Obama, Canada's Harper will have plenty to talk about: The president ventures north for his first foreign trip in office. (Andrew Malcolm, February 1, 2009, LA Times)
[I]n the summer of 2007, candidate Obama told a labor (labour for Canadian readers) rally in Chicago that one of the first things he'd do in the White House is tell "the president of Canada" that he wants to renegotiate parts of the allegedly job-gobbling North American Free Trade Agreement.
Since he knows better now and has already won Ohio and Pennsylvania, that Obama promise may be, in a Nixonian kind of phrasing, no longer operative. But Harper, whose country is the U.S.' largest energy provider, and Obama will have plenty to talk about anyway. Both are political pragmatists. By Canadian standards, Harper is a conservative, which on the U.S. political spectrum would make him about as conservative as, say, Ted Kennedy.
Their two countries have by far the biggest bilateral economic relationship in the world, with about $1.6 billion in trade flowing back and forth each day. That's more than $1.1 million per minute, even better than Obama's fundraising.
And, as it happens, both countries' economies are in recession right now.
Don't tell Daily Kos, but Obama, like President Bush in Iraq, favors (favours) a U.S. troop surge of perhaps 30,000 into Afghanistan, which may take a little selling. A recent BBC America/Harris Poll shows barely one-third of Americans support such an order. Goodbye, honeymoon.
Also like Bush, Obama would like more NATO combat troops in Afghanistan, where Canadians have loyally fought since Day 1 of the ongoing but unsteady Taliban-overthrowing. But their costly casualty involvement is an increasingly emotional issue at home. Harper has vowed his country's military involvement there ends in 2011, period.
Obama preserves renditions as counter-terrorism tool: The role of the CIA's controversial prisoner-transfer program may expand, intelligence experts say. (Greg Miller, January 31, 2009, LA Times)
The CIA's secret prisons are being shuttered. Harsh interrogation techniques are off-limits. And Guantanamo Bay will eventually go back to being a wind-swept naval base on the southeastern corner of Cuba.
But even while dismantling these programs, President Obama left intact an equally controversial counter-terrorism tool.
Under executive orders issued by Obama recently, the CIA still has authority to carry out what are known as renditions, secret abductions and transfers of prisoners to countries that cooperate with the United States.
Current and former U.S. intelligence officials said that the rendition program might be poised to play an expanded role going forward because it was the main remaining mechanism -- aside from Predator missile strikes -- for taking suspected terrorists off the street.
Summers vs Obama (Greg Mankiw, 1/31/09)
The analysis of Larry Summers:
Another cause of long-term unemployment is unionization. High union wages that exceed the competitive market rate are likely to cause job losses in the unionized sector of the economy. Also, those who lose high-wage union jobs are often reluctant to accept alternative low-wage employment. Between 1970 and 1985, for example, a state with a 20 percent unionization rate, approximately the average for the fifty states and the District of Columbia, experienced an unemployment rate that was 1.2 percentage points higher than that of a hypothetical state that had no unions.
A bad first date with Mr. Obama (Adrienne T. Washington, February 1, 2009, Washington Times)
Loretta J. Ross, national coordinator of the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Health Collective in Atlanta, joked that she was surprised "by the rapidity with which [President] Obama jettisoned the family planning" programs in his $819 billion economic-stimulus package.
"He's the date I had last night who forgot my name this morning," Ms. Ross said, noting how much support Mr. Obama received in the election from women, particularly women of color, who count on family-planning services such as contraception.
Poll reveals public doubts over Charles Darwin's theory of evolution: Belief in creationism is widespread in Britain, according to a new survey. (Jonathan Wynne-Jones, 31 Jan 2009, Daily Telegraph)
More than half of the public believe that the theory of evolution cannot explain the full complexity of life on Earth, and a "designer" must have lent a hand, the findings suggest.
And one in three believe that God created the world within the past 10,000 years.
Bush Hatred and Obama Euphoria Are Two Sides of the Same Coin (PETER BERKOWITZ, 1/31/09, WSJ)
At first glance, Bush hatred and Obama euphoria could not be more different. Hatred of Mr. Bush went well beyond the partisan broadsides typical of democratic politics. For years it disfigured its victims with open, indeed proud, loathing for the very manner in which Mr. Bush walked and talked. It compelled them to denounce the president and his policies as not merely foolish or wrong or contrary to the national interest, but as anathema to everything that made America great.
In contrast, the euphoria surrounding Mr. Obama's run for president conferred upon the candidate immunity from criticism despite his newness to national politics and lack of executive experience, and regardless of how empty his calls for change. At the same time, it inspired those in its grips, repeatedly bringing them tears of joy throughout the long election season. With Mr. Obama's victory in November and his inauguration last week, it suffused them with a sense that not only had the promise of America at last been redeemed but that the world could now be transfigured.
In fact, Bush hatred and Obama euphoria -- which tend to reveal more about those who feel them than the men at which they are directed -- are opposite sides of the same coin. Both represent the triumph of passion over reason. Both are intolerant of dissent. Those wallowing in Bush hatred and those reveling in Obama euphoria frequently regard those who do not share their passion as contemptible and beyond the reach of civilized discussion. Bush hatred and Obama euphoria typically coexist in the same soul. And it is disproportionately members of the intellectual and political class in whose souls they flourish.
Iraq Holds Peaceful Vote In Hopeful Sign (Javno, January 31, 2009)
Iraq held a provincial election on Saturday without a major attack in the country, a sign that years of sectarian slaughter and insurgency may truly be fading into the past and greater security is taking hold.
However, the fact the election had to take place behind barbed wire and that four provinces did not participate were a reminder that Iraq is still a long way from joining the ranks of stable democracies.
More Daschle Tax Issues (Jake Tapper, January 30, 2009, ABC News: Political Punch)
The report indicates that Daschle's failure to pay more than $101,000 taxes on the car and driver a wealthy friend let him use from 2005 through 2007 is not the only tax issue the former Senate Majority Leader has been dealing with since his December nomination prompted a more thorough examination of his income tax returns.
Mr. Daschle also didn't report $83,333 in consulting income in 2007.
The Senate Finance Committee Report also notes that during the vetting process, President Obama's Transition Team "identified certain donations that did not qualify as charitable deductions because they were not paid to qualifying organizations. Daschle adjusted his contribution deductions on his amended returns for 2005, 2006 and 2007 to remove these amounts and add additional contributions." This adjustment meant a reduction in the amount he contributed to charitable foundations of $14,963 from 2005 through 2007.
Obama Administration Fails Its Own Transparency Promise Just Days Later (TechDirt, 1/30/09)
On inauguration day, the administration promised, among other things:
We will publish all non-emergency legislation to the website for five days, and allow the public to review and comment before the President signs it.
That's great! If only it actually happened. Jim Harper points out that Obama signed the "Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009" into law just a day after Congress sent it to him. This is a "non-emergency" law. The Whitehouse did put it on the website for review, but not for five days. And, it's especially troubling since there actually is a fair amount of controversy over the law.
15-minute fried herbed chicken: This recipe requires so little time and tastes so good that it raises the bar on centre-of-the-plate weeknight food. (EVAN SUNG, THE NEW YORK TIMES)
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
1 to 2 tbsp mixed fresh herbs, such as tarragon and sage
2 tbsp tahini or peanut butter
1/4 cup olive oil, more for frying
Flour for dredging
6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs or 4 half-breasts
Chopped fresh parsley leaves for garnish
Lemon wedges for serving
In a blender or the container of a food processor, combine onion, herbs and tahini. As you purée the mixture, slowly add just enough olive oil through the feed tube to make a thick, smooth paste; don't let it get too thin.
Put flour in a shallow bowl. Place chicken in another bowl. Rub puréed mixture over chicken, then dredge each piece in flour. Gently shake off any excess flour, coat again with paste and dredge once more in flour.
Heat 1/4 inch olive oil in a skillet; when it is hot, fry chicken for about 4 minutes each side, until well browned and cooked through; it will take longer if you use chicken with the bone in.
Intellectual Selection: BANQUET AT DELMONICO’S: Great Minds, the Gilded Age, and the Triumph of Evolution in America By Barry Werth (DEBBY APPLEGATE, NY Times Book Review)
Darwin and Spencer shared two basic tenets. The first was the universality of conflict, or the belief that all beings are in competition for limited life-sustaining resources. The second was the principle of adaptation, that those beings who best adapt to their changing environment will be the ones most likely to dominate resources and to reproduce. For a generation raised to believe in a static and harmonic world, bound by the laws of nature and predetermined by God’s plans, these ideas were revolutionary.
Beyond this, however, the two men generally parted company. Darwin was a scientist and a ruthlessly inductive thinker who formulated his hypotheses over 25 years of painstaking observation of plants, animals and fossils. Spencer, by contrast, was a deductive polymath who prided himself on his ability to spin all-encompassing theories out of limited information. Spencer believed that his “universal law of evolution” could apply to everything in the cosmos, including human psychology, language, morality, race, government and society.
Perhaps their biggest difference, however, was the issue of teleology, or whether evolutionary development implied a design or purpose. “The forces behind Darwinian evolution were random, mindless, blind, but for Spencer survival of the fittest also meant survival of the best, suggesting a cosmic value system,” Werth writes. “Progress wasn’t accidental; it was imperative, even programmed.” As Andrew Carnegie, the steel baron, philanthropist and Spencer acolyte, liked to say, “All is well since all grows better.” Or in the sharper tones of the Yale political economist William Graham Sumner, “A drunkard in the gutter is just where he ought to be.”
It was Spencer’s wide-ranging attempts to apply the concept of organic evolution to society, rather than Darwin’s more cautious and narrow theories of biological change, that caught fire in the competitive, by-your-own bootstraps atmosphere of post-Civil War America. As Edward Livingston Youmans, the founder of The Popular Science Monthly and Spencer’s main American promoter, often observed, much of what was called Darwinism in the United States should actually be called Spencerism. This was especially true of what has become known, often pejoratively, as “social Darwinism,” or “the anti-philanthropic, anti-meddling side” of Spencer’s legacy, in Youmans’s words. Even so, by 1880 Spencer’s American followers had declared victory over Darwin in the race for popular influence.
Obama to review 'Buy USA' policy (Allan Woods, 1/31/09, The Star)
The clause in a congressional bill, inserted into Obama's stimulus package by Democratic Representative Peter Visclosky of Indiana, has sparked alarm in Canada, which exports almost $6 billion in steel products to the U.S. annually.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said the proposal would violate the North American Free Trade Agreement and World Trade Organization rules, but current and former Canadian politicians are urging the government to marshal its diplomatic forces to secure an exemption to the proposed bill.
The clause has also sparked fears of trade protectionism in China, Europe and even in the United States.
Blair says it is time to talk to Hamas (Patrick Sawer, 31 Jan 2009, Daily Telegraph)
His comments came after he held talks with George Mitchell, the new US envoy appointed by Barack Obama to try and bring peace to the region following the punishing Israeli attacks on Gaza which killed an estimated 1,300 Palestinians.
Mr Blair appeared to criticise the previous Bush administration and its Israeli allies for their strategy of focusing all peace efforts on the West Bank.
He said: "It was half of what we needed. Yes, we do need to show through the change we are making on the West Bank that the Palestinian state could be a reality.
"The trouble is that if you simply try to push Gaza to one side then eventually what happens is the situation becomes so serious that it erupts and you deliver into the hands of the mass the power to erupt at any point in time."
Daschle failed to pay $128,000 in taxes: Obama's choice to lead Health and Human Services is the second Cabinet pick to run into tax problems, jeopardizing his confirmation. (Noam N. Levey, January 30, 2009, LA Times)
Former Sen. Tom Daschle, tapped by President Obama to lead his healthcare reform campaign, failed to pay more than $128,000 in taxes in the three years before Obama nominated him in December to head the Department of Health and Human Services.
The disclosure -- involving unreported income and the use of a car and driver provided to Daschle -- comes 2 1/2 weeks after Obama's choice to head the Treasury Department, Timothy Geithner, admitted that he had not paid about $43,000 in taxes.
Wrestling and faith in Mongolia: From a growth in Christianity to a revival of Buddhism, Religious Affairs correspondent Robert Pigott reports on how Mongolians are replacing the all-embracing belief system that vanished with the fall of communism. (Robert Pigott, 1/31/09, BBC)
In the polluted sprawl of Ulan Bator - a communist-era name meaning "red hero" - there are some 200 churches and an estimated 200 more in the mountains, steppes and desert beyond.
Their congregations include many young professional and business people, led in services of swaying and clapping by bands of drums and guitars.
One of their members, Puje Chinggis, says his story is typical.
A confident and calm young man, Puje is now head of Mongolia's only internationally accredited Bible College, in a neighbourhood of Ulan Bator crowded with long wooden barracks, once occupied by Soviet troops.
But in his youth he adopted communism and, like many others, believed a perfect society would be accomplished in his lifetime.
Puje says many of his disillusioned generation were won over by the practical benefits offered by Christian organisations.
These include charities such as the Mission Aviation Fellowship, which flies missionaries and aid workers over Mongolia's vast distances - it is difficult to travel on the gravel tracks below. [...]
With socialism gone, Mongolia is rebuilding a national identity on its own history and traditions.
Pre-eminent among these traditions is wrestling. On Mongolia's national day I witnessed this sweaty, ritualistic, trial of strength between men wearing boots and tight-fitting briefs.
After a display of flexing muscles, the wrestlers gripped each other in a tense stand-off before a sudden struggle resulted in one of them falling to the ground.
An appreciative crowd roared its approval, and as the national anthem was sung, the event seemed to recall the past greatness of the Mongolian nation.
Somalia's new moderate Islamist president sworn in (AP, 1/31/09)
A moderate Islamist leader was sworn in as the country's new president Saturday after parliament elected him to stabilize a country wracked by violence and anarchy for nearly 20 years. [...]
[Sheik Sharif Sheik] Ahmed was chairman of the Islamic Courts Union that ran Mogadishu for six months in 2006 before Ethiopian soldiers drove them from power. His election raises hopes that he will bring many of Somalia's Islamic factions into a more inclusive government.
Analysts say Ahmed has a real chance of reuniting Somalis, given his Islamist roots, the backing of parliament and his acceptability to the West. But reconciling 10 million people and stopping 18 years of bloodshed remain a daunting task.
Ahmed headed the sharia courts movement that brought some stability to Mogadishu and most of south Somalia in 2006, despite being accused in the West of Islamist extremism, before Ethiopian troops invaded and drove it out.
"The conflict in Somalia will be resolved. We are urging our brothers in armed conflict to join us in peace-building," he told parliament. "We will govern the Somali people with honesty and justice, and give them back their rights."
Michael Steele victorious at Republican National Committee meeting (Tom Baldwin, 1/31/09, Times of London)
Republicans last night showed that change can sweep through their party too as they faced up to the arrival of Barack Obama at the White House by electing a black chairman for the first time in their history.
Although Michael Steele insisted he was not framing his bid for the party leadership in terms of race, his victory at the Republican National Committee's meeting in Washington was immediately hailed as another break-through for African Americans.
Some of the Yankees who found themselves on the receiving end of Joe Torre's seething scowl called it "The Stare" -- his face tight, his mouth frozen into a horizontal line, his dark eyes seemingly blackened by a slight inward tilt of his eyebrows. The Stare was reserved for capital offenses, for missing signs, for awful decisions.
Reporters sometimes got The Stare as well, most often when they asked questions Torre deemed to be driven by a quest for sensationalism, and the manager would chastise them bluntly, the way a fourth-grade teacher speaks to a wayward pupil. When I covered the team for The New York Times, he expressed particular distaste for ESPN, especially after Roger Clemens' beaning of Mike Piazza and the subsequent bat-throwing incident, because he felt the network replayed the ugliness over and over only to sell its programming.
In an honest moment today, Torre would aim The Scowl again -- into a mirror. Because this time, Torre is guilty of fostering and feeding on sensationalism, at the expense of former colleagues.
Mind over Matter: a review of Why Us?, by James Le Fanu (Christopher Booker, 1/30/09, The Spectator)
As a medical doctor, Le Fanu argues that what we have been seeing here is the culmination of a process which has for so long driven our attempts to explain who we are and how we came to be on this earth in purely material terms. The watershed moment in this story was the publication, in 1859, of The Origin of Species, in which Charles Darwin laid out his thesis that the evolution of life could be explained solely by the process of natural selection, whereby an infinite series of minute variations gradually turned one form of life into another.
The greatest stumbling block to this argument was that evolution has repeatedly taken place in leaps forward so sudden and so complex that they could not possibly have been accounted for by the gradual process he suggested — the ‘Cambrian explosion’ of new life forms, the complexities of the eye, the post-Cretaceous explosion of mammals. Again and again some new development emerged which required a whole mass of interdependent changes to take place simultaneously, such as the transformation of reptiles into feathered, hollow-boned and warm-blooded birds.
As even Darwin himself acknowledged, these jumps in the story might have seemed to render his thesis ‘absurd’. He might therefore have hypothesised that some other critically important factor seemed to be at work, some ‘organising power’ which had allowed these otherwise inexplicable leaps to take place. But so possessed was he by the elegant simplicity of his theory that, waving such thoughts aside, he made a leap of faith that it must be right, regardless of the evidence — and in the increasingly materialistic mid-19th century, his thesis was an idea whose time had come. Thus has his belief that life evolved solely through a material process continued to possess the minds of scientists to this day.
What is psychologically fascinating about the mindset of the Darwinians is their inability to recognise just how much they do not know. As Le Fanu observes in a comment which might have served as an epigraph to his book, ‘the greatest obstacle to scientific progress is not ignorance but the illusion of knowledge’. Blinkered in their vision, armoured in the certainty that they have all the answers when they so obviously don’t, neo-Darwinians such as Richard Dawkins rest their beliefs just as much on an unscientific leap of faith as the ‘Creationists’ they so fanatically affect to despise.
But the significance of what has happened in recent years, Le Fanu suggests, is that it has shown us where this fatally limited vision has led us to.
One of the biggest problems lies in the specialization of the sciences, which meant that Darwinists could go on believing in Nature long after Physics had disproved it.
Nancy Pelosi's Modest Proposal (George Neumayr, 1.27.09, American Spectator)
The full title of Jonathan Swift's work, A Modest Proposal, was, For Preventing the Children of Poor People in Ireland From Being a Burden to their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Public.
Change a few of the words and it could be a Democratic Party policy paper. Swift suggested that 18th-century Ireland stimulate its economy by turning children into food for the wealthy. Pelosi proposes stimulating the U.S. economy by eliminating them.
Other slumping countries, such as Russia and France, pay parents to have children; it looks like Obama's America will pay parents to contracept or kill them. Perhaps the Freedom of Choice Act can also fall under the Pelosi "stimulus" rationale. Why not? An America of shovels and scalpels will barrel into the future.
Euthanasia is another shovel-ready job for Pelosi to assign to the states. Reducing health care costs under Obama's plan, after all, counts as economic stimulus too. Controlling life, controlling death, controlling costs. It's all stimulus in the Brave New World utopia to come.
Palin, Obama to share stage (JONATHAN MARTIN, 1/29/09, Politico)
In what could be a preview of the 2012 presidential race, Sarah Palin and President Barack Obama will share a stage together this Saturday night in Washington, Politico has learned.
The Alaska governor and former GOP vice presidential nominee, making her first trip to the nation’s capital since the election, will join the president at the Alfalfa Dinner, a venerable gathering of the city’s political elite.
Meet the New Face of Al Qaeda: Few of the deadliest modern-day suicide bombers fit the stereotype of a mass murderer. Here’s a look at four once-average people who epitomize the changing profile of the terrorists we fear most. (Foreign Policy, May/June 2008)
Country of birth: Belgium
Mission: Suicide bombing in Baquba, Iraq
Background: Friends remember Degauque, born a Catholic in the sleepy Belgian town of Charleroi, as an average student who was well-dressed and well-mannered. She converted to Islam after struggling to break addictions to alcohol and drugs. Her religious beliefs reportedly became radicalized after she married a Belgian Muslim who was known to local authorities as an extremist. Traveling to Iraq via Syria in 2005, Degauque died on November 9 of that year when she carried out a suicide bombing attack against a U.S. military patrol.
Why she matters: Terrorism experts believe Degauque was the first European Muslim woman to execute a suicide attack. European women who marry Muslim men are now the largest source of religious conversions in Europe, and European counterterrorism officials are increasingly concerned that female converts represent a small but potentially deadly element of the terrorist threat in Europe.
This all began a few months ago, after I showed an article I’d written for an aviation history magazine to my neighbor. The article concerned some goings on at Edwards, the famed Air Force flight test facility, in the 1950’s. “You know,” my neighbor said, “You’d probably be real interested in talking to my father, David Hill Sr. He worked at Edwards, on a bunch of rocket sled tests in the 1940’s. In fact,” he continued proudly, “he knew Murphy.”
“Murphy?” I inquired, searching my memory for a test pilot of the same name. Yeager, Crossfield, Armstrong… It didn’t ring a bell.
“You know, Murphy,” he went on. “The guy who invented Murphy’s Law.”
I didn’t say it, but I was absolutely skeptical. Who wouldn’t be? One might as well claim to be friends with Kilroy, know the identity of Deepthroat, or the whereabouts of Amelia Earhart. The notion seemed outright laughable. Your father knew Murphy? Sure he did! If Murphy wasn’t some imaginary Irish folk hero, then he was probably a gentle sage who drank a lot of Guinness and lived back in the 1700’s. Needless to say I let the subject slide.
But a day or two later, I almost tripped over a slender book called Murphy’s Law and Other Reasons Why Things Go Wrong that had been left on my doorstep. The book cited Murphy’s Law and then listed literally hundreds of amusing corollaries. The extremely brief foreward to the volume included a letter written by an engineer named George Nichols. And this is where things got interesting. Nichols said he’d worked on a series of rocket sled tests at Edwards in the 1940’s with a Colonel John Paul Stapp and that Murphy’s Law emerged from these tests.
“The Law’s namesake,” Nichols wrote, “was Capt. Ed Murphy Jr., a development engineer… Frustrated with a strap transducer which was malfunctioning due to an error in wiring the strain gauge bridges caused him to remark — ‘if there is any way to do it wrong, he will’ — referring to the technician who had wired the bridges. I assigned Murphy’s Law to the statement and the associated variations…”
That appeared straightforward enough, and piqued my interest. I subsequently did some research and I discovered to my surprise that the story of the origin of Murphy’s Law was not something generally agreed upon. Accounts in fact varied wildly. Some sources gave the credit solely to Ed Murphy Jr., a man they praised for his wisdom, insight, and panache, but said almost nothing about. In other places, Nichols’ letter appeared — often word for word — explaining how he had come up with “the statement.” And at least a few writers suggested that Colonel Stapp, also known as “the Fastest Man on Earth,” had invented the Law.
It made my mind race. What were the real facts? Exactly who was Capt. Ed Murphy? What on earth was the point of Stapp’s rocket sled tests? And what the heck is a strap transducer? I decided I had to find out. How hard could it be? I thought. Murphy’s Law might be something of an urban legend -- like the story about the guy who strapped rocket bottles to his car and accidentally launched himself into a mountainside — but thanks to my neighbor I had apparently stumbled upon a real, living, tangible link. [...]
At one point an Air Force engineer named Captain Ed Murphy came out to Edwards. With him he brought four sensors, called strain gauges, which were intended to improve the accuracy of G-force measurements. The way Hill tells it one of his assistants, either Ralph DeMarco or Jerry Hollabaugh, installed the gauges on the Gee Whiz’s harness.
Later Stapp made a sled run with the new sensors and they failed to work. It turned out that the gauges had been accidentally installed backwards, producing a zero reading. “If you take these two over here and add them together,” Hill explains matter-of-factly, “You get the correct amount of G-forces. But if you take these two and mount them together, one cancels the other out and you get zero.”
It was a simple enough mistake, but Hill remembers that “Murphy was kind of miffed off. And that gave rise to his observation: ‘If there’s any way they can do it wrong, they will.’” Despite the fact that his people were apparently being blamed for the mistake, Hill shrugged it off. “I kind of chuckled and said, that’s the way it goes,” he sighs. “Nothing more could be done really.”
Murphy’s sour comment proceeded to make the rounds at the sled track. “When something goes wrong,” Hill says, “The message is distributed to everyone in the program.” The way the fat got chewed Murphy’s words —‘if there’s any way they can do it wrong, they will’ — were transformed into a finer, more demonstrative “if anything can go wrong, it will.” A legend had been hatched. But not yet born.
Just how did the Law get out into the world?
...more than it used to: 1T for under $100.
Obama Tells Arabia's Despots They're Safe: America's diplomacy of freedom is officially over. (FOUAD AJAMI, 1/28/09, WSJ)
Say what you will about the style -- and practice -- of the Bush years, the autocracies were on notice for the first five or six years of George. W. Bush's presidency. America had toppled Taliban rule and the tyranny of Saddam Hussein; it had frightened the Libyan ruler that a similar fate lay in store for him. It was not sweet persuasion that drove Syria out of Lebanon in 2005. That dominion of plunder and terror was given up under duress.
True, Mr. Bush's diplomacy of freedom fizzled out in the last two years of his presidency, and the autocracies in the Greater Middle East came to a conviction that the storm had passed them by and that they had been spared. But we are still too close to this history to see how the demonstration effect works its way through Arab political culture.
The argument that liberty springs from within and can't be given to distant peoples is more flawed than meets the eye. In the sweep of modern history, the fortunes of liberty have been dependent on the will of the dominant power -- or powers -- in the order of states. The late Samuel P. Huntington made this point with telling detail. In 15 of the 29 democratic countries in 1970, democratic regimes were midwifed by foreign rule or had come into being right after independence from foreign occupation. [...]
Where Mr. Bush had seen the connection between the autocratic ways in Muslim lands and the culture of terror that infected the young foot soldiers of radicalism, Mr. Obama seems ready to split the difference with their rulers. His embrace of the "peace process" is a return to the sterile diplomacy of the Clinton years, with its belief that the terror is rooted in the grievances of the Palestinians. Mr. Obama and his advisers have refrained from asserting that terrorism has passed from the scene, but there is an unmistakable message conveyed by them that we can return to our own affairs, that Wall Street is more deadly and dangerous than that fabled "Arab-Muslim Street."
In 2006, I had a minor low pressure area in my brain and conceived a P.R. campaign directed against Islamo-fascism which I posted on Nate Tabor’s “The Conservative Voice.” The results were swift and devastating. Like any other branch of the entertainment industry, liberalism is the default position of most comic book creators and fans. [...]
A couple true liberals, including Mike Gold and Jackie Estrada, wrote in to defend my right to pop off. I was saddened but not surprised by the majority of responses. As I mentioned above, liberalism is a fall-back position. It needn’t be examined and explained because it is the dominant culture. It makes people feel good about themselves without effort.
Occasionally a conservative voice breaks through what Emmett Tyrell calls the kultursmog. Frank Miller, creator of “Sin City” and “300,” has always had conservative views and is in fact working on a Batman graphic novel called “Holy Terror” in which Batman defends Gotham City from Al Qaeda.
Miller’s been riding high, with film versions of his “Sin City“ and “300.” His latest film, “The Spirit” (based on the classic comic by Will Eisner) went down in flames on its opening day with some of the worst reviews in history. A certain portion of fandom was waiting with sharpened knives. The schadenfreude on the message boards was thicker than the fog in “Sin City.”
Will this affect “Holy Terror?” I hope not. Frank has said “Holy Terror” is “bound to offend just about everybody.”
Well it won’t offend conservatives, but who counts them?
