than expected in the third quarter and overseas markets rallied on hopes that coordinated efforts are beginning to stem the global credit crisis. [...]

Investors appeared to shrug off the government's report that the U.S. economy shrank by a less-than-expected 0.3% in the third quarter. Economists had expected the nation's gross domestic product to contract by 0.5% as consumers reined in spending.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:36 AM


A week after his last money plea, Obama asks everyone for another $5 (Andrew Malcolm, 10/30/08, LA Times: Top of the Ticket)

It seems like only a week ago that The Ticket was whining about Barack Obama whining that after raising $605 million through September to buy the presidency, he was asking all of us one last time for just $10 more for some reason.

And we figured out that, October money aside, he'd have to spend $12.5 million a day just to unload September's haul by Nov. 4.

The Democrat is already outspending the Republican by three Political button for bitter gun ownerand four-to-one, which if it was the other way around would surely be unconscionable.

...just think how fast he'll blow through yours.....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:23 AM


Don't Let the Polls Affect Your Vote: They were wrong in 2000 and 2004 (KARL ROVE, 10/30/08, Wall Street Journal)

I recall, too, the media's screwup in 2004, when exit-polling data leaked in the afternoon. It showed President Bush losing Pennsylvania by 17 points, New Hampshire by 18, behind among white males in Florida, and projected South Carolina and Colorado too close to call. It looked like the GOP would be wiped out.

Bob Shrum famously became the first to congratulate Sen. John Kerry by addressing him as "President Kerry." Commentators let the exit polls color their coverage for hours until their certainty was undone by actual vote tallies.

Polls have proliferated this year in part because it is much easier for journalists to devote the limited space in their papers or on TV to the horse-race aspect of the election rather than its substance. And I admit, I've aided and abetted this process.

In the campaign's final week, though, the candidates can offer little new substance, so attention turns to the political landscape, and there's no question Mr. McCain is in a difficult place.

The last national poll that showed Mr. McCain ahead came out Sept. 25 and the 232 polls since then have all shown Mr. Obama leading. Only one time in the past 14 presidential elections has a candidate won the popular vote and the Electoral College after trailing in the Gallup Poll the week before the election: Ronald Reagan in 1980.

But the question that matters is the margin. If Mr. McCain is down by 3%, his task is doable, if difficult. If he's down by 9%, his task is essentially impossible. In truth, however, no one knows for sure what kind of polling deficit is insurmountable or even which poll is correct. All of us should act with the proper understanding that nothing is yet decided.

....but even if Senator McCain wins September 25th will be seen as the day that made his victory difficult. If he loses, it will have been that day that cost him the election.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:31 AM


Democrats Vie to Shape an Obama Legislative Agenda: Advisers, House Caucuses Jockey for Input Should Senator Win the Presidency; Tensions Over How Fast to Move on Big Issues (JONATHAN WEISMAN, 10/30/08, Wall Street Journal)

Sen. Obama's economic brain trust dialed in two weeks ago to a conference call with the candidate to discuss how the Wall Street bailout was working when a split emerged over how hard the government should lean on the banks. Some advisers said it would be politically and economically disastrous if the billions of taxpayer dollars injected into ailing financial institutions just sat in vaults. Robert Rubin, who served as President Bill Clinton's Treasury secretary between stints on Wall Street, pushed back. Leaving the money in the banks would help stabilize them and prevent further turmoil in the credit markets, even if the money wasn't loaned out, the Citigroup Inc. executive said.

On Capitol Hill, three main factions are emerging with very different advice.

The first group, led by "old bull" liberals, wants to move fast on big-ticket issues such as universal health care and weaning the nation off Middle Eastern oil and on regulatory and labor issues, such as allowing unions to organize by getting would-be members to sign cards backing collective bargaining instead of submitting to secret ballots. [...]

A second faction of more-conservative Democrats is focusing on fiscal discipline. With this fiscal year's deficit potentially approaching $1 trillion, these Democrats say the money for Sen. Obama's ambitious agenda simply isn't there. One of the first acts of the next Congress should be approving a bipartisan commission to tackle the deficit and the growth of entitlements, such as Medicare and Medicaid, argue the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats, who say they will have the numbers to make the demands. [...]

The third group of Democrats could be labeled the middle-ground pragmatists. They embrace the activist agenda but are wary about going too far too fast. This camp, which includes the party's top congressional leadership, argues that Sen. Obama should move quickly on a few items with proven bipartisan support -- an economic-stimulus package, an expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Program funded with a tobacco-tax increase, and funding for federal stem-cell research. They would then regroup and build bipartisan support for the new president's bigger-ticket items -- health care, energy, education and regulatory changes.

...but polls show that stem cell research isn't a leading issue for most people and only a minority support lifting the Bush restrictions on embryo stem cells. But these sorts of pro-Death measures are probably the one thing they could move on quickly, so folks like Doug Kmiec would have done little more than help feed the maw.

The biggest problem Democrats would face is that their nominee has, quite wisely, run on nothing, so the different chambers of Congress and the various factions within the Party would be unconstrained by any mandate or agenda. Consider the contrast to Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, who both came to office with discrete sets of action items that left Congress with no question about what it was expected to deliver.

Of course, John McCain has run like a legislator too -- with a couple of areas in which he'd like to pass new laws, but no concise and coherent outline of his minimal conditions for such bills -- so no matter who wins on Tuesday power is going to shift from the White House to the Hill and the American people aren't exactly big fans of the legislative process these days. Nor does the modern press do even an adequate, nevermind competent, job covering law-making. If nothing else, Congress is ill-suited to the 24-hour news cycle. For 24 of the last 28 years we've had bigger than life figures running Washington -- both because of their own personalities and because of the way their opponents demonize them -- but the next four years are, almost inevitably, going to be like George H. W. Bush's term, where the presidency itself seemed to shrink.

Dems get ready to rule (Michael Sandler, 10/28/08, The Hill)

[D]emocrats could quickly push forward with legislation allowing labor unions to organize without secret-ballot elections and a bill expanding the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP).

Other possibilities include the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which would overturn a Supreme Court decision restricting equal pay lawsuits; a measure that would narrow the role of a “supervisor” for collective bargaining purposes; and a mandate for paid sick leave for companies with 15 or more employees who work at least 30 hours a week — all left over from the last Congress.

“I think they want to strike while the iron’s hot and grab everything they can,” said Marc Freedman, director of labor law policy for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. [...]

Having the numbers to move legislation on a partisan basis carries risk. Democrats and Obama, if elected, would shoulder the blame for anything that passes. That reality could prompt leadership to postpone visceral debates on issues with greater political consequences, such as dealing with illegal immigrants.

If that's everything they can grab, the activists are going to be seething.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:28 AM


McCain tilts towards Taiwan, Obama may favor China (Ralph Jennings, Oct 30, 2008, Reuters)

Republican presidential candidate John McCain would seek to defend Taiwan and play hard ball with China if he comes to office, but Democratic frontrunner Barack Obama would further sideline Taipei as he courts Beijing.

Analysts say neither candidate would radically change today's status quo, but the former World War Two commander McCain is seen favoring Taiwan, which Americans of his generation called "Free China" but which now struggles for an international voice.

Holy Cripes, that John McCain really is ancient!

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:22 AM


Hidin' Biden: Reining In a Voluble No. 2 (Karen Tumulty, 10/29/08, TIME)

Anyone who has watched Joe Biden over 35 years in the Senate might have a little bit of trouble recognizing the guy who is running to be Barack Obama's Vice President. Oh, yes, he looks like the same fellow. But traveling with Biden during this campaign has sometimes been like reporting on a politician packaged in shrink-wrap. While his windy, off-point pontification was the stuff of legend among his Senate colleagues, Biden is now leashed to a teleprompter even when he is talking in a high school gym that is three-quarters empty. The exposure hound who in recent years appeared more often than any other guest on the Sunday talk shows is a virtual stranger to the small band of reporters on his plane — less accessible than even Sarah Palin is to her traveling pack of bloodhounds. And Biden keeps to a schedule that provides a minimum of off-the-cuff encounters with voters, except across a rope line. See Joe Biden's defining moments here.

The campaign's caution is understandable.

While Sarah Palin leads the McCain comeback, Joe Biden is in the witness protection program.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:20 AM


Pennsylvania Hope for McCain (Mason Dixon/NBC, October 30th, 2008)

Obama 47, McCain 43, Undecided 9

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:07 AM


Syrian haven for killers, then and now (Rafael Medoff, 10/29/08, THE JERUSALEM POST)

During the 1948 War of Independence, there were so many Nazi fugitives in the Syrian army, including a number of commanding officers, that when the Hagana (soon to become the IDF) defeated the Arab forces in Haifa, its terms for a truce included a provision that "European Nazis will be delivered to [the British] military [authorities]." [...]

IN THE aftermath of the US war against Saddam Hussein's regime, there were media reports that some Iraqi war criminals had found shelter in Syria. More recently, evidence has emerged of al-Qaida forces finding haven in Syria. US officials have estimated that 90 percent of foreign terrorists entering Iraq are arriving via the "uncontrolled gateway" of the Iraq-Syria border.

Yet the American response to Syria's shelter-the-killers policy, then and now, has reflected a certain ambivalence.

After World War II, the US declined to use economic or diplomatic pressure to secure Syria's surrender of Nazi war criminals for prosecution. Improving American relations with the Arab world was considered a higher priority than bringing Alois Brunner and company to justice.

In our own time, although US troops have in some isolated instances crossed into Syrian territory while chasing terrorists, there had never been a large-scale raid comparable to this week's, nor one involving aircraft.

And while the Bush administration has designated Syria a sponsor of terrorism and imposed the requisite sanctions, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and her aides recently met with Syrian officials to seek a "thaw" in relations.

Does this week's US air raid demonstrate a rejection of the "thaw" approach or does it simply reflect the latest bump in an ongoing tug of war within the administration over how to deal with Syria?

The likelihood is that President Bush is less liberated by his own lame-duck status than by that of the Israeli government, where no one can really prevail upon him to lay off their ally.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:21 AM


Obama and the Politics of Crowds: The masses greeting the candidate on the trail are a sign of great unease (FOUAD AJAMI, 10/30/08, Wall Street Journal)

My boyhood, and the Arab political culture I have been chronicling for well over three decades, are anchored in the Arab world. And the tragedy of Arab political culture has been the unending expectation of the crowd -- the street, we call it -- in the redeemer who will put an end to the decline, who will restore faded splendor and greatness. When I came into my own, in the late 1950s and '60s, those hopes were invested in the Egyptian Gamal Abdul Nasser. He faltered, and broke the hearts of generations of Arabs. But the faith in the Awaited One lives on, and it would forever circle the Arab world looking for the next redeemer.

America is a different land, for me exceptional in all the ways that matter. In recent days, those vast Obama crowds, though, have recalled for me the politics of charisma that wrecked Arab and Muslim societies. A leader does not have to say much, or be much. The crowd is left to its most powerful possession -- its imagination.

From Elias Canetti again: "But the crowd, as such, disintegrates. It has a presentiment of this and fears it. . . . Only the growth of the crowd prevents those who belong to it from creeping back under their private burdens."

The morning after the election, the disappointment will begin to settle upon the Obama crowd. Defeat -- by now unthinkable to the devotees -- will bring heartbreak. Victory will steadily deliver the sobering verdict that our troubles won't be solved by a leader's magic.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:16 AM


McCain's Best Argument (Quin Hillyer, 10.30.08, American Spectator)

[H]ere is why John McCain should be the next president of the United States:

There is something special about this country. The United States is exceptional. We are blessed by the good Lord, and in turn we have done more, far more, than any other people to spread freedom across the globe, and prosperity across the globe, and human rights across this great good Earth. We are a particularly good people -- and John McCain understands all this and believes it with every fiber of his being, down to his very marrow, in a way that is deeply spiritual in nature. There is nothing fake about McCain's belief in American Exceptionalism. His belief in this is as genuine, and as deeply felt, as is a son's love for his father. He will defend this country, fight for this country, with every last breath in his body.

And McCain has a record of making the right calls, again and again, when it comes to securing the American national interest around the world. He was right to back Ronald Reagan to the hilt in the greatest foreign challenge of the past 60 years, namely the victorious effort to win the Cold War despite the strenuous and at times vicious opposition of the American Left. But he was right to oppose Reagan when Reagan, with all good intentions, decided to station Marines in Lebanon. McCain broke with his entire party, and warned that the Marines would be sitting ducks, and voted against the deployment. Tragically, McCain was right: More than 200 Americans died in Lebanon in a suicide truck bombing about a month after McCain's warning.

McCain was right -- and Joe Biden wrong -- to support the first Gulf War against Saddam Hussein in 1991. McCain was right to support intervention in Kosovo later that decade: It worked. He was right to support a stronger military and greater numbers of personnel when Bill Clinton was cutting it. He was right to fight against wasteful weapons systems, and against corruption in military contracting. He was right to right a specific boondoggle involving an Air Force tanker; he brought corruption to light (the perpetrators both in the Air Force and at the contractor went to jail) and saved the public $6 billion.

McCain was right to say that Saddam Hussein could be overthrown fairly quickly, with little loss of American life. He was right to say that Hussein was a terrible threat. But he was right, very early on, well before anybody else in the Senate, to say that it would take more troops and a different strategy to secure the peace after we had won the war. He broke with President Bush to say so, way back in 2003, and he was right.

John McCain has suffered for his country in a way only a tiny slice of the population ever has. The story is well known -- not just that he suffered in Vietcong captivity, but that he turned down early release in a profound expression of solidarity with his fellow prisoners. Yet McCain had the grace, when the time was right, to hold out an olive branch to the Vietnamese a couple of decades later when they showed a movement toward greater economic freedom.

John McCain is committed to reaching beyond party labels. Whether always right or wrong to do so, he really cares about doing what he thinks is right no matter whose political ox is gored. Barack Obama may talk a bipartisan game, but he never has actually played on that field. The reality, meanwhile, is that sometimes it helps conservative ends to work with people from the other party. Ronald Reagan knew this.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:40 AM


Bite the bullet on fast trains: Californians should approve a ballot measure for a bullet train – despite financial storms. (The Monitor's Editorial Board, October 30, 2008, CS Monitor)

Americans who have ridden bullet trains in Europe or Asia return home scratching their heads. If only the US had such trains. In many ways, they beat flying and driving, and use much less energy. By approving a ballot measure Nov. 4, Californians can lead the nation to its first world-class fast train – if critics don't derail them.

In July, a Field Poll found that 56 percent of likely voters in the state supported a $10 billion bond measure to help pay for a bullet train that could whisk passengers from San Francisco to Los Angeles in about 2-1/2 hours (a driving distance of about 400 miles).

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:36 AM


3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted (divided use)

2 1/2 cups graham-cracker crumbs

2 3/4 cups sugar (divided use)

1 teaspoon plus a pinch salt (divided use)

2 pounds cream cheese, room temperature

1/4 cup sour cream

1 (15-ounce) can pure pumpkin

6 large eggs, room temperature, lightly beaten

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

2 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

2 cups sweetened whipped cream or whipped topping

1/3 cup toasted pecans, roughly chopped

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees.

Brush a 10-inch springform pan with some of the butter. Stir remaining butter into crumbs with 1/4 cup sugar and pinch salt. Press mixture into bottom and up sides of pan, packing it tightly and evenly. Bake until golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes.

Cool on a rack, then wrap outside of springform pan with foil and place in a roasting pan.

Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Meanwhile, beat cream cheese with a mixer until smooth. Add remaining 2 1/2 cups sugar and beat until just light, scraping down sides of bowl and beaters as needed. Beat in the sour cream, then add pumpkin, eggs, vanilla, 1 teaspoon salt, cinnamon, ginger and cloves and beat until just combined. Pour into cooled crust.

Without pulling rack out, gently place roasting pan in oven and pour boiling water into roasting pan until it comes about halfway up side of springform pan. Bake until outside of cheesecake sets but center is still loose, about 1 hour 45 minutes. Turn off oven and open door briefly to let out some heat. Leave cheesecake in oven for 1 more hour, then carefully remove from roasting pan and cool on a rack. Run a knife around edges of springform pan, cover and refrigerate at least 8 hours or overnight.

Bring cheesecake to room temperature 30 minutes before serving. Unlock and remove springform ring. To finish, place a dollop of whipped cream on each slice and sprinkle with toasted pecans.

October 29, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:37 PM


Twilight Struggle: In its closing days, the Bush administration escalates the war on terror. (Eli Lake, 10/28/08, The New Republic)

We have entered a new phase in the war on terror. In July, according to three administration sources, the Bush administration formally gave the military new power to strike terrorist safe havens outside of Iraq and Afghanistan. Before then, a military strike in a country like Syria or Pakistan would have required President Bush's personal approval. Now, those kinds of strikes in the region can occur at the discretion of the incoming commander of Central Command (Centcomm), General David Petraeus. One intelligence source described the order as institutionalizing the "Chicago Way," an allusion to Sean Connery's famous soliloquy about bringing a gun to a knife fight.

The new order could pave the way for direct action in Kenya, Mali, Pakistan, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen--all places where the American intelligence believe al Qaeda has a significant presence, but can no longer count on the indigenous security services to act. In the parlance of the Cold War, Petraeus will now have the authority to fight a regional "dirty war." When queried about the order from July, deputy spokesman for the National Security Council Ben Chang offered no comment.

Strikes within Iran could be justified by the order, since senior al Qaeda leaders such as Saif al Adel are believed to have used that country as a base for aiding the Afghan Taliban and al Qaeda affiliates in Iraqi Kurdistan. [...]

[W]ith the clock winding down on the administration, it has a greater appetite for racking up victories against al Qaeda--and less worries about any residual political consequences from striking. Roger Cressey, a former deputy to Richard Clarke in the Clinton and Bush administrations, says, "[W]ith the administration in the final weeks, the bar for military operations will be lowered because the downsides for the president are minimal."

The big mystery now is whether the next administration will dismantle this policy or permit Petraeus to follow it to fruition. Obama has said nothing about Sunday's strikes in Syria (a silence that has rightly earned him taunting from the McCain campaign).

...and let the Chairman of the Board explain what W's policy in Syria should be:

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:32 PM


Day 17: IBD/TIPP Tracking Poll (IBD, 10/29/08)

The race tightened again to 3 points Wednesday, a margin IBD/TIPP has shown for six days and to which other polls appear to be migrating. For example, the Rasmussen and Gallup polls, each of which had Obama up 5 points two days ago, now have him at 3.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:52 PM


Rendell spokesman says GOP has `Jim Crow' attitude (The Times Leader, 10/28/08)

The head of the county bureau of elections hasn’t encountered any suspected voter registration fraud, but allegations in other parts of Pennsylvania have sparked a lawsuit and a verbal exchange between a state official and the Republican Party.

The Pennsylvania Republican Party filed a lawsuit to assure the vote count is accurate – a move that Gov. Ed Rendell’s press secretary described as a “Jim Crow attitude.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:25 AM


Win or Lose, Many See Palin as Future of Party (KATE ZERNIKE and MONICA DAVEY, 10/29/08, NY Times)

“She’s dynamite,” said Morton C. Blackwell, who was President Ronald Reagan’s liaison to the conservative movement. Mr. Blackwell described vying to get close to Ms. Palin at a fund-raiser in Virginia, lamenting that he could get only within four feet.

“I made a major effort to position myself at this reception,” he said, adding that he is eager to sit down with her after the election to discuss the future. Asked if the weeks of unflattering revelations and damaging interviews had tarnished her among conservatives, he replied, “Not a bit.”

Brent Bozell, president of the Media Research Center, a conservative group, called it a “top order of business” to determine Ms. Palin’s future role. “Conservatives have been looking for leadership, and she has proven that she can electrify the grass roots like few people have in the last 20 years,” Mr. Bozell said. “No matter what she decides to do, there will be a small mother lode of financial support behind her.”

The presidential campaign has allowed Ms. Palin to develop as a candidate, and to make many useful connections as she travels the country. On the campaign, she has become close to people with extensive experience in Republican politics, including Steve Biegun and Randy Scheunemann, two foreign policy conservatives.

She has received extensive policy tutorials and been briefed on foreign policy almost daily. Aides say she has taken particular interest in Pakistan and Israel and in causes of Islamic extremism, which she has related to the economic despair that plagues parts of Alaska.

People loyal to her say Ms. Palin is well aware of the political job in front of her. One aide said she had “gotten on the offensive,” pushing to include more policy in her speeches. “It’s important for her personally, for how she’s perceived, to ensure that she gets to show her depth.”

In a development that could be telling whether or not she ends up as vice president, she has also been asserting her independence from the McCain campaign. She disagreed publicly with the decision to pull out of Michigan and questioned the use of automated calls and the decision not to bring up Senator Barack Obama’s relationship with his controversial former pastor. She said she would release her medical records after the campaign declared she would not, and has in the past week even wandered over to talk to reporters who travel with her, sending staff members scurrying to cut off conversations.

Ms. Palin’s rallies have drawn many times more supporters than Mr. McCain’s, with people waving eager signs: “Palin Power,” “Iowa is Palin Country,” “Super Sarah,” “You betcha!”

After watching John McCain run the same sort of campaign that Bob Dole did, you can bank on the GOP returning to its winning formula of nominating an Evangelical governor. As it happens, we have three excellent choices for 2012: Jeb, Sarah, and Bobby Jindal.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:11 AM


The Messiah and the Hockey Mom (Chidanand Rajghatta, 10/29/08, Times of India)

When the man some are jokingly calling the "messiah" arrived shortly after 5 p.m, the place erupted. Although the sound bites were familiar to anyone who'd switched on a TV lately, they cheered his every line with gusto. The passion that coursed through the multi-hued crowd had all the energy of an Indian crowd in the final moments of a Twenty20 game.

Hanging back some twenty paces from the lectern, collegiate Emily Jamison, majoring in social work at the university, listened intently. She wore a white t-shirt that said "NoBama" in red and blue letters, and cut an incongruously sullen figure in the largely rapturous crowd. "He's got no substance. All he says is change, change, change...but he doesn't mean it," she said, after half-an-hour of soaring eloquence had brought the crowd to its feet.

Amy Gwaltney, a second year media major shooting pictures of the event for the college yearbook, didn't think much of the crowd either. There's as much energy in Sarah Palin campaign meetings, she said. She'd just come from one at Roanoke across the state and Palin packed an equally energetic crowd. They wore red, blue, and white gear in three aisles so they could form the word USA.

White, Jamison and Gwaltney defy the pattern in the so-called "real America" -- shorthand for conservative strongholds -- where the young collegiate crowd is typically pro-Obama, while white moms are for Palin. Oh, did we mention that the messiah and the hockey mom are beginning to define this election to the exclusion of the two older white men who are their running mates? Barack Obama and Sarah Palin may face-off directly in 2012 on current form and fortitude of their respective constituencies.

It's likely that only a surprisingly robust President McCain or a belly-hungry Jeb Bush can deny Ms Palin the GOP's nomination in 2012, but the more interesting question is whether Barack Obama can defy the half-century trend of the Democratic Party and follow in Adlai's footsteps if he loses on Tuesday. Al Gore won in 2000 and he couldn't get a second bite at the apple, but the Unicorn Rider might be able to Mau-Mau his way to a second nomination.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:30 AM


Undecideds Should Break for McCain (Dick Morris, 10/29/08, Real Clear Politics)

[A]s Obama surged into a more or less permanent lead in October, animated by the financial crisis, he has assumed many of the characteristics of an incumbent. Every voter asks himself one question before he or she casts a ballot: Do I want to vote for Obama? His uniqueness, charisma and assertive program have so dominated the dialogue that the election is now a referendum on Obama.

As Obama has oscillated, moving somewhat above or somewhat below 50 percent in all the October polls, his election likely hangs in the balance. If he falls short of 50 percent in these circumstances, a majority of the voters can be said to have rejected him. Likely a disproportionate number of the undecideds will vote for McCain.

But don't write Obama off. His candidacy strikes such enthusiasm among young and minority voters that there is still a chance that a massive turnout will deliver the race to the Democrats. None of the polling organizations has any experience with -- or model for -- so massive a turnout, especially among voters notorious for staying at home. But the primaries proved that these young and minority voters will not stay home this time, but will vote for Obama. The effect of this increased vote is hard to calculate, but it may be enough to offset the undecideds who will vote for McCain.

But the basic point, one week before Election Day, is that even if Obama clings to a four- or five-point lead over McCain in the polling, the election is not over. The question is not so much how large his lead is over the Republican, but whether or not he is topping 50 percent. As long as the polling leaves him below that mark, he is vulnerable and could well lose.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:03 AM


What McCain Defectors See in Obama (Madison Powers, 10/29/08, CQ)

The defectors are a mixed lot, but all represent some brand of recognizably conservative thought. Some like Doug Kmiec, Andrew Sullivan, and Ken Adelman are probably conservatives by anyone’s definition, while others are cut partly from an older mold. They bear some resemblance to the moderate Republicanism of the Rockefeller era, but the issues of their time are not the same.

Also, there are the venerable Republican names of Goldwater, Buckley, and Eisenhower who have signed on to Obama’s cause, and while no single one perhaps meets all litmus tests some true believers might want in a conservative, there is an unmistakable family of conservative ideas represented. These include a commitment to greater fiscal responsibility, a distaste for foreign interventionism, and a principled Burkean resistance to aggressive programs of social experimentation.

Odd, though perhaps revealing, to get that last bit exactly backwards.

If you lay out Senator Obama's positions and those of the past few Republican presidential nominees--from Reagan onwards--you'll find more similarities than differences. Indeed, if all you knew of the Unicorn Rider was what you see in 30 second ads you might think he was a Republican: every single ad here in NH is about how he will cut taxes and John McCain will raise them.

He's hawkish on Afghanistan and Pakistan and never mentions Iraq anymore. Though, as a practical matter, he's--probably correctly--more identified with the isolationism/Realism of an Eisenhower, Nixon or Ford than the democratic crusading impulse of a Reagan or Bush.

He's more of a Reagan or Dole on Social Security than a Clinton or Bush, but John McCain hasn't run on personal accounts either. And whatever he may think privately about things like Welfare Reform, 401ks, HSAs, housing vouchers, NCLB school vouchers, etc., he's very careful not not to attack them.

His economic advisers--Paul Volcker, Warren Buffet, Robert Rubin--are more classically conservative than the modern Supply-Side Right. And Austan Goolsbee trails along behind him assuring people that any protectionist noises he makes are just fodder for the unions and don't reflect his actual views.

In fact, the only real difference is precisely that he's the most extreme supporter of aggressive social experimentation to be nominated for president during this era. On matters of abortion, infanticide, gay "rights," infant stem cells, euthanasia, etc. he is consistently and radically Pro-Death and opposed to Western/Judeo-Christian civilization. Edmund Burke would have no trouble recognizing the Jacobin in at least this aspect of Mr. Obama's politics.

When we consider then what sorts of Republicans are supporting Mr. Obama we would, as Mr. Powers says, expect to find the old Eastern Establishment, secular Darwinist Right. Contrary to Mr. Powers, these issues are pretty much the same and Rockefeller money funded the more openly eugenic experimentation of the early/mid 20th Century. That's not, of course, to say that every "conservative" backing Mr. Obama is doing so because he'd increase abortion and fund it for "the poor," but it is fair to say that they are at least unbothered by the prospect. In fact, even the ostensibly pro-life Doug Kmiec was willing to forgo Communion in order to back Barack Obama.

This is why so many of the converts cite the choice of Sarah Palin as a running mate. The choice drove home the reality that the GOP is and is going to stay the party of the religious. They were hoping for a Joe Lieberman, Colin Powell, Mitt Romney, or Tom Ridge who are indifferent to or supportive of abortion.

Over time this is likely to be a more permanent divide and is certain to impact the Democratic Party more heavily than the Republican. After all, Darwinism is a marginal belief in America while Christianity is central. Eventually one would expect to see the parties divide along more clearly secular vs religious lines and the Democratic hold on entire tribes loosen, a process that will be accelerated by the recognition that intellectual elites support the Democrats in no small part because of "population control."

Infanticide candidate for president (Nat Hentoff, Apr. 29, 2008, Sac Bee)

n abortion, Obama is an extremist. He has opposed the Supreme Court decision that finally upheld the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act against that form of infanticide. Most startlingly, for a professed humanist, Obama -- in the Illinois Senate -- also voted against the Born Alive Infant Protection Act. I have reported on several of those cases when, before the abortion was completed, an alive infant was suddenly in the room. It was disposed of as a horrified nurse who was not necessarily pro-life followed the doctors' orders to put the baby in a pail or otherwise get rid of the child.

As a longtime columnist, John Leo has written of this form of fatal discrimination, these "mistakes" during an abortion, once born, cannot be "killed or allowed to die simply because they are unwanted."

Furthermore, as "National Right to Life News" (April issue) included in its account of Obama's actual votes on abortion, he "voted to kill a bill that would have required an abortionist to notify at least one parent before performing an abortion on a minor girl from another state."

These are conspiracies -- and that's the word -- by pro-abortion extremists to transport a minor girl across state lines from where she lives, unbeknownst to her parents. This assumes that a minor fully understands the consequences of that irredeemable act.

As I was researching this presidential candidate's views on the unilateral "choice" that takes another's life, I heard on the radio what Obama said during a Johnstown, Pa., town hall meeting on March 29 as he was discussing the continuing dangers of exposure to HIV/AIDS infections: "When it comes specifically to HIV/AIDS, the most important prevention is education, which should include -- which should include abstinence education and teaching children, you know, that sex is not something casual. But it should also include -- it should also include other, you know, information about contraception because, look, I've got two daughters, 9 years old and 6 years old. I am going to teach them first of all about values and morals.

"But if they make a mistake," Obama continued, "I don't want them punished with a baby."

Among my children and grandchildren are two daughters and three granddaughters; and when I hear anyone, including a presidential candidate, equate having a baby as punishment, I realize with particular force the impact that the millions of legal abortions in this country have had on respect for human life.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:23 AM


Durable goods rise by largest since June (The Associated Press, October 29, 2008)

Orders to U.S. factories for big-ticket manufactured goods posted an unexpectedly strong showing in September -- the largest gain in three months -- on a surge in demand for airplanes and autos, government data showed Wednesday.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:36 AM


Brace yourselves - George Bush will soon be free to do just what he wants: The raid on Syria is a dark portent. The current president has three long, unaccountable months to cement his legacy (Jonathan Freedland, 10/29/08, The Guardian)

We are about to enter the twilight zone, that strange black hole in political time and space that appears no more than once every four years. It is known as the period of transition, and it starts a week from today, the time when the United States has not one president but two. One will be the president-elect, the other George Bush, in power for 12 more weeks in which he can do pretty much whatever he likes. Not only will he never again have to face voters, he won't even have to worry about damaging the prospects of his own party and its standard bearer (as if he has not damaged those enough already). From November 5 to January 20, he will exercise the freest, most unaccountable form of power the democratic world has to offer.

How Bush might use it is a question that gained new force at the weekend, when US forces crossed the Iraqi border into Syria to kill Abu Ghadiya, a man they said had been funnelling "foreign fighters" allied to al-Qaida into Iraq. That American move has touched off a round of intense head-scratching around the world, as foreign ministers and analysts ask each other the time-honoured diplomatic query: what did they mean by that? To which they add the post-Nov 4 question: and what does it tell us about how Bush plans to use his final days in the White House?

...there are two groups of people who should be scared about the coming months: Ba'athists and nativists.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Being at Home with Our Homelessness: Why we're happier knowing our happiness is inseparable from our misery. (Peter Augustine Lawler, October 27, 2008, Culture 11)

According to Alexis de Tocqueville (writing in the 1830s), the Americans have characteristically never made the error of believing either Locke or Darwin teaches the whole truth. The Americans’ religion, most of all, causes them not to understand themselves as merely self-interested individuals or playthings of some impersonal process. The Americans, semi-consciously, reconcile individual liberty and personal happiness by understanding themselves in different ways at different times. They understand themselves as free individuals insofar as they restlessly work in pursuit of the material conditions of happiness, but they find happiness by using what they’ve acquired as parents, children, friends, citizens, creatures, and as men and women (as opposed to abstracted or sexless individuals). It’s as religious, familial, and political beings, Tocqueville explains, that the Americans are happy. Tocqueville’s fear was that the Americans’ restless pursuit would erode, over time, the Americans’ experience of the real point of that pursuit.

It’s surely true that most Americans experience themselves much more consistently as free individuals today than in Tocqueville’s time. Our pursuits of egalitarian justice and prosperity have been turned enduring friendships into networking alliances, scattered families, and disconnected people from the binding, dutiful experience of being parts of communities. Americans are no longer united by the affirmation of a common religious morality.

The American desire to combine individual liberty with social happiness has tended to seem to become much more self-indulgent. We want all the warmth and emotional security of family without any of its suffocating demands or constraints. We want the benefits of faith and patriotism without really subordinating ourselves to God and country as dutiful creatures or citizens. And so we’re easily suckered by self-help books that say that happiness is compatible with individual autonomy, and that my relations with others won’t suffer when I focus on my own happiness in the right “12 step” way.

We Americans don’t listen to the Freudians who claim that we’re not even supposed to be happy, that we have no choice but to subordinate our personal enjoyment to the reality that we need to live in civilization. The theorist of our Sixties — Herbert Marcuse — told us that Freud used to be right, but not anymore. Technology’s conquest of scarcity means that there’s no long any need for repression, and we’re all free for the art of living the happy or polymorphously erotic life. Our libertarians even tell us that the conquest of scarcity opens us to an unlimited menu of choice concerning individual happiness. More than ever, it seems that anyone who isn’t happy can only blame himself.

But the truth is that we now have an especially hard time choosing what will make us happy. We don’t want to be lonely, but we don’t want love to turn us into suckers. We’re all too aware that it would be dangerous for us to feel to securely happy; my anxiety reminds me that other people are unreliable and nature doesn’t care about me at all. Studies show that people who are somewhat depressed predicted the future better than those who are happy and well adjusted.

We, naturally enough, want the benefits without the burdens of being happy. We expect way too much from far too little from ourselves, and so, in some ways, we’re more lonely and whiny than ever. But that conclusion doesn’t seem completely fair: the downside of freeing ourselves from nature, to some extent, is that each particular life seems more contingent on more on his or hers own than ever. Life is easier or happier because we have more, but it’s tougher or more anxious because each of us is all too aware of the insecurity of what we have. We certainly not self-indulgent in the sense of living carefree in the moment; we’re stuck with being more obsessed with our individual futures than ever. We don’t experience ourselves as living in a time when scarcity has been conquered; we moved, more than ever, by the scarcity of time. [...]

The Christian thinker Pascal criticized the modern pursuit of happiness at its very beginning. We’re really diverting ourselves from what we really know. Modern restlessness — the frenzied conquest of nature — is, Alexis de Tocqueville noticed, best explained by our modern inability to live well with our mortality or to articulate the truth about our misery without God. If we were born only to happy, Solzhenitysn explained, we wouldn’t have been born to die. That doesn’t mean we weren’t born to happy, but we can only be happy by assuming the responsibilities that accompany what we can’t help but know. Darwin and Marx, whatever their differences, both have nothing to say about the distinctive and dignified experiences of the only being open to the truth about his or her own being. We are the only animal, as Tocqueville and Pascal say, who can experience him- or herself as existing contingently and momentary between two abysses.

The modern error, from the perspective of both the premodern philosophers and the Christians, is the belief that we haven’t been given the inner resources to live well with what we know. The being open to the truth couldn’t be either a mind or a body, but a rational, relational, conscious (which means knowing with others), willful, and loving being. The erotic being who wonders, Percy explains, necessarily wanders — or is to some extent alienated from the rest of natural existence. The joys of knowing and loving are inseparable from our alienation. That means there’s a natural explanation for both our singular joy and intractable alienation: We human animals have been given natural, personal capabilities not given to the other animals.

It makes us happier to be able to understand why human happiness is inseparable from human misery in this world. We can see — even from the perspective of happiness — why it’s better to be a dislocated human than a contented chimp. We have every reason to be grateful for who we are, and, contrary to Hobbes and Locke, we should be all about living well with — rather than incessantly negating — what we’ve been given by nature. There’s a natural foundation for personal significance — personal love and freedom — that opens us to the possibility of a personal God.

Human happiness may depend on being “at home with our homelessness.”

When we moved this Summer I had 70 crates of books and, sadly, about 65 remain packed until we can have book shelves built. Within the unpacked crates is my copy of Mr. Lawler's fine book Homeless and At Home in America, which I'd read but not yet reviewed. He's one of our very favorite essayists and if you check the links we've collected you'll see why.

Reading this essay and the one below, by Mitchell Kalpakgian, seems an especially god remedy to the angst and agita of the current election. Someone is going to be sorely disappointed on Tuesday--either you or the guy next to you--and it seems not unlikely to be us religious conservatives.

If this should prove to be the case, it is possible to see why people of faith might feel estranged from a country that has elected the most pro-Death president in its history. Recall how Robert P. George and the First Things symposium declared democracy at an end in 1996, because of the way the Court was ignoring fundamental human liberty in favor of the culture of death. And it will indeed be vitally important for conservatives to gird up their loins and fight an administration and congress that may well seek to reverse the progress we've made out of the abyss over recent years. But, at the same time, we need only look to the derangement of the Left over the last 8 to 14 (to 28?) years in order to see what we must avoid.

While it is an entirely predictable effect of the Rationalist condition that the Left should be discombobulated by the failure of reality to conform to the apparent power of their ideas, just look at all of the good that their breakdown has prevented them from even noticing, nevermind celebrating. Despite the current correction, American and global wealth is at undreamt of high levels. The academic performance of even those students we had the lowest expectations of is improving and the entire nation is dedicated to improving it further. Abortion is down. Homelessness is down. Life expectancies are rising and from record high rates. Almost uniquely within the developed world we have a rising population. We have transformed health care in Africa. We have, either directly or indirectly, contributed to the liberation of or liberalization in Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine, Liberia, Sudan, Libya, Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, Mexico, Haiti, Indonesia, Mongolia, India, Georgia, Kosovo, etc., etc., etc....all of this coming within two decades of our having left the Soviet Empire in the dustbin of history. And on and on. But because these things have not been achieved in accord with the vision they have of how they should have been done--and by whom--the Left has alternately moped and raged its way across a decade. One of the most noticeable aspects of what has been a pretty good run for America and the world has been the miserableness of the Left.

It is incumbent on the Right to avoid such a fate. After all, our theology doesn't afford us the "luxury" of imagining that the world must yield to our wants and wishes. When we consider ourselves to be estranged from our lives just because they aren't going exactly as we'd like them to we are, in some sense, denying Creation. And were to snarl and snipe our way through an Obama presidency we would be elevating Caesar above God in ways that ought to shame us.

Even setting aside the fact that Bill Clinton's 90s were themselves a rather good stretch and that we have ample reason to be hopeful that the coming years will be good for America and the world as well, it is a threshhold mistake for us to follow the Left in believing that life can not be good just because we think the political results are bad. Though we can never rest in a society that hasn't yet recognized the truth that Cardinal Egan speaks below, neither can we slip into the slough of despond when we recognize the truth that Mr. Lawler reminds us of:

[T]he other view [of Americanization] is the view of Chesterton, which is: America is a home for the homeless, that the great thing about America is the romance of the citizen – everyone can find a home here. The amazing thing is that all you have to do to become an American is agree with a certain doctrine. So Chesterton compares America to the Catholic church. Any race, gender, whatever, class, background, make no difference, as long as you accept the
doctrine. That’s the Catholic view, and that’s also the American view – race, gender, whatever, don’t make any difference, as long as you accept the doctrine. So there’s something profoundly at-home about Americans because Americans begin with the premise of the irreplaceable, personal significance of every human being.

In other words, America is based on a very corny view of the Declaration of Independence that’s basically consistent with Thomism and all that. So in a certain way what saves America from utter relativism is this doctrine. And so you look at America carefully and the Americans who are most at home are the ones who believe this doctrine is compatible with their religion, and so they’re particularly at home because they’re at home with their homelessness. That is, they’re at home as citizens while recognizing that citizenship doesn’t
capture everything they are. And so it turns out that the best Dads, the best citizens, the people who have the most kids and the most stable family life in America are the ones who take citizenship seriously and who take their religion seriously. So from a certain point of view this book shows that there’s some truth to Heidegger,
some truth to Chesterton, but the view that Christianity is incompatible with patriotism – Christians are always resident aliens and all that – this does seem to be very out-of-touch with the reality of America.

If it is natural for those who don't genuinely believe in American ideals to be easily alienated, it is thoroughly unnatural for we who believe devoutly to succumb to similar despair. What, after all, is an unwelcome election result or an inept politician or even an unfortunate law or two in comparison to your family, your friends, your neighbors, your community, your relationship with God?

I had two people tell me remarkably similar stories this weekend abut being at social events and having people launch into tirades about religion or conservatives or both. One had a friend say: "I'm sure I'm offending you, but...." To which they responded, bewildered: "What? But you don't care?" We can pity the folk who behave (misbehave) in this manner, but we must not react by aping them. The impulse to vent must be subordinated to the values of friendship, citizenship, comity, and, yes, love. Where it is inexplicable to the Bright that anyone could differ with them, it is doctrine to us that people will disagree, even on the most fundamental issues. Where it is unimaginable to them that Reason could have yielded up an erroneous answer, it is obvious to us that Fallen Man is prone to mistake, oneself no less than another. Where they seem to think that spilling enough bile will act as a solvent to disagreements, we know such divisions to be part of the human predicament and the proper response to be an attempt at understanding, not an intellectual bludgeoning.

I've been absurdly fortunate in life and not at all unfortunate in politics. My first vote was cast for Ronald Reagan in 1980 and since then my preference has prevailed more often than not. But in 1992 we were living in Chicago and I walked out of the polling place facing the seemingly dire prospect that, despite my vote, Bill Clinton, Carol Mosely-Braun, and Dan Rostenkowski would be announced as winners later that night. Woe the Republic, eh? Well, last night our eldest asked what the best decade of the 20th Century was. And there's really only one honest response to that question: the 1990s.

A good many of us may feel a tad homeless as we walk out of the polling place on Tuesday, but we'll emerge into the sunlight (or snow here) very much at home. And there's every possibility that we'll be more at home in the months and years to come than those who vote differently. America is rather more resilient than we're prone to imagine in our darkest moments and politics means rather less than we're wont to recognize in the midst of a campaign. Think about what truly matters and be happy. Life is awfully good.

The Theology of Pleasure (Mitchell Kalpakgian, October 2008, New Oxford Review)

The experience of the goodness of the natural pleasures of sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch, as well as the intellectual, spiritual, and emotional pleasures of the soul, reveals God as the Author of inexhaustible joy who created man for happiness in all its fullness, inspiring man to sing with David in Psalm 23, "Thou anointest my head with oil, my cup overflows."

A man wakes in the morning and enjoys the exercise of walking, jogging, or biking, experiencing the beauty of the day, the serenity of dawn. He returns home to refresh his body with a bath or shower and then proceeds to regale himself with the tastes and smells of a hearty breakfast. These preparations of the body provide energy and strength to perform the day's work, whether it is using one's body or mind, skill, or other talents in performing labors of duty or love. In the midst of daily toil, human interaction -- conversation, laughter -- can punctuate the day and lift the spirits. The noon meal offers a different selection of foods to nourish the body and soul, offering the anticipation of a new pleasure, perhaps in the company of congenial friends who add the liveliness of mirth to the relish of the meal. As the afternoon hours follow, the end of the workday awaits with its accompanying rewards: a clear conscience in doing an honest day's labor, relaxation at home, or recreation in the pursuit of a favorite hobby. Looking forward to dinner with the entire family at home offers the best of company, and perhaps one's favorite meal. The pleasure of conversation with a spouse, the enjoyment of playing with children, the delight of hearing one's favorite music, the stimulation of a good book, and maybe the surprise of a friendly letter in the day's mail add to the various joys of the day and provide a sense of the fullness of happiness that is possible on the best of days. As St. Thomas Aquinas said, "No man can live without pleasure," and God, in His infinite goodness, has created a world with plentiful sources of joy and happiness for all people.

In the course of a year, a person may enjoy the varied pleasures of the four seasons -- from skating, skiing, and snowboarding in winter to fishing, swimming, and boating in summer. Each year brings its festive holidays and religious celebrations. Birthdays, anniversaries, engagements, weddings, and baptisms also fill the calendar with commemorative social occasions that rejoice the spirit and keep one in love with life. This multiplicity of pleasures during the various stages of the year illustrates the truth that life always offers some special joy to look forward to.

A life of happiness is not only the enjoyment of the present moment but also the anticipation of some later source of joy that awaits its proper time. The child who revels in play, the young couple who fall in love, the parents who rejoice in the births of their children, the grandparents who behold the happiness of their children's children -- the goodness of life is experienced in the fullness of our time. God in His wisdom prepares His gifts of pleasure according to the seasons of life and according to the stages of man. As Solomon observes, "For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven" (Eccl. 3:1). God does not leave man empty-handed as he progresses through life, but always provides occasions of hope in familiar pleasures and newfound joys. [...]

Spiritual pleasures as well accompany intellectual and aesthetic pleasures. The quintessence of spiritual happiness is the enjoyment of peace, the peace that Christ offers when He utters, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you" (Jn. 14:27). As St. Augustine writes in his Confessions, "You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they can find peace in you." Thomas à Kempis in The Imitation of Christ also explains the way to true peace: "True peace of heart can be found only by resisting the passions, not by yielding to them," and "True peace dwells only in the heart of the humble." This peace that passes all understanding comes only to he who prepares his heart and soul to receive God: "Christ will come to you, and impart his consolations to you if you prepare a worthy dwelling for him in your heart." Just as the bride adorns and beautifies herself in anticipation of the coming of the bridegroom, the soul too must purify itself and possess a clean and contrite heart to welcome the visitation of the Divine Spouse. The soul as bride prepares itself by controlling the passions, by exerting patience in enduring adversities, and by cultivating humility, recollection, silence, and purity of heart. As Christ speaks to the disciple in à Kempis's spiritual masterpiece, "My peace is with the humble and gentle of heart, and depends on great patience." The soul that retains the virtue of faith believes that God will keep His promises just as the bride awaits her bridegroom; she trusts his word and her heart leaps at the sound of his voice. Christ too always comes if the soul believes and trusts: "Where is your faith? Stand firm, and persevere. Be courageous and patient, and help will come to you in due time. Wait patiently for Me, and I myself will come and heal you."

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October 28, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:38 PM


McCain campaign accuses L.A. Times of 'suppressing' Obama video : The Times says its promise to a source prevents the paper from posting the video, which shows Barack Obama praising Palestinian activist Rashid Khalidi at a 2003 banquet. The story first appeared in April. (By a Times staff writer, October 28, 2008, LA Times)

John McCain's presidential campaign today accused the Los Angeles Times of "intentionally suppressing" a videotape it obtained of a 2003 banquet where then-state Sen. Barack Obama spoke of his friendship with Rashid Khalidi, a leading Palestinian scholar and activist. The Times first reported on the videotape in an April 2008 story about Obama's ties with Palestinians and Jews as he navigated the politics of Chicago. [...]

The Times today issued a statement about its decision not to post the tape.

"The Los Angeles Times did not publish the videotape because it was provided to us by a confidential source who did so on the condition that we not release it," said the newspaper's editor, Russ Stanton. "The Times keeps its promises to sources."

...on the one hand the press maintains that its obligation to publish that which is newsworthy is so weighty that it even trumps national security and the possibility that lives would be endangered, but, on the other hand, now asks us to accept that a paper's promise is more important than newsworthiness? So, unless my math is screwy, they place self-interest above the national interest and human life? No?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:35 PM


Worse Than Fascists: Christian Political Group 'The Family' Openly Reveres Hitler: Did you know that the National Prayer Breakfast is sponsored by a shadowy cabal of elite Christian fundamentalists? Jeff Sharlet's new book, "The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power," offers a rare glimpse of this remarkable network, which is known variously as the Family, the Fellowship and the International Foundation. (Lindsay Beyerstein, 6/12/08, AlterNet)

AlterNet writer Lindsay Beyerstein recently sat down with Jeff Sharlet at a Brooklyn coffee shop to discuss the Family.

Lindsay Beyerstein What is the Family?

Jeff Sharlet: It's an international network of evangelical activists in government, military and business. The Family is dedicated to this idea that Christianity has gotten it all wrong for two thousand years by focusing on the poor, the suffering and the weak.

The Family says that instead, what Christians should do is minister to the up-and-out -- as opposed to the down-and-out -- to those that are already powerful. Because if they can win those people for Christ, they win the whole deal. That's what this network is dedicated to. It includes nonprofit organizations, it includes think tanks, it includes various ministries. [...]

Lindsay Beyerstein: What kind of empire do they envision?

Jeff Sharlet: They envision the empire that we have. Doug Coe says, "We work with power where we can and build new power where we can't." Usually they can work within power. Rob Shank, another Christian right activist in Washington, says, "The Family is into living with what is."

In the immediate postwar era, they were talking about Christian D-Day and Washington as the world's Christian capital. And World War Three, they were very excited about that, all full-steam ahead. But they sort of subsided and were subsumed into the American Cold War project, which ended up becoming an imperial project.

Lindsay Beyerstein: What did the Family have to do with a B-movie called "The Blob"?

Jeff Sharlet: The best illustration of the Family's involvement in the Cold War was something that I stumbled on by accident: The 1958 film "The Blob." It began at the 1957 National Prayer Breakfast. "The Blob" was a famous horror movie that was a metaphor for Communism. This is their imagination of how Communism spread. At the time, the American imagination couldn't grasp ideology, so it had to be an actual goo that globs more and more people and grows and becomes expansive. As I recall, they have to blow up the town at the end. The logic of "The Blob" is that we must destroy the village in order to save it. That's the logic of Vietnam.

The project actually began at the National Prayer Breakfast. This filmmaker who had been making fundamentalist films, Irvin "Shorty" Yeaworth, was on the lookout for someone to make this film. (The writer) Kate Phillips was a B-movie sci-fi actress. Not a Christian Right person; (she was) there as a guest of a friend of hers. She's there at the breakfast and they become friends. They end up making this movie.

The Blob and I: Was the 1958 horror flick created to advance the agenda of a Christian fundamentalist cabal close to the dark heart of American power? (Rudy Nelson, Books & Culture)
All my alarm systems go off at once. I freely admit I'm no expert on the finer points of religion and politics inside the beltway. But as the crazy circumstances of life would have it, there's a lot of firsthand knowledge about The Blob in my memory bank. I was present at the creation. During the summer of 1957, my wife Shirley and I and our two young sons were in Chester Springs, Pennsylvania for the studio and location shooting of the film, when I was involved in revisions of the script.

Sharlet's full answer to Lindsay's question about The Blob is a litany of misinformation, one incorrect fact after another. So I now know I'll have to check into his book. Our town library doesn't have it, as it turns out, nor does the local independent bookstore. I even come up empty at Barnes and Noble. But I want the book in a hurry, so I resort to Amazon. When the package arrives, the first impression on opening it is weird. The book jacket is designed to look like an old-timey family Bible.

I note, with some dismay, that there's an entire 23-page chapter titled "The Blob." What on earth can Sharlet say about the movie that will fill 23 pages—especially when what he thinks he knows is all wrong? As I read, I find that The Blob is mentioned only in the chapter's first two pages and in its concluding sentence. Then why the title? That seems like a good question, but I set it aside. First I need to know whether the record in the book is any more accurate than the interview.

It is not.

Like the interview, the book pinpoints the 1957 National Prayer Breakfast as the time and place of the film's birth. Strike one. The film had been under discussion for over a year. In fact, quite by accident, I attended an exploratory conference at Valley Forge Films in the spring of 1956 when a delightful raconteur named Irv Millgate was present to pitch a film idea. He had with him a small container with a gelatinous mass of silicone. His goal was to see whether he could interest the company in doing a film that would, so to speak, have this stuff as its main character. I don't recall that anyone actually used the word "blob," but I do clearly recall the tactile sensation of the silicone ball that was passed around the table.

Strike two: The film's director, Irvin "Shorty" Yeaworth, is identified as an "evangelical minister." An understandable mistake. Shorty was a junior. It was his father, the Reverend Irvin Shortess Yeaworth, who was a Presbyterian clergyman in West Philadelphia.

Both the interview and the book claim that a woman named Kate Phillips was the writer. Wrong. Her contribution to the film was minimal. Ted Simonson was the writer, and by the time Kate Phillips was brought on the scene, supposedly to add some professional polishing, the screenplay was well underway. But this too is an understandable error. With her experience as both a Hollywood actress and screenwriter, Ms. Phillips was named writer in the finished film credits along with Simonson, at the insistence of the executive producer (not Yeaworth). He reasoned that the input of a professional among this bunch of amateurs might make the film more salable to a major studio. So Sharlet gets a pass on this one.

Back to the interview: Sharlet says, "As I recall, they have to blow up the town at the end. The logic of The Blob is that we must destroy the village in order to save it. That's the logic of Vietnam." Bad mistake. As any blobster could confirm, the teenagers in the film, led by Steve McQueen in his first screen role, actually save the town when they realize that freezing the creature with CO2 fire extinguishers is the only answer and collect enough of them to do the job. Nothing was blown up. The monstrous mass from outer space was cut into sections and dropped over the Arctic ice cap. Strike three.

But these inaccuracies are minor compared to the most egregiously mistaken claim of all—that the blob was intended as a metaphor for communism. When Lindsey Beyerstein asks what the Family had to do with The Blob, Sharlet replies: "This is their imagination of how Communism spread. At the time, the American imagination couldn't grasp ideology, so it had to be an actual goo that globs more and more people and grows and becomes expansive." No, no, no. In fact, the motive behind the company's involvement in the production was totally commercial, the universally recognized capitalistic one of making some money. The company badly needed money, and someone had discovered that there'd rarely been a monster movie that had failed at the box office. Bottom of the ninth. Three outs. Game over.

In my experience of working on the movie, I was not aware of one single stray reference to anything remotely connected with communism. Not at the initial story conference, not throughout the shooting schedule. As "Third Assistant Director in Charge of Daily Script Revision" (a string of important-sounding words to describe a responsibility that finally didn't rate a screen credit), I was in daily contact with the writer and the director. If communism had been on anyone's mind, I would have known.

...when the Left insists that the Right deserves all the credit for defeating the Evil Empire?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:19 PM


Christian Science Monitor to End Print Edition (Howard Kurtz, 10/28/08, Washington Post)

The money-losing paper announced today that it will stop publishing next April, except for a weekly edition, and shift entirely to the Internet. [...]

The Web site is drawing 1.5 million unique visitors a month, which isn't bad, but Yemma says he must boost that if the brand is to survive. "There's no magic bullet," he says. "You just have to do high-quality journalism and post constantly."

We used to post their stuff more often, but their lawyers contacted us and insisted that we never use more than two paragraphs. They're the only folks ever to do so. Seems self-defeating to discourage circulation of your stuff on the Internet.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:16 PM


Beneath US-Pakistani tension, a new cooperation: Joint efforts include setting up coordination centers along the Afghan-Pakistani border. (Mark Sappenfield, 10/29/08, The Christian Science Monitor )

Two weeks ago, insurgents in Pakistan lobbed mortars at US forces in Afghanistan. When the Americans alerted the Pakistani Army, its response was unambiguous. Not only could the US fire back, but Pakistani soldiers acted as spotters.

It is one small example of how Pakistan is starting to cooperate more with the US and Afghanistan in fighting the insurgency in its tribal areas. Attempts to find solutions jointly are being made across a wide spectrum, from the opening of border coordination centers shared by the three nations' armies to talks among tribal leaders.

...for bombing them into co-operating with us.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:00 PM


Cassel improving as substitute for injured Brady (Howard Ullman, October 28, 2008, AP)

Matt Cassel lofted a very Brady-like pass just over the defender and into the arms of Kevin Faulk at the edge of the end zone.

The placement was perfect. The touchdown capped a Patriots comeback. The quarterback did what his teammates knew he could do. [...]

The Patriots are 5-2 and back in first place in the AFC East, tied with Buffalo. In Brady's first two seasons as a starter, they were 3-4 after seven games.

Brady has 28 comeback victories in seven seasons in games in which the Patriots trailed or were tied in the fourth quarter. Sunday's was Cassel's first, but he did go 4-for-4 for 49 yards on the decisive drive. [...]

Cassel succeeded Sunday despite a rash of injuries to key offensive players.

Running backs Sammy Morris, LaMont Jordan and Laurence Maroney and starting right tackle Nick Kaczur were sidelined. Regular right guard Stephen Neal saw limited action in his second game after missing the first five following shoulder and knee injuries.

Cassel showed an ability to run when his protection broke down or he didn't spot open receivers.

"Matt saved us on a few of those," Belichick said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:13 PM


Undecided voters may already have decided, study suggests (Brian Nosek, 10/28/08, University of Virginia )

[University of Virginia psychology professor Brian] Nosek and colleagues Mahzarin Banaji of Harvard University and Tony Greenwald of the University of Washington developed the Implicit Association Test to assess mental associations that may be different than what people know or say about themselves.

A dozen years of research and hundreds of published studies suggest that people have implicit belief systems that may contradict their declared beliefs. These implicit beliefs can affect actions, such as how they vote at the moment it comes time to explicitly decide.

The research team operates "Project Implicit," a publicly accessible research and education Web site (www.implicit.harvard.edu at which visitors can complete the Implicit Association Test to measure their own implicit associations. The test is available for a variety of topics, including an "Obama-McCain" task that was developed for the U.S. presidential election.

In its 10 years of existence, about 7 million people have completed tests at the Web site, including more than 25,000 who have tested their implicit preferences regarding presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain.

In the latter project, being conducted by Nosek, Greenwald and Colin Smith, a U.Va. graduate student, almost 15 percent of the participants (about 4,000 people) declared themselves as undecided between voting for Obama or McCain. However, many of these same participants show an implicit preference for Obama or McCain despite their explicit indecision.

"Undecided voters may have decided implicitly before they know that they have explicitly," Nosek said. U.S. undecided voters, on average, reported feeling slightly warmer toward Obama than McCain, but they implicitly showed a slight preference for McCain over Obama.

The test is interesting but in a creepy kind of Parallax View way.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:06 PM


Bill Kristol: Reagan Revolution Isn't Over: The leading neoconservative talks about the GOP, Obama, the financial meltdown, and why it pays to be a contrarian in politics and the market (Maria Bartiromo , 10/28/08, Business Week)

In a recent column in The Wall Street Journal, former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan attacked Sarah Palin, saying that, among other things, she is a symptom of the vulgarization of American politics. You fired back with a Times column saying most of the recent mistakes of American public policy were brought to us by highly educated and sophisticated elites. What were those mistakes, and would you include the invasion of Iraq as one of them?

No on Iraq, but the mistakes include all kinds of policies that were pushed by faculties at Harvard and Yale and that turned out not to be so good for the country. But the thing I had most in mind was the financial crisis. I mean, an awful lot of incredibly smart and well-educated people invented very fancy financial instruments that they didn't fully understand, and that put a lot of ordinary people's savings at risk. It wasn't Main Street that invented mortgage-backed securities or decided that financial firms could be leveraged at 50 to 1. The public isn't always as knowledgeable as it could be, but generally speaking, the American public has a pretty good track record of using common sense. And I would say intellectuals and elites have a less good track record because they fall in love with various fads.

It's interesting that Barack Obama keeps talking about spreading the wealth, and yet sometimes he comes across as an elitist.

He is very much a product of Harvard Law School…and that's fine. But I do think he believes that if he gets the really smart guys in a room in Washington or New York, they can sort of retool the American economy. I don't think he has that fundamental, I would call it a Hayekian belief—after Friedrich Hayek, the great Austrian economist—in the limits of central planning, the limits of very smart people's abilities to figure things out. I do think Obama is instinctively very much a government-knows-best guy.

Who has ever advocated government "spreading the wealth" besides intellectual elites?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:03 PM


Analysts Question Timing of Syria Raid (Ali Gharib, 10/28/08, IPS)

A cross-border raid into Syria by U.S. forces in Iraq, and a subsequent stonewalling by U.S. officials unwilling to divulge details, has led to rampant speculation among U.S. analysts about the origins and meaning of the attack.

"So the question is: Why?" wrote geo-strategic analyst and journalist Helena Cobban on her blog, wondering if the raid could have been pulled off without explicit permission from the highest levels of the President George W. Bush administration.

"So why now at the end of the Bush administration, with Washington trying to play nice with Damascus and tensions easing throughout the region, would U.S. forces stage such a gambit?" echoed Borzou Daragahi on the Babylon and Beyond blog at the Los Angeles Times website.

To ask the question is to answer it: it's to stop State from playing footsie with the Ba'athists; take advantage of Israel's electoral confusion; and disrupt the field for the next administration. Well done, W, but aim higher.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:00 PM


Wal-Mart To Sell Google's G1 Phones At Discount Starting Wed (Dow Jones, 10/27/08)

Wal-Mart Inc. (WMT) will start selling the G1 phone at a discounted price starting Wednesday, a Wal-Mart spokesman confirmed Monday night.

Wal-Mart will carry the Google Inc. (GOOG) G1 phone, sold through Deutsche Telekom AG's (DT) T-Mobile USA, in 550 Wal-Mart stores at the reduced price of $ 148.88 for new customers, or existing customers eligible for an upgrade, who sign up for a two-year agreement, Wal-Mart spokeswoman Melissa O'Brien said.

Consumers interested in purchasing the T-Mobile G1 can save $31.11 at Wal-Mart as opposed to buying through T-Mobile, which sells the device for $179.99.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:30 PM


LA/OC home values still up 71% under Bush (Jon Lansner, 10/28/08, ocregister.com)

* LA/OC home values are still up 70.6% since Bush took office in January 2001. By the way, at one point, local prices were up 147% (September 2006) under Republican Bush.

* That handily beats President’s Clinton era (Jan. 1993-Jan. 2001), when local prices rose only 31%. For those who wonder: Local prices must fall another 27% by January 2009 for Bush and Democrat Clinton to tie!

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:24 PM


...when they work in such a partisan fish bowl?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:10 PM


Gallup Daily: Presidential Race Narrows Slightly (Gallup, 10/28/08)

The gap between Barack Obama and John McCain in Gallup Poll Daily tracking from Saturday through Monday has narrowed slightly, and Obama is now at 49% of the vote to 47% for McCain among likely voters using Gallup's traditional model...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:58 AM


Sources: Sarkozy views Obama stance on Iran as 'utterly immature' (Barak Ravid, 10/28/08, Israel News)

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is very critical of U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama's positions on Iran, according to reports that have reached Israel's government.

Sarkozy has made his criticisms only in closed forums in France. But according to a senior Israeli government source, the reports reaching Israel indicate that Sarkozy views the Democratic candidate's stance on Iran as "utterly immature" and comprised of "formulations empty of all content." [...]

[A]ccording to the senior Israeli source, Sarkozy fears that Obama might "arrogantly" ignore the other members of this front and open a direct dialogue with Iran without preconditions.

Following their July meeting, Sarkozy repeatedly expressed disappointment with Obama's positions on Iran, concluding that they were "not crystallized, and therefore many issues remain open," the Israeli source said. Advisors to the French president who held separate meetings with Obama's advisors came away with similar impressions and expressed similar disappointment.

What, no thrill running up their legs?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:04 AM


Wendy’s offers Halloween candy alternative: free Frosty (Nancy Luna, 10/28/08, OC Register)

The burger chain is selling booklets that contain a coupon good for one free Jr. Frosty. Each booklet cost $1 and contains 10 coupons.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:28 AM


Judge defines detainees as enemy combatants: Ruling takes a first step in resolving the fate of terrorism suspects held without charge at Guantanamo Bay. (The Associated Press, October 28, 2008)

Al Qaeda or Taliban supporters who directly assisted in hostile acts against the United States or its allies can be held without charge as enemy combatants, a federal judge ruled Monday. [...]

In Monday's order, [U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon ] reached back to the Pentagon's September 2004 definition.

"Happily, happily, there is a definition that was crafted by the executive and blessed by the Congress," Leon said.

He pointed to the 2004 standard, defining an enemy combatant as an individual who was part of supporting Al Qaeda, Taliban or other associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the U.S. or its coalition partners.

The definition includes anyone who committed a belligerent act or has directly supported hostilities in aid of enemy forces.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:19 AM


The Republicans' dirty secret... torture (Johann Hari, 10/28/08, The Independent)

So what will be left of the Republican Party after next week's US election? The answer lies in the sands of Florida, where the sunshine-state Republicans have nominated an unrepentant torturer as their candidate for Congress. They view his readiness to torture an innocent Iraqi not as a source of shame, but as his prime qualification for office. This is American conservatism in the dying days of Bush – and it points out the direction that Sarah Palin would like to take it in 2012. [...]

There are no recorded instances of getting useable intelligence from torture – but even if in some freak instance after you have tortured a thousand Yahiyas you finally did, would it outweigh the damage of handing al Qaeda a thousand new recruits, vindicating Bin Laden's hate-talk and breaching the most basic moral codes?

After being water-boarded for less than three minutes Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, operational leader of al Qaeda at the time of 9-11, couldn't wait to give us useable intelligence. Has there ever been a basic moral code that would forfeit thousands or tens of thousands of innocent lives for those three minutes? Morality forbids the use of torture as punishment, not as a means of interrogating the enemy.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:17 AM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:06 AM


Social conservatives fight for control of Republican Party: The right flank is positioning to change the GOP's leadership and direction -- even if John McCain wins the presidency. Some moderates fear such a shift would alienate more voters. (Peter Wallsten, October 28, 2008, LA Times)

The social conservatives and moderates who together boosted the Republican Party to dominance have begun a tense battle over the future of the GOP, with social conservatives already moving to seize control of the party's machinery and some vowing to limit John McCain's influence, even if he wins the presidency.

...when Ronald Reagan, the GOP Senate class of 1980, the Republican revolutionaries of 1994, and W established GOP dominance all we ever heard was that they were social conservative extremists. But now the neocons and the MSM want us to believe that the secret to their success was that they were selling moderation?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:54 AM


Just Look (Edward Cardinal Egan, October 23, 2008, Archdiocese of New York)

The picture on this page is an untouched photograph of a being that has been within its mother for 20 weeks. Please do me the favor of looking at it carefully.

Have you any doubt that it is a human being?

If you do not have any such doubt, have you any doubt that it is an innocent human being?

If you have no doubt about this either, have you any doubt that the authorities in a civilized society are duty-bound to protect this innocent human being if anyone were to wish to kill it?

If your answer to this last query is negative, that is, if you have no doubt that the authorities in a civilized society would be duty-bound to protect this innocent human being if someone were to wish to kill it, I would suggest—even insist—that there is not a lot more to be said about the issue of abortion in our society. It is wrong, and it cannot—must not—be tolerated.

But you might protest that all of this is too easy. Why, you might inquire, have I not delved into the opinion of philosophers and theologians about the matter? And even worse: Why have I not raised the usual questions about what a “human being” is, what a “person” is, what it means to be “living,” and such? People who write books and articles about abortion always concern themselves with these kinds of things. Even the justices of the Supreme Court who gave us “Roe v. Wade” address them. Why do I neglect philosophers and theologians? Why do I not get into defining “human being,” defining “person,” defining “living,” and the rest? Because, I respond, I am sound of mind and endowed with a fine set of eyes, into which I do not believe it is well to cast sand. I looked at the photograph, and I have no doubt about what I saw and what are the duties of a civilized society if what I saw is in danger of being killed by someone who wishes to kill it or, if you prefer, someone who “chooses” to kill it. In brief: I looked, and I know what I saw.

...than when you see the ultrasound of your first kid and can't think of him as an it any longer.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:51 AM


Countdown to the Obama Rapture: Watch as the press corps battles its performance anxiety! (Jack Shafer, Oct. 27, 2008, Slate)

The windows of this mind-set are provided by Slate's Jacob Weisberg, for whom the Obama election is a national referendum on racism; the New York Times' Nicholas D. Kristof, for whom an Obama presidency is an opportunity to "rebrand" our nation and "find a path to restore America's global influence"; E.J. Dionne, who sees an Obama presidency as representing a chance to "rekindle the sense of possibility and transformation" in American life; and a swooning Andrew Sullivan, who almost a year ago speculated that Obama might be "that bridge to the 21st century that Bill Clinton told us about." For Chris Matthews, of course, the Obama candidacy is a "thrill" going up his leg, one that will arc over his torso and detonate his head in the event of a victory.

The leading Obama cheerleader among the commentariat is Newsweek's Jonathan Alter, whose "erection of the heart" for the candidate has no match. Alter sees the presidential election as a world referendum on the United States and "the common sense and decency of the American people." Obama symbolizes hope over fear, and his election would produce an "Obama Dividend" that would "blow the minds of people in the Middle East and other regions, and help restore American prestige." Obama, Alter continues, "knows how to think big, elevate the debate and transport the public to a new place."

Such overwriting leaves Alter little acreage upon which to build a monument if his candidate wins, but the problem isn't Alter's alone. Even political reporters who have scrubbed from their copy any evidence of Obama lust face the same Nov. 5 dilemma as the commentariat. How do you pack all the Obama touch points—healing, hope, change, civility, the second coming of Camelot, post-boomer politician, inspirer of youth, great uniter, world president, and so on—into one story without sounding hagiographic? Isn't that what the commemorative issue of People magazine is for? Then again, how do you write about Obama's victory without looping in the touch points? Hence the performance anxiety.

...if there aren't three ponies in our driveway on November 5th, he's gonna have to answer to my kids....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:49 AM


Is Sarah Palin preparing for 2012? (ROGER SIMON, 10/28/08, Politico)

Sarah Palin may soon be free. Soon, she may not have the millstone of John McCain around her neck. And she can begin her race for president in 2012.

Some are already talking about it. In careful terms. If John McCain loses next week, Sarah Palin “has absolutely earned a right to run in 2012,” says Greg Mueller, who was a senior aide in the presidential campaigns of Pat Buchanan and Steve Forbes. Mueller says Palin has given conservatives “hope” and “something to believe in.”

And even if the McCain-Palin ticket does win on Nov. 4 — and Mueller says it could — “if McCain decides to serve for just one term, Sarah Palin as the economic populist and traditional American values candidates will be very appealing by the time we get to 2012.”

...she's the person most likely to be taking the oath of office in January 2013. Maverick is old; Democrats don't get re-elected; and Jeb is the only Republican who'd outrank her in the primaries.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:39 AM


Taking stock of the parties (Richard Rahn, October 28, 2008, Washington Times)

[O]ver the last quarter of a century when the Republicans controlled both houses of Congress, the stock market rose by an average of about 20 percent per year. When the Democrats controlled both houses of Congress, the stock market only rose at an average annual rate of 6.9 percent for the Dow Jones and a tepid 5.1 percent for the Standard and Poor 500.

When one party controlled one house and the other party controlled the other house of Congress, the growth in the stock market was significantly less than when the Republicans controlled both houses (15.6 percent for the Dow Jones and 12.7 percent for the S&P), but significantly more than when the Democrats controlled both houses.

There is a natural tendency for people to focus on the party of the president who is in power; but, in fact, the Congress is far more important to markets because it decides how to, and how much to, tax and spend. Some Democrats will try to argue that this is merely random variation, but the averages are sufficiently disparate to compensate for the small sample size (the last 25 years).

The Democrats have controlled 10 years, the Republicans 11 years, and in five years they shared control. [...]

The responsiveness of the markets to the party in control in Congress has been consistent with the shifts back and forth between the parties. When the Democrats and Republicans each controlled one house in the 1983-87 period, the S&P rose at an annual rate of 19.5 percent. When the Democrats controlled both houses during the 1987-95 period, the S&P rose at annual rate of 10.8 percent, and again when they controlled both houses from 2007 to the present, the S&P dropped at a 20.4 percent annual rate.

The Republicans controlled both houses from 1995-2001 when the S&P rose at annual rate of 29.9 percent, and again from 2003-2007 when the S&P rose at annual rate of 14.0 percent. During the 2001-2003 period, the control of the Senate shifted back and forth between the Republicans and Democrats, neither party having sustained control, and the S&P dropped at an annual rate of 14.6 percent for those two years (which also coincided with the Sept. 11, 2001, aftermath).

The optimum appears to be a Democratic resident with a Republican Congress.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:30 AM


US, Pakistan mission on target (Syed Saleem Shahzad, 10/28/08, Asia Times)

Militant sources have confirmed to Asia Times Online that Moroccan Khalid Habib, the head of al-Qaeda in Pakistan, was killed last week in a missile attack by an unmanned US Predator drone in the South Waziristan tribal area. [...]

With Khalid dead, the next likely target is veteran Taliban commander Jalaluddin Haqqani, whose suspected bases in North Waziristan have been targeted on several occasions. Jalaluddin is the spiritual leader of the Haqqani network and a legendary figure of the Afghan mujahideen's struggle against the Soviets during the 1980s. Several of his family and aides have been killed in the attacks, but both Jalaluddin and his son Sirajuddin remain at large, possibly even in urban areas in Pakistan.

Former Afghan premier Gulbuddin Hekmatyar could also be on the hit list. He is a former friend of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and had been contacted by Kabul through intermediaries over the possibility of initiating dialogue with the Taliban.

However, he refuses to become involved in any back-channel discussions for peace until all foreign troops leave Afghanistan, although he did assure Karzai that once the foreigners left, he would work with his administration in the political mainstream.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:22 AM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:19 AM


Obama's fans in Europe are in for a big surprise (John Vinocur, October 27, 2008, International Herald Tribune)

The question of Europe really hearing all that Obama says goes to other issues. I haven't found any research that would support the theory, but my guess is also that Europeans have only the faintest idea that Obama accepts the death penalty and won't fight for gun control, two eternal American sins as seen from abroad.

Soft power? Europe loves the notion (which rationalizes its low defense budgets) and tends to assign a virtue it sees in itself to Obama. Yet here's how the Democrat came out, in his last debate with McCain, on a centrally soft concern - education:

"It probably has more to do with our economic future than anything and that means it has a national security implication because there never has been a nation on Earth that saw its economy decline and continued to maintain its primacy as a military power. So we've got to get our education system right."

On Iran, there is little indication that European public opinion is listening closely either when Obama says, "We'll never take the military option off the table." Or on Georgia and Ukraine, when Obama insists that they must be given plans for NATO membership "immediately." Or on Afghanistan when he complains that some NATO countries, like Germany, are present there but not sharing the missions with the most murderous risks.

This also goes in part for Iraq. It would be Obama's America alone that has to make the decisions. When asked four years ago about French and German criticism of the Iraq war, Joe Biden, Obama's running mate, caricatured European leaders telling him they would have done things better:

"Blah blah blah, international cooperation," he mocked. "Give me a break, huh."

The Europeans are hoping for a President Obama precisely because they don't take him seriously and expect to be able to roll him. But allowing them to do so would immolate his presidency at home, so he'd have to act exaggeratedly tough just to prove himself to them and us. He'd have to out-Reagan Reagan and out-W W, which would be infinitely amusing.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:12 AM


Both sides of aisle rip MSNBC (Paul Bond, Oct 27, 2008, Hollywood Reporter)

[Writer-producer Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, a self-proclaimed liberal Democrat], and others seemed especially critical of the way MSNBC -- and other media -- has attacked Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin while demeaning her supporters.

"We should stop the demonizing," she said, adding that Democrats have been worse than Republicans as far as personal attacks on candidates are concerned. "It diminishes us," she said of her fellow Democrats.

Bloodworth-Thomason even suggested a defense of Palin and her supporters should be written into TV programming, just as she went out of her way to portray Southern women as smart in her hit TV show "Designing Women."

Misunderstanding Sarah: Media reaction to Gov. Palin shows ignorance of evangelicalism. (A Christianity Today editorial, 10/28/2008)
[T]wo sex- and gender-related questions caught our attention. First, reactions to news of Bristol Palin's out-of-wedlock pregnancy: liberal pundits gleefully announced that this was going to seriously undermine Governor Palin's standing with the Republican Party's evangelical base. Any informed evangelical watcher or evangelical believer could have told them that this is a non-issue.

It is a non-issue because John Newton's famous line, "I once was lost but now I'm found," defines the evangelical ethos. We specialize in troubled lives. Stories of transformation from sin and degradation to righteousness and wholeness frame the way evangelicals see life. From the slave-trading Newton to the White House "hatchet man" Chuck Colson, God saves people from their slavery to sin and uses them to restore others. Indeed, those of us who never did anything particularly shocking sometimes have trouble fitting in.

Evangelical pews are full of people whose family lives are untidy. [...]

The second media reaction that caught our attention was liberal puzzlement over conservatives who believe that only men should lead churches and marriages, yet who would not hesitate to have a woman a heartbeat away from the presidency.

Richard Land told Christianity Today that such concerns are asinine. The president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission compares the Palins to the Thatcher household: Dennis was head of the family, while Maggie ran the government. Land subscribes to the Baptist Faith and Message, which teaches that ecclesiastical and marital leadership are male territory. But Land is married to a strong woman, a professional with a Ph.D.
This will only accelerate as neocons and McCain staff try to blame the election result on Ms Palin, specifically, and Christianity, generally.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:10 AM


The strike that shattered US-Syria ties (Sami Moubayed, 10/29/08, Slate)

The US broke its silence on the incident on Tuesday, claiming that top al-Qaeda operative Abu Ghadiyah was targeted and killed during what is being described in Western media as a pre-emptive strike. The Associated Press, quoting an unnamed US military official, reported that Ghadiyah was about to carry out an attack in Iraq. Ghadiyah, whose real name is Badran Turki Hishan Al Mazidih, is the leader a prolific network that moves foreign al-Qaeda fighters into underground resistance factions in war-torn Iraq.

The attack came days after a top US commander in Iraq told reporters that US troops bolstering their presence on the Syrian border, which he called an "uncontrolled" gateway for fighters entering Iraq.

The unconfirmed details and unquestionable tragedy of the raid have left once-promising US-Syria ties in tatters. Top officials in Damascus have blasted the "cowboy" tactics of US forces, and Syrian public opinion has become vociferously anti-American.

The so-called "massacre" won't lead to war between the US and Syria, but it marks an important turning point in a turbulent and unpredictable relationship that stretches back some 60 years.

...but blowing up any emerging relationship, combined with the possible return of Bibi in Israel, is excellent news on the Western front of the WoT.

October 27, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:17 PM


Obama And Iran (Reihan Salam 10.27.08, Forbes)

So what can the next president do? The most important step would be to launch a comprehensive campaign on behalf of Iranian political prisoners and independent labor unions and student groups.

For John McCain, who is seen as too eager to go for the military option first, this would be a good way to present a kinder and gentler face to the world. Because Barack Obama has been critical of the Bush Administration for being too hawkish, there is a danger that he might be seen as too accommodating. What better way to disabuse Tehran of the notion that an Obama White House will be weak than to use his bully pulpit and extraordinary international popularity to stand up for human rights in Iran? Andy Stern of the Service Employees International Union could champion Iranian workers just as Lane Kirkland championed Solidarity in Poland. Obama could turn the pro-democracy intellectual Akbar Ganji, who refused to meet George W. Bush as an act of protest against the Iraq War, into a figure as celebrated as Lech Walesa and Nelson Mandela, and a rallying point for Iran's democratic opposition.

Many Obamaphiles think of their man as the left's answer to Ronald Reagan, a charismatic figure who can change the direction of the country for the better. What better way for Obama to take up the Reagan mantle than to help sweep Iran's evil regime into the dustbin of history? That would be an accomplishment even die-hard conservatives couldn't help but admire.

Instead he's offered to meet their crazy president without any pre-conditions.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:10 PM


Colo. Dems worry about getting voters to turn out (STEVEN K. PAULSON, 10/27/08, The Associated Press)

Some Colorado Democrats are starting to sweat after the state released numbers showing that mail ballots and early voting in key counties are not what they expected. [...]

Mike Melanson, campaign manager for Democratic Senate candidate Mark Udall, said he's worried that Democratic voters have become complacent because polls show their candidates ahead. He said if voters wait until later in the week to mail their ballots, those ballots might not get to county clerks before the deadline at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

"We have seen people in record numbers request ballots, and we're encouraged by that, but we're seeing a lot of folks sitting on them," Melanson said.

Non-voters don't vote.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:41 PM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:29 PM


Labour facing revolt on Heathrow expansion plans (David Millward, 27 Oct 2008, Daily Telegraph)

Ten backbenchers have signed a Commons motion calling for the runway plan to be scrapped, and the unease is shared by a at least one member of the Cabinet.

So far one junior minister, Ann Keen – who represents a west London constituency - has publicly declared her opposition to expanding the airport.

Others are known to share her misgivings more Labour MPs are expected to sign the motion.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:26 PM


IBD/TIPP Tracking Poll: Day Fifteen (Investor's Business Daily, October 27, 2008

After seesawing between 3.2 and 3.9 points over the weekend, Obama's lead slipped to 2.8 Monday. Battleground also has Obama up 3, and other polls have tightened, including Rasmussen, Zogby and Gallup to 5.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:28 PM


Gallup Daily: Race Stable With Obama Leading (Gallup, 10/27/08)

Gallup Poll Daily tracking from Friday through Sunday finds Barack Obama with a five percentage point lead over John McCain, 50% to 45%, in the presidential preferences of likely voters using Gallup's traditional model.

Daily Presidential Tracking Poll (Rasmussen Reports, October 27, 2008)
The Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll for Monday shows Barack Obama attracting 51% of the vote while John McCain earns 46%. Obama’s five-point advantage is down from an eight-point lead yesterday but up a point from the lead he held a week ago. With today’s results, Obama has been ahead by four-to-eight points every single day for 32 straight days (see trends).

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:22 PM


Obama, McCain Two of the Best-Liked Candidates (Jeffrey M. Jones, 10/24/08, Gallup)

Barack Obama (61%) and John McCain (57%) each received favorable ratings near 60% among likely voters in the most recent USA Today/Gallup poll.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:44 AM


Barack Obama, Forever Sizing Up (JODI KANTOR, 10/26/08, NY Times)

Just 47 years old and only four years into a national political career, he has never run anything larger than his campaign. He began his run for president while he was still getting lost in Washington, a city he does not yet know well. His promises are as vast as his résumé is short, and some of his pledges are competing ones: progressive rule and centrist red-blue fusion; wholesale transformation and down-to-earth pragmatism.

Mr. Obama’s ambition and confidence have long confounded critics and annoyed rivals. In 2006, the still-new United States senator appeared before Washington’s elite at the spring dinner of the storied Gridiron Club, and as tradition dictated, roasted himself. He ticked off the evidence of his popularity: the Democratic convention speech that had won him national celebrity, the best-selling books, the magazine covers.

“Really, what else is there to do?” he said in mock innocence. “Well, I guess I could pass a law or something.”

Not bloody likely.

Here's another choice bit:

In 2004, Mr. Obama gained sudden fame and fortune: his convention speech drew a nationwide standing ovation, he won a Senate seat, and he signed a multimillion-dollar book contract. Flush with cash for the first time, he made two financial decisions that cast doubt on his reputation as an anti-corruption crusader. He set up a blind trust for his investments, but sloppily so, managing to put thousands of dollars into a biotech company that was developing a drug to treat avian flu just as he pushed for federal financing to battle the disease.

And he allowed Antoin Rezko, a developer and longtime donor, to acquire and sell him land next to the dream house Mr. Obama was buying in Chicago, even though Mr. Rezko’s name was already cropping up in newspaper articles about corruption.

After all, which of us doesn't own anti-avian flu stock?

Or, how about this:

Critics have used the Rezko incident to question Mr. Obama’s reputation as a reformer, to argue he has few core beliefs. They cite a proposal he made in the Senate for stringent reporting requirements concerning nuclear plant leaks, which he then softened after Republican colleagues and energy executives complained. The bill died in committee. Or the time he joined a bipartisan coalition on immigration reform but backed away when labor groups protested. That legislation collapsed, too.

“He folded like a cheap suit,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina and a close ally of Senator John McCain, Mr. Obama’s Republican rival.

Most of all, his critics point to his “present” votes in the Illinois Legislature, in which he did not choose sides, avoiding difficult matters like trying juveniles as adults. At least 36 times (out of thousands of votes) Mr. Obama was the only senator to vote “present,” or one of just a few.

Even some of Mr. Obama’s friends call him unusually opaque. After hashing out a question with him, “you may come away thinking, ‘Wow, he agrees with me,’ ” said Rashid Khalidi, a professor of Middle Eastern studies at Columbia and a former adviser to Palestinian diplomatic delegations. “But later, when you get home and think about it, you are not sure.”

But defenders say that Mr. Obama’s reticence is as intellectual as it is tactical.

Yup, that's what Americans look for in their presidents, opacity and indecision.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:41 AM


Refining loses its lustre (Chris Stanton, October 27. 2008, The National)

Moody’s Investors Service, the global credit rating firm, changed its outlook for the world’s refining sector from “stable” to “negative” on Friday, citing slowing world demand for oil products and a forecasted glut of spare refining capacity.

“While cyclicality is built into our refining outlooks, the move to a negative outlook stems from demand changes that appear to be structural and enduring,” said Andrew Oram, a senior credit officer for Moody’s.

That is bad news for the UAE, which is in the midst of expanding its refinery at Ruwais and studying the feasibility of building a refinery in Fujairah. Together, the two export-orientated projects would add 617,000 barrels per day (bpd) to the country’s current refining capacity of 628,000 bpd.

Moody’s predicted refiners would now on average earn US$10 (Dh36.76) for every barrel of crude oil they converted into usable products like diesel and jet fuel, compared with an average of close to $20 earlier this year.

The downturn marks the end of a long boom period for refiners that began in 2003 as world demand for diesel and other products took off, said Raja Kiwan, an analyst for PFC Energy who is based in Dubai.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:35 AM


September new home sales rise by 2.7% (The Associated Press, October 27, 2008)

Sales of new single-family homes rose by 2.7 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 464,000 homes, Commerce said. Economists had expected sales would drop from the August level.

The median price of a new home sold in September declined by 9.1 percent from a year ago to $218,400, the lowest price level since September 2004, a period when home prices were rising rapidly as the country experienced a five-year housing boom.

The surprising increase in September sales still left them 33.1 percent below the level of a year ago as the country is battered by the worst slump in housing in decades.

A correction isn't a burst bubble.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:16 AM


Stimulus in Pinstripes: Never mind the economy. The Yankees see no choice but to spend their way out of their current predicament. How much for Manny? (Will Leitch, Oct 26, 2008, New York Magazine)

At the end of September, the Yankees re-signed general manager Brian Cashman to a three-year deal that will reportedly pay him $2 million a season (as much as backup catcher Jose Molina, if you’re curious). Cashman, a lifelong Yankees employee who started as an intern, was rumored to be considering jobs elsewhere but returned, in part because leaving now would brand him in the press as a failure, the balding short guy who’s always shaking hands at press conferences with men he’s just made absurdly rich but will never ultimately bring a title back to the Bronx. The pattern started with Mike Mussina in November 2000 and has since included Carl Pavano, Randy Johnson, Jason Giambi, Gary Sheffield, Kei Igawa, and, of course, Alex Rodriguez.

What’s interesting about Cashman is that one senses he resents simply shelling out Steinbrenner Bucks to whichever hot new free agent happens to call. Cashman is close friends with Red Sox general manager wunderkind Theo Epstein, who has built the Red Sox into the envy of professional sports. He has done this by investing in the farm system and recognizing that leveraging seasons five years away for an ungallant gallop toward an unlikely postseason today is exactly what landed the Yankees in trouble. Epstein has the payroll, sure, but he runs the team as if he didn’t. The Red Sox featured five players 30 or younger in Game 7 of the ALCS, most of whom are under team control for the next several seasons. That’s the smart way to run a team. Cashman would love to do it.

Two problems. One: Cashman works for the Steinbrenners, who, using the same kind of logic that turned the Knicks into a horror show, consider a season without a World Series title worthy of the racks. But two, and more important: Cashman had his chance. Before last season, Cashman talked about keeping payroll down, trusting his young players, letting the next generation of Yankees take over … essentially acting like Epstein. (Or, for that matter, how the Yankees acted in the early nineties, when a recently reinstated and chastened George Steinbrenner held on to prospects like Bernie Williams, Derek Jeter, and Mariano Rivera.) Cashman had his plan in place. He didn’t need a $200 million payroll to field a winning team.

Except, of course, he did. Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy were supposed to be rotation anchors; each imploded, leaving gaping holes filled by the likes of Brian Bruney, Darrell Rasner, Kei Igawa, and Sidney Ponson. (And later, ahead of Cashman’s timetable, Joba Chamberlain.) Robinson Cano and Melky Cabrera dropped off dramatically, adding more credence to the notion that Yankees prospects are always of greater perceived value to the Yankees than to any other team in baseball. And those acquisitions signed earlier in the decade to back-loaded contracts? They did what aging players do: They got gimpy (Johnny Damon), declined (Jason Giambi), or both (Jorge Posada). Cashman’s grand reconstruction project ended with the Yankees’ failing to make the postseason for the first time in fourteen years.

Which brings us to this off-season. The Yankees are dropping several huge contracts: Jason Giambi, Mike Mussina, Andy Pettitte, Bobby Abreu (who has implied he’d like to return come back, but probably not at a discount), Ivan Rodriguez, and (finally!) Carl Pavano. Pettitte is expected to return, and Mussina might retire, but the rest of those guys are gone, leaving holes at first base, corner outfield, and possibly catcher. (Jorge Posada being healthy for opening day is far from a certainty.) Sure, they could have filled two of those spots with current Rays (and former Yankees minor leaguers) Carlos Peña and Dioner Navarro. But they let them go. And the rotation is a mess of busted options; Chamberlain and Chien-Ming Wang are penciled in, but they come with glaring question marks themselves. (Adjusting to a full-time spot and recovering from injury, respectively. Oh, and don’t let Joba drive the bullpen car.) The Yankees are further away from a playoff spot right now than they were going into 2008. Cashman’s plan hasn’t worked.

So the Yankees, to steal a phrase, are going to have to spend, baby, spend. The only way out of this mess is to do what got them into it. The free-agent market is loaded this year with exactly what the Yankees need in the short term. On a fantasy shopping list, Mark Teixeira would look gorgeous at first base. Orlando Hudson could push Cano into a utility role. C. C. Sabathia, Ben Sheets, and old tormentor Derek Lowe would be all too willing to cash in and head to the Bronx. If the Yankees are feeling particularly frisky, they could even bring Washington Heights’ Manny Ramirez back home. All of these are options. They’ll probably even take one or two of them. The problem is that, to solve all the Yankees’ short-term problems, they have to do almost all of them.

This, obviously, is not what is best for the long-term health of the Yankees franchise. Ideally, they’d resist overpaying for “name” players and promote from within. But the young players just aren’t there and game-ready; Cashman hasn’t fixed that problem yet. There is no time for that. There’s a new stadium opening, the team has fallen behind the Red Sox and the Rays (and the Blue Jays are closing), and Yankees fans are unlikely to tolerate missing another postseason. Sure, it’ll leave the team hamstrung with awful Pavano-esque contracts in a few years. But they might have no choice, unless they want to throw Kennedy and Hughes to the wolves again. And hey, fans, wouldn’t it be fun to see Manny in pinstripes? It’d certainly drive the papers nuts.

...are condemned to buy old.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:50 AM


What's A Perverse Voter To Do?: Vote McCain to advance top liberal initiatives and the Democratic Party; vote Obama for the health of the GOP and the vindication of Bush. (Jonathan Rauch, 10/25/08, National Journal)

Suppose, then, that you are a perverse voter and in 2008 you want to...

* Give liberals two historic policy victories. Vote for: John McCain.

For liberals, climate change and health care are the overarching priorities of our era. (Good-government types would add entitlement reform, but who cares about them?) Like Social Security and immigration -- only, if anything, more so -- global warming and health care are too large and too politically sensitive to handle on a one-party basis. Both parties must have their fingerprints on any major reform.

If Obama wins, Democrats will be inclined to ram through legislation on their own terms. If so, they would likely fare no better than President Clinton did with one-party health reform in 1993, or President Bush did with one-party Social Security reform in 2005.

If they did manage to enact something without Republican support, chances are it would be unpopular, short-lived, or both. The Republican half of the country would have no stake in making the reform succeed, and the Democratic half would be blamed for whatever went wrong.

To get a new brain, a zombie party usually needs to lose power.

McCain is running on carbon-emissions limits that are not much different from what Democrats want, and his health plan's focus on reducing costs nicely complements the Democrats' focus on expanding coverage. Put him in the White House, and bipartisan action on both fronts is all but guaranteed. Big winners: liberals.

* Restore the Republican Party's health. Vote for: Barack Obama.

What was most telling about McCain's surprise choice of Sarah Palin as his running mate was not the Alaska governor's own qualities or the gamble that McCain took in choosing her; it was the Republican base's uncritically adoring reaction. Republicans who might once have wondered where a potential president stands on major issues found it more than enough to know that Palin is a pro-life hockey mom who makes liberals angry and can field dress a moose.

Palinmania was the clearest indication yet, though not the only one, that the GOP is a zombie party. Unable to articulate any coherent or workable governing philosophy, it mindlessly pushes cultural hot buttons, repeats hardwired tropes ("cut taxes cut taxes cut taxes"), nurses tribal resentments, and ostracizes independent thinkers (including, for quite a while, McCain).

Not that the GOP doesn't need some re-focusing, but what the Beltway types can never seem to grasp is that defending the culture is a governing philosophy, indeed the philosophy of the majority. And what the Left wants to do is destroy the culture in order to make people dependent on the State.

Republican leaders--Sarah Palin, Jeb Bush, Bobby Jindal, Mitch Daniels?--will spend the next couple years dragging the party back to the compassionate conservatism that provides social security without exacerbating statism: SS reform; universal health care based around HSAs; personalized unemployment insurance; etc.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:43 AM


Palin won't go away: If you imagine she's going to settle for quiet obscurity in Alaska after the election, think again (Jonathan Freedland, 10/23/08, guardian.co.uk)

Here are just some of the reasons why she would begin out in front. First, whatever the rest of America thinks of her, she has clearly excited the Republican base – and they are the people who vote in Republican primaries.

Second, she has powerful backers among one faction at least of the conservative intelligensia, namely the men who marked her out as McCain's VP in the first place. They don't mind her obviously limited curiosity or qualifications: they see a willing vehicle for their own ambitions, a woman who has the single quality that no politician can learn or acquire – star power. Besides, she can use the next four years to mug up on, you know, facts and things.

Third, there will be a wave of anger in a post-defeat Republican party and much of it will be directed at the "Washington establishment" types who sided with Barack Obama (from Colin Powell downwards) or at least criticised McCain (such as former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan). Palin will be a perfect receptacle for this anger, because she is the reason so many elite conservatives have broken with McCain.

Her chief problem will be visibility. Alaska is very far away: how can she stay in people's minds, especially in the minds of the media, think-tankers and donors who she would need to start building a campaign operation?

She's ratings gold--tv, radio, and print will trip over themselves to cover her. Just watch what she gets offered for her book.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:23 AM


The Next New Deal: The huge opportunities—and huge risks—of a possible Obama administration. (John Heilemann, Oct 26, 2008, New York Magazine)

It requires no prodigious feat of memory, of course, to see how this dream could come a cropper. Back in 1993, Bill Clinton surfed into Washington on a similar wave of enthusiasm and expectation. Democrats then, too, controlled both the upper and lower chambers on Capitol Hill. The party’s agenda was bold, ambitious, far-reaching. And then everything fell to pieces. In something like a heartbeat, Clinton’s reputation as a Third Way centrist was reduced to rubble. The degree of Democratic political malpractice was so severe that it enabled the GOP, in 1994, to snatch the reins of the House and Senate simultaneously for the first time in four decades. [...]

Late in the afternoon on the second day of the Democratic National Convention, several dozen contemporaries of Obama’s from Harvard Law School more than twenty years ago gathered in a private room at the Denver Ritz-Carlton for a cocktail party–cum–reunion. The mood was warm and convivial but sober in every sense. There was no high-fiving, no backslapping, no whooping or hollering. The bartender reported that he’d never served so few drinks at an open bar; Pellegrino was the only beverage in short supply.

That Obama’s impending coronation as the Democratic nominee occasioned no boisterous celebration on the part of some of his oldest friends was a function of many factors—their Harvardian, type-A tightassedness not least among them. But for some, a deeper source of reserve was a stubborn sense of doubt: not over whether Obama was equipped to be president but whether he could do, would do, what it took to capture the prize. “I was scared,” says one Obama classmate and Democratic activist. “A friend of mine, a big supporter of his all along, wrote me an e-mail that said, ‘Oh, my God, he is McGovern!’ ”

But then came the fall of Lehman, the implosion of AIG, and the constriction of the global credit markets—and the race began to turn. By the end of last week, Obama had assumed a commanding lead in almost every significant national poll. [...]

For Obama, doing the converse—widening the margin, running up the score—is more than a matter of political pride. The scale of his victory will determine the size and scope of the mandate that he can legitimately claim. If Obama racks up the totals currently projected by FiveThirtyEight’s resident numbers guru, Nate Silver, his Election Night tally will be impressive indeed: 52.2 percent of the popular vote (making him the first Democrat to break 50 since Jimmy Carter) and 354 electoral votes (a modest landslide). But equally critical in terms of governing will be another metric: the length of Obama’s coattails when it comes to the House and Senate.

Nobody understands this better than Obama—and so he has been applying ample pressure on the relevant players. “Obama has said to me, ‘If you guys don’t pick up a significant number of seats, it will be far more difficult for me to accomplish the kind of change America needs,’ ” Chuck Schumer tells me. “And he’s right. If we don’t, he would probably have to limit his proposals, let alone what he could reasonably expect to pass.”

For the second election cycle in a row, Schumer is at the helm of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Two years ago, he was widely credited for the party’s success in recapturing control of the upper chamber. Today, his eyes are firmly fixed on a grander prize: picking up the nine seats that Democrats would need to get them to 60, a filibusterproof majority.

On a recent Sunday, I drove out with Schumer to the annual bivalve festival in Oyster Bay, where I watched him both schmooze the crowd and chomp on an ear of corn with equally obscene gusto. When I asked him to rate his party’s prospects of reaching the magic number, Schumer cited—what else?—FiveThirtyEight: “They said there’s an over 50 percent chance that we pick up seven seats, 40 percent that we pick up eight, and 30 that we pick up nine, and that’s probably about accurate.”

Though 60 is Schumer’s holy grail, he contended that getting to 58 or 59 would be almost as good. “Every seat in the Senate makes a difference,” he said. “On an issue like taxes where the Republicans are all locked in together, like the Bush tax cuts, you might need 60. But on an issue where you can pick off one or two, like the Iraq war, you don’t. There are a large number, fifteen or twenty, of what I call traditional conservatives: John Warner, Kay Bailey Hutchison, Dick Lugar, Johnny Isakson, Bob Corker. I think they went along with the hard right for the past eight years grudgingly, because they felt the hard right had the upper hand. But if we get to 57, 58, 59, they’re going to smell the coffee. They’re going to be more pliable than before, more open to our arguments.”

On the House side, Rahm Emanuel radiates a similar brio about the Democrats’ outlook for November. Emanuel ran the party’s Congressional Campaign Committee for 2006, and although he’s graduated to chairman of the caucus, he remains neck-deep in data concerning competitive House contests. “North of 20 and less than 30,” is how Emanuel answers when I ask how many seats he expects his side to gain. “Yesterday I would have said 22, today I’m at 26. The way things are going, I need to keep opening up a bigger band.”

If Emanuel and Schumer are right in their estimations of what’s likely to play out on Election Day, the Democrats will enjoy commanding majorities in the next Congress. So commanding that the temptation will be nearly overwhelming in some quarters to declare 2008 a realigning election: the end of the Reagan-Bush era, the start of the Obama epoch.

It’s worth pointing out that the postulated Democratic numbers for 2009–11—57 to 59 seats in the Senate, 253 to 263 in the House—aren’t all that different from those that obtained in the doomstruck 1993–95 session. [...]

Obama advisers make no bones about why they see all this as essential: Given the unusually crisis-plagued environment into which Obama will be stepping, he will want to move quickly, especially when it comes to selecting his Cabinet. Almost certain to come first, perhaps within days, will be his economic and national-security teams. And with those choices, they say, he will want to send a message of centrism and bi-partisanship. It’s conceivable that Obama will ask Bob Gates to stay on as Defense secretary; Chuck Hagel, too, might find a place high in the administration. But although there has been chatter that Obama might also retain Hank Paulson at the Treasury, the inside betting is on a Larry Summers encore. “They’re gonna want somebody who knows the building, knows the economy, has been confirmed before and been advising them on economics,” says the former Clinton aide. “I’d be flabbergasted if they chose somebody else.”

Once the Cabinet is in place, Obama will turn to congressional relations, and here too the contrast with Clinton is likely to be pronounced. From the get-go, WJC and the Democratic leaders in the House and the Senate were at loggerheads. The old bulls regarded him as an outsider, an interloper, a president elected with just 43 percent of the vote—as someone to be pushed around. They informed him in no uncertain terms that they wouldn’t help him pass his promised package of political reforms. They pressured him (along with his wife) to put health-care reform ahead of welfare reform, a fateful blunder.

But Obama has no inbuilt animosity toward the congressional leadership. Sure, he vowed to transform Washington, but he did not run against it. He is surrounded by people—Emanuel, Podesta, former Tom Daschle aide Pete Rouse, and Daschle himself, who stands a reasonable chance of being Obama’s White House chief of staff—steeped in the legislative culture and masters of the legislative arena.

Not that dealing with a pair of institutions led by Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid will be any kind of picnic. “They’re incredibly weak leaders running a Congress with 12 percent approval ratings,” one Democratic think-tank maven says. “They’re not people with much of a record of, you know, actually getting things done.” Making matters worse, Obama will be hounded constantly by the old-school liberal interest groups, with all their bottled-up desires and demands. The unions, the health-care groups, the teachers, and so on: Everyone will have their hand out.

It's natural to focus on the hash that Bill Clinton made of the Democrat majorities, but at least he was re-elected himself. The prior four Democrats to win the presidency couldn't get re-elected. In a conservative country a Democratic presidential victory -- with the exception of FDR's -- is just a way of hitting the pause button.

N.B.: Making Tom Daschle, another legislator, his chief of staff would be disastrous. He needs a strong executive to run his presidency for him, since he probably can't.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:15 AM


The Robot Proxy War: Bush's man-hunting machines—and Obama's. (William Saletan, Oct. 27, 2008, Slate)

In less than three months, Barack Obama will be president of the United States. How will he change our border war in Pakistan? Not much. We'll keep fighting insurgents there the way we're fighting them today: with aerial killing machines.

Last year, Obama declared that under his presidency, "If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won't act, we will." John McCain criticized Obama's policy as rash, suggesting it would undermine the Pakistani government. The United States should try covert action in Pakistan "before we declare that we're going to bomb the daylights out of them," said McCain. A month ago, in their first debate, McCain again condemned Obama's position, arguing that the next president should "work with the Pakistani government," not "attack them."

Today, the New York Times reports what's actually going on along the Pakistani border. The report, based on interviews with U.S. and Pakistani officials, exposes the Obama-McCain debate as a charade. We're already getting actionable intelligence about terrorist targets in Pakistan. We're already blasting them. And the Pakistani government is working with us to facilitate these attacks. The covert action, the cooperation, and the aerial assaults aren't competing options. They're the same thing.

This is another one where Sarah Palin was right and Maverick wrong.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:16 AM


Call It 'The Obama Effect': Why undecided voters will swing to McCain. (Arnon A. Mishkin, 10/27/2008, Weekly Standard)

McCain should win a larger share of undecided voters than Obama, but it has little to do with race.

With Obama outspending McCain by upwards of 4 to 1, getting enormous traction with newspaper editorial boards, generating the enthusiasm to bring out crowds measured in the tens of thousands, and with Palin treated as more of a punch line than a candidate by the press--it seems likely that if voters are not ready to tell a pollster that they are with Obama, they are unlikely to get there.

But the phenomenon of undecided voters' breaking for McCain need not be called the "Bradley effect." Call it the "Bloomberg effect"--where after $100 million of spending, his mayoral challenger was able to capture essentially all of the 10 point undecided vote. Or call it the "Clinton effect"--where almost all the undecided vote swung away from the popular incumbent and went to Bob Dole. Or call it the "Reagan effect"--where even during the Republican 1980 primaries, voters were apparently reluctant to say they were going to vote for the "elderly washed up actor" and he got the preponderance of the undecided vote.

They all amount to essentially the same pattern. Call it "the Social Effect." Where there is a perception that there is a "socially acceptable" choice, respondents who do not articulate it, are likely not to agree with it. Are they lying? Or just genuinely torn about taking that route or another? I am not going to psychoanalyze what is going on in their heads, but in the end, the pattern tends to be that those undecided voters vote against that "socially acceptable" choice.

In fact, we saw a preview of this during the Democratic primaries this year. Typically, Hillary Clinton won substantial majorities of all late deciders (those who decided in the last three days of the primary)--i.e. Obama tended to lose the "undecided vote."

...seldom wearing one that says, "I'm Stupid"

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:07 AM


ROMNEY ANTI-PALIN (The Prowler, 10/27/08, American Spectator)

Former Mitt Romney presidential campaign staffers, some of whom are currently working for Sen. John McCain and Gov. Sarah Palin's bid for the White House, have been involved in spreading ant-Palin spin to reporters, seeking to diminish her standing after the election. "Sarah Palin is a lightweight, she won't be the first, not even the third, person people will think of when it comes to 2012," says one former Romney aide, now working for McCain-Palin. "The only serious candidate ready to challenge to lead the Republican Party is Mitt Romney. He's in charge on November 5th."

Romney has kept a low profile nationally since being denied the vice presidential nomination. He is currently traveling for the National Republican Congressional Committee in support of some House members, and has attended events for a handful of other House members who have sought his support, but he has traveled little for the McCain-Palin ticket. "He said the only time he'd travel for us is if we assured him that national cameras would be there," says a McCain campaign communications aide. "He's traveled to Nevada and a couple other states for us. That's about it."

Should McCain-Palin not win next week, Romney is expected to mount another presidential run, though it isn't clear that he has handled himself particularly well since losing the nomination.

Mr. Romney couldn't even win re-election as governor, got buried by a senator in his 70s during the presidential, and is maybe the only MA pol ever to lose the NH primary. He's a non-starter for 2012.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:52 AM


Senator helped fund organization that rejects 'racist' Israel's existence (Aaron Klein, 10/26/08, South Florida Sun-Sentinel)

The board of a nonprofit organization on which Sen. Barack Obama served as a paid director alongside a confessed domestic terrorist granted funding to a controversial Arab group that mourns the establishment of Israel as a "catastrophe" and supports intense immigration reform, including providing drivers licenses and education to illegal aliens.

The co-founder of the Arab group in question, Columbia University professor Rashid Khalidi, also has held a fundraiser for Obama. Khalidi is a harsh critic of Israel, has made statements supportive of Palestinian terror and reportedly has worked on behalf of the Palestine Liberation Organization while it was involved in anti-Western terrorism and was labeled by the State Department as a terror group.

In 2001, the Woods Fund, a Chicago-based nonprofit that describes itself as a group helping the disadvantaged, provided a $40,000 grant to the Arab American Action Network, or AAAN, for which Khalidi's wife, Mona, serves as president. The Fund provided a second grant to the AAAN for $35,000 in 2002.

...no one is voting for Barack Obama because they think it will be good for Israel.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:47 AM


Widespread fallout from India-US pact (Brad Glosserman and Bates Gill, 10/28/08, Asia Times)

More profoundly, many European officials and defense specialists see the US-India deal as part of a broader effort to reshape the Asian balance of power. Many of them believe the agreement is an attempt to forge a new relationship with a regional power that ultimately aims at balancing China. The perception that Washington is willing to use the NPT as a pawn in a geostrategic game undermines US leadership and diminishes the status of the NPT. Rather than serving as the cornerstone of the global nonproliferation order, the NPT now looks like just another item in a great power's diplomatic toolkit.

The only justification for transnational institutions -- like the World Trade Organization -- is that they are mere tools in our kit.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:43 AM


Anand,Vishwanathan - Kramnik,Vladimir (FIDE World Chess Championship Bonn, Germany (9), 26.10.2008)
World Chess championship: Anand a step closer to the title (Times of India, 27 Oct 2008)

World Champion Viswanathan Anand took another step forward to retain the world crown by taking another draw with challenger Vladim

Anand retained his 3-points lead following the draw with white pieces and is now just a draw away from retaining the crown he won last year in Mexico. The scoreline now stands at 6-3 in Anand's favour with three more games to go.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:34 AM


Financial woes push Fed to eye interest rate cut: Drop would be lowest since '04 (Jeannine Aversa, 10/27/08, ASSOCIATED PRESS)

So far, Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke and his colleagues haven't been able to break the vicious cycle, despite hefty rate reductions and a flurry of unprecedented steps aimed at getting credit flowing more freely again.

Mr. Bernanke says he'll use all tools to battle the crisis.

To that end, Fed policymakers are widely expected to lower the central bank's key interest rate at the conclusion of a two-day meeting Wednesday - their last session before the November elections.

Investors and some economists predict that the central bank will drop the rate by half a percentage point to 1 percent. If that happens, it would mark the lowest rate since the summer of 2004. Others, however, think the rate will be cut by a smaller, quarter-point to 1.25 percent.

In turn, rates on home equity, certain credit cards and other floating-rate loans tied to commercial banks' prime rate should drop by a corresponding amount.

A half-point reduction would leave the prime rate at 4 percent; a quarter-point cut would drop the rate to 4.25 percent. Either way, the prime rate would be the lowest in more than four years.

The Fed hopes that lower rates will spur people and businesses to spend again, helping to brace the wobbly economy.

"I think it would be a good faith psychological move," said Richard Yamarone, economist at Argus Research.

With the cost of everything dropping, 4% is usurious,

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:29 AM


Democracy's beacon (Arnold Beichman, October 27, 2008, Washington Times)

"Decadence begins," wrote the French thinker, Denis de Rougemont, "when people no longer ask, 'What are we going to do?' but rather ask, 'What is going to happen to us?' "

...Freedom vs. Security.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:19 AM


Mystery writer Hillerman dies at 83: His novels offered vivid descriptions of Indian rituals and the Navajo reservation. His heroes struggled to bridge the divide between Anglo society and the Dineh people. (Bruce Desilva, 10/26/08, The Associated Press)

Lt. Joe Leaphorn, introduced in "The Blessing Way" in 1970, was an experienced police officer who understood, but did not share, his people's traditional belief in a rich spirit world. Officer Jim Chee, introduced in "People of Darkness" in 1978, was a younger officer studying to become a "hathaali" -- Navajo for "shaman."

Together, they struggled daily to bridge the cultural divide between the dominant Anglo society and the impoverished people who call themselves the Dineh.

Hillerman's commercial breakthrough was "Skinwalkers," published in 1987 -- the first time he put both characters and their divergent world views in the same book. It sold 430,000 hardcover copies, paving the way for "A Thief of Time," which made several best seller lists. In all, he wrote 18 books in the Navajo series, the most recent titled "The Shape Shifter."

Each is characterized by an unadorned writing style, intricate plotting, memorable characterization and vivid descriptions of Indian rituals and of the vast plateau of the Navajo reservation in the Four Corners region of the Southwest.

The most acclaimed of them, including "Talking God" and "The Coyote Waits," are subtle explorations of human nature and the conflict between cultural assimilation and the pull of the old ways.

"I want Americans to stop thinking of Navajos as primitive persons, to understand that they are sophisticated and complicated," Hillerman once said.

Occasionally, he was accused of exploiting his knowledge of Navajo culture for personal gain, but in 1987, the Navajo Tribal Council honored him with its Special Friend of the Dineh award. He took greater pride in that, he often said, than in the many awards bestowed by his peers, including the Golden Spur Award from Western Writers of America and the Grand Master Award from the Mystery Writers of America, which elected him its president.

Hollywood was less kind to Hillerman. Its adaptation of his 1981 novel, "Dark Wind," with Lou Diamond Phillips and Fred Ward regrettably cast as Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn, was a bomb.

Tony Hillerman, novelist, dies at 83 (Marilyn Stasio, October 27, 2008, NY Times)
Hillerman's evocative novels, which describe people struggling to maintain ancient traditions in the modern world, touched millions of readers, who made them best sellers. But although the themes of his books were not overtly political, he wrote with a purpose, he often said, and that purpose was to instill in his readers a respect for Indian culture. The plots of his stories, while steeped in contemporary crime and its consequences, were invariably instructive about ancient tribal beliefs and customs, from purification rituals for a soldier returned from a foreign war to incest taboos for a proper clan marriage.

"It's always troubled me that the American people are so ignorant of these rich Indian cultures," Hillerman once told Publishers Weekly. "I think it's important to show that aspects of ancient Indian ways are still very much alive and are highly germane even to our ways." [...]

Joe Leaphorn, seasoned and a bit cynical, has a logical mind and a passion for order that reflects his upbringing in the Navajo Way. His code of behavior is dictated by a belief in the ordered, harmonious patterns of life that link man to the natural world. But he is not a fundamentalist in terms of religion; the grizzled skeptic is the holder of a master's degree in anthropology.

Younger and more idealistic than his pragmatic fellow police officer, Jim Chee seeks a more spiritual connection to Navajo tradition. Over the course of several books, he studies to become a hataalii, a singer or medicine man. This ambition often creates friction between the religious faith he professes and the secular rules of criminal justice he is sworn to uphold. Chee first appears in "People of Darkness," Hillerman's fifth novel, as a counterpoint to Leaphorn's cynicism.

Leaphorn and Chee appear in separate novels of Hillerman's Navajo Tribal Police series , each novel challenging them with a crime that seems to be entangled in the spirit world yet at the same time starkly rooted in the modern reservation life Hillerman knew so well.

In "Skinwalkers" (1986), Hillerman first brought Leaphorn and Chee together on the same case to offer a fascinating interplay of two different representatives of Navajo culture. In "Skinwalkers," the police officers investigate three murders on the reservation linked only by pellets of bone associated with the murder weapons. Is this an indication that the murders are the work of skinwalkers, witches who can fly and take the shapes of dogs, wolves or other animals? Leaphorn hates witchcraft and holds superstition, unemployment and whisky responsible for much of the suffering endured by his people. But Chee knows the power of forces the science of the white man cannot explain. The detectives blend their special views of the world to solve the case.

In addition to his complex heroes, Hillerman also wrote compassionately and with intimate knowledge of a great range of clansmen from the Navajo, Hopi and Zuni tribes, people with whom he felt a deep affinity because he grew up among those very much like them. "When I met the Navajo I now so often write about, I recognized kindred spirits," he wrote in an autobiographical essay in 1986. "Country boys. Folks among whom I felt at ease."

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October 26, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:43 PM


Iran president's 'exhaustion' stirs speculation over next election: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is ill due to overwork, says an associate. Observers downplay rumors that the president, who has many foes within Iran's ruling circle, is being forced out. (Borzou Daragahi, October 27, 2008, LA Times)

[T]he episode shows how openly the knives are out for Ahmadinejad within Iran's ruling circle. On Saturday, parliament moved to impeach pro-Ahmadinejad Interior Minister Ali Kordan, who, according to Iran's Fars News Agency, admitted submitting a fake honorary Oxford law degree as evidence of his qualifications for the job.

Ahmadinejad's fiery rhetoric and passion for public attention have made him a lightning rod for Western criticism of Iran's nuclear program and its staunch opposition to Israel. However, both policies remain under the purview of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, the ranking cleric who is the country's ultimate authority on security and foreign policy.

A group of conservative politicians has joined with more a liberal faction known as reformists to criticize Ahmadinejad's economic policies and brash style as against Iran's interests. Iran's official inflation rate has risen to 29%. Its unemployment rate tops 10%, although independent experts say it is higher.

Ahmadinejad's allies have been walloped by the so-called pragmatic conservatives in recent local and parliamentary elections.

...there was never any chance he'd be re-elected.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:22 PM


Toasted Pumpkin Seeds Recipe (Elise.com)

* One medium sized pumpkin
* Salt
* Olive oil


1 Preheat oven to 400°F. Cut open the pumpkin and use a strong metal spoon to scoop out the insides. Separate the seeds from the stringy core. Rinse the seeds.

2 In a small saucepan, add the seeds to water, about 2 cups of water to every half cup of seeds. Add a tablespoon of salt for every cup of water. Bring to a boil. Let simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and drain.

3 Spread about a tablespoon of olive oil over the bottom of a roasting pan. Spread the seeds out over the roasting pan, all in one layer. Bake on the top rack for 20 minutes or until the seeds begin to brown. When browned to your satisfaction, remove from the oven and let the pan cool on a rack.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:12 PM


Chance for Netanyahu as Livni talks collapse (Ben Lynfield, 27 October 2008 , Independent)

Claiming Kadima had "proven it does what is right", Ms Livni must now do battle with Mr Netanyahu, who brought the Oslo peace process to a near-halt as prime minister from 1996 to 1999. He has not softened his views since then. They are level in the personal popularity stakes but the right-wing bloc Mr Netanyahu heads is leading in the polls.

Analysts expect the campaign to focus on security. "Generally, people today understand the depth of hostility towards Israel but on the other hand, the belief in Greater Israel is over. If she can prove she is aware of the dangers but at the same time bring a secure settlement, that will help her a lot," said Avraham Diskin, a political scientist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesman for the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, voiced concern that Israel's political turmoil would damage the peace process. "Time is precious. The next few months could be wasted because of new elections and US elections," he said. And Hamas, which controls Gaza, called the snap elections "a slap in the face to those seeking a peace settlement".

Ms Livni served as a chief negotiator during US-sponsored peace talks, relaunched last November.

If she wins, Ms Livni will be the first Israeli woman premier since Golda Meir. She has said repeatedly she supports a Palestinian state. She believes it is in Israel's interest because annexing the West Bank Palestinian population would call into question Israel's demographic character as a Jewish state. Her opponent's likely approach is shown in Likud's campaign posters for next month's Jerusalem municipal elections. They show an earnest-looking Mr Netanyahu, and promise Likud will "safeguard Jerusalem".

Parliamentary elections had not been due until 2010. Commentators have identified 17 February as a likely date. Until then, Mr Olmert will stay in office. "It is not a happy announcement," the Prime Minister said about Ms Livni's decision.

Couldn't he have gotten a couple years in office while W was in charge?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:01 PM


Lundberg Survey shows gas prices dropping nearly 53 cents nationally over 2 weeks (Associated Press, October 26, 2008)

A national survey shows gas prices continue to decline, tumbling nearly 53 cents a gallon in the last two weeks.

The average price of a gallon of regular gasoline at self-serve stations was $2.78 Friday.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:07 PM


Pakistan takes town as 'corner turned' in jihadi struggle (Bruce Loudon, October 27, 2008, The Australian)

PAKISTAN claimed a major breakthrough last night in its battle against al-Qa'ida and Taliban militants, announcing the recapture after weeks of fierce fighting of a key junction town in the Bajaur Tribal Agency that is regarded as the centre of gravity for the jihadi onslaught in the country.

Senior army officers described the retaking of Loisam as a turning point in the crucial battle for Bajaur, close to the border with Afghanistan, which has frequently been mentioned as the most likely operational base for Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri.

"The worst is over. I think we've turned the corner," Major General Tariq Khan, commander of the Frontier Corps, which has been leading the huge offensive in Bajaur, told reporters taken under escort to Loisam last night.

They're a long way from the corner, but it's significant that they're realizing how easy the fight is.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:35 PM


Daily Tracking Poll: McCain Inches Up on Economy, but Advantage is Still to Obama (GARY LANGER, Oct. 26, 2008, ABC News)

Head-to-head in voter preference, Obama holds a 52-45 percent lead over McCain among likely voters in interviews the last four days. Obama hasn't slipped below 50 percent support, nor McCain above 46 percent, since early September in ABC/Post polls. [...]

If some tightening in the horse race occurs this week, it wouldn't be surprising; in 1996, amid prime conditions for an incumbent re-election, Bill Clinton led by 19 points in an Oct. 27 ABC/Post poll; that closed to 11 points in the final week. Clinton won by 8.5.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:29 PM


The Conservative party wins Lithuanian federal general election (Canadian Press, 10/26/08)

The Homeland Union won both rounds of the election, including the runoff.

The commission says that with 99 per cent of the votes counted, the Homeland Union won 44 seats in the 141-member Parliament.

The governing Social Democrats won 26 seats.

The conservatives are expected to form a coalition with three smaller centre-right parties.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:26 PM


US helicopters attack Syrian village, say witnesses (guardian.co.uk, 26 2008)

American military helicopters have tonight attacked an area along Syria's border with Iraq, causing casualties, according to reports on Syrian state TV and from witnesses.

The Syrian foreign ministry has tonight summoned the US charge d'affaires in Damascus to protest at the raid, which took place near the Syrian border town of Abu Kamal.

If the Ba'ath is still in charge in Syria when W leaves office it will mark one of his few major failures.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:40 AM


'Fear of pain' causes big rise in caesareans: Nearly a quarter of all births in Britain last year were by section - up from 9 per cent in 1980. Now a leading midwife says this is 'unacceptably high', and that women lack the confidence to have a natural birth. (Denis Campbell, 10/26/08, The Observer)

There are people who regard how a woman gives birth as a barometer of her womanliness. Some view elective caesareans as a sellout, as evidence that mothers-to-be, afraid of natural childbirth, have taken the easy option. The decision of celebrities such as Victoria Beckham and Christina Aguilera to give birth this way has led to claims that some women are 'too posh to push'.

Now one of Britain's leading midwives has reignited the debate about caesareans. In an interview with The Observer, Louise Silverton, deputy general-secretary of the Royal College of Midwives, has controversially claimed that an increasing number of women under 40 are less prepared to undergo the physical trauma of childbirth than their predecessors, a trend that is pushing up the rate of surgical deliveries.

She argued that 25 per cent of births being caesareans is an 'unacceptably high and needlessly high' figure and that those 170,000 deliveries involve dangers for both the mothers and their babies. In 1980 it was just 9 per cent. While any woman can request the procedure, NHS guidelines say there should be good clinical or psychological reasons.

Silverton believes caesareans have become too easy to obtain, especially the 66,500 procedures - 9.5 per cent - that are planned in advance. 'Society's tolerance of pain and illness has reduced significantly,' she said. 'Women are less tolerant of labour pains because they haven't developed tolerance of pain. For example, if they get period pain they will either take Nurofen or go to their GP.

'Women are trying to remove the symptoms of pregnancy as much as they can. They are seeking to control everything. Choosing to have a caesarean gives you an element of control.'

But she added: 'A caesarean is major abdominal surgery. I don't think women realise that. They see it as just another way of giving birth. They see it as easy. And they think that if they can have an elective caesarean they will have no pain because they haven't been in labour.'

While acknowledging that labour is 'unbelievably painful', Silverton pointed out that the pain is temporary, unlike back pain, gallstones or kidney stones. She also claimed that women under 40 were more likely to have an 'epidural in a way that their predecessors wouldn't'.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:35 AM


Swords and Sorcery Return to Syndication (BROOKS BARNES, 10/26/08, NY Times)

Before Mr. Raimi went off to turn “Spider-Man” into a multibillion-dollar movie franchise, [Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert] were credited with creating a genre of television beloved (at least for a time) around the globe: the syndicated fantasy action drama. Heavy on dragons and fire — not to mention men in lace-up leather pants and scantily clad women wielding swords — their “Hercules: The Legendary Journeys” and “Xena: Warrior Princess” were both pop-culture phenomena in the mid-1990s.