Sticking It To Rahm: From their shared loathing of Rahm Emanuel to the insurgency led by the minority leader (“he took us by the throat”), the inside story of why not a single House Republican supported the President’s stimulus package. (John Batchelor, 1/29/09, Daily Beast)
"Rahm told the President that he can take care of Congress," a senior Republican reported to me. "He said, ‘These guys will roll over, they're afraid of being called the party of No. Believe me, I know them. They'll be easy.’"
The day before the vote, Emanuel sent the President to the Hill to meet with the House Republicans for a generous 90-minute question and answer session well received by the members. "He's charming," was the universal verdict, one prominent Republican told me. “The president was patient, he gave us plenty of time. But he didn't convince anyone. After he left, we looked at each other, and said, ‘How can they stick him with this garbage?’”
Since the beginning of his campaign for the presidency, Barack Obama has spoken repeatedly of “post-partisanship.” He promised that he would transcend the divisions of the past by uniting Democrats and Republicans alike. His actions, engineered by Emanuel, were intended to win enough Republican votes to claim not just a victory on the stimulus bill but also confirmation of his “post-partisan” leadership. The result, with not a single Republican voting in favor, despite Obama’s wining and dining, joking and cajoling, reveals a Washington as polarized as it has ever been. The dream of post-partisanship did not last one vote in the Congress.
The day before the crucial vote in the House, Minority Leader John Boehner told his troops that the Republican Party is no longer a bureaucracy. "He took us by the throat and told us, ‘You're no longer the majority, stop acting like it,’" a senior Republican told me about the run up to the vote. “‘If you've got an idea, get it on MSNBC. This is an entrepreneurial insurgency.’ He was kicking the ball around. He wants everyone involved. If there's an amendment, he told us to offer it. If you have 48 seconds for YouTube, get it up there. Get busy and resist in every instance.”
Emanuel, working with his old boss and ally, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, made it easy for the Republicans to resist. Every penny in the more than 600-page bill came from a Democratic wish list of pork that dated back to the beginning of the Bush administration.
Don't panic about your 401(k) losses. Here's why.: Stocks have a history of recovering before jobs do. (Paulette Miniter, January 30, 2009, CS Monitor)
Today's unemployment rate is 7.2 percent. The last time unemployment reached this level or higher thankfully wasn't the Great Depression, but 1992, when unemployment was 7.5 percent. If we reach 9 percent unemployment by this year's end as some economists predict, that would get us on par with levels of the early 1980s. That's also the last time we saw continuing jobless claims as high as they are now.
As bad as those numbers are, we should all be glad if the 1980s is our closest guide. The two recessions we had early that decade lasted almost two years combined, as figured by the National Bureau of Economic Research.
The stock market's behavior back then also gives us hope. In the 1980 downturn, which lasted six months, the S&P 500 rallied 20 percent off its low before continuing jobless claims peaked, according to research by Bespoke Investment Group. Then in the 1981-82 recession, which took 16 months to get through, the S&P 500 had already rallied 38 percent by the time continuing jobless claims peaked in November 1982, according to Bespoke. Going back further, in the 1973-75 recession, when unemployment topped 8 percent, the S&P 500 had rallied 40 percent before continuing jobless claims peaked.
With Al Due Respect, We're Doomed (Dana Milbank, January 29, 2009, Washington Post)
The lawmakers gazed in awe at the figure before them. The Goracle had seen the future, and he had come to tell them about it.
What the Goracle saw in the future was not good: temperature changes that "would bring a screeching halt to human civilization and threaten the fabric of life everywhere on the Earth -- and this is within this century, if we don't change."
The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, John Kerry (D-Mass.), appealed to hear more of the Goracle's premonitions. "Share with us, if you would, sort of the immediate vision that you see in this transformative process as we move to this new economy," he beseeched.
"Geothermal energy," the Goracle prophesied. "This has great potential; it is not very far off."
Another lawmaker asked about the future of nuclear power. "I have grown skeptical about the degree to which it will expand," the Goracle spoke.
A third asked the legislative future -- and here the Goracle spoke in riddle. "The road to Copenhagen has three steps to it," he said.
Sen. James Risch (R-Idaho) begged the Goracle to look further into the future. "What does your modeling tell you about how long we're going to be around as a species?" he inquired.
The Goracle chuckled. "I don't claim the expertise to answer a question like that, Senator."
It was a jarring reminder that the Goracle is, indeed, mortal.
There are some hopeful signs of life on 'Mars' (Maureen Ryan, 1/28/09, Chicago Tribune)
The bonus with “Mars” is that there’s only really one guy at center stage—there isn’t a whole island full of characters whose stories you have to keep straight. And as “Life on Mars’” lead character, detective Sam Tyler, Jason O’Mara is just terrific.
He’s been the best thing about the show since it began, but in the Nov. 20 episode (which I recommend viewing online at abc.com), he beautifully played all the notes in a complex, emotional story in which Tyler encounters his father. Guest star Dean Winters (“30 Rock,” “Rescue Me”) did an outstanding job as the senior Tyler, and the intriguing plot contained several surprising twists (however I didn’t closely examine the plausibility of any of it; time-travel stories, if I think about them too hard, give me a migraine).
“Lost” at its best -- and it’s certainly at its best this season -- is not really a show about “What year is it?” shenanigans; it’s a drama is about compelling people having realistic emotional reactions to extreme circumstances. “Life on Mars” appears to have learned this basic lesson, and there’s no doubt that O’Mara’s grounded portrayal of the flummoxed Tyler is worth paying attention to.
But that satisfying Nov. 20 episode, the last before the show's midseason break, featured relatively little of Tyler’s NYPD colleagues. Michael Imperioli, who plays the hotheaded detective Ray Carling, certainly deserves a Best Supporting Mustache Award (if that isn’t an Emmy category, it should be).
When the show’s well-chosen, retro soundtrack is playing, when the main story has an interesting emotional arc for Tyler and when Tyler and Carling are exchanging banter, the show feels close to achieving its potential as an unusual, intriguing action hour.
My Bipartisan Stimulus: Let's cut taxes, as I want, and spend more, as Obama would like (RUSH LIMBAUGH, 1/29/09, WSJ)
Yes, elections have consequences. But where's the bipartisanship, Mr. Obama? This does not have to be a divisive issue. My proposal is a genuine compromise.
Fifty-three percent of American voters voted for Barack Obama; 46% voted for John McCain, and 1% voted for wackos. Give that 1% to President Obama. Let's say the vote was 54% to 46%. As a way to bring the country together and at the same time determine the most effective way to deal with recessions, under the Obama-Limbaugh Stimulus Plan of 2009: 54% of the $900 billion -- $486 billion -- will be spent on infrastructure and pork as defined by Mr. Obama and the Democrats; 46% -- $414 billion -- will be directed toward tax cuts, as determined by me.
Then we compare. We see which stimulus actually works. This is bipartisanship! It would satisfy the American people's wishes, as polls currently note; and it would also serve as a measurable test as to which approach best stimulates job growth.
I say, cut the U.S. corporate tax rate -- at 35%, among the highest of all industrialized nations -- in half. Suspend the capital gains tax for a year to incentivize new investment, after which it would be reimposed at 10%. Then get out of the way! Once Wall Street starts ticking up 500 points a day, the rest of the private sector will follow. There's no reason to tell the American people their future is bleak. There's no reason, as the administration is doing, to depress their hopes. There's no reason to insist that recovery can't happen quickly, because it can.
In this new era of responsibility, let's use both Keynesians and supply-siders to responsibly determine which theory best stimulates our economy -- and if elements of both work, so much the better. The American people are made up of Republicans, Democrats, independents and moderates, but our economy doesn't know the difference. This is about jobs now.
House Passes Stimulus Package (JONATHAN WEISMAN, GREG HITT and NAFTALI BENDAVID, 1/29/09, WSJ)
The package, which would cost more than the entire Iraq War, would reverse the Bush administration's approach to boosting the economy. That approach relied heavily on tax cuts that tended to put money in the pockets of middle-class and more affluent Americans. The $275 billion in tax relief offered in the stimulus package focuses more on lower-income families. It also includes business incentives to spur job creation and a $500 payroll tax holiday for workers.
The 244-188 vote was not what Mr. Obama had hoped for. A week of presidential wooing -- including a visit to the Capitol, a return visit to the White House by moderate House Republicans and a bipartisan cocktail party Wednesday night -- did not yield a single Republican vote. The president also lost 11 Democrats.
How About a Payroll Tax Stimulus? (LAWRENCE B. LINDSEY, 1/29/09, WSJ)
And what of the plan being put forward now? As crafted, it is unlikely to produce the desired results. For a similar amount of money, the government could essentially cut the payroll tax in half, taking three points off the rate for both the employer and the employee. This would put $1,500 into the pocket of a typical worker making $50,000, with a similar amount going to his or her employer. It would provide a powerful stimulus to the spending stream, as well as a significant, six percentage point reduction in the tax burden of employment for people making less than $100,000. The effects would be immediate.
By contrast, the stimulus now under consideration would suffer from the usual problems of government spending. The Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Committee on Taxation have calculated that only $170 billion, or about one-fifth of the $816 billion package will be spent in fiscal 2009. An additional $356 billion will be spent in 2010. That leaves $290 billion to be spent when even the most pessimistic forecasters think the economy will be in recovery mode.
Flat Tax, Anyone? (Steve Forbes, 1/29/09, Forbes)
Just a few days before Geithner's embarrassing revelation, the Taxpayer Advocate Service issued its annual report to Congress. (The service is part of the IRS and was designed to help taxpayers resolve complaints with the agency that can't be resolved through normal channels.) The report was an eye-opener as to just how horrifically complicated the code has become. Americans spend 7.6 billion hours a year complying with tax-filing requirements, the equivalent of 3.8 million full-time jobs. The code gets ever more complicated, expanding by about 1,000 words a day--with 500 changes last year alone. Nothing is simple. One example: Congress passed a law allowing beleaguered homeowners to exclude from taxable income home-mortgage debt that is forgiven by lenders. But the form is utterly bewildering, and the law itself is full of nitpicking rules about how much of the forgiven debt can actually be excluded.
Between Takes: The 'Kind Of Blue' Sessions (Ashley Kahn, January 29, 2009, Morning Edition)
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Kind of Blue, and Sony Legacy (which owns the Columbia catalog) has issued a 2-CD/1-DVD box set that includes the music, an ornate book, a vinyl copy of the original LP release and, for the first time, snippets of studio chatter. For listeners, it's the closest we can come to witnessing the making of a melodic masterpiece. For Davis and saxophonists John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley, pianists Bill Evans and Wynton Kelly, bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Jimmy Cobb, Kind of Blue was simply another day at work.
From his liner notes to the Kind of Blue reissue, excerpted below, music writer Ashley Kahn looks at the legendary sessions.
Our Struggle for the Soul of our Nation (Robert P. George, January 22, 2009, The Public Discourse)
In the name of a generalized "right to privacy" allegedly implicit in the Due Process Clause of the Constitution's Fourteenth Amendment, seven justices created a license to kill the unborn.
These men probably had no idea that they were unleashing a struggle for the soul of the nation. Five had been appointed by Republican presidents -- two by Eisenhower, three by Nixon. Four of these five were regarded as "conservative," "law and order" judges: Warren E. Burger, Potter Stewart, Lewis F. Powell, and Harry Blackmun. All no doubt believed that legal abortion was a humane and enlightened policy, one that would ease the burdens of many women and girls and relieve the enormous cost to society of a high birth rate among indigent (often unmarried) women. They seemed blithely to assume that abortion would be easily integrated into the fabric of American social and political life.
They were wrong on all counts.
They were wrong about the Constitution. As William H. Rehnquist and Byron White, the two dissenting justices in the case, pointed out, it is absurd to claim that a right to feticide follows from the constitutional injunction that "no state shall deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law." If the Constitution can be read to imply anything about abortion, it is that unborn human beings are, like everyone else, entitled to "the equal protection of the laws." At a minimum, Roe and Doe were an outrageous usurpation of the constitutional authority of the people of the United States to shape law and policy through the institutions of representative government.
The Roe justices were also wrong to imagine that legal abortion would prove to be enlightened or in the slightest respect humane. On the contrary, the policy imposed by the Court has proven to be an unmitigated disaster. In the thirty-six years since Roe and Doe, abortion has taken the lives of more than fifty million unborn victims -- each a distinct, unique, precious human being. It has done immeasurable moral, psychological, and sometimes physical harm to women who are so very often, and in so many respects, truly abortion's "secondary victims." It has corrupted physicians and nurses by turning healers into killers. It has undermined the moral authority of the law by its injustice. It has abetted irresponsible -- even predatory -- male sexual behavior. Far from reducing the rate of out-of-wedlock births, particularly to poor women, illegitimacy has skyrocketed in the age of abortion. Now the abortion license has metastasized into widespread elite support for deadly embryo experimentation and even, in my home state of New Jersey, to the express legalization of the horrific and grisly practice of fetal farming -- the creation of human beings by cloning or other processes for the purpose of harvesting their tissues and organs at any point up to birth for experimentation and transplantation.
The justices were wrong, moreover, to suppose that America, as a nation, would learn to live with the abortion license. A notable effect of the Court's rulings was to energize the grassroots pro-life movement that had come into being a few years earlier to resist legislative efforts to liberalize state abortion laws. In the beginning, the movement and its leadership were largely Catholic. The mainline Protestant churches, if they concerned themselves with the issue at all, positioned themselves on the pro-abortion side. At a decisive moment, however, the Evangelical community became fully activated in the cause. Today, a common commitment to defending the unborn is at the heart of an unprecedented Catholic-Evangelical alliance that extends beyond abortion to issues of sexuality and marriage, education, welfare, crime and prison policy, international human rights, and the place of religion in American public life. Great Evangelical leaders such as James Dobson and Charles Colson stand arm in arm with their Catholic brothers and sisters in defending the right to life of every human being, irrespective not only of race, sex, and ethnicity, but also of age, size, stage of development, and condition of dependency. It is this alliance that stands in the gap today in the fight against cloning and embryo-destructive biomedical research.
Abortion and embryo-destructive research are at the heart of the divide between the nation's major political parties. When Roe and Doe were decided, many Democratic Party politicians -- and even some notable liberals -- were outspokenly pro-life. Teddy Kennedy, Jesse Jackson, Dick Gephardt, and Al Gore, for example, publicly proclaimed their commitment to defending the unborn against the violence of abortion. Soon, however, the number of pro-life Democrats began to dwindle and pro-life liberals became an endangered species. Some, including Kennedy, Jackson, Gephardt, and Gore, defected to the pro-abortion camp, evidently for political reasons. People of firmer conviction found themselves in many cases carried by the force of conscience out of the Democratic Party and into the Republican fold.
I love The Ramones. I think The Ramones took rock 'n' roll back to its soul. In the mid-'70s, rock had grown into something big, fat, bloated. Bands like Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Yes and Kansas were touring huge arenas. Large truck convoys followed them, filled with light towers and smoke machines and other things that had little to do with music. Sometimes, I think the critical success of Sgt. Pepper in 1967 and the cultural impact of Woodstock two years later were both a blessing and a curse for rock 'n' roll. Big productions and new instrumentation may have given rock legitimacy, but in the process, they took away its intimacy and immediacy.
Along came Joey, Johnny, Tommy and Dee Dee, four guys from Queens with a passion for short, loud and fast songs with great hooks. They altered their first names, and each took on a new last name: Ramone. It was Paul McCartney's stage name during the Silver Beatle days.
On July 4, 1976, America's 200th birthday, The Ramones went to the Motherland. The group's performance at the Roundhouse in London jump-started the punk movement. It was The Ramones' way of thanking England and The Beatles for rescuing rock 'n' roll from the Bobby Rydells, Bobby Vintons, Bobby Darins and Bobby Vees who were making a mockery of it, subverting the spirit championed by young Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry and Little Richard.
Bands like The Sex Pistols and The Clash were just getting revved up. The Ramones' music was a call to brandish guitars, shift music back to the clubs and sing from the heart and the gut. And don't forget: This is supposed to be fun.
Ten Conservative Principles: It is not possible to draw up a neat catalogue of conservatives' convictions; nevertheless, I offer you, summarily, ten general principles. (Russell Kirk, adapted from The Politics of Prudence)
Being neither a religion nor an ideology, the body of opinion termed conservatism possesses no Holy Writ and no Das Kapital to provide dogmata. So far as it is possible to determine what conservatives believe, the first principles of the conservative persuasion are derived from what leading conservative writers and public men have professed during the past two centuries. After some introductory remarks on this general theme, I will proceed to list ten such conservative principles.
Perhaps it would be well, most of the time, to use this word "conservative" as an adjective chiefly. For there exists no Model Conservative, and conservatism is the negation of ideology: it is a state of mind, a type of character, a way of looking at the civil social order.
The attitude we call conservatism is sustained by a body of sentiments, rather than by a system of ideological dogmata. It is almost true that a conservative may be defined as a person who thinks himself such. The conservative movement or body of opinion can accommodate a considerable diversity of views on a good many subjects, there being no Test Act or Thirty-Nine Articles of the conservative creed.
In essence, the conservative person is simply one who finds the permanent things more pleasing than Chaos and Old Night. (Yet conservatives know, with Burke, that healthy "change is the means of our preservation.") A people's historic continuity of experience, says the conservative, offers a guide to policy far better than the abstract designs of coffee-house philosophers. But of course there is more to the conservative persuasion than this general attitude.
It is not possible to draw up a neat catalogue of conservatives' convictions; nevertheless, I offer you, summarily, ten general principles; it seems safe to say that most conservatives would subscribe to most of these maxims. In various editions of my book The Conservative Mind I have listed certain canons of conservative thought -- the list differing somewhat from edition to edition; in my anthology The Portable Conservative Reader I offer variations upon this theme. Now I present to you a summary of conservative assumptions differing somewhat from my canons in those two books of mine. In fine, the diversity of ways in which conservative views may find expression is itself proof that conservatism is no fixed ideology. What particular principles conservatives emphasize during any given time will vary with the circumstances and necessities of that era. The following ten articles of belief reflect the emphases of conservatives in America nowadays. [...]
First, the conservative believes that there exists an enduring moral order. That order is made for man, and man is made for it: human nature is a constant, and moral truths are permanent.
This word order signifies harmony. There are two aspects or types of order: the inner order of the soul, and the outer order of the commonwealth. Twenty-five centuries ago, Plato taught this doctrine, but even the educated nowadays find it difficult to understand. The problem of order has been a principal concern of conservatives ever since conservative became a term of politics.
Our twentieth-century world has experienced the hideous consequences of the collapse of belief in a moral order. Like the atrocities and disasters of Greece in the fifth century before Christ, the ruin of great nations in our century shows us the pit into which fall societies that mistake clever self-interest, or ingenious social controls, for pleasing alternatives to an oldfangled moral order.
It has been said by liberal intellectuals that the conservative believes all social questions, at heart, to be questions of private morality. Properly understood, this statement is quite true. A society in which men and women are governed by belief in an enduring moral order, by a strong sense of right and wrong, by personal convictions about justice and honor, will be a good society -- whatever political machinery it may utilize; while a society in which men and women are morally adrift, ignorant of norms, and intent chiefly upon gratification of appetites, will be a bad society -- no matter how many people vote and no matter how liberal its formal constitution may be. [...]
Sixth, conservatives are chastened by their principle of imperfectability. Human nature suffers irremediably from certain grave faults, the conservatives know. Man being imperfect, no perfect social order ever can be created. Because of human restlessness, mankind would grow rebellious under any utopian domination, and would break out once more in violent discontent -- or else expire of boredom. To seek for utopia is to end in disaster, the conservative says: we are not made for perfect things. All that we reasonably can expect is a tolerably ordered, just, and free society, in which some evils, maladjustments, and suffering will continue to lurk. By proper attention to prudent reform, we may preserve and improve this tolerable order. But if the old institutional and moral safeguards of a nation are neglected, then the anarchic impulse in humankind breaks loose: "the ceremony of innocence is drowned." The ideologues who promise the perfection of man and society have converted a great part of the twentieth-century world into a terrestrial hell. [...]
Ninth, the conservative perceives the need for prudent restraints upon power and upon human passions. Politically speaking, power is the ability to do as one likes, regardless of the wills of one's fellows. A state in which an individual or a small group are able to dominate the wills of their fellows without check is a despotism, whether it is called monarchical or aristocratic or democratic. When every person claims to be a power unto himself, then society falls into anarchy. Anarchy never lasts long, being intolerable for everyone, and contrary to the ineluctable fact that some persons are more strong and more clever than their neighbors. To anarchy there succeeds tyranny or oligarchy, in which power is monopolized by a very few.
The conservative endeavors to so limit and balance political power that anarchy or tyranny may not arise. In every age, nevertheless, men and women are tempted to overthrow the limitations upon power, for the sake of some fancied temporary advantage. It is characteristic of the radical that he thinks of power as a force for good -- so long as the power falls into his hands. In the name of liberty, the French and Russian revolutionaries abolished the old restraints upon power; but power cannot be abolished; it always finds its way into someone's hands. That power which the revolutionaries had thought oppressive in the hands of the old regime became many times as tyrannical in the hands of the radical new masters of the state.
Knowing human nature for a mixture of good and evil, the conservative does not put his trust in mere benevolence. Constitutional restrictions, political checks and balances, adequate enforcement of the laws, the old intricate web of restraints upon will and appetite -- these the conservative approves as instruments of freedom and order. A just government maintains a healthy tension between the claims of authority and the claims of liberty. [...]
Tenth, the thinking conservative understands that permanence and change must be recognized and reconciled in a vigorous society. The conservative is not opposed to social improvement, although he doubts whether there is any such force as a mystical Progress, with a Roman P, at work in the world. When a society is progressing in some respects, usually it is declining in other respects. The conservative knows that any healthy society is influenced by two forces, which Samuel Taylor Coleridge called its Permanence and its Progression. The Permanence of a society is formed by those enduring interests and convictions that gives us stability and continuity; without that Permanence, the fountains of the great deep are broken up, society slipping into anarchy. The Progression in a society is that spirit and that body of talents which urge us on to prudent reform and improvement; without that Progression, a people stagnate.
Therefore the intelligent conservative endeavors to reconcile the claims of Permanence and the claims of Progression.
401(k)s still lure cash despite big losses: Millions saw the value of the retirement accounts plunge an average of 27% last year, Fidelity finds in a survey, but nearly all continue to invest (Tiffany Hsu, January 29, 2009, LA Times)
Millions of workers watched the value of their 401(k) retirement accounts plunge an average of 27% last year, the first drop in five years, but almost all are continuing to invest, according to a Fidelity Investments survey released Wednesday. [...]
[E]mployees saved an average of $5,600 last year, up about $100 from the previous year, according to Fidelity, which is the administrator for 401(k) plans covering more than 11 million workers at 17,100 companies.
Other researchers have found similar trends. The Investment Company Institute found in a December survey of 22.5 million accounts that only 3% of employees stopped contributing to their plans. Some analysts said investors were hoping to take advantage of depressed stock prices that could rebound over the long term.
"Even though it's impossible to predict the markets, history tells us that they recover eventually," said Doug Fisher, Fidelity's senior vice president of retirement policy development. "So the overwhelming benefits -- tax benefits, employer matching -- of the 401(k) really entice participants to keep contributing."
Holder assures GOP on prosecution (Ben Conery and Eli Lake, January 28, 2009 , Washington Times)
Eric H. Holder Jr.'s confirmation as attorney general is speeding toward approval thanks in part to his private assurances to a key Republican senator that he does not intend to prosecute intelligence agency interrogators for their actions during the prior administration.
The assurances, reported by Sen. Christopher S. Bond, Missouri Republican, to The Washington Times on Wednesday, went beyond Mr. Holder's earlier public testimony in which he said he could not prejudge his actions regarding cases he had not seen.
Revealed: the letter Obama team hope will heal Iran rift: Symbolic gesture gives assurances that US does not want to topple Islamic regime (Robert Tait and Ewen MacAskill, 1/29/08, guardian.co.uk)
Obama administration officials have drafted a letter to Iran from the president aimed at unfreezing US-Iranian relations and opening the way for face-to-face talks, the Guardian has learned. [...]
State department officials have written at least three drafts of the letter, which gives assurances that Washington does not want to overthrow the Islamic regime but merely seeks a change in its behaviour. The letter would be addressed to the Iranian people and sent directly to Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, or released as an open letter.
YOUNG AT HEART (Mark Steyn, 28 January 2009, National Review)
I write a lot about population issues – specifically, the demographic decline of the western world – and readers often respond, “Well, so what? Tokyo’s pretty crowded. It’d be kinda nice to have 20 per cent fewer people.” Maybe. But the 20 per cent who aren’t around won’t be the coots and codgers (there’ll be plenty of those); the missing folks will be the children who were never born, and the few who were but decided they didn’t want to spend their lives in a joint so tilted toward the geriatric. The eternal adolescence of contemporary pop culture is merely the most obvious example of how society’s self-image is invested in its youth. In star movie roles, everybody’s young. Not necessarily ridiculously young, like Dr Christmas Jones, the nuclear physicist played by Denise Richards a couple of Bond films back. But young. Because young people go to the movies and they don’t want to look at old people. But in Japan and Europe a generation or two down the road, everyone will be old. Will they still want to look at young people? And, if they do, will they even be able to muster enough young people to star, write, direct, compose the theme music? Or will there no longer be enough youthful energy in society to maintain a youth culture and its endless parade of novelties?
Think of a gated community in Florida: To be sure, once every so often they get up a party to go see Tony Danza in dinner theatre. Or, if that’s too dystopian a vision, picture the world as post-Habsburg Vienna: I used to love wandering through the record stores there – row upon row of Strauss and Mahler, and all the rock’n’rap confined to a couple of bins in the basement.
Two years ago, Alfonso Cuarón made a comically inept film of The Children Of Men, P D James’ novel about a world turned barren, a world in which people are not merely disinclined to breed (as in latter-day Europe) but unable to. The movie looked like a movie – which is to say that everyone in it was young: young transgressive leaders of young gangs pursued by young cops and young soldiers. Thus, did Mr Cuarón miss the point of Lady James’ novel. In the book, youth is in short supply: Roads crumble to tracks because the government workers are too middle-aged to maintain the rural districts. Youth is at a premium – as it will be in Japan the day after tomorrow, and Germany the day after that. The boringly conventional casting of the movie unintentionally confirms P D James’ thesis: a society without the young is so alien to all our assumptions even her adaptor couldn’t imagine it.
NATO High Commander Issues Illegitimate Order to Kill (Susanne Koelbl, 1/28/09, Der Spiegel)
A dispute has emerged among NATO High Command in Afghanistan regarding the conditions under which alliance troops can use deadly violence against those identified as insurgents. In a classified document, which SPIEGEL has obtained, NATO's top commander, US General John Craddock, has issued a "guidance" providing NATO troops with the authority "to attack directly drug producers and facilities throughout Afghanistan."
According to the document, deadly force is to be used even in those cases where there is no proof that suspects are actively engaged in the armed resistance against the Afghanistan government or against Western troops. It is "no longer necessary to produce intelligence or other evidence that each particular drug trafficker or narcotics facility in Afghanistan meets the criteria of being a military objective," Craddock writes.
The NATO commander has long been frustrated by the reluctance of some NATO member states -- particularly Germany -- to take aggressive action against those involved in the drug trade.
U.S. Needs an Immigrant, Rather Than Immigration, Policy (Tomás Jiménez, 1/23/09, San Francisco Chronicle)
[T]he Bush administration did more than any other in modern history to lay the groundwork for a much-needed immigrant integration policy. [...]