Audiences eventually overdosed on the genre, largely because production companies flooded the market with copycats. At least 65 syndicated one-hour dramas arrived from 1991 to 2000, with entries like “Conan: The Adventurer,” “Highlander” and “The Adventures of Sinbad” borrowing directly from the Raimi-Tapert formula. A changing television business accelerated the genre’s death, and by 2007 there was not a single syndicated drama in production.

With the clutter cleared out — and with local television stations grappling with a sudden need for programming — Mr. Raimi and Mr. Tapert are back. Their syndicated series “Legend of the Seeker,” produced in conjunction with the Walt Disney Company’s ABC Studios, will make its debut on Nov. 1 on stations reaching about 95 percent of the country. Based on the best-selling “Sword of Truth” books by Terry Goodkind, the series combines elements of fantasy and adventure with exotic settings furnished by New Zealand. [...]

Imagine “The Lord of the Rings” Parts 1, 2 and 3 with a (much) lower budget and characters that show more skin, and you’ve got “Legend of the Seeker.”

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:29 AM


Housing data reinforces Obama's edge: Polling, housing data suggest Americans are voting their home values this election cycle. (Jonathan Lansner, 10/25/08, The Orange County Register)

[I] compared what states were trending for each candidate vs. how housing did in each state. I weighted my results by Electoral College votes, so we'd see the political and economic clout of the more populous states. And here's what we found:

* In the 17 states that are "solid" or "leaning" McCain, according to RealClearPolitics, my spreadsheet tells me that the weighted average home price fell 1.6 percent in a year. That's relatively strong when you note that First American LoanPerformance's overall national index, weighted in the same manner, was down 6.5 percent in the past year.

* In the 24 states plus D.C. "solid" or "leaning" toward Obama, my spreadsheet tells me that the weighted average home price fell 9.1 percent. That's significantly worse than McCain strongholds, as 13 of the 17 worst state home markets are seen by RealClearPolitics in Obama's camp.

* And those seven toss-up states? Curiously, housing performance fell right between the two candidates real estate portfolios, so to speak: weighted average losses for the too-close-to-call states ran 6.4 percent. [...]

Mark Baldassare, CEO of the Public Policy Institute of California, says "it makes perfect sense that there'd be strong correlations" between voting patterns and economic realities like home prices.

"One issue has become absolutely dominant: the economy," says Baldasarre, whose group regularly polls Californians on a host of issues. "I don't think it's about what the candidates are saying. On the economy, I'm not sure they're saying things drastically different. It's about perception."

The housing rebound alone is going t make Americans feel better about the direction of the country next year.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:21 AM


Diageo/Hotline Tracking Poll: The Early Line (HOTLINE, 10/26/08)

Let's Agree To Agree. In addition to leading 50-42% overall, Obama also leads men 50-42% and women 50-42%.

Okay, anyone want to take a stab at the highest % of male voters a Democrat has posted since 1980?


Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:05 AM


Top Iran minister faces impeachment (AFP, 26 Oct 2008)

Iran's parliament will move to impeach Interior Minister Ali Kordan for "dishonesty" early November after he confessed to holding a fake Oxford University degree, the ISNA news agency said on Sunday.

"Kordan will face an impeachment vote on November 4," a member of parliament's board, Hamid Reza Hajibabai, was quoted as saying.

Pressure has been mounting on Kordan to quit the cabinet post he took up in August after the prestigious British university denied awarding him any qualification through a representative, as he had claimed.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:04 AM


Left to PM: Reconsider policies if you want our support (Times of India, 26 Oct 2008)

The Left parties on Sunday virtually rejected Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's desire to work with them in future and asked him to reverse his government's economic policies. [...]

CPI Secretary D Raja said unless the Prime Minister and the Congress-led UPA government reversed its politics and get out of the Indo-US nuclear deal, it would be difficult to work with them.

He said the government should reverse its economic reforms and stop pursuing strategic ties with the US.

...is that pretty nearly the only world leaders he could meet with who aren't moving their states in the opposite political direction are Spain's Zapatero and Israel's Tzipi Livni, who may well be on her way out already, New election looms for Israel (The National, October 26. 2008)
The chances of forming a government were reduced after a powerful ultra-Orthodox party said it would not join a coalition headed by prime minister designate Ms Livni.

Major differences emerged in talks with Shas, the third largest party with 12 deputies, whose support was seen as vital in forming a viable government.

On Friday, Shas said it had failed to secure two key requirements — increased family allowances and a guarantee that the future of occupied east Jerusalem would not be negotiated in peace talks with the Palestinians.

Mr Peres asked Ms Livni on September 22 to form a new government after she was elected Kadima leader to replace the prime minister Ehud Olmert, who has resigned to battle a wave of graft allegations.

Ms Livni, a 51-year-old former Mossad agent, is seeking to become Israel’s second woman prime minister after Golda Meir, who held office from 1969 to 1974.

However, should general elections be scheduled for 2009, polls have indicated they could bring Likud and former premier Benjamin Netanyahu to power.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:53 AM


Iranian president has fallen ill (AP< October 26. 2008)

The Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has fallen ill because of his heavy workload, a close associate told the Iranian state news agency late yesterday.

Parliament member Mohammad Ismail Kowsari, a close ally of the president, told IRNA that Ahmadinejad is feeling under the weather because of the strain of his position. [...]

In the past weeks, supporters of Mr Ahmadinejad have been discussing potential candidates for the next presidential election, implying that the sitting president is not their automatic choice.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:20 AM


Russell Kirk & Postmodern Conservatism (Gerald J. Russello, October 23, 2008, First Things)

The problem Kirk faced, along with most conservatives, was that the Enlightenment, with its universalizing equality, secularism, and blinkered rationality, was already destroying traditional Western culture. How can a tradition be preserved if it is already dissolving into what theorist Zygmunt Bauman called “liquid modernity?”

Kirk’s answer was twofold. First, he uncovered (some would say, “created”) a counter-tradition, one that rested not on the rationalism of the Enlightenment, the ideological fervor of the French Revolution, or the modern vogue for limitless “rights.” Rather, it began with Edmund Burke’s defense of the lived experience of Britain as a bulwark of liberty and the protection of rights. Moreover, Kirk claimed that this tradition connected Britain and America, and included such varied figures as Samuel Taylor Coleridge and John Henry Newman, Orestes Brownson and Benjamin Disraeli, Irving Babbitt and Paul Elmer More, John Adams and W.H. Mallock.

The second strategy was more daring. Kirk was criticized, then and later, for writing in an anachronistic style, one not suited to confronting the seemingly rationalist arguments of liberalism. In order to defend what they thought to be worth conserving, some conservatives believed that they had to engage liberalism on its own terms, in a “dialectic” mode that is foreign to the conservative language of custom and tradition. Kirk rejected this approach.

As early as the 1950s, he had become convinced that liberalism would exhaust itself because it could not inspire and sustain what he called the “moral imagination.” For conservatives to buy into its premises would seal their defeat. Something else would replace liberalism eventually, and Kirk offered a richly imaginative vision of conservatism that could survive liberal modernity’s collapse. One element of that vision was a revived respect for religious faith.

As early as 1982, in an essay for National Review, Kirk suggested that “the Post-Modern imagination stands ready to be captured. And the seemingly novel ideas and sentiments and modes [of postmodernism] may turn out, after all, to be received truths and institutions, well known to surviving conservatives.” He went so far as to state that he thought that it “may be the conservative imagination which is to guide the Post-Modern Age.”

David Hume and Thomas Jefferson accepted that Rationalism was itself irrational and, therefore, the final hope for deriving true wisdom solely by the exertion of your own mind was by the boards, but they were unbothered by this truth because the lives we live in our traditional Stupidity are quite lovely. The Post-Modernism of the Left, their minds undone by the need to accept what God has told us, embraces ugliness instead.

-Conservative Postmodernism, Postmodern Conservatism (Peter Augustine Lawler, Fall 2002, First Principles)
-ESSAY: Religious Conscience and Original Sin: An Exploration of America’s Protestant Foundations (Barry Shain, Online Library of Liberty)
-ESSAY: Democracy in Vermont: Small is beautiful in the Green Mountain state (Bill Kauffman, 9/13/04, American Conservative)

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:35 AM


The Rumble Strips perform in The Current studio (Mary Lucia, October 23, 2008, Minnesota Public Radio)

The Rumble Strips are a London based band whose music has been described as a mix of rock, soul, indie, and pop.

-MYSPACE: The Rumble Strips
-VIDEOS: The Rumble Strips (YouTube)
-REVIEW ARCHIVES: Girls & Weather by The Rumble Strips (Metacritic)
-INTERVIEW: BBtv: Russell Porter interviews The Rumble Strips (September 5, 2008, BoingBoing)
-Artist of the Day: The Rumble Strips (ADELE BALDERSTON 10.29.07, Spin)
-SONG OF THE DAY: The Rumble Strips and a Tipsy Wake-Up Call (Christopher Porter, 11/09/07, NPR)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:21 AM


Demeaning Waugh’s hateful, beautiful novel: The new film version of Brideshead Revisited turns Evelyn Waugh’s masterpiece of light satire and heavy sentiment into a hymn to a suffocatingly woolly liberalism (Tim Black, Spiked Review of Books)

The charge of pointlessness does touch upon something about this new film version. But it’s not because it has deviated too little from the novel, but too much. And it fails to challenge, to arrest one’s attention, for precisely that reason. That is, by making Catholicism appear so oppressively malignant, by counterposing it to the liberal, live-and-let-live reasonableness of Charles, it panders to the contemporary distrust of commitment, of a belief in something beyond that which exists, religious or otherwise. Or as co-writer Jeremy Brock put it, Brideshead Revisited ‘speaks directly to many of the issues that count as “current” – religious fundamentalism, class, sexual tolerance, the pursuit of individualism’ (1). Brideshead Revisited the film is simply too modern.

To transfigure Waugh’s masterpiece of light satire and heavy sentiment as a hymn to a suffocatingly woolly liberalism comes at a considerable cost. And that is why it is missing something very important. Its name is Hooper.
The Age of Hooper

As peripheral as he may seem, Hooper is central to Brideshead Revisited. He not only bookends the novel’s present, as Charles’s platoon commander, his meaning pervades it. With his ‘flat Midlands accent’, his speech peppered with ‘okey dokeys’ and ‘rightyohs’, and his ‘business experience’, he is to Charles Ryder ‘a symbol of young England’. And it is not an England with which Brideshead Revisited’s narrator is particularly enamoured. Later, while reading of the deaths of Lady Marchmain’s brothers during the First World War, Charles reflects: ‘These men must die to make a world for Hooper; they were the aborigines, vermin by right of law, to be shot off at leisure so that things might be safe for the travelling salesman, with his polygonal pince-nez, his fat wet hand-shake, his grinning dentures.’ This ascendant breed, borne aloft by the secular religion of commerce, knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing, are literally repulsive to Charles.

If the age of Hooper is fast encroaching, the philistine has his barbarian accomplice in the figure of Rex Mottram. The film reduces him to crude malevolence, a man willing to trade his wife, Julia, for a couple of Charles’s paintings. Waugh’s image is more benign, but no less damning. Belonging to the ‘harsh, acquisitive world’ so rudely intruding upon the Arcadian environs of Brideshead, he is characterised by Julia as someone so ‘absolutely modern and up-to-date that only this ghastly age could produce. A tiny bit of a man pretending he was whole.’ His sort could not, as the allusion to Matthew Arnold intends, ‘see life whole and see it steadily’.

And it is this, the one-sidedness of his character, his inability to see life not just in its material but in its spiritual aspect, too, that Waugh, following Arnold and Forster before him, portrays as modern man’s failing. All is ratio and ceaseless activity, calculating and doing; there is no contemplation, no intellect. The Rexs of this world are not evil or malicious, then. They, like Hooper, simply lack ‘intellectual curiosity, or natural piety’. Without at least the longing for faith, the world of Hooper is incapable of grasping just how forsaken it is.

Brideshead, from the magnificence of its coffered and carved roof, the columns and entablature of the central hall, to the attached chapel, is a symbolic counterpoint. For the young Charles it’s a haven, a world of enchantment and of faith barracked against the impending spoliation at the hands of the world of Hooper. For this, not Catholicism, is the ‘whisper of doom’ that clings so darkly to the Marchmains. And so, at the very end, with the army now encamped at Brideshead, it comes to pass. Charles thinks to himself: ‘Year by year, generation after generation, they enriched and extended [Brideshead], year by year the great harvest of timber in the park grew to ripeness; until, in sudden frost, came the age of Hooper; the place was desolate and the work all brought to nothing; Quomodo sedt sola civitas. Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.’

So why is Hooper is so important to the vision of Brideshead Revisited? Because without him, the Marchmains, and their attendant Catholicism, lose their symbolic meaning. They appear, as they do in the film, as little more than self-imposed prisoners of their faith. But with Hooper, indeed, in the context of the ‘age of Hooper’, the meaning becomes clear. The Catholic Marchmains, ensconced in their stately refuge Brideshead, enshrine all that modernity is apt to sweep asunder.

That this refuge, always described retrospectively, is no more, lends the novel’s languor – its lyrical, swooping passages of sometimes too-purple prose – not just its power, but its meaning. For in dwelling upon those ‘spots of time’, as Wordsworth would have it, they redeem Charles from the wreckage of his grey, meaningless present. The act of invocation has a near transcendent quality. Hence ‘Brideshead’ is ‘a conjuror’s name of such ancient power, that, at its mere sound, the phantoms of those haunted later years began to take flight’. Brideshead Revisited, like the similarly disenchanted A la Recherche du Temps Perdu, is an art of memorial, the redemption of a vanished world.

What's interesting is that the same longing animates George Orwell's Coming Up for Air, making him a reactionary against the socialism he publicly advocated.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:12 AM


The Ayatollah Begs to Differ: An Iranian-American writer looks beyond the stereotypes: a review of The Ayatollah Begs to Differ: The Paradox of Modern Iran by Hooman Majd (Joseph Richard Preville, October 24, 2008, CS Monitor)

Majd shows that Iran suffers from many of the same problems as the “decadent” West: AIDS, abortion, prostitution, and alcoholism. Majd believes that many Iranian social taboos are slowly fading away as a more open and democratic Iran is emerging.

“The Ayatollah Begs to Differ” is notable for challenging the persistent stereotypes of Iran – the shrieking fundamentalists, stern clerics in black turbans, and women imprisoned in chadors. According to Majd, these are outdated symbols for lazy observers, and Iran is not portrayed as an Islamic penal colony in his three-dimensional portrait.

October 25, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:30 PM


Homosexual Soccer Players Destroy Photo of Bella's Eduardo Verastegui in Press Conference (Matthew Cullinan Hoffman, October 23, 2008, LifeSiteNews.com)

Verastegui's support of California's Proposition 8, which would amend California’s constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman and overturn the judicial activist decision approving homosexual "marriage" in the state, is likely to have a serious impact on the voting in November. "Verastegui is very well known among Latinos for his role in 'Bella', and other telenovelas," noted Maria Ramirez of Viva la Familia.

Verastegui is also participating in advertisements in favor of California's Proposition 4, which would require parental consent for abortions for minors. Pro-lifers believe that they may narrowly win because of strong Hispanic support for the measure.

Tri Gay, which bills itself as "Mexico's Gay Soccer Selection," is composed of homosexual activists who seek to legitimize the homosexual lifestyle in Mexico. They participate in "gay" soccer tournaments including the "Gay-Lesbian World Cup," and the "World Outgames" (scheduled for 2009 in Denmark).

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:08 PM


The Opera's New Clothes: Why I walked out of Doctor Atomic. (Ron Rosenbaum, Oct. 24, 2008, Slate)

Since I had recently been to Hiroshima and am working on a book about the new face of nuclear warfare, I'd been thinking about the nuclear version of the Faustian dilemma. Especially about the phenomenon of ineradicability. Faust signs his contract with the devil—in which he agrees to give Lucifer his soul when he dies in return for being granted all earthly wishes—with a pen dipped in his own blood. But, predictably, when it comes time to carry out his part of the bargain and descend to hell, Faust cries out for a reprieve, for divine mercy.

At the end of Christopher Marlowe's Dr. Faustus, when Faust's ticket to hell is about to be punched, he cries out:

See, see, where Christ's blood streams in the firmament!
One drop would save my soul ...

It is one of the most heart-rending pleas in literature. But no mercy is forthcoming. Faust offers to burn his books in exchange for divine mercy, because his lust for knowledge—here's the Oppenheimer parallel—the knowledge he thought the devil could bestow on him was the reason he sold his soul.

It's too late. Books can be burned, but information cannot be destroyed. Similarly, it's too late for us. Nuclear bombs can be banned, but the knowledge—the equations—required to remake them cannot be eradicated. Oppenheimer was among the first to realize this. Once the spells for conjuring up the nuclear devil had been written down, they could be erased but not eliminated, deleted but not destroyed. They had entered the world and the world had entered hell.

Exciting stuff, then: Faust, Oppenheimer.

What material for transformation into tragic operatic art! Or so one would think, until one actually sees Doctor Atomic or, as I think of it now, the Emperor's New Opera.

There is some lack of clarity in the program about the opera's authors; it was conceived by John Adams (composer of the previous contemporary-history operas Nixon in China and The Death of Klinghoffer, about the murder of an elderly, wheelchair-bound Jew by Palestinian terrorists) and produced for the Met by Penny Woolcock. But the libretto has largely been "written," if that's a verb you can apply to this text, by theater and opera director Peter Sellars, who has compiled an assemblage of quotes from books and documents interspersed with the work of noted poets and dialogue of provenance uncertain to me.

Adams and Sellars have chosen to focus on the days before the first Los Alamos test, less than a month before the bomb was used on Hiroshima. And on the conflicts among—and within—the atomic scientists assembled by Oppenheimer.

I was expecting something powerful and sophisticated. And the music and the sets couldn't have been more effectively dramatic.

But the libretto, the words ... They were pedestrian, speechifying, and painfully simplistic (when not embarrassingly schlocky as in the "love scenes"). Yes, it's true, opera librettos comprise their own genre. Opera lyrics are not poetry. But these ones suffer in particular from the contrast between the pretentious grandiosity of operatic treatment and the actual, disappointing content. And "singing" relentlessly dull prose does not raise it to the level of art. Instead it makes everything sound—forgive me—bombastic.

Imagine, if you will, starting at the top of this column and "singing" it, intoning it with a tuneless, stentorian, pompous affect.

Come on, try! Give it your best mock operatic treatment:

Does this ever happen to you:
You discover key forgotten elements
In over familiar fables ...

Now imagine these (admittedly pedestrian) words being performed on what looks like a multimillion-dollar set by a male chorus making dreadfully hammy gestures at one another?

No, that still doesn't capture it. To appreciate the bad poetry of this libretto, you must see how it veers from the utterly pedestrian—

[Deep operatic voice] Well how do you feel?
[Less deep operatic voice] Well, pretty excited.

—to the consciously "poetic." Not merely when the libretto uses actual poetry taken from Donne and Baudelaire and Muriel Rukeyser, but when it give us lines like:

The hackneyed light of evening
Quarrels with the bulbs ...

Who or what is being "hackneyed" here? Sellars does not make it clear in his libretto what—if anything—he wrote and what he "appropriated." But clearly he has a career as a curator of bad poetry. His "appropriations" sound fake-profound when not merely ridiculous (the way they might not sound in context). Even Donne's "Holy Sonnet," which is magnificent, is mangled.

I found myself sitting stunned in the well-dressed opening-night crowd. Rarely an operagoer myself (I prefer poetry and drama without orchestral distractions), I'd nonetheless always respected operagoers for what I presumed to be their sophisticated taste. What amazed me was the respectful, reverent, awed look on the faces of the crowd around me. I could glimpse them most clearly when the lights came up for intermission.

Virtually all of the other faces in the audience had this somber, awed, this-is-important-art-we-are-witnessing look. A look of suffering: "We are weighed down by the terrible profundity of it all. We're in the Metropolitan Opera, for God's sake. This thing must be profound!"

But then I recalled these lines from the "love scene" between Oppenheimer and his wife Kitty:

... only my fingers in your hair, only, my eyes
splitting the skull to tickle your brain with love ...

I'm sorry to have to say it, but there are an abundance of lyrics like this in the libretto, which made Doctor Atomic begin to seem like the Spinal Tap of opera. (And, yes, I get it: "Splitting the skull" is like splitting the atom! Stop cringing; it's literary! No, sorry: It's ludicrous.)

I have rarely felt so alone as I felt at that intermission. I felt like the kid in "The Emperor's New Clothes." Do words not matter in opera? It's not something I'd thought about, because opera is so often in a foreign language, which discourages close reading. But I began to wonder whether opera follows different rules: Because words are sung, do they transcend any bombastic triviality, any wounding awfulness? Do opera buffs believe words don't need to be well-chosen but are elevated to poetic heights merely by the sonorities, or snore-ities, that they are "sung" to? In Europe, they boo lustily at badly sung arias. What is one to do in America at offensively trivializing words?

In any case, the next evening as I was talking about my "Emperor's New Clothes" feeling, Julia Sheehan told me she'd recently reread the original Hans Christian Andersen fable and found an aspect of it that she (and I) had forgotten.

She'd always wondered, she said, why everyone in the fable went along with the gag and no one but the little boy spoke up and said the emperor was naked.

Well, I said, you know, conformity, peer pressure, fear of punishment, right?

Turns out there was another element: In the Andersen version, everyone was told ahead of time that the emperor's new costume was so radical and different that stupid people wouldn't even be able to see it. And nobody wanted to be considered stupid. Which reminded me of a feeling I often have at overhyped Broadway dramas about "important" subjects: The applause you hear at the end is the audience applauding itself. Just for being there at what they've been told is such an important artistic event. Stupid people wouldn't understand.

That had to be it! With the entire apparatus of cultural capital supporting the idea that it was important and profound and thus good to be there in the luxuriant rosy glow of the nation's premier opera house, their assumptions cushioned by the Met's velvet seats, how could one dissent? If you didn't think you were witnessing greatness, you marked yourself as mentally challenged.

The problem being that very few composer are similarly gifted in the literary field. It's why Gilbert and Sullivan are underestimated.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:45 PM


What Have We Created?!: Obama's supporters have high expectations, and they may expect to have a voice in governing. (Howard Fineman, 11/03/08, NEWSWEEK)

Much of America may be gung-ho about putting more troops into Afghanistan, but it's not clear Obamaworld is; he could run into opposition if he seriously pursues it. On the other hand, initiating talks with Iranian and Venezuelan dictators enjoys more support on his e-mail lists than in the rest of the country. If the Democrats win bigger majorities in the House and Senate, they (if not Obama) may well be eager to exact vengeance on Republicans, or at least cram Democratic ideas down GOP throats. Obama supporters might prefer more reaching-out. As Marshall sees it, most of them want a "transpartisan" approach that jettisons the old labels. "These people feel a close, personal tie to Obama, just as conservatives did to Reagan," he says. "But if and when he starts governing, he is going to start disappointing them."

At that point, the names on those voter and e-mail lists may start talking to each other, and may start saying things that Barack Obama—and White House aides hunched over their computers—don't want to hear. That's when we'll know how "trusting" an organization it really is.

...is from The Godfather, with Kate looking down the hallway at Michael as the door closes and she realizes that nothing has changed.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:38 PM


Fact check: Would Obama's tax rates be less than Reagan's ? (CNN, 10/24/08)

[Brian Deese, deputy economic policy director of the Obama campaign] said the campaign projects that under Obama a median-income family of four will pay an annual effective income tax rate of 4.32 percent. That number, Deese said, comes from the campaign's calculations based on projections in the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center's analysis of the candidates' tax plans.

According to Tax Policy Center historical data, a rate of 4.32 would be lower than during the Reagan years, when average rates for a median-income family of four ranged from 11.79 in 1981 to 9.30 in 1988. By comparison, rates during the Bush administration have ranged from 6.71 percent in 2001 to 5.91 last year. [...]

Deese also cites Obama's proposed capital gains rate of 20 percent for families earning over $250,000. That would be lower than the 28 percent capital gains rate Reagan signed into law in 1986. Currently the top capital gains rate for taxpayers in that income group is 15 percent, according to Williams of the Tax Policy Center. [...]

The Verdict: Misleading. While Obama says that his tax rates will be lower than under Reagan, according to his economic adviser he is referring to specific rates out of the many rates in the tax system. Also, it is not clear how many taxpayers would qualify for the lowest projected income tax rates.

...is the fact that it s W who has set the minimalist tax bar, not the Gipper, but a Democrat can hardly credit the former.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:37 PM


Is Richard Dawkins still evolving? (Melanie Phillips, 23rd October 2008, The Spectator)

On Tuesday evening I attended the debate between Richard Dawkins and John Lennox at Oxford’s Natural History Museum. This was the second public encounter between the two men, but it turned out to be very different from the first. Lennox is the Oxford mathematics professor whose book, God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? is to my mind an excoriating demolition of Dawkins’s overreach from biology into religion as expressed in his book The God Delusion -- all the more devastating because Lennox attacks him on the basis of science itself. In the first debate, which can be seen on video on this website, Dawkins was badly caught off-balance by Lennox’s argument precisely because, possibly for the first time, he was being challenged on his own chosen scientific ground.

This week’s debate, however, was different because from the off Dawkins moved it onto safer territory– and at the very beginning made a most startling admission. He said:

A serious case could be made for a deistic God.

This was surely remarkable. Here was the arch-apostle of atheism, whose whole case is based on the assertion that believing in a creator of the universe is no different from believing in fairies at the bottom of the garden, saying that a serious case can be made for the idea that the universe was brought into being by some kind of purposeful force. A creator. True, he was not saying he was now a deist; on the contrary, he still didn't believe in such a purposeful founding intelligence, and he was certainly still saying that belief in the personal God of the Bible was just like believing in fairies. Nevertheless, to acknowledge that ‘a serious case could be made for a deistic god’ is to undermine his previous categorical assertion that

...all life, all intelligence, all creativity and all ‘design’ anywhere in the universe is the direct or indirect product of Darwinian natural selection...Design cannot precede evolution and therefore cannot underlie the universe.

In Oxford on Tuesday night, however, virtually the first thing he said was that a serious case could be made for believing that it could.

Anthony Flew, the celebrated philosopher and former high priest of atheism, spectacularly changed his mind and concluded -- as set out in his book There Is A God -- that life had indeed been created by a governing and purposeful intelligence, a change of mind that occurred because he followed where the scientific evidence led him. The conversion of Flew, whose book contains a cutting critique of Dawkins’s thinking, has been dismissed with unbridled scorn by Dawkins – who now says there is a serious case for the position that Flew now adopts!

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:52 AM


To Know Her Is To Respect Her: The great Palin divide. (Fred Barnes, 11/03/2008, Weekly Standard)

Lorne Michaels is the longtime executive producer of Saturday Night Live. Sarah Palin appeared on SNL in mid-October, after which Michaels noted, "Her politics aren't my politics." But that wasn't all he said. "I think Palin will continue to be underestimated," Michaels told EW.com. "I watched the way she connected with people, and you can see that she's a very powerful, very disciplined, incredibly gracious woman. This was her first time out and she's had a huge impact. People connect to her."

Randy Ruedrich, the Republican chairman in Alaska, is someone you might suspect would be a friend and ally of Palin. He isn't. She helped drive him off the state's Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, criticized him publicly, and later tried to get him ousted as party chairman. Ruedrich is part of the "body count" of male politicians Palin left behind as she rose to become governor of Alaska. Yet Ruedrich says Palin is smart, very capable, and a political star.

Ruedrich isn't alone among Alaska politicians who take a cold-blooded view of Palin. Another Republican who has followed her career closely believes Palin has a ruthless streak. Yet this person, too, regards Palin as a rare talent with the skill and self-confidence to be a national political leader. And Palin's Alaska acquaintances were certain, from the moment she became John McCain's vice presidential running mate, that her acceptance speech would be a smashing success and she'd have little trouble in her debate with Joe Biden. Turned out they were right.

The Beltway Right has trouble grasping that the candidate who connects with people beats the one who connects with them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:59 AM


NAFTA wisdom: Mexico has offered the U.S. an opportunity to hold it to its word on labor, trade and immigration. (Houston Chronicle, Oct. 23, 2008)

The nation's 44th president will be welcomed to the Oval Office by a willing and able partner in Mexico. But that country's leadership will also greet the new commander in chief with a blunt message on trade and, by inference, immigration: Don't mess with NAFTA.

The Mexicans deserve a careful hearing on this; NAFTA merits a less cavalier and more focused approach than generally shown on the presidential campaign trail. Despite the sniping of critics on both the left and right, NAFTA has brought proven benefits across North America.

Renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement on short notice would throw a "monkey wrench" into North America's economic works, Arturo Sarukhan, Mexico's ambassador to Washington, told the Chronicle editorial board on a Houston visit Tuesday. Sarukhan also expressed skepticism that immigration would be solved in the first 100 days of a new U.S. administration but voiced hope that a grand bargain could be retooled as soon as the second year. He called on the two countries to "play chess rather than checkers" and to think strategically on trade and immigration.

How about just not playing the dozens?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:54 AM


McCain, Obama agree on immigration (Dave Montgomery, 10/23/08, MCCLATCHY NEWSPAPERS)

Earlier this month, the Pew Center estimated the undocumented population at 11.9 million. From 2000 to 2004, approximately 800,000 illegal immigrants a year crossed the U.S.-Mexican border in search of work, but over the past three years, the average has fallen to 500,000 a year, Pew reported.

McCain and Obama appear to be in basic agreement on the most controversial aspect of immigration. Both advocate a path to citizenship for those in the country illegally, with conditions. Those who qualify, however, would have to go to the "back of the line" behind other applicants for legal residency.

Obama would require undocumented immigrants to pay a fine and learn English. McCain would impose those requirements too, and he thinks that illegal immigrants should pay back taxes and pass a citizenship course.

Until the onset of the 2008 presidential race, McCain won accolades among pro-immigrant groups for the McCain-Kennedy bill and his support of Bush's initiatives. But some pro-immigration leaders are taking a second look after McCain, as a candidate, retooled his immigration strategy to insist on securing the U.S. borders before moving forward with legalization and other aspects of immigration reform.

...is certainly the 12 million new American citizens.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:41 AM


McCain's Private Visit With Chilean Dictator Pinochet Revealed For First Time (John Dinges, 10/24/08, Huffington Post)

John McCain, who has harshly criticized the idea of sitting down with dictators without pre-conditions, appears to have done just that. In 1985, McCain traveled to Chile for a friendly meeting with Chile's military ruler, General Augusto Pinochet, one of the world's most notorious violators of human rights credited with killing more than 3,000 civilians and jailing tens of thousands of others.

The private meeting between McCain and dictator Pinochet has gone previously un-reported anywhere.

According to a declassified U.S. Embassy cable secured by The Huffington Post, McCain described the meeting with Pinochet "as friendly and at times warm, but noted that Pinochet does seem obsessed with the threat of communism."

...has Mr. Dinges still not read Dictatorships and Double Standards? Here's a handy guide to the difference between William Ayers and Augusto Pinochet: the Left has to publicly disavow what Ayers did while the Right is proud of what the General did, save Chile from communism and make it a thriving democracy.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:25 AM


Questions for Christopher Buckley: The Right Stuff (Interview by DEBORAH SOLOMON, October 23, 2008, NY Times)

What would your father, who died at his desk, in Stamford, Conn., in February, have made of all this?

It’s very tricky to try to channel one’s dad’s ghost. Look what happened to Hamlet. But I think he would have been appalled by the Palin nomination, frankly. I don’t think he would have viewed her as presidential material.

He's not necessarily wrong, but his father and uncle basically invented Barry Goldwater who was viewed nearly identically to Governor Palin by other urban elites. All that's changed is that the family became part of the Eastern Establishment it used to loathe.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:20 AM


A Turn in the Housing Market? (Dennis Byrne, 10/24/08, Real Clear Politics)

Is it possible that the housing market has turned?

Blamed for just about everything bad that has happened recently to the economy, housing sales, I dare say, are showing signs of picking up. At the risk of being considered a lunatic, I say this for reasons of systematically gathered data, personal experience and common sense.

First the data, which hasn't and won't get as much attention they deserve, considering the fact that everyone has been blaming the dismal housing market for as far back as recent memory can take us. The good news is that the National Association of Realtors said sales of existing-home sales--including single-family, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops--for September jumped 5.5 percent higher over the previous month. They are1.4 percent higher than September 2007. That's the first time that sales have risen compared to a year earlier since November 2005.

Could this be a turnaround? Let's look at another NAR measure: its "pending sales of existing homes" index most forward-looking barometer of residential sales because it records a sale when a contract is signed, rather than at closing, which can be months later. In August, the latest month available, it rose 7.4 percent over July. More significantly, that's 8.8 percent higher over August 2007. These are the kinds of numbers that should be on the front page over every newspaper in the country--but they weren't.

Just another indicator of how easy the next president has it economically.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:39 AM


Point of No Return: Will we vote for the same soothing siren song as our enervated allies? (Mark Steyn, 10/25/08, National Review)

“People of the world,” declared Senator Obama sonorously at his self-worship service in Germany, “look at Berlin, where a wall came down, a continent came together, and history proved that there is no challenge too great for a world that stands as one.”

No, sorry. History proved no such thing. In the Cold War, the world did not stand as one. One half of Europe was a prison, and in the other half far too many people — the Barack Obamas of the day — were happy to go along with that division in perpetuity. And the wall came down not because “the world stood as one” but because a few courageous people stood against the conventional wisdom of the day. Had Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan been like Helmut Schmidt and Francois Mitterand and Pierre Trudeau and Jimmy Carter, the Soviet empire (notwithstanding its own incompetence) would have survived and the wall would still be standing. Senator Obama’s feeble passivity will get you a big round of applause precisely because it’s the easy option: Do nothing but hold hands and sing the easy listening anthems of one-worldism, and the planet will heal.

To govern is to choose. And sometimes the choices are tough ones. When has Barack Obama chosen to take a stand? When he got along to get along with the Chicago machine? When he sat for 20 years in the pews of an ugly neo-segregationist race-baiting grievance-monger? When he voted to deny the surviving “fetuses” of botched abortions medical treatment? When in his short time in national politics he racked up the most liberal – ie, the most doctrinaire, the most orthodox, the most reflex — voting record in the Senate? Or when, on those many occasions the questions got complex and required a choice, he dodged it and voted merely “present”?

The world rarely stands as one. You can, as Reagan and Thatcher did, stand up. Or, like Obama voting “present”, you can stand down.

Nobody denies that, in promoting himself from “community organizer” to the world’s President-designate in nothing flat, he has shown an amazing and impressively ruthless single-mindedness. But the path of personal glory has been, in terms of policy and philosophy, the path of least resistance.

Peggy Noonan thinks a President Obama will be like the dog who chases the car and finally catches it: Now what? I think Obama will be content to be King Barack the Benign, Spreader of Wealth and Healer of Planets. His rise is, in many ways, testament to the persistence of the monarchical urge even in a two-century old republic. So the “Now what?” questions will be answered by others, beginning with the liberal supermajority in Congress. And as he has done all his life he will take the path of least resistance.

There's a really funny story this week about just how much of a figurehead even his own party expects the Unicorn Rider to be, Kennedy working on healthcare initiative (UPI, 10/24/08)
U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., has been working from his sick bed with lobbyists and lawmakers to craft a bipartisan healthcare package, aides said

Kennedy's goal is to introduce a universal healthcare bill as soon as the new Congress convenes next year and push for a quick passage, The Washington Times reported Friday. [...]

"Senator Kennedy has spent the last several weeks laying the groundwork for reform so that we can be ready to go in 2009," Coley told the Times. "This is and has been the cause of Senator Kennedy's life."

Among lawmakers receptive to a bipartisan plan and who have been involved in initial talks is Sen. Michael B. Enzi, R-Wyo., the ranking Republican on the Senate Health Committee chaired by Kennedy.

The meetings offer "testament to how people feel about" Kennedy, Enzi spokesman Michael Mahaffey said.

It's more a testament to how they feel about the guy they assume will be the next president: he's just there to sign stuff.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:31 AM


Interview with Sarah Palin: Immigration, latino vote, Irak, Obama... (Jorge Ramos, 22 de Octubre de 2008, Univision Online)


Do you think they all should be deported?

There is no way that in the US we would roundup every illegal immigrant -there are about 12 million of the illegal immigrants- not only economically is that just an impossibility but that's not a humane way anyway to deal with the issue that we face with illegal immigration.

Do you then favor an amnesty for the 12 or 13 million undocumented immigrants?

No, I do not. I do not. Not total amnesty. You know, people have got to follow the rules. They've got to follow the bar, and we have got to make sure that there is equal opportunity and those who are here legally should be first in line for services being provided and those opportunities that this great country provides.

To clarify, so you support a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants?

I do because I understand why people would want to be in America. To seek the safety and prosperity, the opportunities, the health that is here. It is so important that yes, people follow the rules so that people can be treated equally and fairly in this country.

That's the position of the vast majority of the American people, including Republicans, just not of conservative activists. It's why Love thy Neighbor politicians scare the beejeebies out of them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:21 AM


Palin allies report rising campaign tension (Ben Smith, October 25, 2008, Politico)

Four Republicans close to Palin said she has decided increasingly to disregard the advice of the former Bush aides tasked to handle her, creating occasionally tense situations as she travels the country with them. Those Palin supporters, inside the campaign and out, said Palin blames her handlers for a botched rollout and a tarnished public image — even as others in McCain's camp blame the pick of the relatively inexperienced Alaska governor, and her public performance, for McCain's decline.

"She's lost confidence in most of the people on the plane," said a senior Republican who speaks to Palin, referring to her campaign jet. He said Palin had begun to "go rogue" in some of her public pronouncements and decisions.

"I think she'd like to go more rogue," he said. [...]

Palin's "instincts," on display in recent days, have had her opening up to the media, including a round of interviews on talk radio, cable, and broadcast outlets, and chats with her traveling press and local reporters.

Reporters really began to notice the change last Sunday, when Palin strolled over to a local television crew in Colorado Springs.

"Get Tracey," a staffer called out, according to the New York Times, summoning spokeswoman Tracey Schmitt, who reportedly "tried several times to cut it off with a terse 'Thank you!' in between questions, to no avail." The moment may have caused ulcers in some precincts of the McCain campaign, but it was an account Palin's admirers in Washington D.C. cheered.

Palin had also sought to give meatier policy speeches, in particular on energy policy and on policy for children with disabilities; she finally gave the latter speech Friday, but had wanted to deliver it much earlier.

She's also begun to make her own ad hoc calls about the campaign's direction and the ticket's policy. McCain, for instance, has remained silent on Democrats' calls for a stimulus package of new spending, a move many conservatives oppose, but which could be broadly popular. But in an interview with the conservative radio host Glenn Beck earlier this week, Palin went "off the reservation" to make the campaign policy, one aide said.

"I say, you know, when is enough enough of taxpayer dollars being thrown into this bill out there?" she asked. "This next one of the Democrats being proposed should be very, very concerning to all Americans because to me it sends a message that $700 billion bailout, maybe that was just the tip of the iceberg. No, you know, we were told when we've got to be believing if we have enough elected officials who are going to be standing strong on fiscal conservative principles and free enterprise and we have to believe that there are enough of those elected officials to say, no, okay, that's enough."

She's a governor, not a mere legislator.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:16 AM


"High School Musical 3": Stop rolling your eyes -- the latest fluffy movie in Disney's powerhouse franchise is a total kick. (Stephanie Zacharek, 10/24/08, Salon)

[T]his is a movie that offers simple, buouyant pleasures. The director is Kenny Ortega, a longtime choreographer ("Dirty Dancing" is among his credits) and the director of the unjustly maligned 1992 Disney musical "Newsies," an enjoyable little picture that never had a chance. (The fact that a corporate entity like Disney would even make a pro-labor musical is interesting by itself.) The songs in "HSM 3" may not be particularly memorable, but I wouldn't say they're any worse than the faux-rock toodling of "Rent." And in staging the splashy, effervescent musical numbers, Ortega borrows, joyfully, from a wealth of references, taking bits and pieces from Busby Berkeley and from Bob Fosse, from "West Side Story" and from "Saturday Night Fever."

In fact, the overall vibe of "HSM 3" isn't so far off from the "Let's put on a show!" boisterousness of the old Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland musicals. Since when shouldn't it be fun to spend 90 minutes or so watching good-looking young people, singing and dancing relatively well? I had fun at "High School Musical 3" partly because I got such a kick out of the audience, which consisted largely of preteen girls. Most of my friends who are parents lament that their kids are growing up too fast, that they're no longer allowed to have a childhood, and in general, I can see that it's true: There's no shortage of 11-year-old girls out there who've already donned the uniform of low-rise jeans and belly-baring tops. But in one scene, when Efron peeled off his shirt to reveal a perfect V-shaped torso (we get only the back view -- no nipples!), a number of little girls scattered through the audience giggled with embarrassment. In their innocence -- there was nothing knowing or salacious about their laughter -- they were just so, well, cute. No matter how allegedly sophisticated our preteeners may be, if they can still giggle at the sight of a boy's naked back, perhaps all is not lost.

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October 24, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:57 PM


(8) Kramnik,Vladimir - Anand,Vishwanathan (FIDE World Chess Championship Bonn, Germany (8), 24.10.2008)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 PM


Pak uses tribals to fight Taliban (Jane Perlez & Pir Zubair, 10/24/08, Times of India)

Two tribal elders lay stretched out in an orthopedic ward here last week, their plastered limbs and winces of pain grim evidence of the slaughter they survived when a suicide bomber blew himself up in the midst of their tribal gathering.

These wounded men, and many others in the hospital, were supposed to be the backbone of a Pakistani government effort to take on the Taliban, and its backers, al-Qaida, with armies of traditional tribesmen working in consultation with the Pakistani military.

The tribal militias, known as lashkars, have quickly become a crucial tool of Pakistan’s strategy in the tribal belt, where the army has been fighting the Taliban for more than two months in what army generals acknowledge is a tougher and more protracted slog than they had anticipated. And, indeed, the lashkars’ early efforts have been far from promising.

As the strength of the militants in the tribal areas grows, and as the war across the border in Afghanistan worsens, the Pakistanis are casting about for new tactics. The emergence of the lashkars is a sign of the tribesmen’s rising frustration with the ruthlessness of the Taliban, but also of their traditional desire to run their own affairs and keep the Pakistani army at bay, Pakistani officers and law enforcement officials say.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:28 PM


Polls: White support for Obama at historic level (DAVID PAUL KUHN, 10/24/08, Politico)

Barack Obama, the first black major party nominee, is positioned to win the largest share of white voters of any Democrat in more than three decades, according to an exclusive Politico analysis of recent Gallup and Pew Research Center polling.

The most recent two weeks of Gallup polling, which includes roughly 13,000 interviews, show 44 percent of non-Hispanic white voters presently support Obama — the highest number for a Democrat since 47 percent of whites backed Jimmy Carter in 1976.

We'll have to see that to believe it even if John McCain never runs a Reverend Wright ad.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:39 PM


'Earth's core is cooling off' (Times of India, 25 Oct 2008)

Scientists have discovered new evidence that the earth’s interior has cooled considerably over the last three billion years, a finding that leads to questions whether plate movement is only a relatively recent phenomenon.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:30 PM


When history spanks: Where were you when that incredible thing happened? How will you respond? (Mark Morford, October 24, 2008, SF Chronicle)

You really only get a handful, a smattering, maybe three or four per lifetime if you're lucky or blessed or just so happen to be paying the right kind of deeper karmic attention.

Historic events, I mean. Major shifts, upheavals, great leaps forward, the Thing That Changed Everything.

Do you notice? Do you care? When history walks up and slaps you upside the head with a megadose of human drama wrapped in shiny evolutionary paper, do you do anything about it? Offer thanks? Hold a ceremony? Join in?

Do you, at the very least, pause in your day and take a deep breath and say oh my God, would you look at that, the world is shifting right this very moment like I've never experienced before, and I can feel it rumbling beneath my feet hang on hang on oh holy hell hang on?

I'm here to suggest: Maybe you should.

Right now is a prime example. Right now might be a good time to pause and step back for a moment, blink a few times as you note how the momentous event that is this very election just so happens to be of the very kind that can change the timbre and tone not merely of our flawed and broken nation, but the entire planet. Such is the attention, such is the energetic reach. Rare and precious indeed.

To say it outright: I think President Obama will be just such a shift, an extraordinary marker, a type and flavor of history that we as preternaturally jaded humans rarely get to experience anymore.

They haven't been this excited since the Camelot disaster.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:05 PM

THE ELITE VS THE DEVOUT (via Kevin Whited):

Civil War on the Right (E. J. Dionne Jr., October 24, 2008, Washington Post)

For years, many of the elite conservatives were happy to harvest the votes of devout Christians and gun owners by waging a phony class war against "liberal elitists" and "leftist intellectuals." Suddenly, the conservative writers are discovering that the very anti-intellectualism their side courted and encouraged has begun to consume their movement.

The cause of Edmund Burke, Leo Strauss, Robert Nisbet and William F. Buckley Jr. is now in the hands of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity -- and Sarah Palin. Reason has been overwhelmed by propaganda, ideas by slogans, learned manifestoes by direct-mail hit pieces.

And then there is George W. Bush.

One doesn't look to Mr. Dionne for insight about much of anything, least of all conservatism, but you'd think even he'd recognize that what he's describing here are Rationalist intellectuals who don't believe in conservative principles, but were willing to latch on to the religious party when it served their purposes (pretty much the essential teaching of Leo Strauss). That's why they consistently back the most secular candidate in the Republican primaries--who always loses--and why they're always uncomfortable with the eventual nominee, who is routinely a social conservative.

In this election they just happen to be more at odds with the vice presidential pick--who is more devout--than the presidential and they're dong their best to make sure she doesn't get the nod in 2012.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:05 PM

THE ONE, UNPLUGGED (via Thomas Crown):

Barack Obama on Dreams From My Father (Eye on Books)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:47 AM


Placebos don't make ethicists feel better: A survey of U.S. doctors finding wide use of dummy pills makes some uneasy with the deception. (Maria Cheng, October 24, 2008, LA Times)

About half of American doctors in a new survey say they regularly give patients placebo treatments -- usually drugs or vitamins that won't really help their conditions.

And many of the doctors are not honest with their patients about what they are doing, the survey found.

That contradicts advice from the American Medical Assn., which recommends that doctors use treatments with the full knowledge of their patients.

"It's a disturbing finding," said Franklin G. Miller, director of the research ethics program at the National Institutes of Health and one of the study authors. "There is an element of deception here which is contrary to the principle of informed consent."

...people are healthier than they've ever been, but demand diagnoses of and treatments for their non-existent "ailments" from doctors, who then give them a fake cure for the phony ill and everyone's happy. But the patients, who refused to accept that the were fine to begin with, will accept it when they're told the pill is just to shut them up? Color us dubious.

How about just restoring market principles and making patients pay for the medications they demand? That'll cut the problem drastically.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:36 AM


Oil falls despite OPEC move to cut output (Associated Press, October 24, 2008)

OPEC said at an emergency meeting today that it will slash oil production by 1.5 million barrels to stem the "dramatic collapse" of oil prices, but crude prices plunged 5 percent anyway as financial markets spiraled downward across the globe.

Demand for crude has evaporated and the supply levers held by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries appear to have little influence in the current economic climate.

When oil was being bid up it rose irrespective of the news. Now the speculators are bailing it is falling irrespective. We have plenty--the rest is just psychology.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:24 AM


Oprah 'to be U.S. ambassador to Britain if Obama wins election' (Daily Mail, 23rd October 2008)

Talk show queen Oprah Winfrey could be appointed as U.S. ambassador to Britain, according to rumours stoked by a former senior British diplomat. [...]

Many commentators have suggested that a more likely candidate for ambassador to Britain would be Caroline Kennedy, the only surviving child of assassinated US president John F Kennedy.

You'd think Ms Winfrey would be more useful in a country that could use more attention, like Afghanistan.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:44 AM


Blame game: GOP forms circular firing squad (JONATHAN MARTIN & MIKE ALLEN & JOHN F. HARRIS, 10/23/08, Politico)

With despair rising even among many of John McCain’s own advisors, influential Republicans inside and outside his campaign are engaged in an intense round of blame-casting and rear-covering—-much of it virtually conceding that an Election Day rout is likely.

A McCain interview published Thursday in the Washington Times sparked the latest and most nasty round of Washington finger-pointing, with senior GOP hands close to President Bush and top congressional aides denouncing the candidate for what they said was an unfocused message and poorly executed campaign.

From whence derives the bizarre notion that a candidate can help himself by helping the opposition tear down the leader(s) of his own party.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:15 AM


...but Hulu has the first episode of 30 Rock's third season available a week before it's on the network:

October 23, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:14 PM


Thought of Taleban deal alarms jihadists (Frank Gardner, 10/24/08, BBC)

There is a growing fear among some hardline supporters of al-Qaeda that talk of an eventual peace deal between the Taleban and the Afghan government could lead one day to al-Qaeda losing its foothold in the region. [...]

In the shadowy world of extremist internet forums, even talks about talks are enough to provoke alarm in some quarters.

Are the Taleban preparing to sell out their old allies, al-Qaeda, as the price for getting back into government?

Which is why the jihadi prefer Mr. Obama to Mr. McCain.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:11 PM


McCain's Hero: More Socialist Than Obama!: McCain can call Obama a socialist or he can call Teddy Roosevelt his hero. He can't do both. (Timothy Noah, Oct. 23, 2008, Slate)

When T.R. spoke of "swollen fortunes" and "malefactors of great wealth," socialism was a genuine force in American politics, perceived by many to pose a serious threat to the social order. When T.R. first called for a "graduated income tax" in his 1907 State of the Union, he was proposing a measure that the Supreme Court had ruled unconstitutional. Indeed, the federal income tax struck down by the Court wasn't even "graduated," or progressive; it was a flat-rate tax. Today, McCain demagogically attacks Obama's purported "socialism" knowing that socialism is a dead letter in the United States. He feigns shock at progressive taxation ("confiscate wealth") nearly a century after the states ratified the 16th Amendment, enabling Congress to enact a progressive income tax, and nearly a decade after he himself scolded a town-hall questioner on MSNBC's Hardball who cried "socialism" about the rich having to pay a greater percentage of their income in taxes. "Here's what I really believe," McCain said. "When you are—reach a certain level of comfort, there's nothing wrong with paying somewhat more."

In his book The Great Tax Wars, Steven Weisman, formerly of the New York Times, writes that T.R.'s previous experience as police commissioner of New York City made him worry "about anarchy arising from gross economic inequality." Today, the income gap between the top 0.01 percent of families in the United States and the bottom 90 percent is greater than it was in T.R.'s day. The last time it was anywhere near so great was in 1929. The top marginal income-tax rate, meanwhile, is near its historic low in the late 1920s. Those of you seeking a cause to the current financial meltdown may draw your own conclusions. (For more on taxes and historic patterns of inequality in the United States, click here.)

T.R., of course, was no socialist. Indeed, his purpose was largely to prevent socialists from coming to power. But the trust buster got called a socialist a lot more often than Obama ever will.

Nor was he satisfied with just being a paternalist--in the mold of Bismarck or Churchill--by challenging Taft he gave us the disastrous Woodrow Wilson. He oughtn't be any Republican's hero.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:39 PM


Report: Brady has more surgery to fight infection (AP, October 23, 2008)

Brady confirmed for the first time Saturday that he'd undergone two operations on his injured left knee. The Herald, citing an unnamed source familiar with his treatment, said he's had two more since then because of infection.

If the infection is not brought under control, the Herald reports, the patellar tendon graft used to replace Brady's anterior cruciate ligament could become compromised. If that happens, Brady could need to redo the surgery -- likely delaying his rehabilitation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:51 PM


Poll: Voters Against Obama 'Wealth Redistribution' Plan (CNBC.com, 23 Oct 2008)

ATI-News/Zogby asked likely voters: “John McCain and other critics say Barack Obama is heavily influenced by people and organizations which seek social justice through redistribution of wealth in America. Do you agree or disagree with efforts to bring social justice by the redistribution of wealth?”

By a more than two-to-one margin, undecided voters disagree with such efforts to redistribute wealth. In total, 57 percent of undecided voters said they disagreed, while only 24 percent said they agreed (19 percent are not sure).

A majority (52 percent) of self-identified Independent voters also disagree with efforts to bring social justice through wealth redistribution. Only 39 percent of Independents agree (10 percent are not sure).

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:18 PM


UNH study: Hispanics make up half of US growth (AP, 10/23/08)

The study from the Carsey Institute says "natural increase'" meaning more births than deaths, is now the major reason for the growth, replacing immigration. [...]

The report said Hispanics are a major source of growth in rural America, accounting for 45.5 percent of population growth between 2000 and 2005. For many rural communities, Hispanic gains represent the first population growth in decades.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:34 PM


Questions over health of Iranian president: A string of cancelled events has sparked rumours Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will be prevented from seeking re-election (Robert Tait, 10/23/08, guardian.co.uk)

The reports will be a blow to the pride of a leader who revels in his energetic style and is known for micro-managing government affairs.

They come at a time when Ahmadinejad is wrestling with acute political problems including near 30% inflation, rising unemployment, plummeting global oil prices, a market trader strike over plans to impose VAT and demands for the resignation of his interior minister, Ali Kordan, for falsely telling MPs he had an Oxford University degree.

More worrying is that the rumours appear to have given Ahmadinejad's critics a new stick to beat him with. Fellow hardliners in Iran's so-called principalist, or fundamentalist, camp are calling for the president to withdraw from the forthcoming presidential election unless doubts over his health are cleared up.

Issa Saharkhiz, an Iranian political analyst, said the reports could have been fanned by opponents, including the Tehran mayor, Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, who are preparing to run against the president. "I'm not sure if these health problems are permanent or just a result of tiredness," Saharkhiz told the Guardian. "But some groups, mainly moderate conservatives, may be thinking that they have found a political solution for eliminating him from the nomination for the elections."

Thanks, Ayatollah Khamenei.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:51 PM


Gallup Daily: Obama Has Modest Lead Among Likely Voters (Gallup, 10/23/08)

Gallup Poll Daily tracking shows Barack Obama running ahead of John McCain among likely voters -- 50% to 46% using the "traditional" model Gallup has employed in past elections, and 51% to 45% using an "expanded" model that takes into account possibly greater turnout by new or infrequent voters.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:15 PM


...the Senator from Illinois seems more the "man with the umbrella."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:08 AM


Improvisation and Encores in a Search for Don Quixote (JAMES R. OESTREICH, 10/23/08, NY Times)

It is a commonplace in early-music lore that given the remoteness and sketchiness of most of the documentary sources, aspects of any performance are necessarily conjectural. But that educated guesswork is always a matter of degrees, and since scores for obscure repertory are hard to come by, it is often difficult for listeners to determine its extent. So the encore the Spanish viola da gamba virtuoso Jordi Savall, La Capella Reial de Catalunya and Hespèrion XXI appended to their splendid concert at the Rose Theater on Monday evening was a gift to old hands as well as to novices.

The program, which opened the season of Great Performers at Lincoln Center and its series New Visions: The Literary Muse, was basically a distillation of the luxurious 2005 Alia Vox album “Don Quijote de la Mancha: Romances y Músicas.” It related episodes from Cervantes’s “Don Quixote” through Spanish music of the 16th and 17th centuries fitted out with texts, and through spoken readings, rendered here by F. Murray Abraham.

The encore was the number that closed the first half, the “Ballad of Count Claros of Montalban,” attributed to Francisco Salinas. But as Mr. Savall explained before the reprise, all that had been known of the music was a sequence of four notes cited in a reference. From that germ Mr. Savall and company have created a wildly imaginative and richly textured set of variations running some eight minutes.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:55 AM


Republicans 'considering' Sarah Palin 2012 presidential campaign: Republicans bracing themselves for defeat on Nov 4 are already contemplating the prospect of Sarah Palin becoming their presidential candidate against a President Barack Obama in 2012. (Toby Harnden, 23 Oct 2008, Daily Telegraph)

"Sarah's the one," said one leading conservative who is convinced Mr McCain will lose this election. "The party is broken and only she can fix it. We need someone who comes from outside Washington and relates to the aspirations of ordinary Americans."

Mrs Palin appears to be subtly distancing herself from Mr McCain and positioning herself for a presidential run in her own right, much as John Edwards did in 2004 as John Kerry's Democratic vice-presidential running mate.

She has repeatedly stated, often on conservative talk radio, that she would be more aggressive in making the case against Mr Obama while at the same time distancing herself from campaign tactics such as automated telephone calls.

The Alaska governor, a heroine of the Religious Right for her uncompromising stance on abortion – even in cases of rape, she believes abortion should be outlawed – recently said that unlike Mr McCain she supported a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

Mrs Palin has also contradicted Mr McCain on policy towards Pakistan, over drilling for oil in Alaska and on de-listing North Korea as a terrorist state. While some believe these are merely gaffes illustrating her uncertainty over policy, others fear she is deliberately undermining the Republican nominee.

She has also made clear she was unhappy with the way she has been "handled" by the McCain campaign, which kept her out of the media spotlight until it felt she was ready and then arranged a series of interviews with network anchors that turned into disasters.

There's a reason we elect governors, not senators. The neophyte is the only one of the four candidates who gets the country.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:39 AM


Rove: Doubts About Obama Are Real (Connie Hair, 10/23/2008, Human Events)

Rove said, “I can’t give you any good news but the news that there is: we’ve got a chance. The reason we have a chance is the consistent deep concern on the part of the American people about whether or not Barack Obama is qualified and experienced enough to be President of the United States.”

He went on from there, giving perspective on the historical progression of polling in the race on Obama’s “unqualifieds” -- the percentage of people who do not think that Obama is qualified to be president. Rove said, “The only person who has had higher unqualified numbers at this point of his [presidential] campaign was Michael Dukakis in October of 1988. I’m not going to suggest that McCain-Palin is going to take 40 states like the first Bush did in 1988, but it is a sign of difficulty.”

Rove continued, “They’ve [McCain-Palin] got the last 13 days to make the case to the American people that the doubts they have about this smart, ambitious, charming, charismatic young guy -- the doubts they have are real. He’s not ready for the job. … Democrats are desperately trying to create the sense that this is over, it’s done. Everybody else has made your decision for you, but I don’t think that’s the case. People are paying too much attention to this race, and they’re giving one last hard look at this guy.”

Which is why this is the moment for the Reverend Wright to appear in GOP ads.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:49 AM


Cuban exile's inspiring encore: Bebo Valdes, 90, a top pianist and bandleader during Havana's golden age of music, basks in the glory of his unlikely comeback. (Sebastian Rotella, October 23, 2008, LA Times)

In black-and-white photos from the 1950s, Dionisio Ramon Emilio "Bebo" Valdes has the sleek look of a Cuban Duke Ellington: pencil mustache, wide-shouldered suits. They called him Caballon, or big horse, because he was tall and dashing and the premier pianist, bandleader, arranger and composer in Havana.

Today, he's stooped and thinner. He drags his feet a bit. But he still has a towering presence, warm gray eyes and a gentlemanly, gregarious smile.

A conversation with Valdes is a voyage through the marvelous spectrum of music that has forged him: from Madrid to Harlem; from Debussy to Rachmaninoff; from Ernesto Lecuona, another Cuban pianist, to Chano Pozo, the wild percussionist who electrified Havana's legendary Tropicana nightclub when Valdes reigned there as musical director.

"He is the last man standing of the golden age of Cuban music," says Nat Chediak, his Miami-based producer and friend. "There is no one else left. He is the last master from the golden age."

Valdes has experienced enough triumph, tribulation and redemption for three or four lives. The Cuban Revolution set him adrift on the tides of exile. He washed up on the icy shores of Stockholm. He married a Swedish woman and settled into sedate anonymity, working in hotel lounges as a background pianist. Even listeners who noticed the brilliance of his elegant, understated style didn't realize he was the living ghost of a legend.

-Bebo Valdes' Long Musical Journey (Felix Contreras, January 19, 2006, All Things Considered)

Valdes says he never expected to be doing this much at his age. He was content just playing piano in Sweden.

"If you are a musician, and you do one thing, you should enjoy what you do," he says. "This is my profession and it is my hobby. And I live in love with what I do. In those years in Stockholm, even if I wasn't successful, I did it because I liked it. And I would keep doing it until I die."

The long road from Havana to Stockholm to Grammy winner started in Cuba in 1925, when he was 7 years old. Valdes says he was mesmerized by a pianist accompanying a dance orchestra.

-TORRENT: Bebo Valdes & Javier Colina Live @ Village Vanguard

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:38 AM


Commodities plunge, roil world markets (Patrice Hill, October 23, 2008 , Washington Times)

"The oil crash hits oligarchs, dictators and Wall Street," said Martin Hutchinson, analyst at Breakingviews.com. "The price of oil has been cut in half from the peak, and could fall further. While U.S. consumers, Detroit's carmakers and airlines celebrate, there will be a raft of losers," he said, including "imprudent energy-fed regimes, alternative energy suppliers and Wall Street," where energy stocks such as Exxon Mobil and ConocoPhillips led the bull market that ended a year ago.

Commodity-rich nations that enjoyed booming demand for their exports of oil, wheat, soybeans and other staples also have met sudden calamity in the past three months as commodity prices fell precipitously from record highs reached in July. Strong growth in Brazil, Russia, Mexico, Chile and Argentina in recent years was tied to their robust exports of such raw materials. In some regimes, the abrupt reversal of fortunes is testing a shaky commitment to free markets and investors' rights.

...don't base your investments on the advice of Pop Malthus and Dr. Ehrlich.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:32 AM


Nafta-Plus: Canada looks to Europe in anticipation of Obama protectionism. (Wall Street Journal, 10/20/08)

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and President Nicolas Sarkozy of France signed an agreement Friday to begin negotiations for a free trade pact between Canada and the European Union. A Canada-EU study released last week outlines the joint economic benefits of such a partnership, with two-way trade estimated to increase 22.9% by 2014.

The proposed partnership goes a lot further than Nafta. In addition to allowing free trade in goods and services, it would harmonize regulations, open up the air-travel market, and boost opportunities in government-procurement. Most important, it would free the labor market so that skilled workers could move easily back and forth across the Atlantic.

You can understand why isolationist paleocons welcome the prospect of an Obama Administration--it's been thirty years since we had a president who everyone felt free to ignore.

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October 22, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:28 PM


McCain's path to victory through Pa. (CHARLES MAHTESIAN, 10/22/08, Politico)

Facing seemingly limited options for getting to an Electoral College majority, John McCain’s path to victory likely runs through Pennsylvania, a state that no Republican presidential candidate has won in two decades, a state in which he trails in the polls by a wide margin and a state where in the past year more than a half-million new Democrats have been added to the voter registration rolls.

It’s an unenviable position to be in, except for one thing: Nearly everyone in a position to know thinks the race for Pennsylvania’s 21 electoral votes is considerably tighter than what recent polls reveal. [...]

Even top Democrats concede that McCain’s deficit in the polls — 11 percentage points, according to the latest Real Clear Politics polling average — isn’t a solid indicator of his chances of carrying the state. On Tuesday, CNN reported that an anxious Rendell had sent two recent memos to the Obama campaign requesting that the Democratic nominee spend more time campaigning in Pennsylvania.

“The polls don’t necessarily reflect what will happen on Election Day,” said T.J. Rooney, the state Democratic Party chairman. “We’re not a state that’s accustomed to huge blowouts.”

Indeed, John F. Kerry carried Pennsylvania in 2004 by just 144,000 votes out of nearly 6 million votes cast. His win was powered, to a large degree, by an enormous 412,000-vote margin out of Philadelphia.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:03 PM


Jindal Makes a Political Power Play (Chris Cillizza, 10/22/08, Washington Post: The Fix)

On its face, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's decision to appear in an ad endorsing state Treasurer John Kennedy in his challenge to Sen. Mary Landrieu isn't that big a surprise.

After all, Jindal is the Republican governor of the state and Kennedy is his party's Senate nominee.

But, those familiar with Jindal's career -- marked almost entirely by a desire to avoid the appearance of partisanship -- see the endorsement as a sign of Jindal's long term ambitions, ambitions that could include a White House bid down the line.

They point out that this is the first race Jindal has waded into since becoming governor in 2007 (he took a pass on endorsing in any of the primary runoffs that year), and that by aggressively vouching for Kennedy he is putting his popularity and reformer brand to the test in a highly visible way.

Apropos the Tony Blankley piece below, the Zeus worshippers face a real problem in 2012, where the GOP frontrunners are all candidates of the Religious Right: Jeb Bush, Sarah Palin & Bobby. Who are they going to run? Mitt & Rudy again?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:00 PM


Sorting Out the Truth on Obama and ACORN (Angie Drobnic Holan, 10/22/08, Politifact.com)

The primary allegation against ACORN is that its voter registration drives result in many phony registrations. ACORN itself admits that some of its workers, in their attempts to meet registration goals, have turned in registration forms for people who do not exist or don’t live in the geographic area. (Notorious examples include Mickey Mouse and the starting lineup of the Dallas Cowboys.) ACORN says the problems are isolated, and that it works with officials to correct them. They claim to have registered 1.3-million people to vote, so a small number of irregularities are to be expected. (For more on ACORN and the controversy surrounding its voter registration drives, read the St. Petersburg Times story here.)

Several states are investigating the group’s voter registration efforts. McCain brought up ACORN at the candidates’ final debate on Oct. 15, 2008, saying that ACORN was “on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy.” The next day, press reports cited anonymous sources saying the Federal Bureau of Investigation was looking into the group, but ACORN said it had had no contact with federal investigators.

On Oct. 17, the Obama campaign blasted the leakers, saying it was evidence that law enforcement was in an “unholy alliance” with partisan political operatives to undermine public confidence in the voting process. The campaign released a letter it sent to Attorney General Michael Mukasey asking for an investigation. “Republican Party officials and operatives nationwide, including the candidates themselves, are formenting specious voter fraud allegations, and there are disturbing indications of official involvement or collusion,” wrote Robert Bauer, general counsel to the Obama campaign.

It’s unknown what the results of the ongoing investigations will be, but past investigations might give us some indication. In 2007 in King County, Wash., prosecutors filed charges against seven ACORN workers and reached a civil agreement with ACORN that the organization would monitor its workers more carefully.

“A joint federal and state investigation has determined that this scheme was not intended to permit illegal voting,” said King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg at the time. “Instead, the defendants cheated their employer, ACORN, to get paid for work they did not actually perform. ACORN’s lax oversight of their own voter registration drive permitted this to happen.”

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:19 PM


Conservatism reborn: Undoing the me-too generation (Tony Blankley, October 22, 2008 , Washington Times)

Has Miss Noonan been napping up there on Mount Olympus through the last several generations of American politics? She accuses Mrs. Palin of not engaging America in a Socratic dialogue, of using phrases untethered to a political philosophy. Exactly what philosophy are the slogans "Change" and "Hope" tethered to? American presidential campaigns, with very few exceptions, have been little more than slogans shouted in the hope of exciting a crowd. The much admired Obama campaign has been the greatest exemplar of style over substance. However, it is Miss Noonan's completely unsupported sneer at Mrs. Palin's mental capacities that is most revealing.

I think that Miss Noonan may have unconsciously touched on what is really going on here when she accuses Mrs. Palin - who is attracting crowds as big if not bigger than any Reagan ever drew - of being a "follower … not a leader." Miss Noonan's unconscious fear may be that it will be precisely Mrs. Palin (and others like her) who will be among the leaders of the about to be re-born conservative movement. I suspect that the conservative movement we start re-building on the ashes of November 4th (even if Mr. McCain wins) will have little use for over-written, over-delicate commentary.

The new movement will be plain spoken and social networked up from the internetted streets, suburbs and small towns of America. It certainly will not listen very attentively to those conservatives who idolatrize Mr. Obama and collaborate in heralding his arrival. They may call their commentary "honesty." I would call it - at the minimum - blindness.

You've got to have something to fill the hole in your soul.

Travels with Sarah: As Palin tours New Hampshire, signs of Biblical calling, talent on the stump, and a shot at 2012 (DAVID S. BERNSTEIN, October 22, 2008, Boston Phoenix)

The theory has been around since before John McCain picked Palin in late August — it was circulating on religious Christian blogs in early June when news outlets reported that she was on McCain’s short list. After the announcement, it picked up steam — particularly after it was reported that Palin, at the suggestion of her pastor, had, upon becoming governor of Alaska, patterned herself after Queen Esther.

Soon after the Republican National Convention, an e-mail went viral in conservative Christian circles, in which Pastor Mark Arnold claimed to have found himself next to Palin at a rally in his hometown of Lebanon, Ohio. According to the account, Arnold came face-to-face with Palin, and God spoke through him, telling the governor that “God wants you to know that you are a present-day Esther. . . . Keep your eyes on God and know that He has chosen you to reign!”

Palin, according to the account, immediately began to cry — as did her husband, Todd, when Arnold then repeated the news to him. Arnold also told McCain that the Palins are “called of God and she is an Esther.”

Esther, for those not up on their Old Testament, was a Jewish woman plucked from obscurity to become Queen of Persia after winning a beauty contest. This placed her in the right place, at the right time, to intervene in a plan to annihilate the Jews. In a nutshell, when she revealed herself to be Jewish, the king halted the slaughter and instead hanged Haman, the official behind the plot.

Jews recount the tale on Purim with much gaiety and, for most, little concern about historical accuracy.

Palin, of course, was a beauty-pageant participant (while McCain has oft commented that he “never won Miss Congeniality in the Senate,” Palin won that title in the 1984 Miss Alaska contest), now plucked from obscurity to be in a position to advise the powerful should John McCain become president.

The big question, of course, is for what vital role — what “time such as this” — is Palin being groomed?

One common theory among the Christian cognoscenti is that, just as Esther stopped a threat in Persia to wipe out the Jews, Palin must stop a threat from modern-day Persia — Iran — to wipe out Israel (which would be anathema to conservative Christians, who believe Jews must control that land when Christ returns).

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:15 PM


'Taxachusetts' No More? (Daniel J. Flynn, 10.22.08, Forbes)

Thanks to the tenacity of Carla Howell of the Committee for Small Government, voters may be able to eliminate Massachusetts's income levy through Question 1 of a ballot referendum. In 2002, a similar ballot question asking for the repeal of the income tax earned 45% support.

Today, with jobs and residents fleeing the economically limping Bay State, the political climate for eliminating the income tax is even more hospitable.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:56 PM


AP presidential poll: All even in the homestretch (LIZ SIDOTI, 10/22/08, Associated Press)

The presidential race tightened after the final debate, with John McCain gaining among whites and people earning less than $50,000, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll that shows McCain and Barack Obama essentially running even among likely voters in the election homestretch.

The poll, which found Obama at 44 percent and McCain at 43 percent, supports what some Republicans and Democrats privately have said in recent days: that the race narrowed after the third debate as GOP-leaning voters drifted home to their party and McCain's "Joe the plumber" analogy struck a chord.

...but not that Barack Obama will outperform Clinton/Gore/Kerry among core constituencies of the GOP.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:56 PM


Manmohan Singh-Bush lovefest again in November? Chidanand Rajghatta, 10/22/08, TNN)

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's sentimental goodbye to President Bush in the White House last month may have been a little premature. He - Manmohan Singh - is likely to be back at 1600, Pennsylvania Avenue, next month for a summit of world leaders that Bush is convening to discuss the economic crisis. [...]

While the summit itself is expected to take place on November 15 in the Washington DC area -- which could include retreats in Maryland or Virginia -- Bush will host a dinner at the White House the night before, officials said. That will give the opportunity to Singh, and other world leaders, to say their final goodbyes to Bush, and also possibly greet the President-elect, since the presidential polls would be over by then. The new president is typically sworn in on January 20, which is officially the Inauguration Day.

During his meeting with Bush in the White House on September 26, Prime Minister Singh told him that ''this may be my last visit to you during your presidency, and let me say, thank you very much.''

''The people of India deeply love you, and all that you have done to bring our two countries closer to each other,'' a sentimental Singh had said in remarks that were parsed endlessly by many commentators -- and ridiculed by some.

The relationship between America and India is the greatest achievement of both men, they can hardly be too effusive.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:47 PM


The Making (and Remaking) of McCain (ROBERT DRAPER, 10/25/08, Sunday's Times Magazine)

On the morning of Wednesday, Sept. 24, John McCain convened a meeting in his suite at the Hilton hotel in Midtown Manhattan. Among the handful of campaign officials in attendance were McCain’s chief campaign strategist, Steve Schmidt, and his other two top advisers: Rick Davis, the campaign manager; and Mark Salter, McCain’s longtime speechwriter. The senator’s ears were already throbbing with bad news from economic advisers and from House Republican leaders who had told him that only a small handful in their ranks were willing to support the $700 billion bailout of the banking industry proposed by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson. The meeting was to focus on how McCain should respond to the crisis — but also, as one participant later told me, “to try to see this as a big-picture, leadership thing.”

As this participant recalled: “We presented McCain with three options. Continue offering principles from afar. A middle ground of engaging while still campaigning. Then the third option, of going all in. The consensus was that we could stay out or go in — but that if we’re going in, we should go in all the way. So the thinking was, do you man up and try to affect the outcome, or do you hold it at arm’s length? And no, it was not an easy call.”

Discussion carried on into the afternoon at the Morgan Library and Museum as McCain prepared for the first presidential debate. Schmidt pushed for going all in: suspending the campaign, recommending that the first debate be postponed, parachuting into Washington and forging a legislative solution to the financial crisis for which McCain could then claim credit. Exactly how McCain could convincingly play a sober bipartisan problem-solver after spending the previous few weeks garbed as a populist truth teller was anything but clear. But Schmidt and others convinced McCain that it was worth the gamble.

Schmidt in particular was a believer in these kinds of defining moments. The smartest bit of political wisdom he ever heard was dispensed by George W. Bush one spring day at the White House residence in 2004, at a time when his re-election effort was not going especially well. The strategists at the meeting — including Schmidt, who was directing the Bush campaign’s rapid-response unit — fretted over their candidate’s sagging approval ratings and the grim headlines about the war in Iraq. Only Bush appeared thoroughly unworried. He explained to them why, polls notwithstanding, voters would ultimately prefer him over his opponent, John Kerry.

There’s an accidental genius to the way Americans pick a president, Schmidt remembers Bush saying that day. By the end of it all, a candidate’s true character is revealed to the American people.

Had Schmidt been working for his present client back in 2000, he might have disputed Bush’s premise. After all, in McCain’s first run for the presidency, “true character” was the one thing the Vietnam hero and campaign-finance-reform crusader seemed to have going for him eight years ago in the Republican primaries. Bush had everything else, and he buried McCain.

Mr. Draper misapprehends character, as George W. Bush does not. But, the totality of the piece will be familiar to anyone who's read What It Takes. John McCain's campaign suffers from all of the shortcomings that Bob Dole's did and for the same reason: legislators personally parse differences among competing interests and change directions willy-nilly as they negotiate. Executives lead and let others worry about the detail work.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:20 PM


Oil drops to 15-month low (Chris Stanton, October 22. 2008, The National)

Oil prices continued their retreat today, falling below US$70 a barrel for the second time in a week to a 15-month low despite widespread expectations that Opec will dramatically cut output at its emergency meeting in Vienna on Friday

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:16 PM


Haider's deputy reveals gay affair (Tony Paterson, 22 October 2008, Independent)

Conservative Austria was in a state of shock today after the male successor to Jörg Haider admitted to having a longstanding “special relationship” with the far right leader who died dramatically in a high speed car crash earlier this month.

In a related story, wanted for questioning in the crash are two sun-glassed men dressed like Hasidic diamond merchants, driving a 1974 Dodge Monaco with Illinois plate, "BDR 529"

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:53 AM


The Media vs. Joe the Plumber: Suddenly the questioner matters more than the answer. (Jonah Goldberg, 10/22/08, National Review)

At a John McCain rally in Virginia on Saturday, Tito Munoz had come to face the enemy: the news media, which had declared war on Joe Wurzelbacher.

“Why the hell are you going after Joe the Plumber?” Munoz yelled at a group of reporters, including my National Review colleague Byron York. “Joe the Plumber has an idea. He has a future. He wants to be something else. Why is that wrong? Everything is possible in America. I made it. Joe the Plumber could make it even better than me. ... I was born in Colombia, but I was made in the U.S.A.” [...]

In short, Obama’s explanation to Joe the Plumber that we need to “spread the wealth around” is a sincere and significant expression of his worldview, with roots stretching back to his church and his days as a community organizer.

Millions of Americans don’t share this vision. They don’t see the economy as a pie, whereby your slice can only get bigger if someone else’s gets smaller. They don’t begrudge the wealthy their wealth; they only ask to be given the same opportunities. They look at countries such as France and, rather than envy its socialized medicine and short workweeks, they fear its joblessness and tax policies that punish entrepreneurialism. People like Tito Munoz look at America and see an open path to their own American dream.

It would be nice if the media at least tried to understand this point.

While we on the Right would do well to understand that an era of war and economic fluctuation naturally makes people feel insecure and heightens the appeal of the Security Party, the conspicuous truth is that systems, like ours of the past three decades, that seek to guarantee the freedom to pursue happiness have done a better job of delivering it than systems that have tried to just mandate happiness via state power.

Obama and the Tax Tipping Point: How long before taxpayers are pushed too far? (ADAM LERRICK, 10/22/08, Wall Street Journal)

In 2006, the latest year for which we have Census data, 220 million Americans were eligible to vote and 89 million -- 40% -- paid no income taxes. According to the Tax Policy Center (a joint venture of the Brookings Institution and the Urban Institute), this will jump to 49% when Mr. Obama's cash credits remove 18 million more voters from the tax rolls. What's more, there are an additional 24 million taxpayers (11% of the electorate) who will pay a minimal amount of income taxes -- less than 5% of their income and less than $1,000 annually.

In all, three out of every five voters will pay little or nothing in income taxes under Mr. Obama's plans and gain when taxes rise on the 40% that already pays 95% of income tax revenues.

The plunder that the Democrats plan to extract from the "very rich" -- the 5% that earn more than $250,000 and who already pay 60% of the federal income tax bill -- will never stretch to cover the expansive programs Mr. Obama promises. [...]

Other nations have tried the ideology of fairness in the place of incentives and found that reward without work is a recipe for decline. In the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s, Margaret Thatcher took on the unions and slashed taxes to restore growth and jobs in Great Britain. In Germany a few years ago, Social Democrat Gerhard Schroeder defied his party's dogma and loosened labor's grip on the economy to end stagnation. And more recently in France, Nicolas Sarkozy was swept to power on a platform of restoring flexibility to the economy.

The sequence is always the same. High-tax, big-spending policies force the economy to lose momentum. Then growth in government spending outstrips revenues. Fiscal and trade deficits soar. Public debt, excessive taxation and unemployment follow. The central bank tries to solve the problem by printing money. International competitiveness is lost and the currency depreciates. The system stagnates. And then a frightened electorate returns conservatives to power.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:37 AM

French Toast (Denver Post, 10/21/2008)

3/4 cup half and half
3 eggs
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla paste or extract
1 teaspoon orange zest
1/3 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
Four 1-inch-thick slices bread, such as challah or brioche, preferably day-old
2 tablespoons ( 1/4stick) unsalted butter, plus more for garnish
2 tablespoons canola oil
Powdered sugar
Pure maple syrup, (preferably Grade B)
Few grains Maldon sea salt (optional)


Whisk first 9 ingredients in medium bowl, cover and leave in the refrigerator overnight. When ready to cook, preheat oven to 250 degrees. Place a wire rack on a baking sheet, and set aside. Place bread in a shallow baking dish large enough to hold bread slices in a single layer. Pour egg mixture over bread; soak for only a couple of minutes, and turn slices over; soak 1 more minute until coated, but make sure not to oversoak the slices.

Heat 1 tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in a skillet over medium heat. Fry two bread slices until golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Transfer to wire rack; place in oven too keep warm. Wipe skillet, and repeat with remaining butter, oil and bread. Keep in oven until ready to serve. Sift a little powdered sugar over the French toast. Serve warm with butter, maple syrup and Maldon salt, if desired.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:35 AM


Lobster prices tumble with demand (KIM PIERCE, October 22, 2008, The Dallas Morning News)

Talk about far-reaching impacts of the global economic crisis. Lobster prices are so bad for Maine lobstermen that many are already pulling their traps up for the winter and selling their lobsters for hamburger prices.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:30 AM

Pan-Seared Pork Loins with Green Beans (Arlene Burnett, October 22, 2008, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

* 1 pound fresh or frozen green beans

* 1/4 cup flour

* 1/4 teaspoon salt

* 1 1/2 pounds boneless pork loin or turkey cutlets

* 1 tablespoon olive oil

* 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon butter

* 1 teaspoon chopped garlic (about 2 cloves)

* 2 tablespoons lemon juice (about 1/2 lemon)

* 1 tablespoon capers, optional

Place green beans in a serving bowl. Mix the flour and salt in a shallow dish. Dredge the meat in the flour and shake off excess.

Heat oil and 1 tablespoon of the butter over medium-high heat. When butter starts to bubble, add the garlic and cook for 1 minute until it starts to brown. Add meat and brown until no longer pink, about 3 minutes per side. After turning the meat, squeeze lemon juice on top and sprinkle with capers.

Remove meat to a plate and cover. Add the remaining butter to the skillet. When it melts, add the green beans. Cover and cook beans until they are softened, about 5 minutes.

Return green beans to bowl and cut the meat into slices.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:27 AM


LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD SYNDROME: Stoking Fears of the Big Bad Wolf: Residents of the Lausitz region of eastern Germany are growing increasingly fearful of wolves. As the predators encroach on human settlements, hunters and animal rights activists disagree over how dangerous these gray predators really are. (Steffen Winter, 10/22/08, Der Spiegel)

Death is Vinzenz Baberschke's constant companion. Baberschke is the mayor of the town of Radibor in the eastern German state of Saxony, and when his mobile phone rings, it sounds as if death has come knocking. His ringtone for normal calls is Ennio Morricone's "Play Me the Song of Death," but when the biologists from the local wolf control agency are on the line, his phone emits the sound of howling wolves.

In his job, Baberschke deals with both phenomena: death and the wolf. His mobile phone is rarely silent, now that wolves are becoming more widespread in the Lausitz region in Germany's easternmost corner. Agitated citizens say that they have seen wolves in their towns and villages, and they no longer allow their children to go into the forest alone. Despite the use of electric fences, shepherds are reporting dead sheep, dismembered by wolves. There have already been 16 attacks this year. "We have a leash law for dogs and regulations prohibiting the ownership of fighting dogs," the mayor, a member of the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU), growls as he sits in his office. But protection against wolves, he says, is nonexistent.

Now that the European gray wolf, a protected species, is leaving its largely deserted territory on the Muskau Heath in Germany's far southeastern corner and suddenly migrating to the north and west, into the states of Saxony-Anhalt, Hesse and Lower Saxony, something of a Little Red Riding Hood syndrome has taken hold in Germany. There are now at least 40 wolves in Germany, as well as another 40 young animals that officials appear to have lost track of. In the eastern states of Saxony and Brandenburg, there have been 800 wolf sightings in the last 10 years, and some animals have recently been seen near human settlements. While animal rights activists and conservationists are delighted, others are terrified.

The mood in the "Gute Quelle," a pub in the town of Lippitsch, is already heated enough when the mayor says: "You can't go into the forest without a knife anymore." Hunters, he adds, have seen wolves "wagging their tails expectantly" -- waiting for people. The animals, says the mayor, must be taught to respect humans, if only with rubber bullets.

The animals? How about teaching the activists to respect humans?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:22 AM


Cassel doing OK job for Pats and an untapped QB market (Peter King, 10/21/08, Sports Illustrated)

I came here to get my first live look at Matt Cassel. Relatively speaking, the view was mostly positive from New England's surprisingly one-sided 41-7 win over the Broncos. Cassel is being asked to be almost exactly what Brady was asked to do when Brady took over for an injured Drew Bledsoe seven seasons ago -- don't lose the game. Last night Cassel completed 18-of-24 mostly risk-free passes, for 185 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. [...]

I went back after the game and compared the young Brady to Cassel. These numbers -- for Brady's first six starts in 2001 and Cassel's first six games (he played the majority of the opener when Brady went down for the year) -- tell a remarkable story:

Player/Year W-L Comp.-Att. Pct. Yards TD-Int
Brady '01 4-2 120-190 .632 1,105 10-4
Cassel '08 4-2 110-166 .663 1,095 6-4


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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:17 AM


Theorists Tackle Universe's 'Coincidence Problem' (ABC Science Online, Oct. 22, 2008)

"We're right on the cusp between the matter-dominated and dark energy-dominated epochs," said [Ph.D. student Chas] Egan.

Astronomers have been puzzled why this shift is happening right now, just when humans are here to observe it.

"When theorists see something like that, that indicates something suspicious. It looks like a coincidence," said Egan.

Various efforts have been made to explain this coincidence problem over the years, but none of the ideas raised have gained widespread acceptance.

Now Egan and Lineweaver have taken a pragmatic approach, reasoning that the only time in the history of the universe that it would be possible for us to exist is around now -- when stars have been formed, galaxies coalesced and planets have evolved for us to live on.

"It struck us that it's kind of silly to think that observers could have occurred anywhere during the whole history of the universe," said Egan. "If we are tied to terrestrial planets then we could not possibly have observed the radiation era, and when the universe gets large and diffuse and so on then we could not possible observe that late future either."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:13 AM

A pair of Granny Smith apples Malus x. domesti...

Image via Wikipedia

Pork Tenderloin with Warm Apple and Cabbage Slaw (Cox News Service, 10/21/08)
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon dried thyme

2 pork tenderloins (about 2 pounds)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 red onion, halved and thinly sliced

4 cups thinly sliced red cabbage, cut into strips

2 Granny Smith or Golden Delicious apples, peeled, thinly sliced and cut into strips

1 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

1/4 cup dried sweetened cranberries, optional

1 tablespoon brown sugar

Preheat oven to 450. Lightly coat a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet with nonstick spray.

In a bowl, combine mustard and thyme. Cover the pork with mustard mixture and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place pork on the baking sheet and bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until an instant-read thermometer reaches 155. Let rest for 5 minutes before slicing into 1/2 -inch pieces.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium-high heat, add the oil. Saute the onion for 5 to 8 minutes, or until softened. Add the cabbage and apples and saute for 1 to 2 minutes to combine. Add broth and vinegar and cook until cabbage is tender and almost all the liquid has evaporated, 15 to 20 minutes. Add cranberries and sugar and stir to combine. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes.

Serve pork slices alongside or over the cabbage mixture.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:52 AM


Diageo/Hotline Tracking Poll: The Early Line (MATTHEW GOTTLIEB, 10/22/08, Hotline)

Obama/Biden 47%
McCain/Palin 42%
Undec 8%

- McCain now leads men by 8% -- his largest lead among them in more than a month. In the survey completed 9/19, McCain also led men by 8%.

This is one of those queer seeming numbers, given that George W. Bush beat a white Catholic veteran in 2004 by double digits among men.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:26 AM


Battling Scientology: Anonymous's Gregg Housh is committed to bringing down the Church of Scientology. Is he a gadfly or a goon? (CHRIS FARAONE, October 20, 2008, Boston Phoenix)

In a world wracked with uncertainty, there is at least one thing you can bet on: pick a fight with the Church of Scientology (CoS), and its leaders will fight back — always with vigor, often with a vengeance, and sometimes with litigation that can be long and costly.

The idea of locking legal horns with the CoS might be enough to cool the ardor of some critics. But that is not Gregg Housh’s style. Housh, an Internet activist and provocateur, is not an easy guy to characterize. A member of a group that calls itself “Anonymous,” Housh is pitted in what appears to be an escalating rift with the CoS. Core constitutional issues such as freedom of speech and freedom of religion are central to the dispute.

Almost 10 months ago, Housh helped launch a protest group that he now describes as the world’s fastest-growing grassroots movement (mobilizing several thousand people in less than one month). The group formed as a response to the removal of a video from YouTube and other sites that featured Tom Cruise describing CoS doctrines and principles. From a few simple mouse clicks, a mighty battle has grown.

Housh is himself a rather casual, almost random sort of activist. A seventh-grade dropout, devout atheist, and proud computer troll, he claims to loathe all political parties equally, and could give a damn about Greenpeace, PETA, or any other picket-happy causes. In fact, had the CoS not “messed” with what he thinks of as his Internets, Housh would probably be wasting his spare time sparking Web mischief instead of dedicating approximately 40 hours every week to Anonymous, his now infamously masked group, whose mission seems to be toying with L. Ron Hubbard’s minions. [...]

Housh and his Anonymous peers are hardly the first to fight the CoS online. The original anti-Scientology Web site, the newsgroup alt.religion.scientology, debuted on Usenet in July 1991. For its first three years, the site actually served as a forum for believers and dissenters to exchange opinions, but by 1994 users on the Scientology side had had enough. A memo written by CoS staffer Elaine Siegel addressed church strategy vis-à-vis dealing with dissenters on the Web. “If you imagine 40 to 50 Scientologists posting on the Internet every few days, we’ll just run the SPs [Suppressive Persons] right off the system. It will be quite simple . . . I would like to hear from you on your ideas to make the Internet a safe space for Scientology to expand into.” Her memo seemed to enrage secular alt.religion.scientology regulars.

The CoS did more than just post pro-Scientology messages where opposition surfaced. In 1995, it turned to the justice system, claiming that its copyrighted files were being illegally posted on alt.religion.scientology. The dispute over such materials, which parishioners pay tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars to obtain on their journey — or “bridge” — to enlightenment, has been the centerpiece of most CoS feuds with Web detractors. That year, the FBI raided several Usenet posters’ homes, including that of former Scientologist Arnaldo Lerma in Arlington, Virginia, seizing his computer and data-storage devices.

The CoS has a well-documented history of battling opponents: Boston attorney Michael Flynn, who filed lawsuits through the 1980s on behalf of former CoS devotees, was sued more than a dozen times. Reporters, who CoS founder Hubbard labeled “merchants of chaos,” have also been targeted; former Time magazine journalist Richard Behar, whose 1991 exposé “The Thriving Cult of Greed and Power” provoked widespread anti-CoS sentiment, found himself under surveillance by CoS investigators while his magazine was sued for $416 million. (The suit was ultimately dismissed, but only after Time Warner Inc. spent $7 million defending itself.) But whereas individuals and even corporations were relatively easy to tie up in lawsuits, the Web posed a newer, less containable wave of protest. In a December 1995 Wired article titled “alt.scientology.war,” writer Wendy M. Grossman described the rift as “mortal combat between two alien cultures. . . . A fight that has burst the banks of the Net and into the real world of police, lawyers, and armed search and seizure.” (The CoS declined to comment on copyright-related litigation.)

CoS actions to quiet online enemies have provoked a great deal of anger. According to Seltzer, contrarian sites such as xenu.net have proliferated as a result. Launched in 1996 by Norwegian tech-provocateur Andreas Heldal-Lund, xenu.net — a comprehensive anti-CoS clearing-house better known as Operation Clambake — became a hub for multimedia, ranging from articles condemning Scientology to detailed insider accounts written by former church officials and secret Hubbard recordings. The church has sued, among others, Heldal-Lund, his service provider, and Google over Operation Clambake postings. It has succeeded in having various copyrighted materials removed. Yet xenu.net remains alive and clicking. Xenu, by the way, is a reference to an evil intergalactic overlord who, top church members reportedly believe, excommunicated billions of aliens to Earth 75 million years ago and incinerated them inside volcanoes. The title, Operation Clambake, is a poke at the late Hubbard’s claim, from his 1952 book, Scientology: A History of Man, that humans evolved from clams.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:05 AM


Anand,Vishwanathan - Kramnik,Vladimir (FIDE World Chess Championship Bonn, Germany (6), 21.10.2008)

Anand wins Game 6, takes three-point lead over Kramnik (Times of India, 21 Oct 2008)

World champion Viswanathan Anand opened his account with white pieces on Tuesday in the World Championship winning the sixth round game against Vladimir Kramnik and in the process almost closed the door on the Russian winning in 47 moves. He now leads 4.5-1.5. ( Watch )

The seventh game with Anand having black will be played on Thursday after a day’s rest. Anand, who has scored two wins with black pieces, will have three more whites in the remaining six games. The victory has not come with his natural King-pawn opening with white. The Indian GM opened with 1.d4 for the third time in three white games and Game Six promised lot of action after the opening struggle. [...]

And all this, despite the fact that Anand had not castled in this game.

In fact, Anand did not castle in three of the six games he has played and still his King was safe as a locker. After 27 moves, Anand had 40 minutes left to Kramnik’s 19. What a turnaround!

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:33 AM


Mike Penner returns to Los Angeles Times (Kevin Roderick, 10/21/08, LA Observed)

Eighteen month after writing a column about becoming Christine Daniels, veteran sportswriter Mike Penner has quietly returned to work at the Los Angeles Times, according to multiple sources close to the LAT's Sports staff. Penner's column in April 2007 about his sexual transformation became one of the most-viewed Times' stories of the year and was followed by a story in the LAT from media writer James Rainey and tons of other media attention. Daniels for a time chronicled her transformation in a blog at LATimes.com; the blog entries have been removed and the Times has so far posted nothing about Penner's return.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:11 AM


Desert cross may lead to landmark ruling: The Supreme Court soon will decide whether to take up the case of the monument to fallen service members in Mojave National Preserve. At stake is a new definition of the church-state separation. (David G. Savage, October 22, 2008, LA Times)

The appeal may be well timed. For two decades, the court has been closely divided over the presence of religious displays -- such as a Christmas tree, the Ten Commandments or a cross -- on public property.

Three years ago, the justices were evenly split in a pair of cases involving the Ten Commandments. They upheld, 5 to 4, a granite monument on the grounds of the Texas state capitol, but struck down a similar display inside a courthouse in Kentucky in another 5-4 ruling.

Soon afterward, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who said both displays were unconstitutional, retired. She was replaced by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr.

"I think the court is poised for a major change as to the Establishment Clause," said UC Irvine Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, referring to the 1st Amendment's ban on "an establishment of religion."

"Under Chief Justice [William H.] Rehnquist, there were four votes to say the Establishment Clause is violated only if the government literally establishes a church or coerces religious participation," said Chemerinsky, who argued one of the Ten Commandments cases before the high court. "Now, I think there are five."

...when one vote completely "changes" the Constituton?

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October 21, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:38 PM


Rendell 'still a little nervous' about Penn., asks Obama to return (CNN: Political Ticker, 10/21/08)

Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell has sent two separate memos to the Obama campaign in the past five days requesting that the Democratic Presidential candidate—as well as Hillary and Bill Clinton—return to campaign in Pennsylvania, Rendell told CNN's Gloria Borger.

Rendell said the McCain campaign is clearly making a push to win Pennsylvania, given the recent visits by the Arizona senator, his wife and his running mate. As a result, he wants Obama to appear in western Pennsylvania, Harrisburg and one more “large rally” in Philadelphia. Democrats generally worry that the race is significantly closer than what recent polls have suggested. According to Rendell, there is also worry among Democrats the McCain campaign has successfully raised the enthusiasm level among Republicans in the state.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:01 PM


Shame on McCain and Palin for using an old code word for black (Lewis Diuguid, Kansas City Star)

The "socialist" label that Sen. John McCain and his GOP presidential running mate Sarah Palin are trying to attach to Sen. Barack Obama actually has long and very ugly historical roots.

J. Edgar Hoover, director of the FBI from 1924 to 1972, used the term liberally to describe African Americans who spent their lives fighting for equality.

Those freedom fighters included the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who led the Civil Rights Movement; W.E.B. Du Bois, who in 1909 helped found the NAACP which is still the nation's oldest and largest civil rights organization; Paul Robeson, a famous singer, actor and political activist who in the 1930s became involved in national and international movements for better labor relations, peace and racial justice; and A. Philip Randolph, who founded and was the longtime head of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and a leading advocate for civil rights for African Americans.

Okay, maybe we'd better assume that this one actually is parody, because it's hard to believe anyone could propound such a devastating comparison and pretend to be a genuine supporter of the Unicorn Rider. Consider the facts about these four men:

The FBI and Martin Luther King: Martin Luther King was never himself a Communist—far from it. But the FBI's wiretapping of King was precipitated by his association with Stanley Levison, a man with reported ties to the Communist Party. Newly available documents reveal what the FBI actually knew—the vast extent of Levinson's Party activities (David J. Garrow, July/August 2002, The Atlantic)

The crucial figure was Stanley David Levison, a white New York lawyer and businessman who first met Martin Luther King in 1956, just as the young minister was being catapulted to national fame as a result of his role in the remarkable bus boycott against racially segregated seating in Montgomery, Alabama. The FBI knew, in copious firsthand detail from the Childs brothers, that Levison had secretly served as one of the top two financiers for the Communist Party USA in the years just before he met King. The Childs brothers' direct, personal contact with Levison from the mid-1940s to 1956 was sufficient to leave no doubt whatsoever that their reports about his role were accurate and truthful. Their proximity to Levison also gave them direct knowledge of his disappearance from CPUSA financial affairs in the years after 1956.

In the months immediately following Levison's visible departure from CPUSA activities, his selfless assistance to King soon established him as the young minister's most influential white counselor. But when the FBI tardily learned of Levison's closeness to King in early 1962, the Bureau understandably hypothesized that someone with Levison's secret (though thoroughly documented) record of invaluable service to the CPUSA might very well not have turned up at Martin Luther King's elbow by happenstance. With the FBI suggesting that Levison's seeming departure from the CPUSA was in all likelihood a ruse, Robert Kennedy and his aides felt they had little choice but to assume the worst and act as defensively as possible.

To You Beloved Comrade (Paul Robeson, April 1953, New World Review)
Today in Korea - in Southeast Asia - in Latin America and the West Indies, in the Middle East - in Africa, one sees tens of millions of long oppressed colonial peoples surging toward freedom. What courage - what sacrifice - what determination never to rest until victory!

And arrayed against them, the combined powers of the so-called Free West, headed by the greedy, profit-hungry, war-minded industrialists and financial barons of our America. The illusion of an "American Century" blinds them for the immediate present to the clear fact that civilization has passed them by - that we now live in a people's century - that the star shines brightly in the East of Europe and of the world. Colonial peoples today look to the Soviet Socialist Republics. They see how under the great Stalin millions like themselves have found a new life. They see that aided and guided by the example of the Soviet Union, led by their Mao Tse-tung, a new China adds its mighty power to the true and expanding socialist way of life. They see formerly semi-colonial Eastern European nations building new People's Democracies, based upon the people's power with the people shaping their own destinies. So much of this progress stems from the magnificent leadership, theoretical and practical, given by their friend Joseph Stalin.

They have sung - sing now and will sing his praise - in song and story. Slava - slava - slava - Stalin, Glory to Stalin. Forever will his name be honored and beloved in all lands.

In all spheres of modern life the influence of Stalin reaches wide and deep. From his last simply written but vastly discerning and comprehensive document, back through the years, his contributions to the science of our world society remain invaluable. One reverently speaks of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin - the shapers of humanity's richest present and future.

Yes, through his deep humanity, by his wise understanding, he leaves us a rich and monumental heritage. Most importantly - he has charted the direction of our present and future struggles. He has pointed the way to peace - to friendly co-existence - to the exchange of mutual scientific and cultural contributions - to the end of war and destruction. How consistently, how patiently, he labored for peace and ever increasing abundance, with what deep kindliness and wisdom. He leaves tens of millions all over the earth bowed in heart-aching grief.

But, as he well knew, the struggle continues. So, inspired by his noble example, let us lift our heads slowly but proudly high and march forward in the fight for peace - for a rich and rewarding life for all.

In the inspired words of Lewis Allan, our progressive lyricist -

To you Beloved Comrade, we make this solemn vow
The fight will go on - the fight will still go on.
Sleep well, Beloved Comrade, our work will just begin.
The fight will go on - till we win - until we win.

“Our Reason for Being” (A. Philip Randolph, March 1919, The Messenger)
There is a new leadership for Negro workers. It is a leadership of uncompromising manhood. It is not asking for a half loaf but for the whole loaf. It is insistent upon the Negro workers exacting justice, both from the white labor unions and from the capitalists or employers.

The Negroes who will benefit from this decision are indebted first to themselves and their organized power, which made them dangerous. Second, to the radical agitation carried on by The Messenger; and third, to the fine spirit of welcome shown by the Industrial Workers of the World, whose rapid growth and increasing power the American Federation of Labor fears. These old line Negro political fossils know nothing of the Labor Movement, do not believe in labor unions at all, and have never taken any active steps to encourage such organizations. We make this statement calmly, coolly and with a reasonable reserve. The very thing which they are fighting is one of the chief factors in securing for Negroes their rights. That is Bolshevism. The capitalists of this country are so afraid that Negroes will become Bolshevists that they are willing to offer them almost anything to hold them away from the radical movement. Nobody buys pebbles which may be picked up on the beach, but diamonds sell high. The old line Negro leaders have no power to bargain, because it is known that they are Republicans politically and job-hunting, me-too-boss-hat-in-hand-Negroes, industrially. Booker Washington and all of them have simply advocated the Negroes get more work. The editors of The Messenger are not interested in Negroes getting more work. Negroes have too much work already. What we want Negroes to get is less work and more wages, with more leisure for study and recreation.

Our type of agitation has really won for Negroes such as concessions as were granted by the American Federation of Labor and we are by no means too sanguine over the possibilities of the sop which was granted. It may be like the Constitution of the United States-good in parts, but badly executed. We shall have to await the logic of events. In the meantime, we urge the Negro labor unions to increase their radicalism, to speed up their organization, to steer clear of the Negro leaders and to thank nobody but themselves for what they have gained.

Dr. W. E. B. Du Bois Joins Communist Party at 93 (PETER KIHSS, November 23, 1961, NY Times)
A co-founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Dr. Du Bois long ago split with that organization. Since 1948 he has been associated with a number of left-wing causes.

His Leftist Ties

From 1949 to 1955 he was vice chairman of the now-defunct Council on African Affairs, cited by the Attorney General as subversive and Communist. In 1951, as chairman of the Peace Information Center here, he was acquitted of a charge of failing to register as a foreign agent. In 1959 he received a Soviet Lenin Prize "for strengthening peace."

A Communist party spokesman said Dr. Du Bois had sent his application to join on Oct. 1 from his Brooklyn home. Since then he has been in Ghana, the spokesman said, as head of a Ghana secretariat planning a new Negro encyclopedia.

In the application Dr. Du Bois wrote that he had been "long and slow" in deciding to apply for part membership, "but at last my mind is settled." He said he had joined the Socialist party in 1911, but had resigned to support Woodrow Wilson for President.

For the next twenty years, he said, he attacked the Democrats, Republicans and Socialists. He said he had "praised the racial attitudes of the Communists but opposed their tactics in the case of the Scottsboro boys and their advocacy of a Negro state." In 1926, he said, he began a "new effort," visiting Communist lands.

Dr. Du Bois said he had concluded that "capitalism cannot reform itself; it is doomed to self-destruction."

"No universal selfishness can bring social good to all," he said. "Communism -- the effort to give all men what they need and to ask of each the best they can contribute -- this is the only way of human life."

That's not to say that these guys didn't also do great things, but to act like it was beyond the Pale for America to worry about their politics is to warp history.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:10 PM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:48 PM


The Punch Brothers: Desolation Booth In The Grassy Hills (Sean Moeller , 21 October 2008, Daytrotter)

The three-game sweep at the hands of the Los Angeles Dodgers, despite owning the best record in the National League, might have destroyed this man of nimble fingers and tender voice. It’s what the Cubbies will do to any man who probably considers few places as idyllic as Wrigley Field on a clear June afternoon with some supreme nachos, a couple dogs and two-fisting lukewarm Old Styles. It’s the man he raised himself to become and it’s what makes the demise of this once promising baseball season – on the 100-year anniversary of the last time the team had won the World Series – so paralyzing. He’s a wreck of a man, unshaven and mumbling something foul about Kosuke Fukudome and a punchless Alfonzo Soriano talking about being built for a marathon, not a sprint. It’s this subject that has Thile, one of the three founding members of the genre-crossing/mostly bluegrass group Nickel Creek, tongue-tied and dejected. Don’t expect it to turn into the kind of luxurious and sprawling suite of songs that he organized for his new band’s latest record, Punch, an ambitious foray into dimensions of bluegrass and country that have no business being called either and that essentially is what makes the record so ambitious. For that lengthy piece of music, chopped into four movements, totaling up to nearly 43 minutes in whole, he tapped into something that was much more intimate and saddening, but ultimately something that needed to be worked out verbally and artistically. When it comes to getting one’s hopes up over a five or seven-game series during the fall nights and days when most fans have no one left to cheer for in comparison with the permanent end of a sacred promise to another person, there’s really nothing to compare.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:44 PM


Lieberman’s Partisan Switch: Political Resurrection or Downward Spiral? (Brett Lieberman, Oct 15, 2008, The Forward)

Lieberman’s decision to support McCain — and not just support him, but to campaign with him, and to speak at the Republican National Convention — infuriated many fellow Democrats, not to mention many Jews, who were elated just eight years ago when Lieberman became the first Jew on a major political party’s presidential ticket.

Supporting abortion doesn't make him a bad Jew, supporting a Republican does.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:39 PM


Patio Man Revisited (DAVID BROOKS, 10/21/08, NY Times)

On one level, the changes are surprisingly modest. There have been no big changes in how Americans describe their political philosophies. Somewhere between 40 percent and 49 percent still call themselves conservative, and about half as many call themselves liberal. Distrust of government is still high. Ronald Brownstein of the National Journal compared today’s poll results, group by group, with past election results. Especially for those over 30, the stability of the preferences is more striking than the changes.

But deeper down, there are some shifts in values. Americans, including suburban Americans, are less socially conservative. They are more aware of the gap between rich and poor. They are more open to government action to reduce poverty.

But, most of all, there is a tropism toward order and stability.

Some liberals think they are headed for an age of liberal dominance and government expansion. “If Obama offers a big, budget-busting program next year, it will more likely be seen as fair than irresponsible,” Jonathan Alter writes in Newsweek.

But the shift in public opinion is not from right to left, or from anti-government to pro-government, it’s from risk to caution, from disorder to consolidation.

There is a deep current of bourgeois culture running through American suburbia. It is not right wing, but it is conservative: a distrust of those far away; a belief in convention and respectability; and a strong reaction against anything that threatens to undermine the stability of the established order.

Given all of which, why isn't the McCain camp up with Reverend Wright ads 24/7?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:49 AM


Costco selling Starbucks gift cards at 20% off (Nancy Luna, 10/21/08, OC Register)

Costco, known for offering deals on top brands, is now selling Starbucks gift cards at a 20 percent markdown.

For the first-time ever, Costco is selling five, $20 gift cards for $79.99.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:39 AM


Is McCain Coming Back? (Chris Cillizza, 10/21/08, Washington Post: The Fix)

Don't trust the McCain internal poll numbers? Look to a series of tracking surveys over the last week, the campaign argues.

Among the surveys they cite:

• An Oct. 19 Gallup tracking poll that shows Obama leading McCain 49 percent to 46 percent according to a "traditional likely voter model" it has employed for past elections which, Gallup's Web site explains, "factors in prior voting behavior as well as current voting intention." It's worth noting that among registered voters in the Gallup survey, Obama held a 10-point edge, and in the other (broader) likely voter model presented by Gallup the Illinois senator led 51 percent to 44 percent.

• A Reuters/C-SPAN/Zogby tracking poll that on Oct. 11 showed Obama ahead 49 percent to 43 percent and, one week later, had Obama's lead at narrower 48 percent to 45 percent. Zogby, a favorite of Matt Drudge, is looked at somewhat more skeptically by some within the polling establishment.

• A poll jointly conducted by Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster, and Ed Goeas, a Republican pollster, for George Washington University that had Obama at 49 percent and McCain at 45 percent. That survey was in the field Oct. 12 to Oct. 16, however, meaning that only one day of polling for it was conducted after the Oct. 15 debate at Hofstra University.

As of today that Battleground poll is basically showing a tie

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:34 AM


Spotted: Mark Foley < (Wilshire and Washington, 10/20/08, Variety)

I got an excited phone call yesterday from two friends, TV producer Richard Ayoub and talent manager Dolores Cantu, who were having lunch at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Sitting the next table over was Foley, who resigned just before the midterms after the revelation that he sent inappropriate e-mail messages to a congressional page.

Ayounb and Cantu didn't know immediately recognize him until he told them he had once been in Congress. [...]

What they both said was how great Foley looked, and he was particularly excited about Colin Powell's endorsement that morning of Obama. Foley said he also favors Obama.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:11 AM


Searching for Robert Johnson: In the seven decades since his mysterious death, bluesman Robert Johnson’s legend has grown—the tragically short life, the “crossroads” tale of supernatural talent, the genuine gift that inspired Dylan, Clapton, and other greats—but his image remains elusive: only two photos of Johnson have ever been seen by the public. In 2005, on eBay, guitar maven Zeke Schein thought he’d found a third. Schein’s quest to authenticate the picture only led to more questions, both about Johnson himself and about who controls his valuable legacy. (Frank DiGiacomo, November 2008, Vanity Fair)

As he pored over the mass of texts and thumbnail photos that the eBay search engine had pulled up on that day in 2005, one strangely worded listing caught Schein’s eye. It read, “Old Snapshot Blues Guitar B.B. King???” He clicked on the link, then took in the sepia-toned image that opened on his monitor. Two young black men stared back at Schein from what seemed to be another time. They stood against a plain backdrop wearing snazzy suits, hats, and self-conscious smiles. The man on the left held a guitar stiffly against his lean frame.

Neither man looked like B. B. King, but as Schein studied the figure with the guitar, noticing in particular the extraordinary length of his fingers and the way his left eye seemed narrower and out of sync with his right, it occurred to him that he had stumbled across something significant and rare.

If there was one thing that Schein was as passionate about as guitars, it was the blues, particularly the Delta blues, that acoustic, guitar-driven form of country blues that started in the Mississippi Delta and thrived on records from the late 1920s to almost 1940. Not long after he’d begun working at Matt Umanov, Schein’s customers and co-workers had turned him on to this powerful music form, and, once hooked, he had studied the genre—its music and its history—with the same obsessive attention to detail that he brought to his work. And the longer Schein looked at the photograph on his computer monitor, the more convinced he became that it depicted one of the most mysterious and mythologized blues artists produced by the Delta: the guitarist, singer, and songwriter whom Eric Clapton once anointed “the most important blues musician who ever lived.”

That’s not B. B. King, Schein said to himself. Because it’s Robert Johnson. [...]

The story of Robert Johnson is usually presented as a Faustian bargain, but it is really a tale of possession. Johnson was the product of an affair his mother, Julia Dodds, had with a plantation worker. Johnson had unusually long fingers and a bad left eye (that has been attributed to a cataract), and by the time he had recorded his canon, he had earned the right to sing and play the blues.

His youth was spent moving between homes in Memphis and Robinsonville, Mississippi, 30 miles south of Memphis, where he lived with his mother and her second husband on a plantation. There he was known for his interest in guitar and his reluctance to work the fields.

It was in the aftermath of his wife’s and child’s deaths—Johnson was approximately 19 at the time—that his musical education is believed to have begun in earnest. In 1930 the ferocious blues singer Son House had moved to Robinsonville to begin a fruitful musical partnership with the guitar ace Willie Brown, and Johnson became a regular presence at their performances, although the two elder bluesmen perceived him as a nuisance. House’s recollection of Johnson—as told to folklorist Julius Lester in 1965—was of a “little boy” who would commandeer either his or Brown’s guitar during their breaks and irritate the audience with his marginal skills. Perhaps Johnson sensed, too, that he was not ready for the stage, because around this time he moved back to the Hazlehurst area, his birthplace, where he began an apprenticeship with a blues guitarist named Ike Zimmerman (the spelling of his name is disputed) which would transform Johnson into the virtuoso he is known as today.

That Robert Johnson is remembered as a guitarist who could play almost any song after hearing it just once on the radio; a singer whose repertoire, like those of most itinerant bluesmen, included numbers made famous by Bing Crosby, Irish standards, and even polkas, in addition to his own songs; a performer whose travels took him as far north as New York City and even Canada in search of an audience; and an artist who could move an audience to tears and then disappear into the crowd as if he had never played at all.

Clearly, Johnson was a man of some ambition, and in November of 1936 he traveled to San Antonio, Texas, for the first of two recording sessions for the American Record Corporation. Once in the makeshift studio, he played facing a corner, with his back to the technicians and other musicians who had come to record, a move that has been variously interpreted as shyness, an attempt to prevent other guitarists from seeing his unusual playing style, or a street-savvy technique for getting the most sound out of his acoustic guitar. Whatever the case, Johnson recorded approximately 16 songs over three days, most of them in two or three takes. One of those tunes, “Terraplane Blues,” a double-entendre-laden number, was issued as a 78-r.p.m. single on the Vocalion label and became a modest regional hit, selling approximately 5,000 copies. As a result, Johnson was invited back to Texas, this time, in June 1937, to Dallas, where he recorded another 13 tracks, but no more hits.

A little more than a year later, Johnson would be dead—and probably destined for obscurity had his music not already gotten the attention of a record producer who would exert a huge impact on popular music in the 20th century. By the time John H. Hammond Jr. came across Johnson’s records, he had persuaded Benny Goodman to integrate his band, discovered a young Billie Holiday in Harlem, and recorded Count Basie, but he was just getting started. As a talent scout for Columbia Records in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, Hammond would discover Aretha Franklin and sign Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Bruce Springsteen, and Stevie Ray Vaughan to the label.

Hammond’s role in Johnson’s legacy is pivotal. He first championed Johnson in print in 1937 when, writing under a pseudonym for the left-wing publication New Masses, he asserted that “Johnson makes Leadbelly look like an accomplished poseur.” Then, in 1938, Hammond sought to feature Johnson in a concert he was producing at Carnegie Hall that December called “From Spirituals to Swing.” He sent an emissary into the South to track down Johnson and bring him back to New York. But as the day of the show approached, Hammond learned that Johnson was dead—possibly murdered. On the night of the concert, Big Bill Broonzy took Johnson’s place, but Hammond memorialized the late Delta artist by playing two recordings of his songs for the Carnegie Hall audience.

More than 20 years later, Hammond would expose Johnson’s music to a whole new generation of listeners. Columbia now controlled Johnson’s recordings, and in 1961, Hammond oversaw the release of King of the Delta Blues Singers, the first album-length collection of Johnson’s music, which helped spark a blues revival in America. According to the album’s producer, Frank Driggs, it sold approximately 10,000 copies upon its initial release—impressive for an obscure, dead, vernacular performer.

Robert Palmer's book, Deep Blues, is a terrific introduction to Johnson.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:40 AM


Moving from Christian to Muslim democracy (JAN-WERNER MUELLER, 10/20/08, Japan Times)

While Christian democracy got nowhere politically between the world wars, momentous changes were initiated in Catholic thought. In particular, the French Catholic thinker Jacques Maritain developed arguments as to why Christians should embrace democracy and human rights.

During the 1920s, Maritain was close to the far-right Action Francaise, but the pope condemned the movement in 1926 for essentially being a group of faithless Catholics more interested in authoritarian nationalism than Christianity. Maritain accepted the pope's verdict and began a remarkable ideological journey toward democracy.

He criticized France's attempts to appear as a modern crusader, incurring the wrath of Catholics in the United States in particular. More importantly, he began to recast some of Aristotle's teachings and medieval natural law doctrines to arrive at a conception of human rights. He also drew on the philosophy of "personalism" — which was highly fashionable in the 1930s as it sought a middle way between individualist liberalism and communitarian socialism — and insisted that people had a spiritual dimension that materialistic liberalism supposedly failed to acknowledge.

After the fall of France, Maritain decided to remain in the U.S., where he happened to find himself after a lecture tour (the Gestapo searched his house outside Paris in vain). He authored pamphlets on the reconciliation of Christianity and democracy, which Allied bombers dropped over Europe, and he never tired of stressing that the Christian origins of America's flourishing democracy had influenced him.

Maritain also insisted that Christians, while they should take into account religious precepts, had to act as citizens first. Acceptance of pluralism and tolerance were central to his vision and he forbade one-to-one translation of religion into political life. He was rather skeptical of exclusively Christian parties.

Maritain participated in the drafting of the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights, and the Second Vatican Council eventually approved many of the ideas that he had been propounding since the 1930s. He also influenced the Christian Democratic parties that governed after 1945 in Germany, Italy, the Benelux countries and, to a lesser extent, France, and which consolidated not only democracy but also built strong welfare states in line with Catholic social doctrine. By the 1970s, the parties even began to stress that one didn't have to be a believer to join.

Maritain's example disproves the claim that the analogy between Christian and Muslim democracy fails.

It seems likely that just as the leading theorists of the Catholic Reformation had ties to America--Maritain, Orestes Brownson, Alexis de Tocqueville--so too is the Islamic Reformation likely to be an American production.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:23 AM


Hamastan Is Here to Stay (David Bedein, October 22, 2008, FrontPageMagazine.com)

Since taking over the Gaza Strip in June 2007, Hamas has ruled the territory like a personal kingdom, bolstering its own authority, ruthlessly crushing its opposition, and generally undermining the notion that Palestinians are ready to inherit a single, unified state alongside Israel. According to a September report by the International Crisis Group (ICG), a Brussels-based think tank, none of these factors are likely change any time soon.

Warning that “in Gaza, new realities are taking hold,” the ICG report, titled “Round Two in Gaza,” concluded that “reversing the drift toward greater Palestinian separation, both political and geographic, will be a difficult and, at this point, almost hopeless task.” Because Hamas has spent the past few years consolidating its rule, moreover, there is little reason to believe that the terror group will be dislodged from the Gaza Strip.

...then what conceivable reason is there for believing that Hamas will meekly accept a divided Palestine rather than unify it under their popular leadership?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:58 AM


Party Like It's 1964 (Richard Cohen, October 21, 2008, Washington Post)

A column, like a good movie, should have an arc -- start here, end there and somehow connect the two points. So this column will begin with the speech Condi Rice made to the Republican National Convention in 2000 in praise of George W. Bush and end with Colin Powell's appearance Sunday on "Meet the Press" in praise of Barack Obama. Between the first and the second lie the ruins of the GOP, a party gone very, very wrong.

...but they ought to at least know some of it. The prospect that 2008 is 1964 redux is hardly going to bother the GOP, 1966 Midterm Foreshadows Republican Era (Andrew E. Busch, July 2006, Ashbrook)
Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 election landslide, big Democratic gains in Congress, and the subsequent flood of liberal legislation flowing from Washington persuaded many observers that the Republican Party was nearly defunct. At best, they reasoned, it would take years for the GOP to reconstitute itself and regain relevance in the American system.

Two years later, Republicans were revivified and on the brink of an era of increasing political success, including near-domination of presidential elections that Democrats have occasionally overcome but have not yet ended four decades later.

Nor was 1964 an outlier: after winning in '48, Democrats were trounced in the '50 midterm and Harry Truman couldn't even stand for re-election in '52; whether he legitimately won in '60 or not, JFK was only saved from losing in '64 by Lee Harvey Oswald; 1976's victor, Jimmy Carter, lost his bid for re-election; and, following the Democrat sweep in '92, Democrats coughed up both chambers of Congress two years later, though Bill Clinton saved his own skin by shifting back to the Right. Little is more predictable than that if the Democrats sweep this November they'll act out on their pent up fury at liberalism's long decline and so appall the American people that it will usher in the next round of the conservative restoration.

It is understandable that voters might want to hit the pause button after a presidency as revolutionary and event-filled as George W. Bush's, the trick for the Left is grasping that pause isn't reverse. Color us skeptical that they can learn that lesson in the absence of yet another electoral drubbing in 2010 and a one term ride on the unicorn.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:48 AM


The Terror and Attraction of Science, Put to Song (DENNIS OVERBYE, 10/21/08, NY Times)

The tug of war between beauty and horror is the theme of “Doctor Atomic,” the opera by John Adams and Peter Sellars about the building of the atomic bomb, which opened last week at the Metropolitan Opera. It stars Gerald Finley as J. Robert Oppenheimer, the brilliant philosopher-king of the secret society of scientists and engineers who were plucked from academia and assembled on a New Mexico mesa during World War II and told to make a bomb before the Germans did — a man as sung by Mr. Finley equally in love with the Bomb and his own inscrutability.

The opera follows events on two nights — one in June and then on the eve of July 16 during the countdown to the first test explosion at Alamogordo amid lightning and rain — as the scientists wrestle with doubts about whether “the Gadget,” as they refer to the bomb, will work, or work too well, setting the atmosphere on fire, and whether it should be dropped on humans.

As a love-starved Kitty Oppenheimer, sung by Sasha Cooke, sings, “Those who most long for peace now pour their lives on war.”

“Doctor Atomic” was surely born on the dark side of science mythology. Pam Rosenberg, then director of the San Francisco Opera, wanted to do an opera about an American Faust, namely Oppenheimer, whose life certainly seemed to follow a tragic trajectory. Wealthy, articulate and effortlessly fluent in far-flung domains of learning and culture, he was the young American prince of the new science of quantum mechanics as well as a bohemian and a pal of communists (his brother Frank and his ex-lover Jean Tatlock). Less than a decade after he was hailed as the deliverer of Promethean fire and the symbol of American science, Oppenheimer was stripped of his security clearance and banished from government circles.

But whether this story really ends badly depends on your point of view. Oppenheimer, who resisted building the hydrogen bomb, lived out his life hobnobbing with geniuses at the Institute for Advanced Study, living in a house full of Van Goghs in Princeton, sailing in St. Johns and wearing custom-made suits.

Yes, the bomb worked. Yes, it was dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, despite the qualms of some of the scientists who had helped build it, killing hundreds of thousands. Yes, the war ended abruptly after that, sparing everybody an Iwo Jima-style invasion of Japan, but historians and scientists still argue about whether bombing those cities was necessary.

No, the bombs have not been used since, except to terrify us.

And therein lay the tragedy, the utter waste of fifty years of Cold War and tolerance of regimes like the PRC.

False Dawn: The Met’s take on John Adams’s “Doctor Atomic.” (Alex Ross, 10/27/08, The New Yorker)

I first heard John Adams’s “Doctor Atomic”—an opera set in the days and hours leading up to the first nuclear test, on July 16, 1945—while driving toward the patch of New Mexico desert where the detonation took place. In the course of chronicling the first production of “Atomic,” at the San Francisco Opera in 2005, I had arranged to visit the Trinity site, and brought with me the composer’s computer realization of his score. An eerie trip ensued. Even as the hot gleam of the highway gave way to desolate roads and fenced-off military zones, Adams’s characteristic musical gestures—the rich-hued harmonies and bopping rhythms that have made repertory items of “Harmonielehre,” “Nixon in China,” and “Short Ride in a Fast Machine”—disintegrated into broken clockwork rhythms, acid harmonies, and electronic noise.

Rehearsals for the première revealed “Atomic” to be not only an ominous score but also an uncommonly beautiful one. Scene after scene glows with strange energy. There is an inexplicably lovely choral ode to the bomb’s thirty-two-pointed explosive shell, with unison female voices floating above lush string-and-wind chords and glitterings of chimes and celesta. J. Robert Oppenheimer, the leader of the atomic project, and Kitty, his brilliant, alcoholic wife, sing sumptuous duets over an orchestra steeped in the decadent glamour of Wagner and Debussy. Oppenheimer’s central aria, a setting of the John Donne sonnet “Batter my heart, three-person’d God,” has a stark Renaissance eloquence, its melody a single taut wire. The night of the countdown is taken up with a hallucinatory sequence of convulsive choruses, lurching dances, and truncated lyric flights. After the first run-through with singers and orchestra, it seemed clear that “Doctor Atomic” was Adams’s most formidable achievement to date.