Under Bush's watch, the federal government, through the U.S. Office of Citizenship, started very quietly to do something about immigrant integration. Created when the Department of Homeland Security took over the nation's immigration apparatus in 2003, the Office of Citizenship has helped overhaul the citizenship test, publish preparation materials for the citizenship test in multiple languages, and created a Web site, www.welcometoUSA.gov, that contains information about everything from how to find an English language class to where to volunteer to help immigrants integrate.
But the Office of Citizenship has been working all too quietly. Rather than merely promoting citizenship and American civic identity, the office ought to implement initiatives that foster a form of integration that is mutually beneficial to immigrants and their adoptive country.
The Office of Citizenship should begin by helping immigrants learn English. If there is one thing on which people on all sides of the immigration debate agree, then it is that learning English is highly desirable. Though all evidence points toward high levels of English language acquisition over time, those who can't speak English suffer from diminished earning power, have a tougher time being involved in their children's lives, and can't fully participate in life in the United States.
Loophole allows terrorist detentions: Shows new shades of Bush 'war on terror' (Eli Lake, January 28, 2009, Washington Times)
President Obama's executive order closing CIA "black sites" contains a little-noticed exception that allows the spy agency to continue to operate temporary detention facilities abroad.
The provision illustrates that the president's order to shutter foreign-based prisons, known as black sites, is not airtight and that the Central Intelligence Agency still has options if it wants to hold terrorist suspects for several days at a time.
Current and former U.S. officials, who spoke on the condition that they aren't identified because of the sensitivity of the subject, said such temporary facilities around the world will remain open, giving the administration the opportunity to seize and hold assumed terrorists.
Bacon Explosion: The BBQ Sausage Recipe of all Recipes (Jason, December 23, 2008, BBQ Addicts)
The other day the guys from BaconToday.com contacted me in search for some barbecue bacon recipes. Of course I have plenty of great uses for bacon in a barbecue pit, but the longer I thought about it, the more I wanted to step it up a notch and clog a few arteries for those guys. Behold, BACON EXPLOSION!!! Here’s what you’ll need…
2 pounds thick cut bacon
2 pounds Italian sausage
1 jar of your favorite barbeque sauce
1 jar of your favorite barbeque rub
To kick off the construction of this pork medley you’ll need to create a 5×5 bacon weave.
The late John Updike's insights into the Obama family (Steve Sailer, 1/27/09, iSteve Blog)
In my reader's guide to the President's autobiography, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, I point out the many parallels between the Obama family's history and the fictional life story of an African leader in the late John Updike's delightful 1978 novel about Africa, The Coup, in which the novelist ventured far from his Atlantic Seaboard comfort zone. It's testimony to Updike's powers that he could shed so much light on three people he had never heard of at the time: Barack Obama Jr. and his parents.
For example, Updike's African scholarship student Hakim Félix Ellelloû bigamously marries a white American coed after a pregnancy scare in 1959, much as Barack Obama Sr. bigamously married a pregnant white American coed in 1961.
From my chapter on "Obama as a Man of Letters:"
Because Obama is a literary man, this is a rather literary analysis of his life and works. I've been intermittently comparing the Obama family saga to its eerie analog in John Updike's 1978 novel The Coup. Written at the gleeful height of Updike's powers, The Coup consists of the verbally dazzling memoirs of a hyperliterate American-educated official in the fictitious African country of Kush. The Coup was based on Updike's prodigious research into the lives of post-colonial African elites very much like Barack Obama Sr.
Two of Updike's children have since married black Africans. Updike's 1989 essay “A Letter to My Grandsons” is addressed to his daughter’s half-African children. In it, Updike explains to them that there’s “a floating sexual curiosity and potential love between the races that in your parents has come to earth and borne fruit and that the blended shade of your dear brown skins will ever advertise.” (I'm not sure that Updike's children and grandchildren truly wanted to read that, but if Updike is to churn out a book a year, in his voracious search for material he must occasionally mortify his progeny.)
After four seemingly pleasant years at an American college, Updike's protagonist, Hakim Félix Ellelloû, returns to Africa, winds up with a total of four wives, including his white American college sweetheart, turns against America and capitalism in the Cold War, and (here is where the lives of Ellelloû and Obama Sr. diverge) deftly climbs the ladder of government, becoming dictator in the late Sixties.
Ellelloû attempts to impose upon his homeland of Kush the three ideologies he acquired while studying in America: Marxism, Black Muslimism, and Islam (all of which have interested Obama Jr. to some degree).
Written at the nadir of American power and prestige during the Carter years, Updike audaciously prophesied American victory in the Cold War for the hearts and minds of the Third World. Ellelloû's radicalism destroys what little economic activity Kush ever had, and he's overthrown by pro-American forces in the titular coup.
Thirty years later, The Coup can now be read as a kind of Obama Clan Alternative History. In our world, Obama Sr.'s career back home in decolonized Kenya got off to a fast start in the Sixties, then foundered. What if, however, like Ellelloû, Obama Sr. had instead possessed the abstemious, observant, and cautious personality of Obama Jr.? It would hardly have been surprising if the elder Obama, if blessed with his son’s self-disciplined character, had become president of Kenya.
Planned Parenthood v. Obama (JOSH GERSTEIN, 1/28/09, Politico)
President Obama’s only been in office for eight days and some of his friends are already steaming mad at him.
The president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, Cecile Richards, just sent an “urgent” email to supporters decrying Obama’s decision to jettison a family planning provision from the nearly $900 billion economic stimulus package to be voted on in the House Wednesday. [...]
“I’m stunned,” Richards wrote in the e-mail. “Removing this provision is a betrayal of millions of low-income women, and it will place an even greater burden on state budgets that are already strained to the breaking point.”
Israel's warring tribes: The greatest threat Israel faces is from within (John Lloyd, February 2009, Prospect)
One genuine and growing concern was that the ultra orthodox sects, a rising proportion of the Israeli population, are becoming increasingly detached from Israeli society. One evening, we were given a kind of “religious guided tour” through one of the main ultra-orthodox areas of Jerusalem, Mea Shearim, an area in which men and boys in 18th century shtetl dress strode about the streets or spoke animatedly with each other, and women were rarely visible. Most of these people play little role in Israeli life: their children are exempt from military service; they live, in part, on state handouts and they often have contempt for Israeli society. On the tour, our guide pointed to their expansion into the neighbouring districts.
The ultra-orthodox Jews, along with the Israeli Arabs (of whom Adam LeBor writes about in this month's Prospect), are the fastest growing parts of Israel’s population. The first wish to play little part in the society; the second are increasingly hostile to it.
And there are many other “tribes” in this fractured state; not least the settlers, whose tenacious grip on parts of the West Bank presents a continuing headache for the Israeli government. Only a few days before the seminar there had been violent riots in Hebron, where settlers had attacked both Israeli soldiers and Palestinians, calling the IDF [Israeli Defence Force] Nazis, and shouting that “the morals of the state of Israel are no different from those of gentiles of western culture.”
Speaking about the incident, David Ohana, a Moroccan-Jewish professor at the University of the Negev, said; “This is the politics of political despair, of breaking away from the Israeli project.”
Yet another tribe viewed by many attendees as socially destructive—if less apocalyptically so—was my own: the media. Yossi Shain, who teaches at Tel Aviv and Georgetown universities, said, to much agreement, that “this is the epoch of sensationalism in Israel. The media have developed a language of hyperbole. The indictment of political figures by the media on corruption allegations has become so pronounced that it may be that this is more dangerous to politics than actual corruption.”
The Big Fix (DAVID LEONHARDT, 2/01/09, NY Times Magazine)
Surprisingly, the debt that the federal government has already accumulated doesn’t present much of a problem. It is equal to about $6 trillion, or 40 percent of G.D.P., a level that is slightly lower than the average of the past six decades. The bailout, the stimulus and the rest of the deficits over the next two years will probably add about 15 percent of G.D.P. to the debt. That will take debt to almost 60 percent, which is above its long-term average but well below the levels of the 1950s.
James Hansen’s Former NASA Supervisor Declares Himself a Skeptic (Marc Morano, 1/27/09, Inhofe EPW Press Blog)
Washington DC: NASA warming scientist James Hansen, one of former Vice President Al Gore’s closest allies in the promotion of man-made global warming fears, is being publicly rebuked by his former supervisor at NASA.
Retired senior NASA atmospheric scientist Dr. John S. Theon, the former supervisor of James Hansen, NASA’s vocal man-made global warming fears soothsayer, has now publicly declared himself a skeptic and declared that Hansen “embarrassed NASA” with his alarming climate claims and said Hansen was “was never muzzled.” Theon joins the rapidly growing ranks of international scientists abandoning the promotion of anthropogenic global warming fears.
“I appreciate the opportunity to add my name to those who disagree that global warming is man-made,” Theon wrote to the Minority Office at the Environment and Public Works Committee on January 15, 2009. “I was, in effect, Hansen's supervisor because I had to justify his funding, allocate his resources, and evaluate his results. I did not have the authority to give him his annual performance evaluation,” Theon, the former Chief of the Climate Processes Research Program at NASA Headquarters and former Chief of the Atmospheric Dynamics & Radiation Branch explained.
“Hansen was never muzzled even though he violated NASA's official agency position on climate forecasting (i.e., we did not know enough to forecast climate change or mankind's effect on it). Hansen thus embarrassed NASA by coming out with his claims of global warming in 1988 in his testimony before Congress,” Theon wrote.
20 or 30 Years Ago? (Max Boot, 01.28.2009, Contentions)
“America was not born as a colonial power, and that the same respect and partnership that America had with the Muslim world as recently as 20 or 30 years ago, there’s no reason why we can’t restore that. And that I think is going to be an important task.”
So said our new president in his interview Tuesday with Al Arabiya, the Arabic-language satellite news channel. At first the words washed over me. Then I did some simple math. Let’s see… 20 or 30 years ago… that would be 1989 or 1979.
What was happening in relations between America and the Muslim world back then? Not relying on memory alone, I consulted Bernard Grun’s reference book, The Timetables of History.
It turns out that in 1989 U.S. fighters shot down two Libyan jets over the Gulf of Sidra. The last Soviet troops left Afghanistan, creating a vacuum that would eventually be filled by the Taliban. Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa calling for Salman Rushdie’s death for “blasphemy.” Hundreds died in Lebanon’s long-running civil war while Hezbollah militants were torturing to death U.S. Marine Colonel William “Rich” Higgins, who had been kidnapped the previous year while serving as a UN peacekeeper in Lebanon.
And 1979? That was an even darker year-in many ways a turning point for the worse in the Middle East.
Obama Chides D.C. as Ice Storm Shuts Daughters’ School (Henry J. Pulizzi, 1/28/09, WSJ: Washington Wire)
President Barack Obama took a poke at his new hometown Wednesday, after a slick coating of ice forced his daughters’ school, Sidwell Friends, to close for the day along with many other schools in the Washington area. That wouldn’t happen in Chicago, Obama said.
“In Chicago, school is never canceled,” the president said. “In fact, my seven-year-old pointed out that you’d go outside for recess in weather like this. You wouldn’t even stay indoors.”
“We’re going to have to try to apply some flinty Chicago toughness to this town,” he continued.
House GOP Blocks Bill to Delay Digital TV Transition (FAWN JOHNSON, 1/28/09, WSJ)
House Republicans on Wednesday derailed an effort to delay until June the date when television stations must broadcast in all-digital format.
House Democratic leaders brought the bill to the floor under a procedure intended for noncontroversial bills, requiring a two-thirds majority to pass. With Republican opposition, the 258-168 vote didn't meet that threshold. [...]
Reps. Joe Barton and Cliff Stearns on Tuesday sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, asking her to reconsider the vote. "This is panic on the way to becoming law," the letter said.
Cuba's golf revolution: plans to make island a golfer's paradise: This round was Fidel Castro's way of demonstrating his scorn for the bourgeoisie. But the game he loathed survived his rule, though plans to make the island a golfer's paradise have foundered. (Leonard Doyle, 13 January 2009, Belfast Telegraph)
The return of Cuba's golfing glory days remains a gleam in the eyes of the mostly British and Canadian investors who have been encouraged by the government of Raul Castro to build luxury resorts. Foster and Partners developed plans for a marina and golf resort on the island's north coast, with three 18-hole courses and 1,500 upscale apartments. A spokeswoman said yesterday that it was just a feasibility study.
Other grand projects have been equally short-lived, despite the enthusiasm of the Cuban regime to see hordes of European and North American golfers forking out hard currency. Tourism in Cuba is run by the military and Raul Castro, who ran the country's defence forces before becoming Cuba's President, is said to have endorsed more than a dozen upscale golf projects.
But the devil has been in the details and, because Cuba does not recognise the rights of individuals to buy and sell property, it has 75-year leases for foreigners like those on offer in Dubai, which also bars foreign ownership of property.
But whether it is because international investors are reluctant to build resorts that might one day be nationalised by the government or because the Cuban government is wary of social upheaval if it allows luxury apartments to be built for foreigners, most of the golf projects have remained in blueprint form.
From the outset of the revolution, Fidel Castro and his allies set about destroying Cuba's legacy of fine golf courses which had catered to the gangsters, gamblers other high-rollers who treated the Caribbean island like their private playground.
What started as a popular uprising against Batista's thugs was soon being transformed by Fidel and his younger brother Raul, into a clone of Soviet-style communism, with collectivisation, land seizures and mass expropriations.
With the exception of Rovers Athletic,a ll of Cuba's golf clubs, including several gems designed by the US architect Donald Ross, were occupied by the military.
But in late 1962, shortly after the missile crisis threatened to engulf the world, Fidel Castro made a grand gesture aimed at mollifying US public opinion. He invited his fellow revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara for a game of golf intending to send a signal of friendship to President John F Kennedy.
Fidel and Che showed up in military fatigues and boots with photographers and reporters in tow. They stomped around Cuba's historic course at Colinas de Villareal, but their efforts to thumb their noses at the bourgeois sport turned serious as the competitive juices flowed. Both men were sons of privileged families and Che had worked as a caddy in his native Argentina while going to medical school.
The Cuban journalist Jose Lorenzo Fuentes, Fidel's personal reporter, was to cover the game. It would be his last day at work. Now in exile in Florida, he told The Wall Street Journal: "Castro told me that the headline of the story the next day would be 'President Castro challenges President Kennedy to a friendly game of golf'."
But neither man liked to lose and the game became intensely competitive. He said Che "played with a lot of passion", and he felt obliged to truthfully record the game's outcome. He wrote for the communist party daily Granma that Fidel had lost. The next day he was sacked and fled the country.
It was all downhill for golf after that ill-fated game. President Kennedy, the best golfer to occupy the White House, did not take up the offer. Instead, he tightened the already tough economic blockade, which to the fury of Cubans remains in force. Fidel ordered military barracks to be built on most courses, although the scene of his defeat by Che was earmarked for an arts college, which never got off the ground.
But somehow Rovers Athletic hung on for 20 more years, the British and Cuban flags flying alongside with portraits of Queen Elizabeth II and Fidel hanging inside the mahogany-lined clubhouse.
Swiss way of assisting suicide is dying without dignity (Sharon Owens, 28 January 2009, Belfast Telegraph)
I used to be a tacit supporter of assisted suicide but after watching A Short Stay in Switzerland, I’ve changed my mind.
This harrowing drama starring Julie Walters was based on the true story of one woman who chose to end her life via the Zurich clinic Dignitas rather than die a lingering death from a progressive, degenerative condition. The woman in question was Doctor Anne Turner from Bath in England; by all accounts a wise and feisty (and wealthy) lady who knew her own mind.
But what she had to put her three grown-up children through was very painful to watch, even in drama form. And by the end, I was forced to agree with Doctor Turner’s best friend, who tearfully accused her simply of showing off. Is this the ultimate form of middle-class intellectual snobbery, I wondered? Or did Anne Turner do the right thing when she trailed her sobbing children off to a bleak and soulless flat in Switzerland and made them witness her swallowing an overdose of barbiturates, while a volunteer filmed the suicide on a hand-held video camera?
Plight of the pizzly bear: A leading filmmaker tells the story behind the discovery and cruel fate of the grizzly–polar bear (Mark Fletcher, 28th January 2009, Daily Mail)
There is on average one polar bear per 500 square miles. Even for the most active polar bear, finding a mate must be a problem.
For one lonely female, though, there was a very unusual solution. Her chosen mate was an awesome creature - most likely 8ft tall, weighing over 50st and capable of running at 35mph, with 9in claws and a very short temper.
And strangest of all, in contrast to her snowy white fleece, he had a rich-brown coat. For her mate was not a polar bear at all. He was a grizzly.
In normal circumstances, the paths of these two species never cross.
Grizzlies live far from the Arctic hunting grounds of their polar cousins. And even if some freak occurrence led to a female polar and a male grizzly meeting in the wild, the laws of nature would have dictated that they would run away at the sight of each other.
But in this case, at least, a rather more unusual course of action unfolded. And the result was a biological marvel: the birth of the first naturally born 'pizzly bear'.
Ground Zero for the GOP: The first rematch of the Obama era will be the Virginia governor's race this fall (Jennifer Rubin, 02/02/2009, Weekly Standard)
While the Democrats are headed into battle, the Republicans have already settled on a candidate, Virginia attorney general Robert McDonnell. He is a 21-year veteran of the U.S. Army, a father of five (whose daughter just returned from service in Iraq), a Northern Virginia native, and a Catholic. He is conservative on social issues, but known for his bipartisan, workmanlike approach as AG and for his attempts to forge a deal on Virginia's knottiest issue: transportation.
Republican strategists think they finally may have a candidate suited to win across the state. McDonnell was the last statewide Republican candidate (in 2005) to win suburban counties like Prince William, Loudoun, Henrico, Chesapeake, and Virginia Beach. Even if he does not win Fairfax County--where one in seven Virginia voters lives--Republicans think he can get at least 45 percent of those voters while doing well in the outer suburbs and his home base of Virginia Beach and in more rural areas.
There is certainly nothing "Old Virginia" about McDonnell. He appears to be the quintessential Northern Virginia businessman. Trimly built and slightly graying, McDonnell, 54, is a departure from recent Republican candidates in Virginia. He looks much like the urban and suburban voters he is courting--polite, soft-spoken, and surrounded by an array of electronic gadgetry which allows him to keep up on paper work and communicate with his office during long days on the road. He is dressed neatly in a gray suit as he travels from stop to stop on a typical day of retail politics. Only a slight accent ever peeks through: There is no drawl, no cowboy boots, and virtually no talk about hot button social issues. He reiterates his strong pro-life record, from which he insists, "I will not deviate one iota," but stresses, "You gotta connect with voters on what they care about."
McDonnell is aware of the luxury of watching his opponents fight it out for six months. By the end of June, he jokes, the Democrats will be "broke, tired, and divided." Still, he is realistic: "At the same time the mainstream media love the chase. They're going to have the chase and I'm not." Still, he's not concerned that he will be out of the limelight. As attorney general he can make news--as he did with his recent appeal to the Supreme Court of a Virginia Supreme Court decision striking down a portion of an anti-spam statute that he championed. And an all-star lineup of GOP favorites from Arnold Schwarzenegger to Sarah Palin and Rudy Giuliani will draw crowds to his rallies while the Democrats squabble.
And he's making the most of his time by staying out on the trail, reassuring the base, reaching out to ethnic voters and honing the themes of his campaign. In remarks before the Mount Vernon Women's Republican Club, he rattles off his career highlights and reminds the group of his connections to Northern Virginia. He vows to make his campaign about "common sense conservative principles." The Virginia Republican party is clearly in need of help, and McDonnell makes no bones about it. He constantly asks, "What can we do better?"
As we travel between stops, McDonnell diverts his driver around the suburbs of Northern Virginia, pointing out his old elementary and high schools, and pulling up into the driveway of the modest Mount Vernon home where he grew up. The day is full of reminiscing--there is where he collected driftwood near a stream at Ft. Belvoir, here is where he would sled down the street ("If you got rolling and had enough wax you could go down this second hill"), and that's the house where his childhood friend, now an aide to one of the Democratic contenders, grew up. The message is clear: Unlike Terry McAuliffe, Bob McDonnell is a homegrown Virginian. More important, he is a Northern Virginian. And that is key--because that's where the votes are.
His emphasis on his Northern Virginian roots is only one indication that his campaign is the product of lessons learned from prior Republican defeats. If Republicans have been losing in Virginia's suburbs and exurbs, McDonnell is committed to campaigning in them and selling conservatism there. If Republicans were tagged as too ideological, he is emphatic: "We win by addressing quality of life issues." If Republicans did poorly with minorities, he says it is now "absolutely imperative to talk to members of new ethnic communities" and explain how Republican policies relate to their concerns. Indeed his schedule this day--visits with a Republican women's group, Hispanic leaders, and Korean community leaders--reflects the diverse electorate he needs to inspire. On the immigration debate, he is particularly blunt about Republican failures. We "haven't articulated that properly. The discussion didn't start with the proposition that we encourage lawful immigration." Declaring himself to be an advocate of immigration reform at the federal level he says that visa limits need to be raised while borders are enforced. He is emphatic that illegal immigrants who commit crimes need to be deported, but he returns to his central theme: "The message [must be] welcoming to new immigrants to come to America lawfully and pursue the American dream."
His meeting with a group of Korean-American community leaders in a law office in Annandale--the heart of the growing Korean community in Northern Virginia--is revealing. This is the face of the "new Virginia" which a McCain campaign aide referred to as "not real Virginia." Koreans are one of the largest ethnic minorities in the state, and McDonnell wants to make inroads here. First and second generation Korean-Americans pepper him with questions: "Why do you want to be governor?" What are Republicans doing to avoid the label as the "rich, white party"? One woman says that Democrats are able to say, "We are for average people."
McDonnell is candid without being defensive. "We haven't done nearly as well as we should engaging you." He smoothly moves to talking about Republican values as a natural fit for immigrant business people--low taxes, less regulation and litigation, hard work, responsibility, and education. He knows his audience well and gets approving murmurs and nods when he promises this group--which prizes education as a way up the ladder of success (and includes parents of many overachieving school age children)--to address the issue of making sure "kids with 3.8 [grade point] averages [can get] into UVA and Virginia Tech."
While pundits and Beltway insiders dwell on the fine points of policy, this crowd just wants attention for their community. An effervescent woman sporting a bright red blazer and a large gold elephant brooch implores McDonnell, "Just come for five minutes [to community events]. Eat our food. Shake our hands. They want more openness. . . . Don't be shy."
It is a similar scene later that evening at a gathering of regional Hispanic leaders, many veterans of past Republican campaigns. They aren't timid about reminding McDonnell of the challenge for Republican candidates. One attendee tells McDonnell matter-of-factly that he must make inroads with Northern Virginia Hispanics: "If we [end up] with over a 100,000 vote deficit from Northern Virginia, we'll be in trouble." He suggests that the group can help "craft a message" that is both conservative and appealing to Hispanic voters.
McDonnell begins his remarks with a welcome in passable Spanish, noting that his wife speaks Spanish and lived in Mexico. And he picks up on the offer, "Your wanting to help me craft a message is incredibly helpful. I understand we need to run a different kind of race." He acknowledges that Republicans haven't connected on the issues that Hispanics care about. He repeats the message of the day, "I do need your help."
After the meeting, Sergio, a professional in his mid-30s, tells me that Republicans' errors boil down to a "messaging mistake." He explains, "You ask people what Obama's message was? 'Change.' McCain's? You get 13 answers." And what of the argument that McCain's poor showing with Hispanics "proves" that immigration reform is a loser for Republicans? He smiles, "Look at any leader of color in the GOP. They will tell you that [if that's the view], we won't win a national election ever again."
Natural Selection Not The Only Process That Drives Evolution? (ScienceDaily, Jan. 28, 2009)
The researchers identified fast evolving human genes by comparing our genome with those of other primates. However, surprisingly, the patterns of molecular evolution in many of the genes they found did not contain signals of natural selection. Instead, their evidence suggests that a separate process known as BGC (biased gene conversion) has speeded up the rate of evolution in certain genes. This process increases the rate at which certain mutations spread through a population, regardless of whether they are beneficial or harmful.
"The research not only increases our understanding of human evolution, but also suggests that many techniques used by evolutionary biologists to detect selection may be flawed," says Matthew Webster of the Department of Medical Biochemistry and Microbiology at Uppsala University.
Obama's White House: Big posts, overlapping tasks (CHARLES BABINGTON, 1/28/09, Associated Press)
President Barack Obama is building a White House staff so loaded with big names and overlapping duties that it could collapse into chaos unless managed with a juggler's skill.
It's an administration that seems "addicted to czars," says one longtime observer of government organization.
Obama has installed a White House health czar who doubles as secretary of Health and Human Services. The State Department now has "special envoys" for the Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and for climate change — areas already overseen by other officials.
Just for the environment, along with the new climate envoy Obama has an energy secretary, an Environmental Protection Agency director and a chief of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Hovering over them all is Carol Browner, a high-profile former EPA administrator in a newly created role some call "climate czarina."
The economic team is perhaps the most multilayered and ego-driven of all.
Anniversary blues in Iran: As Iran’s Islamic Republic celebrates its 30th anniversary, its oil wealth is in decline and the confidence of the past decade looks increasingly brittle. But whatever happens in the June election America needs a fresh approach (Christopher de Bellaigue, February 2009, Prospect)
When Ahmadinejad took over from the reformist cleric Muhammad Khatami, who had completed his maximum of two consecutive terms, the economy was sclerotic but functioning. Khatami had dipped liberally into a rainy day reserve made up of surplus oil revenues, called the oil stabilisation fund (OSF), but his government had also made modest efforts to wean the economy off its dependence on oil and encourage Iranians, impenitent property-speculators, to invest their riyals into manufacturing. Ahmadinejad attracted those Iranians who felt excluded from the Khatami boom or saw it as a drift to western nihilism. He was elected not only because of his piety and humble style of living, but also because of his promise to distribute Iran’s oil revenues among the people. Once elected, this is exactly what he did. Through the state-dominated banking system, he doled out huge sums in loans (worth billions in US dollars) to young people, newlyweds and small businessmen. As he toured the country, where he was received rapturously by the poor, he pledged billions more for infrastructure projects and job creation. The president drew on Iran’s soaring oil receipts to fund his largesse.
According to central bank figures, the government has spent $130bn worth of oil revenues in the past three years. Khatami’s government, by contrast, spent $97bn from the same source over its entire, eight-year life. Repeatedly, senior economists and opposition politicians have warned of the baleful consequences of Ahmadinejad’s policies—with reason, it is now clear. Inflation, which ran at just over 10 per cent when he was elected, is nudging 30 per cent. Iranians’ purchasing power has been eroded, particularly when it comes to housing and food, where inflation exceeds the headline rate. (The president’s decision to reduce petrol subsidies, which most orthodox economists supported, has also had inflationary results.) A policy of encouraging loans to aspiring home-owners created a property bubble that burst in the autumn, leaving many defaulters in its wake. Non-performing loans have risen sharply since Ahmadinejad came to power and now account for some 20 per cent of banks’ exposure. For the first time in a decade, the middle classes are becoming less prosperous. Meat, fruit and vegetables have soared in price; Iranians struggle to afford their seasoned stews and saffron rice. Pistachios, formerly a staple snack in middle-class homes, are now a luxury. “Today it costs $100 to gather the extended family even for a modest meal,” grumbles a trader in the Tehran bazaar, “and for someone making $400 a month, a good wage, that’s a big sum. If you accept an invitation it’s customary to return the favour. So people aren’t accepting invitations any more.”