Staging the opera, though, has proved a challenge.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:24 AM


Sarah Palin Rifle Training - video powered by Metacafe

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:37 AM


Obama is playing with fire on trade (ANDRES OPPENHEIMER, October 21, 2008, THE MIAMI HERALD)

If Obama is a closet protectionist, as the McCain camp claims, that would entail huge risks for the global economy.

The Great Depression of the 1930s was sparked by a 1929 stock market collapse, but really turned into a global depression after the United States passed the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act on June 17, 1930, which raised U.S. customs duties for imports by up to 50 percent.

The tariff increases were aimed at helping domestic companies and generating jobs at home. Instead, other countries responded in kind, international trade plummeted by 33 percent over the next three years, U.S. exports collapsed and U.S. unemployment rose at record levels.

The lesson is clear: Adopting protectionist measures in a recession is playing with fire, McCain supporters (and many Obama fans, too) say.

My opinion: I don't think Obama is a protectionist. The two times I interviewed him, he almost jumped from his seat when I asked him if he's anti-free trade. Like Bill Clinton before him, he would most likely switch to a more pro free-trade stance once in office.

What worries me is whether Obama would have the guts to go against the growing protectionist mood in the country at a time when America needs to open new export markets more than ever. A new Zogby poll shows that 59 percent of Americans support either revising or withdrawing from NAFTA.

And I wonder whether Obama would spend his political capital trying to persuade a Democratic-controlled Congress to support free trade.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:14 AM


Qantas brings Airbus A380 to LAX: The world's largest jet arrives from Australia with about 450 people aboard. A380 flights are expected to provide an economic boost to the region. (Peter Pae, October 21, 2008, LA Times)

The world's largest airliner landed at Los Angeles International Airport on Monday with about 450 people aboard, kicking off Southern California's first A380 passenger service and providing a welcome economic boost for the slumping airport. [...]

The Qantas flights also will provide a boost to LAX, which is seeing flights dwindle as airlines slash service amid high fuel costs and low demand.

Total weekly departures at LAX are expected to fall nearly 20% in November compared with a year earlier. The deepest cuts have come from U.S. carriers such as United Airlines and Delta Air Lines.

But foreign carriers are mitigating some of the falloff. Next week, Emirates Airlines is scheduled to begin nonstop service from LAX to Dubai, and carriers based in South Korea are likely to increase flights to LAX after President Bush last week approved a visa waiver program for that country.

Under the program, which had been mostly confined to Western European allies, South Korean visitors will no longer need a visa if they stay in the U.S. for less than 90 days. It is intended to boost travel by friends and family of South Korean immigrants in the region, which has the largest concentration of South Koreans outside of the Asian country.

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October 20, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:58 PM


Comedy has become a liberal genre: Takes big role in presidential political race (Lisa Wangsness, October 20, 2008, Boston Globe)

Last week John McCain tried to make peace with David Letterman, who has been in a snit with McCain since the GOP presidential nominee canceled an appearance on his show weeks ago. But the jokes didn't exactly flow; in what felt more like a rant than a ribbing, Letterman grilled McCain in disapproving tones about everything from his attacks on Barack Obama to his choice of Sarah Palin as his running mate.

Palin, meanwhile, good-naturedly joined the "Saturday Night Live" cast this weekend to poke fun at herself. [...]

Both appearances drew gargantuan ratings, the highest in 14 years for "SNL" and almost three years for Letterman. But they also underlined the extent to which comedy has become a liberal genre in America, at a time when comedy has taken on an unprecedentedly important role in presidential politics.

Note that the conservative politician, Ms Palin, goes in for good-natured ribbing while the liberal comedians in the piece are angry haranguers? The latter don't do comedy any more.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:50 PM


Stocks Soar On Hopes Of Credit Recovery: Dow Gains 400 Points As Lending Rates Ease, Fed Chair Pushes Economic Stimulus (CBS/AP, Oct. 20, 2008)

Wall Street surged on a burst of optimism Monday, propelling the Dow Jones industrials up more than 400 points on more signs of a reviving credit market and comments from Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. All the major indexes finished with gains of 3 percent or more.

Investors who had sold furiously in recent weeks in response to immobile credit markets became more optimistic as bank-to-bank lending rates eased further. There's also less demand for ultra-safe Treasury bills, another sign that the credit markets are gradually returning to a healthier state. And Bernanke has hinted that the government will take more steps to help the economy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:47 PM


Palin Becomes Increasingly Accessible To The National Media (Scott Conroy, 10/20/08, CBS News: From the Road)

It was less than two weeks ago when Sarah Palin astonished her traveling press corps by lifting the curtain (literally) and journeying to the back of her campaign plane to answer reporters’ questions for the first time after 40 days on the campaign trail. But the candidate who has been criticized for having a bunker mentality when it came to the national media can now lay legitimate claim to being more accessible than either Joe Biden or Barack Obama.

In the past two days alone, Palin has answered questions from her national press corps on three separate occasions. On Saturday, she held another plane availability, and on Sunday, she offered an impromptu press conference on the tarmac upon landing in Colorado Springs. A few minutes later, she answered even more questions from reporters during an off-the-record stop at a local ice cream shop.

By contrast, Biden hasn’t held a press conference in more than a month, and Obama hasn’t taken questions from his full traveling press corps since the end of September. John McCain—who spent most of the primary season holding what seemed like one, never-ending media availability—hasn’t done one since Sept. 23.

Though she often turns the “mainstream media” into a punching bag on the stump, Palin clearly enjoys interacting with reporters.

Only the Beltway thinks it's super difficult to handle the press. You can actually do it even if you didn't attend an Ivy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:35 PM


Houses For Sale--To Immigrants (Diana Furchtgott-Roth 10.20.08, Forbes)

We should consider ameliorating the underlying problem--the weak American real estate market, with its large overhang of unsold housing--by increasing visa quotas for immigrants who want to come here to live and work.

Many potential immigrants have money. We have empty homes, whose spiraling downward prices are contributing to our financial chaos. Why not raise visa allowances to encourage home purchases, at no cost to the government?

Currently, more than 2.25 million vacant homes and condominium units are for sale, according to the Census Bureau, and the vacancy rate is 2.8%.

This is far higher than the 1 million and 1.8% that were the norm before 2006.

A study by the Kauffman Foundation, which promotes entrepreneurship, concludes that 1 million skilled workers are competing for 120,000 permanent residency visas, causing talented workers to choose to live--and buy or rent homes--elsewhere.

It's no coincidence that the housing market started receding when the House GOP killed immigration reform.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:29 PM


Worlds Apart: Obama, McCain, and the future of foreign policy (Nicholas Lemann, 10/13/08, The New Yorker)

The network of experts set up by Lake and Rice eventually grew to about three hundred, divided into teams by region and issue, with each group generating its own material and passing it up the line. (Now, after the official absorption of Hillary Clinton’s foreign-policy apparatus, there may be as many as five hundred experts connected to the Obama campaign.) These people support a close group of about a half-dozen advisers, who include, in addition to Rice, Lake, Craig, Danzig, and Lippert, another former Senate staffer named Denis McDonough, who worked for Tom Daschle before he was unseated in 2004; Ben Rhodes, a young speechwriter who had helped draft the Iraq Study Group Report in 2006; and Scott Gration, a retired Air Force major-general whom Obama has befriended. Only Lippert, Rhodes, and McDonough are on the campaign’s payroll; Lippert travels with Obama, Rhodes is based at campaign headquarters in Chicago, and McDonough splits his time between Chicago and Washington. The thoughts of the many experts—who generally respond by e-mail—are most often filtered through Rice, Lippert, and McDonough. Thus far, nobody leaks, nobody bickers in a way that can be discerned by outsiders, and there are not obvious camps. The general feel of the campaign, both in its spread-out virtual form and at its headquarters in a modern office tower in downtown Chicago, is a little like that of the Microsoft campus in the nineteen-nineties, or the Google campus today: everybody seems young, trim, competent, cool, and casual, but casual in a “you and I both know that we’re ferocious and brilliant and we’re going to crush the other team” way.

The tone comes from Obama himself—he’s a mixture of soulful outsider and competitive, hyper-organized meritocrat—and it has an ideological manifestation. The Obama people think of themselves as future-oriented strategic thinkers, not old-fashioned, gooey, Eleanor Roosevelt-style humanitarians—as people who get it, the “it” being the new realities of the twenty-first century. Although the candidates may be required to say that their foremost concern is how the economic crisis affects the middle class, they seem to get their inexhaustible drive from the belief that they might be able to run American foreign policy. Obama’s foreign-policy staff likes to think he reads their memos first. The most sustained signal we have about Obama’s personal views on foreign policy is the next-to-last chapter of his 2006 book “The Audacity of Hope,” which is called “The World Beyond Our Borders,” and which, by all accounts, he wrote himself, taking particular care with it. [...]

The most mystical believer in Obamaism whom I met was Scott Gration, the retired Air Force major-general—a burly, friendly, artifice-less guy who assured me that he had only recently begun to wear a tie regularly. I went to see him over the summer at his house in Nutley, New Jersey. An American flag flies from a flagpole on the lawn. Gration, who grew up in Africa as the son of American missionaries, and who flew two hundred and seventy-four combat missions over Iraq, used to be a registered Republican, but he became a Democrat after spending time with Obama, especially during a trip to Africa in 2006. Perhaps because his background isn’t conventionally liberal, he is more open than the other top Obama advisers in expressing a soaring optimism about the possibility of a less arrogant, more coöperative, more empathetic America leading the world in confronting its most intractable problems. “We’ve screwed up,” he told me. “We don’t really fix these things.” He mentioned the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, the Israel-Palestine dispute, and the tension between Russia and Georgia. “What I’d hope we learn from that is: ‘Yep, we’ve got to fix the basic issues here.’ ” He went on, “What doesn’t work, in Gration’s mind, is forcing a solution. Create an environment, give people the opportunity to air their differences, and see if they can come together. We don’t tell them what the solution is, but we do have an obligation—let’s get people in here, find out the needs, see if you can come up with a plan. Don’t try to freeze conflicts!”

Gration was impatient with the idea that conflict is the natural state of the world, to be managed rather than resolved. “People are more alike than their cultures and religions,” he said. “When Obama talks about global citizens, it’s the same framework. You see, religion and culture—they’re the way people communicate their values. They want stability, order, education. This is just humanness. Then you add on your religion, your culture—that’s how you execute it.” His implication was that if we can get past the religious and cultural identities that serve as host organisms for conflict, and deal with people at the level of their humanity and their basic needs, then we can make real progress—especially if Obama personally holds an office that permits him to set the tone and lead the effort.

This one has everything: the 300 advisors, the unusual specificity about this one chapter of the book actually having been written by the Unicorn Rider, and General Gration's belief in magic....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:22 PM

ALONG THE AXIS (via Glenn Dryfoos):

Acclaimed Colombian Institution Has 4,800 Books and 10 Legs (SIMON ROMERO, 10/20/08, NY Times)

In a ritual repeated nearly every weekend for the past decade here in Colombia’s war-weary Caribbean hinterland, Luis Soriano gathered his two donkeys, Alfa and Beto, in front of his home on a recent Saturday afternoon.

Sweating already under the unforgiving sun, he strapped pouches with the word “Biblioburro” painted in blue letters to the donkeys’ backs and loaded them with an eclectic cargo of books destined for people living in the small villages beyond.

His choices included “Anaconda,” the animal fable by the Uruguayan writer Horacio Quiroga that evokes Kipling’s “Jungle Book”; some Time-Life picture books (on Scandinavia, Japan and the Antilles); and the Dictionary of the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language.

“I started out with 70 books, and now I have a collection of more than 4,800,” said Mr. Soriano, 36, a primary school teacher who lives in a small house here with his wife and three children, with books piled to the ceilings.

“This began as a necessity; then it became an obligation; and after that a custom,” he explained, squinting at the hills undulating into the horizon. “Now,” he said, “it is an institution.”

A whimsical riff on the bookmobile, Mr. Soriano’s Biblioburro is a small institution: one man and two donkeys.

No, I asked if I could borrow a book, not for a book burro.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:21 PM

MANIFEST DENSITY (via Jorge Curioso):

Bwoop! Bwoop! Fruitcake alert! Fruitcake alert!

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:33 PM


Bailout Impact: Libor Improving (Luke Mullins, 10/20/08, US News)

Below is a table from acrossthecurve.com, which shows that Libor rates—a key measure of interbank lending—have begun easing. The movement demonstrates that banks are growing less terrified—at least for now—of lending to one another. This is a key step in the recuperation of the credit markets.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:17 PM


The New Fear: It's not just about 9/11 (SASHA ABRAMSKY, 10/24/08, The Chronicle Review)

Even Barack Obama's presidential candidacy, built around the language of "inspiration" and "hope," framed in explicit rejection of the language of fear, in some ways grows out of this moment. During times of extreme uncertainty, phenomena that might be labeled "gyration points" emerge. Last spring, a year into the subprime debacle, but before the banking system itself had begun to visibly fail, the stock market was swinging wildly on the merest rumor. Fortunes were won and lost on the psychological tics of big traders and investors. Similarly, political loyalties throughout the past eight years have been in wild-swing mode. Majority support for President Bush and the national surveillance state in 2004, the audience ecstasies of the deliberately policy-nonspecific "Yes, we can" movement of Obama in 2008 — both are products of a national unease, a desire for a knight in shining armor to ride in and save us from the bad guys. That Bush is clearly a man of the conservative right and Obama a man of the liberal left is in some ways secondary to the fact that both emerged into prominence by preaching to the crowd their ability to radically transform a broken status quo. And voters have responded, because even more than identifying as "liberal" or "conservative," many people these days respond to a candidate's perceived ability to tackle fear.

Our current gyration point makes for fascinating politics. But it doesn't necessarily make for good policy making.

Fear of the end of cheap oil created a market stampede in the spring and summer that, indeed, ended the era of cheap oil, even while supply held remarkably steady. Yes, oil prices have since fallen, but only because of the terror of a long-lasting international depression. Fear of a housing crash at least partly helped create, and then exacerbate, the stampede away from mortgage investments — nobody, including bankers, wanted to run the risk of being the last one stuck inside a burning building. Over the summer, fear of the dollar's continuing to depreciate helped create an investment rush into commodities — pushing up the price of oil, food, and other key staples, putting further pressure on the dollar and turning what could have been a minor devaluation into a currency crisis — one that has slowed with the banking crisis, but possibly only temporarily. Fear of bad news from banks drove stock prices into their own wild gyrations, historically unprecedented in their rapidity, further reducing the ability to meaningfully value financial institutions, which in turn furthered the credit crunch. And so on.

At the public-policy level, fear of recession has taken on mantralike qualities. In the past, we assumed that boom-bust was a cyclical proc-ess. Like squirrels, government and citizenry alike would store up at least some of the surplus from the good times to tide us through the bad. We don't do that anymore — instead we've gone on a spending binge that has destroyed our reserves. Hence our panic at the thought of a slowdown in economic growth.

Today the very notion of "recession" is enough to put the Federal Reserve Board into a tizzy. Yet in rushing to lower interest rates to stave off a recession in the middle part of this year, and in then throwing hundreds of billions of dollars into hastily cobbled-together, poorly coordinated rescue packages for banks and mortgage lenders, the Fed may well ultimately have unleashed an inflationary spiral that will, in the long run, do at least as much economic damage as a corrective recession would.

As for climate change, while it's clearly a massive problem, it's also an extremely complex one. Yet suddenly, as the reality of a warming planet belatedly enters public consciousness, we've all become climate experts. Every storm, every deviation from the norm regarding daily temperatures, rainfall, wind speed, is now blamed on global warming. And so we look for quick-fix solutions. In glomming onto one such panacea, biofuels, we may actually have made the problem worse, while contributing to a massive global food crisis.

In short, we're becoming so fearful of the future — the next attack, the next economic collapse, the next environmental catastrophe — that we're undermining the present. And in so doing, we're paradoxically making it more likely that the future will be as bleak as our nightmares suggest.

So what's going on?

The books discussed here offer some interlocking explanations: Political elites stoke fear; the media further that process, as does our brain's kluge-like psychological and information-evaluation systems. But that's just part of the picture.

Over the past three or four generations, technology has transformed our lives, our experiences, and — at least as important — our expectations of a future coming at us at warp speed. We have learned how to fly, how to travel in space, how to manipulate our genetic code. We have developed the Internet and come to take for granted instant, and global, transfers of information. We have created vast electronic data storehouses, giving anybody with a computer immediate access to more information than the most-learned scholars could have gotten 20 or 30 years ago. We have engineered drugs to cure previously lethal diseases and watched human life expectancy soar. We have seen countries like India and China march into modernity, leaving behind epic famines. We have watched human wealth skyrocket and seen new inventions, like CD's, iPods, and cellphones, transform how we spend our leisure time and how we communicate at work and at play.

In the past, human beings expected their futures to pretty much imitate the past and present. The future was predictable, and since it was likely to be as stained with blood, epidemics, and famines as the past, they were in no rush to get to it.

Yet by the end of World War I, along with technology, a utopian streak of futurology entered the popular consciousness. The war was so terrible, the technologies employed so devastating, surely it was the War to End All Wars. Of course, it wasn't. But then, at the end of World War II, when the atomic bomb was unleashed, optimists again concluded that the horrific nature of the technology meant an era of peace was at hand. During the cold war, proponents of the theory of mutually assured destruction, in both the Warsaw Pact and NATO, essentially embedded such thinking into global culture.

With more than a dose of luck, MAD worked long enough to bring down the Soviet Union, and it provided a protective space within which most Americans grew culturally unaccustomed to war (or, at least, expected not to have to experience firsthand such conflicts as the wars in Korea and Vietnam); culturally expectant of the endless march of science; culturally demanding of an ever-higher quality of life and ever-longer years in which to experience the good times.

Our future promises to be sharply different from the futures afforded previous generations. In some ways, the emphasis on speed underlined in the books discussed here — the speed of communications, of realizing threats, of the pace of events — is relevant. But it's a different speeding up that seems to me most important. After centuries of technological progress, we think we can glimpse the Promised Land. We can envision a world in which cancer is merely a coldlike nuisance; in which stem-cell research banishes Alzheimer's. We are Greek deities — emotional yet near-omnipotent. Masters of the universe.

It's an intoxicating — if incoherent — vision. But the world today is far from a utopia. My guess is we have become so fearful at least in part because we fear our intoxicating future's being snatched away from us. That's a more psychologically devastating emotion than simply going through life knowing that threescore and ten meant you'd had a pretty good go-round.

Especially affected are the comfortable classes, the people who have most benefited from educational, economic, workplace, and scientific changes in the past few decades, and who have the highest expectations for how they and their children will interact with those changes. Comfortable people today don't simply fear losing what they already have; they also fear losing what they might soon have. They fear that the ugly present might sabotage a beautiful future.

How can the Brights help but despair when they see that Rationalism hasn't made a bit of difference (at least not a positive one)? And how help but resent the Stupid who told them they were deluded from the get-go?

Hard to see how convincing themselves that the Unicorn Rider is the new messiah would make them any less fearful when he inevitably face-planted.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:10 PM


Why the crisis-rattled elite is banking on Obama: The endorsement of Obama by every liberal’s favourite Republican, Colin Powell, springs from disarray and desperation in DC circles. (Sean Collins, 10/20/08, Spiked)

Historically the differences between Republicans and Democrats have been narrow (especially by European standards). And in challenging times, such as war, politicians from both sides have come together. Today, both parties have abandoned their old principles and have lost a sense of direction. Consequently, when it’s not clear exactly what it means to be a Republican or a Democrat, the meaning of party membership does not carry the same significance as before. The Powell endorsement of Obama shows that the shrill politicisation of lifestyle in this election contest masks an ongoing erosion of substantial political difference between the Republican and Democratic leaderships.

More to the point, the financial crisis has shaken the confidence of the American establishment. Over the past few weeks we’ve seen an entire political class (not just the Bush administration) panicking and floundering to find a response. In this situation, a number of leading figures, such as Powell, have concluded that McCain is not up to the task and is too big a risk. At a time like this, the cross-party elite wants adults in charge, from whatever party. McCain, with his one-a-day economic prescriptions and gimmicks like new mascot Joe the Plumber, doesn’t seem to fit the description. Obama might not have much to say about the financial mess either, but at least he seems to take it seriously and to have an ability to calm the public.

While everyone is asking why Powell is backing Obama, perhaps the more interesting question is: why does Obama welcome his endorsement? Obama responded to the news by saying he was ‘honoured and deeply humbled’, and indicated that Powell would be an adviser of some kind in his administration. It may seem obvious, given the potential electoral benefits already mentioned, why Obama embraced Powell’s support. But one of the central arguments Obama deploys during his campaigning is that he had the foresight to oppose the Iraq war, and yet Powell was intimately involved in that war and the entire Bush foreign policy. Powell is the one who put forward the case for war to the United Nations with his speech on bogus weapons of mass destruction.

Obama’s welcoming of Powell’s endorsement – and suggestion that he would use him as an adviser – indicates that he really will not represent a decisive break from Bush, as he claims. Obama’s main criticism of McCain is that he follows Bush, and yet here we have Obama aligning himself with one of Bush’s main lieutenants. In fact, with regard to Afghanistan, if anything Obama outdoes both Bush and McCain in bellicosity.

...with an economics team that features Warren Buffett, Robert Rubin and Paul Volker, a President Obama would be the most old-fashioned conservative in that area since Coolidge.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:06 PM


Leading indicators rise in September (Associated Press, October 20, 2008)

The economy's health improved for the first time in five months in September as supplier deliveries and new orders strengthened, a private research group said Monday.

The New York-based Conference Board said its monthly forecast of future economic activity rose 0.3 percent, a better reading than the 0.2 percent drop expected by Wall Street economists surveyed by Thomson/IFR.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:42 PM


Here the People Rule (WILLIAM KRISTOL, 10/20/08, NY Times)

According to the silver-penned Peggy Noonan, writing in The Wall Street Journal over the weekend, “In the end the Palin candidacy is a symptom and expression of a new vulgarization in American politics.”

Leave aside Noonan’s negative judgment on Sarah Palin’s candidacy, a judgment I don’t share. Are we really seeing “a new vulgarization in American politics”? As opposed to the good old non-vulgar days?

Politics in a democracy are always “vulgar” — since democracy is rule by the “vulgus,” the common people, the crowd. Many conservatives have never been entirely comfortable with this rather important characteristic of democracy. Conservatives’ hearts have always beaten a little faster when they read Horace’s famous line: “Odi profanum vulgus et arceo.” “I hate the ignorant crowd and I keep them at a distance.”

But is the ignorant crowd really our problem today? Are populism and anti-intellectualism rampant in the land? Does the common man too thoroughly dominate our national life?

...that Beltway pundits think they6 ought to run the country, regardless of whether they're Left or Right.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:33 AM


Cannibal chef given life sentence (BBC, 10/20/08)

A chef who stabbed his lover to death before cutting flesh off his thigh and cooking and eating it has been jailed.

Anthony Morley, 36, the first winner of Mr Gay UK, was told he would serve a minimum of 30 years in prison for the murder of 33-year-old Damian Oldfield.

So, all of a sudden, we get to judge his lifestyle choices?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:28 AM


Destruction Of Bloglines Now Complete; Founder Prepares To Switch To Google Reader (Michael Arrington, October 18, 2008, Tech Crunch)

Users who hadn’t already left Bloglines for Google Reader and other functional RSS readers are doing so now, largely because Bloglines has stopped working and the company has done absolutely nothing to communicate to users what is going on or when it might be fixed.

Even Bloglines founder Mark Fletcher, who sold the company to Ask.com in 2005, is ready to jump ship. In a Twitter message yesterday he said “Bloglines, please stop sucking. It’s been a couple weeks now. I don’t want to have to move to Google Reader. Sigh.”

Thanks to RSS feeds it is possible to whittle your email load down to a minimal level and track numerous sites quite efficiently. But that requires a working reader. We use Google Reader and it works well.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:00 AM


Against the Odds, Financial Crisis Helps Stimulate the Dollar (JOANNA SLATER, 10/20/08, Wall Street Journal)

Rather than sinking under the financial-sector bailout, the greenback is buoyant. That is a surprise to many who expected rising government spending and a tanking U.S. economy to cripple the dollar.

Instead, the dollar has benefited from the global flight from risky assets as well as the unwinding of bets made with borrowed cash. The scope of the crisis also has helped: It is clear that economic and banking woes aren't unique to the U.S.

...a storm blows in and you're surprised folks head for the safest harbor?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:57 AM


Bank-Lending Boost Could Spur Thaw (EMILY BARRETT, 10/20/08, Wall Street Journal)

On Friday, three big banks led by J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. made multibillion-dollar offers of three-month funds to European counterparts, causing an immediate stir in the shriveled markets for unsecured lending.

That raised expectations that lenders would finally open their doors and businesses would be able to borrow again, removing one of the biggest stresses on the global economy.

In response, futures markets are predicting sharp declines in the rates banks charge one another to borrow, with the benchmark three-month Libor, or London interbank offered rate, expected to drop by around half a percentage point from 4.41875% Friday. That would be a multiweek low, but still some way above the 2.8% seen before the collapse of Lehman Brothers in mid-September.

Libor is the benchmark for pricing of all kinds of debt, including corporate borrowing and mortgages. A lasting drop would be a powerful signal of recovery in the banking sector. If banks are prepared to lower their lending rates, it means they are regaining sufficient confidence to resume their normal relationships as creditors, instead of plunging their cash into government bonds and considering central banks the only trustworthy counterparties.

McCain Missed a Trick (Conrad Black, 10/20/08, The Daily Beast)

When he interrupted his campaign to return to DC to manage the economic crisis, McCain was onto a winning streak. But he blew it.

President Bush did his best to manage the financial crisis in a way that would have enabled John McCain to turn it to his advantage, but the candidate missed his great chance. [...]

With only a month to go before what at that time was a toss-up election, President Bush handed McCain the chance to add to the relief measure any flourish he might find politically useful. McCain could have demanded that executive compensation be capped and financial reporting be amplified.

He could have packaged up his entire tax plan, added a vote-flavored stimulus proposal, and presented the whole confection as a statesmanlike, imaginative, just plan of action. He could have held the public's attention all the way to the election.

It was the greatest opening for an incumbent to assist his preferred successor since Lyndon B. Johnson conjured out of thin air a phony peace breakthrough in Vietnam six days before the 1968 election, for the benefit of Hubert Humphrey against Richard Nixon.

It didn't happen. McCain said almost nothing at the White House meeting, and stripped the gears of the Straight Talk Express.

If john McCain loses, he will have lost on that afternoon when the House GOP bailed on its president and nominee.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:43 AM


As Fuel Prices Fall, Will Push For Alternatives Lose Steam? (Steven Mufson, 10/20/08, Washington Post)

Doing something about the amount of gasoline Americans use is essential to defusing future oil shocks. The American motorist is among the most profligate in the world. More than one out of every nine barrels of oil produced worldwide ends up in the gas tanks of cars in the United States. The amount of petroleum burned by U.S. motorists exceeds the entire crude oil output of Saudi Arabia, and that has propped up demand -- and prices.

Yet U.S. cars are among the least fuel efficient in the world. "The U.S. dependence on oil imports is based on waste, not on needs," said Paolo Scaroni, chief executive of Italian oil giant Eni.

Electric cars aren't the only answer. More efficient cars, whether better combustion engines or hybrids like the Prius, may be a cheaper way to achieve big fuel savings.

Some firms are creating substitute fuels such as ethanol derived from corn or diesel derived from algae. Biofuel players range from the oil majors, such as BP and Royal Dutch Shell, to ethanol giants VeraSun Energy and Poet, to tiny firms like Solarzyme, which started in its founders' garage five years ago and is now testing an algae catalyst in a large commercial vat. Many firms are working on cellulosic ethanol, derived from organic materials such as grasses or wood chips, but those factories are still in the pilot or demonstration stage.

Almost all of those alternatives rely on federal subsidies or are counting on lower costs as technology evolves. The cheaper oil gets, the bigger those technological improvements need to be to compete.

The electric car has the potential for making a bigger impact than alternative fuels because it would be powered by the electricity grid, which relies on a mix of coal, nuclear, natural gas and renewable energy sources. Moreover, recharging an electric car is much cheaper than refueling a gasoline car.

Its proponents say the electric car has transformative potential that other transportation alternatives lack. "We want customers to see the Volt as the game changer it is, not only for the technology, but also for business, and maybe more importantly for the way the world drives," said Troy A. Clarke, president of GM North America.

"Reducing our oil dependency meaningfully in the U.S., under any scenario, requires radically improving the efficiency of our vehicles," says Saurin D. Shah, a vice president at investment firm Neuberger Berman who expects an explosion of hybrid and plug-in cars by 2030. He predicts hybrid and electric cars will replace conventional vehicles as swiftly as electric locomotives replaced steam-driven ones.

But because their batteries are expensive, plug-in cars are going to cost as much as $8,000 more than conventional gasoline cars. The lower the price of gasoline, the longer it is going to take for fuel savings to make up for the car purchase premium.

October 19, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:40 PM


David Price is one of several reasons that the Rays are going to be even better over the next five years or so than they were this year. The best team in baseball is going to basically just be a contest between the Sox and Rays for awhile. With Josh Beckett hurt that was the Rays in '08. Well done.

Sox overachieve in season of bumps: World Series berth just out of reach despite much adversity (Mark Remme, 10/19/08, MLB.com)

Truth be told, Boston didn't win 95 games in the regular season and force a Game 7 in the American League Championship Series the easy way. The Red Sox endured, clawed and battled their way to within one game of reaching another World Series on Sunday, then fell short with a 3-1 loss to the Rays at Tropicana Field. [...]

But look no further than the team's performance in the ALCS as an indication of how tough the Red Sox were. Trailing, 7-0, in the seventh inning of Game 5 -- and behind, 3-1, in a best-of-seven series -- the Red Sox rallied for an 8-7 win, then took Game 6 in St. Petersburg to force their third ALCS Game 7 in five seasons -- all of which included Boston late-series rallies.

Yet another miracle comeback -- the same type the Sox became known for throughout the decade -- was there for the taking.

They just fell a little short.

There were obvious inconsistencies throughout -- compare the Red Sox's 21-29 road record at the All-Star break to their 36-11 home mark. Boston won 13 in a row at home from May 2-June 5 but lost 12 of 17 on the road in that same span. The Red Sox rallied to finish the season just four games under .500 on the road.

"You can't help but be proud of the way they've gone about it from Day 1 of Spring Training," Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein said in early September. "With a lot of little hurdles and moments of adversity that have crept up, they just keep grinding through it."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:31 PM


'Mystery' man lends support to Obama (KENNETH P. VOGEL, 10/19/08, Politico)

He's the star of bulletins chronicling Barack Obama's movements, one of only a few nonrelatives to consistently get time with the Democratic candidate for president and a trusted confidant who has shared some of the most pivotal moments of Obama's career with him.

Yet journalists who have followed Obama's campaign for the better part of two years don't know what he looks like, staffers who have logged countless hours traveling with Team Obama didn't even know he works for the campaign and there's never been a story in a major media outlet about him.

He is Michael Signator, an aide and buddy of the man who — according to polls — stands a better-than-50-50 shot of becoming the next president of the United States of America.

Technically, Signator's job is to provide "supplemental security support" for Obama's presidential campaign and also to coordinate the Obama family's personal and campaign schedules, according to Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt.

A police officer in a suburban Chicago town, Signator met Obama while volunteering for his 2004 U.S. Senate campaign, which eventually hired him as Obama's driver.

For security reasons , Obama's presidential campaign refuses to reveal the details of Signator's role, but LaBolt said it brings Signator into frequent, close contact with the Obamas. [...]

Reached by telephone, he declined to comment on his relationship with Obama and his family, and asked how Politico obtained his telephone number. He directed inquiries to the Obama campaign press office and explained, "I can't do any type of interview at all. I apologize. I'm sorry, and please just disregard this phone number, because I can't take any calls."

The campaign press staff — which at first denied that Signator worked for the campaign, then discouraged Politico from writing about him — declined to set up an interview.

That leaves public records and the protective pool reports — written by journalists tapped from the traveling press contingent to follow Obama during all non-campaign-related activities and report back to their colleagues on the typically mundane details — to piece together a picture of Signator and his place in Obama World.

Back in 1985, I was the Reagan Republican body man for the Atari Democrat (remember that term?) candidate for governor of NJ. The job is a peculiar combination of dogsbody, protector, and whatever else the politician in question chooses to make it. Our campaign had a shoestring budget so I was basically a traveling advance man, press liaison, weekend driver and security, etc. The main qualification for the job though is that the body himself and his spouse like and trust you, so I don't blame this guy for being so reticent.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:11 PM


Obama's Carbon Ultimatum: The coming offer you won't be able to refuse. (Wall Street Journal, 10/20/08)

Jason Grumet is currently executive director of an outfit called the National Commission on Energy Policy and one of Mr. Obama's key policy aides. In an interview last week with Bloomberg, Mr. Grumet said that come January the Environmental Protection Agency "would initiate those rulemakings" that classify carbon as a dangerous pollutant under current clean air laws. That move would impose new regulation and taxes across the entire economy, something that is usually the purview of Congress. Mr. Grumet warned that "in the absence of Congressional action" 18 months after Mr. Obama's inauguration, the EPA would move ahead with its own unilateral carbon crackdown anyway.

Well, well. For years, Democrats -- including Senator Obama -- have been howling about the "politicization" of the EPA, which has nominally been part of the Bush Administration. The complaint has been that the White House blocked EPA bureaucrats from making the so-called "endangerment finding" on carbon. Now it turns out that a President Obama would himself wield such a finding as a political bludgeon. He plans to issue an ultimatum to Congress: Either impose new taxes and limits on carbon that he finds amenable, or the EPA carbon police will be let loose to ravage the countryside.

The EPA hasn't made a secret of how it would like to centrally plan the U.S. economy under the 1970 Clean Air Act. In a blueprint released in July, the agency didn't exactly say it'd collectivize the farms -- but pretty close, down to the "grass clippings." The EPA would monitor and regulate the carbon emissions of "lawn and garden equipment" as well as everything with an engine, like cars, planes and boats. Eco-bureaucrats envision thousands of other emissions limits on all types of energy. Coal-fired power and other fossil fuels would be ruled out of existence, while all other prices would rise as the huge economic costs of the new regime were passed down the energy chain to consumers.

These costs would far exceed the burden of a straight carbon tax or cap-and-trade system enacted by Congress, because the Clean Air Act was never written to apply to carbon and other greenhouse gases. It's like trying to do brain surgery with a butter knife.

Coming for the lawn mowers would make the assault weapon ban look like a Democrat masterstroke.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:55 PM


Commodities tumble on recession fears (Subodh Varma, 10/20/08, TNN)

As the dark clouds of an economic slowdown gather over the world, prices of most primary commodities are sliding worldwide. Only a few months ago, prices of many key commodities, like food grains, crude oil and metals had reached dizzy heights. Now, they are in free fall.

Wheat had touched $481.5 per metric tonne (pmt) in March, while rice zoomed to $772 pmt in May this year. These were all-time highs, causing riots to break out in over three dozen countries and a global uproar. At the end of the first week of October, wheat prices had tumbled by nearly two-thirds to $272 pmt, while rice prices nearly halved to $412 pmt, according to the latest data released by Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations. Other agricultural commodities too have seen a slump. Soybean prices have dropped from a peak of $586 pmt in July to $371 pmt and palm oil from $1249 pmt in March to $885 pmt.

According to the latest FAO estimates, the main reason behind this dramatic across-the-board decline is record harvests in most crops.

The Malthusians are always with us and always wrong.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:40 PM


Beyond the Nation State: A review of The Great Experiment: The Story of Ancient Empires, Modern States, and the Quest for a Global Nation, by Strobe Talbott and Democracy Without Borders?: Global Challenges to Liberal Democracy, by Marc. F. Plattner (John Fonte, July 28, 2008, Claremont Review of Books)

Talbott goes very wrong in his understanding of the relationship between the Enlightenment and America's founding. Like many on the Left and some on the center-Right (e.g., Robert Kagan), he describes a philosophically monolithic Enlightenment with the American Republic and the French Republic as its progeny. He acknowledges that these republics developed differently, but he views their "philosophical parentage" as the same. He fails to recognize the division within the Enlightenment from which the two revolutions and regimes derived their fundamentally different characters.

The French Revolution (like Marxism, as Lenin recognized) was a child of the utopian radical wing of the Enlightenment typified by Condorcet, who believed in a malleable human nature and the perfectibility of man, and promoted a historicist vision of the inevitable march of progress. John Adams directly challenged Condorcet's views in the late 1780s; the American Revolution and our entire constitutional order were heirs to the non-utopian Enlightenment (mostly Anglo-Scottish, but including continental moderates like Montesquieu). The very serious conflict within Western democracy today between the constitutional state and global governance is at one level a continuation of the argument within the Enlightenment between its moderate and utopian wings. Talbott does not understand this.

In Democracy Without Borders? Marc Plattner highlights the inherent tensions between the transnational worldview promoted by Talbott (and influential Western elites), and democratic self-government itself. Plattner, a former student of Allan Bloom, is a vice-president of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and co-editor of its Journal of Democracy. Whereas Talbott posits global governance as the ultimate political good, Plattner champions liberal democracy and the democratic nation-state. To the title question, Democracy Without Borders? Plattner answers no: "We cannot enjoy liberal democracy outside the framework of the nation-state."

Plattner's book is an insightful reflection on liberalism, the democratic nation-state, and the European Union in relation to global democracy. Talbott talks of "shared" or "pooled" sovereignty without directly addressing the core problem of who is ultimately accountable to the citizens of a democracy. Plattner, by contrast, argues that "If there is no clear locus or demarcation of sovereignty, it is hard to see how the people can be sovereign." [...]

Though he provides a clear antidote to the writings of Strobe Talbott and other transnationalists, ultimately Plattner blinks. The global governance movement is the most serious challenge today to constitutional democracy and its only compatible home, the sovereign democratic nation-state. It is no less a challenge because it is Western, internal, "soft," and indirect, rather than Eastern, external, hard, and direct. Global governance in general and the European Union in particular represent a conscious ideological rival to American constitutional democracy, because the E.U. is both a post-democratic and a post-liberal project. Under E.U. rules, legislation begins in the European Commission (the bureaucracy), not the European Parliament, which has only limited authority. About 70% of Britain's laws today come from the European Commission, not from that "mother of parliaments" the British House of Commons—so much for representative democracy. Moreover, based on the U.N. Convention on Eliminating All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the E.U. is promoting gender proportionalism in parliamentary and local elections across Europe, recommending a certain percentage of seats reserved for women. This is not liberalism but classic corporatism, in which representation is based on the ascribed group to which one belongs. To make matters worse, E.U. institutions restrict free speech by outlawing "hate speech" in ways that would be inconceivable to Americans with our First Amendment guarantees.

This is not to suggest that we abandon Europe, but it is to argue that we support those forces in the E.U. who are seeking to repatriate sovereign powers back to the democratic nation-states.

You can see why we consider ourselves so fortunate to include essays by both Mr. Fonte and Mr. Plattner in our book:

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:27 PM


Finding God in Ordinary Life: The great filmmaker Robert Bresson sought to depict truth and goodness in a world where "things are going very badly." (Eric David, 09/16/08, Christianity Today)

In seeking to portray that "heart of the heart," Bresson once said, "I want to make people who see the film feel the presence of God in ordinary life."

In his 70s, Bresson published a series of Ecclesiastes-like
observations on filmmaking, titled Notes sur le Cinématographe (Notes
on Cinematography) that is revered to this day as one of the best
manuals on filmmaking by one of the masters.

Bresson has influenced filmmakers as diverse as Kieslowski, Malle,
Fassbinder, Bertolucci, Mann, Siegel, Jarmusch and even, to some
extent, Scorsese, who observed: "Bresson focuses on the moments that happen between the ones that appear in most other movies." The
filmmaker and critic Francois Truffaut had to disavow his early
opinion that Bresson's ascetic aesthetic would not catch on. Agnieska
Holland said, "For me, Bresson is one of the giants of the last fifty
years of cinema. Maybe the giant."

"Where have all the great ones gone?" Andrei Tarkovsky asked in his diary. "Where are Rossellini, Cocteau, Renoir, Vigo? The great—who are poor in spirit? Where has poetry gone? Money, money, money and fear … Fellini is afraid, Antonioni is afraid … The only one who is afraid of nothing is Bresson."

Although he rejected the label, Bresson was in many respects a Jansenist, an ascetic strain of Catholicism, similar to Calvinism in its focus on predestination and the un-deservedness of grace. Ironically, Bresson wrote, but never filmed, a life of Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits—the Jansenists' theological arch-enemies. "In La Vie de Saint Ignace, which I came close to filming a long time ago, there is an idea of predestination," he told an interviewer shortly before his death. "Ignatius Loyola turns up by accident, does not achieve much himself, but finds the right people to surround himself with and founds the Jesuit order." The film was dropped by the studio in favor of adapting Bernanos' Diary of a Country Priest.

In the mid 1960s, Dino de Laurentiis planned a series of films based
on the Bible, featuring top directors of the day, including Huston,
Visconti, Welles and Fellini. When Bresson, slated to direct Genesis,
told de Laurentiis that he planned to film it in Hebrew and Aramaic,
and wouldn't show any animals on Noah's Ark, only their footprints in
the sand, he was fired. Huston took over and The Bible: In The
Beginning, was released, but did not perform well enough to justify
the other directors helming their respective films. Bresson yearned to
film Genesis the rest of his life, but it never came to pass.

Though he stopped going to mass later in life, Bresson pointed to
numinous experiences in his past as proof of God's existence. But he
was no evangelist, whether his films depicted religious figures or

In her famous essay "Spiritual Style in the Films of Robert Bresson,"
Susan Sontag said, "Bresson is interested in the forms of spiritual
action—in the physics, as it were, rather than in the psychology, of
souls… . Bresson's Catholicism is a language for rendering a certain
vision of human action, rather than a 'position' that is stated."

Bresson's 40-year career resulted in 13 films, and his life spanned
nearly the entire 20th century (1901-1999). He trained as an artist
before switching to writing, and then directing his only comedy, a
short, Les Affaires Publiques (1934). After a stint as a German POW
during World War II, his films turned more somber. Sontag noted that
all of Bresson's films have the theme of "confinement and liberty."

A Man Escaped is especially good.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:48 PM


Why do nations exist? (Spengler, 7/29/08, Asia Times)

"Sovereignty" arose as an apology for papal absolutism, but it became flesh as the expression of the national will of the European nations in rebellion against Christian universalism.

[Jean Bethke] Elshtain tells the story of bad theology and its later manifestation in political thought that justifies the untrammeled power of the sovereign nation by reference to the capricious power of an absolutely transcendent God. Her antagonists include the medieval nominalists who preached God's unrestricted sovereignty, and their progeny in political philosophy: Jean Bodin, the 16th-century apologist for French absolutism; Thomas Hobbes, the 17th-century theorist of the absolutist state; and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the inventor of the malignant idea of "national will".

Of these, Rousseau's influence upon 19th-century European nationalism was the most direct, and surely the most pernicious. Bertrand Russell in his History of Western Philosophy called him a precursor of Hitler. Elshtain highlights a side of Rousseau of which I was not aware:

There is an interesting wrinkle given our current preoccupations ... and that is Rousseau's encomiums on behalf of the "wise system of Mohammed" whose "very sound views" tied together religion and the political system, "completely uniting" it. So what Christianity weakens, Islam strengthens, and Rousseau supports this "wise system" by contrast to "Christian division".

Rousseau’s demand that every individual submit to the "general will" and become an "indivisible part of the whole" revives pagan integralism against Christianity. I reviewed this issue in a recent essay for First Things (October 2007)'

If we follow Augustine, however, the history of Europe's political failures is not only the history of misguided ideas, but of misplaced love. The nations of Europe rebelled against their foster-mother the Church, and abjured their loyalty to the People of God, that is, the common Christian congregation to which all the tribes of Europe were converted. They loved their own ethnicity better, and thus became peoples who are not peoples, in Augustine's uncanny phrase.

To make sense of this we need to peer deeper into Europe's character. On this account, Cristaudo's slim volume provides balance to Elshtain's account. Cristaudo develops the ideas of Eugene Rosenstock-Hussy (1888-1973), one of the last universal minds of high German culture. A converted Jew, Rosenstock-Hussy collaborated with his cousin Franz Rosenzweig, although their view of the world is quite different. Underneath the surface of European civilization, Rosenstock-Hussy perceives ancient undercurrents that erode the seemingly stable ground.

It is encouraging that Rosenstock-Hussy, who is nearly forgotten in his adoptive American home, remains in the curriculum at the University of Hong Kong. Although I reject many of his conclusions, the great German scholar is an inexhaustible mine of insights in several fields of inquiry. Cristaudo's present book is dense - it reads less like narrative than lecture notes - and saturates the reader with German cultural references that I find less distracting than Elsthain's folksy citation of rock-band lyrics. He has published creditable work on Franz Rosenzweig, and - full disclosure - cited this writer's study of Rosenzweig's analysis of Islam.

"There is something about our species," Cristaudo writes, "that cannot simply let the past be. Perhaps it is the resilience of whatever it is that has been divinised that haunts the solitude of the self." The struggle for Europe's soul lies between idolatry and divine love. Of the latter, Cristaudo's exemplars are the anti-Hitler conspirators Dietrich Bonhoffer and Helmut von Moltke. Between Nazism and these Christian martyrs there lay

the opposition between loves, between one who saw the sacrificial nature of love as divine, and who willingly went under for that, and those poor souls serving a phantastic beloved who could only deliver mass death, who could only promise a world worthy of life by killing ... the difference between divine love and idolatry.

Idolatry in the form of ethnic self-adoration never waned among the European peoples, despite their centuries of Christian tutelage. Was it coincidence that the political backing for Luther’s schism came from Saxony, seven centuries after Charlemagne killed the Saxons or converted them at sword-point? Christian universal empire broke up into the nation states whose sovereignty was affirmed at the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia, dictated by France to the decimated German states.

Some aspects of Cristaudo's (and Rosenstock-Hussy's) theology disturb me. They ferret out the sources of evil in Europe's sad history, in the form of national idolatry and its undead gods. But Cristaudo seems to believe that the worst forms of evil fit into a grand plan of necessity. He writes, for example,

Evil teaches us what we must never repeat unless we want to reap the same consequences. Evil forces us to bond when we steadfastly refuse to take more benign paths of cooperation. It forces the love that we refused to give freely …for example, nothing has contributed more to expanding consciousness about the moral intolerableness of racism than the evils of Nazism. Only when humanity saw its evils did it seriously confront the link between its thoughtless everyday cruelties, envy and bigotries.

That sounds a bit like Voltaire's Dr Pangloss, who assured Candide that without all the unspeakable tortures he had suffered, he would not now be eating strawberries. In his broad and erudite vision of Western culture, Cristaudo wants to see an ultimate purpose for everything, even the ugliest consequences of evil choices. I cannot agree. It is dangerous to arrogate unto ourselves the capacity to detect the traces of Providence in history. We have faith that they are there, but we dare not sit in judgment of Providence without reducing God to an immanent principle of history, rather than the personal God of the Bible. Sometimes Mephistopheles is right: what arises well may be worthy of its own destruction, and to be past sometimes is as good as never having been at all.

The peoples of Europe failed, not only their political theorists. A new people had to come into existence with the founding of America before limited constitutional government could be created. Aquinas conceived of a Christian empire whose citizenship transcended ethnicity, continuing the original design of the Church fathers. The disintegration of this design required a fresh start, in the formation of the first non-ethnic nation in Western history, the United States.

Elsthain, like Novak and some other researchers, traces American constitutional government back to Aquinas' concept of natural law. The transmission of ideas from Aquinas to the American Founders is a tricky matter, which I will let the specialists debate. A simpler thought is that a people capable of governing itself was one in which Christianity had changed every individual, (in Augustine's words) "so that, as the individual just man, so also the community and people of the just, live by faith, which works by love, that love whereby man loves God as He ought to be loved, and his neighbor as himself". America selected its citizens out from among the nations to form a new people uniquely capable of self-government.

As much fun as it is to fret about Barack Obama's supposed socialism, the real danger in our politics in the moment is that his candidacy is a function of identity politics at a time the Right is truckling with nativism. Those, on the pagan Left and nationalist Right, who adhere to these Darwinistic atavisms, correctly perceive the universalist Christianity of folks like George W. Bush and Sarah Palin as a threat, which is why they hate these essentially decent people with such seeming disproportion. The "peoples who are not peoples" recognize that they are at war with the people who love God.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:56 PM


Biden’s medical history not scrutinized (ANDY BARR, 10/18/08, Politico)

While John McCain’s past battles with skin cancer have received a great deal of scrutiny, Joe Biden’s near-fatal aneurysms in 1988 have yet to come under the spotlight. [...]

Biden, now 67 years old, has yet to release his medical history, of which the aneurysms are one of the few known episodes.

Not that a bout of ill health wouldn't be tragic or that we don't all care about the Senator as a man, but who would care if he left the ticket or eventually the office? He has no constituency.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:56 PM


India, Japan to sign security pact during PM's visit (Indrani Bagchi, 10/20/08, TNN)

The standalone security cooperation agreement comes after several years of sustained work by both sides, which now needs to be ramped up to a different level. The last joint statement between Shinzo Abe and Manmohan Singh had a big chunk devoted to security and strategic cooperation, but a standalone agreement, sources said, would make it easier for both militaries to work together on the ground, in terms of exercises, ship visits and joint patrolling of the seas.

The political significance of the security agreement will not be missed in many parts of the world, not least of which will be Beijing, where Singh will be headed after he's done in Tokyo.

Japan needs Indian cooperation to provide cover for its oil-laden ships on the Straits of Malacca and Hormuz. India, which might be looking at transporting oil from Sakhalin, needs Japanese cover (although thus far, India has been selling its share of the oil and bringing in the proceeds). Second, Japanese ships providing support to its self-defence forces in Afghanistan need "friendly" docks in India for repairs or for just a breather.

Third, India is looking to buy some critical defence technologies and equipment from Japan at better rates — as Japanese equipment is cutting-edge, it's also very expensive. For Japan, once the government works through its constitutional constraints, India is a market that Tokyo would like to explore.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:52 PM


A friendly nod from a familiar face (Michael Tomasky, 10/19/08, The Guardian)

Pssst. The truth is, among people who are most likely to be ardent supporters of Barack Obama, Colin Powell would not win any popularity polls.

Even factoring in today's endorsement of Obama, he will long be best-remembered by American liberals for his now-infamous presentation to the UN on Saddam Hussein's phantom weapons of mass destruction and for not going public with what everyone assumes were his serious reservations about the war in Iraq to begin with.

But he did manage to make up for some of it today.

...but in switching parties to endorse a guy who's only distinguishable from John Kerry and Al Gore by his ethnicity -- and lack of military service -- how can this not be seen as a function of identity politics?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:49 PM


Anand,Viswanathan - Kramnik,Vladimir (FIDE World Chess Championship, 10.01.2009)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:41 PM


Tehran mayor seeks better dialogue (Kyodo News, 10/20/08)

Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, widely seen as a possible contender in Iran's presidential election next year, said Sunday in Tokyo that his nation must make more efforts to foster mutual trust with the international community, including through "better" dialogue with the world.

Qalibaf expressed dissatisfaction with current Iranian foreign policy, saying, "We should show clearly, through the IAEA, that we are developing nuclear programs within the framework of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:34 PM


Palin Draws Big Ratings for 'Saturday Night Live' (DAVID BAUDER, October 19, 2008, The Associated Press)

The entertainment summit of the season — Sarah Palin and her impersonator, Tina Fey — earned "Saturday Night Live" its best ratings in 14 years.

...than their insistence that Ms Palin is a drag on the Party even as she racks up ratings like this and posts the 2nd most watched debate in US history, ahead of The One and behind only the lone Reagan/Carter tilt just before the '80 election.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:16 PM


How many leaves change color in NH? 608 billion (AP, 10/19/08)

The U.S. Forest Service says one-sixth of the state's forest land is taken up by sugar maple, yellow birch and beech trees, which means 666 million colorful trees. Those trees amount to 1.9 million tons of "foliar biomass," or in other words, leaves.

Assuming the average tree has 800 leaves, each weighing a tenth of an ounce, that's 608 billion leaves.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:42 AM


Rays’ Evan Longoria a real devil (Gayle Fee and Laura Raposa, October 19, 2008, The Boston Herald)

During a champagne-soaked time at District after Game 4, the Rays’ hot corner man was suffering from a sorry case of premature celebration.

Seems that after the Rays humiliated the Sox for the second night in a row, Evan was yelling to anyone who would listen: “It’s over now, Boston!”

Of course, at the time, it soooo wasn’t.

And upon exiting the rockin’ club with a star-struck blonde, a spywitness swears that Longoria poured himself into the back seat of a Boston Police cruiser and said to the cop: “To my hotel!”

Boston’s Finest, as you can imagine, told Evan and his companion - in the most colorful language possible - to remove themselves immediately from his cruiser. So they did.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:43 AM


China will be a democracy by 2020, says senior party figure (Malcolm Moore, 15 Oct 2008, Daily Telegraph)

Zhou Tianyong, an adviser to the Communist Party's Central Committee and one of its most liberal voices, told the Daily Telegraph that "by 2020, China will basically finish its political and institutional reforms".

He added: "We have a 12-year plan to establish a democratic platform. There will be public democratic involvement at all government levels."

Mr Zhou also predicted "extensive public participation in policy-making, such as drawing up new legislation".

Mr Zhou is deputy head of research at the Central Party School, the most important institution for training senior leaders. President Hu Jintao is among its former directors.

After two weeks of heightened tension between China and Taiwan because of a £3.5 billion American arms sale to the island, Mr Zhou said the transition to democracy was "essential for relations with Taiwan and a possible peaceful reunification".

The End of History isn't actually optional.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:39 AM


Obama's lead slips to 3 points (Andrew Quinn, 10/19/08, Reuters)

Pollster John Zogby said the numbers were good news for McCain, and probably reflected a bump following his appearance in the third and final presidential debate on Wednesday.

"For the first time in the polling McCain is up above 45 percent. There is no question something has happened," Zogby said.

He said the Arizona senator appeared to have solidified his support with the Republican base -- where 9 out of 10 voters now back him -- and was also gaining ground among the independents who may play a decisive role in the November 4 election.

Obama's lead among independent voters dropped to 8 points on Sunday from 16 points a day earlier.

...is that the media is trying to portray the race as over n order to dispirit the GOP. The reality is that it can only serve to concentrate voter attention on the prospect of a Democrat President, which serves Maverick well.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:35 AM


OPEC left to its own devices: Hedge fund redemptions lay bare the role in oil speculation (MarketWatch, 10/17/08)

Gone is the steady drone of peak-oil forecasts. Gone is the fear that we are in the pockets of "folks that don't like us very much." Prices are down at the pump, and talk radio has moved on, feasting now on banks, bailouts and rampant greed and corruption on Wall Street.

As the industrial world withdraws into a recessionary shell, it takes oil demand with it. China and India's insatiable thirst for oil looks meager now as factory output slows to a trickle.

But there's also been a rush of roving capital out of the market. According to the latest data from Hedge Fund Research, third-quarter hedge fund redemptions hit a record-high $210 billion, spearheading an exodus wealth that burst one of the biggest commodities bubbles of all time.

It's no coincidence that oil prices plunged in tandem with these record withdrawals, exposing for all to see just how much of the summer's oil-price spike was driven by speculators.

...cranking rates to fight non-existent inflation for the third time in a quarter century was particularly dumb.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:21 AM


A fumble on the beach has given freedom a dirty name (Minette Marrin, 10/19/08, Times of London)

‘Why don’t we do it in the road?” That was the question posed by the Beatles in 1968 in the song of that name. [...]

Now, 40 years on, we have a couple of well-to-do British expatriates in Dubai shamelessly and drunkenly doing it on the beach. Thou hast conquered, / O pale Liverpudlian. Last week Michelle Palmer, 36, from Rutland, and Vince Acors, 34, of Bromley, southeast London, were sentenced to three months in prison in Dubai for having sex outside marriage on a public beach and offending public decency. They were also fined about £200 and will be deported when they have served their sentences. They were lucky: their punishment could have been much worse.

I have absolutely no sympathy for them but I do think that given the permissive culture of the country in which they grew up – they were born only a few years after 1968 – it is understandable, if depressing, that they themselves didn’t see much wrong with their behaviour.

From their perspective it is apparently quite normal for two strangers to meet at a hotel brunch, drink themselves silly and proceed to perform sex acts on each other in public. It is normal to insult a policeman who has the effrontery to caution them, regardless of the law, and to carry on. That is what Britons do at home and abroad. They belch, vomit, copulate, litter and barge their way through public spaces, dressed like hookers and louts, defying the police without shame or modesty. British expatriates are some of the worst: overpaid, oversexed and all over the place.

Palmer and Acors are appealing against their convictions. Yet by Palmer’s own admission, she was drunk and they were kissing and cuddling. “We didn’t have sex together,” she insisted. “I was lying on top of him.” This is rather to miss the point.

No one cares much whether DNA evidence proves that there was no exchange of bodily fluids. What went on was an affront to the standards and laws of Dubai, which all expatriates are well aware of. If you don’t like the law or the culture of another country, you should stay away. If you go there anyway, you should keep your views to yourself and when in Rome behave as the Romans.

That is not only common sense and a way of staying out of nasty foreign jails. It is more importantly an ancient moral obligation, which all healthy cultures have observed. As a guest, you must respect your host and his feelings. Everyone knows that Muslim cultures believe strongly in modesty and privacy; it is simply rude to go about half-naked or drunk and snogging and shagging in public in an Islamic country, an insult to the host culture as well as a disgrace to our own. I can’t help secretly sympathising with the senior prosecutor in Dubai who said he wished the couple had been given a longer sentence.

Is it surprising that so many Muslims around the world despise us for our decadence when we express our sympathy with British men and women who behave like this? There is something clearly despicable in the permissiveness and hyper-sexualisation of western culture; the result is broken families, unwanted children, sexual diseases and a state of agitation which drives the young into chaos and crime.

The lash would be preferable, were it not likely they'd enjoy it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:48 AM


Life After the Bubble: How Japan Lost a Decade (JIM IMPOCO, 10/19/08, NY Times)

The notion of Japan as a threat, a ninja-like adversary along the lines that Michael Crichton described in “Rising Sun,” suddenly seemed silly. No one worries much about Japan taking over the world today. [...]

Still, America lacks several advantages Japan had as it grappled with the aftermath of its burst bubbles. The most obvious one is that Japan began its Lost Decade as the world’s largest creditor nation, and it still is. By contrast, America is now, as it was then, the world’s biggest debtor nation. Just to make the United States government run we need to borrow $2 billion a day from increasingly nervous lenders overseas, including the Japanese.

For the moment, it is in the best interest of America’s creditors to keep the spigot open, but when and if that changes, watch out. Some estimates have the federal deficit weighing in at over $750 billion next year.

That’s not the biggest ever as a percentage of total economic output, but it’s up there; and it’s not clear how that number is going to get smaller any time soon. What’s more, whereas America has a negative savings rate and its citizens are neck-deep in debt, the Japanese have remained fanatical savers, frugal to a fault.

That’s why when people ask me now if we are turning Japanese, I no longer tell them: “No Way!” Now I tell them: “If we are lucky.”

The notion of Japan as a threat was inane at the time, for all the reasons that comparing it to America now is ignorant.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:43 AM


The Insiders: How John McCain came to pick Sarah Palin (Jane Mayer, 10/27/08, The New Yorker)

In February, 2007, Adam Brickley gave himself a mission: he began searching for a running mate for McCain who could halt the momentum of the Democrats. Brickley, a self-described “obsessive” political junkie who recently graduated from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, told me that he began by “randomly searching Wikipedia and election sites for Republican women.” Though he generally opposes affirmative action, gender drove his choice. “People were talking about Hillary at the time,” he recalled. Brickley said that he “puzzled over every Republican female politician I knew.” Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, of Texas, “waffled on social issues”; Senator Olympia Snowe, of Maine, was too moderate. He was running out of options, he recalled, when he said to himself, “What about that lady who just got elected in Alaska?” Online research revealed that she had a strong grassroots following; as Brickley put it, “I hate to use the words ‘cult of personality,’ but she reminded me of Obama.”

Brickley registered a Web site—palinforvp.blogspot.com—which began getting attention in the conservative blogosphere. In the month before Palin was picked by McCain, Brickley said, his Web site was receiving about three thousand hits a day. Support for Palin had spread from one right-of-center Internet site to the next. First, the popular conservative blogger InstaPundit mentioned Brickley’s campaign. Then a site called the American Scene said that Palin was “very appealing”; another, Stop the A.C.L.U., described her as “a great choice.” The traditional conservative media soon got in on the act: The American Spectator embraced Palin, and Rush Limbaugh, the radio host, praised her as “a babe.”

Brickley’s family, once evangelical Christians, now practice what he calls “Messianic Judaism.” They believe that Jesus is the Messiah, but they also observe the Jewish holidays and attend synagogue; as Brickley puts it, “Jesus was Jewish, so to be like Him you need to be Jewish, too.” Brickley said that “the hand of God” played a role in choosing Palin: “The longer I worked on it the less I felt I was driving it. Something else was at work.”

Brickley is an authentic heartland voice, but he is also the product of an effort by wealthy conservative organizations in Washington to train activists. He has attended several workshops sponsored by the Leadership Institute, a group based in the Washington area and founded in 1979 by the Christian conservative activist Morton Blackwell. “I’m building a movement,” Blackwell told me. Brickley also participated in a leadership summit held by Young America’s Foundation (motto: “The Conservative Movement Starts Here”) and was an intern at the Heritage Foundation. He currently lives in a dormitory, on Capitol Hill, run by the Heritage Foundation, and is an intern with townhall.com, a top conservative Web site.

While Brickley and others were spreading the word about Palin on the Internet, Palin was wooing a number of well-connected Washington conservative thinkers. In a stroke of luck, Palin did not have to go to the capital to meet these members of “the permanent political establishment”; they came to Alaska. Shortly after taking office, Palin received two memos from Paulette Simpson, the Alaska Federation of Republican Women leader, noting that two prominent conservative magazines—The Weekly Standard, owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, and National Review, founded by William F. Buckley, Jr.—were planning luxury cruises to Alaska in the summer of 2007, which would make stops in Juneau. Writers and editors from these publications had been enlisted to deliver lectures to politically minded vacationers. “The Governor was more than happy to meet these guys,” Joe Balash, a special staff assistant to Palin, recalled.

On June 18, 2007, the first group disembarked in Juneau from the Holland America Line’s M.S. Oosterdam, and went to the governor’s mansion, a white wooden Colonial house with six two-story columns, for lunch. The contingent featured three of The Weekly Standard ’s top writers: William Kristol, the magazine’s Washington-based editor, who is also an Op-Ed columnist for the Times and a regular commentator on “Fox News Sunday”; Fred Barnes, the magazine’s executive editor and the co-host of “The Beltway Boys,” a political talk show on Fox News; and Michael Gerson, the former chief speechwriter for President Bush and a Washington Post columnist.

By all accounts, the luncheon was a high-spirited, informal occasion. Kristol brought his wife and daughter; Gerson brought his wife and two children. Barnes, who brought his sister and his wife, sat on one side of Governor Palin, who presided at the head of the long table in the mansion’s formal dining room; the Kristols sat on the other. Gerson was at the opposite end, as was Palin’s chief of staff at the time, Mike Tibbles, who is now working for Senator Stevens’s reëlection campaign. The menu featured halibut cheeks—the choicest part of the fish. Before the meal, Palin delivered a lengthy grace. Simpson, who was at the luncheon, said, “I told a girlfriend afterwards, ‘That was some grace!’ It really set the tone.” Joe Balash, Palin’s assistant, who was also present, said, “There are not many politicians who will say grace with the conviction of faith she has. It’s a daily part of her life.”

Palin was joined by her lieutenant governor and by Alaska’s attorney general. Also present was a local woman involved in upholding the Juneau school system’s right to suspend a student who had displayed a satirical banner—“Bong Hits 4 Jesus”—across the street from his school. The student had sued the school district, on First Amendment grounds, and, at the time of the lunch, the case was before the Supreme Court. (The school district won.)

During the lunch, everyone was charmed when the Governor’s small daughter Piper popped in to inquire about dessert. Fred Barnes recalled being “struck by how smart Palin was, and how unusually confident. Maybe because she had been a beauty queen, and a star athlete, and succeeded at almost everything she had done.” It didn’t escape his notice, too, that she was “exceptionally pretty.”

According to a former Alaska official who attended the lunch, the visitors wanted to do something “touristy,” so a “flight-seeing” trip was arranged. Their destination was a gold mine in Berners Bay, some forty-five miles north of Juneau. For Palin and several staff members, the state leased two helicopters from a private company, Coastal, for two and a half hours, at a cost of four thousand dollars. (The pundits paid for their own aircraft.) Palin explained that environmentalists had invoked the Clean Water Act to oppose a plan by a mining company, Coeur Alaska, to dump waste from the extraction of gold into a pristine lake in the Tongass National Forest. Palin rejected the environmentalists’ claims. (The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Coeur Alaska, and the dispute is now before the Supreme Court.) Barnes was dazzled by Palin’s handling of the hundred or so mineworkers who gathered to meet the group. “She clearly was not intimidated by crowds—or men!” he said. “She’s got real star quality.”

By the time the Weekly Standard pundits returned to the cruise ship, Paulette Simpson said, “they were very enamored of her.” In July, 2007, Barnes wrote the first major national article spotlighting Palin, titled “The Most Popular Governor,” for The Weekly Standard. Simpson said, “That first article was the result of having lunch.” Bitney agreed: “I don’t think she realized the significance until after it was all over. It got the ball rolling.”

The other journalists who met Palin offered similarly effusive praise: Michael Gerson called her “a mix between Annie Oakley and Joan of Arc.” The most ardent promoter, however, was Kristol, and his enthusiasm became the talk of Alaska’s political circles. According to Simpson, Senator Stevens told her that “Kristol was really pushing Palin” in Washington before McCain picked her. Indeed, as early as June 29th, two months before McCain chose her, Kristol predicted on “Fox News Sunday” that “McCain’s going to put Sarah Palin, the governor of Alaska, on the ticket.” He described her as “fantastic,” saying that she could go one-on-one against Obama in basketball, and possibly siphon off Hillary Clinton’s supporters. He pointed out that she was a “mother of five” and a reformer. “Go for the gold here with Sarah Palin,” he said. The moderator, Chris Wallace, finally had to ask Kristol, “Can we please get off Sarah Palin?”

The theocons get it.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:20 AM


Oil-Fueled Nation Feels Pinch: As the Price of Crude Plunges, Venezuela Is Poised to Face a Lot of Pain (Juan Forero, 10/19/08, Washington Post)

The price of a barrel of oil has fallen from $147 in July to less than $70, and analysts say the drop is a blow to Chávez's free-spending administration, which depends on oil for 50 percent of government revenue and 95 percent of its export earnings. Other oil-producing countries, which like Venezuela ramped up spending as the price of oil rose to historic highs in recent years, also face serious economic problems, analysts say.

Robert Bottome, editor of Veneconomia, a Caracas business newsletter, said that if the price continues to fall, Chávez's populist government will face economic turmoil.

"The common perception is that the Venezuelan government goes bankrupt," he said, "that they cannot meet their obligations."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:16 AM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:49 AM


True Colors (VIRGINIA HEFFERNAN, 10/19/08, NY Times)

It can be emotionally overwhelming to see human flesh in high definition.

Consider Joe Biden. When he’s upset, he blanches slightly, particularly around his mouth. It seemed to happen this way, at least, during this year’s vice-presidential debate, as he was remembering not knowing in 1972 whether his sons would survive the car accident that killed his wife and daughter. On my HD television screen, a contrast formed between the patch of pallor by his mouth and the dark-honey hues of his chin, cheeks and forehead.

Had Biden accidentally rubbed off bronzer while the camera wasn’t looking? Or was his physical and emotional constitution simply defined, in part, by an idiosyncrasy of blood flow — a detail of Biden’s body to which millions of high-def viewers were suddenly privy?

There’s an excerpt from George Eliot’s “Middlemarch” currently posted on ads in some subway cars in New York; it perfectly expresses my squeamishness about perceiving the world too closely. “If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life,” Eliot wrote, “it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence.”

If nothing else, perhaps fear of what HD shows will kill off the useless debates.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:22 AM


Pasta's Dark Side: By toasting pasta before cooking it, you can add a lot of flavor. (ADAM RIED, October 19, 2008, Boston Globe)

Dried pasta is so simple, so perfect, that you wouldn't imagine much could be done to improve it. Yet in Spain, Mexico, the Middle East, and even parts of Italy, cooks toast dry pasta before cooking it in liquid to intensify its flavor, accentuating the taste of the grain from which it is made. [...]


If need be, substitute Parmesan or Romano cheese for queso anejo.

5 large, ripe tomatoes (about 2 1/2 pounds), cored, halved, and seeded
1 large onion, cut into 4 or 6 wedges
4 garlic cloves, unpeeled
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 chipotle chilies in adobo, or more, to taste
1 teaspoon dried oregano, preferably Mexican
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves Salt
2 1/2 cups homemade or packaged low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
3/4 pound fideos, vermicelli, or angel hair pasta, toasted
1 pound fresh spinach or Swiss chard, stemmed and roughly chopped
3/4 cup grated queso anejo cheese, plus extra to pass at table
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro, for garnish
1 medium avocado, peeled and sliced, for garnish
1 lime, cut into 6 wedges, for garnish

With an oven rack in the middle position, heat the oven to 450 degrees. Line a large (18 inch by 13 inch) rimmed baking sheet with parchment. On the lined sheet, toss 6 of the tomato halves, the onion wedges, and garlic cloves with 2 tablespoons of the oil to coat, then arrange cut sides down. Roast until tomato skins begin to shrivel and brown, about 35 minutes, then remove from oven and cool on baking sheet for 10 minutes. Remove the tomato skins, scrape the vegetables and juices into a food processor or blender, add the chipotle chilies, oregano, cloves, and 1 teaspoon of salt. Puree and set aside (you will have about 2 1/2 cups of puree).

In a large Dutch oven or soup pot set over medium-high heat, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil until shimmering. Add the tomato puree and cook until moisture evaporates and the mixture thickens and darkens, stirring frequently, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, roughly chop the remaining tomatoes; add them, the broth, and another 1 teaspoon of salt to the pot and stir to mix, and bring to a strong simmer. Add the toasted pasta and cook, stirring frequently, until the pasta just starts to bend, about 3 minutes. Add the spinach or chard, stir to combine, reduce the heat to medium, cover pot, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the noodles are tender, about 6 minutes longer. Add the cheese, stir to combine, taste the dish and adjust seasoning with more salt, if desired. Serve at once, allowing diners to garnish their portions with extra cheese, cilantro, avocado slices, and lime.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:16 AM


Pakistan Officials: Air Strikes Kill 30 Militants (AP, 10/19/08)

Pakistan killed 30 militants close to the Afghan border Sunday as America's top diplomat in the region visited for talks with government leaders, officials said. [...]

In the latest fighting close to the border, Pakistani fighter jets bombed insurgents, killing up to 20, said army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas.

The bombs hit an ammunition dump, causing extensive damage, he said.

October 18, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:11 PM


Red Sox force decisive Game 7: Varitek's clutch homer helps Boston live for another day (Ian Browne, 10/19/08, MLB.com)

Jon Lester, Mr. Consistency all year for the Sox, will take the ball Sunday night hoping to avenge a rare shaky outing in Game 3. Matt Garza, who beat Lester in that matchup, will be Tampa Bay's Game 7 starter.

To get to Lester, the Red Sox got a gritty performance by Josh Beckett, who seemed to be pitching at less than 100 percent. Beckett gave Boston five innings, allowing four hits and two runs, walking one and striking out three. The biggest clue that Beckett was hurting was the sight of Javier Lopez warming up in the bullpen throughout the fourth and Hideki Okajima following suit in the fifth.

In Beckett's final inning, he surrendered a game-tying homer to left by No. 9 hitter Jason Bartlett, who went deep just once in the regular season. Though Beckett's velocity was down to 88-90 mph for much of the inning, he was able to reach back for a 93-mph fastball to get Akinori Iwamura on a groundout to end the inning. That was all for Beckett, who threw 78 pitches.

The bullpen took it from there, setting up the much-anticipated showdown on Sunday night.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:20 PM


It Ain't Over Till It's Over: The case against pessimism. (James Piereson, 10/27/2008, Weekly Standard)

There is some precedent in the elections of 1948, 1968, and 1976 for the kind of late in the game comeback that McCain must now try to engineer. In the tumultuous election of 1968, Senator Hubert Humphrey trailed Richard Nixon by 12 points (43 to 31 percent) in a Gallup poll published on October 22. George Wallace, the third party candidate that year, claimed 20 percent of the vote. Nixon's lead was undiminished in late October from where it stood when the campaign began in early September. Many declared the race over, as Nixon began announcing plans for the transition. Less than a week later, however, Humphrey had chiseled the lead down to 8 points (44 to 36 percent), mainly at the expense of Wallace's vote, which dropped to 15 percent.

The final Gallup poll, released on the day before the election, gave Nixon a two point lead, 42 to 40 percent--in other words, a dead heat. Humphrey surged in the last weeks of the campaign by playing upon longstanding fears among Democrats about Nixon's character and by persuading conservative Democrats to abandon Wallace. In the end, his rally fell short as Nixon won by less than 1 percent of the vote, just 500,000 votes nationwide.

Gerald Ford's furious finish against Jimmy Carter in 1976 was of a different character than the Humphrey rally, which proceeded by bringing traditional Democrats back into the fold. Ford was able to cut into -Carter's lead by appealing to independent voters who by 1976 represented more than a third of the electorate (here perhaps some precedent for McCain). Ford had trailed Carter by more than 30 points in polls taken in July and by 18 points in late August. His pardon of President Nixon in early September combined with the difficult economic conditions of the mid-1970s led many to conclude that the race was over before it even began.

Ford did not help himself with a blunder in the second presidential debate whereby he denied that Eastern Europeans lived under Soviet domination. Yet by raising questions about Carter's competence to lead and by attacking Carter's promise to pardon all Vietnam draft resisters, he cut the lead to 6 points by mid-October. On the eve of the election, the polls declared the race a dead heat. A Gallup poll taken on the last weekend of the race even gave Ford a 1 point lead, 47 to 46 percent. In the end, the structural obstacles to his campaign (a bad economy and the hangover from Watergate) were too much for Ford to overcome. He lost by two points nationally, 50 to 48 percent.

As of today, it looks like Senator Obama would match that Jimmy Carter two point win. We don't vote today.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:41 PM


Fastball tell-tale sign for Beckett (Buster Olney, October 18, 2008, ESPN)

Some things to look for:

1. The radar gun readings: The velocity shown on broadcasts and in the stadiums are notoriously high, say scouts who use radar, usually by three to four miles per hour. If Beckett's velocity reading on TV tonight is 93 or 94, that probably means he's throwing 90-91. If the radar gun readings are 91-92, well, that might be the sign of a problem, because it means that, as was the case in Game 2, Beckett won't have the kind of velocity needed to overpower hitters.

For example, in Game 2, he fell behind B.J. Upton 2-0, and then tried to challenge Upton with a fastball -- and Upton ripped a home run. If you see 90-91 on the radar, then Beckett's fastball is workable, but not with a caveman-like approach; he'll have to pick his spots, set up his fastball with his off-speed stuff, and use the movement on his two-seam fastball.

2. The communication between Beckett and Jason Varitek. Scouts who have trailed the Red Sox in recent weeks say when Beckett lacks confidence in his fastball, he tends to be indecisive in his pitch selection. If he's not feeling great, you might see him shake off Varitek's sign once or twice, before stepping off the mound and resetting -- and before sometimes agreeing to throw what Varitek initially asked for. "Some pitchers just work slowly, and that's just the way they are," said one advance scout. "When Beckett works slowly, for me, that's a sign of doubt."

3. Beckett could do in Game 6 what a couple of Boston pitchers did in Game 5 and make the Tampa Bay hitters move their feet.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:40 PM


Class Will Tell: Why is Bill Ayers a respectable member of the upper middle class and Sarah Palin contemptible? (Sam Schulman, 10/27/2008, Weekly Standard)

Now mainstream Chicago regards Ayers as rehabilitated--but why? He hasn't, like Chuck Colson, repented, or paid his debt to society by serving a prison term. He doesn't even enjoy the prestige of a Clinton presidential pardon. Susan Rosenberg, a fellow Weatherman for whom Mrs. Ayers did go to jail rather than implicate in the execution murders of several cops, enjoys that distinction. What makes the Ayerses respectable is purely a matter of upper-middle-class solidarity. You can see the ranks close around them in the texture of Richard Stern's elegant prose. Stern, a novelist and a long-serving University of Chicago English professor, reassures us:

I've been to three or four small dinner parties with Ayers and his wife, Bernardine Dohrn, once hailed as the Weather-men's Dolores Ibárruri ("La Pasionaria"), a fiery, beautiful muse. .  .  . Dohrn is still attractive, while Ayers maintains an adolescent fizzle in his sexagenarian bones.

Carefully, Stern engages with the glamorous couple on equal terms, before judging them:

At dinner, thirty-eight years later, Ayers and Dohrn did not seem to hold [my criticism of the 1970 University of Chicago student uprising] against me, and I didn't hold their fiery and criminally violent behavior against them. As in Chekhov's wonderful story "Old Age," time had planed down the sharp edges and brought one-time antagonists into each others' arms.

As the Ayerses' social equal, Stern can estimate them fairly.

As far as I know, Ayers and Dohrn are loyal to the selves which led both of them to jail (though not for long), but they were busy doing other things, useful things, Ayers as educator, Dohrn as a legal counselor. They'd raised the child of a Weatherman who'd been jailed, they were taking care of Bernardine's ill mother, they were doing many things educated community activists were doing.

What the Ayerses now teach, think, and do hardly matters as long as they observe good form, the form of "educated community activists." Stern wants us to hear a mellow Chekhovian tone in their lives (and his prose). Perhaps, but in his moral reasoning I hear Oscar Wilde's Cecily Cardew, in The Importance of Being Earnest, observing that the Ayerses "have been eating muffins. That looks like repentance."

His criticism of violence is equivalent to violence?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:11 PM


The Audacity of Barack Obama (Charles Kesler, 10/18/08, Real Clear Politics)

Part of the past that Obama wants to transcend is the recent history of the Democratic Party. In The Audacity of Hope, his second autobiography (focused on his Senate years, not quite two of them at that point) and the source of his most thoughtful campaign speeches, he treats the party elders respectfully, but not exactly warmly. He mentions Teddy Kennedy three times, calling him one of the Senate's best storytellers; devotes a page to Al Gore's emotions after his "precipitous fall"; and acknowledges "the Kerry people" who invited him to speak at the 2004 Democratic Convention. Obama goes out of his way to emphasize that he is a newcomer to the party who couldn't even get a floor pass to the 2000 Convention. Reflecting on the elections of 2000 and 2004, he confesses that "I sometimes felt as if I were watching the psychodrama of the Baby Boom generation--a tale rooted in old grudges and revenge plots hatched on a handful of college campuses long ago...."

Obama praises Bill Clinton more highly than any other contemporary Democrat, because Clinton recognized the staleness of the old political debate between Left and Right and came close to moving beyond it with his politics of the Third Way, which "tapped into the pragmatic, nonideological attitude of the majority of Americans." But Clinton blew it, and the author gradually lets you know it. First, he regrets Clinton's "clumsy and transparent" gestures to the Reagan Democrats, and his "frighteningly coldhearted" use of other people (e.g., "the execution of a mentally retarded death row inmate" before a crucial primary). Then Obama notes sadly that Clinton's policies--"recognizably progressive if modest in their goals"--had commanded broad public support, but that the president had never been able, "despite a booming economy," to turn that support into a governing coalition. Finally, he gently accuses Clinton of the worst offense of all: strengthening the forces of conservatism. Due to his "personal lapses" and careless triangulations that ceded more and more ground to the Right, Clinton prepared the way for George W. Bush's victory in 2000.

In his campaign speeches, Obama can't afford to be so candid--he needs Hillary and Bill's supporters, after all--but he subtly makes his point. For example, in his Acceptance Speech in Denver, the single biggest speech of the campaign, he laid at Bill Clinton's feet the oldest backhanded compliment in the books, thanking the former president "who last night made the case for change as only he can make it...." That's a disguised double insult: it reminds the discerning ear of Clinton's characteristic bloviation, and then of his political failings (when you see Clinton, you're reminded why the Democrats need Obama).

Granted, Obama holds Clinton to higher standards than he does the other party elders. Jimmy Carter, Gore, Kerry--these gentlemen lacked the political talent that Clinton squandered, in Obama's estimation, and they were innocent of political daring. Their shortcomings are palliated, to some extent, by the fact that the times were not auspicious. Still, Obama is fairly clear that if the party is to move forward it must return to earlier exemplars, and especially to its heroes who brought about major political changes lasting for a generation or more. This was the context of his comparison of Clinton to Ronald Reagan, which raised such a ruckus early in the campaign:

I do think that, for example, the 1980 election was different. I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not. He put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it.

The comparison of Clinton to Nixon is delicious in its own right, but Obama's larger point is that Clinton was no Reagan, partly because the times were different but mostly, as he points out in his book, because Clinton was undisciplined and conceded too much to the Right. As tokens of Obama's seriousness about fundamental political change, The Audacity of Hope mentions Franklin D. Roosevelt more often that it does any living Democratic politician; and it features a long, interesting discussion of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, the political point of which is to reestablish the Democrats' claim to speak for American ideals, the touchstone of every electoral realignment.

Thus the commentators who interpret Obama as a new kind of post-partisan political figure get it exactly wrong. It's true that he wants to stop "arguing about the same ole stuff," as he told Planned Parenthood; he wants to move beyond the decades-long debate between liberalism and conservatism. Bill Clinton wished for the same thing in 1992, as did George W. Bush in 2000. The 42nd and 43rd presidents had doctrines that they hoped would precipitate this magic synthesis--the Third Way, and compassionate conservatism, respectively. What's interesting, as political scientist James W. Ceaser noted in these pages ("What a Long, Strange Race It's Been," Spring 2008), is that Obama does not feel the need for such a doctrine. Nor does John McCain. The 2008 race is taking place squarely within the familiar ideological framework of liberalism and conservatism, but with McCain promising some maverick departures from the norm (while still accepting the norm), and Obama talking up hope and the need for change. The change needed, however, is for nothing less than a full-blown electoral earthquake that will permanently shatter the 50-50 America of the past four presidential elections. He thinks liberals can get beyond the old debate by finally winning it.

For folks scared of a President Obama and Democrats in control of the Executive and both chambers of Congress, the Unicorn Rider's miscalculation here should be comforting. He's rightly terrified of being seen as a stock liberal, but rather than run on the Third Way which he lauds Bill Clinton for, he's chosen to run on nothing but identity.

If it is true that his vision of victory is that it would represent a mandate for returning to the Second Way of the '30s through the '70s, rather than a mere personal affirmation, then he would almost certainly duplicate the Clinton train wreck of '93-'94. To a degree one would not have thought possible in the modern media age, Mr. Obama has benefited from being able to stay a near complete blank, a tabla rasa upon which people project their own notions of who he is and what he'd do. Inevitably, once he is forced to do anything he is going to start disillusioning people. If when he starts to act he does so in such retrograde fashion and reveals himself to be the oldest sort of liberal he will set off the same sort of psychic dissonance that Bill Clinton did with tax hikes, gays in the military, gun control, Lani Guinier's advocacy of racial spoils, Joyceln Elders's attempts to sexualize children, Hillarycare, etc.. But, where Bill Clinton was fortunate enough to have the GOP landslide summon him back to the principles he'd initially run on, what would even a blowout in 2010 do for a Barack Obama who doesn't believe in the new politics that has dominated the Anglosphere for a couple decades now?


It’s Not Easy Bein’ Blue
: America remains a center-right nation—a fact that a President Obama would forget at his peril. (Jon Meacham, 10/27/08, NEWSWEEK)

It is easy—for some, even tempting—to detect the dawn of a new progressive era in the autumn of Barack Obama's campaign for the presidency. Eight years of Republican rule have produced two seemingly endless wars, an economy in recession, a giant federal intervention in the financial sector and a nearly universal feeling of unease in the country (86 percent of Americans are dissatisfied with how things are going, and 73 percent disapprove of the president's performance). Obama—a man who has yet to complete his fourth year in the United States Senate—is leading John McCain, and Democrats may gain seats on Capitol Hill. In 2007, the Pew Research Center published a 112-page report subtitled "Political Landscape More Favorable to Democrats," and the most recent ABC News/Washington Post poll found that 55 percent believe Obama's views are neither too liberal nor too conservative but are "about right."

But history, as John Adams once said of facts, is a stubborn thing, and it tells us that Democratic presidents from FDR to JFK to LBJ to Carter to Clinton usually wind up moving farther right than they thought they ever would, or they pay for their continued liberalism at the polls. Should Obama win, he will have to govern a nation that is more instinctively conservative than it is liberal—a perennial reality that past Democratic presidents have ignored at their peril. A party founded by Andrew Jackson on the principle that "the majority is to govern" has long found itself flummoxed by the failure of that majority to see the virtues of the Democrats and the vices of the Republicans.

The pattern has deep roots. FDR had a longish run (from 1933 to 1937), but he lost significant ground in the 1938 midterm elections and again in the largely forgotten wartime midterms of 1942. After he defeated Barry Goldwater in 1964, LBJ had only two years of great success (Ronald Reagan won the California governorship in 1966) before Vietnam, and the white backlash helped elect Richard Nixon in 1968. Jimmy Carter lasted only a term, and Bill Clinton's Democrats were crushed in the 1994 elections. The subsequent success of his presidency had as much to do with reforming welfare and managing the prosperity of the technology boom as it did with advancing traditional Democratic causes. [...]

According to the NEWSWEEK Poll, nearly twice as many people call themselves conservatives as liberals (40 percent to 20 percent), and Republicans have dominated presidential politics—in many ways the most personal, visceral vote we cast—for 40 years. Since 1968, Democrats have won only three of 10 general elections (1976, 1992 and 1996), and in those years they were led by Southern Baptist nominees who ran away from the liberal label. "Is this a center-right country? Yes, compared to Europe or Canada it's obviously much more conservative," says Adrian Wooldridge, coauthor of "The Right Nation: Conservative Power in America" and Washington bureau chief of the London-based Economist. "There's a much higher tolerance for inequality, much greater cultural conservatism, a higher incarceration rate, legalized handguns and greater distrust of the state."

The terms we use in discussing politics and culture can be elusive and elastic. The conservative label is often applied to people of all sorts and conditions: libertarians, evangelical Christians, tax cutters, military hawks. (There are just as many, if not more, varieties of liberal.) But in broad strokes I mean "conservative" in the way most of us have come to use it in recent decades: to describe those who value custom over change, who worry about the erosion of the familiar and the expansion of the state, and who dislike those who appear condescending about matters of faith, patriotism and culture. (In other words, think of figures ranging from Edmund Burke to Thomas Jefferson to David Brooks to Sarah Palin. It is an eclectic crew.)

The argument I am making—that we are at heart a right-leaning country skeptical of government once a crisis that requires government has passed—is probably going to look dumb, or at least out of step, for many months to come.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:06 PM


Will a funny thing happen on the way to Washington? (Edward Luce, October 17 2008, Financial Times)

To judge by some, although by no means all, of the recent polls, Mr Obama may even pull off a 1980-style Ronald Reagan landslide. Parts of America, such as North Carolina and Virginia, which last elected a Democrat when Mr Obama was in diapers, show him in the lead by ground-shifting margins.

Then there is the money. No candidate has ever raised anything like Mr Obama’s tally, which could exceed $600m (£350m, €450m) if the recent escalation in donations is any guide. By my estimate, Mr Obama’s remaining war chest could fund at least two back-to-back British general elections. Mr McCain, meanwhile, might be able to finance a creditable shot at the New Jersey governorship.

Nor, in spite of the acuity of Mr McCain’s punchline, would a dramatic stock market recovery be likely to dent Mr Obama’s fortunes. It would come too late to restore the American public’s badly shaken confidence in their financial system and in the free-trade economy that Mr McCain so gallantly defends.

Besides, no resurgence in the Dow Jones could reflate a property market that has been the chief source of household spending since the Bush administration took office. Mr Obama can rest easy: Joe Public – and even Joe Plumber – will be feeling the pain for many months to come.

Yet conventional wisdom is often wrong. For a start, as any property analyst can attest, it tends to be self-affirming. The media has leapt on recent polls that show Mr Obama with double-digit margins. But until Friday, when the conservative Drudge Report led on the much narrower two-point lead that Gallup gave Mr Obama, those polls that have not hinted at a landslide have been downplayed. And there have been quite a few.

The RealClear Politics website’s average of polls, which gives Mr Obama a lead of 6.8 per cent over Mr McCain, offers a better guide to the situation. It compares to John Kerry’s lead just a few weeks before he lost the 2004 election to Mr Bush. It is also slightly lower than Mr Obama’s lead over Hillary Clinton shortly before she bested him – and the media – in the New Hampshire primary at the start of the year.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:12 PM


Indian flavour aboard US Navy vessel (Andrew Pereira,10/19/08, TNN)

ONBOARD USS CHANCELLORSVILLE: American officers and sailors aboard the USS Chancellorsville, now docked at Mormugao harbour for the joint Indo-US naval exercise Malabar '08 starting Sunday, woke up Saturday morning to the sounds of bhangra playing over the public address system.

In fact, the person who guided the ship into Mormugao harbour was an officer of Indian-origin.

"I was the conning officer at the bridge, guiding the guy at the helm when we entered the harbour," says 22-year-old George Kunthara, who traces his roots to Palakkad, Kerala.

"My parents went to the US almost 30 years ago. I was born and raised in Austin, Texas," he says.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:55 PM


The final victory is not yet won: No one will be more pleased at the news that there may be no more prosecutions for selling goods in pounds and ounces than all those readers whose support over the past eight years has made the campaign to end the absurdity of the compulsory metrication laws possible. (Christopher Booker, 18 Oct 2008, Daily Telegraph)

The announcement by business minister John Denham that local authorities are to be instructed never again to charge small traders with the criminal offence of selling in traditional British weights and measures seems like a remarkable victory for the tireless campaign led by Neil Herron of the Metric Martyrs Defence Fund.

It was Mr Herron who, in June 2000, was the first to leap into the fray when, for selling 'a pound of bananas', his fellow Sunderland market trader Steve Thoburn became the first person in Britain to face prosecution under new regulations, implementing two EU directives, making it an offence to sell except in metric measures.

When four other traders soon fell similarly foul of the new law, it was Mr Herron who set up the Metric Martyrs Defence Fund to provide them with proper legal support for a case which went right up to the Court of Appeal, And, as he is first to acknowledge, without the generosity of those Sunday Telegraph readers who over the years have contributed more than £100,000, his brilliantly orchestrated campaign could never have got off the ground.

But before we cheer too loudly at this latest news, we must recall that Mr Denham is only proposing to give new 'guidance' to local councils, on an issue long an embarrassment to the Government because it arouses such public passion.

The laws under which the original 'metric martyrs' were found guilty are still on the statute book...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:34 AM


On The Content of His Character: If Obama loses, let's please not assume that racism was the cause. (John McWhorter, 10/16/08, The New Republic)

I find myself unable to trust that more than a sliver of black America would be able, if Obama lost, to assess that outcome according to--of all things--the content of his character.

For 40 years, black America has been misled by a claim that we can only be our best with the total eclipse of racist bias. Few put it in so many words, but the obsession with things like tabulating ever-finer shades of racism and calling for a "national conversation" on race in which whites would listen to blacks talk about racism are based on an assumption: that the descendants of African slaves in the United States are the only group of humans in history whose problems will vanish with a "level playing field," something no other group has ever supposed could be a reality.

The general conversation is drifting slowly away from this Utopianist canard, but nothing could help hustle it into obsolescence more than an Obama presidency, especially for the generation who grew up watching a black man and his family in the White House and had little memory of a time when it would have been considered an impossibility. At the same time, nothing could breathe new life into this gestural pessimism like an Obama loss. It would be the perfect enabler for a good ten years of aggrieved mulling over "the persistence of racism," which, for all of its cathartic seduction, would make no one less poor, more gainfully employed, or better educated.

The prevailing sentiment would be expressed in tart declarations, considered the height of black authenticity, that bigotry did in the Obama campaign. Even now, the idea that white swing voters might pass on him because of his positions or campaign performance is considered a peculiar notion, likely from someone unhip to the gospel that America remains all about racism despite Colin Powell and Oprah. The money question is considered to be why our Great Black Hope isn't polling tens of points ahead of John McCain and his discredited party. But Obama has been a sure shot only with Blue America college-town sorts, animated not only by Obama's intellect, but also by his "diverseness" and its symbolic import for showing that our nasty past is truly past.

Obama, in fact, has limitations as a communicator beyond black people and the "Stuff White People Like" set. In his first debate with John McCain, when McCain assailed him as a big spender, Obama was almost strangely uninterested in pointing up the things he wants to spend money on--i.e., exactly the things needed by the struggling working class people he has trouble making inroads with. Luckily, he's gotten past this some recently (see his calling health care a "right" during the second debate and his brass-tacks speech in Toledo on Monday). However, overall, professorial Obama still seems oblivious to the power of slogans. Reagan had "Morning in America"; Bill Clinton had "The End of Welfare As We Know It." Obama has had the likes of the gauzy "Yes, We Can," stirring as an opening gambit and good on T-shirts, but offering little to the folks facing layoffs while trying to pay their mortgage. To struggling black folks, ethnic identification pushes Obama over the edge regardless. But all folks aren't black.

...just imagine how Senator Obama would have done in the primaries if he were white and running on such a vacuous "platform." He'd have finished behind even such a notorious empty suit as Joe Biden.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:27 AM


Amid Pressing Problems, Threat of Deflation Looms (SUDEEP REDDY, 10/18/08, Wall Street Journal)

Policy makers navigating the U.S. through the global credit crisis may have a new concern on the horizon for 2009: deflation.

The risk of deflation -- generally falling prices across the economy, beyond volatile energy and food costs -- remains slim. But the financial shock and a faltering economy can set the stage for a deflationary environment.

Federal Reserve officials view broad-based deflation as unlikely but possible. Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco President Janet Yellen said in a speech this week that the plunge in oil prices along with slackening demand for labor and goods should "push inflation down to, and possibly even below, rates that I consider consistent with price stability."

Fed officials generally consider price stability to be an inflation rate between 1.5% and 2%.

The long term pressure on the economy remains, as it has been for nearly three decades, deflationary, not inflationary.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:14 AM


Why "placebo" is not a dirty word: Yes, alternative medicine works mostly by the power of suggestion. But so do a lot of conventional treatments. (Robert Burton, Aug. 01, 2008, Salon)

The placebo effect has maddened the medical world for generations. But recent advances in brain imaging emphasize for me that “placebo” should not be regarded a dirty word. In fact, it is time to give placebo a new image and update its beneficial role in our modern medical armamentarium.

Folk psychology tells us that the placebo effect is, in large part, a function of patient suggestibility and that some of us are clearly more suggestible than others. For centuries, physicians have handed out inert colored water and sugar pills with the full knowledge that approximately a third of their patients will report feeling better. We assume that the degree of response is somehow a reflection of the psychological state of the patient -- the greater the degree of gullibility, the more likely he or she is to believe that a sugar pill will relieve aches and pains. But there's an unanticipated side effect of this assumption.

Attributing the placebo effect to gullibility is a subtle accusation of a patient's weakness and lack of sophistication. I suspect that many of us consciously or unconsciously look down upon those who are good placebo responders, as though you have to be a real dummy to believe everything the doctor tells or gives you.

But placebo serves a very real evolutionary function. At a time when there were no medicines, the placebo effect was all that stood between primitive humans and the agonies of injuries and illnesses. A look at the functional imaging scans shows how truly robust are the involved brain systems. These systems are here to stay. Even given our advanced state of medical knowledge, much of routine medical care -- from treating backaches to the common cold -- relies primarily upon reassurance and hope, not disease-specific treatments.

Given the choice, we'd all prefer to be placebo responders, though none of us want to be categorized as rubes. We complain about not getting enough quality time with our doctors, yet would never dream of directly asking for a prescription for a placebo. Instead, if we believe in conventional (allopathic) medicine, we might ask for an antibiotic for the common cold, with the rationale that, yes, it's only a virus, but perhaps the antibiotic will help. If we are inclined toward alternative medical treatments, we will plunk down a few bucks for a bottle of echinacea or a pack of zinc lozenges. To the extent that we feel better, we have invoked the placebo effect.

Keep in mind that whenever there is no specific well-substantiated treatment for a condition, the only alternative to glum acceptance and the proverbial stiff upper lip is to seek out a placebo. But don't tell us it's a placebo. Don't even hint that we are self-deluded suckers who might spring for a case of snake oil or a six-pack of eye of newt. Just as religion softens the blow of facing death, placebo softens the blow of facing life.

...is that it's placebo all the way down. Doctors can deaden pain, they just can't cure much.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:57 AM


The Right’s Class War: The prospect of a McCain loss has the Republican Party angrily turning on itself. Can the eggheads and the Joe Six-Packs get along? (John Heilemann, Oct 17, 2008, New York)

With the prospect of defeat for John McCain growing more likely every day, the GOP destined to see its numbers reduced in both the House and Senate, and the Republican brand debased to the point of bankruptcy, the conservative intelligentsia is factionalized and feuding, criminating and recriminating, in a way that few of its members can recall in their political lifetimes. Populists attack Establishmentarians. Neocons assail theocons. And virtually everyone has something harsh to say about the party’s standard-bearer. Election Day may still be two weeks away, but already the idea-merchants of the right have formed a circular firing squad.

When the weapons of choice shift from pistols to Uzis after November 4, the ensuing massacre will be for Democrats a source of political opportunity, not to mention endless entertainment. But for Republicans it will be a necessary passage toward either the revival or reinvention of conservatism. Nobody serious on the right doubts that the overhaul is at once required and bound to be arduous—but it may take longer and prove even bloodier than anyone now imagines.

[P]alin retains the fierce loyalty of a cadre of more populist, grassrootsy voices in the right-wing punditocracy who have denounced the main-line-conservative criticisms of Palin as the snooty, disloyal, and craven attempts of faux Republicans to curry favor with the ascendant liberal elite. “They … believe as intellectuals,” writes one pro-Palin opinionator, Victor Davis Hanson, “that the similarly astute Obamians may on occasion inspire, or admire them as the like-minded who cultivate the life of the mind—in contrast to the ‘cancer’ Sarah Palin, who, with her husband Todd, could hardly discuss Proust with them or could offer little if any sophisticated table talk other than the proper chokes on shotguns or optimum RPMs on snow-machines.”

Not surprisingly, Sarracuda’s foes on the right dismiss the counter-backlash more or less out of hand. When I ask Frum about the apparent class overtones of the anti-anti-Palin argument, he deems it a mere “rhetorical trope.” What he hears instead is the sound of defeatism. “The people who defend her have already given up any serious thought of Republicans’ wielding governmental power anytime soon,” Frum says. “They have already moved to a position of pure cultural symbolic opposition to a new majority. The people who criticize her do so because we have some hope that we could be in contention in 2012, and there’s some risk that she could be the party’s nominee, and she’d probably lose—and even if by some miracle she won, she’d be a terrible president.”

Brooks, meanwhile, detects a “more visceral” impulse at work. “There are some folks who live by the culture war and die by the culture war,” he tells me. “And if a bunch of East Coast snobs hate Palin, they should like Palin.” But Brooks, like Frum, sees the internecine fight over McCain’s No. 2 as reflecting a deeper set of ideological fissures in the party. “Basically, the people who are down on Palin and the campaign McCain is running think that it’s time to move beyond Reagan and that we’ve got to go off and do something new,” he explains. “A lot of the people who are defending the campaign and Palin think that we got out of touch with Goldwater and Reagan and we’ve gotta get back to that.”

Bingo! The neocons have always been uncomfortable with the GOP on cultural issues, which, of course, represent the party's core convictions. But every four years they pick the candidate they think least threatening on such issues -- in other words, most likely to allow abortion -- and then back him as he loses to the more religious party work horse. That's why they backed John McCain against George W. Bush but then Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani against Maverick.

So in the next election they'll have some new "moderate" who they'll trumpet as he gets thrashed by Jeb Bush, Sarah Palin, Bobby Jindal or whoever. And they'll bitch and moan about how we've nominated someone too stupid to govern without ever comprehending that it's the Stupid Party and we don't do "new."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:46 AM


Hodes, Horn find little common ground in debate (GARRY RAYNO, 10/18/08, New Hampshire Union Leader)

Social Security and whether individuals should be able to invest some of their money in securities brought out two different solutions.

Hodes refused to say exactly what he would support "" such as an older retirement age -- to shore up the Social Security trust fund, but said a comprehensive approach is needed. He said privatization was not an option.

"The first step is to restore fiscal responsibility to make sure the federal government does not take any more money out of the trust fund," he said.

Horn said people need more choices in how to invest their retirement dollars, but said...she would not mandate that everyone do that. [...]

Horn repeatedly attached Hodes for taking contributions from financial institutions while he sits on the House Financial Oversight Committee.

"During the recent economic mess Mr. Hodes and his committee and his party looked the other way," she charged. "That's the kind of inaction that hurts people every day." [...]

Hodes said another stimulus package is needed, as well as reforming bankruptcy laws to allow more people to remain in their homes.

But she replied "The best stimulus we've got to offer the American people is to leave more money in their pockets."

Ms Horn recognizes that George W. Bush won two national elections, eh?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:38 AM


U.S. strike is said to kill Al-Qaida figure in Pakistan (New York Times, 10/17/2008)

The operative, Khalid Habib, an Egyptian who was chief of operations in Pakistan's tribal region, is described by the CIA as the fourth-ranking person in the Qaida hierarchy. [...]

Habib recently moved to Taparghai from Wana, the capital of South Waziristan, which is in an area that the Americans have been attacking with increasing frequency. Their primary goal is to break the militant network there related to Sirajuddin Haqqani, a Taliban leader closely allied to Al-Qaida, the former member of the militant group said.

Habib had relocated to Taparghai expressly to avoid missile strikes, the former militant said. The area around Taparghai is near Makin, a base of Baitullah Mehsud, the chief of the Pakistani Taliban.

Habib was in a parked Toyota four-by-four when he was hit by the missile.

Seems like you could just blow up any Toyota 4x4 you can find in Waziristan and stand a reasonable chance that its carrying bad guys.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:56 AM


Al-Qaeda Web Forums Abruptly Taken Offline: Separately, Sunnis and Shiites Wage Online War (Ellen Knickmeyer, 10/18/08, Washington Post )

Four of the five main online forums that al-Qaeda's media wing uses to distribute statements by Osama bin Laden and other extremists have been disabled since mid-September, monitors of the Web sites say.

The disappearance of the forums on Sept. 10 -- and al-Qaeda's apparent inability to restore them or create alternate online venues, as it has before -- has curbed the organization's dissemination of the words and images of its fugitive leaders. On Sept. 29, a statement by the al-Fajr Media Center, a distribution network created by supporters of al-Qaeda and other Sunni extremist groups, said the forums had disappeared "for technical reasons," and it urged followers not to trust look-alike sites.

For al-Qaeda, "these sites are the equivalent of pentagon.mil, whitehouse.gov, att.com," said Evan F. Kohlmann, an expert on online al-Qaeda operations who has advised the FBI and others. With just one authorized al-Qaeda site still in business, "this has left al-Qaeda's propaganda strategy hanging by a very narrow thread." [...]

On several occasions over the past three years, unknown hackers have shut down al-Qaeda-affiliated Web sites after they announced the imminent release of a new video message from Osama bin Laden or another extremist leader. It is often impossible to pinpoint the source of such online attacks, though some experts say the culprits could be independent activists.

...is that the CIA isn't competent enough to be behind it.

October 17, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:12 PM


National Curling Academy to open (BBC, 10/17/08)

A National Curling Academy is to be built in Kinross.

The decision was announced by the Board of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club, who had shortlisted sites in Kinross and Ratho for the project.

The new academy will feature a six sheet curling rink, with full supporting facilities, offices, meeting rooms and a museum.

The club said they aimed to have the new facility up and running in time for the 2010/2011 season.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:09 PM


20bn barrel oil discovery puts Cuba in the big league (Rory Carroll, 10/18/08, The Guardian)

The government announced there may be more than 20bn barrels of recoverable oil in offshore fields in Cuba's share of the Gulf of Mexico, more than twice the previous estimate.

If confirmed, it puts Cuba's reserves on par with those of the US and into the world's top 20. Drilling is expected to start next year by Cuba's state oil company Cubapetroleo, or Cupet.

"It would change their whole equation. The government would have more money and no longer be dependent on foreign oil," said Kirby Jones, founder of the Washington-based US-Cuba Trade Association.

...without being cursed by oil? Governments that don't have to rely on taxes are unanswerable to their people.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:02 PM


Anand floors Kramnik, takes lead (Rakesh Rao, 10/17/08, The Hindu)

Just when it seemed Vladimir Kramnik had managed to elude Viswanathan Anand’s grasp, the champion produced the knockout punch to floor the challenger in the third round of the World chess championship match here on Friday.

The time management of both players played a major role in the outcome of this complex match. At one stage, Anand had more than an hour of thinking time on his clock than Kramnik. But when the situation demanded, Anand took his time to thwart Kramnik’s bid to escape and later had less time than the Russian but just enough to finish the job.

Kramnik, in a hurry to complete 40 moves in the allotted two hours, missed a safe continuation and walked into serious trouble. Anand, closing in on a possible victory, kept his cool and found an easier way to win in 41 moves.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:54 PM

BUT WHEN DO I GET MY PONY? (via Kevin Whited):

The next New Deal (Brent Budowsky, 10/14/08, The Hill)

The Gilded Age of George Bush ends; the era of reform with Barack Obama begins. The great realignment is at hand, with prospects rising for a Democratic president and Congress with expanded majorities to initiate a new era of historic patriotic reform.

Let’s revive and revolutionize the auto industry with the next JFK moon shot to create a new generation of fuel-efficient cars that reach 100 miles per gallon or better within five years, and create a wave of new jobs to lift the economy and conserve historic energy.

Congress should return after the election, as the Speaker suggests, to enact a major economic stimulus of at least $150 billion, to give a booster shot to our domestic economy.

The Federal Reserve and global central banks should give the world economy a booster shot with another coordinated interest rate cut of 50-100 basis points. Now.

Who even knew that we were running out of historic energy or that a president elect could dictate Fed policy?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:47 PM


Little Murders (Charles J. Chaput, Oct 18, 2008, Public Discourse)

I think the message of Render Unto Caesar can be condensed into a few basic points.

Here's the first point. For many years, studies have shown that Americans have a very poor sense of history, and that's very dangerous, because as Thucydides and Machiavelli and Thomas Jefferson have all said, history matters. It matters because the past shapes the present, and the present shapes the future. If American Catholics don't know history, and especially their own history as Catholics, then somebody else - and usually somebody not very friendly - will create their history for them.

Here's the second point. America is not a secular state. As historian Paul Johnson once said, America was ''born Protestant.'' It has uniquely and deeply religious roots. Obviously it has no established Church, and it has non-sectarian public institutions. It also has plenty of room for both believers and non-believers. But the United States was never intended to be a ''secular'' country in the radical modern sense. Nearly all the Founders were either Christian or at least religion-friendly. And all of our public institutions and all of our ideas about the human person are based in a religiously shaped vocabulary. So if we cut God out of our public life, we cut the foundation out from under our national ideals.

Here's the third point. We need to be very forceful in defending what the words in our political vocabulary really mean. Words are important because they shape our thinking, and our thinking drives our actions. When we subvert the meaning of words like ''the common good'' or ''conscience'' or ''community'' or ''family,'' we undermine the language that sustains our thinking about the law. Dishonest language leads to dishonest debate and bad laws.

Here's an example. We need to remember that tolerance is not a Christian virtue, and it's never an end in itself. In fact, tolerating grave evil within a society is itself a form of evil. Likewise, democratic pluralism does not mean that Catholics should be quiet in public about serious moral issues because of some misguided sense of good manners. A healthy democracy requires vigorous moral debate to survive. Real pluralism demands that people of strong beliefs will advance their convictions in the public square - peacefully, legally and respectfully, but energetically and without embarrassment. Anything less is bad citizenship and a form of theft from the public conversation.

Here's the fourth point. When Jesus tells the Pharisees and Herodians in the Gospel of Matthew (22:21) to ''render unto the Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's,'' he sets the framework for how we should think about religion and the state even today. Caesar does have rights. We owe civil authority our respect and appropriate obedience. But that obedience is limited by what belongs to God. Caesar is not God. Only God is God, and the state is subordinate and accountable to God for its treatment of human persons, all of whom were created by God. Our job as believers is to figure out what things belong to Caesar, and what things belong to God - and then to put those things in right order in our own lives, and in our relations with others.

So having said all this, what does the book mean, in practice, for each of us as individual Catholics? It means that we each have a duty to study and grow in our faith, guided by the teaching of the Church. It also means that we have a duty to be politically engaged. Why? Because politics is the exercise of power, and the use of power always has moral content and human consequences.

As Christians, we can't claim to love God and then ignore the needs of our neighbors. Loving God is like loving a spouse. A husband may tell his wife that he loves her, and of course that's very beautiful. But she'll still want to see the evidence in his actions. Likewise if we claim to be ''Catholic,'' we need to prove it by our behavior. And serving other people by working for justice and charity in our nation's political life is one of the very important ways we do that.

The ''separation of Church and state'' does not mean - and it can never mean - separating our Catholic faith from our public witness, our political choices and our political actions. That kind of separation would require Christians to deny who we are; to repudiate Jesus when he commands us to be ''leaven in the world'' and to ''make disciples of all nations.'' That kind of separation steals the moral content of a society. It's the equivalent of telling a married man that he can't act married in public. Of course, he can certainly do that, but he won't stay married for long.

Can a Catholic Support Him? Asking the Big Question about Barack Obama

I began work on Render Unto Caesar in July 2006. I made the final changes to the text in November 2007. That's a long time before anyone was nominated for president, and it was Doubleday, not I, that set the book's release date for August 2008. So - unlike Prof. Douglas Kmiec's recent book, Can a Catholic Support Him? Asking the Big Question about Barack Obama, which argues a Catholic case for Senator Obama - I wrote Render Unto Caesar with no interest in supporting or attacking any candidate or any political party.

The goal of Render Unto Caesar was simply to describe what an authentic Catholic approach to political life looks like, and then to encourage Americans Catholics to live it.

Prof. Kmiec has a strong record of service to the Church and the nation in his past. He served in the Reagan administration, and he supported Mitt Romney's campaign for president before switching in a very public way to Barack Obama earlier this year. In his own book he quotes from Render Unto Caesar at some length. In fact, he suggests that his reasoning and mine are ''not far distant on the moral inquiry necessary in the election of 2008.'' Unfortunately, he either misunderstands or misuses my words, and he couldn't be more mistaken.

I believe that Senator Obama, whatever his other talents, is the most committed ''abortion-rights'' presidential candidate of either major party since the Roe v. Wade abortion decision in 1973. Despite what Prof. Kmiec suggests, the party platform Senator Obama runs on this year is not only aggressively ''pro-choice;'' it has also removed any suggestion that killing an unborn child might be a regrettable thing. On the question of homicide against the unborn child - and let's remember that the great Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer explicitly called abortion ''murder'' - the Democratic platform that emerged from Denver in August 2008 is clearly anti-life.

Prof. Kmiec argues that there are defensible motives to support Senator Obama. Speaking for myself, I do not know any proportionate reason that could outweigh more than 40 million unborn children killed by abortion and the many millions of women deeply wounded by the loss and regret abortion creates.

To suggest - as some Catholics do - that Senator Obama is this year's ''real'' prolife candidate requires a peculiar kind of self-hypnosis, or moral confusion, or worse

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:36 PM


Michelle and Me: The trials of being an Obama biographer (Liza Mundy, Oct. 14, 2008, Slate)

Back in June, the New York Times ran a front-page piece about Michelle Obama. A few months earlier, she had made her now-famous comment about how this election was the first time in her adult life that she'd been really proud of her country and become the target of a vast Internet conspiracy to portray her as anti-patriotic and full of racial animus. The Times piece was about the campaign's efforts to soften her image, and in it, Michelle expressed astonishment at the vitriol directed her way, venturing that anyone who spent time with her would know that's not what she is about. "I will walk anyone through my life," she declared.

As it happened, that very day I was in Chicago trying to get people to walk me through what they knew of her life, and the campaign was making it extremely difficult. Among the contacts I tried to make was Michelle's first cousin once removed Capers Funnye Jr., whose mother was the sister of Michelle's paternal grandfather. Funnye is a friendly man with his own story, a convert to Judaism who became a rabbi. I'd called earlier to ask him about the Robinson family history, and when he didn't call back, I'd driven to his Chicago synagogue. He opened the door and, when I told him who I was, looked regretful. He loves to talk, but he'd checked with the campaign, and they had asked him not to give an extended interview.

Around the same time, I called a pastor on Chicago's South Side who knew Michelle. "I was instructed by the campaign to let them know when you called me," he said, explaining that he received an advance message asking him not to discuss Michelle with any book author because they were "not ready for people who knew Michelle to talk about her."

Why should you care about one writer's shaggy-dog story? In one sense, none of this is tragic; every reporter knows that being denied access to the usual contacts means you dig harder and turn up new voices. But you should care if you are expecting an Obama presidency to achieve new levels of transparency. Obama, if elected, may well bring many changes to Washington, but unusually open access to the media—and, by extension, the public—is not necessarily going to be one of them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:33 PM


Banana crepes with Nutella from Savannah in Burbank (Noelle Carter, 10/15/08, Los Angeles Times)


3/4 cup plus 1 1/2 teaspoons milk

1/3 cup flour

2 eggs

1 tablespoon melted butter, plus extra for greasing the crepe pan

1/4 teaspoon salt

1. Combine the milk, flour, eggs and butter in a blender and process until smooth. Strain the batter into a nonreactive container, cover tightly and refrigerate overnight.

2. Heat a crepe pan or medium nonstick skillet over medium heat. Lightly grease the pan with a little butter, then pour in one-fourth cup batter, tilting the pan so that the batter forms a roughly 7-inch-diameter circle. Cook until the crepe is just set on the bottom, about 1 1/2 minutes, then flip and cook until set on the other side, about 1 minute more. Adjust the heat as necessary so the crepes do not color too much or cook too quickly. Store the cooked crepes between layers of parchment or waxed paper. The batter makes 8 crepes.

Foster sauce
1/2 cup dark brown sugar

6 tablespoons cold butter, diced in 1/2 -inch pieces

2 1/2 tablespoons light corn syrup

2 1/2 tablespoons brandy

2 tablespoons creme de banana

In a small, heavy-bottom pan, combine the sugar, butter and corn syrup. Place the pan over medium heat, melting the sugar and butter and bringing the contents to a low simmer. Remove the pan from the heat and add the brandy and creme de banana. Place the pan over medium-high heat and cook 1 to 2 minutes to combine the flavors. Reserve and keep warm.

4 bananas, halved lengthwise, then crosswise, divided

8 teaspoons coarse or sanding sugar, divided

8 prepared crepes

1 cup Nutella, divided

1 cup warm Foster sauce, divided

2 cups vanilla ice cream

4 mint sprigs for garnish

4 teaspoons powdered sugar for garnish

20 to 24 raspberries for garnish

1. Place the banana quarters on a pie tin or baking sheet cut-side up. Sprinkle the sugar evenly over the bananas and brulee with the blow torch just until the sugar is caramelized. Reserve.

2. Heat the oven to 200 degrees. Spread 1 tablespoon of Nutella over half of each crepe, then fold in half and spread an additional tablespoon of Nutella over the folded crepe. Fold the crepe once more to form a triangle. Repeat with the remaining crepes. Place 2 crepes on each of 4 heat-proof serving plates, or onto a parchment-lined baking sheet, and heat in the oven just until the crepes are warm and the Nutella is soft and creamy. Remove the plates (or remove the crepes, 2 each, to the serving plates) and spoon one-fourth cup of the warm Foster sauce over each serving.

3. Garnish each serving with 4 pieces of caramelized banana. Place a scoop of ice cream in the center of each plate and scatter the raspberries evenly over the servings. Garnish each with a mint sprig and a light sprinkling of powdered sugar. Serve immediately.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:31 PM


Secret Service says "Kill him" allegation unfounded (Andrew M. Seder, 10/15/08, timesleader.com)

The agent in charge of the Secret Service field office in Scranton said allegations that someone yelled “kill him” when presidential hopeful Barack Obama’s name was mentioned during Tuesday’s Sarah Palin rally are unfounded.

That thrill running up the Left's leg is just Obama assassination porn.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:33 PM


The Barack backlash (Patrick J. Buchanan, 10/17/08, World Net Daily)

America may desperately desire to close the book on the Bush presidency. Yet there is, as of now, no hard evidence it has embraced Obama, his ideology, or agenda. Indeed, his campaign testifies, by its policy shifts, that it is fully aware the nation is still resisting the idea of an Obama presidency.

In the later primaries, even as a panicked media were demanding that Hillary drop out of the race, she consistently routed Obama in Ohio and Pennsylvania and crushed him in West Virginia and Kentucky.

By April and May, the Democratic Party was manifesting all the symptoms of buyer's remorse over how it had voted in January and February.

Obama's convention put him eight points up. But, as soon as America heard Sarah Palin in St. Paul, the Republicans shot up 10 points and seemed headed for victory.

What brought about the Obama-Biden resurgence was nothing Obama and Biden did, but the mid-September crash of Fannie, Freddie, Lehman Brothers, AIG, the stock market, where $4 trillion was wiped out, the $700 billion bailout of Wall Street that enraged Middle America – and John McCain's classically inept handling of the crisis.

In short, Obama has still not closed the sale. Every time America takes a second look at him, it has second thoughts, and backs away.

GOP rep on Obama's 'anti-American views’ (ANDY BARR, 10/17/08, Politico)
Republican Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann (Minn.) accused Barack Obama Friday of holding “anti-American” sentiments.

“I'm very concerned that he may have anti-American views,” Bachmann said on MSNBC’s Hardball. “That's what the American people are concerned about. That’s why they want to know what his answers are.”

“In his book, Barack Obama had pointed to Jeremiah Wright as one of his mentors and also Father Pfleger as one of his mentors. Two of the three mentors are Father Pfleger and Jeremiah Wright. Now, these are very strange, anti-American mentors,” Bachmann continued.

“Barack Obama has been associating with anti-Americans, by and large -- the people who are radical leftists. That's the real question about Barack Obama.”

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:29 PM


Some Surveys Indicate Tighter Presidential Race: Differences in Predicting Outcome Result From How Pollsters Gauge Voter Turnout and Weight Party Affiliation (NICK TIMIRAOS, 10/17/08, Wall Street Journal)

Differences over how to accurately gauge party affiliation also help account for the discrepancies. Some pollsters argue polls should be statistically "weighted" so that their results achieve a partisan composition that reflects long-term national averages -- particularly if a poll shows that one party gets an unusually large share among the respondents, compared with past elections.

Pollster Scott Rasmussen, for example, weights current polls so that Democrats outnumber Republicans by a 39.3% to 33% margin, while pollster John Zogby adjusts polls so that Democrats account for around 38% of the electorate and Republicans, 36%. So even if a particular sample of calls shows different ratios, the pollsters adjust to fit that formula.

"What troubles me is when I see some of my colleagues have 27% of the respondents that are Republicans. That's just not America, period," says Mr. Zogby, whose polls have shown Sen. Obama with a lead ranging from two to six points this month. He argues that while party affiliation fluctuates over time, it doesn't change "day-to-day, and it never fluctuates by eight points in a short time period."

Other pollsters argue that polls should use whatever partisan mix results from a particular survey rather than arbitrarily establishing party affiliation weights. "How do you know that's right? I mean, they're making up numbers," says Susan Pinkus, who conducts the Los Angeles Times-Bloomberg poll, which isn't weighted. In this week's poll, the respondents were 34% Democratic and 26% Republican.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:27 PM


Iran's Economy Runs Out Of Steam (Michael Rubin 10.17.08, Forbes)

Non-oil sector production is stagnant. Factories may remain open but many do not pay workers. On Oct. 2, for example, tire factory workers staged a protest in front of the Ministry of Labor seeking six months' unpaid wages. In recent weeks, wild cat strikes have occurred in Tehran, Isfahan, Qazvin and Sanandaj. Purchasing power has plummeted.

To mitigate such trends, the government has imposed price controls. On June 11, the daily Resalat reported that the paramilitary Basij, a subdivision of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, would enforce low prices. Over subsequent days, the Iranian press featured photos of Basij beating merchants whose prices were too high.

The combination of high liquidity, sparked by Ahmadinejad's arbitrary decree lowering interest rates to single digits, no-interest banking and inflation has led wealthy Iranians to pour money into real estate. Housing costs have skyrocketed; Tehran real estate prices rival New York's. The average Iranian family now pays 60% of its income for rent, while the Ministry of Housing estimates 1.5 million Iranians are homeless.

To fight economic malaise, Ahmadinejad has raided Iran's foreign reserves. In the past two months alone, Iranian papers have reported more than $15 billion in withdrawals from the reserves to import refined gas and several additional billion dollars to subsidize industrial schemes. Ahmadinejad's reinstatement of subsidies has meant Iran once again must import 40% of its refined petroleum needs.

He will need to continue spending. Last winter, Iran ran out of gas. Food prices more than doubled and the Revolutionary Guards had to deploy on the streets of towns and cities to keep order. On Oct. 1, the Parliament's Energy Commission predicted another "severe gas shortage" again within months.

Crude's Drag on Russian Growth Poses Test for Putin (GREGORY L. WHITE, 10/17/08, Wall Street Journal)
The prospect of sharply lower prices for oil and other commodity exports -- on top of plunging stock markets and a seized-up financial system -- threatens the economic recovery that's been a foundation of Vladimir Putin's rule in Russia.

Falling prices for crude oil played a role in driving down Russia's benchmark RTS stock index 20% this week to the lowest level since June 2005.

Despite a $160 billion Kremlin bailout package, the market is off 73% from its record high set in May, and Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin warned legislators Friday that the declines are likely to continue. Unable to raise cash, Russia's heavily indebted billionaires have been forced to give up prime assets pledged as collateral or beg for bailouts.

Economists have cut forecasts for growth next year to around 3%-4%, down from a 7.7% rate in the first nine months of this year. Central bank reserves have fallen $66.9 billion since early August as investors and ordinary Russians have fled the ruble.