Ahmadinejad has failed to diversify the economy—an objective so urgent, it was enshrined in a five-year plan for all governments irrespective of ideological orientation. On the contrary, argues Saeed Leylaz, a prominent government critic, Iran’s dependence on oil as a source of budgetary spending has increased more than sevenfold since he came to power. The recent collapse of the oil price, from a midsummer peak of almost $150 to about $35 a barrel in mid-January, is reminding Iranians of their vulnerability to ill winds from abroad. Ahmadinejad demurs: there is no reason why “an Iranian should catch a fever if someone sneezes in the west.”
He claims that he can govern effectively even if the price falls to $5 a barrel. The International Monetary Fund is not so sure; in August the fund stated that Iran would face an “unsustainable” current account deficit if the oil price fell below $75. This, surely, is the rainy day for which the oil stabilisation fund was set up, to maintain government spending at a time of low oil revenues. Yet the OSF, having been repeatedly plundered by the government, is almost empty. Even if oil prices bottom out soon, it seems inevitable that 2009 will bring Iran sharply rising unemployment, persistent high inflation, and an increase in the kind of public disgruntlement that led bazaar traders to shut up shop in October in protest at plans to introduce VAT. (The government backtracked and the shutters came back up.)
According to Tahmasb Mazaheri, a former Central Bank governor, “bitter days” are in store. For the rest of the world, the question is how economic pain will affect Iran’s ability to withstand growing international pressure to abandon its longstanding pursuit of self-sufficiency in nuclear fuel—a status that would allow Iran to make a nuclear bomb. Iranians’ sense of immunity is at last being threatened—and at the tail-end of Bush’s bellicose presidency, when one might have expected it to be strongest. Many recall the last time an oil price slump coincided with a period of strategic peril—during the long and bloody war that Iran fought in the 1980s under Saddam Hussein. Economic as much as military setbacks obliged Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the first supreme leader of revolutionary Iran, to agree to a ceasefire with Iraq in 1988, a decision that he likened to drinking a “poisoned chalice.” Now, Iran’s adversaries hope, the clerics may buckle again. [...]
Obama and his team may want to wait for the results of the presidential elections in June before exploring their negotiating options. Yet that would be a mistake, for no Iranian president, Ahmadinejad included, has controlled foreign and nuclear policy. In the Islamic Republic, which is built on anti-American sentiment, the delicate process of engaging the US without undermining the official ideology is a job for the largely unelected establishment—made up of Khomeini’s successor as supreme leader, Khamenei, a handful of top officials and other senior clerics and military leaders. This establishment will remain, whatever the poll results.
Aides Say Obama’s Afghan Aims Elevate War (HELENE COOPER and THOM SHANKER, 1/28/09, NY Times)
President Obama intends to adopt a tougher line toward Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, as part of a new American approach to Afghanistan that will put more emphasis on waging war than on development, senior administration officials said Tuesday. [...]
The officials portrayed the approach as a departure from that of President Bush, who held videoconferences with Mr. Karzai every two weeks and sought to emphasize the American role in rebuilding Afghanistan and its civil institutions.
They said that the Obama administration would work with provincial leaders as an alternative to the central government, and that it would leave economic development and nation-building increasingly to European allies, so that American forces could focus on the fight against insurgents.
Apocalypse in 2012? Date spawns theories, film (CNN, 1/27/09)
Just as "Y2K" and its batch of predictions about the year 2000 have become a distant memory, here comes "Twenty-twelve."
Fueled by a crop of books, Web sites with countdown clocks, and claims about ancient timekeepers, interest is growing in what some see as the dawn of a new era, and others as an expiration date for Earth: December 21, 2012.
The date marks the end of a 5,126-year cycle on the Long Count calendar developed by the Maya, the ancient civilization known for its advanced understanding of astronomy and for the great cities it left behind in Mexico and Central America.
(Some scholars believe the cycle ends a bit later -- on December 23, 2012.)
Speculation in some circles about whether the Maya chose this particular time because they thought something ominous would happen has sparked a number of doomsday theories.
John Updike’s Dead: Do We Still Have To Pretend To Like His Books? (Ben Shapiro, 1/28/09, Big Hollywood)
Updike’s characters range from the unbelievable to the unbelievably patronizing. First, the unbelievable. I cannot claim to have read every novel Updike wrote – few can, since he wrote 25 of them – but his major works are stuffed to the gills with characters who speak as no person has ever spoken. In “Terrorist,” Ahmad, an American, half-Irish, half-Egyptian high school graduate seduced by Islamism, states, “There is nothing in Islam to forbid watching television and attending the cinema, though in fact it is all so saturated in despair and unbelief as to repel my interest.” Ahmad is American. No American speaks like this, even an American unlucky enough to fall in with the wrong mosque crowd.
And then there are the patronizing. Rabbit is Updike’s most famous creation, the subject of four of his novels. Rabbit is an adulterous creep, a selfish hedonist who has no concern for his wife or family. And, yes, Rabbit is a political conservative; in “Rabbit, Redux,” Updike makes a point of Rabbit’s support for the war in Vietnam and his flag decal. As Updike stated in a 2004 interview:
“People ask me what would Rabbit think of 9/11, what would Rabbit think of George W. Bush, and I just can’t say … I think Rabbit would probably have the same reaction to the invasion of Iraq that he had to Vietnam, that it may be a mistake but it’s our duty to see it through. If he were alive, he’d probably be in Florida most of the year by now and he might have a stars-and-stripes sticker on his car. After 9/11, he certainly would have put the flag up.”
Updike himself was a political liberal. In 2007, he wrote a review of Amity Shlaes’ “The Forgotten Man” in “The New Yorker,” in which he castigated Shlaes for her criticism of FDR: The impression of recovery—the impression that a President was bending the old rules and, drawing upon his own courage and flamboyance in adversity and illness, stirring things up on behalf of the down-and-out—mattered more than any miscalculations in the moot mathematics of economics.” This is tremendous nonsense. There is little doubt FDR was a great politician, a phenomenal PR man. But Shlaes’ argument – that FDR lengthened the Great Depression – does not call for a rebuttal based on anecdotal reminiscences.
He was perhaps more successful in his 20 or so stories about Bech, the famous Jewish American novelist who suffers from writer's block and gets by on his past literary glories.
Updike joked that he invented Bech to grab some of the attention away from his major competitors. When he started his Bech stories in 1964, that list included Bernard Malamud, Saul Bellow and Philip Roth, all acclaimed Jewish American writers.
"I created Henry Bech to show that I was really a Jewish writer also," Updike teased in a 1982 interview with Time magazine.
Israel's Strategic Incompetence in Gaza (Daniel Pipes, 1/08/09, FrontPageMagazine.com)
[F]rom what one can discern of the Olmert government's goal in its war on Hamas, it seems to be to weaken Hamas and strengthen Fatah so that Mahmoud Abbas can re-take control of Gaza and re-start diplomacy with Israel. Michael B. Oren and Yossi Klein Halevi captured this idea in a recent article title: "Palestinians need Israel to win: If Hamas gets away with terror once again, the peace process will be over."
Bitter experience, however, invalidates this thesis. For one, Fatah has proven itself a determined enemy intent on eliminating the Jewish state. For another, Palestinians themselves repudiated Fatah in 2006 elections. It strains credulity that anyone could still think of Fatah as a "partner for peace." Rather, Jerusalem should think creatively of other scenarios, perhaps my "no-state solution" bringing in the Jordanian and Egyptian governments
More dismaying even than Olmert's ineptitude is that the Israeli election a month from now pits three leaders of his same ilk. Two of them (Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak) currently serve as his main lieutenants, while two (Barak and Binyamin Netanyahu) failed badly in their prior prime ministerial stints.
Looking beyond Olmert and his potential successors comes the worst news of all, namely that no one at the upper echelons of Israel's political life articulates the imperative for victory. For this reason, I see Israel as a lost polity, one full of talent, energy, and resolve but lacking direction.
Redistricting is a hidden weapon for gloomy GOP (Aaron Blake, 01/27/09, The Hill)
In 2000, Republicans used redistricting to solidify their majorities. Now, with the party reeling from two straight election losses, the landscape for the 2010 round of redistricting could provide them opportunities to regain some of those seats and add some new ones.
The 2010 census could add multiple House seats to red-leaning states — as many as four districts to Texas and two each to Arizona and Florida. And it could subtract seats from blue-trending states like Michigan, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Most of the states slated to gain seats in reapportionment next cycle feature Republican-controlled state legislatures and governor’s mansions — the powerhouses that decide how to allocate congressional districts.
States expecting to lose seats are more of a mixed bag, with most facing split control in those branches of government, which generally results in compromise.
Iowa: What Happens When a Town Implodes (Betsy Rubiner, Jan. 28, 2009, TIME)
During a bitter cold January week, penniless women and children stream into a Catholic church in the northeast Iowa town of Postville that has served as their refuge since May 12, when 389 workers were arrested during an immigration raid at the Agriprocessors Inc. meatpacking plant. The women are among 26 former Agriprocessors workers, most from Guatemala and Mexico, charged with immigration violations and fighting deportation. Released on humanitarian grounds but required to wear electronic ankle bracelets, the women, as well as about 59 children, now depend on the community, especially St. Bridget's church, which operates a Hispanic ministry from a worn brick house.
One woman needs medical care for her anxious 12-year-old son, who has started wetting his bed. Another needs legal help for her husband, arrested during a return visit to Agriprocessors by immigration agents last fall. "I am very sad and worried," says Irma Lopez, 28, a former Agriprocessors worker who remains in limbo with her young daughter while her husband is back in Guatemala, one of many arrested workers deported in October after serving five months in prison. "I worked since I was eight years old and now I feel worthless. I can work but I'm not allowed to."
Eight months after the Agriprocessors raid, Postville is still grappling with what its leaders call "a humanitarian and economic disaster," compounded by the recession and a harsh winter. Life isn't much easier for "legal" workers. [...]
Help has come primarily from community groups and churches, with donations from near and far. The local food pantry is now open Sundays, as well as Wednesdays, serving about 150 people. But some leaders say the help is not enough and worry about shortages and increasing hardships, especially evictions. In December, a citizen's group faxed a letter to state and federal leaders that said: "Postville is a community in turmoil, a broken, hurting place... If Postville was reeling after the raid, recent events have brought the town to its knees. What happens when a place implodes?"
Obama, Iran and Afghanistan (Kaveh L Afrasiabi, 1/29/09, Asia Times)
An Afghanistan-centered dialogue may prove a productive first step on the complex path of US-Iran relations. In a way, this would be a back-to-the-past approach, with shades of how the US and Iran cooperated in the aftermath of 9/11 tragedy on a common anti-Taliban strategy.
"The difference between then and now is that the US officials are now distinguishing between the 'good Taliban' versus the 'bad Taliban' and hoping to sow divisions between them and reach a compromise with the former, perhaps as part of an emerging post-Karzai scenario," said a Tehran University political scientist. The scholar added that he believes Iran does not like this "new approach" and finds it "simplistic and defeatist".
In addition to the traditional reasons Tehran is opposed to the Taliban's resurgence is that the insurgents are involved in the opium business. The narcotics trade has skyrocketed in recent years, compared to the anti-drug stance during the era of Taliban rule. This is one of the key features of the "new Taliban" as far as Tehran is concerned, while partly blaming the rise on the British components of the coalition force put in charge of drug trafficking.
Tehran is pleased with Obama's prioritization of the war in Afghanistan and may be willing to allow NATO to use the Iran corridor to transport its goods from Europe, particularly now that Russia is sending mixed signals about its permission for such a route. Still, this is a risky proposition for Tehran and could cause a backlash in the form of anti-Iran terrorism or require a NATO commitment to assist Iran with its porous borders with Afghanistan.
A battle before a battle (Syed Saleem Shahzad, 1/29/09, Asia Times)
Restive North-West Frontier Province is not the destination of choice these days. Those who travel there go for business or family reasons, and the flight I took from the southern port city of Karachi to Peshawar was half empty; clearly, the region is no longer on the tourist map.
After touring the city for an afternoon and speaking to a variety of people, I was struck by its eerie similarity to Baghdad when I visited that capital soon after the United States-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 - it has the distinct atmosphere of impending chaos.
That evening I chatted with a senior al-Qaeda member who told me that the group considered NWFP and southwestern Balochistan province as already wiped off the map of Pakistani as they were now militant country. Although not entirely accurate, it portends a chilling turn in the "war on terror" in which Washington will be more concerned over the stability and security of Pakistan rather than that of Afghanistan.
The indications are that a major battle will be fought in Pakistan before the annual spring offensive even begins in Afghanistan this year.
Anbar's overwhelmingly Sunni Arab population stayed away from the last vote, which took place months after two devastating U.S. military assaults on Falluja killed hundreds of people and left much of it in ruins.
But due in part to local chiefs, like Sulaiman, who eventually teamed up with the U.S. military, al Qaeda was driven out. By trading on their war hero image, the sheikhs hope they will now be rewarded at the polls at the IIP's expense.
"Our goal is to get rid of the IIP," Sheikh Hameed al-Hayyes told Reuters. "We will fight them with all the power we have."
Analysts say they stand a good chance.
The provincial vote, set to take place in 14 of Iraq's 18 provinces, will apportion 440 seats across the country to councils that elect powerful regional governors.
The Sunni boycott of the last vote also resulted in Kurds controlling the northern province of Nineveh even though they form only a quarter of the population there and in Shi'ites running Diyala province at the expense of Sunnis.
The case for doing nothing (EAMON JAVERS & JIM VANDEHEI, 1/28/09, Politico)
The Do-Nothing Crowd also points to some of the hidden upsides of the recession — developments they say are already helping position the U.S. economy for a recovery.
The most noticeable impact is that housing prices are coming down to a more sustainable level. For first-time buyers, this is reopening a path to homeownership that had been all but blocked by hyper-inflated prices. The National Association of Realtors reported this week that housing sales rose 6.5 percent from November to December, largely on the strength of bargain hunters snapping up foreclosed properties. That could be a sign that the housing market is on its way to a balancing point at which lower prices once again draw new buyers into the system.
In the meantime, weak companies that have problems competing are being weeded out of the system. For example, Circuit City announced that it would liquidate its stores and assets, laying off an estimated 34,000 employees. That’s not necessarily a tragedy, argues Cato’s Edwards. “The weak are getting weeded out. Circuit City had crappy customer service, and I’m glad that Best Buy will survive and Circuit City will not.” Ideally, the collapse of weaker competitors is an economic opportunity for the stronger survivors to gain market share — and hire new workers.
Another galvanizing effect of the downturn is that companies have been forced to face the reality that they haven’t been making products that customers actually want to buy. General Motors CEO Richard Wagoner, for example, conceded in testimony on Capitol Hill in December that his company had made mistakes, including “not moving fast enough to invest in smaller, more-fuel-efficient vehicles for the U.S. market.” As the old saying goes, imminent death has a way of focusing the mind.
An even better consequence of recession, say the Do-Nothings, is that American families are finally starting to pay down the dangerously high debt levels they’ve accumulated. One of the reasons last year’s economic stimulus failed, in fact, was that Americans used the money to pay off bills, not to spend on new products. In a country that had developed a negative personal savings rate, that’s probably a good thing.
And here’s something truly surprising: The recession might even be good for your health. The New York Times reported that Americans are drinking less alcohol, noting that a “study based on surveys by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from 1987 through 1999 found that drinking in this country generally drops during economic hard times, especially among heavy drinkers.” That may be not due to a renewed sense of sobriety and responsibility, but rather to the decline in workers’ discretionary income. Still, liver surgeons will tell you that less drinking is probably healthy.
For all that, the Do-Nothings fully expect to lose the argument in Washington this week. The political momentum is all on the side of the stimulus. “Politicians feel a need to validate their own political authority, and they feel they have to do something,” says Robert Romano of the nonprofit group Americans for Limited Government.
Obama lawyers set to defend Yoo (JOSH GERSTEIN, 1/28/09, Politico)
In Democratic legal circles, no attorney has been more pilloried than former Bush Justice Department official John Yoo, chief author of the so-called torture memos that Barack Obama last week sought to nullify.
But now President Obama’s incoming crew of lawyers has a new and somewhat awkward job: defending Yoo in federal court.
Next week, Justice Department lawyers are set to ask a San Francisco federal judge to throw out a lawsuit brought against Yoo by Jose Padilla, a New York man held without charges on suspicion of being an Al Qaeda operative plotting to set off a “dirty bomb.
Women’s Groups Protest Dropping Contraceptives Provision in Stimulus (Laura Meckler, 1/27/09, WSJ: Washington Wire)
Women’s and reproductive rights groups expressed dismay Tuesday after the White House and congressional Democrats agreed to drop a provision from the economic stimulus package that would have made it easier for states to expand coverage of contraceptives through their Medicaid programs.
...how many does it kill:
John Updike, Author, Dies at 76 (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, January 27, 2009 )
John Updike, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, prolific man of letters and erudite chronicler of sex, divorce and other adventures in the postwar prime of the American empire, died Tuesday at age 76.
Fittingly, a hundred years from now, when his novels are long forgotten and even most of his essays and criticism are too dated to be read, there is one piece that everyone will still know, Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu (John Updike, 10/22/1960, The New Yorker)
Fenway Park, in Boston, is a lyric little bandbox of a ballpark. Everything is painted green and seems in curiously sharp focus, like the inside of an old-fashioned peeping-type Easter egg. It was built in 1912 and rebuilt in 1934, and offers, as do most Boston artifacts, a compromise between Man’s Euclidean determinations and Nature’s beguiling irregularities. Its right field is one of the deepest in the American League, while its left field is the shortest; the high left-field wall, three hundred and fifteen feet from home plate along the foul line, virtually thrusts its surface at right-handed hitters. On the afternoon of Wednesday, September 28th, as I took a seat behind third base, a uniformed groundkeeper was treading the top of this wall, picking batting-practice home runs out of the screen, like a mushroom gatherer seen in Wordsworthian perspective on the verge of a cliff. The day was overcast, chill, and uninspirational. The Boston team was the worst in twenty-seven seasons. A jangling medley of incompetent youth and aging competence, the Red Sox were finishing in seventh place only because the Kansas City Athletics had locked them out of the cellar. They were scheduled to play the Baltimore Orioles, a much nimbler blend of May and December, who had been dumped from pennant contention a week before by the insatiable Yankees. I, and 10,453 others, had shown up primarily because this was the Red Sox’s last home game of the season, and therefore the last time in all eternity that their regular left fielder, known to the headlines as TED, KID, SPLINTER, THUMPER, TW, and, most cloyingly, MISTER WONDERFUL, would play in Boston. “WHAT WILL WE DO WITHOUT TED? HUB FANS ASK” ran the headline on a newspaper being read by a bulb-nosed cigar smoker a few rows away. Williams’ retirement had been announced, doubted (he had been threatening retirement for years), confirmed by Tom Yawkey, the Red Sex owner, and at last widely accepted as the sad but probable truth. He was forty-two and had redeemed his abysmal season of 1959 with a—considering his advanced age—fine one. He had been giving away his gloves and bats and had grudgingly consented to a sentimental ceremony today. This was not necessarily his last game; the Red Sox were scheduled to travel to New York and wind up the season with three games there.
I arrived early. [...]
The afternoon grew so glowering that in the sixth inning the arc lights were turned on—always a wan sight in the daytime, like the burning headlights of a funeral procession. Aided by the gloom, Fisher was slicing through the Sox rookies, and Williams did not come to bat in the seventh. He was second up in the eighth. This was almost certainly his last time to come to the plate in Fenway Park, and instead of merely cheering, as we had at his three previous appearances, we stood, all of us—stood and applauded. Have you ever heard applause in a ballpark? Just applause—no calling, no whistling, just an ocean of handclaps, minute after minute, burst after burst, crowding and running together in continuous succession like the pushes of surf at the edge of the sand. It was a sombre and considered tumult. There was not a boo in it. It seemed to renew itself out of a shifting set of memories as the kid, the Marine, the veteran of feuds and failures and injuries, the friend of children, and the enduring old pro evolved down the bright tunnel of twenty-one summers toward this moment. At last, the umpire signalled for Fisher to pitch; with the other players, he had been frozen in position. Only Williams had moved during the ovation, switching his hat impatiently, ignoring everything except his cherished task. Fisher wound up, and the applause sank into a hush.
Understand that we were a crowd of rational people. We knew that a home run cannot be produced at will; the right pitch must be perfectly met and luck must ride with the ball. Three innings before, we had seen a brave effort fail. The air was soggy; the season was exhausted. Nevertheless, there will always lurk, around a corner in a pocket of our knowledge of the odds, an indefensible hope, and this was one of the times, which you now and then find in sports, when a density of expectation hangs in the air and plucks an event out of the future.
Fisher, after his unsettling wait, was wide with the first pitch. He put the second one over, and Williams swung mightily and missed. The crowd grunted, seeing that classic swing, so long and smooth and quick, exposed, naked in its failure. Fisher threw the third time, Williams swung again, and there it was. The ball climbed on a diagonal line into the vast volume of air over center field. From my angle, behind third base, the ball seemed less an object in flight than the tip of a towering, motionless construct, like the Eiffel Tower or the Tappan Zee Bridge. It was in the books while it was still in the sky. Brandt ran back to the deepest corner of the outfield grass; the ball descended beyond his reach and struck in the crotch where the bullpen met the wall, bounced chunkily, and, as far as I could see, vanished.
Like a feather caught in a vortex, Williams ran around the square of bases at the center of our beseeching screaming. He ran as he always ran out home runs—hurriedly, unsmiling, head down, as if our praise were a storm of rain to get out of. He didn’t tip his cap. Though we thumped, wept, and chanted “We want Ted” for minutes after he hid in the dugout, he did not come back. Our noise for some seconds passed beyond excitement into a kind of immense open anguish, a wailing, a cry to be saved. But immortality is nontransferable. The papers said that the other players, and even the umpires on the field, begged him to come out and acknowledge us in some way, but he never had and did not now. Gods do not answer letters.
-REVIEW: of The End of Time by John Updike: John Updike, Champion Literary Phallocrat, Drops One; Is This Finally the End for Magnificent Narcissists? (David Foster Wallace, October 12, 1997, NY Observer)
"Of nothing but me … I sing, lacking another song."
-John Updike, "Midpoint," 1969
Mailer, Updike, Roth-the Great Male Narcissists* who've dominated postwar realist fiction are now in their senescence, and it must seem to them no coincidence that the prospect of their own deaths appears backlit by the approaching millennium and on-line predictions of the death of the novel as we know it. When a solipsist dies, after all, everything goes with him. And no U.S. novelist has mapped the solipsist's terrain better than John Updike, whose rise in the 60's and 70's established him as both chronicler and voice of probably the single most self-absorbed generation since Louis XIV. As were Freud's, Mr. Updike's big preoccupations have always been with death and sex (not necessarily in that order), and the fact that the mood of his books has gotten more wintery in recent years is understandable-Mr. Updike has always written largely about himself, and since the surprisingly moving Rabbit at Rest he's been exploring, more and more overtly, the apocalyptic prospect of his own death.
Toward the End of Time concerns an incredibly erudite, articulate, successful, narcissistic and sex-obsessed retired guy who's keeping a one-year journal in which he explores the apocalyptic prospect of his own death. It is, of the total 25 Updike books I've read, far and away the worst, a novel so mind-bendingly clunky and self-indulgent that it's hard to believe the author let it be published in this kind of shape.
I'm afraid the preceding sentence is this review's upshot, and most of the balance here will consist of presenting evidence/ justification for such a disrespectful assessment. First, though, if I may poke the critical head into the frame for just one moment, I'd like to offer assurances that your reviewer is not one of these spleen-venting, spittle-spattering Updike-haters one encounters among literary readers under 40. The fact is that I am probably classifiable as one of very few actual sub-40 Updike fans . Not as rabid a fan as, say, Nicholson Baker, but I do think that The Poorhouse Fair , Of the Farm and The Centaur are all great books, maybe classics. And even since Rabbit Is Rich -as his characters seemed to become more and more repellent, and without any corresponding indication that the author understood that they were repellent-I've continued to read Mr. Updike's novels and to admire the sheer gorgeousness of his descriptive prose.
-OBIT: American writer John Updike dies (Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, January 27, 2009, NY Times)
-OBIT: John Updike, Author, Dies at 76 (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, January 27, 2009 )
-OBIT: John Updike: Prolific author who captured the spirit of middle America and is best known for his Harry 'Rabbit' Angstrom series (Daily Telegraph, 27 Jan 2009)
-OBIT: Acclaimed writer John Updike dies at 76 (Mark Feeney, 1/27/09, Boston Globe)
-OBIT: John Updike dies: Pulitzer prize-winning novelist dies from lung cancer aged 76 (Helen Pidd, 1/27/09, guardian.co.uk)
-OBIT: John Updike, Pulitzer Prize-winning author, dies of lung cancer at age 76 (Michelle Kerns, 1/27/09, Book Examiner)
-OBIT: Novelist John Updike dies at 76 (Bob Hoover, 1/27/09, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
-Remembrances: Pulitzer Prize-Winning Novelist John Updike Dies (Talk of the Nation, January 27, 2009)
Centaurian (A HOME PAGE FOR JOHN UPDIKE INFORMATION AND DISCUSSION)
-WIKIPEDIA: John Updike
-John Updike (kirjasto)
-FILMOGRAPHY: John Updike (IMDB)
& Times : John Updike (1932-- ) (NY Times)
-FEATURED AUTHOR: REVIEWS OF JOHN UPDIKE'S BOOKS (NY Times)
Research Guide: John Updike (1932 - )
-BIO: John Updike (Academy of Achievement)
-AUTHOR PAGE: John Updike (Random House)
-John Updike (Bookreporter)
-John Updike (Poets.org)
-John Updike (2008 Jefferson Lecturer on the Humanities)
-PORTRAIT: JOHN UPDIKE (born 1932) [Alex Katz (born 1927)]
-ESSAY: Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu (John Updike, 10/22/1960, The New Yorker)
-ESSAY: The Writer in Winter: A literary legend shares his greatest hope: that his last book will be his best (John Updike, November & December 2008, AARP)
-ESSAY: This I Believe (John Updike, NPR)
-ESSAY: The Individual (John Updike, November 2007, Atlantic Monthly)
-ESSAY: A sage for all seasons: Walden, Henry Thoreau's classic account of life in a simple one-room cabin in New England remains, 150 years on, an anti-establishment masterpiece and a testament to individualism (John Updike, 6/26/04, The Guardian)
-ESSAY: Extreme Dinosaurs: A bizarre gallery of Mesozoic monsters prompts John Updike to ask: What has evolution wrought? (John Updike, December 2007, National Geographic)
-REVIEW: AN OBSTINATE SURVIVOR: Robert Hughes takes on the life of Goya. (JOHN UPDIKE, 2003-11-03, The New Yorker)
-ESSAY: Nineteen Forties (JOHN UPDIKE, 7/04/1965, NY Times)
-ESSAY: Writers I Have Met (JOHN UPDIKE, 8/11/1968, NY Times)
-ESSAY: Henry Bech Redux (HENRY BECH, 11/14/1971, NY Times)
-ESSAY: Golf (John Updike, 6/10/1973, NY Times)
-ESSAY: A FEW WORDS IN DEFENSE OF THE AMATEUR READER (John Updike, February 19, 1984, NY Times Book Review)
-ESSAY: Andy Warhol: Artist, philosopher, impresario. He changed American culture. You can worship him for that. Or blame him. (JOHN UPDIKE, May 15, 2003, Rolling Stone)
-ESSAY: The End of Authorship (John Updike, June 25, 2006, NY Times Book Review)
-ESSAY: Smoke signals: It took John Updike two years to get his first short story published. Now, 50 years and 55 books later, he has compiled a selection of his earliest work, some of it out of print for decades. Here he reflects on the biographical echoes (John Updike, 1/10/04, The Guardian)
-EXCERPT: First Chapter of The Terrorist
-SHORT STORY: The Full Glass (John Updike, May 26, 2008, The New Yorker)
-SHORT STORY: Outage (John Updike, 1/07/08, The New Yorker)
-SHORT STORY: My Father's Tears (John Updike, 2/27/06, The New Yorker)
-SHORT STORY: The Roads of Home (John Updike, 2/07/05, The New Yorker)
-SHORT STORY: Elsie by Starlight (John Updike, 7/05/04, The New Yorker)
-SHORT STORY: The Walk with Elizanne (John Updike, 7/07/03, The New Yorker)
-SHORT STORY: Witnesses (John Updike, Bold Type)
-POEM: Ex-Basketball Player (John Updike)
-POEM: Venetian Candy (John Updike)
-POEM: Returning Native (John Updike)
-POEM: On the Road (John Updike)
-POEM: Penumbrae (John Updike)
-POEM: Saying Goodbye to Very Young Children (John Updike)
-REVIEW: of Franny and Zooey by J. D. Salinger (John Updike, The New York Times Book Review)
-REVIEW: of Aiding and Abetting by Muriel Spark (John Updike, The New Yorker)
-REVIEW: of On Histories and Stories: Selected Essays and The Biographer’s Tale by A.S. Byatt (John Updike, The New Yorker)
-REVIEW: of My Name Is Red by Orhan Pamuk (John Updike, The New Yorker)
-REVIEW: of Peter J. Conradi’s Iris Murdoch: A Life (John Updike, The New Yorker)
-REVIEW: of The Complete Works of Isaac Babel (John Updike, The New Yorker)
-REVIEW: of Sinclair Lewis: Rebel from Main Street by Richard Lingeman (John Updike, The New Yorker)
-REVIEW: of Atonement by Ian McEwan (John Updike, The New Yorker)
-REVIEW: of Family Matters by Rohinton Mistry (John Updike, The New Yorker)
-REVIEW: of Mortals by Norman Rush (John Updike, The New Yorker)
-REVIEW: of Philip Larkin’s Collected Poems (John Updike, The New Yorker)
-REVIEW: of Orhan Pamuk’s Snow (John Updike, The New Yorker)
-REVIEW: of Robert Alter’s translation of The Five Books of Moses (John Updike, The New Yorker)
-REVIEW: of Soren Kierkegaard: A Biography” by Joakim Garff and translated from the Danish by Bruce H. Kirmmse (John Updike, The New Yorker)
-REVIEW: of Flashman on the March” by George MacDonald Frasier (John Updike, The New Yorker)
-REVIEW: of Michel Houellebecq's The Possibility of an Island (John Updike, The New Yorker)
-REVIEW: of The Annotated Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe (John Updike, The New Yorker)
-REVIEW: of Walter Isaacson’s Einstein: His Life and Universe (John Updike, The New Yorker)
-REVIEW: of Matthew Avery Sutton’s “Aimee Semple McPherson and the Resurrection of Christian America (John Updike, The New Yorker)
-REVIEW: The Forgotten Man by Amity Shlaes (John Updike, The New Yorker)
-REVIEW: of Flann O'Brien Novels (John Updike, The New Yorker)
-REVIEW: of William Maxwell Novels (John Updike, The New Yorker)
-REVIEW: of A Mercy by Toni Morrison (John Updike, The New Yorker)
-REVIEW: of America, America by Ethan Canin (John Updike, The New Yorker)
-REVIEW: of New Art City by Jed Perl (John Updike, The New York Times Book Review)
-ESSAY: Wood v. Updike v. Baker (Sam Tanenhaus, 8/13/08, NY Times Paper Cuts)
-ESSAY: John Updike's American Comedies (Joyce Carol Oates, Jun 11, 2003)
-ESSAY: Feminist Critique of Updike's "A&P": Overcoming pre-assigned gender roles (Jill Douglass, Oct 15, 2008, Suite 101)
-ESSAY: Art of the Feud (RACHEL DONADIO, November 19, 2006, NY Times)
-INTERVIEW: with John Updike (Charlie Rose, 11/12/08)
-INTERVIEW: John Updike: descent of man: John Updike, who has died aged 76, was interviewed last month by the Daily Telegraph's Mick Brown. In it, the author explores the subject of celebrity, recalls his first meeting with Barack Obama, and talks of the role of the writer. Here is the interview in full. (Mick Brown, 27 Jan 2009, Daily Telegraph)
-INTERVIEW: with John Updike (The Diane Rehm Show, Jun. 5, 2006)
-INTERVIEW: with John Updike (Fresh Air from WHYY, Oct-14-1997)
-INTERVIEW: John Updike Explores Arab Immigrant Culture (Steve Inskeep, June 13, 2006, NPR: Morning Edition)
-INTERVIEW: 'Did I actually write a soliloquy for a hamster?': This season's Updike is a sequel to The Witches of Eastwick, and he's already at work on the novel after next, a tale of ancient Rome. In a rare interview, he talks of women and witchcraft with Peter Conrad, before dismissing Sarah Palin as a 'bird-brain', doing a wicked impression of John McCain and endorsing Obama for President (Peter Conrad, 10/26/08, The Observer)
-INTERVIEW: THE SALON INTERVIEW: JOHN UPDIKE: "As close as you can get to the stars" (DWIGHT GARNER, Salon)
-INTERVIEW: Audio Interview with John Updike (Don Swain, Wired for Books)
-VIDEO INTERVIEW: with John Updike (Spike)
-INTERVIEW: with John Updike (Charlie Rose, 11/06/98)
-INTERVIEW: An Interview With John Updike: In 'Terrorist,' a Cautious Novelist Takes On a New Fear (CHARLES McGRATH, May 31, 2006, NY Times)
-INTERVIEW: Going Home Again (CHARLES McGRATH, November 19, 2000, NY Times)
-INTERVIEW: John Updike's Latest Novel, 'Bech' Sequel, Draws on Himself (MICHIKO KAKUTANI, October 17, 1982, NY Times)
-INTERVIEW: John Updike Completes a Sequel to 'Rabbit, Run' (HENRY RAYMONT, July 27, 1971, NY Times)
-INTERVIEW: JOHN UPDIKE: The Art of Fiction (Interviewed by Charles Thomas Samuels, Winter 1968, Paris Review)
-PROFILE: Animated ambitions: Before John Updike settled on writing as a career, he wanted to be a cartoonist and badgered his heroes to send him signed copies of their work. Jeet Heer recently uncovered one letter, sent to the creator of Little Orphan Annie, when Updike was 15 (Jeet Heer, 5/20/04, The Guardian)
-PROFILE: Sunshine and shadows: A child of the Depression, John Updike wanted to be a cartoonist. Now an acclaimed and prolific literary writer, his novels and short stories reflect America's transition over half a century. He is innately conservative, with a deep religious faith, and his richly explicit prose is marked by compassion and humour. Next weekend he appears at the Guardian Hay Festival (James Campbell, 5/22/04, The Guardian)
-PROFILE: Updike, laureate of lewd, backs sex on your mobile (John Harlow, 12/14/08, Times of London)
-PROFILE: Writing too enjoyable for John Updike to consider retirement (JOHN MARK EBERHART, 1/03/09, The Kansas City Star)
-PROFILE: Old Master in a Brave New World (Lev Grossman, May. 28, 2006, TIME)
-PROFILE: John Updike on Religion (Benedicta Cipolla, November 19, 2004 , Religion & Ethics)
-PROFILE: Updike and the Women: The Witches, The Widows, and the ambiguous bliss of misogyny (Emily Nussbaum, Oct 19, 2008, New York)
-ESSAY: Among the reviewers: John Updike and the book-review bugaboo (By Wyatt Mason, December 2007, Harper's)
-ESSAY: John Updike's literary via negativa (Christian Century, May 24, 1995)
-ESSAY: The theological dimension in John Updike's fiction (John McTavish, April 2000, Theology Today)
-ESSAY: Myth, gospel, and John Updike's Centaur (John McTavish, 1/01/03, Theology Today)
-ARCHIVES: John Updike (The Guardian)
-ARCHIVES: John Updike (NY Times Paper Cuts)
-ARCHIVES: John Updike (The New Yorker)
-ARCHIVES: John Updike (NY Review of Books)
-ARCHIVES: John Updike (Find Articles)
-REVIEW: of The Poorhouse Fair by John Updike (Donald Barr, NY Times)
-REVIEW: of The Centaur by John Updike (Orville Prescott, NY Times)
-REVIEW: of Pigeon Feathers by John Updike (ARTHUR MIZENER, NY Times)
-REVIEW: of Telephone Poles and Other Poems by John Updike (X. J. KENNEDY, NY Times)
-REVIEW: of Couples by John Updike (Wilfred Shhed, NY Times Book Review)
-REVIEW: of Bech: a Book by John Updike (Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, NY Times)
-REVIEW: of Rabbit Redux by John Updike (Anatole Broyard, NY Times)
-REVIEW: of A Month of Sundays by John Updike (Anatole Broyard, NY Times)
-REVIEW: of Picked up Pieces by John Updike (Anatole Broyard, NY Times)
-REVIEW: of Rabbit is Rich by John Updike (John Leonard, NY Times)
-REVIEW: of Bech is Back by John Updike (Edward Hoagland, NY Times Book Review)
-REVIEW: of The Witches of Eastwick by John Updike (Margaret Atwood, NY Times Book Review)
-REVIEW: of Witches of Eastwick (Greenman Review)
-REVIEW: of Facing Nature by John Updike (Gavin Ewart, NY Times Book Review)
-REVIEW: of Roger's Version by John Updike (David Lodge, NY Times Book Review)
-REVIEW: of Trust Me by John Updkie (Marilynne Robinson, NY Times Book Review)
-REVIEW: of Self-Conscious by John Updike (Denis Donoghue, NY Times Book Review)
-REVIEW: of Just Looking by John Updike (Arthur C. Danto, NY Times Book Review)
-REVIEW: of Rabbit at Rest by John Updike (Joyce Carol Oates, NY Times Book Review)
-REVIEW: of Rabbit At Rest by John Updike (James Wood, guardian.co.uk)
-REVIEW: of Odd Jobs by John Updike (Martin Amis, NY Times Book Review)
-REVIEW: of Memories of the Ford Administration by John Updike (Charles Johnson, NY Times Book Review)
-REVIEW: of Brazil by John Updike (Barbara Kingsolver, NY Times Book Review)
-REVIEW: of The Afterlife by John Updike (Jay Parini, NY Times Book Review)
-REVIEW: of Golf Dreams by John Updike (Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, NY Times)
-REVIEW: of Toward The End of Time by John Updike: John Updike, Champion Literary Phallocrat, Drops One; Is This Finally the End for Magnificent Narcissists? (David Foster Wallace, October 12, 1997, NY Observer)
"Of nothing but me … I sing, lacking another song."
-John Updike, "Midpoint," 1969
Mailer, Updike, Roth-the Great Male Narcissists* who've dominated postwar realist fiction are now in their senescence, and it must seem to them no coincidence that the prospect of their own deaths appears backlit by the approaching millennium and on-line predictions of the death of the novel as we know it. When a solipsist dies, after all, everything goes with him. And no U.S. novelist has mapped the solipsist's terrain better than John Updike, whose rise in the 60's and 70's established him as both chronicler and voice of probably the single most self-absorbed generation since Louis XIV. As were Freud's, Mr. Updike's big preoccupations have always been with death and sex (not necessarily in that order), and the fact that the mood of his books has gotten more wintery in recent years is understandable-Mr. Updike has always written largely about himself, and since the surprisingly moving Rabbit at Rest he's been exploring, more and more overtly, the apocalyptic prospect of his own death.
Toward the End of Time concerns an incredibly erudite, articulate, successful, narcissistic and sex-obsessed retired guy who's keeping a one-year journal in which he explores the apocalyptic prospect of his own death. It is, of the total 25 Updike books I've read, far and away the worst, a novel so mind-bendingly clunky and self-indulgent that it's hard to believe the author let it be published in this kind of shape.
I'm afraid the preceding sentence is this review's upshot, and most of the balance here will consist of presenting evidence/ justification for such a disrespectful assessment. First, though, if I may poke the critical head into the frame for just one moment, I'd like to offer assurances that your reviewer is not one of these spleen-venting, spittle-spattering Updike-haters one encounters among literary readers under 40. The fact is that I am probably classifiable as one of very few actual sub-40 Updike fans . Not as rabid a fan as, say, Nicholson Baker, but I do think that The Poorhouse Fair , Of the Farm and The Centaur are all great books, maybe classics. And even since Rabbit Is Rich -as his characters seemed to become more and more repellent, and without any corresponding indication that the author understood that they were repellent-I've continued to read Mr. Updike's novels and to admire the sheer gorgeousness of his descriptive prose.
-REVIEW: of The Terrorist by John Updike (Robert Stone, NY Times Book Review)
-REVIEW: of The Terrorist (Michiko Kakutani, NY Times)
-REVIEW: of The Terrorist (Jem Poster, The Guardian)
-REVIEW: of The Terrorist (Tim Adams, The Guardian)
-REVIEW: of Seek My Face (Galen Strawson, The Guardian)
-REVIEW: of Seek My Face (Adam Mars-Jones, The Observer)
-REVIEW: of Due Considerations by John Updike (Tim Adams, The Guardian)
-REVIEW: of Still Looking: essays on American Art by John Updike (Geoff Dyer, NY Times Book Review)
-REVIEW: of Widows of Eastwick by John Updike (Caroline Moore, Daily Telegraph)
-REVIEW: of Widows of Eastwick (Christopher Tayler, The Guardian)
-REVIEW: of Widows of Eastwick (James Walcott, London Review of Books)
Animal Spirits Depend on Trust: The proposed stimulus isn't big enough to restore confidence. (ROBERT J. SHILLER, 1/27/09, WSJ)
The term "animal spirits," popularized by John Maynard Keynes in his 1936 book "The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money," is related to consumer or business confidence, but it means more than that. It refers also to the sense of trust we have in each other, our sense of fairness in economic dealings, and our sense of the extent of corruption and bad faith. When animal spirits are on ebb, consumers do not want to spend and businesses do not want to make capital expenditures or hire people. [...]
So what must we do to revive our animal spirits and economic growth? We must be certain that programs to solve the current financial and economic crisis are large enough, and targeted broadly enough, to impact public confidence. Not only do we need a fiscal stimulus significantly greater than the proposal that is currently on the table, government action is also needed to take the place of the credit markets that seemingly worked so well when animal spirits were high. The Treasury and the Federal Reserve not only need a fiscal target, they also need a credit target. This should not be a dollar number, but rather a target for how the credit markets should behave. The goal should be that those who would normally receive credit in times of full employment can once again find it easy to do so, at rates with realistic risk premiums.
There are three ways to restore these credit markets. The Treasury and the Federal Reserve have been inventive in applying all three methods. The first is the extension of rediscounting. The Fed has invented many different special loan facilities. They have even invented ingenious ways to combine Treasury money to make very large-scale loans while still within the legal requirement that the Fed can only lend against safe collateral when using TARP funds for the Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility, which will support consumer, student and small-business loans. But so far the total amount of such rediscounting has been small relative to the size of the credit markets. They need to be much larger.
Second, so far more than $250 billion of government money has been used to recapitalize banks. But just making the banks solvent is not enough. The banks, whose managers are suffering from the same flagging animal spirits as the rest of the economy, will not expand their credit much just because they are more solvent. The banks will only expand if they see profitable opportunities to grant loans and if their fear of failure is diminished. It will take much more than keeping the banks solvent to make them take on the disappeared credit flows.
And, finally, especially in considerably expanding the powers to support the lending of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, government-sponsored enterprises have replaced a significant portion of the mortgage markets. But the government should do much more here as well. For example, failed banks might be kept alive longer as bridge banks under government supervision with the purpose of making credit freely available.
The interventions so far have been in the right direction. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has been especially inventive and aggressive. But the theory of animal spirits and the loss of confidence tell us that a great deal more still needs to be done. Now is not a time for the timid. To meet our needed fiscal-policy target, the Obama administration's fiscal stimulus should be much greater. And to meet our credit target, the expansion of special loan facilities, recapitalization of banks, and use of government institutions to grant credit where it has dried up must be on a scale great enough to overwhelm further doubts about the economy.
Dudley Is Likely Pick for New York Fed (JON HILSENRATH, 1/27/09, WSJ)
In choosing Mr. Dudley, a low key but tenacious economist, the New York Fed's board has assured itself continuity at a critical time for the regional Fed bank. [...]
Most of the rescue programs developed by the Fed during the financial crisis -- from an effort to bolster the commercial paper market to a new special lending program for investment banks to efforts to help money market funds -- have run through the New York Fed's markets desk, where Mr. Dudley has a loyal following.
Mr. Dudley was chief economist at Goldman Sachs for a decade before joining the New York Fed. As a private economist, he sometimes took issue with the central bank for being too complacent. [...]
Coming out of the 2001 recession, Mr. Dudley correctly went against the consensus view on Wall Street and predicted an anemic economic recovery and slowing rates of inflation. In 2003, he won The Wall Street Journal's economic forecasting contest for those predictions.
-SONG OF THE DAY: Seabear Sings a Twisted Icelandic Lullaby (Afton Woodward, 10/12/07, NPR)
For as small and remote as it is, Iceland has produced a surprising number of big names in music. Bjork and Sigur Ros serve as its best-known exports, but Seabear seems fated to find itself on that list. A solo project by Sindri Már Sigfússon that has grown to as many as seven members, Seabear plays shadowy, folk-infused ballads of love, loss and memory, all the while gently reminding its audience that life, while many things, is not but a dream.
-BAND SITE: Seabearia
-ALBUM DOWNLOAD: Singing Arc
-LYRICS: Seabear (Lyrics Mode)
-PROFILE: Seabear Gets Carried Away (Obscure Sound, 13 November 2007)
-Artist Profile: Seabear (Icelandic Airwaves)
-PROFILE: SEABEAR (Geordie, July 4, 2008, You Crazy Dreamers)
-REVIEW: Of The Ghost That Carried Us Away by Seabear (Laura Elise, Daily Vault)
-REVIEW: of Seabear —The Ghost That Carried Us Away (Erik Gonzalez, Three Imaginary Girls)
-REVIEW: Seabear The Ghost the Carried Us Away (Herohill)
-REVIEW: Seabear - The Ghost That Carried Us Away (IndieMuse)
Octuplets born in California (Raquel Maria Dillon, 1/27/09, ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Two of the newborns -- the world's second live-born set of octuplets -- were initially put on ventilators but their breathing tubes have been removed.
The mother, who was not identified, gave birth Monday to six boys and two girls weighing between 1.8 pounds and 3.4 pounds. The eighth baby was a surprise to the parents and doctors who had been expecting only seven children.
The CIA Vs. the Mullahs (Reuel Marc Gerecht, January 27, 2009, Washington Post)
Iran is perhaps the best and the most important barometer we have for judging how well the CIA can perform against a hostile Middle Eastern state with a terrorist track record that includes, according to the Sept. 11 commission report, abetting al-Qaeda. It is also probably the "easiest" hard target that Langley has. Unlike in Iraq under Saddam Hussein or North Korea today, the CIA can reach inside the Islamic republic if it really tries. Iran is an authoritarian theocratic state that believes in its civilizing mission to the Muslim world. Its borders are hardly porous, but a range of people -- Muslims, non-Muslims, business executives, academics, students, religious pilgrims and tourists -- travel there regularly.
More important, Iranian VIPs travel abroad. Members of the Revolutionary Guard Corps frequently receive scholarships for foreign study, usually in the West. Iranian scientists and engineers also go abroad. Iranian mullahs are not uncommon in foreign lands, where prolonged contact with them is possible. Although Iran's progressive intellectuals -- the people to whom Western journalists and scholars usually talk -- rarely have much influence and insight into the clerical regime, sometimes they matter, and sometimes they can be reached. The key is whether Langley has developed patient but aggressive measures that make it more likely that its operatives cross paths with interesting Iranians.
Population, as Malthus said, naturally tends to grow "geometrically," or, as we would now say, exponentially. In a finite world this means that the per capita share of the world's goods must steadily decrease. Is ours a finite world?
A fair defense can be put forward for the view that the world is infinite; or that we do not know that it is not. But, in terms of the practical problems that we must face in the next few generations with the foreseeable technology, it is clear that we will greatly increase human misery if we do not, during the immediate future, assume that the world available to the terrestrial human population is finite. "Space" is no escape (2). A finite world can support only a finite population; therefore, population growth must eventually equal zero. (The case of perpetual wide fluctuations above and below zero is a trivial variant that need not be discussed.) When this condition is met, what will be the situation of mankind? Specifically, can Bentham's goal of "the greatest good for the greatest number" be realized?
No--for two reasons, each sufficient by itself. The first is a theoretical one. It is not mathematically possible to maximize for two (or more) variables at the same time. This was clearly stated by von Neumann and Morgenstern (3), but the principle is implicit in the theory of partial differential equations, dating back at least to D'Alembert (1717-1783).
The second reason springs directly from biological facts. To live, any organism must have a source of energy (for example, food). This energy is utilized for two purposes: mere maintenance and work. For man, maintenance of life requires about 1600 kilocalories a day ("maintenance calories"). Anything that he does over and above merely staying alive will be defined as work, and is supported by "work calories" which he takes in. Work calories are used not only for what we call work in common speech; they are also required for all forms of enjoyment, from swimming and automobile racing to playing music and writing poetry. If our goal is to maximize population it is obvious what we must do: We must make the work calories per person approach as close to zero as possible. No gourmet meals, no vacations, no sports, no music, no literature, no art ... I think that everyone will grant, without argument or proof, that maximizing population does not maximize goods. Bentham's goal is impossible.
In reaching this conclusion I have made the usual assumption that it is the acquisition of energy that is the problem. The appearance of atomic energy has led some to question this assumption. However, given an infinite source of energy, population growth still produces an inescapable problem. The problem of the acquisition of energy is replaced by the problem of its dissipation, as J. H. Fremlin has so wittily shown (4). The arithmetic signs in the analysis are, as it were, reversed; but Bentham's goal is still unobtainable.
The optimum population is, then, less than the maximum. The difficulty of defining the optimum is enormous; so far as I know, no one has seriously tackled this problem. Reaching an acceptable and stable solution will surely require more than one generation of hard analytical work--and much persuasion.
We want the maximum good per person; but what is good? To one person it is wilderness, to another it is ski lodges for thousands. To one it is estuaries to nourish ducks for hunters to shoot; to another it is factory land. Comparing one good with another is, we usually say, impossible because goods are incommensurable. Incommensurables cannot be compared.
Theoretically this may be true; but in real life incommensurables are commensurable. Only a criterion of judgment and a system of weighting are needed. In nature the criterion is survival. Is it better for a species to be small and hideable, or large and powerful? Natural selection commensurates the incommensurables. The compromise achieved depends on a natural weighting of the values of the variables.
Man must imitate this process. There is no doubt that in fact he already does, but unconsciously. It is when the hidden decisions are made explicit that the arguments begin. The problem for the years ahead is to work out an acceptable theory of weighting. Synergistic effects, nonlinear variation, and difficulties in discounting the future make the intellectual problem difficult, but not (in principle) insoluble.
Has any cultural group solved this practical problem at the present time, even on an intuitive level? One simple fact proves that none has: there is no prosperous population in the world today that has, and has had for some time, a growth rate of zero. Any people that has intuitively identified its optimum point will soon reach it, after which its growth rate becomes and remains zero.
Of course, a positive growth rate might be taken as evidence that a population is below its optimum. However, by any reasonable standards, the most rapidly growing populations on earth today are (in general) the most miserable. This association (which need not be invariable) casts doubt on the optimistic assumption that the positive growth rate of a population is evidence that it has yet to reach its optimum.
We can make little progress in working toward optimum population size until we explicitly exorcize the spirit of Adam Smith in the field of practical demography. In economic affairs, The Wealth of Nations (1776) popularized the "invisible hand," the idea that an individual who "intends only his own gain," is, as it were, "led by an invisible hand to promote ... the public interest" (5). Adam Smith did not assert that this was invariably true, and perhaps neither did any of his followers. But he contributed to a dominant tendency of thought that has ever since interfered with positive action based on rational analysis, namely, the tendency to assume that decisions reached individually will, in fact, be the best decisions for an entire society. If this assumption is correct it justifies the continuance of our present policy of laissez-faire in reproduction. If it is correct we can assume that men will control their individual fecundity so as to produce the optimum population. If the assumption is not correct, we need to reexamine our individual freedoms to see which ones are defensible.
Tragedy of Freedom in a Commons
The rebuttal to the invisible hand in population control is to be found in a scenario first sketched in a little-known pamphlet (6) in 1833 by a mathematical amateur named William Forster Lloyd (1794-1852). We may well call it "the tragedy of the commons", using the word "tragedy" as the philosopher Whitehead used it (7): "The essence of dramatic tragedy is not unhappiness. It resides in the solemnity of the remorseless working of things." He then goes on to say, "This inevitableness of destiny can only be illustrated in terms of human life by incidents which in fact involve unhappiness. For it is only by them that the futility of escape can be made evident in the drama."
The tragedy of the commons develops in this way. Picture a pasture open to all. It is to be expected that each herdsman will try to keep as many cattle as possible on the commons. Such an arrangement may work reasonably satisfactorily for centuries because tribal wars, poaching, and disease keep the numbers of both man and beast well below the carrying capacity of the land. Finally, however, comes the day of reckoning, that is, the day when the long-desired goal of social stability becomes a reality. At this point, the inherent logic of the commons remorselessly generates tragedy.
Evolution's Evolution: Darwin’s dangerous idea has adapted to modern biology (Rachel Ehrenberg, January 31st, 2009, Science News)
Subversive as it was, Darwin’s proposal that species can change was not the first. Naturalists and philosophers had long been contemplating life’s diversity. By the late 1700s, French naturalist Georges Cuvier had established that after great environmental change, some organisms got snuffed out, went kaput, extinct. A little later, zoologist and philosopher Jean Baptiste Lamarck proposed the notion of adaptation, explaining variation among organisms as a response to their environments. But Lamarck saw the change in organisms through time as a one-way path to perfection, from simple to increasingly complex, with humans at the pinnacle. His environment-caused variation was an excuse to explain why some organisms strayed from the “tendency toward perfection.”
It took Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace to recognize (independently) that variety was actually the spice of life, not its flaw. Both men had read the work of economist Thomas Malthus, who warned that food supplies could never keep up with growing populations. No matter what, some people would meet an early death. Darwin and Wallace both reasoned that beetles, birds and beech trees also have more babies than can survive and that variation among such offspring was important in determining who lived. Individuals who were better equipped for their environment than their siblings or neighbors would survive; the features that enabled their survival would be passed on to their kids.
Darwin called this process natural selection, and life evolved largely because of it, he argued in the Origin.
“So I Sent In My Resignation...”: Mary Ann Glendon, the scholarly, profound United States Ambassador to the Holy See during the past year, resigned her post this past week to allow Barack Obama, the new US president, to choose a new US ambassador to the Vatican to his liking. Now Glendon reflects on her year in Rome in an interview with our correspondent, Roman journalist Alberto Carosa. Glendon’s reflections give an insight into the work of diplomacy in Rome at the highest level (Albert Carosa, Inside The Vatican)
Can you also elaborate now about what you see as the common points between the Vatican and your country?