...gas prices at the pump fell 60 cents here this week.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:22 PM


Stem Cell Breakthrough: Mass-Production Of 'Embryonic' Stem Cells From A Human Hair (ScienceDaily, Oct. 17, 2008)

The first reports of the successful reprogramming of adult human cells back into so-called induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, which by all appearances looked and acted liked embryonic stem cells created a media stir. But the process was woefully inefficient: Only one out of 10,000 cells could be persuaded to turn back the clock.

Now, a team of researchers led by Juan Carlos Izpisúa Belmonte at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, succeeded in boosting the reprogramming efficiency more than 100fold, while cutting the time it takes in half. In fact, they repeatedly generated iPS cells from the tiny number of keratinocytes attached to a single hair plucked from a human scalp.

Their method, published ahead of print in the Oct. 17, 2008 online edition of Nature Biotechnology, not only provides a practical and simple alternative for the generation of patient- and disease-specific stem cells, which had been hampered by the low efficiency of the reprogramming process, but also spares patients invasive procedures to collect suitable starting material, since the process only requires a single human hair.

Notice you don't have Michael J. Fox, Mrs. Reeves and Ron Reagan demanding that we harvest babies for them this time around?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:06 PM

THE WEATHER IS HERE (via Glenn Dryfoos):

Buy American. I Am. (WARREN E. BUFFETT, 10/17/08, NY Times)


THE financial world is a mess, both in the United States and abroad. Its problems, moreover, have been leaking into the general economy, and the leaks are now turning into a gusher. In the near term, unemployment will rise, business activity will falter and headlines will continue to be scary.

So ... I’ve been buying American stocks. This is my personal account I’m talking about, in which I previously owned nothing but United States government bonds. (This description leaves aside my Berkshire Hathaway holdings, which are all committed to philanthropy.) If prices keep looking attractive, my non-Berkshire net worth will soon be 100 percent in United States equities.


A simple rule dictates my buying: Be fearful when others are greedy, and be greedy when others are fearful. [...]

Over the long term, the stock market news will be good. In the 20th century, the United States endured two world wars and other traumatic and expensive military conflicts; the Depression; a dozen or so recessions and financial panics; oil shocks; a flu epidemic; and the resignation of a disgraced president. Yet the Dow rose from 66 to 11,497.

You might think it would have been impossible for an investor to lose money during a century marked by such an extraordinary gain. But some investors did. The hapless ones bought stocks only when they felt comfort in doing so and then proceeded to sell when the headlines made them queasy.

Today people who hold cash equivalents feel comfortable. They shouldn’t. They have opted for a terrible long-term asset, one that pays virtually nothing and is certain to depreciate in value.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:51 PM


Protestant Latinos favor Obama, poll says: Republican immigration policies have tilted them toward the Democrat, the study says. (Nicole Gaouette, 10/17/08, Los Angeles Times)

Protestant Latinos, a growing group of voters who were key supporters of President Bush in 2004, have shifted their backing to Democratic Sen. Barack Obama, driven in large part by anger toward Republican immigration policies, according to a poll released Thursday.

Latinos overall represent about 6% of U.S. voters. Protestant Latinos -- about a third of all Latinos -- heavily supported Bush's reelection. This year, however, just over half of these voters support Obama for president; a third said they would vote for Republican Sen. John McCain.

More than 80% of Protestant Latinos, who tend to identify themselves as evangelicals, said the candidates' positions on immigration would be central to their vote this year, according to the survey.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:27 AM


Unbelievable (Joe Posnanski, 10/17/08)

That was unbelievable. That’s all. I just watched the Red Sox come back from 7-0 in the final innings of an elimination playoff game. And I never saw anything quite like it. Yes, the Red Sox have had all those incredible moments, of course. Came back from three games down against the Yankees. Came back from three to one against the Tribe. But this was different, this was ridiculous … you know what this was like? This was like something out of a kid’s dream. Do you remember being a kid and concocting these fantastic scenarios when your team was losing, these preposterous comebacks that boggled logic and the space-time continuum. I can remember, clear as Fiji Water, watching the Cleveland Browns trailing by 17 in the fourth quarter and thinking, “OK, if they score a touchdown here, onside kick, get it, score another touchdown, onside kick again, get the ball again, then all they would need is a field goal.”

So it was on a Thursday in Boston.

If they can just get a two-out, two-strike RBI single from Pedroia …

And if they can get a three-run homer from Papi …

And if they can get a two-run home from J.D. Drew …

And if they can get a 254-pitch at-bat from Coco Crisp and then, with a runner at second, let him hit a hard single to Tampa outfielder Gabe Gross who then uncorks the worst playoff outfield throw since Barry …

...but even Mrs. Drew doesn't have dreams where J.D. is the hero.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:01 AM


NH Congressional candidates call for lower taxes (BETH LaMONTAGNE HALL, 10/17/08, Associated Press)

Democratic Rep. Carol Shea-Porter and her Republican challenger Jeb Bradley agreed on one thing during their debate Thursday night: taxes should be lower.

What they couldn't agree on is who should get the tax breaks.

Shea-Porter pushed for more middle class tax cuts and further oversight of the banking industry to help boost the economy. Bradley also pushed for lower taxes, but called for lower spending and reducing the federal deficit as well.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:58 AM


The Case for John McCain: An argument for why McCain should be president--and Obama should not. (Yuval Levin, October 16, 2008, Culture 11)

In a year that favors them in almost every possible respect, the Democrats have chosen to put before the country the most liberal and least experienced candidate they have ever run for the presidency. Barack Obama’s personal record of accomplishment consists of essentially nothing of any relevance to the job he is seeking: no executive experience, no foreign policy experience, no military experience, and a very short time on the national political scene in which his only real achievement has been the most liberal voting record in a very liberal Senate.

On foreign policy, Obama has exhibited careless poor judgment — parroting the generic Democratic line, whatever it is at any particular moment, and in moments of doubt resorting to an instinctive cosmopolitan internationalism. On Iraq, he was against action when everyone (including Obama himself) believed Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction; then after it had become apparent he did not and that things were going poorly Obama said “there’s not that much difference between my position and George Bush’s position at this stage.” Then when presented with a surge strategy to turn things around, he rejected it in favor of withdrawal in defeat; and even now when the surge has been working he refuses to acknowledge he was wrong to oppose it. He has somehow managed to be wrong at every stage.

...his running mate got every step of that victory wrong too.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:55 AM


Lego ad red lighted over shades of pink and blue (The Local, 17 Oct 08)

A Swedish advertising watchdog has slammed Danish toymaker Lego for a catalogue it claims promotes outdated gender roles.

Sweden’s Trade Ethical Council against Sexism in Advertising (ERK) singled out images in a recent Lego catalog which featured a little girl playing in a pink room with ponies, a princess, and a palace accompanied by a caption reading, “Everything a princess could wish for…”

On the opposite side of the page, a little boy can be seen in a blue room playing with a fire station, fire trucks, a police station, and an airplane. The caption beneath reads, “Tons of blocks for slightly older boys.”

The boys will play with the ponies and the palace...if you give them a couple M-80s too...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:53 AM


Obama's lead falls two points in new CNN Poll of Polls (Paul Steinhauser, 10/17/08, CNN POlitcal Ticker)

A new average of the most recent national polls suggests Sen. Barack Obama holds a 6-point lead over Sen. John McCain.

The CNN Poll of Polls, compiled Friday morning, indicates that 49 percent of Americans say Obama, D-Illinois, is their choice for president, with 43 percent backing McCain, R-Arizona. Eight percent of those questioned are undecided.

When you keep bumping your head on that 50% ceiling you have to be worried.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:43 AM


Road-death politician got drunk in a gay bar hours before car crash... and may have been targeted by saboteurs (Daily Mail, 17th October 2008)

It has also been revealed that on the day of his death, Haider spent part of his last night drinking in a gay club called ‘Stadtkraemer.’

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:44 AM


Paul Gross deserves our support (National Post Editorial Board, October 16, 2008)

As Paul Gross's Great War movie Passchendaele prepares for its general release in Canada this weekend, it is time for us to set aside debates over public arts funding for a moment and think about supporting an ambitious, courageous, all-Canadian project with our own consumer dollars. [...]

Ultimately, if we have a legitimate interest in the existence of a financially comfortable domestic film industry we can always use another proof-of-concept that a (relatively) big-budget Canadian movie with a Canadian story can attract audiences inside and outside Canada.

In the meantime, it is already worth celebrating the other admirable feature of Mr. Gross's approach: his commitment to a genuine Canadian history that reaches back beyond the Trudeauvian Year Zero.

Although he used active Canadian soldiers as extras, the actor-director shied away from professing one view or the other on the war in Afghanistan. (The screenwriting, he points out, began while the country was still Soviet-occupied, and pre-production started before 9/11.) But he does think it is important to reject the idea that taking sides in war is an unnatural or novel role for Canadians.

"When we view ourselves exclusively as peacekeepers," Mr. Gross told the CBC this week, "we ought to understand that, yes, we're extraordinarily good at that - to some extent, we invented the concept - but that's relatively recent in our history. We also are warriors, and we were particularly good at it in the First World War and the Second World War."

He added: "How do you know where you're going if you don't know where it is you come from?"

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:20 AM


The champs recover magic of Octobers past (Dan Shaughnessy, October 17, 2008, Boston Globe)

It was over. We were getting ready to lower the storm windows and put baseball to bed for the long New England winter.

And then the reeling Red Sox dug down and found the lost magic of recent Octobers. They recovered from a 7-0, seventh-inning deficit to stun the Tampa Bay Rays, 8-7, in the fifth game of the American League Championship Series. It was as wild, wacky, and wonderful as anything that's happened at Fenway Park in this century. Which is saying a lot.

In the proud tradition of the Cowboy Uppers, Idiots, gypsies, tramps, and thieves who carried this team to a couple of world championships, the 2008 Sox staved off elimination with one of the great comebacks of October lore.

The Sox won in the ninth at 12:16 this morning when J.D. Drew roped a single over the head of Rays right fielder Gabe Gross with two on and two outs. It was the 11th walkoff win in Red Sox postseason history: The first in which the Sox trailed by seven runs in the seventh.

"I've never seen a group so happy to get on a plane at 1:30 in the morning," said Sox manager Terry Francona.

Unless you take a bat, sharpen the end of it and hammer it into their collective heart...they have you right where they want you.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:10 AM


Palin appeals to American's anti-intellectualism (Brendon O'Connor, 17 October 2008, Online Opinion)

Foreign distaste for American populism is nothing new and Palin fits a well established set of tropes and stereotypes. This perhaps explains why opinions on Palin have already crystallised even though she has been in the spotlight for only a short time. Drawing on these tropes and stereotypes, people have made a snap decision about what Palin symbolises.

It has been claimed that Europeans didn’t discover America, rather they invented it. It is hard to deny that mythology has played an especially important role in American society and politics. The myths of the first explorers and pilgrims were largely positive with America portrayed as the Golden Land, the New Jerusalem, the endless frontier, the big rock candy mountain. However, soon a series of negative images emerged of Americans as hypocritical, ignorant, money grubbing and uncouth.

Many of these negative views were first propagated by European travellers who visited the American frontier in the 1820s and 1830s and commented disapprovingly on the boorishness and electoral populism they encountered. In the campaigns of the 1820s a former military commander of Scots-Irish stock, Andrew Jackson, was pitted against the establishment figure of John Quincy Adams. Old Hickory as Jackson was fondly called assailed the eloquent Adams for his love of learning and Latin, for being effete, and for being too European in his tastes.

Of course this all sounds familiar: Bush said he knew he would win the 2000 election when he read in a New Yorker magazine profile that Gore said he enjoyed reading the French philosopher Merleau-Ponty. In 2004 John Kerry’s ability to speak French and his wife’s expensive “European” tastes were said to be a distinct electoral weakness, and in 2008 we have another feisty Scots-Irish former military man assailing a Harvard educated silver tongue for his lack of real world experience.

To counter this anti-intellectualism politicians often try to hide their learning. This was one of Bill Clinton’s talents and something he long understood. Apparently Clinton seriously considered choosing the University of Arkansas over the far superior Yale to study law in the early 1970s because he worried an East Coast education would mark him for life (just as he worried that as a 22-year-old draft-dodging would make him unelectable).

...than that the candidate -- in open races -- who is perceived as Stupider will win.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:04 AM


'Chuck's enjoyable spy-guy adventures are worth a look (Maureen Ryan, 10/05/08, Chicago Tribune)

Sometimes all you want from TV is for it to bring a smile to your face. If that’s what you’re after, you should be watching the delightful "Chuck".

This show, which debuted last fall and was relaunched Sept. 29, is a zingy spy caper that contains all the savvy humor and pop-culture references you’d expect from Josh Schwartz, the man behind the hit soaps “Gossip Girl” and “The O.C.”

After some first-season growing pains – and the interruption of the writers’ strike – “Chuck” has returned more focused than ever on its many strengths: The show’s versatile ensemble cast, the unrequited romance between would-be spy Chuck Bartowski (Zachary Levi) and CIA agent Sarah Walker (Yvonne Strahovski), and the frequently hilarious antics of Chuck’s co-workers at the Buy More electronics store.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:25 AM


As Manhattan Project's Cast Reconvenes, Terrible Beauty Takes the Stage at the Met (ROBERT LEE HOTZ, 10/17/08, Wall Street Journal)

Arias of the Bomb triggered a chain reaction of science and national memory this week, through a new staging of "Doctor Atomic" at New York's Metropolitan Opera, telling how young men and women in the urgency of war first kindled atomic fire from the tinder of physics.

The opera is scored by John Adams, who was inspired by the creation of the world's first atomic weapon during the Manhattan Project and its leader, physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer. Few other achievements of 20th-century science lend themselves so readily to the high drama of opera as the haunting history of scientists atop an isolated New Mexico mesa driven in secrecy by ambition and fear to unleash the atom's destructive power.

The new production, which opened Monday and will be broadcast in 30 countries next month, has prompted a scholarly retrospective on the Manhattan Project at the City University of New York. Many of the project's surviving physicists are convening there today, perhaps for the last time, at a moment when an estimated 11,000 or so nuclear weapons are deployed among at least seven nations world-wide and diplomats are trying to limit the spread of nuclear technology in North Korea and Iran. The U.S. itself is poised to resume warhead production for the first time in two decades.

"We are at real risk now," says Nobel laureate Norman Ramsey, 94 years old. As head of the Manhattan Project's Delivery Group, the Harvard University physicist developed the means to drop the first atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. Indeed, researchers are still struggling to grasp all the destructive effects of the force that these scientists distilled from fractured bonds of matter. [...]

Using advanced climate models developed by NASA and the National Center for Atmospheric Research, the scientists calculated the consequences of a regional conflict in which each side might attack with 50 nuclear weapons, compared with the thousands of warheads that could be launched by a nuclear superpower. Millions of tons of soot from burning cities would be lofted higher into the atmosphere than previously believed, drop temperatures world-wide to levels not seen for a thousand years and strip much of the atmosphere's protective layer of ozone, researchers at the University of Colorado and Rutgers University reported.

...they'd tell us exactly how many we need to drop in Waziristan in order to counterbalance global warming, and we'd get a two-fer.

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October 16, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:36 PM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:28 PM

Now that's cool:

Uploaded with plasq's Skitch!

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:33 PM


Oh, That Joe! (No. 29 in a Series) -- Obama & Biden's Three-Letter Word: J-O-B-S (Jake Tapper, October 15, 2008, Political Punch)

With the economy floundering, Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., told Ohio voters today that he and Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., would focus on one specific issue that Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has neglected.

"Look, John's last-minute economic plan does nothing to tackle the number one job facing the middle class, and it happens to be, as Barack says, a three-letter word: jobs. J-O-B-S," the Democratic veep nominee said at a morning rally in Athens.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:27 PM


McCain compares Obama’s tax plans to Hoover (Mike Sunnucks, 10/16/08, Phoenix Business Journal)

“I don’t think there’s any doubt that Sen. Obama wants to restrict trade and he wants to raise taxes. And the last president of the United States that tried that was Herbert Hoover, and we went from a deep recession into a depression,” McCain said the Hofstra University forum.

That mirrors recent comments by Scottsdale economist Elliott Pollack. Hoover’s response to economic troubles in 1929 was to raise taxes because of large deficits and to impose tariffs on foreign goods to help boost American businesses, and those tariffs sparked trade wars that magnified the Great Depression, he said. [...]

Two new polls have the race tightening somewhat. A Rasmussen Reports poll shows Obama with a 50 percent to 46 percent lead over McCain.

A tracking poll by Investors Business Daily and the TechnoMetrica Institute of Policy & Politics gives Obama a 45 percent to 43 percent lead over McCain.

In fairness to Senator Obama, his aides do follow around behind him letting folks in high places know that the protectionism talk is just nonsense to placate the Left.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:24 PM


'Gay gang drugged and infected us' (Agence France-Presse, 10/16/08)

HIV-positive men have told a Dutch court how a three-member gay gang tried to infect them with the AIDS virus at sex orgies.
"I feel fear, anger, sadness and anxiety," one of the alleged victims testified today before the district court in Groningen on the third day of the week-long trial.

"I have lost a lot of weight," lamented the student, who is infected with HIV.

The three accused, all HIV-positive, are charged with drugging gay men at sex orgies, raping them, and injecting them with blood contaminated with HIV.

Who are we to judge their lifestyle choice?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:17 PM


Mocking the Jews (HAVIV RETTIG, 10/10/08, The Jerusalem Post)

If two recent initiatives from the Jewish Council for Education and Research are any indication, Obama's most ardent Jewish supporters may be one of the major causes for his relatively low popularity.

These first of these initiatives is The Great Schlep, a project aimed at getting young Jewish Obama supporters to travel to Florida to convince their more conservative grandparents to vote for their candidate. In a video promoting the initiative, uncouth satirist Sarah Silverman urged the grandchildren of Florida retirees to make the trek.

The video has been discussed widely in major American newspapers, with reporters usually quoting Silverman's stock-in-trade surprise barbs, such as: "If Barak Obama doesn't become the next president of the United States, I'm gonna blame the Jews." The humor comes from the fact that the statement is clearly ridiculous.

Or is it?

Unlike the reporters, Silverman herself didn't stop there. Unreported in the media coverage are her next five sentences: "I am. And I know you're saying, like, 'Oh my god, Sarah, I can't believe you're saying this. Jews are the most liberal, scrappy, civil rights-y people there are.'

"Yes, that's true, but you're forgetting a whole large group of Jews that are not that way, and they go by several aliases: nana, papa, zaide, bubbie, plain old grandma and grandpa. These are the people who vote in Florida, and the Florida vote can make or break an election."

This is not "blaming the Jews," but it is blaming a certain kind of Jew. That equation - not all Jews are good Jews, and the bad apples could cost us the election - seems a strange way to try to convince those grandparents to vote for Obama. Even the name of the initiative, "The Great Schlep," is meant to mock more than convince.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:12 PM


Just the Ticket (NY Times, 10/16/08)

Recall, for a moment, the latest monster traffic jam or hours wasted in airport purgatory. With each complaint, there should also come a question: Is there any way to take the train instead?

Only six years ago, the answer would have been pretty much an automatic “no.” Amtrak managers were talking about a bankruptcy filing, and for two years the White House presented a federal budget with zero dollars for the struggling passenger system — a ploy that nearly killed the railroad.

Fortunately, attitudes have changed in Congress and the White House — and just in time. Congress passed a bill earlier this month that could nearly double Amtrak’s modest annual subsidy and would authorize more than $13 billion over the next five years for passenger rail. President Bush is expected to sign the bill, a moment of real progress that reflects the increasing popularity of the Amtrak option.

When Joe Biden gets ahold of Dick Cheney's powers we'll tear up all the highways and only have trains....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:48 PM

...AND LOWER... (via Glenn Dryfoos):

Oil Falls Near $70 a Barrel, 16-Month Low, Alarming OPEC (JAD MOUAWAD, October 16, 2008, NY Times)

Oil prices plummeted on Thursday, falling below $70 a barrel for the first time in 16 months, and prompting the OPEC cartel to call for an emergency meeting next week.

The rapid decline in prices had alarmed petroleum executives and oil producers who are becoming increasingly nervous that it is undermining the stability of energy markets.

The time to deal with our dependence on a commodity owned by rotten regimes is while it's cheap--think we will?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:25 PM


Obama takes big risk on driver's license issue (Carolyn Lochhead, January 28, 2008, SF Chronicle)
Sen. Barack Obama easily won the African American vote in South Carolina, but to woo California Latinos, where he is running 3-to-1 behind rival Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, he is taking a giant risk: spotlighting his support for the red-hot issue of granting driver's licenses to illegal immigrants.

It's a huge issue for Latinos, who want them. It's also a huge issue for the general electorate, which most vehemently does not. Obama's stand could come back to haunt him not only in a general election, but with other voters in California, where driver's licenses for illegal immigrants helped undo former Gov. Gray Davis. [...]

Democratic pollsters Stan Greenberg and James Carville issued a direct warning on the driver's license issue in an analysis last month designed to guide Democrats through the treacherous immigration quagmire.

"The findings about driver's licenses are particularly notable," they said. Two-thirds of surveyed voters oppose them, the pollsters found, and the safety argument fails to dent the widespread conviction that granting a driver's license rewards illegal behavior.
...Senator McCain speaks directly into the camera about how he'll reform immigration but how appalling the idea of licensing is.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:15 PM


Gallup Daily (Frank Newport, 10/16/08, Gallup.com)

The "traditional" likely voter model, which Gallup has employed for past elections, factors in prior voting behavior as well as current voting intention. This has generally shown a closer contest, reflecting the fact that Republicans have typically been more likely to vote than Democrats in previous elections. Today's results show Obama with a two-point advantage over McCain using this likely voter model, 49% to 47%, this is within the poll's margin of error.

It's easy enough to say you want the Unicorn Rider to win, harder to face punching the chad.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:09 PM


Fox to change World Series time for Obama: Presidential candidate's ad buy interfering with game (Paul J. Gough, Oct 15, 2008, Hollywood Reporter)

Barack Obama might have the power to move the World Series by a few minutes.

To accommodate a half-hour Obama time buy on Fox on Oct. 29, Major League Baseball has agreed to move the start time of World Series Game 6 by about 15 minutes. That would move the start of the game from 8:20 p.m. ET or so to 8:35 p.m.

It would be one thing if they moved it for a debate, which is bipartisan. And, even at that, the last debate was so stultifying even I watched this instead last night

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:02 PM

HERDSMAN (via Glenn Dryfoos):

Neal Hefti, 85, Jazz and Hollywood Composer, Dies (BRUCE WEBER, 10/16/08, NY Times)

[H]is greatest sphere of influence was as an arranger and composer for other jazz artists. His early travels with jazz bands took him to New York, where he was mesmerized by the bebop playing of Dizzy Gillespie, and joined the Herman band — known as First Herd — in 1944. He was influential in moving that band from its swing roots in the direction of bebop.

He spent only two years with the Herd; when he left in 1946, he took the singer Frances Wayne, his new wife, with him. But by then he had created new arrangements for Herman’s compositions like “Woodchopper’s Ball” and “Blowin’ Up a Storm,” and composed tunes like “Apple Honey,” “Wild Root” and “The Good Earth.”

He toured with Harry James and he arranged tunes for Buddy Rich. Though he also toured and recorded with his own bands, sometimes with his wife, he never achieved real success as a bandleader. For him, the decade of the 1950’s was characterized by his association with the Basie band, for which he wrote perhaps his best known jazz tunes, including “Splanky,” “Little Pony,” “Li’l Darlin’,.” whose tempo Basie famously slowed down to a luscious and sensual crawl, and the perky “Cute.”

“If it wasn’t for Neal Hefti, the Basie band wouldn’t sound as good as it does,” Miles Davis said in 1955. “But Neal’s band can’t play those same arrangements nearly as well.”

Starting in the 1960s, Mr. Hefti found great success writing television and film scores. In addition to writing the theme for “The Odd Couple” (1968), which would be burned into the memories of baby boomers with the creation of the television series in 1970, he composed the scores for two other Neil Simon films, “Barefoot in the Park” (1967) and “Last of the Red Hot Lovers” (1972). His other film work included “Duel at Diablo” (1966), a brutal Western; Elaine May’s farce “A New Leaf” (1971), and the gleeful sex comedies “Sex and the Single Girl” (1964), “Boeing Boeing” (1965) and “How to Murder Your Wife” (1965).

There was a politically incorrect strain to Mr. Hefti’s work, possibly tongue-in-cheek; for the 1965 biographical film “Harlow,” he and Bobby Troup wrote the bluesy, winkingly sexist tune, Girl Talk.” (For the same movie, Mr. Hefti wrote “Lonely Girl,” the Bobby Vinton hit.)

“He felt his true work was done for the movies and television,” Paul Hefti said in a telephone interview on Wednesday. What his father especially liked about writing for the screen, he said, was that he was not restricted by a band’s instrumentation, that he could write for whatever combo, for whatever musicians he wanted.

Oddly enough, his most famous tune is among his least musically interesting, even if it was somehow brilliantly apt: the jauntily arch and repetitive theme for the television series “Batman.” Mr. Hefti said that the show was so campy it took him weeks to come up with a suitable melody. It won him his only Grammy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:37 AM


New Hampshire Voters Move Leftward (Conor Dougherty, 10/15/08, Wall Street Journal: Washington Wire)

As old voters move out and new voters move in, the Granite State is becoming increasingly Democratic, a change that could favor Sen. Barack Obama on Nov. 4th, according to an analysis of demographic and voter data by the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire.

Behind New Hampshire’s leftward drift is one of the country’s most mobile populations. The southern part of the state has absorbed new, more affluent and Democratic-leaning residents from the Boston area. People from elsewhere in the U.S. have also settled in southern New Hampshire, as well as to the state’s centrally located recreation areas such as Lake Winnipesaukee.

Long-time New Hampshire residents, meantime, are moving out: Young people have left for work in other states, and retirees are heading south for warmer weather.

What this means is that the state’s voter base is radically different from eight years ago. According to the Carsey Institute report, about one-third of New Hampshire voters either didn’t live in the state eight years ago, or weren’t old enough to vote.

...don't go turning us into MA....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:19 AM


Obama Hasn't Closed the Sale: Both candidates continue to tinker with their strategies. (KARL ROVE, 10/16/08, Wall Street Journal)

Barack Obama holds a 7.3% lead in the Real Clear Politics average of all polls, but the latest Gallup tracking poll reveals that there are nearly twice as many undecided voters this year than there were in the last presidential election. The Investor's Business Daily/TIPP poll (which was closest to the mark in predicting the 2004 outcome -- 0.4% off the actual result) now says this is a three-point race.

This week also brought a reminder that Sen. Obama hasn't closed the sale. The Washington Post/ABC poll found 45% of voters still don't think he's qualified to be president, about the same number who doubted his qualifications in March.

This is seven points more than George W. Bush's highest reading in 2000 and the worst since Michael Dukakis's 56% unqualified rating in 1988.

Bill Ayers doesn't provide the rationale people are looking for, but the Reverend Wright would.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:49 AM


Intensity may help the Republican (Peter S. Canellos, October 16, 2008, Boston Globe)

The difference in the senators' temperatures - a combination of long-evident personality differences and McCain's increasing sense of urgency about Obama's growing lead in the polls - probably struck different voters in different ways.

But McCain's very intensity may have at least prompted some voters to take a second look at Obama and his policies.

"McCain came out swinging," said Wayne Lesperance, political scientist at New England College in Henniker, N.H. "Barack Obama was very cognizant of his lead and very cautious. It was reminiscent of the last round of a fight where a boxer is just trying not to be hit. If you score it on points, McCain won, but not by nearly enough to overcome Obama's lead."

...how do you not show them the film of Mr. Obama's spiritual leader, the Reverend Wright? The Barack Obama who sat quietly in the pews of that church and listened to black nationalist hate speech is the one people don't know yet.

Debate exclusive: Obama wins by a hair (ALEXANDER BURNS, 10/15/08, Politico)

Forty-nine percent of respondents said that Obama won the debate, compared to 46 who believed his opponent, Sen. John McCain, came out on top. The three-point gap separating the two candidates was equal to the poll’s margin of error.

Five percent said they were unsure which candidate had the better evening.

Perhaps the best news for McCain is the rating he received from independent voters. Among respondents not identified with either major political party, McCain was judged tonight’s winner, 51-42 percent.

Calm and Steady Wins the Race: McCain did well in the final debate, but not well enough to matter. (John Dickerson, Oct. 16, 2008, Slate)
It was a tense debate in which McCain, behind in the polls and with less than three weeks before Election Day, tried to find some way to halt Obama's momentum. He did well, but it wasn't good enough. Obama was calm, in control, and won the debate.

McCain has been portraying himself as a fighter in recent days, and he came to the debate spoiling for one. From his first mention of Joe the Plumber, he went after Obama's plan to redistribute wealth through the tax code, and pressed his charge that he would press hidden fines on small-business owners who didn't sign up for health insurance. He talked about Obama's connections to unrepentant terrorist William Ayers and ACORN. He ineffectively shorthanded his own policy ideas, but McCain was nevertheless able to fully articulate Obama's votes on abortion as a state legislator in Illinois. Even the arrows in the eagle above both candidates were pointed at Obama.
Vote for Barack Obama

McCain had some strong moments, such as when he distanced himself from President Bush and when he stood up for the majority of his supporters at his rallies. But his attacks came like out of a Gatling gun. He wasn't particularly mean, but his approach had a scattered feel to it. None of the many shots felt like they did any real damage. At times he was downright snippy, needling Obama about his lack of travel in the southern hemisphere and rolling his eyes at an Obama answer.

McCain Wins Final Debate (Stephen F. Hayes,October 16, 2008 , Weekly Standard)
McCain raised the exchange several times, and after Obama’s suggestion that only wealthy business owners would pay higher taxes McCain looked into the camera and declared: “Hey Joe, you’re rich!”

Judging from his facial expressions, Obama had been expecting that McCain might make use of the exchange from Toledo. It’s hard to know what viewers made of it, but Obama’s look of bemusement, if that’s what it was, could easily be mistaken for an arrogant smirk. Either way, it’s probably not the kind of look you want voters to see as your opponent makes a serious (and effective) point about your tax policies.

More important for McCain, all of this discussion about Joe the Plumber at the debate ensures that the original Obama-Joe exchange will be in news stories tomorrow. As McCain adviser Matt McDonald put it in the spin room, it’s a moment that will last well beyond Wednesday night.

McCain seemed sharper than he had been in the first two debates, often picking up on something Obama had said and quickly turning it against him. So when Obama noted that he’d consider further offshore oil exploration, McCain pounced. “I admire his eloquence, but you really have to listen carefully,” McCain declared. “He said he’d ‘look at’ offshore drilling. Look at.”

It wasn’t just that McCain had many good moments; Obama had several bad ones. Bob Schieffer asked the candidates which programs they would scrap given the hard economic realities facing the country. Although it’s a question that has been asked in previous debates, Obama gave the same worthless answer he has given before: “Programs that don’t work we should cut. Programs we need we should make better.” It was the debate equivalent of voting present.

Obama contradicted himself on the magnitude of the current economic problems, at one point saying that “the fundamentals of the economy were weak even before this crisis” and later downplaying the “immediate” economic issues and arguing that energy independence “is the most important issue that our economy is going to face.”

And did I hear Obama say that the right to privacy is found in the Constitution in much the same way as the First Amendment? I would guess that even most of those who buy the “privacy” argument would concede that a “right to privacy” is not in the Constitution in the same way as the Bill of Rights.

McCain puts Obama on the defensive (LIZ SIDOTI, 10/15/08, AP)
This time, John McCain kept Barack Obama on the defensive.

The feisty Republican tried hard to find a lifeline Wednesday night, challenging his Democratic rival at every turn over his truthfulness, associations and record.

By that measure, McCain won the last debate of the 2008 campaign.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:31 AM


Consumer prices flat in September (Associated Press, October 16, 2008)

Stripping out energy and food products, "core" prices inched up by just 0.1 percent in September, an improvement from a 0.2 percent advance in August.

The latest showing on inflation was better than economists expected. They were forecasting a 0.1 percent increase in overall prices and a 0.2 percent rise minus energy and food.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:26 AM


Searching for the Antidote to Ahmadinejad : In Tehran, reformers and conservatives are preparing to fight for the Iranian presidency in 2009. The opposition is pinning its hopes, once again, on former President Mohammad Khatami. But will he run? (Dieter Bednarz, 10/16/08, Der Spiegel)

The religious scholar will need backing, including backing from within the highest circles, if he is to submit to the wishes of his many supporters and run for president, once again, in elections next June. Although elections in the Iranian theocracy have never been clean by democratic standards, political observers in Tehran fear that "the next election campaign will be dirtier than all others." Khatami's successor in the office, the zealot Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is determined to defend his power. For reformers and conservatives alike, the next election will be an all-or-nothing vote.

One question Iranians have asked themselves is whether Khatami -- who left the presidency, by law, in 2005, after two consecutive terms -- can breathe new life into a more or less defunct reform movement, as his supporters hope. Or will the re-election of President Ahmadinejad isolate the country even further, thereby ruining the reputation of the conservatives once and for all, as critics within their own ranks fear?

When it comes to the upcoming election, the one certainty is that reformers and conservatives have both lost a great deal of support within the population. The conservatives are seen as braggarts who have failed to fulfill rosy promises of affluence, even for the poor. The reformers, on the other hand, whose rise to power began in 1997 with the landslide election victory of then-newcomer Khatami, are considered spin doctors whose promises have routinely foundered on vetoes by the arch-conservative Guardian Council, or religious leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Nevertheless, even a declared realist like Mohammed Atrianfar, 55, is confident that the reformers can regain their former popularity. Atrianfar, who wears a salt-and-pepper beard, is the editor-in-chief of the weekly political magazine Sharwand-e Emrus (Citizens of Today), one of Iran's relatively critical publications.

In the 2005 presidential campaign Atrianfar was an advisor to Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, supposedly the clear favorite in that election. After two previous terms in office, and a mandatory interim period required under Iran's constitution, Rafsanjani -- probably the country's richest man -- had decided to try for a third term. But many citizens unwilling to vote for an oligarch like Rafsanjani opted not to vote at all. Ahmadinejad was elected on a tide of right-wing populism.

This time around, Atrianfar believes it will be easy to mobilize students and the middle class to support Khatami. Hardly anyone questions his personal integrity.

It'd be helpful--even if only at the margins--for the U.S. not to encourage Reformists to boycott the election again.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:12 AM


Gasoline Plentiful, Perspective Scarce (Gregg Easterbrook, 10/14/08, Tuesday Morning Quarterback: ESPN)

"Financial chaos is sweeping the world," a New York Times lead story said last week. I didn't notice any chaos in my part of the world -- every business was open, ATMs were working, goods and services were plentiful. There are economic problems to be sure. But chaos? Collapse? Next Depression? Please, media and political worlds, let's stop hyperventilating and show some perspective.

What is going on is a financial panic, not an economic collapse. Financial panics are no fun, especially for anyone who needs to cash out an asset right now for retirement, college and so on. But financial panics occur cyclically and are not necessarily devastating. The most recent financial panic was 1987, when the stock market fell 23 percent in a single day. Pundits and politicians instantly began talking about another Depression, about the "end of Wall Street." The 1987 panic had zero lasting economic consequences -- no recession began, and in less than two years, stocks had recouped all losses. (See John Gordon's excellent 2004 book on the history of financial panics, "An Empire of Wealth.") Perhaps a recession will be triggered by the current financial panic, but it may not necessarily be severe.

President Bush
And the punch line is, we borrowed all the money from China! Oh man, that's hilarious!

Politicians and pundits are competing to see who can act most panicked and use the most exaggerated claims about economic crisis -- yet the fundamentals of the U.S. economy are, in fact, strong. Productivity is high; innovation is high; the workforce is robust and well-educated; unemployment is troubling at 6.1 percent, but nothing compared to the recent past, such as 11.8 percent unemployment in 1992; there are no shortages of resources, energy or goods. Here, University of Chicago economist Casey Mulligan shows that return on capital is historically high; high returns on capital are associated with strong economies. Some Americans have significant problems with mortgages, and credit availability for business could become an issue if the multiple bank-stabilizing plans in progress don't work. But the likelihood is they will work. When the 1987 panic hit, people were afraid the economy would collapse; it didn't. This panic is global, enlarging the risks. But there's a good chance things will turn out fine.

Why has a credit-market problem expanded into a panic? One reason is the media and political systems are now programmed for panic mode. Everything's a crisis! Crises, after all, keep people's eyes glued to cable news shows, so the media have an interest in proclaiming crises. Crises make Washington seem more important, and can be used to justify giveaways to favored constituent groups, so Washington influence-peddlers have an interest in proclaiming crises.

An example of the exaggerated crisis claim is the assertion that Americans "lost" $2 trillion from their pension savings in the past month, while equities "lost" $8 trillion in value. "Investors Lose $8.4 Trillion of Wealth" read a Wall Street Journal headline last week. This confuses a loss with a decline. Unless you cashed out stocks or a 401(k) in the past month, you haven't "lost" anything. Nor have most investors "lost" money, let alone $8.4 trillion -- crisis-mongering is now so deeply ingrained in the media that even Wall Street Journal headline writers have forgotten basic economics. People who because of financial need have no choice but to cash out stocks right now are really harmed. Anyone who simply holds his or her ground with stocks takes no loss and is likely, although of course not certain, to come out ahead in the end. During the housing price bubble of 2003 to 2006, many Americans became much better off on paper, but never actually sold their homes, so it was all paper gains. Right now many Americans holdings stocks or retirement plans are much worse off on paper, but will be fine so long as they don't panic and sell. One of the distressing things about last week's media cries of doomsday is that they surely caused some average people to sell stocks or 401(k)'s in panic, taking losses they might have avoided by simply doing nothing. The financial shout-shows on cable tend to advise people to buy when the market is rising, sell when the market is falling -- the worst possible advice, and last week it was amplified by panic.

We've also fallen into panic because we pay way too much attention to stock prices. Ronald Reagan said, "Never confuse the stock market with the economy." Almost everyone is now making exactly that mistake. The stock market is not a barometer of the economy; it is a barometer of what people think stocks are worth. These are entirely separate things. What people think stocks are worth now depends on their guess about what stocks will be worth in the future, which is unknowable. You can only guess, and thus optimism feeds optimism while pessimism feeds pessimism.

There is no way the American economy became 8 percent less valuable between breakfast and morning coffee break Friday, then became 3 percent more valuable at lunchtime (that is, improved by 11 percent), then became 3 percent less valuable by afternoon teatime (that is, declined by 6 percent) -- to cite the actual Dow Jones Industrials swings from Friday. And the economy sure did not become 11 percent more valuable Monday. Such swings reflect panic or herd psychology, not the underlying economy, which changes over months and years, not single days. For the past few weeks pundits and Washington and London policy-makers have been staring at stock tickers as if they provided minute-by-minute readouts of economic health, which they do not. It's embarrassing to see White House and administration officials seemingly so poorly schooled in economic theory they are obsessing over stock-price movements, which they cannot control and in the short term should not even care about.

Consider this. On Black Monday in 1987, the market fell 23 percent. If you had invested $100 in a Dow Jones Index fund the following day, it would be $460 now, a 275 percent increase adjusting for inflation. That's after the big slide of the past month, and still excellent. So don't panic, just hold your stocks. And if you'd invested $100 in real estate in 1987, it would be $240 today, a 30 percent increase adjusting for inflation. That's after the housing price bubble burst. A 30 percent real gain in 20 years isn't a great investment -- until you consider that you lived in the house or condo during this time. To purchase and live in a dwelling, then come out ahead when you sell, is everyone's dream. Not only do stocks remain a good buy, America on average is still coming out ahead on the housing dream. (This example uses the Case Shiller Index for the whole country; because housing markets are local, some homeowners have lost substantial ground while others enjoyed significant appreciation.)

Economic problems are likely to be with us for awhile, but also likely to be resolved -- the 1987 panic and the 1997 Asian currency collapse both were repaired more quickly than predicted, with much less harm than forecast. Want to worry? Worry about the fact that the United States is borrowing, mainly from foreign investors and China, the money being used to fix our banks. The worse the national debt becomes -- $11 trillion now, and increasing owing to Washington giveaways -- the more the economy will soften over the long term. It's long-term borrowing, not short-term Wall Street mood swings, that ought to worry us, because the point may be reached where we can no longer solve problems by borrowing our way out. TMQ's former Brookings Institution colleague Peter Orszag, now director of the Congressional Budget Office, was on "Newshour" last week talking about the panic. Orszag is a wicked-smart economist -- for instance, he is careful to say pension holdings have declined, not been lost like most pundits are saying, as if there were no difference between decline and loss! The below exchange occurred with host Jeffrey Brown. Remember these words:

PETER ORSZAG: One thing we need to remember is we're lucky that we have the maneuvering room now to issue lots of additional Treasury securities and intervene aggressively to address this crisis.

JEFFREY BROWN: Wait a minute. Explain that. Lucky in what sense?

PETER ORSZAG: That people are still willing to lend to us. If in 20 or 30 years we continue on the same path, with rising health-care costs and rising budget deficits, we would reach a point where we wouldn't have that ability.

So we keep hearing, for over 200 years now....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:02 AM


Libor Loosens Up: Why You Should Care (Katy Marquardt, 1/15/08, US News)

Libor—the London interbank rate—is on the decline, thanks to the government's rescue package. Translation: Rates for borrowing between banks are falling. Why should you care? Because many consumer loans are tied to it, including more than half of U.S. adjustable rate home loans. Many small-business, student, and auto loans and home-equity lines of credit also take their cues from Libor. The higher the rate, the tougher consumers have it.

Libor rates for three-month dollar loans are currently 4.55 percent, down from 4.64 percent on Monday. Some context: After the House of Representatives rejected the bailout bill at the end of September, Libor rates shot up to 6.88 percent, and a month ago, rates were less than 3 percent, according to the AP.

October 15, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:29 PM


(2) Anand,Vishwanathan - Kramnik,Vladimir (FIDE World Chess Championship Bonn, Germany (2), 15.10.2008)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:06 PM


My Friend Bill Ayers: Once wanted by the FBI, he's since become a model citizen. (THOMAS FRANK, 10/15/08, Wall Street Journal)

[I] am a friend of Mr. Ayers. In fact, I met him in the same way Mr. Obama says he did: 10 years ago, Mr. Ayers was a guy in my neighborhood in Chicago who knew something about fundraising. I knew nothing about it, I needed to learn, and a friend referred me to Bill.

Bill's got lots of friends, and that's because he is today a dedicated servant of those less fortunate than himself; because he is unfailingly generous to people who ask for his help; and because he is kind and affable and even humble. Moral qualities which, by the way, were celebrated boisterously on day one of the GOP convention in September.

Mr. Ayers is a professor of education at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), where his work is esteemed by colleagues of different political viewpoints. Herbert Walberg, an advocate of school vouchers who is a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution, told me he remembers Mr. Ayers as "a responsible colleague, in the professional sense of the word." Bill Schubert, who served as the chairman of UIC's Department of Curriculum and Instruction for many years, thinks so highly of Mr. Ayers that, in response to the current allegations, he compiled a lengthy résumé of the man's books, journal articles, guest lectures and keynote speeches. Mr. Ayers has been involved with countless foundation efforts and has received various awards. He volunteers for everything. He may once have been wanted by the FBI, but in the intervening years the man has become such a good citizen he ought to be an honorary Eagle Scout.

I do not defend the things Mr. Ayers did in his Weatherman days.

Yet Mr. Ayers does defend them, while someone like Senator Byrd apologizes for his own radical past.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:51 PM


An Obama Vote Is No Sin for Catholics, Even With His Abortion Views (John Aloysius Farrell, 10/15/08, US News)

[Four years ago] I wrote a column comparing my church's leadership with the Taliban. [...]

Ultimately, the absolutist position taken by antiabortion forces has been counterproductive. By focusing so much on overturning Roe v. Wade and refusing to work with pro-choice politicians on pragmatic steps that would actually reduce the number of abortions, they've let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

Truth be told, there is nothing that Democratic Party leaders would like more than to make abortion safe, legal, and rare.

If they really believe that abortion is an abominable sin, Catholic conservatives should seize the opportunity to work with pro-choice Democrats on the "rare" part of that equation and save tens of thousands of potential lives each year.

Obama's Abortion Extremism (Robert George, 10/15/08, Real Clear Politics)
Barack Obama is the most extreme pro-abortion candidate ever to seek the office of President of the United States. He is the most extreme pro-abortion member of the United States Senate. Indeed, he is the most extreme pro-abortion legislator ever to serve in either house of the United States Congress. Yet there are Catholics and Evangelicals-even self-identified pro-life Catholics and Evangelicals - who aggressively promote Obama's candidacy and even declare him the preferred candidate from the pro-life point of view.

What is going on here? [...]

For starters, he supports legislation that would repeal the Hyde Amendment, which protects pro-life citizens from having to pay for abortions that are not necessary to save the life of the mother and are not the result of rape or incest. The abortion industry laments that this longstanding federal law, according to the pro-abortion group NARAL, ''forces about half the women who would otherwise have abortions to carry unintended pregnancies to term and bear children against their wishes instead.'' In other words, a whole lot of people who are alive today would have been exterminated in utero were it not for the Hyde Amendment. Obama has promised to reverse the situation so that abortions that the industry complains are not happening (because the federal government is not subsidizing them) would happen. That is why people who profit from abortion love Obama even more than they do his running mate.

But this barely scratches the surface of Obama's extremism. He has promised that ''the first thing I'd do as President is sign the Freedom of Choice Act'' (known as FOCA). This proposed legislation would create a federally guaranteed ''fundamental right'' to abortion through all nine months of pregnancy, including, as Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia has noted in a statement condemning the proposed Act, ''a right to abort a fully developed child in the final weeks for undefined 'health' reasons.'' In essence, FOCA would abolish virtually every existing state and federal limitation on abortion, including parental consent and notification laws for minors, state and federal funding restrictions on abortion, and conscience protections for pro-life citizens working in the health-care industry-protections against being forced to participate in the practice of abortion or else lose their jobs. The pro-abortion National Organization for Women has proclaimed with approval that FOCA would ''sweep away hundreds of anti-abortion laws [and] policies.''

It gets worse. Obama, unlike even many ''pro-choice'' legislators, opposed the ban on partial-birth abortions when he served in the Illinois legislature and condemned the Supreme Court decision that upheld legislation banning this heinous practice. He has referred to a baby conceived inadvertently by a young woman as a ''punishment'' that she should not endure. He has stated that women's equality requires access to abortion on demand. Appallingly, he wishes to strip federal funding from pro-life crisis pregnancy centers that provide alternatives to abortion for pregnant women in need. There is certainly nothing ''pro-choice'' about that.

But it gets even worse. Senator Obama, despite the urging of pro-life members of his own party, has not endorsed or offered support for the Pregnant Women Support Act, the signature bill of Democrats for Life, meant to reduce abortions by providing assistance for women facing crisis pregnancies. In fact, Obama has opposed key provisions of the Act, including providing coverage of unborn children in the State Children's Health Insurance Program (S-CHIP), and informed consent for women about the effects of abortion and the gestational age of their child. This legislation would not make a single abortion illegal. It simply seeks to make it easier for pregnant women to make the choice not to abort their babies. Here is a concrete test of whether Obama is ''pro-choice'' rather than pro-abortion. He flunked. Even Senator Edward Kennedy voted to include coverage of unborn children in S-CHIP. But Barack Obama stood resolutely with the most stalwart abortion advocates in opposing it.

It gets worse yet. In an act of breathtaking injustice which the Obama campaign lied about until critics produced documentary proof of what he had done, as an Illinois state senator Obama opposed legislation to protect children who are born alive, either as a result of an abortionist's unsuccessful effort to kill them in the womb, or by the deliberate delivery of the baby prior to viability. This legislation would not have banned any abortions. Indeed, it included a specific provision ensuring that it did not affect abortion laws. (This is one of the points Obama and his campaign lied about until they were caught.) The federal version of the bill passed unanimously in the United States Senate, winning the support of such ardent advocates of legal abortion as John Kerry and Barbara Boxer. But Barack Obama opposed it and worked to defeat it. For him, a child marked for abortion gets no protection-even ordinary medical or comfort care-even if she is born alive and entirely separated from her mother. So Obama has favored protecting what is literally a form of infanticide.

You may be thinking, it can't get worse than that. But it does.

For several years, Americans have been debating the use for biomedical research of embryos produced by in vitro fertilization (originally for reproductive purposes) but now left in a frozen condition in cryopreservation units. President Bush has restricted the use of federal funds for stem-cell research of the type that makes use of these embryos and destroys them in the process. I support the President's restriction, but some legislators with excellent pro-life records, including John McCain, argue that the use of federal money should be permitted where the embryos are going to be discarded or die anyway as the result of the parents' decision. Senator Obama, too, wants to lift the restriction.

But Obama would not stop there. He has co-sponsored a bill-strongly opposed by McCain-that would authorize the large-scale industrial production of human embryos for use in biomedical research in which they would be killed. In fact, the bill Obama co-sponsored would effectively require the killing of human beings in the embryonic stage that were produced by cloning. It would make it a federal crime for a woman to save an embryo by agreeing to have the tiny developing human being implanted in her womb so that he or she could be brought to term. This ''clone and kill'' bill would, if enacted, bring something to America that has heretofore existed only in China-the equivalent of legally mandated abortion. In an audacious act of deceit, Obama and his co-sponsors misleadingly call this an anti-cloning bill. But it is nothing of the kind. What it bans is not cloning, but allowing the embryonic children produced by cloning to survive.

Can it get still worse? Yes.

Decent people of every persuasion hold out the increasingly realistic hope of resolving the moral issue surrounding embryonic stem-cell research by developing methods to produce the exact equivalent of embryonic stem cells without using (or producing) embryos. But when a bill was introduced in the United States Senate to put a modest amount of federal money into research to develop these methods, Barack Obama was one of the few senators who opposed it. From any rational vantage point, this is unconscionable. Why would someone not wish to find a method of producing the pluripotent cells scientists want that all Americans could enthusiastically endorse? Why create and kill human embryos when there are alternatives that do not require the taking of nascent human lives? It is as if Obama is opposed to stem-cell research unless it involves killing human embryos.

This ultimate manifestation of Obama's extremism brings us back to the puzzle of his pro-life Catholic and Evangelical apologists.

They typically do not deny the facts I have reported. They could not; each one is a matter of public record. But despite Obama's injustices against the most vulnerable human beings, and despite the extraordinary support he receives from the industry that profits from killing the unborn (which should be a good indicator of where he stands), some Obama supporters insist that he is the better candidate from the pro-life point of view.

They say that his economic and social policies would so diminish the demand for abortion that the overall number would actually go down-despite the federal subsidizing of abortion and the elimination of hundreds of pro-life laws. The way to save lots of unborn babies, they say, is to vote for the pro-abortion-oops! ''pro-choice''-candidate. They tell us not to worry that Obama opposes the Hyde Amendment, the Mexico City Policy (against funding abortion abroad), parental consent and notification laws, conscience protections, and the funding of alternatives to embryo-destructive research. They ask us to look past his support for Roe v. Wade, the Freedom of Choice Act, partial-birth abortion, and human cloning and embryo-killing. An Obama presidency, they insist, means less killing of the unborn.

This is delusional.

We know that the federal and state pro-life laws and policies that Obama has promised to sweep away (and that John McCain would protect) save thousands of lives every year. Studies conducted by Professor Michael New and other social scientists have removed any doubt.

We can either pretend to take seriously the absurd argument that it is pro-life to vote pro-death or we can accept that the people making it are themselves pro-abortion, whatever their formulaic protestations.

N.B.: As regards Mr. Farrell in particular, it should just be noted that abortions under the absolutist regime of the GOP are at a 30 year low.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:48 PM


Mantyhose: A must-have for men (Times of India, 16 Oct 2008)

Men have invaded ladies' fashion domain a little further, for after 'man-bras' and 'manscara' the latest must have for men is "mantyhose."

"Mantyhose"or pantyhose for men have become a popular sheer garment from truck drivers to cowboys.

A self confessed male hosiery-wearer, Harisnya is so passionate about the issue he set up e-MANcipate, a website which he says aims to "accelerate the acceptance of male pantyhose as a regular clothing item".

...but they give me Chia legs....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:14 PM


The giant pink rabbit that can be seen from space (Daily Mail, 15th October 2008)

He has to be giant to bring us all that peace and love and the satchels full of free money....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:11 PM


Check out the ABC News Match-o-Matic if you want evidence that the partisan bitterness of today's politics is a function of the sameness of the parties.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:03 PM


Obama has 4-point lead on McCain in U.S. race (John Whitesides, 10/15/08, Reuters)

Democrat Barack Obama has a 4-point national lead over Republican John McCain as the White House rivals head into their final debate, according to a Reuters/C-SPAN/Zogby poll released on Wednesday.

Obama leads McCain 48 percent to 44 percent among likely U.S. voters in the latest four-day tracking poll, down slightly from Obama's 6-point advantage on Tuesday. The poll has a margin of error of 2.9 percentage points.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:34 AM


Cheney to get heart procedure (Politico, 10/15/08)

Doctors discovered this morning that Vice President Cheney has had a recurrence of an abnormal heart rhythm, his office announced.

You always knew they'd pull the switch sooner or later....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:33 AM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:04 AM


Harvey Keitel Sustains Life on Mars: Busting thugs like it's 1973 (Robert Abele, October 16, 2008, LA Weekly)

Well, of course you’re going to feel like it’s 1973 again when you watch ABC’s Life on Mars. Harvey Keitel is in it. He hasn’t stopped oozing 1973 since he was a mean-streets member of the original Scorsese mob, and as Detective Gene Hunt, a barrel-chested bruiser who likes to use his fists as exclamation points when talking, his casting practically forgoes the design team’s need for rotary phones, wide lapels and sedans with doors the size of refrigerators. It’s shrewd casting, because although the show is told from the vantage of modern-day New York cop Sam Tyler (Jason O’Mara) — who suddenly finds himself in an eight-track time warp where dirtier, un-PC investigation techniques are the norm — it doesn’t work if the past in which Sam finds himself isn’t, well, present.

Nothing against Philip Glenister, who originated the role of Hunt on the British series of the same name and was fun to watch [see “That Seventies Cop,” Abele’s review of the original series, at laweekly.com], but what he did was acting. Keitel just is...

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:59 AM


Men are at their most romantic at age 53 (Chris Irvine, 14 Oct 2008, Daily Telegraph)

More than three quarters of those aged 51 to 55 believe saying "I love you" every day is the most romantic gesture of all, a poll of 2,000 men aged 18 to 65 found.

The research showed the majority of men do not embrace romance until they are well into their fifties, despite dating from their early teens.

Men in their fifties are also more likely to appreciate a bit of romance in their lives and tend to surprise their wives or partners more often than their younger counterparts.

...no one loves them but the family dog.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:53 AM


Cuban soccer defector: Freedom worth the risk (MICHELLE KAUFMAN, 10/14/08, MiamiHerald.com)

He ran, and ran, and ran. Six to eight blocks. At full speed, looking over his shoulder the whole way, worried that someone would snag him and deliver him back to the Cuban delegation. Finally, when he realized nobody was chasing him, Alcantara stopped at a corner, caught his breath, and flagged down a taxi.

He speaks very little English, but he used what he knew when he got into the taxi cab. ''Drive me far,'' he told the driver, motioning with his hand. ``Go far, far, far.''

They drove for nearly half an hour and Alcantara, a 26-year-old forward, got off at a McDonald's. He asked the cabbie if he could borrow his cellphone to make a call. He called a friend in New Jersey, told him where he was, and the friend drove down to meet him.

On Friday morning, Alcantara met up with another friend, who took him shopping for food, clothing and toiletries, and drove home with him to Atlanta, where he will officially seek asylum and begin his new life. On Saturday night, he watched on television as Cuba lost 6-1 to the U.S. He felt bad for his teammates, but said he had no regrets. ''I love my team, but this is my life, and my future, and I had to do this,'' he said.

Alcantara had no idea that as he was getting over the most challenging day of his life, his teammate, Pedro Faife, was bolting from the team hotel back in D.C. with relatives, who drove him to their home in Orlando. The two hadn't spoken as of Monday morning, but Alcantara planned to get in touch later in the day.

''I feel so happy to finally be here, free to pursue my dreams,'' Alcantara said by cellphone Monday morning, on his way to Miami for a series of interviews with Spanish-language media. ``I've been dreaming of this for a long, long time, and I just had to wait for the right opportunity. It was a very scary decision, and I was nervous that first night, but thanks to the support of friends, and so many great people in this country, I am feeling much calmer.''

Alcantara comes from Pinar del Rio, and said his neighborhood was devastated by the recent hurricanes, making an already difficult life unbearable. He said his home suffered roof damage and other houses nearby were in ruins. The government made promises to help, but there didn't seem to be any help in sight. When he entered a grocery store Friday, his eyes welled with tears.

''It's beautiful to see the amount and quality of food here, the choices, the possibilities,'' he said. ``Meanwhile, people are hungry in Cuba, scraping to get by, obsessing about where they'll find dinner. I have to be careful with all this great food. If I keep eating, I won't be able to run anymore and I'll get out of shape.''

Alcantara stressed that he will always love Cuba, and has only warm feelings toward his teammates and coaches. But he felt ''trapped'' on the island, and had traveled enough through soccer to realize what life was like in other places. He was in East Rutherford, N.J., and Houston in 2007 for the Gold Cup, and the thought of defecting crossed his mind then, but he said family situations back home prevented him from doing so.

This time, nothing was holding him back. He is not married and has no children. His parents had no idea he planned to stay, and as of Monday he hadn't spoken to them yet. They don't have a telephone, so they're hard to reach, but also, Alcantara said he wanted to wait a few days to let the news sink in because he knows how hard it will hit them.

''I'm sure my parents are devastated with my decision, but in time, they'll realize this was the best thing,'' he said. ``There is no future for me in Cuba, no hope. You can dream there, but your dreams can't come true. It's a dead end for athletes, and for people of all professions. We hear promises, but they're never fulfilled. Here, you dream and if you work hard enough, and sacrifice, your dreams can be realized.''

Lazy freeeloader, eh?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:50 AM


Afghan Governor says Air Strike Kills 70 Taliban (Reuters, 10/15/08)

About 70 Taliban fighters were killed in an overnight air strike by foreign forces in the southern Afghan province of Helmand near the Pakistan border, the provincial governor said Wednesday.

The attack took place late Tuesday in Helmand's Baram Cha district. [...]

Provincial authorities said earlier Wednesday that another 22 Taliban insurgents and six Afghan policemen were killed in overnight clashes in the south.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:26 AM


The Met Opera Will Offer Performances on the Web (DANIEL J. WAKIN, 10/15/08, NY Times)

Met Player, as the service is called, will be available through the Met’s Web site, metopera.org. At its inauguration, on the 125th anniversary of the Met’s first show, users will be able to choose from 13 high-definition video performances, 37 standard video recordings and 120 audio broadcasts dating to 1937. The company said it planned to add performances regularly, drawing on its vast historical archives and its continuing high-definition broadcasts.

The catalog features classics like a “Lucia di Lammermoor” performance with Joan Sutherland and one with Maria Callas; a “Walküre” with Birgit Nilsson as Brünnhilde; a “Trovatore” with Leontyne Price and Franco Corelli; and a “Carmen” with Rosa Ponselle, in one of her rare full-length recorded performances. More recently, there are the “Tristan und Isolde” with Deborah Voigt and Robert Dean Smith, conducted by James Levine, and “I Puritani” with Anna Netrebko, each in high definition.

For $3.99 or $4.99 per streamed opera, users will have a six-hour window in which to listen to or watch a production, once it has started. A monthly subscription for $14.99 brings unlimited streaming, while a yearly subscription costs $149.99. [...]

[T]he Bayreuth Festival offered a live streaming of “Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg” last summer; the Royal Opera House in London has a free streamed “Don Giovanni” available; and the San Francisco Opera provides a few excerpts from its productions. But the Met’s on-demand streaming effort appears to be the most extensive of any house.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:23 AM


Oil falls below $78 on recession fears (Associated Press, October 15, 2008)

Light, sweet crude for November delivery was down 98 cents to $77.65 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange by midafternoon in Singapore. The contract fell overnight $2.56 to settle at $78.63. Oil prices have fallen by 47 percent since peaking near $150 a barrel in mid-July.

Oil price slides below $72 to 13-month low (AFP, 10/15/08)
The price of oil slumped below 72 dollars on Wednesday, its lowest level for more than 13 months, as recession fears raised concerns about a prolonged drop in energy demand, analysts said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:13 AM


Blu-ray DVD players drop below $300, even $200 (Tamara 'the Gadgetress' Chuang, 10/14/08, The Orange County Register)

Wow, I just noticed that Blu-ray DVD players have really been dropping in price. [...]

Over at Amazon, there are quite a few Blu-ray players for under $300, including the Sony BDP-S350 for $278, the Samsung BD-P1500 for $225, Sony BDP-S300 for $249 and, well, pretty much every player is under $300.

The cheapest at Buy.com is $217, the Samsung BD-P1500, with free shipping.

But the best deal I could find on the Web was at a site I’ve never shopped at, the Consumer Depot, selling the Sony BDP-S300 for $169 (what, no remote?)

Of course, these players should get even cheaper because it’s technology and, well, you know, technology prices always fall. Plus, I’m sure there will be a ton of deals for the holidays.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:51 AM


Health Savings Accounts: More Time, Less Money: The effort involved in opting for HSAs over traditional insurance keeps most employees from choosing them, but those who do can really save (Lauren Young, 10/13/08, Business Week)

Although the deductible is high—averaging $1,500 for individuals and $3,000 for families—HSAs don't skimp on coverage. Plans pay 100% of all medical expenses once the deductible has been reached as well as preventive-care costs. There are no co-payments.

HSAs can be a smart savings tool, particularly for small businesses and self-employed workers who need tax shelters and lower out-of-pocket expenses. That's why Vijay Goel, 31, of Los Angeles opened up an HSA to cut his health-care costs for his startup, HealthShoppr.com, which helps consumers shop for health-care services online.