Ambassador Glendon: For the past several years, there has been a strong correspondence between the views of the U.S. government and the Holy See on the importance of strengthening the global moral consensus against terror (especially against the use of religion as a justification for violence); promoting human rights (especially religious freedom); fostering inter-religious dialogue; and working for peace in the Middle East and other troubled areas of the world. And of course President Bush and Pope Benedict XVI shared a common outlook on a wide range of social and cultural issues.
There is another area of common concern, however, where it seems to me that neither the U.S. nor the Holy See receives the recognition they deserve. I’m referring to their commitment to the relief of poverty, hunger, and disease. On those fronts, a natural partnership has grown up between the United States, as the world’s largest and most generous donor of humanitarian aid, and the Holy See, which oversees the world’s largest network of health care, educational, and relief agencies.
That community of interest intensified over the past eight years thanks to President Bush’s energetic embrace of one of the most important political ideas of the late 20th century, namely, that social services can often be delivered more efficiently, effectively and humanely through the mediating structures of civil society, than by government acting directly. President Bush has said he considers his initiatives with faith-based institutions as one of the “crowning achievements’ of his presidency, a presidency that saw the U.S. government double its aid to Latin America, quadruple it to Africa, and triple it worldwide. Through creative partnerships between government and faith-based organizations, America has provided the world with successful models for getting official aid to its intended beneficiaries with low transaction costs and high accountability.
These initiatives, permitting participating religious groups to maintain their principles and identity, are very much in the spirit of Pope Benedict XVI’s first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est ("God Is Love") where he wrote that “The state that would provide everything, absorbing everything into itself, would ultimately become a mere bureaucracy incapable of guaranteeing the very thing the suffering person—every person—needs: namely love and personal concern." The notion that charity is merely a social service, he pointed out, “demeans man and ultimately disregards all that is specifically human” (DCE, 28b).
And what about the differences between Rome and Washington? Will they be overcome one day?
Ambassador Glendon: By the time I arrived last year, there was no disposition to revisit the major difference that had arisen in recent years--that over the decision to take military action against the regime in Iraq.
Behind the Executive Orders (Jane Mayer, 1/25/09, The New Yorker)
Shortly before the signing ceremony, Craig said, Obama met with the officers in the Roosevelt Room, along with Vice-President Biden and several other top Administration officials. “It was hugely important to the President to have the input from these military people,” Craig said, “not only because of their proven concern for protecting the American people—they’d dedicated their lives to it—but also because some had their own experience they could speak from.” Two of the officers had sons serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. One of them, retired Major General Paul Eaton, stressed that, as he put it later that day, “torture is the tool of the lazy, the stupid, and the pseudo-tough. It’s also perhaps the greatest recruiting tool that the terrorists have.” The feeling in the room, as retired Rear Admiral John Hutson later put it, “was joy, perhaps, that the country was getting back on track.”
Across the Potomac River, at the C.I.A.’s headquarters, in Langley, Virginia, however, there was considerably less jubilation. Top C.I.A. officials have argued for years that so-called “enhanced” interrogation techniques have yielded lifesaving intelligence breakthroughs. “They disagree in some respect,” Craig admitted. Among the hard questions that Obama left open, in fact, is whether the C.I.A. will have to follow the same interrogation rules as the military. While the President has clearly put an end to cruel tactics, Craig said that Obama “is somewhat sympathetic to the spies’ argument that their mission and circumstances are different.”
Del Toro walks out of 'Che' interview (Sonny Bunch, January 27, 2009, Washington Times)
"I'm getting uncomfortable," Benicio del Toro says after fielding a question on his new movie's portrayal of the Bolivian and Cuban revolutions. "I'm done. I'm done, I hope you write whatever you want. I don't give a damn." [...]
"He was a man full of hatred," says Armando Valladares, the Cuban dissident imprisoned by the revolutionary regime in 1959. Named a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International, Mr. Valladares is the author of "Against All Hope: A Memoir of Life in Castro's Gulag" and a board member of the Human Rights Foundation. Speaking through Glenda Aldana, a translator who works for the HRF, Mr. Valladares points to Guevara's own writings as proof.
In his "Message to the Tricontinental," Guevara espoused "hatred as an element of struggle; unbending hatred for the enemy, which pushes a human being beyond his natural limitations, making him into an effective, violent, selective, and cold-blooded killing machine."
"He took joy in killing counterrevolutionaries and was one of the most hard-edged, most Stalinist, pro-Soviet Communists of the whole leadership," says Ronald Radosh, a Hudson Institute adjunct fellow and author of "Commies: A Journey Through the Old Left, the New Left and the Leftover Left."
Think Again: Barack Obama and the War on Terror (David M. Edelstein, Ronald R. Krebs, January 2009, Foreign Policy)
Yes, Obama, by his presence and personality, has changed the atmospherics of U.S. foreign relations. America's reputation around the world has for some time been at a nadir, so there is nowhere to go but up. But the United States' poor image abroad has not been the result of a marketing failure, and, thus, better public diplomacy will not lead to victory in the "Battle of Ideas." Anti-Americanism thrives, not because others misunderstand the United States, but because they perceive its aims and tactics all too well. The Bush administration's greatest perceived foreign-policy failures -- Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo, unimpeded global warming -- could not have been overcome with better public diplomacy, and recent improvements in trans-Atlantic relations cannot be credited to an improved sales pitch. The world is rightly waiting to see if Obama will match his words with actions. Public diplomacy can matter only at the margins.
As much as he might wish it, Obama does not enter the Oval Office with a clean slate. The sizable U.S. presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, combined with the aggressive hunt for al Qaeda leaders in Pakistan's tribal areas, will continue to rankle in the Arab and Muslim worlds. Elsewhere, criticism of U.S. foreign policy predated Bush -- the French expressed alarm at American "hyperpower" during the "good old days" of Clintonian multilateralism -- and will persist after he leaves office. Notwithstanding the financial meltdown and U.S. travails in Iraq, the United States remains the world's largest economic and military power by far. Its penchant for pursuing its global interests unilaterally lies at the root of many others' suspicions, and there will be times that even an Obama administration will chafe at and throw off any self-imposed shackles. When that happens, those high-flying expectations will come crashing back to earth.
National Sovereignty Is More Important than International “Justice” (John Laughland, 2009-01-23, Brussels Journal)
If, as is expected, the judges of the International Criminal Court in The Hague confirm the indictment for genocide of the president of Sudan (an indictment having been issued by the prosecutor in July 2008, which requires confirmation by the judges for it to be valid) then the principle of national sovereignty will have been definitively buried in international law. What used to be the uncontested cornerstone of the international system will have become a dead letter – and even a principle associated with the worst abuses of human rights. [...]
Human rights activist are, of course, eagerly awaiting the confirmation. For many years they have said that the fight for universal human rights is a fight against national sovereignty. On the face of it, it seems obvious that states do not have unlimited rights within their own borders and that they can be legitimately attacked or condemned if they abuse their own citizens. Not only is such behaviour shocking in its own right; it has a specially shocking quality akin to that of sexual abuse committed by fathers against their children. When a state abuses its own citizens, it breaks a very fundamental contract by violating its duty to protect them.
However, just as the original authors of the concept of the rights of man, the French revolutionaries, wanted to supplant the sovereignty of the king and replace it with their own sovereignty instead, so the proclamation that nation states do not have certain rights is in fact a proclamation that someone else, in this case the ICC but often “the international community”, has the right to adjudicate the matter. To say that Sudan does not have the right to commit genocide is a truism; to say that it is committing genocide and that a criminal indictment of the head of state is the best way to achieve peace in Darfur are political judgements.
They may well be true. But if they are then used to justify acts of violence – for instance military intervention in Sudan, or the capture and imprisonment after conviction of the Sudanese president – then such acts of violence, like all state or super-state acts, will themselves be based on sovereign decisions not susceptible to further counter-appeal or condemnation. In law, at least in the law of the countries leading any such attack or in the law of the ICC, they will not be criminal acts but instead acts of justice.
It may seem perverse to rehearse the niceties of constitutional argument in the face of mass death in the civil war in Sudan. But the creation of coercive supranational jurisdictions like that of the ICC – coercive because Sudan, unlike the signatory states of the ICC Charter, has not consented to it – poses two fundamental (and related) political questions. These two questions, indeed, are among the oldest in political philosophy; indeed, one can even say that they express the very essence of politics itself.
The first question is: “Who has the right to rule?” Do international judges in The Hague have the right to say who is a criminal in Sudan? More generally, is it better that international organisations have the right to rule, or should nation-states have this right? The question has to be decided one way or another because although there can be much interpenetration of international and national law, on all sorts of issues, the normal basis for this is consent by the nation-states concerned, who express their consent in the form of treaties. States can consent to very intrusive international regimes, for instance the European Union or the World Trade Organisation, but the ICC represents something qualitatively different – an international regime which exercises power outside the territory of those states which have consented to it.
The second question is, “When is it right to use force?”
The End of Solitude: As everyone seeks more and broader connectivity, the still, small voice speaks only in silence (WILLIAM DERESIEWICZ, 1/30/09, The Chronicle Review)
What does the contemporary self want? The camera has created a culture of celebrity; the computer is creating a culture of connectivity. As the two technologies converge — broadband tipping the Web from text to image, social-networking sites spreading the mesh of interconnection ever wider — the two cultures betray a common impulse. Celebrity and connectivity are both ways of becoming known. This is what the contemporary self wants. It wants to be recognized, wants to be connected: It wants to be visible. If not to the millions, on Survivor or Oprah, then to the hundreds, on Twitter or Facebook. This is the quality that validates us, this is how we become real to ourselves — by being seen by others. The great contemporary terror is anonymity. If Lionel Trilling was right, if the property that grounded the self, in Romanticism, was sincerity, and in modernism it was authenticity, then in postmodernism it is visibility.
So we live exclusively in relation to others, and what disappears from our lives is solitude. Technology is taking away our privacy and our concentration, but it is also taking away our ability to be alone. Though I shouldn't say taking away. We are doing this to ourselves; we are discarding these riches as fast as we can. I was told by one of her older relatives that a teenager I know had sent 3,000 text messages one recent month. That's 100 a day, or about one every 10 waking minutes, morning, noon, and night, weekdays and weekends, class time, lunch time, homework time, and toothbrushing time. So on average, she's never alone for more than 10 minutes at once. Which means, she's never alone.
I once asked my students about the place that solitude has in their lives. One of them admitted that she finds the prospect of being alone so unsettling that she'll sit with a friend even when she has a paper to write. Another said, why would anyone want to be alone?
To that remarkable question, history offers a number of answers. Man may be a social animal, but solitude has traditionally been a societal value.
Bush's Personality Shapes His Legacy: Don't misunderestimate the ways he shaped life in the White House and beyond (BEN FELLER, 1/15/09, Associated Press)
Bush's style and temperament are as much his legacy as his decisions. One shaped lives, the other created indelible memories — positive and negative.
Call it distinctly Bush.
Don't be late.
Bush demands punctuality and disdains inefficiency. Every meeting better have a clear purpose. And it better not repeat what he already knows.
He is up early and in the Oval Office by 6:45 a.m. By 9:30 to 10 at night, it's lights out. He likes to be fresh and won't get cheated on his sleep.
In sessions with policy experts, Bush tends to ask questions that get right to the nub of a sticky issue. His top aides speak regretfully about how the country never got to see that side of him, even after all this time. They describe a man who is deeply inquisitive, not blithely incurious as much of the world thinks.
When Bush wants answers, guessing isn't advised.
"He can sniff it out a mile away if you don't have the goods," said White House communications director Kevin Sullivan.
Other people write Bush's speeches, but he'll kick out phrases that he thinks stray from a logical progression. It's about discipline.
You can tell the issues that really get Bush going, because he talks about them differently, more passionately: education, AIDS relief, freedom. They happen to be ones that can be viewed more clearly through a moral lens. That's how he sees the world.
Bush reads the Bible regularly. Another devotion: exercise. He makes time for a workout at least six days a week, wherever he is. And he goes at it hard, especially on his mountain bike on the weekends, when he pushes Secret Service agents to keep up with him. He is competitive and likes to stay in command.
Even eating is approached with sheer purpose.
Bush wants his lunch ready when he is, and wolfs it down. His tastes are clear: maybe a peanut butter and honey sandwich, a BLT, or a burger. Former White House executive chef Walter Scheib learned from Bush never to serve a grilled cheese sandwich unless it came with a side of French's yellow mustard.
The man from a land of cowboy boots orders proper dress in the White House. No jeans allowed in the West Wing. Coat and tie in the Oval Office.
"Orderliness in the process gave him confidence," said Peter Wehner, a former top Bush aide and now a senior fellow at the Ethics & Public Policy Center.
With Friends Like These: The left quadrant of Obama’s base wants to stay relevant by staying angry. And the right doesn’t have anything to do but get angry. So who’s his biggest problem? (John Heilemann, Jan 25, 2009, New York)
From the moment that Team Obama floated details of the plan, liberals have complained that the ratio of tax cuts to investment was seriously out of whack as a matter of sound economics; and also that, in political terms, it represented a sort of pre-capitulation to the Republicans both unnecessary and unwise. Leading the chorus of critics has been Paul Krugman, who observed the other day in his blog that the House had scaled back mass-transit spending in order to accommodate the tax cuts. “I feel a bit of post-partisan depression coming on,” Krugman sighed.
The liberal angst over Obama simmered throughout the transition, fired by a set of appointments, especially on economics and national security, so conspicuously centrist that it seemed to some Washington players almost designed to alienate progressives. “They didn’t throw any bones to the left,” says one prominent Democrat. “And they’re just too smart for that to have been an accident.” But the worries never came to a boil, and they may not for some time. Indeed, the left thrilled to the initial set of executive orders issued by Obama during his first two days in office, not least the one ordaining the closure of Guantánamo within a year and the one that included this: “All executive directives, orders, and regulations inconsistent with this order, including but not limited to those issued to or by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) from September 11, 2001, to January 20, 2009, concerning detention or the interrogation of detained individuals, are revoked to the extent of their inconsistency with this order.” (A sweeter piece of bureaucratese has rarely been committed to paper.)
But it’s not hard to see where Obama and the left could be on a collision course. It didn’t go unnoticed in labor circles that when Obama’s transition website, Change.gov, morphed into whitehouse.gov, a number of progressive economic planks suddenly disappeared. Gone were mentions of fair trade. Gone was any reference to EFCA, the so-called card-check bill that would make it much easier to organize unions and is the highest of all priorities for organized labor. Though the promises enumerated there to gays and lesbians are many and explicit—civil unions and full federal rights, workplace non-discrimination, the repeal of don’t-ask-don’t-tell—you can bet that, especially after the Warren imbroglio, the LGBT community will be on lookout for foot-dragging. And there’s foreign policy, where Obama could incite liberal outrage if he doesn’t pull troops out of Iraq as quickly as promised or fails to intervene in Darfur.
As a practical matter, Obama’s management of ideological extremes will play out in his dealings with Congress. And here the difference between the House and Senate will test his dexterity. In the House, with its substantial Democratic majority and the absence of the filibuster, Obama can afford—and is sure to be pressured by his party—to build coalitions from the left toward the center. But in the Senate, a unified minority has the ability to bring his legislative agenda grinding to a halt. So the need for Republican cooperation is essential, and thus the imperative will be to stitch together coalitions from the center out. The tension between the two strategies is obvious; a hell of a balancing act is required.
Judging from Obama’s early moves, most old Washington hands have concluded that the new administration is focused mainly on the Senate. “Everything they’re doing seems to me to be about getting to 60 [votes],” says one such observer. “They forgive Lieberman. They play nice with Susan Collins. They play nice with McCain; I mean, my God, they appoint Janet Napolitano to Homeland Security so that McCain won’t have a serious opponent in Arizona and have to run more to his right. It’s almost diabolical.”
The left, no doubt, is quietly nervous about talk like this. They fret that Obama’s vaunted pragmatism could easily become a dispiriting kind of (dare we say, Clintonian) expedience.
Zeus Cult Sacrificed Animals on Mountaintop Altar (Jennifer Viegas, Jan. 26, 2009, Discovery News)
LETTER TO THE EDITOR: In child's letter to Obama, a small step to changing world (Boston Globe, January 26, 2009)
I WAS running around with typical errands - picking kids up from school, cleaning the house, laundry, paying bills, getting dinner - all the chaotic daily chores of a working mother. In the middle of my self-induced whirlwind, my 6-year-old son handed me a letter he wrote to the president at school: "Dear President Obama, Congratulations! Please make no more wars. I will not litter. Sincerely, Michael Goodwin."
In times such as these, with the economy struggling, people out of work, our healthcare and schools in disarray, and global turmoil, his letter made me stop in my tracks. As I hugged him, glad for this brief moment of peace, I thought, why not? It should be as simple as that. Make no more wars and I promise not to litter.
Will Jimmy Carter Meddle in Obama's Foreign Affairs?: Ever since he left the White House in defeat 28 years ago, Jimmy Carter's freewheeling, freelance diplomacy has put him squarely at odds with his successors, but could he help President Obama? (Stephen Clark, 1/24/09, FOXNews.com)
At times, ever since he left the White House in defeat 28 years ago, Carter's freewheeling, freelance diplomacy has put him squarely at odds with his successors. While other ex-presidents have rode off into the sunset to enjoy, for the most part, quiet retirements, Carter has stayed busy writing best-selling books, conducting his own foreign policy and winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002 for his work.
His supporters hail him as a hero and his critics deride him as self-righteous and egotistical. But in recent years, Carter has lost support even among his defenders for comparing Israeli treatment of Palestinians to South African apartheid in a book he wrote -- and for meeting with Hamas leaders to discuss a peace deal.
Greenberg said he believes Carter has morphed from an angry and resentful ex-president after losing to Ronald Reagan to a self-righteous man who has damaged his reputation with his acts.
The end of Russia?: On its present course, Russia is doomed, claims the distinguished historian, Yury Afanasiev. Why did reform change nothing? Why has the wheel of history turned back to autocracy? 500 years of oppression are reaching a terrible climax. In this important, excoriating essay, he challenges his people to face the truth about their history (Yury Afanasiev, 21 - 01 - 2009, OpenDemocracy)
The particular character of Russian power is as important as eternal war, militarisation and Orthodoxy. These are the key building blocks of ‘the Russian path'. Our government could write ‘force' on one side of its calling card, and ‘occupation' on the other. For its attitude to the population of its own country is that of a foreign occupier.
This kind of power took many centuries, maybe even many millennia, to establish itself in Rus', then in Russia. There were two different cultures in the vast expanses of our ancestral homeland. There was the Forest culture, a settled way of life, that of the ploughman, and there was the Steppe culture, that of the warrior, the nomadic cattle breeder, the historical phenomenon known as the Golden Horde. Contacts between these very different types of cultures, numerous wars and mutual borrowings from each other, opposition, conspiracies, betrayals, subjugations and conquests initially in Muscovy and then in Russia led eventually to the triumph of one over all the others.
This was the power brought in by the nomadic cattle breeders and warriors. This Horde power is so entangled with our national history that it has become our own. Its defining feature, apart from the words on the calling card, there is only one player - autocratic power, monologue not dialogue, dictatorship not discussion, a complete ignorance of compromise, utter rejection of agreement as a mode of communication. It is Manichaean, lacking in what Nikolai Berdyaev called the ‘culture of the golden mean'.
The divergence of European and Russian cultures, which was much debated by 19th century historians, began much earlier. The different social dynamics of the two cultures are already in evidence in the proto-Russian space when Lithuanian Rus' and Muscovite Rus' were neighbours. That co-existence and rivalry ended with the victory of Muscovy and the creation of a Russia dominated by ‘Horde power'.
These two cultures are quite distinct. One leads to the creation and development over a long period of the freedom of the individual. In the other, the space for the personality to emerge and develop is steadily reduced.
On one side you have the Magna Carta Libertatum (‘Great Charter of Liberties') and the Habeas Corpus Act. On the other, the ‘Great Yasa' of Genghis Khan. The former cultivates personality and society, the latter prioritises the state and other institutions. The social oppositions which stem from this are endless: democracy versus authoritarianism, agreement versus force, dialogue versus monocentrism, consent versus arbitrary decisions, horizontal ties in society versus the vertical of power etc.
The Magna Carta dates from 1214 (i.e. it was signed two decades before Batu Khan invaded Rus'). A whole range of freedoms protects the individual from the state in English law. Government bodies have no recourse to arbitrary arrest and punishment, obloquy, robbery and violence. This determined the agenda of constitutional guarantees, which were the subject of disputes with the monarchy over many centuries. These guarantees found their expression in the symbolic document known as Habeas Corpus.
Genghis Khan published his ‘Great Yasa' in 1206. [...]
[T]he financial and economic crisis radically changes an already oppressive situation. It reveals the fragility of the Putin regime's strategy, and his means of governing.
Rather than revenues from oil and gas flowing in as usual, capital is flowing out. Production is dropping, unemployment is growing. Unresolved problems of health, education and housing have been drastically aggravated. With oil prices below the $70 that was allowed for in the budget, the government will have to wring money out of the population, as the reserve fund and the gold supply is not going to last long.
How is the regime going to manage to do this while maintaining its strategy of facing down the West and America? How can the population be controlled, when 40% live in poverty, and 15-20% of this 40% are practically beggars? More than 60% of our fellow citizens live in small towns and villages. It is there, on the social periphery, that paternalistic attitudes are most entrenched. This population is almost totally lacking in the material or spiritual resources, or the social means to change its position and lift itself out of its chronic depression.
This chaotic mass of people is the bedrock of our corruption. This is inevitable, constantly driven back into poverty as it is , swelling the ranks of the unemployed, lacking all political organization, sustained by none of the structures of a civil society.
Corruption is increasing almost exponentially. It dominates almost all sectors of society and all levels of power, including (so we are being told) the highest levels, headed by the president and prime minister. It is one of the most destructive consequences of the lack of structural and functional differentiation in contemporary public life.
Movement means life, as we all know. Today's "God, Tsar and Motherland" personified by Putin asks us to agree that morning gymnastics Russian-style ("rising from our knees" to drums and fanfares) means movement, life. And everyone believes them. They go through the motion of those morning gymnastics. Keeping their clenched fist in their pocket. Ready to beat up anyone who falls down.
But we're going to fall down - and we'll fall down together.
If we go on like this we will very soon bring about the end of the cultural and historical phenomenon that is still known as Russia.
Razing Arizona: The Cardinals' presence in the Super Bowl is fluky and disgraceful. (Charles P. Pierce, Jan. 26, 2009, Slate)
We're going to hear about how they magically transformed themselves at the end of the season. We're going to hear about the remarkable comeback of Kurt Warner. We're going to hear about how marvelous it is for the National Football League that a Super Bowl championship is within the grasp of a team so thickly dripping with obvious mediocrity that it's a wonder Charlie Sheen isn't playing left guard. We are going to hear all of this because the NFL and its broadcast partners operate on the very simple premise that everybody who reports—or follows—their sport on television is a paste-eating moron.
This simple fact is that the very presence of the Arizona Cardinals in the Super Bowl is at best a fluke and, at worst, a disgrace. They played in a landfill of a division. They won their two playoff games because Jake Delhomme of Carolina turned the ball over six times and because the Philadelphia Eagles all looked at the newspapers last Sunday and discovered they were in the NFC championship game again. The Cardinals are a glorified Arena Football League team with a soft defense and a running game unworthy of the name. They are in the position that they're in because the NFL rigs its season worse than any carny rigs his wheel. For all the macho posturing of its principal propagandists, between the jiggering of the schedule and the conniving of the draft and the socialistic revenue schemes, and the desperate grab for any mechanism that will flatten out the differences between really good teams and really bad ones, the NFL is the league that comes closest to the biddy soccer league philosophy of making sure that everyone gets a trophy.
Google's 'online' GDrive will make the PC redundant (Daily Mail, 26th January 2009)
The proposed new Google GDrive could kill off the personal computer, experts have warned.
The Google Drive service, which will reportedly launch later this year, allows users to store information online on Google's own servers rather than on the hard drive.
The process has been dubbed 'cloud computing' and is being seen as 'the most anticipated Google product so far'.
The GDrive would mean users would no longer have to worry about their hard drives crashing as their data could be accessed from any internet connection, a move that could effectively make PCs redundant.
Markets Solve The Immigration 'Problem': A decline in foreign migrants is a bad sign for any economy. (John Tamny, 01.26.09, Forbes)
During the darkest days of the war in Iraq, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair was asked whether the United States' best days were behind it. Instead of piling on with the popular suggestion that the U.S. was a nation in decline, Blair calmly replied that failing countries usually repel rather than attract immigrants.
Far from indicating a country on the ropes, the foreigners seeking both legal and illegal entry into the U.S. in the last decade are a market signal pointing to a nation doing far better than elite thinking around the world has suggested. Simply put, countries that attract the washed and unwashed the world over are pictures of success; the countries that lose their limited human capital are failures. Cuba, North Korea and Zimbabwe do not have immigration "problems."
Blair's past thinking takes on new meaning when we consider a recent front page story from USA Today titled, "Fewer immigrants caught sneaking into U.S." Thanks to a weakened economic outlook stateside, the number of people "caught trying to sneak into the USA from Mexico is at its lowest level since the mid-1970s."
No doubt tougher border enforcement explains some of the above, but the bigger story here reveals the market forces that factor into all human activity. With jobs in the U.S. presently harder to come by, the number of migrants here has declined.
GOP walks thin line in opposing stimulus (PATRICK O'CONNOR, 1/26/09, Politico)
Congressional Republicans face the tough task of opposing an economic stimulus plan proposed by President Obama – without opposing Obama himself.
So expect the GOP to heap plenty of blame on the congressional Democrats who authored the legislation while shielding the popular new president from any of the mud slung at his allies.
It helps that most Republicans genuinely dislike the initial draft offered by Democrats in the House, an $825 billion combination of spending and tax cuts that seeks to boost funding for programs long ignored by President Bush.
Over the last week, some Republicans have intensified their criticism of the $825 billion package as too big, too slow, and too wasteful to pull the country out of recession.
"There should be an endpoint to all of this spending - say, two years," Senator John McCain, the party's 2008 presidential nominee, said in an interview on "Fox News Sunday." He vowed to vote against the bill in its current form.
"We need to have a commitment that after a couple of quarters of GDP growth, we will embark on a path to reduce spending . . . to get our budget in balance," McCain said.
GOP keeps 2010 in mind on stimulus (JOSH KRAUSHAAR, 1/26/09, Politico)
While their support is not critical for passage of the legislation in a Democratic-controlled Congress, the reticence of those most likely to cross the aisle suggests an emerging GOP political calculus that members who vote against the package won’t suffer political consequences in 2010.
Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), a leading GOP moderate who co-chairs the Tuesday Group, a caucus of moderate Republicans, spelled out his concerns in a memo last week to his House Appropriations Committee colleagues, replete with an 11-point rebuttal of the proposed stimulus.
In the memo, he argued that a similar level of job creation can be achieved for just $65 billion and that many of the items are wasteful and unrelated to economic stimulus.
Kirk said his office e-mailed a poll to his constituents — in a district that was easily carried by Obama — and 65 percent responded in opposition to the legislation.
Obama to Direct Shift in Emissions Regulations (JOHN M. BRODER and PETER BAKER, 1/26/09, NY Times)
President Barack Obama will direct federal regulators on Monday to move swiftly on an application by California and 13 other states to set strict automobile emissions and fuel efficiency standards, two administration officials said Sunday evening.
The directive makes good on an Obama campaign pledge and signifies a sharp reversal of Bush administration policy. Granting California and the other states the right to regulate tailpipe emissions would be one of the most emphatic actions Mr. Obama could take to quickly put his stamp on environmental policy.
There are ultimately only three philosophies of life, and each one is represented by one of the following books of the Bible:
1. Life as vanity: Ecclesiastes
2. Life as suffering: Job
3. Life as love: Song of Songs
No more perfect or profound book has ever been written for any one of these three philosophies of life. Ecciesiastes is the all-time classic of vanity. Job is the all-time classic of suffering. And Song of Songs is the all-time classic of love.
The reason these are the only three possible philosophies of life is because they represent the only three places or conditions in which we can be. Ecclcsiastcs' "vanity" represents Hell. Job's suffering represents Purgatory.  And Song of Songs' love represents Heaven. All three conditions begin here and now on earth. As C. S. Lewis put it, "All that seems earth is Hell or Heaven." It is a shattering line, and Lewis added this one to it: "Lord, open not too often my weak eyes to this.
The essence of Hell is not suffering but vanity, not pain but purposelessness, not physical suffering but spiritual suffering. Dante was right to have the sign over Hell's gate read: "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here."
Suffering is not the essence of Hell, because suffering can be hopeful. It was for job. Job never lost his faith and his hope (which is faith directed at the future), and his suffering proved to be purifying, purgative, educational: it gave him eyes to see God. That is why we are all on earth.
Finally, Heaven is love, for Heaven is essentially the presence of God, and God is essentially love. ("God is love.') [...]
Three Theological Virtues
These three books also teach the three greatest things in the world, the three "theological virtues": faith, hope, and charity.
The lesson Ecclesiastes teaches is faith, the necessity of faith, by showing the utter vanity, the emptiness, of life without faith. Ecciesiastes uses only reason, human experience, and sense observation of life "under the sun" as instruments to see and think with; he does not add the eye of faith; and this is not enough to save him from the inevitable conclusion of "vanity of vanities". Then the postscript to the book, in the last few verses, speaks the word of faith. This is not proved by reason or sense observation, as in the rest of the book. This word of faith is the only one big enough to fill the silence of vanity. The word that answers Ecciesiastes' quest and gives the true answer to the question of the meaning of life is known only by faith: "Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil."
Ecciesiastes has intellectual faith; he believes God exists. But that is not enough. "The demons also believe, and tremble" (James 2:19). Ecciesiastes proves the need for real faith, true faith, lived faith, saving faith, by showing the consequences of its absence, even in the presence of intellectual faith.
Job's lesson is hope. Job has nothing else but hope. Everything else is taken away from him. But hope alone enables him to endure and to triumph.
Song of Songs is wholly about love, the ultimate meaning of life, the greatest thing in the world.
These three books also give us an essential summary of the spiritual history of the world. G. K. Chesterton did that in three sentences: "Paganism was the biggest thing in the world, and Christianity was bigger, and everything since has been comparatively small." Job shows us the heights of pre-Christian hope and heroism. It is not strictly pagan, of course, but it is not yet Christian. Song of Songs shows us the spiritual center of the Christian era, the era the modern secular establishment has told such incredible lies about, the Middle Ages. Finally, Ecciesiastes tells us the truth about the modern, post-Christian world and world view: once the divine Lover's marriage offer is spurned, the modern divorce cannot simply return to being a pagan virgin, any more than an individual who spurns Heaven and chooses Hell can make Hell into Purgatory, hopelessness into hope.
Christian, Therefore Conservative (Edward E. Ericson, Jr., Winter 2002, First Principles)
In The Conservative Mind, Russell Kirk, one of the fathers of modern American conservatism, offers a credo consonant with these central Christian teachings: “Conservatives believe that a divine intent rules society as well as conscience, forging an eternal chain of right and duty which links great and obscure, living and dead.” The Politics of Prudence, Kirk’s late-in-life summation of the principles of conservatism, lists as the first principle, “The conservative believes that there exists an enduring moral order. That order is made for man, and man is made for it: human nature is a constant, and moral truths are permanent.” A conservatism that seeks “the restoration of the ethical system and the religious sanction upon which any life worth living is founded,” Kirk has said, “is conservatism at its highest,” and it is my kind of conservatism.
What this perspective seeks to conserve is, in a nutshell, Western culture. The West’s two fountainhead sources are Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian thought. The great tradition of Western culture has proven peculiarly absorptive; it has brought influences from many disparate sources into a rich conversation. But it is Christianity that has for centuries formed its core. And it is, above all, this core to which “conservatism at its highest” remains faithful.
According to this view, reality is objective, and its source is God. Human beings find meaning in life by attaching themselves to this reality and its transcendent source, not by trying to construct their own version of reality. This vision accords primacy to the individual, who bears God’s image, but it locates him within community, since we are all his image-bearers and thereby share a common human nature. Christian conservatism hews a middle path between the modern errors of individualism and collectivism. It places a premium on human liberty, but it distinguishes liberty from license by placing limits on liberty; it proposes an ordered liberty. Freedom is constrained by moral laws that are built into the universe. These laws provide norms for good behavior. The goal is to live a good life, and this means living in harmony with the universe as it really is.
Because human beings are at one and the same time both grand (via creation) and miserable (via the fall), our lives are open to high drama, even to heroism. As Solzhenitsyn avers, “the line dividing good and evil cuts though the heart of every human being.” Great literature is the record of this drama. Writers who are not Christian—the ancient pagans, for instance—glimpse this overall pattern. But Christianity gives the fullest, most intellectually satisfying account of it. And part of that account is that, in our fallen condition, we cannot be restored to our full humanity as God’s image-bearers apart from the redemption provided by Christ’s sacrifice.
The drama of our lives is to be played out in all spheres of human activity. These include politics and economics. However, as Solzhenitsyn says, “ . . . the state structure is of secondary significance. That this is so, Christ himself teaches us. ‘Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s’—not because every Caesar deserves it, but because Caesar’s concern is not with the most important thing in our lives.” So I reject the primacy of politics, which I think some conservatives share with liberals and leftists.
The longstanding Christian world view retains numerous adherents among the populace today. Among intellectuals, however, it headed into eclipse 200 years ago with the Enlightenment, which gave birth to the modern age. If Enlightenment thought played a certain, albeit limited, positive role in the founding of the United States, it was a disaster for Christianity; for it set in motion a rejection of God and a substitution of man for God. The Enlightenment promulgated what Solzhenitsyn has called “rationalistic humanism or humanistic autonomy: the proclaimed and practiced autonomy of man from any higher force above him. It could also be called anthropocentricity, with man seen as the center of all.”
Clint Eastwood's Libertarian-Conservative Vision (David Swindle, January 23, 2009, FrontPageMagazine.com)
The mildly racist Walt is horrified to see his neighborhood filled with Asian immigrants, the younger generation of which have resorted to gang life. Walt gradually sheds his prejudices, though, as a series of events bring him into contact with his neighbors. In teenage Thao, he finds a boy who respects his elders and is concerned about his family's honor. Walt begins to mentor Thao, teaching him in the ways of masculinity and setting him up with a construction job. Thao's opportunity to make something of himself, though, is threatened by gang members who seek to draw him into their lifestyle and react violently when he resists. The Korean War veteran realizes that his neighborhood has become a war zone. Walt, now invested in the boy's future, realizes that Thao's opportunity to participate in the American Dream is threatened and reacts to defend him. [...]
The urban setting of "Gran Torino" perhaps reminds viewers more of Eastwood's other iconic role as Detective Harry Callahan in director Don Siegel's "Dirty Harry" and its sequels. The film featured Callahan on the trail of Scorpio, a sadistic serial killer. When one of the murderer's victims was supposedly trapped with a limited oxygen supply, Callahan ignored legal bureaucracy and regulations, breaking into the killer's home without a search warrant and engaging in some "enhanced interrogation techniques" to try and push the madman into revealing the girl's location. It seems clear how a contemporary film might apply this attitude to a terrorist with knowledge of an impending attack. For portraying such a character the film was famously attacked by prominent film critic Pauline Kael as "fascist." [...]
Within Eastwood's films, though, we see the transition from libertarianism to libertarian-conservatism. One can start out with a vision of freedom – that we must have a society in which individuals have the opportunity to pursue their own destinies and "everyone leaves everyone else alone," as Eastwood likes to sum up his views. Yet one becomes conservative when he comes to the realization that that freedom must be defended from those who threaten it; it must be conserved. We see this first manifest in "Dirty Harry" when the Eastwood character goes to extreme measures to confront a sociopath who threatens a city's freedom.
It's ultimately in "Gran Torino," though, that this idea gets its clearest expression. We want a society in which the next generation has the same opportunities of individual liberty to pursue their dreams. In order for the next generation to enjoy that freedom, we must confront sociopaths and nihilists – whether they be international Islamofascists or just local criminal gangs – who would threaten that fundamental American Vision.
I watched Dirty Harry for the first time in thirty years recently, having just watched the great film Zodiac which references it. I'd remembered how awful the 70s were, but forgotten that the buried prisoner scenario was central to the plot. Interesting to consider that movies like this helped create a climate in which we punish crime with appropriately puritanical zeal, after a long period of liberal coddling, but that we see no similar movies about the war against the jihadis.
As it happens, I've also just finished Alex Berenson's thriller, The Faithful Spy, a three year-old bestseller that--at least according to IMDB.com--isn't even in production as a film. It includes a number of conservative, or "fascistic," themes. For one thing, it takes a deliciously savage view of the CIA and the way that bureaucratic concerns trump intelligence. For another, John Wells, the spy of the title, not only genuinely accepts Islam while he is undercover in Afghanistan but is appalled by the dissolution in American society when he returns. Heck, there's even a plotline that involves al Qaeda buying yellowcake in Iraq. But there's also a really fine scene where the terrorist who was caught making that purchase is tortured at a secret prison in order to find out what the material was for. This includes a mature discussion of the difference between torturing a confession from someone--useless, because torture is so effective that anyone will confess to anything--and torturing intelligence out of someone--useful for the same reason. Clint Eastwood is too old these days to play John Wells, but is Hollywood really bereft of anyone who takes Salafism seriously enough to make a film about the fight against it where we're the good guys and the unfortunately harsh methods we use to combat it are justified?
Barack Obama and the American void: The president of the United States inaugurated on 20 January 2009 remains a political enigma. What are the true lineaments of his character, his vision, his faith, and his appeal? (Simon Critchley, adapted from remarks delivered at the American Political Science Association in Boston on 30 August 2008, OpenDemocracy)
There is something desperately lonely about Barack Obama's universe. One gets the overwhelming sense of someone yearning for connection, for something that binds human beings together, for community and commonality, for what he repeatedly calls "the common good". This is hardly news. We've known since his keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic national convention that "there's not a black America and a white America and Latino America and Asian America - there's the United States of America."
Obama's remedy to the widespread disillusion with politics in the United States is a reaffirmation of the act of union. This is possible only insofar as it is possible to restore a sense of community to the nation. That, in turn, requires a belief in the common good. In the face of grotesque inequality, governmental sleaze, and generalised anomie, we need "to affirm our bonds with one another". Belief in the common good is the sole basis for hope. Without belief, there is nothing to be done. Such is the avowedly improbable basis for Obama's entire push for the presidency.
The obvious criticism one could make is that Obama's politics is governed by an anti-political fantasy. It lies behind the appeal to the common good, that "no one is exempt from the call to find common ground"; or "not so far beneath the surface, I think, we are becoming more, not less, alike". This, one might claim, is the familiar delusion of an end to politics, the postulation of a state where we can put aside our differences, overcome partisanship, and come together in order to heal the nation.
The same longing for unity governs Obama's discourse on race, with his call for a black-brown alliance and his appeasing remark that "rightly or wrongly, white guilt has largely exhausted itself". Obama dreams of a society without power relations, without the agonism that constitutes political life. Against such a position one might assert that justice is always an agon, a conflict, and to refuse this assertion is to consign human beings to wallow in some emotional, fusional balm.
One might add that the source of this longing for union is its absence. We anxiously want to believe, because we don't and we can't. The yearning for the common good comes from the refusal to accept that perhaps Americans have very little in common apart from the elements of a sometimes successful civil religion based around a sentimental, indeed sometimes teary-eyed, attachment to the constitution and a belief in the quasi-divine wisdom of the founding fathers.
It is hardly surprising that someone like Mr. Obama has led a professional life that involves submerging himself into the institutions of his society in search of the sense of belonging that has eluded him in a personal life defined by a broken family. He may not know what "race" he is or who his parents were but by rising to the top at Harvard Law School and of the American constitutional order he can prove beyond a doubt that he is quintessentially "one of us."
Local professor introduces Austen's 'Pride and Prejudice' (Nashua Telegraph, 1/18/09)
For [Thomas More College Professor of Humanities Christopher] Blum, who has garnered a national reputation for his authoritative scholarship on the British novelist, writes that the works of Austen are filled with a dramatic and often hilarious portrayal of virtues and vices in action. His introduction to "Pride and Prejudice" delves into the role of virtue in Austen's life and how Catholic morality is evident within her novel.
"Although Jane Austen herself never married, she plainly understood that marriage and family were the essential framework of the moral life," Blum said. "And it is indeed because of its creator's moral vision, and not merely for its fairytale-like ending, that 'Pride and Prejudice' is a work of such rare loveliness. As with each of Jane Austen's novels, it is a probing reflection upon love, marriage, family, and the search for stability and goodness . . . ."
While some readers have dismissed Austen's work as merely amusing, Blum said that she, in fact, addresses the central question of human life: How shall we live together in community – beginning with its most basic unit, the family? Austen examines human depths that are not sounded in the typical novel of manners or 19th century love story.
" 'Pride and Prejudice' stands apart from Austen's other novels for its sustained and focused consideration of the moral development of its heroine and hero," Blum noted.
However, Blum does not see in Austen's delightful tales allegorical treatises or moralizing tracts.
Blum's essay also examines Austen's quiet Christian faith, her picture of the hero Mr. Darcy against the standard of virtue which she would have known, and her treatment of feminine character in light of her contemporaries. He contends that Austen is "the last great representative of the classical tradition of the virtues."
Revolution, Facebook-Style (SAMANTHA M. SHAPIRO, 1/25/09, NY Times)
[I]n Egypt, this time, the protests were different: some of the anger was aimed directly at the government of President Hosni Mubarak. In defiance of threats from the police, and in contravention of a national taboo, some demonstrators chanted slogans against Mubarak, condemning his government for maintaining diplomatic relations with Israel, for exporting natural gas to the country and for restricting movement through Egypt’s border with Gaza.
As the street protests went on, young Egyptians also were mobilizing and venting their anger over Gaza on what would, until recently, have seemed an unlikely venue: Facebook, the social-networking site. In most countries in the Arab world, Facebook is now one of the 10 most-visited Web sites, and in Egypt it ranks third, after Google and Yahoo. About one in nine Egyptians has Internet access, and around 9 percent of that group are on Facebook — a total of almost 800,000 members. This month, hundreds of Egyptian Facebook members, in private homes and at Internet cafes, have set up Gaza-related “groups.” Most expressed hatred for Israel and the United States, but each one had its own focus. Some sought to coordinate humanitarian aid to Gaza, some criticized the Egyptian government, some criticized other Arab countries for blaming Egypt for the conflict and still others railed against Hamas. When I sat down in the middle of January with an Arabic-language translator to look through Facebook, we found one new group with almost 2,000 members called “I’m sure I can find 1,000,000 members who hate Israel!!!” and another called “With all due respect, Gaza, I don’t support you,” which blamed Palestinian suffering on Hamas and lamented the recent shooting of two Egyptian border guards, which had been attributed to Hamas fire. Another group implored God to “destroy and burn the hearts of the Zionists.” Some Egyptian Facebook users had joined all three groups.
Freedom of speech and the right to assemble are limited in Egypt, which since 1981 has been ruled by Mubarak’s National Democratic Party under a permanent state-of-emergency law. An estimated 18,000 Egyptians are imprisoned under the law, which allows the police to arrest people without charges, allows the government to ban political organizations and makes it illegal for more than five people to gather without a license from the government. Newspapers are monitored by the Ministry of Information and generally refrain from directly criticizing Mubarak. And so for young people in Egypt, Facebook, which allows users to speak freely to one another and encourages them to form groups, is irresistible as a platform not only for social interaction but also for dissent.
Although there are countless political Facebook groups in Egypt, many of which flare up and fall into disuse in a matter of days, the one with the most dynamic debates is that of the April 6 Youth Movement, a group of 70,000 mostly young and educated Egyptians, most of whom had never been involved with politics before joining the group. The movement is less than a year old; it formed more or less spontaneously on Facebook last spring around an effort to stage a general nationwide strike. Members coalesce around a few issues — free speech, economic stagnation and government nepotism — and they share their ideas for improving Egypt. But they do more than just chat: they have tried to organize street protests to free jailed journalists, and this month, hundreds of young people from the April 6 group participated in demonstrations about Gaza, some of which were coordinated on Facebook, and at least eight members of the group were detained by police.
Sufi rising (Philip Jenkins, January 25, 2009, Boston Globe)
In 1979, Iran had 100,000 Sufis; today, there may be 5 million.
Globally, the movement represents a close parallel to the explosive worldwide growth of charismatic and Pentecostal styles within Christianity. Both practice a passionate style of religion, and both have demography on their side. [...]
Always, these movements speak the language of peace, hope, and reconciliation, and condemn extremism. These are the Muslim voices that can compete with the calls to jihad and terror.
Born to the Left, Aiming Her Camera Right (ELIZABETH JENSEN, 1/25/09, NY Times)
Many documentary makers labor for years to come up with just the right topic and nuanced approach, to coax interviews and to find money. But Ms. Pelosi, 38, has led a bit of a charmed life.
“Right America: Feeling Wronged,” subtitled “Some Voices From the Campaign Trail,” will be her fifth film for HBO. Her first was “Journeys With George” (2002), a look at George W. Bush’s first presidential campaign. Her total puts her in the company of HBO’s go-to group of documentarians, like Albert Maysles, Jon Alpert, and Alan and Susan Raymond.
But that’s not the company Ms. Pelosi keeps, or particularly desires; she’s more likely to be found at a Y.M.C.A. play date with her two toddlers and her husband, Michiel Vos, a Dutch television and radio commentator.
Her contrarian streak extends to her subjects. She is the daughter of Representative Nancy Pelosi, the California Democrat, speaker of the House and one of the country’s most influential liberal politicans, yet she has chosen to look at aspects of American conservatism in four of her five films. Her parentage has sometimes worked against her — she was repeatedly harassed at McCain events last year — but she chooses to portray her subjects as nondidactically as possible.
The scorn she shows in her work is reserved for what she calls the news media’s inappropriate coziness with politicians, the topic of her 2005 book, “Sneaking Into the Flying Circus.” (Recently, at the request of Steve Zaillian, the screenwriter of “Schindler’s List” and “American Gangster,” she wrote the screenplay “On the Bus,” which she describes as a “a coming-of-age story about a young journalist who loses her professional virginity on the campaign trail.”) [...]
Ms. Pelosi became a filmmaker after working as a journalist. A graduate of Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles and the recipient of a master’s degree in communications management from the University of Southern California, she was hired in 1995 as a low-level producer for “Dateline NBC.” She got her break in 1999 when she was assigned to follow Mr. Bush as a campaign producer.
She did the job brilliantly, said Robert Calo, a friend and former colleague who is now a senior lecturer in the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley. “Most people are very awed by it because they are very close to power,” he said, but she was not.
Instead of heading to the White House, the traditional track for producers when the candidates they are covering win, she quit to make “Journeys With George.” The tone of that film — a sometimes amused, sometimes appalled deconstruction of the campaign process and the journalism that accompanies it — meshed nicely with the rise of political satire in the Bush years, exemplified by “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart.”
“She deserves some credit for shattering the respectful world of political journalism,” Mr. Calo said.
While Ms. Pelosi takes her subjects seriously, he said, “there’s a sardonic kind of humor about public institutions that she brings. Maybe it’s because she grew up in a family that is an institution.”
Inauguration extravaganza sees journalists caught up in the moment: A comparison of Obama's celebration to Bush's in 2005 is a reminder that the media must guard against the bad habit of not asking questions. (James Rainey, January 25, 2009, LA Times)
When George Bush's people put on a $42-million inaugural program four years ago, many editorial writers and columnists around America came unglued.
A St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times commentator said the president needed to prove that his call for sacrifice "is more than just empty words." A Washington Post columnist suggested Bush & Co. should be ashamed of staging lavish parties in the face of their debacle in Iraq. A columnist at the New York Observer evoked images of Louis XIV.
It would have been nice, for the sake of consistency and fairness, if the commentariat had leveled a measure of that same attitude at last week's Obamapalooza, which cost roughly the same but drew a fraction of the blow-back.
Risk factors determined by medical stats (Judy Peres, January 25, 2009, Chicago Tribune)
Schwartz and Woloshin recalled an old magazine ad that proclaimed, "If you are over 35 and haven't had a mammogram, you need more than your breasts examined."
The obvious implication was that it's crazy not to get tested for breast cancer. But that ad failed to mention that, for a 35-year-old woman, the chance of dying from breast cancer over the next 10 years is only about 0.1 percent (or 1 in 1,000). And there is no evidence that mammograms save lives for women under 40.
A more recent newspaper ad from a respected cancer center carries this message: "The early warning signs of colon cancer: You feel great. You have a healthy appetite. You're only 50."
The ad—an attempt to scare readers into getting tested for colon cancer—suggests you might have the disease without knowing it. But how likely is that? And what benefit would you derive from getting tested?
In a new book, "Know Your Chances: Understanding Health Statistics," Schwartz, Woloshin and Dr. H. Gilbert Welch walk readers through the calculus.
Using the example of colon cancer screening, they suggest the first question to ask is, "What is my risk of getting colon cancer?"
You may have read that "colon cancer will strike about 150,000 Americans," which sounds like a lot. But there are 300 million Americans, and 150,000 out of 300 million is 0.05 percent, which seems a little less ominous.
If you believe the risk is worth thinking about, the next question would be, "What's the benefit of getting tested?" Clearly, a screening test will not protect you from getting colon cancer. But because of early detection, it might keep you from dying of the disease.
So, "What's my risk of dying of colon cancer?" The authors favor looking at risk in 10-year chunks because a decade is short enough to imagine but long enough to make changes that might reduce the risk. (Many organizations, including the American Cancer Society, speak of lifetime risk—the chance of something happening anytime between birth and death. That leads to relatively impressive statistics, such as "One in eight women will get breast cancer.")
Using the charts in the book, you can discover that a 50-year-old man, for example, has a 2 in 1,000 chance of dying of colon cancer over the next 10 years.
Which leads to the hard question, "Is that a risk I should try to reduce?"
One way to answer that is to compare your risk of dying of colon cancer with your risk of dying of other things. That 50-year-old man with a 2-in-1,000 risk of dying of colon cancer can compare that to his risk of dying of lung cancer (18 in 1,000 if he's a smoker) or heart disease (29 in 1,000 if he smokes and 11 in 1,000 even if he never smoked).
Deciding to stop smoking or go on a diet might be a reasonable approach for someone with limited time and money to spend on health.
Schwartz and Woloshin suggest that another way to answer that question is to consider the absolute benefit of the proposed intervention. Clinical trials have shown that screening can reduce colon cancer deaths by as much as one-third. That translates into lowering the 50-year-old man's chance of dying from 2 in 1,000 to 1.3 in 1,000—an absolute difference of 0.7 per 1,000.
Nicholson to GOP:Rethink immigration (ALEXANDER BURNS, 1/24/09, Politico)
Former Republican National Committee Chair and Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson spoke out on the GOP’s electoral challenges Friday, urging Republicans to reach out to Hispanic voters by reviewing their position on immigration.
“We have to better inform and motivate and align with the Hispanic voters,” Nicholson said in an interview with Politico. “That’s one of the key issues that the party and its leaders need to convene and, you know, have a very open, transparent discussion about developing a party position on.”
Nicholson, whose home state of Colorado turned blue in 2008 thanks in part to heavy Democratic voting among Hispanics, said Hispanics could be open to Republican ideas.
“The Hispanic voters…in this country are center-right, more conservative, more family- and work-oriented people,” he said. “We have to overcome some of the predilections that they have about Republicans so that we get more of their votes.”
Inconsequential Joe: A return to the typical vice-presidency. (Philip Terzian, 01/05/2009, Weekly Standard)
Joseph Biden, the 66-year-old six-term senator from Delaware, who is nothing if not a quintessential politician of his time, is destined to be more typical than not. We know this for two reasons. First, because the Obama apparatus has not even bothered to say that Joe Biden will have unprecedented responsibilities during the next four years. And second, because the only significant story to emerge about Biden since the election has been the fact--duly reported in the press--that the Bidens beat the Obamas in their quest to acquire a puppy. (For the record, Biden's new dog is a German shepherd.)
In fact, it may be fair to assume that Biden will be the least
consequential vice president since Alben Barkley, the amiable 71-year-old Senate fixture from Kentucky, known popularly as the "Veep," who was so underwhelmed by his four years' service in the Truman administration that he subsequently got himself elected to the Senate again.
It is difficult to imagine either Hillary Clinton or General James Jones actively soliciting Joe Biden's judgment in foreign affairs, or -Timothy Geithner and Lawrence Summers consulting Biden on the economy. Similarly, if the neophyte Obama seeks advice on politics or policy, is Biden destined to be the one to set him straight, or whip the troops into line, or populate the White House and executive branch with Biden people? Will Rahm Emanuel be expected to "clear it" with Joe?
To ask such questions is to answer them--even without laughing. Indeed, if there were any doubt about the insignificance of Joseph Biden in Barack Obama's administration, it was answered with last week's announcement that Biden would chair a special, cabinet-level task force to assess the conditions of American middle- and working-class families. ("Is the number of these families growing?" asks the vice president-elect. "Are they prospering?") This is close to pure Democratic boilerplate. It might have been more entertaining to put Biden in charge of a White House council on change we can believe in, or appoint him to be the logorrhea czar, but no less humiliating.
Dems wrestle with ethics problems (JOHN BRESNAHAN, 1/24/09, Politico)
“We are seeing again and again the gap between Democrats’ rhetoric during campaigns and their broken promises when they gain power,” said Michael Steel, press secretary for House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio). “Despite high-minded promises to ‘drain the swamp’ on the campaign trail, the Democratic leadership and the new administration seem to have no problem cutting deals with senior House Democrats who continue to wallow in the ethically questionable politics of the past.”
While top Democratic aides downplayed any link between Obama and the embattled reps, they conceded that having the Democratic lawmakers in charge of tax and defense policy in the House under investigation is not good for the new president or the Democratic leadership on Capitol Hill.
“It shows that it’s easier to talk about your ideals during a campaign than to apply them to your administration,” said a Democratic insider, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Senate Choice: Folksy Centrist Born to Politics (MICHAEL POWELL and RAYMOND HERNANDEZ, 1/24/09, NY Times)
She won her first elected position in 2006, defeating a four-term incumbent in a traditionally Republican district that extends from the Hudson Valley flatlands to the mountainous North Country. Then, adopting the Charles E. Schumer permanent campaign-style of politicking, Ms. Gillibrand (pronounced JILL-uh-brand) became a ubiquitous and studiously folksy presence at malls and county fairs, racked up $4.6 million in donations — much of it from corporate political action committees — and swept 65 percent of the vote this fall.