Goel says his COBRA insurance, which would have extended coverage for 18 months after he left his job as a McKinsey consultant, cost $450 a month—and it covered only him, not his wife. Instead, he's spending $200 per month for a plan with a $3,000 deductible that insures both of them. "We've gotten our premium way down, which allows us to be protected without wasting tons of money that would go straight to the insurance company," he says. In addition, since HSA contributions can pay for dental and optometry services, the Goels have eliminated the need to pay for those two areas separately.

(The average premium costs for health coverage for a U.S. worker is $1,946. However, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the median per-person spending was just $776 in 2005, which is the most recent data available.)

Another perk: If you are generally healthy and don't rack up many bills, you can stash away a lot of money in an HSA. Mimi Grant, president of the Adaptive Business Leaders Organization in Orange, Calif., which offers executive leadership coaching, has more than $10,000 in her HSA, which she opened in June 2005. "Thank God I've been healthy, so the few charges I've had have been so relatively minor I've paid them out of pocket," says Grant, 60.

Most people don't have that much saved—the typical HSA account balance is just $1,348, according to the newsletter Inside Consumer-Directed Care. But savvy savers can build up substantial balances because participants may fund an account well beyond the deductible. Pretax contributions max out at $3,000 for individuals and $5,950 for families in 2009. There's also a $1,000 catch-up contribution if you are over age 55.

Another benefit HSAs offer is potential medical savings. When Fatima Mehdikarimi of Atlanta started thinking about having a second child, she and her husband switched into an HSA with a $7,000 deductible and no maternity coverage. It may sound counterintuitive, but their monthly premiums dropped from $900 per month to $360.

Then, after she found out she was pregnant, Mehdikarimi shopped around for a new hospital as well as a doctor to cut costs. Her bargaining chip? Cash. By offering to pay cash up front for all expenses, she first struck a deal with the hospital's finance manager to cover the delivery charges at a 40% discount. She also found an obstetrician willing to slash his fees by 40%. The lab cut its price, and so on.

In the end, Mehdikarimi figures she spent about $7,000 less on the second birth than the first one by driving a hard bargain with health-care providers.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:20 AM


Arson ends Travolta's attempt to bring hope to ghettoes (John Lichfield, 14 October 2008, Independent)

Local officials said, however, that they believed that four days of filming with the Hollywood actor, due to start yesterday, had been "abandoned" for good.

The movie’s producer, Luc Besson, had chosen to shoot a few sequences of a spy movie, "From Paris with Love" in Les Bosquets as a gesture of solidarity with local people. Nearly 100 people had been given jobs as extras and security guards.

Ten specially equipped cars, assembled for stunt sequences in the movie, were burned by persons unknown late on Sunday night. Local people insisted yesterday that the attack must be the work of "jealous" members of youth gangs from another district. Police said that they were investigating reports of an attempt to demand "protection money" from the production company.

Most people in the Les Bosquets estate at Montfermeil, 10 miles north east of Paris, had welcomed the filming. Moussba Harb, 43, hired as an extra, said that a "childhood dream, a gift from the heavens, has gone up in smoke."

However, tempers have been running high in recent days. M. Besson’s production company, Europacorps, had promised to pay 95 local people Euros 100 a day to work as extras, cooks or security guards.

Some local youths complained that, given the Euros 38m budget for the film, this was a paltry amount. The payments were increased to €200 a day.

Who knew Paris has a Shakedown Street?

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October 14, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:39 PM


CBC projects Conservative government (Andrew Davidson, 10/14/08, CBC News)

Canadians have re-elected Stephen Harper's Conservatives, but it is still unclear whether the party will gain enough seats across the country to form a majority government, CBC News projects.

The Tories' fortunes were buoyed early in the evening by surprising gains in Atlantic Canada, especially in New Brunswick, despite the party being shut out in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Meanwhile in Ontario, early returns suggested vote-splitting was cutting into Liberal support in the party's traditional heartland.

Canada's Harper Returned to Power As Prime Minister: But Conservatives Fall Short of Parliament Majority (Keith B. Richburg, 10/15/08, Washington Post)
The Canadian Broadcasting Corp. and the Canadian Press both projected Tuesday night that the Conservatives would return to Parliament with at least 142 seats, up from 127 seats they held when the last Parliament was dissolved in September. A party needs 155 seats for a majority.

"I'm very delighted we've been given a second mandate," Conservative senator and campaign co-chair Marjory Lebreton told CTV. "I'm very optimistic about what's going to happen the rest of the night."

The big loser was Liberal Party leader Stéphane Dion, whose party looked set for its worst showing in at least 20 years and who was now expected to either resign or face a challenge to his leadership.

"I think Dion will resign," said University of Toronto political scientist Nelson Wiseman. "It's Conservative gains, Liberal losses, and the Liberals look very weak."

With the global freezing-up of credit markets last month and the collapse of stock prices, the economy emerged as the most important issue in the election. Harper campaigned as having kept the worst of the crisis out of Canada. He was also helped by splits on the left between three rival parties.

In some ways, the campaign here was overshadowed by the electioneering underway in the United States. One of the debates here took place on the same night as the American vice presidential debate, which is believed to have attracted more Canadian viewers and interest.

"A lot of our citizens pay more attention to what's happening in your election than to ours," Wiseman said.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:46 PM


National Review Crackup! (Timothy Noah, Oct. 14, 2008, Slate)

[Rich Lowry] on NRO, says there was nothing to resign from because it was a temporary gig and the guy he was subbing for was now back in the saddle. The writer, Steyn, had been otherwise engaged on account of being prosecuted for hate speech in Canada over a McLean's article that predicted dire consequences from Muslim immigration throughout Europe. On Oct. 10, Steyn beat the rap (his article was found not to "rise … to the level of hatred and contempt," which sounds to me like a backhanded insult; click here for the decision) and was therefore once again available to write for NR's back page.

We're big fans of Mr. Steyn, so it's possible you may read that differently, but Mr. Noah seems to imply that the only reason a rather straightforward assessment of demographic trends wasn't hate speech is because it wasn't written well enough. Being accused of a "hate crime" by PC nitwits is one thing, but saying Mr. Steyn wrote badly is an unsupportable slur.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:17 PM


Obama FAQs (Occidental College)

Barack Obama attended Occidental College from fall 1979 through spring 1981 and then transferred to Columbia University in New York. He is not a graduate of Occidental, however, the Occidental College bylaws state that anyone who completes at least eight courses of undergraduate work (or a year of graduate studies) is eligible for alumni status.

Who even knew there were colleges that would let you stay for 4 semesters without completing eight courses? It doesn't seem likely that you'd even qualify for your student loans if you were only taking two a semester.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:42 PM

PARTY LIKE IT'S 1993...1977...1962...:

Can Obama Reform Healthcare? (Trudy Lieberman, October 27, 2008, The Nation)

During the campaign Barack Obama has talked about healthcare on and off--more on during the primary campaign, when Hillary Clinton pushed him about whether people should be required to buy insurance; more off when healthcare has been eclipsed as a red-hot issue, such as during the financial crisis. When he has talked about healthcare, his oratory has been short on details and punctuated by twin themes: a call for universal coverage and for reducing the average family's insurance premium by $2,500. Obama has consistently stuck to those points, even though there has been little media examination of what they really mean and, more important, whether they are achievable.

For starters, Obama's plan is not a true universal health insurance model like the ones found in the rest of the developed world, a point many people do not understand because the word "universal" has been so misused in the campaign by candidates as well as the media. In the national health insurance systems of other countries, citizens are entitled to healthcare as a basic right, and everyone pays taxes to fund the services they receive. Those systems are universal and accountable to the public, not to shareholders of private companies, which is the case in the United States. Medical costs are more tightly controlled, and most of those truly universal systems deliver better care at far less cost than the US system. Obama has repeatedly rejected an immediate shift to such a system, generally called "single payer" in America; in an August town hall meeting in Albuquerque, he said, "Given that a lot of people work for insurance companies, a lot of people work for HMOs, you've got a whole system of institutions that have been set up." When a voter asked, "Why not single payer?" Obama replied that people don't have time to wait for such a truly universal plan: "They need relief now. So my attitude is, let's build up the system we got, let's make it more efficient. We may over time--as we make the system more efficient and everybody's covered--decide that there are other ways for us to provide care more effectively."

Obama and his health advisers propose to make the system more efficient and cover everybody by enhancing the country's so-called public-private partnership. In effect, the Obama plan, by offering subsidies to those who are uninsured, would deliver more business to companies already profiting handsomely from the peculiarly American system of health insurance. If his plan survives the legislative process and all works according to his policy prescriptions, somehow the country will get closer to universal coverage. Millions of people, however, will still be left out--unable to qualify for the public programs yet also unable to afford the ever increasing premiums of private ones. The exact number was a matter of contention during the primaries.

We've seen this movie before and it doesn't end well for the Democrats.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:30 PM


(1) Kramnik,Vladimir - Anand,Vishwanathan [D14] (FIDE World Chess Championship Bonn, Germany (1), 14.10.2008)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:49 PM


The Eyeballing Game

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:42 PM


2008 Legatum Prosperity Index

Australia we get, but Austria?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:09 PM


Hopes Quickly Fade For a Postpartisan Era (GERALD F. SEIB, 10/14/08, Wall Street Journal)

Idealists once looked at this presidential campaign, between two candidates who fancy themselves as free of conventional party ties, and thought it might produce the election that finally pulls Washington out of the deep rut of partisan divisiveness it fell into in the 1990s.

Today, three weeks before Election Day, it sure doesn't look that way.

Instead, partisan animosity is growing rather than waning. Democrats charge, essentially, that the McCain campaign is engaging in character assassination against their candidate, Barack Obama. The Republican National Committee says it is spending $2 million to beef up security at campaign offices because of acts of vandalism and "violent intimidation tactics" by Obama supporters. Campaign rallies are turning ugly; charges of racism are starting to appear.

Pollster Peter Hart has found some startling new evidence of high tensions. In surveying voters over the weekend, Mr. Hart found that more than a third of each candidate's supporters say they have grown to "detest" either John McCain or Sen. Obama so deeply that they would have a hard time accepting the one they don't support as president.

So after eight years of telling us how George W. Bush has caused the partisan divide in America it gets worse with two candidates who are barely distinguishable?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:57 PM


Sorry, Dad, I Was Sacked (Christopher Buckley, 10/14/08, The Daily Beast)

The mail (as we used to call it in pre-cyber times) at the Beast has been running I’d say at about 7-to-1 in favor. This would seem to indicate that you (the Beast reader) are largely pro-Obama.

As for the mail flooding into National Review Online—that’s been running about, oh, 700-to-1 against. In fact, the only thing the Right can’t quite decide is whether I should be boiled in oil or just put up against the wall and shot. Lethal injection would be too painless.

I had gone out of my way in my Beast endorsement to say that I was not doing it in the pages of National Review, where I write the back-page column, because of the experience of my colleague, the lovely Kathleen Parker. Kathleen had written in NRO that she felt Sarah Palin was an embarrassment. (Hardly an alarmist view.) This brought 12,000 livid emails, among them a real charmer suggesting that Kathleen’s mother ought to have aborted her and tossed the fetus into a dumpster. I didn’t want to put NR in an awkward position.

Since my Obama endorsement, Kathleen and I have become BFFs and now trade incoming hate-mails. No one has yet suggested my dear old Mum should have aborted me, but it’s pretty darned angry out there in Right Wing Land.

Does he not even get that he switched to the pro-abortion side?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:14 PM


Oil falls below $80 on demand, recession concerns (Matthew Robinson, 10/14/08, Reuters)

U.S. crude traded down $1.60 to $79.59 a barrel in choppy trade by 2:07 p.m. EDT, after hitting $84.83 earlier as commodities and stock markets rose on moves by governments to rescue banks gave investors a brief respite.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:56 AM


...they sent us a widget so you can watch it here:


Our review of the BBC original is here, but it contains spoilers, so beware.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:18 AM


Republican rallies: the myth of a crazed mob: The liberal media’s depiction of McCain supporters as a Weimar-like gang of rednecks shows their own fear of the white working class. (Sean Collins, 10/14/08, Spiked)

[T]hese fears are not expressions of reasonable concerns about Obama’s security: as Obama himself notes, he has presidential-like security, and the odds of anything happening remain extremely low (although, of course, it is always a possibility, as with any candidate). Instead, his supporters’ worries really represent their fears of the white working-class population. The Democrats – once seen as the party of the mass of working people – are cut off from, and suspicious of, what once was their base of support. Rather than living among the working class and representing its interests, they are distant and live in fear of it.

Even the criticisms of McCain and Palin for using inflammatory rhetoric that could ultimately result in violence are, at bottom, condemnations of the working class. Critics are essentially saying: don’t McCain and Palin know that they are playing with a dangerous group that is easily led to violence? Liberals know that the idea that Obama is a terrorist is absurd, that most people don’t believe it to be true, and even that the McCain campaign is not explicitly saying such a thing. But some of them worry that there is a mob out there that is stupid enough to take McCain’s and Palin’s criticisms of Obama as a cue to become violent.

You can blame the McCain camp for many things, including running a lacklustre campaign that has very little to say about the key issues of our time, such as the financial crisis. You can also say that McCain’s decision to ‘go negative’ and attack Obama’s character smacks of desperation (if this was such an important issue, why wait until the last few weeks to bring it up?). But it’s not true, as many have suggested, that he and Palin seek to incite violence against Obama. Yes, Palin does use the word ‘terrorist’ when she tells her line about Obama and Ayres, but there’s a very long way from that to saying ‘Obama is an Islamic terrorist’.

At the beginning of the week many wondered how the Obama campaign would defend itself from the McCain attacks. In the event, they did not have to answer direct challenges, because all of the focus was on the Republican rallies. With allies from the media, they have managed to depict any McCain and Palin reference to Ayres or Obama’s qualifications in general as being tantamount to inciting violence. But in reality, the Obama campaign and its supporters are the ones who have incited fears – fears of a dangerous, reckless white working class. This may work to get their man elected in November, but it comes at the price of further alienating a group that is sceptical about, if not outright hostile, to the Democrats. Thus the Democrats may find that they win the election battle, but, in doing so, they have damaged their chances of winning the governing war.

The problem is that no "Rational" person could fail to be seduced by the Unicorn Rider.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:27 AM


New Hands Detonate ‘Doctor Atomic’ (MATTHEW GUREWITSCH, 10/12/08, NY Times)

In its prior incarnation, available on an Opus Arte DVD drawn from the Amsterdam performances, “Doctor Atomic” was vintage Sellars. On a virtually bare stage the chorus would charge to the footlights, harangue the audience, then disperse with ferocious intensity. There were passages of the patented Sellars semaphore: big, jagged physical gestures externalizing emotions already seismic in the score. And dancers, flung into motion by Lucinda Childs, tore through the action, signifying — what? Subatomic particles whizzing through infinite or infinitesimal space?

“The dancers were the weather,” Mr. Sellars said. “I can’t bring the wind, the precipitation into the theater.”

Without changing their nondescript costumes, they also doubled as laboratory scientists, performing intricate mechanical operations at high speed. And at a climactic moment they stood in for the Pueblo Indians of the area, stamping the earth in the summer sun to prompt their buried ancestors to release life-giving rain. This was in counterpoint to the general’s panic at the threat of electrical storms that might turn the experiment into a fiasco. But how many viewers could unravel these cross-references?

Ms. Woolcock’s imagination feeds less on big ideas than on concrete detail, as in her film of “Klinghoffer.” In the story that made headlines everywhere, Palestinian terrorists hijack the Italian cruise ship the Achille Lauro, murder an invalid American tourist and toss his corpse overboard in his wheelchair. In Mr. Sellars’s hands this played as ritual. Ms. Woolcock’s film reinvented the action as docudrama, losing some splendid choral music in the process. It was said back then that the producers had insisted on reducing the running time.

“No,” Ms. Woolcock said, “I was the ax murderer there. The choruses are beautiful, but I simply didn’t know what to do with them. They had no narrative function. In film, storytelling is imperative. You can’t stop, dream, ruminate. You need the story to keep going.”

Though she brought that same ax to the bargaining table for “Doctor Atomic,” Mr. Adams did not accommodate her this time. “I’m truthfully very glad,” she said. “I’ve found solutions to things I found troublesome.”

If the imperative in film is to move the story, different types of theater have different imperatives. Ms. Woolcock has no use for plodding realism. “I hate sitting in the middle of a row,” she said, “watching a three-piece sitting-room set with people shouting, pretending to be real.”

In preparation for “Doctor Atomic,” she said, she began attending opera only last year. “I spent several months in London and New York watching every opera they put on, just to see how to get people on and off the stage,” she added. “I had to learn about stagecraft.”

She found that opera at its most retro — the Met’s Cecil B. DeMille-style “Aida,” for instance — had huge appeal. “Opera demands such a leap of faith,” she said, “such a surrender to the hallucinogenic.” Which, in turn, opens up room for dreaming.

Literalist that she is, Ms. Woolcock shows the bomb much the way the Sellars production did, as the untidy-looking gizmo it was. But lighting can transform it. In the words of the scenic designer Julian Crouch, it then becomes “something like a large moon, very shamanistic in feeling.” And the explosion — flying debris frozen in space, inspired by the harrowing sculpture of Cornelia Parker — is not literal at all.

Ms. Woolcock was struck that Oppenheimer and other scientists on the project were also great aesthetes. Unlike the original production, this one unapologetically aims for beauty. The video artist Mark Grimmer, of Fifty Nine Productions, was fascinated by the graphic panache of equations in scientific notebooks from Los Alamos. His partner in video, Leo Warner, mentioned the painterly effect of motifs from the Tewa Indians. The costumes, by Catherine Zuber, include ghostly allusions to American Indian kachina figures.

Someday, Mr. Sellars prophesied, we will know “Doctor Atomic” the way we know “Don Giovanni.” “We’ll reach a place,” he said, “where our overview includes all the years and years of reaction.”

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:16 AM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:06 AM


Newsom becomes campaign tool for Prop. 8 backers (Erin Allday, October 14, 2008, SF Chronicle)

Gavin Newsom has always played a starring role in the same-sex marriage debate, but in recent weeks that role has turned decidedly unheroic.

The mayor has become the reluctant face of the campaign opposing same-sex unions with the help of a prominent Yes-on-Proposition-8 television ad. Conservative blogs have been atwitter about Newsom last week officiating at the wedding of a lesbian teacher whose class of first-graders took a field trip to celebrate with her.

In many ways, Newsom has become the single best campaign tool for proponents of Prop. 8 - and that might have been inevitable, political experts said.

"His pictures have become the rallying cry for Prop. 8. It's unfortunate for him, and it's unfortunate for the anti-Prop. 8 campaign," said Barbara O'Connor, a professor of political communications at California State University Sacramento. [...]

Already, the pro-Prop. 8 campaign Web site is prominently displaying a reaction to Friday's wedding.

Frank Schubert, campaign co-manager of the yes campaign, writes on the Web site, "Taking children out of school for a same-sex wedding is not customary education. This is promoting same-sex marriage and indoctrinating young kids. I doubt the school has ever taken kids on a field trip to a traditional wedding."

Did the kids twirl those little flashlights over their heads?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:59 AM


Bring Back Rev. Wright (Tucker Carlson, 10/14/08, The Daily Beast)

The McCain campaign's attempt to tie Barack Obama to terrorist-turned-professor Bill Ayers appears to have failed. Most people still don't seem to know who Ayers is. And there still isn't evidence that the two were more than acquaintances. By the end of the week, McCain will likely have moved on to another line of attack. The obvious question is: Why not Jeremiah Wright?

Unlike Ayers, the Rev. Wright indisputably was one of Obama's closest friends. Obama himself has said so. Nobody in America needs to be reminded of who Wright is. As long as you've decided to go after Obama's character and associations, Wright seems like the obvious place to start. The 30-second attack ad essentially writes itself.

...in 30 second campaign spots, but you can play the video of the Reverend Wright and pop op Senator Obama's quotes about him and no further explanation is needed.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:57 AM


India redefines ties in West Asia (Harsh V Pant, October 14, 2008, Rediff)

At a time when that region is passing through a phase of unparalleled political, economic, and social churning, India is being called upon by the international community to play a larger role in West Asian affairs. This is evident in the pressure on India to adopt a more visible role in Iraq and to use its leverage on Iran to curtail its pursuit of nuclear weapons. In a first of its kind, India was invited by the US to participate in the West Asian peace conference at Annapolis in November 2007 as a recognition of India's growing stature in the international system.

The loosening of the structural constraints imposed by the Cold War has given India greater flexibility in carving its foreign policy in West Asia. The most notable change has been India's attempts to enhance its ties with Israel on the one hand and with its traditional antagonists such as Iran and Saudi Arabia on the other.

India is no longer coy about proclaiming its gradually strengthening ties with Israel despite apprehensions in some quarters that the Arab world will not very take very kindly to these developments. On the contrary, it seems that the Arab world has reacted cautiously so far and has deepened its engagement with India for fear of losing India wholly to Israel. But the biggest test of this balancing act remains in India's management of its relations with Iran that remains the most openly hostile neighbour of Israel.

There is also a realisation in India that India's largely pro-Arab stance in the Middle East has not been adequately rewarded by the Arab world. India has received no worthwhile backing from the Arab countries in the resolution of problems it faces in its neighborhood, especially Kashmir. There have been no serious attempts by the Arab world to put pressure on Pakistan to reign in the cross-border insurgency in Kashmir. On the contrary, the Arab world has firmly stood by Pakistan using the Organisation of Islamic Conference to build support for Islamabad and the jihadi groups in Kashmir.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:51 AM



[T]he Rev. Jesse] Jackson believes that, although "Zionists who have controlled American policy for decades" remain strong, they'll lose a great deal of their clout when Barack Obama enters the White House.

"Obama is about change," Jackson told me in a wide-ranging conversation. "And the change that Obama promises is not limited to what we do in America itself. It is a change of the way America looks at the world and its place in it."

Jackson warns that he isn't an Obama confidant or adviser, "just a supporter." But he adds that Obama has been "a neighbor or, better still, a member of the family." Jackson's son has been a close friend of Obama for years, and Jackson's daughter went to school with Obama's wife Michelle.

"We helped him start his career," says Jackson. "And then we were always there to help him move ahead. He is the continuation of our struggle for justice not only for the black people but also for all those who have been wronged."

The good Rev underestimates the degree to which a tribal figure can be reverse Mau-Maued by the other tribes. Any effort to distance the United States from Israel is easily portrayed as Anti-Semitism on the part of a guy who's endorsed by not just Jesse Jackson by the Reverend Wright and Louis Farrakhan as well.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:46 AM


Runaway Justice: Sarah and Todd Palin’s reaction to their brother-in-law is understandable, but it crossed a line. (Jim Geraghty, 10/14/08, National Review)

The following facts about Sarah Palin’s brother in-law, Mike Wooten, were confirmed by a 2005 State Police investigation:

He used a Taser on his stepson.

He shot a moose without a license, violating a law he has responsibility for enforcing.

He drank beer in his patrol car on one occasion.

He told others his father-in-law would “eat a [expletive]ing lead bullet” if he helped his daughter get an attorney for the divorce.

Wooten’s tenure with the Alaska State Police also includes a reprimand in January 2004 for negligent damage to a state vehicle; a January 2005 instruction after being accused of speeding, unsafe lane changes, following too closely and not using turn signals in his state vehicle; a June 2005 instruction regarding personal cell phone calls; an October 2005 suspension from work after getting a speeding ticket; and a November 2005 memo “to clarify duty hours, tardiness and personal business during duty time.”

At the conclusion of the 2005 investigation, the State Police concluded Wooten exhibited “a significant pattern of judgment failures,” and decided the appropriate discipline was… a ten-day suspension.

After this, Palin and her husband Todd clearly made efforts to get the State Police to investigate and reinvestigate his misbehavior, and there is little doubt they wanted Wooten fired.

Reading the state special counsel’s report, one concludes that the actions of the Palins were legal and completely understandable, and yet crossed a line in their persistence.

Their reaction is entirely understandable; even if every unverified allegation is untrue, the various violations of law, police policy, and good judgment confirmed by Wooten’s superiors obviously warrants a lot more than two weeks off. Nonetheless, the actions of the Palins led to a series of high-ranking state officials contacting the state police to reopen their investigation of the guy, and the governor had to know how that would look. [...]

Palin’s intervention in the matter appears to be a unique set of circumstances; there is no evidence to suggest this is part of a sweeping and far-reaching pattern of abusing her office. If Sarah Palin responded to Wooten’s pattern of dangerous behavior in a manner that crossed an ethical boundary, her response can also be called “human.”

The strongest mitigating factor is actually just how open their pursuit of Mr. Wooten was. They made no bones about it.

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October 13, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:23 PM


Dartmouth's John E. Wennberg wins prestigious Lienhard Award (Dartmouth College Office of Public Affairs, 10/13/08)

Dr. John E. Wennberg today received the 2008 Gustav O. Lienhard Award from the Institute of Medicine for “reshaping the U.S. health care system” to focus on objective evidence and outcomes rather than physician preference as the basis for treatment decisions, and for his efforts to empower patients with greater input on decisions about their own care.

"John Wennberg is duly renowned for his impact on the evolution of health care delivery in the United States," said Harvey V. Fineberg, president of the Institute of Medicine. "His painstaking documentation of deep, regional differences in health care delivery and quality provided the foundation for many important changes in health care, including increasing recognition of the importance of evidence-based medicine to guide health care delivery and the movement toward patient-centered care. He is a man of courage, steadfast determination, and keen intelligence whose work is the basis for many improvements in health care quality and efficiency."

The 23rd recipient of the Lienhard Award, which comes with a $25,000 cash award, Wennberg is the founder and director emeritus of the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice, and the Peggy Y. Thomson Chair for the Evaluative Clinical Sciences. He is widely recognized for pioneering research on health care outcomes and patient-directed care. Using small-area analysis, a strategy developed by Wennberg and his colleague Alan Gitlesohn, he showed that rates of procedures in areas with similar populations varied greatly, and determined that the variations stemmed primarily from differences in physicians' treatment preferences. His discoveries challenged the medical profession to acknowledge that most care was based on tradition or opinion rather than on objective evidence of what is most effective.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:58 PM


Lascars, sepoys and nautch girls: James Buchan climbs aboard the first part of a trilogy set at the time of the opium wars: a review of Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh (James Buchan, The Guardian)

This terrific novel, the first volume in a projected trilogy, unfolds in north India and the Bay of Bengal in 1838 on the eve of the British attack on the Chinese ports known as the first opium war. In Sea of Poppies, Amitav Ghosh assembles from different corners of the world sailors, marines and passengers for the Ibis, a slaving schooner now converted to the transport of coolies and opium. In bringing his troupe of characters to Calcutta and into the open water, Ghosh provides the reader with all manner of stories, and equips himself with the personnel to man and navigate an old-fashioned literary three-decker.

He begins in the villages of eastern Bihar with Deeti, soon to be widowed; her addicted husband, who works at the British opium factory at Ghazipur; and Kalua, a low-caste carter of colossal strength and resource. Moving downstream, we meet a bankrupt landowner, Raja Neel Rattan; an American sailor, Zachary; Paulette, a young Frenchwoman, and her Bengali foster-brother Jodu; Benjamin Burnham, an unscrupulous British merchant, and his Bengali agent, Baboo Nob Kissin; and every style of nautch girl, sepoy and lascar.

On their way to the "black sea", these characters are exposed to a suttee or widow-burning, a shipboard mutiny, a court case, jails, kidnappings, rapes, floggings, a dinner party and every refinement of sex. The story proceeds at pace without too much by way of coincidence, dreams or - the bane of this sort of book - the supernatural. This volume ends with the Ibis, storm-tossed, off Sumatra. I cannot tell whether we are headed for Mauritius or China, but am happy to sail.

Yet Sea of Poppies is a historical novel, which means that the story is only half the story.

-AUTHOR SITE: Amitav Ghosh (Penguin Books)
-A pukka old pishpash : a review of Sea of Poppies (Sameer Rahim, Daily Telegraph)

While researching his doctorate at Oxford, Amitav Ghosh came across a collection of letters written by medieval Jewish traders. In one letter, an Egyptian merchant arranges an exchange of silk and cardamom with a friend in Bangalore; he also complains that a shipment of Indian pepper has been lost at sea.

What really caught Ghosh's eye, though, was a mention of the Bangalore trader's "slave and business agent". This man, whose origins and name are uncertain, could easily have been forgotten by history. Ghosh spent the next 14 years tracking down the few references to him in other documents, travelling to Egypt and learning Judaeo-Arabic. What he found is told in his superb book In an Antique Land (1992).

Much of Ghosh's historical fiction has been driven by what he described in a note to The Glass Palace (2000) as "a near-obsessive urge to render the backgrounds of my characters' lives as closely as I could".

-The call of the running tide: a review of Sea of Poppies (The Economist)
As well as his ability to portray character (even minor players are drawn with astonishing breadth) Mr Ghosh is renowned for giving his novels a haunting sense of place. “The Hungry Tide”, his previous work, drew plaudits for its portrayal of the beauty of the Sundarbans, the tide country of the Ganges delta.

Here, he paints a lustrous picture of the heat and dust of colonial India: a mud-walled village hut floating like a tiny raft “upon a river of poppies”; airy merchants' mansions full of punkah-wallahs and protocol; the calls of boatmen floating across the silt- and salt-flavoured Hooghly river; and, in the midst of it all, the British-owned Sudder Opium Factory with its dead-eyed labourers slaving “as slow as ants in honey” in air as fetid as that of a “closed kitchen”. Most powerful is his portrayal of life aboard the Ibis as she plunges through the sapphire waters of the Bay of Bengal, her bowsprit pointing to the future, her sails cracking in the wind and her hold so hot “it was as if the migrants' flesh were melting on their bones.”

-PROFILE: Amitav Ghosh’s Floating Berlitz Tape: More fun than learning a new language: Reading one. (Boris Kachka, Aug 24, 2008, NY Magazine)
You might glibly describe Amitav Ghosh’s Sea of Poppies, already long-listed for the Booker Prize, as Moby Dick with a little Treasure Island thrown in. A motley crew of ship hands, migrants, and officers sets course for Mauritius in an American slave ship refashioned to transport labor, opium, and eventually soldiers for China’s Opium Wars. Ghosh, who splits his time between India and Brooklyn, rose to worldwide recognition with The Glass Palace, an equally epic novel about Indians in Burma, and he’s long been preoccupied, like V. S. Naipaul, with Indian migration. “Much of the nautical world in the nineteenth century consisted of Asians,” he says, “yet Asians never figure in the historical record.” His own entry into the ledger is peppered with an indecipherable Esperanto invented by sailors from Portugal, Bengal, Shanghai, etc.

There’s a glossary of sorts, and Ghosh makes no apologies for his pidgin-riddled sentences. “When Melville says ‘the mizzenmast,’ who today knows what that is? The idea that language is a warm bath into which you slip in a comfortable way, to me it’s a very deceptive idea.”

REVIEW: of Sea of Poppies, by Amitav Ghosh (Shirley Chew, Independent)
Amitav Ghosh's Sea of Poppies, the first volume in his "Ibis trilogy", revisits in new, breathtakingly detailed and compelling ways some of the concerns of his earlier novels. Among these are the incessant movements of the peoples, commerce, and empires which have traversed the Indian Ocean since antiquity; and the lives of men and women with little power, whose stories, framed against the grand narratives of history, invite other ways of thinking about the past, culture and identity. [...]

The broad canvas of Sea of Poppies displays many features of a sensational novel – a widow rescued from the funeral pyre, a court trial, runaways, disguise, heroic exploits, vengeful acts, murder. A controlling theme running through the many strands of plot is the question of identity.

Cut off from their roots, in transit, and looking ahead to a fresh start, the migrants are prone to invent new names and histories. For some, like Paulette, disguised as an Indian coolie to escape her guardian, the "layers of masking" do no more than bear witness to a human being's "multiplicity of selves". For others, like Zachary, the second mate, the truth is bleaker by far. The son of a slave and her white master, he will always be bound, it seems, to a brutal history and the stigma of colour. All have stories to tell and secrets to hide. Like the sketches of people which Deeti finger-paints as keepsakes for her "shrine", their narratives tease the mind with discontinuities and suggestiveness; and, as with Ah Fatt the opium addict's descriptions of Canton, his old home, "the genius... lay in their elisions".

With the colourful characters, another bedazzling aspect of Sea of Poppies is the clash and mingling of languages. Bhojpuri, Bengali, Laskari, Hindustani, Anglo-Indian words and phrases, and a fantastic spectrum of English including the malapropisms of Baboo Nob Kissin, Burnham's accountant, create a vivid sense of living voices as well as the linguistic resourcefulness of people in diaspora. The "motley tongue" is as much a part of the cultural scene at the lower reaches of the Ganges, and of the multi-layered history of the subcontinent, as the collision of peoples on one of the great rivers of the world.

REVIEW: of Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh (Michael Binyon, Times of London)
THE BRITISH VERSION of history glosses over the time when this country was the world's biggest drug pusher. Afghanistan now produces the poppies to supply Europe's heroin. But two centuries ago it was British fortune seekers in India who turned the banks of the Ganges into a sea of poppies and tried to force refined opium on the reluctant Chinese. They almost succeeded.

Despite the emperor's decrees banning the drug that dulled his subjects and addled his empire, British traders kept shipping out jars of opium to Canton, counting on the growing number of addicts to defy his orders. In the end, they used force - denouncing Chinese restrictions on free trade, and persuading London, shamefully, to wage the notorious opium wars.

Against this background, Sea of Poppies paints a poignant picture of the human devastation of this trade.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:50 PM


The Empire Strikes Out: Interview: Soldier-scholar Andrew Bacevich talks about his hot new foreign policy book, a less-costly Afghanistan strategy, and why he's disappointed with both McCain and Obama. (Michael Mechanic, October 13, 2008, Mother Jones)

Mother Jones: In terms of foreign policy, do you think it matters who wins next month?

Andrew Bacevich: It matters, but not nearly as much as the candidates would have us believe. And this is a disappointment to me. I had hoped that an Obama candidacy would help to create conditions in which we would have a debate over the fundamentals of foreign policy and national security policy. I think what we're ending up with is a debate over operational priorities: McCain is arguing, "Elect me president and I will deliver victory in Iraq, which is the central front in the global war on terror." Obama says, "Elect me; I will send more troops to Afghanistan because that's a central front on the global war on terror." That difference is based on a consensus that the global war on terror provides the correct framework in which to think about US national security policy. [...]

MJ: During the first debate, Obama noted that China is active in Latin America, Asia, and Africa. He said, "The conspicuousness of their presence is only matched by our absence, because we've been focused on Iraq. We have weakened our capacity to project power around the world because we have viewed everything through this single lens." That struck me as an affirmation of our militaristic foreign policy.

AB: I think that you're correct. It's signaling his deference to a conception of America's role in the world. "Global power projection" is one of those cornerstone concepts that implies a big military establishment, high military spending, and a network of bases scattered around to support and sustain the projection of power.

Senator Obama is perceived as so weak on national defense and so featherweight on foreign policy that he'd be likely to have to use force far more quickly than a President McCain just to establish some credibility.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:39 PM


Tehran's bazaar stays shut in VAT protest (AFP, 10/13/08)

"Inflation of around 30 percent has to manifest itself in one way or another. This strike is a sign of the dissatisfaction of the middle class with the economic policies of Ahmadinejad," economist Saeed Leylaz told AFP.

A senior Iranian businessman sees the bazaaris' move as a protest against the government's economic policies in general.

"This movement goes beyond union demands," said Mohammad Reza Behzadian, former head of Tehran's chamber of commerce and industry.

"This government has made its decisions without ever considering the opinion of economic experts and businessmen. It is a normal reaction to this attitude."

Iran's bazaaris play an important political as well as economic role. The merchants contributed to the collapse of the shah's regime during the 1979 Islamic revolution when they went on long strikes.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:33 PM


Health Savings Accounts' Last Chance?: : Consumer power has gained some ground during the Bush administration. Now voters have a decision to make — whether to extend that progress or roll it back. (INVESTOR'S BUSINESS DAILY, October 13, 2008)

HSAs may turn out to be early victims of the Democratic health care regime, though the Obama campaign also wants to cut back funding for the privately run Medicare Advantage plans. They won't be rolled up overnight — that's hard to do when more than 6 million Americans, according to insurance industry data, were covered by HSAs and related high-deductible health plans at the start of 2008. But their growth is likely to be crimped by new limits on who can open them and how easily they can be used.

The tax-deductibility of annual HSA contributions is a natural target for Democrats. Anyone, no matter how high their income, can take the deduction now. This makes HSAs something of an IRA substitute for high-income earners who don't get the IRA tax break. It would not surprise us if a Democratic Congress and White House capped the deductibility at, say, $60,000 for joint filers. This would slow the growth but probably not kill HSAs.

But there's another way to kill a program: Make it so hard to use that no one cares if it survives. HSA money now can be spent tax-free on medical care without having to file a lot of paperwork. Earlier this year, however, the House passed a bill that would have set up a system to review and verify every HSA outlay as a legitimate expense.

That measure could have regulated HSAs out of existence, but insurers and other HSA advocates raised an outcry, and it died in the Senate. A similar bill might not be stopped so easily if the Democrats have a filibuster-proof Senate majority and hold the presidency.

Making them mandatory and universal would satisfy the Left's demand for universality and the Right's preference for market forces.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:28 PM


IBD/TIPP Tracking Poll: Day One (Investor's Business Daily, October 13, 2008)

In contrast to other polls, which show Obama leading McCain by 4 points (Reuters/C-SPAN/Zogby) to 11 (Newsweek), the IBD/TIPP Tracking Poll debuts today with Obama up just 2 points with 13% (including 25% of independents) undecided. The poll was conducted Oct. 6-12 among 825 likely voters.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:05 PM


Senegal fans go on the rampage after World Cup bid ends in disappointment (Sportsmail, 14th October 2008)

Rioting fans pelted Diouf and his team-mates with rocks and glass bottles, broke down fencing and invaded the pitch before armed riot police escorted the players back to their dressing-room.

They remained barricaded in the stadium for three hours before being smuggled out through a side exit.

Spain defend 'fantastic' fans after England veto Bernabeu: The Spanish Football Federation has defended their supporters as "fantastic" after it emerged that the Football Association were unwilling to play a planned friendly against the European champions in Madrid after black England players were racially abused on their last visit. (Paul Kelso, 13 Oct 2008, Daily Telegraph)
England head coach Fabio Capello has personally requested a game against Spain next February, but after five English players were abused by large sections of the Bernabeu crowd four years ago the FA are reluctant to return to Real Madrid's stadium.

Shaun Wright-Phillips, Ashley Cole, Rio Ferdinand, Jermain Defoe and Jermaine Jenas were barracked in one of the most blatant examples of racism seen in Europe in recent years that earned the Spanish federation, the RFEF, a £45,000 fine.

The FA's stance over the game was warmly welcomed by Kick It Out, the anti-racism campaign group, but in Spain there was little sympathy for the FA's position.

Houston fan banned for life for racial insult at D.C. goalkeeper (Shane Evans, 10/13/08, SI.com, Goal.com
The Houston Dynamo have banned a fan from attending their matches indefinitely following a racially charged insult directed at D.C. United goalkeeper Louis Crayton following the teams' 0-0 tie on Sunday afternoon.

Italy get tough and ban their fans from away games following trouble in Bulgaria (Sportsmail, 10/13/08)
Italy have indefinitely banned their own supporters from away games after trouble flared during the Azzurri's goalless draw in Bulgaria on Saturday. [...]

A section of the travelling support threw bottles at the Bulgarian fans and made fascist salutes and chanted fascist slogans.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:01 PM


Campaign Myth: Prevention as Cure-All (H. GILBERT WELCH, M.D, 10/07/08, NY Times)

The term “preventive medicine” no longer means what it used to: keeping people well by promoting healthy habits, like exercising, eating a balanced diet and not smoking. To their credit, both candidates ardently support that approach.

But the medical model for prevention has become less about health promotion and more about early diagnosis. Both candidates appear to have bought into it: Mr. Obama encourages annual checkups and screening, Mr. McCain early testing and screening.

It boils down to encouraging the well to have themselves tested to make sure they are not sick. And that approach doesn’t save money; it costs money.

Increasing the amount of testing for an ever-expanding list of problems always identifies many more people as having disease and still more as being “at risk.” Screening for heart disease, problems in major blood vessels and a variety of cancers has led to millions of diagnoses of these diseases in people who would never have become sick.

Likewise, recent expansions in the definitions of diabetes, high cholesterol and osteoporosis defined millions more as suddenly needing therapy. A new definition of “abnormal bone density,” for example, turned 6.8 million American women into osteoporosis patients literally overnight.

These interventions do prevent advanced illness in some patients, but relatively few. Any savings from preventing those cases is dwarfed by the cost of intervening early in millions of additional patients. No wonder pharmaceutical companies and medical centers see preventive medicine as a great way to turn people into patients — and paying customers.

If preventive medicine were effective in improving the nation’s health, it might warrant these added expenditures. But you can’t assume it is. Early diagnosis may help some, but it undoubtedly leads others to be treated for “diseases” that would never have bothered them. That’s called overdiagnosis.

Rule One for Good Health: Avoid the quacks until you're sick.

Rule Two: If you ignore it you'll likely get better without them anyway.

Rule Three: If you get really sickj there was nothing they could have done. They "heal" healthy people who they overdiagnosed.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:53 PM


Questioning Obama (Dan Balz, 10/13/08, The Trail: Washington Post)

The presidential race is not over, but at this point, Obama has a better chance of becoming president than McCain, and as a result, the questions ought to be going toward him as much or more than McCain -- questions not of tactics but of substance.

Obama has dealt deftly with the economic crisis -- at least in a political sense. Unlike McCain, he was fairly calm during the first days after Lehman's collapse and the government bailout of AIG.

He stayed in close contact with Henry Paulson and Ben Bernanke and with Democratic congressional leaders. He both embraced the sense of urgency to act on the $700 billion bailout package and offered criticisms of the administration's initially sketchy plan. His criticisms were in line with changes that Congress made before eventually approving the package.

But it's not clear that he has had any better ideas -- or put them forward more aggressively -- than Paulson and Bernanke when it comes to dealing with the crisis in the credit markets. It's not clear that he has pushed ideas that would have dealt with the crisis more effectively. At every turn, he has voiced support for the general course the administration has outlined, but he's not been far out ahead.

Nor is it evident that he has dealt realistically with the impact the economic crisis may have on the next president. He has not backed away from ambitious plans for a second stimulus package, for dramatically expanding health care, for reducing dependence on foreign oil or for other spending plans that long have been part of his campaign agenda.

Changing circumstances have not changed his view of what can or should be done if he becomes president. It would be helpful to voters to know now, rather than after the election, whether he will take a zero-based look at everything and rearrange priorities.

What priorities? If he's elected he'd like to pass some health care tidbits and tax credits but does anyone--including him--know what he'd do beyond such marginal tinkering? And if that's all he really has plans for--as seems likely--then how can these people who think he's the Second Coming help but be disappointed and how does he stop Congress from taking control of the governing agenda?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:08 PM


Maddon leading the cultural revolution (Howard Bryant, 10/13/08, ESPN.com)

The hazing from the establishment is also part of the game's self-policing reflex, a reminder that a business this hard requires a certain humility, that nobody can outwit the game. But that is only part of it. Respect for the business often manifests itself in petty professional jealousies that are tempered only by success -- say, for example, by a 97-win season with a team that had lost 90 games in every year of its existence. For the past century, the sport has developed a dictionary of snarky terms designed to keep the creative thinkers and the wackos alike in line, such as: "He thinks he invented the game, just ask him," and, "It's just baseball. We're not trying to reinvent the wheel." Maddon once used four outfielders in a defensive shift against David Ortiz. Earlier this season, Maddon brought in the right-handed Dan Wheeler to face Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer, the Twins' murderous left-handed tandem. In September, when Maddon wrote out a lineup of eight right handed hitters to face the right-handed Mike Mussina, the whispers started again (there's a lot of reinventing going on over there).

There is another segment of the establishment convinced they find his methods contrived, another new-age guy trying to tinker with a game that has been played for 150 years with no reason to go against the book. The book is the book, after all, for a reason. Left-handed hitters have a general advantage against right-handed pitchers. Right-handed hitters are generally at something of a disadvantage against right handed pitchers. Even the best hitters in the sport have a 70-percent chance of making an out, and even the hottest hitters at their supernova best are ever better than even money to come through in a given situation. Why, then, in Texas on Aug. 17, with a four-run lead over the Rangers and the bases loaded did Maddon order to intentionally walk Josh Hamilton ? The Rays won that game.

"More than anything else, I'm trying to get us to play the game the way it was played in 1920. I'm a traditionalist," Maddon said. "I want to play in the simplest way. I believe that. I think people are really reading it the wrong way. I want my defense to play catch. I want my pitchers to have command of the fastball first. I want my hitters to have a two-strike mentality.

"But I don't think I feel vindicated by our success. I think its validation. You wait a long time for this, and now you have a chance to do it. I believe in what we do. What we do is well-thought out. Sometimes we get it right on the field, but it's always intuitive."

If Maddon is not the Phil Jackson of major league baseball, it is only because he is more Catholic than Zen. Or is he? When the Red Sox took Game 1, 2-0, in part due to Daisuke Matsuzaka's remarkable adeptness at playing in traffic but also because of the Rays' inability to finish a wobbly fighter, Ortiz said he knew the reason: The Rays were tight, their faces froze, eyes as big as saucers at the gravity of the situation. The Red Sox had won the first battle, and now they were advancing forward with psychological warfare before the next game had even been played.

And yet the next day, Maddon agreed, essentially conceding macho points -- or, to the hard-liners of the old guard, he used the spotlight to publicly throw his team under the bus.

"Here's why I agreed with it: because it happened. Why deny it?" he said. "This is a process. What would be the point in denying it? My attitude was get it out there, face up to it and then you might even have a greater effect on your ballclub, because they don't want to be embarrassed. Their competitive fires are going to kick in, and I guarantee you this club isn't going to back down from anyone thinking they aren't ready. I slept for nine hours last night, and that was after a really tough loss."

Maddon believes in psychological construction as much as calisthenics. There was the time during spring training when the military's traveling baseball team was on a furlough from Iraq and asked Maddon if it could take batting practice with the Rays. Maddon agreed, but went a step further: He asked the soldiers to talk to his team about Iraq, about life when life isn't about losing a tough game and still earning more than 99 percent of the population, but actually is a game of life and death. After the soldiers, Maddon invited Dick Vitale and Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive coordination Monte Kiffin to speak to his team.

Then there was the game in Tampa last season when Ortiz walked by Maddon and caught a whiff of Maddon's style. Ortiz recalled the exchange.

"I said to him, 'What kind of cologne is that? It smells good.' He said, 'You like that?' and I said I did," Ortiz said. "I made a motion to him, during the game, that I wanted a bottle of it. And after the game, he had left some for me. It was sitting there on my chair. You gotta like a man like that."

And then there was the time in late September, when Tampa Bay stumbled and Boston surged and the Rays were about to walk the Trail of Tears: a nine-game road trip through Toronto, Boston and New York. The lead had dwindled and there was the inevitable talk that the time had come for the cute little Rays to go back to the kids' table and let the adults from Boston, New York and Los Angeles handle the business of the playoffs and of thinking big.

So Maddon showed even more style and put some money behind it. He ordered three dozen of the trendy Ed Hardy tattoo art T-shirts, by Christian Audigier at $150 apiece ("bold graphics, foil overlays and rhinestone accents add edgy drama to a classic short-sleeve T-shirt," according to a Nordstrom description). The reason was to signal to his players that they had approached a pivotal moment, and the shirts represented both solidarity and a feathery, important message.

It was bad enough that Maddon had turned spring training into a regular destination for the speaker's bureau, but now the establishment blanched that he had gotten too close to his players, always the death knell for any manager, especially a 54-year old grandfather of two. Trying to act hip was the worst thing a manager could do, or so went the conventional wisdom. The players would treat him like a substitute teacher. The snickers could be heard in every American League corridor.

"I told them this was the most important road trip in this franchise's history," Maddon said. "I saw it as a way to relate to the guys. Look, I'm 54, but you have to remain contemporary in your thinking. I don't agree that you have to accept and say, 'This is who I am and I can't go any further, and I can't relate to the next group of guys coming up.' I think that's wrong."

But that didn't mean he could not recognize when the leash extended out a bit too far. Take, for example, the night of July 25, when the Rays bounced back from a series-opening loss in Kansas City with a 5-3 win. The Rays had lost seven straight road games, and Maddon praised his team publicly for the win, explaining the importance of road wins to any playoff team.

But privately, he let his team have it. It was the first time the Rays had really seen Maddon's temper, the cerebral side locked away. Hurricane Joe obliterated the clubhouse.

"It wasn't something I like to talk about," Cliff Floyd said. "But he saw things he didn't like. It wasn't just about winning. We won the game. It was about playing the right way. He wanted accountability."

After the blowup, the Rays won 16 of their next 22 games.

"I knew that was the time. I laid it on the line," he said. "I treated them like men. I treated them with respect, and when I saw that it wasn't working, I knew it was time to take a different approach. It wasn't the winning. Here's what I wanted to avoid: when you win like that, sometimes you think you can always win any way you like. The winning can mask bad habits, but only temporarily.

"I could see it building," Maddon added. "But I wanted to make sure I did it on the road, because I didn't want it to linger. I wanted no stain of negativity in our clubhouse."

"People say, 'Aw, he's trying to reinvent the game,' and I say 'Yes, he is,'" said former big league player and manager and current television broadcaster Buck Martinez. "Of course he is, because that's what you have to do over there. They have new uniforms, new attitude, new everything. It is a total cultural revolution because they've never had a culture of winning. That's what he's trying to do, and it's absolutely appropriate."

This game has been played before, most recently in Oakland, when A's general manager Billy Beane began articulating a philosophy that reassessed how players were scouted and which set of player tools held greater value for clubs that could not compete financially for the most complete players. The resultant cacophony, culminating in the best-selling book, "Moneyball," infuriated Beane's contemporaries, who believed he was attempting to bring a new orthodoxy to the grand old game. He had gotten too big, in ego and intellectual capacity; he was (here's that word again) reinventing.

"You have to be committed to the belief that what you're doing is best for your situation," Beane said. "And what you've done outside the box could quickly become the norm. I'm sure his response is the same as ours was: Move forward with what you think is best. Besides, how can you get on a guy who wears such stylish glasses? They look great."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:30 PM


"I Will Follow Him": Obama As My Personal Jesus (Maggie Mertens, 9/18/08, The Smith College Sophian)

Obama is my homeboy. And I'm not saying that because he's black - I'm saying that in reference to those Urban Outfitters t-shirts from a couple years ago that said, "Jesus is my homeboy." Yes, I just said it. Obama is my Jesus.

While you may be overtly religious and find this to be idol-worshipping, or may be overtly politically correct and just know that everything in that sentence could be found offensive, I'm afraid it's true anyway.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:20 PM


Dow jumps 938 as governments pledge bank aid (Tim Paradis, 10/13/08, AP)

Wall Street has stormed back from last week's devastating losses, sending the Dow Jones industrials soaring a nearly inconceivable 938 points after major governments' plans to support the global banking system reassured distraught investors.

The Dow by far outstripped its previous record for a one-day point gain, 499, reached during the waning days of the dot-com boom in 2000.

Two-week gas price drop is biggest ever (Jodi Weigand, 10/13/08, Pittsburgh TRIBUNE-REVIEW)
The largest ever two-week drop in average gasoline prices has local drivers eager for more.

"It's $3.15 by my house," said Aimee McCune, 21, of North Huntingdon, who was enjoying a sunny morning in Market Square before heading to work. "Every morning, I drive by and look at it, and it's gone down almost every day." [...]

"Plummeting oil prices and caving gasoline demand have combined to bring the biggest retail gasoline price cut in the history of the market," said Trilby Lundberg, who compiles the survey.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:34 PM


...are giving away a whole shelfload of books.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:44 AM


The Man Behind the Whispers About Obama (JIM RUTENBERG, 10/13/08, NY Times)

Until this month, the man who is widely credited with starting the cyberwhisper campaign that still dogs Mr. Obama was a secondary character in news reports, with deep explorations of his background largely confined to liberal blogs.

But an appearance in a documentary-style program on the Fox News Channel watched by three million people last week thrust the man, Andy Martin, and his past into the foreground. The program allowed Mr. Martin to assert falsely and without challenge that Mr. Obama had once trained to overthrow the government.

An examination of legal documents and election filings, along with interviews with his acquaintances, revealed Mr. Martin, 62, to be a man with a history of scintillating if not always factual claims. He has left a trail of animosity — some of it provoked by anti-Jewish comments — among political leaders, lawyers and judges in three states over more than 30 years.

He is a law school graduate, but his admission to the Illinois bar was blocked in the 1970s after a psychiatric finding of “moderately severe character defect manifested by well-documented ideation with a paranoid flavor and a grandiose character.”

Though he is not a lawyer, Mr. Martin went on to become a prodigious filer of lawsuits, and he made unsuccessful attempts to win public office for both parties in three states, as well as for president at least twice, in 1988 and 2000. Based in Chicago, he now identifies himself as a writer who focuses on his anti-Obama Web site and press releases.

Mr. Martin, in a series of interviews, did not dispute his influence in Obama rumors.

“Everybody uses my research as a takeoff point,” Mr. Martin said, adding, however, that some take his writings “and exaggerate them to suit their own fantasies.”

As for his background, he said: “I’m a colorful person. There’s always somebody who has a legitimate cause in their mind to be angry with me.”

When questions were raised last week about Mr. Martin’s appearance and claims on “Hannity’s America” on Fox News, the program’s producer said Mr. Martin was clearly expressing his opinion and not necessarily fact.

It was not Mr. Martin's first turn on national television. The CBS News program "48 Hours" in 1993 devoted an hourlong program, "See You in Court; Civil War, Anthony Martin Clogs Legal System with Frivolous Lawsuits," to what it called his prolific filings. (Mr. Martin has also be known as Anthony Martin-Trigona.) He has filed so many lawsuits that a judge barred him from doing so in any federal court without preliminary approval.

He prepared to run as a Democrat for Congress in Connecticut, where paperwork for one of his campaign committees listed as one purpose “to exterminate Jew power.” He ran as a Republican for the Florida State Senate and the United States Senate in Illinois. When running for president in 1999, he aired a television advertisement in New Hampshire that accused George W. Bush of using cocaine.

In the 1990s, Mr. Martin was jailed in a case in Florida involving a physical altercation.

The strange thing about the whole "Obama is a Muslim" derangement is that the truth is what's damaging: he's a disciple of the black nationalist Reverend Wright. One can only wish he were Muslim instead.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:32 AM


Hiroshima Revisionism: An Interview with Robert Maddox (Victor Fic , 10/13/08, HNN)

"I regard Hiroshima [revisionism] as the greatest hoax in American history."--Robert Maddox

If the atomic bombing of Hiroshima released tremendous heat and blast physically, the debate over its justification can be intellectually incindiary. Robert Maddox, a veteran historian, is now the leading thinker in a broad effort that exposes revisionist critics of the atomic strike as guilty of impoverished or dishonest analysis. Maddox was trained at Rutgers University and taught at The Pennsylvania State University. He edited a volume of essays, The Myths of Revisionism: Hiroshima in History.

VF: Cite the chief mistakes that you insist the leading revisionists make.

RM: Without question, Alperovitz’s most significant “contribution” was his assertion that Japan would have surrendered as early as spring, 1945 provided only that it be permitted to retain its sacred emperor. Truman and [Secretary of State] James F. Byrnes knew this through intercepted Japanese messages but refused to make the offer because they wanted the war to continue until the bombs could be used. This appeared to support his theme that the bombs were not dropped to defeat an already defeated Japan, but rather to awe the Soviets. His “evidence” consisted of pretending that whenever the word “peace” appeared in a Japanese message, it referred to surrender. See my first chapter in "Hiroshima in History" for details, and for other examples of his methods. Despite [how] this scam has been exposed numerous times, some revisionists still use it. [...]

VF: A key revisionist charge insists that Truman bombed to scare the Soviets so they would not enter the war but would bow to US power after it. What is your defense?

RM: [He] asked the USSR all along to get into the war. Truman went to Potsdam for the main or the major reason of getting Stalin in. When the Soviets entered the war on August 8th, Truman called an impromptu press conference to make the announcement because he was enthusiastic. The US ambassador to Moscow Averill Harriman was told how effective he had been in following instructions for getting the Soviets in. It was psychologically important and would pin down Japanese troops on the homeland away from Kyushu [the designated invasion beach].

VF: The peace movement condemns the attack as triggering the nuclear arms race. Is this the right cause-effect chain? If so, isn't it impossible to support the mission?

RM: This is absurd on its face. The Soviets had their own atomic program in place long before Hiroshima and knew through espionage all about the US effort. There would have been an arms race even if the US did not use the bombs against Japan.

The problem with the revisionists is they're peaceniks. What Truman should be criticized for is not demonstrating the lethality of the bomb by dropping it on Moscow, thus killing two regimes with one stone.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:29 AM


Oven-fried chicken is fast and healthful (Jane Jarrell, 10/12/008, Dallas Morning News)

1 large egg

1 tablespoon water

½ teaspoon coarse salt

¼ ground pepper

½ teaspoon dried rosemary or thyme

6 chicken breast halves, thawed and patted dry

4 cups cornflakes, crushed

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 400 F. Combine egg and water in a medium-size bowl. Beat and set aside. Add all dry ingredients to a large zip-top bag. Dip chicken into the egg wash and then place in the bag. Shake to coat chicken breast, and continue until all pieces of chicken have been coated. Arrange chicken on a rimmed cookie sheet and bake until cooked through, about 30 minutes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:20 AM


The Debt We Owe to Trade: A Splendid Exchange: How Trade Shaped the World by William J. Bernstein (Jeffrey Tucker, 10/11/08, Inside Catholic)

After finishing the book, I found myself thinking about its contents constantly. Its subject is so ubiquitous that it is hardly ever closely analyzed. The time period stretches from age to age; the geography covers the planet; and the items covered include spices, coffee, silk, pigs and pork, precious metals, oil, and, really, just about everything else. Bernstein demonstrates thousands of times that the world as we know it would be unrecognizable without trade, and shows that trade has shaped who we are in ways that none of us fully recognizes. The historical detail is amazing. The writing is scholarly but clear and fascinating on every page. [...]

The Bernstein book helps keep all the controversy about globalization in context. There is absolutely nothing new about globalization. Nothing. The progress of "globalization" has been on its current trajectory for the whole of recorded history. This trade has made the world ever more prosperous. And why? Because trade has permitted populations across the globe to cooperate to their mutual betterment. Without trade, the human population would shrink and most all of us would die. Even a slight curtailment of trade can bring on economic depression and dramatically shrink our standards of living.

It is one of the great failings of the human race that we tend to regard the wealth that surrounds us as a given, something that is just part of the world that will last forever and requires no work to acquire. Part of the reason we have this habit of mind is our general tendency to contemplate only what we experience in our lifetimes. But the wealth that surrounds us is the fruit of the whole of history, the accumulated capital of the human race from the whole of history. We are born into it, it grows while we live, and then we die. To help us appreciate the bigger picture requires careful education and study that broadens our mind.

This is precisely what Bernstein's book does. It takes us outside of the here and now and help us understand the big picture, and he does this by looking at the details of goods traded in lands far away in all times. The book is beautifully written and wonderfully interesting on every page. I can't recommend it enough.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:11 AM


Indirect approach is favored in the war on terror: The U.S.' elite armed forces are still carrying out operations, but they're also using a new tactic: teaching military allies how to fight for themselves. (Peter Spiegel, 10/13/08, Los Angeles Times)

Weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks, a small team of Green Berets was quietly sent to the Philippine island of Basilan. There, one of the world's most virulent Islamic extremist groups, Abu Sayyaf, had established a dangerous haven and was seeking to extend its reach into the Philippine capital.

But rather than unleashing Hollywood-style raids, as might befit their reputation, the Green Berets proposed a time-consuming plan to help the Philippine military take on the extremist group itself. Seven years later, Abu Sayyaf has been pushed out of Basilan and terrorist attacks have dropped dramatically.

"It's not flashy, it's not glamorous, but man, this is how we're going to win the long war," said Lt. Gen. David P. Fridovich, the Army officer who designed the Philippine program.

Fridovich is part of a quiet but significant transformation taking place within the most secret of the U.S. military's armed forces, the Special Operations Command, or SOCOM, which encompasses the Green Berets, Army Rangers, Navy SEALs, Delta Force and similar units from the Air Force and the Marines.

SOCOM Commander Adm. Eric T. Olson, who was appointed to the post in July 2007, is shifting emphasis away from the high-profile raids that were the hallmark of the early years of U.S. anti-terrorism efforts. Instead, Olson has stressed "indirect action": training friendly militaries to better fight terrorism and violent separatists within their own borders. [...]

The dramatic rescue of 15 hostages by the Colombian military in July was similarly striking because that military has trained for years under U.S. Special Forces teams to combat the leftist rebel group the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

The success of indirect action depends on strong, long-term ties to foreign militaries. But the demands of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have made it more difficult to cultivate those relationships. Nearly 80% of Special Operations deployments go to the Middle East or central Asia, representing a "vacuum that's sucked away some of our forces from other countries," Olson said.

Olson also must contend with the fallout from pre-Sept. 11 U.S. sanctions against countries plagued by terrorism that barred the U.S. military from working with local armed forces.

"You can go ahead and figure out where those places might be, but there's opportunity we might have missed there," said Fridovich, who declined to name specific countries.

U.S. officials in the past punished Indonesia for military abuses in East Timor and targeted Pakistan for unauthorized nuclear testing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:03 AM