In Washington, the new Democratic majority handed her two plum committee assignments, Agriculture and Armed Services, and she has a political portfolio not easily charted along a left-right axis. She earned a 100 percent approval rating from the National Rifle Association while also being showered with love and dollars by women’s groups like Emily’s List; she favors the English language-only movement as well as abortion rights; she voted in July 2007 to withdraw troops from Iraq and, this fall, against the Wall Street bailout bill.
Ms. Gillibrand’s political education took shape around her childhood dinner table. Her father, Douglas P. Rutnik, is a prominent state lobbyist who once dated Zenia Mucha, a senior aide to former Gov. George E. Pataki. Her grandmother Polly Noonan played a sophisticated brand of machine politics as a close adviser to the legendary Erastus Corning, mayor of Albany; Ms. Gillibrand has described licking stamps for campaign fliers as a child and listening to all that delicious political talk.
“What I admired so much about her was her passion,” Ms. Gillibrand said in a stemwinder of a speech Friday thanking political mentors as well as her husband, parents, grandparents, siblings, children and local supporters — many of them by name. “I thought, ‘Someday I may serve, someday I may be part of this.’ ”
In a way, Ms. Gillibrand began running as far back as the late 1990s, carefully piling up chits, according to Sarah Hoit, a friend from Dartmouth College who worked in the White House at the time. “She came to me and said, ‘Hey, I’d really like to run for political office.’ ” Ms. Hoit said. “We started giving her some political contacts.”
Ms. Hoit added: “She is a very careful planner.”
Pity the poor Organization Man. Once upon a time, he ruled the American Century with his natty fedora and his quest for “belongingness.” Sure, everyone loves him in “Mad Men,” but these days his wife makes more money than he does, his kids take more meetings and the senior v.p. next door has started wearing age-inappropriate indie rock T-shirts. Even his shrink finds his preoccupation with the authentic self passé. And the sociologists can’t stop writing his obituary.
Dalton Conley is the latest. “A new breed of American has arrived on the scene,” Conley, a professor at New York University, declares in “Elsewhere, U.S.A.,” his compact guidebook to our nervous new world. Instead of individuals searching for authenticity, we are “intraviduals” defined by shifting personas and really cool electronics, which help us manage “the myriad data streams, impulses, desires and even consciousnesses that we experience in our heads as we navigate multiple worlds.” The denizens of our “Elsewhere Society,” Conley argues, “are only convinced they’re in the right place, doing the right thing, at the right time, when they’re on their way to the next destination."
2 U.S. Airstrikes Offer a Concrete Sign of Obama's Pakistan Policy (R. Jeffrey Smith, Candace Rondeaux and Joby Warrick, 1/23/09, Washington Post)
Two remote U.S. missile strikes that killed at least 20 people at suspected terrorist hideouts in northwestern Pakistan yesterday offered the first tangible sign of President Obama's commitment to sustained military pressure on the terrorist groups there, even though Pakistanis broadly oppose such unilateral U.S. actions.
The shaky Pakistani government of Asif Ali Zardari has expressed hopes for warm relations with Obama, but members of Obama's new national security team have already telegraphed their intention to make firmer demands of Islamabad than the Bush administration, and to back up those demands with a threatened curtailment of the plentiful military aid that has been at the heart of U.S.-Pakistani ties for the past three decades.
The separate strikes on two compounds, coming three hours apart and involving five missiles fired from Afghanistan-based Predator drone aircraft, were the first high-profile hostile military actions taken under Obama's four-day-old presidency. A Pakistani security official said in Islamabad that the strikes appeared to have killed at least 10 insurgents, including five foreign nationals and possibly even "a high-value target" such as a senior al-Qaeda or Taliban official.
India’s stealth lobbying against Holbrooke's brief (Laura Rozen, 01/23/2009, Foreign Policy)
When Secretary of State Hillary Clinton -- flanked by President Obama -- introduced Richard Holbrooke as the formidable new U.S. envoy to South Asia at a State Department ceremony on Thursday, India was noticeably absent from his title.
Holbrooke, the veteran negotiator of the Dayton accords and sharp-elbowed foreign policy hand who has long advised Clinton, was officially named "special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan" in what was meant to be one of the signature foreign policy acts of Obama's first week in office.
But the omission of India from his title, and from Clinton's official remarks introducing the new diplomatic push in the region was no accident -- not to mention a sharp departure from Obama's own previously stated approach of engaging India, as well as Pakistan and Afghanistan, in a regional dialogue. Multiple sources told The Cable that India vigorously -- and successfully -- lobbied the Obama transition team to make sure that neither India nor Kashmir was included in Holbrooke's official brief.
"When the Indian government learned Holbrooke was going to do [Pakistan]-India, they swung into action and lobbied to have India excluded from his purview," relayed one source. "And they succeeded. Holbrooke's account officially does not include India."
STRIKE TWO -- HALL OF FAME FINALE DEPT. (Jayson Stark, 1/23/09, ESPN)
We know Greg Maddux is heading for the Hall of Fame. And I'm guessing Jeff Kent is also bound for Cooperstown one of these years. So how about this:
Not only did they end their careers in the same game last October, but the end of Maddux's career came when (guess what?) Kent pinch-hit for Maddux.
If any of you loyal readers can give me another set of Hall of Famers whose career ended on the same day, with one pinch-hitting for the other, let me know -- at email@example.com.
Obama reverses Bush abortion-funds policy (LIZ SIDOTI and MATTHEW LEE, 1/23/09, Associated Press)
A White House spokesman, Bill Burton, said Obama signed the executive order, without coverage by the media, late on Friday afternoon. The abortion measure is a highly emotional one for many people, and the quiet signing was in contrast to the televised coverage of Obama's Wednesday announcement on ethics rules and Thursday signing of orders on closing the Guantanamo Bay prison camp and banning torture in the questioning of terror suspects.
His action came one day after the 36th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion.
Economy in shock: It's failure overload: Tom Petruno, January 24, 2009, LA Times)
Any capitalist nation must be willing to embrace some level of economic Darwinism: the notion that the fittest survive while the less robust fall away.
Iran Ranks Students, Housewives As Employed (Javno, January 24, 2009)
Counting students and housewives among the ranks of the employed has helped lower Iran's jobless rate, an official at the statistics office said in remarks published on Saturday.
The government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is widely expected to stand for re-election in June, recently said the country's unemployment rate had fallen below 10 percent. [...]
An Iranian development economist this month said the unofficial unemployment rate was considerably higher than the official figure of around 10 percent.
Including also those who were under-employed, the rate was around 20-25 percent, the economist told Reuters, declining to be named.
What Does Obama Think Government Should Do?: He still hasn't told us. That's worrisome. (Jacob Weisberg, Jan. 24, 2009, Salte)
In 2009, looking out over the largest crowd ever assembled in Washington, D.C., Barack Obama framed the issue in terms of simple efficacy. "The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works—whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified," he said. "Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end."
This view is in keeping with Obama's nonideological approach to politics. To most of those listening, it surely came across as an expression of our new president's unsentimental good sense. Yet on rereading the speech in the less euphoric light of the next day, that passage seemed insufficient as a governing philosophy and, if taken for one, rather troubling. "Whatever works" is less a vision of the public sector's proper role than a place-holder for someone who has yet to figure out what he thinks that role should be.
Conformity’s Seduction: Oh, yes, yes, yessssssss, we can! (Mark Steyn, 1/23/09, National Review)
How dazzling is President Obama? So dazzling that he didn’t merely give a dazzling inaugural speech. Any old timeserving hack could do that. Instead, he had the sheer genius to give a flat dull speech full of the usual shopworn boilerplate. Brilliant! At a stroke, he not only gently lowered the expectations of those millions of Americans and billions around the world for whom his triumphant ascendancy is the only thing that gives their drab little lives any meaning, but also emphasized continuity by placing his unprecedented incandescent megastar cool squarely within the tradition of squaresville yawneroo white middle-aged plonking mediocrities who came before him.
At a stroke—okay, that’s two strokes, like an Italian moped, but that just shows how cosmopolitan he is—Obama artfully charted a middle course between the Scylla of unmeetable expectations and the Charybdis of his own charisma, and chugged instead in the placid rhetorical shallows of “gathering clouds,” “raging storms,” “icy currents.” In a speech on climate change, this would send the crowd fleeing in terror to hole up in the hills and forage for berries. But, in an inaugural address, this was Obama’s most inspired gambit yet. Only a truly great leader would have the courage to reach for the skies in such leaden and earthbound prose.
Oh, well. So much for the consensus of the expert analysts.
Free Daily Chesterton Quote in your Email Box! (American Chesterton Society, 1/23/09)
You can sign up for the the free daily Chesterton quote emails at http://eternal-revolution.com/heroes/gk-chesterton-quotes/.
Wyeth's White Wonder: 'Snow Hill' is a conscious summary of his artistic life that is both somber memoir and playful recalibration (JOHN WILMERDING, 1/23/09, WSJ)
The setting was intimately familiar to Wyeth almost his entire life, a view looking down over the Kuerner farm and the nearby hills of the Brandywine Valley in Pennsylvania. The artist knew almost every inch of the roads, buildings and fields we see in the distance below. Historians and others may argue for some time whether his future reputation will rest on the landscapes or portraits (respectively descended from two of his artistic idols, Winslow Homer and Thomas Eakins). "Snow Hill" is unusual in the merging of the two -- one open, silent and vast; the other intimate, animate and active. The foreground hilltop, receding valley, and broad sky constitute a painted tour de force of whites, off-whites and cream colors. Its poetic emptiness recalls the stark eloquence seen in but a few of Wyeth's other strongest compositions -- such as "Christina's World" (1949), "River Cove" (1958) and "Airborne" (1996).
Atop the hillside we view the improbable scene of a Maypole dance at Christmas time. The seven ribbons descending from beneath the tree above mark the artist's seven decades. In a surreal vision, Wyeth assembles prominent figures from his life and art who appeared in major paintings over the years. Holding hands from left to right across the foreground are Karl and Anna Kuerner, followed by William Loper and Helga Testorf. In the back right is the family friend and neighbor Allan Lynch, wearing his telltale hat with earflaps flying, and finally, partially obscured, a figure with billowing brown coat who recalls the artist's wife, Betsy, posing years earlier in the snowy courtyard of their Chadd's Ford farmhouse. In this enumeration we realize the group only comes to six, suggesting a missing seventh figure. Possibly Christina Olson, the most enduring of Wyeth's Maine subjects, made famous by his first masterpiece, "Christina's World," is not present, since her paralysis would keep her from dancing. Or perhaps the implied seventh individual might be the artist himself, participant in their lives and unseen orchestrator of this imaginary get-together. In any case, this is a witty and exuberant conjuring of artistic imagination.
Not surprisingly for Wyeth, however, there are notes of darkness beneath the celebratory gathering: Wyeth had lived through Karl Kuerner succumbing to cancer, Allan Lynch to suicide, and William Loper to madness. Even so, what we ultimately experience here is the enjoyment of art, life and creativity, an idea subtly but vividly conveyed by the air-touched ribbons. They contain the most intense colors and free-flowing brushstrokes in this picture. Wyeth once described how he approached their execution. In part remembering his childhood games with friends, dressing up as soldiers or medieval knights with play swords or sabers, he envisioned here addressing the painting like a fencer with an epee. With arm and brush extended, he swiftly moved to the surface and slashed each stroke of color from the apex down to the figures.
If Not Gitmo, Then Where Should Detainees Be Held? (Sophia Yan, Jan. 23, 2009, TIME)
Pennsylvania Congressman John Murtha, a Democrat, is ready to see the captives moved to his state, saying they would be "no more dangerous in my district than in Guantánamo." His constituents are far from convinced. Some see an economic benefit, because building a maximum-security prison would provide jobs. But others don't want terrorism suspects in their backyard. Diane Gramley, president of the 12,000-member American Family Association of Pennsylvania, has described Murtha's idea as "ludicrous."
And Murtha is rare among legislators on Capitol Hill in his willingness to have the suspects incarcerated in his district. Most are vociferously opposed to the idea.
Penelope Cruz didn't realise her new movie was a comedy until filming had finished.
The 34-year-old actress - who has been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of gun-wielding maniac Maria Elena in 'Vicki Cristina Barcelona' - couldn't understand why people were laughing during screenings of Woody Allen's latest project.
House Republicans Introduce Bill Banning Gitmo Detainees From U.S. Soil (Brian Montopoli, 1/22/09, CBS News)
“Closing Guantanamo Bay presents a clear and present danger to all Americans," said House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Lamar Smith. "These suspected terrorists must now be relocated and if they are transferred to military prisons in the U.S., they automatically will be granted rights far beyond those given to enemy combatants by any other country."
“The result is that many will petition friendly federal judges who may order their release into U.S. communities," he continued.
The legislation, known as the Enemy Combatant Detention Review Act, has the backing of Minority Leader John Boehner and other prominent House Republicans.
In addition to preventing courts from bring enemy combatants into the U.S., the bill requires that an alien captured and detained abroad during wartime cannot be admitted and released into the country.
Lynn's appointment nowhere near settled (JEN DIMASCIO, 1/23/09, Politico)
The Obama administration Friday waived its ethics rules to ease the nomination of former Raytheon lobbyist William Lynn as deputy defense secretary, but the matter is nowhere near settled.
And Obama’s former presidential rival, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), could be the stopper. [...]
On Thursday, the Project on Government Oversight asked Obama to withdraw the nomination. And on Friday, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, the Government Accountability Project and Public Citizen signed a letter to Levin and McCain, the committee’s ranking Republican.
Before the president’s ethics policy was issued, Lynn’s nomination wouldn’t have been questioned, the groups said. But the president’s new ethics rules changed all that, leading watchdog groups to “believe that Mr. Lynn simply could not effectively serve as the deputy secretary of defense.”
The 'Magic Negro' (Dawn Mendez, 01.23.09, Forbes)
Intrigued by the term, I investigated further and discovered the phrase has been used to describe the stereotype of a saintly, nonthreatening black person who has no other interest in life--and serves no other literary purpose--than to further the happiness of whites by guiding them gently toward the light: true love, economic or personal fulfillment, whatever.
These transformations are accomplished, apparently, as result of his blackness or status as "the other." And the "magic Negro" wills these changes in his companion purely through self-effacing goodness and the absence of any personal life or defining characteristics. [...]
Watching Barack Obama take the oath of office on Tuesday, all too aware of the grave challenges ahead, I wondered whether the entire country--not only whites--now feel this man can magically bring about extraordinary change. (Why, exactly, were 200,000 Berliners driven to explosive delight last summer?)
To be sure, I consider Obama an exceptional person, intellectually gifted, but he's not perfect. I think he has few concrete accomplishments under his belt and even lacks true, defined political passions.
While I admire his oratorical skills, I do believe the praise he receives is out of proportion to his talent partly because, I feel, black politicians are expected to be great speakers. But in spite of all this, since his stunning upset victory in Iowa last January, he has been hailed--largely by the media--for his superhero-like status.
And now that he has ascended to the stratosphere, everybody, to a certain degree, believes in his magical powers.
Kirsten Gillibrand. Really?: Why New York Gov. David Paterson chose a senator with conservative views that clash with his own. (Joe Conason, Jan. 23, 2009, Salon)
Whether New York's rank-and-file Democrats are pleased, puzzled or apoplectic about the appointment of Kirsten Gillibrand to succeed Hillary Rodham Clinton, they cannot fault their new United States senator for being who she is -- an ordinary upstate politician, largely defined by poll-driven issues that fit the right-wing rural district she represented in Congress. The sole responsibility for choosing an avowed conservative Democrat belongs to Gov. David Paterson, who seems to have relied heavily upon the advice of Charles Schumer, the state's senior senator. [...]
Family and partisan liabilities aside, the new junior senator is energetic, telegenic, youthful and combative, qualities that may yet transform her into a Washington star. Yet she has displayed little of the independence and intellect that marked the legendary occupants of that seat, such as Robert F. Kennedy or Daniel Patrick Moynihan.
On the economic issues that ought to be uppermost in the mind of the man who chose her, Gillibrand has taken positions precisely opposed to his; as Paterson might observe, positions that were inimical to the interests of her state if not her district. Last year, she voted against the Wall Street bailout bill, presumably because that legislation polled poorly. Her Web site boasts that she has been "a strong supporter of the Pay-As-You-Go (PAYGO) rule, which bans deficit spending." That mindless notion would dictate a vote against the stimulus bill proposed by President Barack Obama and supported by the Democratic leadership in both houses, which will create the biggest budget deficit since World War II. And unlike most Democrats, she continues to support the Bush tax cuts.
Gillibrand is supple enough to earn high ratings from both the National Rifle Association and the American Civil Liberties Union. Her position on immigration reform hews to Republican orthodoxy ("no amnesty for illegal immigrants"), and although she claims to have supported "redeployment of troops from Iraq to Afghanistan," she voted with the Bush administration and against her own party leadership on funding the war. At the same time, she has strongly defended Social Security and Medicare against Republican incursions, endorses universal health insurance, and has worked hard to promote family farms, organic agriculture and alternative energy programs. She is, in short, a hybrid politician who has remained conservative enough to keep her seat while appearing progressive enough to raise money downstate.
“[A]ny attack on Gillibrand will likely focus on… her family and commitment to the region [and] her law firm work,” concluded the unnamed authors of the December 2005 document, obtained by Politico from a New York Democrat.
“Kirsten's family could cause her some political headaches. While her relatives have endured individual problems… the most likely attack she will face is that she is a product of Albany's political machine. The more voters learn about Kirsten’s family, the more they may not believe that she is a true political outsider, as she claims.”
The report flags a host of nagging, non-fatal problems. At the top of the list — Gillibrand’s work as a white-shoe lawyer representing corporations like Qwest Communications, which had been accused of financial misdeeds, followed by “headaches” stemming from her father’s lobbying work and his romantic involvement with a top aide to former Gov. George Pataki and also carpetbagger charges that might arise from her longtime residence in Manhattan.
There was even a passing mention of Gillibrand’s Montana hunting license, hinting at a Palin-esque penchant for sport shooting, and her $895,000 house in affluent Hudson, N.Y.
Within the high school gossip circle that is New York’s congressional delegation, Kirsten Gillibrand’s nickname is “Tracy Flick” — a not-so-flattering reference to the over-eager, blonde, bubbly and viciously competitive Reese Witherspoon character from “Election.” [...]
“Nobody really likes her,” sniped one New York City-area member, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“She's smart and capable, but she's rubbed people the wrong the way,” said another.
“I think she's going to get a serious primary in 2010,” opined a longtime state Democratic operative who supports Gillibrand.
Many members of the state’s congressional delegation skipped Gillibrand’s announcement in Albany, mostly citing other commitments.
And one notable absentee was sending a message: Pro-gun control Long Island Rep. Carolyn McCarthy says she’ll run against Gillibrand to protest the new senator’s pro-gun record and perfect NRA rating.
Iceland PM is first global political casualty of the crunch (Sophie Morris, 24 January 2009, Independent)
Iceland's embattled Prime Minister Geir Haarde may have become the first political casualty of the global credit crisis, announcing his resignation yesterday, and clearing the way for elections in May. Illness was the official reason for Mr Haarde's decision to quit, but few in the capital Reykjavik were in any doubt that his departure was linked to a week of intense and violent public protests at once prosperous Iceland's economic implosion.
MashiCal Combines Any iCal Feeds You Throw At It (Kevin Purdy, Jan 23 2009, Lifehacker)
If you're looking to combine all your iCal-feeding calendars—and you're not, say, a Google or Yahoo Calendar user—MashiCal could be your solution, as well as a way to separate your shared feeds from personal stuff.
The Dilemma of Dealing With Terror Central: Could the war on terror intersect with an India-Pakistan war? (Ramesh Thakur, 1/19/09, YaleGlobal)
What then might be a way forward? One or both of two further equations need to change. First, the military must be brought under full civilian control. This cannot be done until the government accepts the evidence of the connections to Pakistan from the captured terrorist as well as satellite and cellular phone logs and intercepts. Outsiders, including India, cannot help if the government persists with denial well past the point of plausibility. The dossier provided by India, assembled with the help of the forensic skills of American and British agencies, is compelling. There is justification for Secretary Madeleine Albright’s description of Pakistan as an international migraine and the more popular label of it as the world’s terror central.
The second solution should be attempted only if the establishment of civilian supremacy over Pakistan’s military-intelligence services proves impossible. Like the Americans firing missiles into Pakistan from unmanned drones, India should adopt the policy of taking the fight into neighboring territory from where terror attacks originate. It should root out the human leadership and material infrastructure of terrorism through surgical strikes and targeted assassinations. India does not have such intelligence and military capacity today; it must embark on a crash course to acquire it. And combine it with escalation dominance capability: Pakistan should know that any escalation from the limited strikes will bring even heavier punitive costs from a superior military force.
This brings us to the need to change a final equation. Pakistan’s contributions to the war on terror on its western front are of lesser import than its fuelling of terror on its eastern front. Yet the rewards for the former exceed penalties for the latter. And much of the $10 billion US military aid has been directed by Pakistan at India, not the Taliban. India and the US together need to reverse the structure of incentives and penalties.
So what exactly have these slackers been doing for the first 2 to 6 decades of their sorry lives? And would it be okay to leave people in slavery if John McCain had won?
'Gran Torino' and the Drive Toward Liberty (Paulette Chu Miniter, January 24, 2009, Far Eastern Economic Review)
Most Americans can’t pronounce “Hmong,” let alone know what Hmong is. So it’s interesting that Clint Eastwood’s new film, "Gran Torino," is about the journey of Hmong immigrants in America.
The story of immigration in America is usually told as one of hard work and eventual success. But Mr. Eastwood’s "Gran Torino" is a much more cutting commentary with lots of rough language to boot. The film evokes the unfinished business of the Vietnam War to get its message across. Unfinished because America left Vietnam, and the people who fought alongside for their freedom, before the job was done. As the daughter of Vietnamese refugees myself, the message I took from the film has little do to with its racial stereotypes or slurs. Instead it’s about what happens when America abandons the ideals that so many people come here for. It abandoned “the freedom agenda” in Vietnam and then abandoned it again here. [...]
What becomes of these Hmong is at the center of "Gran Torino." Like many children of immigrants, Sue and her brother Thao are largely on their own in America. Their family lost everything, don’t speak English and are isolated from American culture. Their father is gone, perhaps dead. They live with their mom and grandmother in a blighted neighborhood of similarly poor Hmong. Street gangs have formed along Latin, black and most important to the film, Hmong lines.
Since thugs are at bottom cowards, they inevitably turn on their own people. The moral question for the rest of us is whether to look the other way and mind our own business, or not. In "Gran Torino," we watch the hero sacrifice all to choose the latter. Walt doesn’t flee the ghettoized ‘hood. He doesn’t call the police. Instead, he wages war.
Walt wages this war because he understands that peace can’t exist without freedom.
Freed by the U.S., Saudi Becomes a Qaeda Chief (ROBERT F. WORTH, 1/23/09, NY Times)
The emergence of a former Guantánamo Bay detainee as the deputy leader of Al Qaeda’s Yemeni branch has underscored the potential complications in carrying out the executive order President Obama signed Thursday that the detention center be shut down within a year.
The militant, Said Ali al-Shihri, is suspected of involvement in a deadly bombing of the United States Embassy in Yemen’s capital, Sana, in September. He was released to Saudi Arabia in 2007 and passed through a Saudi rehabilitation program for former jihadists before resurfacing with Al Qaeda in Yemen.
His status was announced in an Internet statement by the militant group and was confirmed by an American counterterrorism official.
“They’re one and the same guy,” said the official, who insisted on anonymity because he was discussing an intelligence analysis.
Stimulus Plan Meets More GOP Resistance: Obama to Reiterate Appeal for Bipartisanship (Paul Kane, 1/23/09, Washington Post)
Just days after taking office vowing to end the political era of "petty grievances," President Obama ran into mounting GOP opposition yesterday to an economic stimulus plan that he had hoped would receive broad bipartisan support.
Republicans accused Democrats of abandoning the new president's pledge, ignoring his call for bipartisan comity and shutting them out of the process by writing the $850 billion legislation. The first drafts of the plan would result in more spending on favored Democratic agenda items, such as federal funding of the arts, they said, but would do little to stimulate the ailing economy.
The GOP's shrunken numbers, particularly in the Senate, will make it difficult for Republicans to stop the stimulus bill, but the growing GOP doubts mean that Obama's first major initiative could be passed on a largely party-line vote -- little different from the past 16 years of partisan sniping in the Clinton and Bush eras.
Dartmouth Men's Hockey to Battle Harvard on National Television (Dartmouth, 01/23/2009)
HANOVER, N.H. - The Dartmouth men's hockey is set to take on one of its oldest rivals on Sunday when the Harvard Crimson come to town. Game time is slated for 4:00 pm as the game will be broadcast live on ESPNU. The Big Green is looking at getting back at the Crimson for the 4-1 defeat in the first game of the season for both squads. [...]
Dartmouth is still in the national polls, coming in at #18. The Big Green entered the polls after a victory over Colgate and a loss to Cornell on Nov. 21 and 22.
President Obama 'orders Pakistan drone attacks' (Tim Reid , 1/23/09, Times of London)
Missiles fired from suspected US drones killed at least 15 people inside Pakistan today, the first such strikes since Barack Obama became president and a clear sign that the controversial military policy begun by George W Bush has not changed.
Security officials said the strikes, which saw up to five missiles slam into houses in separate villages, killed seven "foreigners" - a term that usually means al-Qaeda - but locals also said that three children lost their lives.
Dozens of similar strikes since August on northwest Pakistan, a hotbed of Taleban and al-Qaeda militancy, have sparked angry government criticism of the US, which is targeting the area with missiles launched from unmanned CIA aircraft controlled from operation rooms inside the US.
Grover Cleveland: A model for President Obama?: Cleveland refused to "act" during an economic downturn and made the United States stronger in the process. (John Robson, , 23 January 2009, Mercator Net)
The latter part of the 19th century was a period of appalling economic crisis in America. 1873-1896 was known as “The Great Depression” long before the 1930s came along. Farmers faced falling prices, workers toiled in massive new factories for low wages and went home to seedy slums if they weren’t killed in industrial accidents; politics was explosive and fears or hopes of revolution were everywhere. It was also the most rapid economic growth the nation ever experienced. Because back then governments knew how not to do dumb stuff.
The statistics on economic growth in the period are extraordinary. Economic output quadrupled; manufacturing output increased six-fold. Railway track in operation rose from 53,000 miles in 1870 to almost 200,000 in 1900 and ton-miles of freight hauled increased ten times just from 1870 to 1890. By 1894 the United States was the world’s leading manufacturing nation, on its way to producing one third of the world’s manufactures by the start of World War I.
A few mores statistics if you’ll indulge me. On the eve of the Civil War total power available in the U.S. was round 13 million horsepower, two-thirds of it more or less literally, that is, produced by animals. By 1880 steam exceeded animal power; by 1900 steam engines accounted for two-thirds of the 65 million horsepower available. And while the 1880 census didn’t even mention electric power, by 1900 it was gaining fast on steam.
It wasn’t just quantity: This was the era of the phonograph, refrigeration, food canning, typewriters, the telegraph and telephone and the motion picture. In short, an era of unparalleled economic progress. [...]
A lot of things went wrong in the late 19th century. A lot of things always go wrong. Agriculture suffered terribly; the growth of industry created slums, dangerous working conditions and alarming new social and economic entities. But cheap food was good for workers if bad for those who produced it and in any case it was the inevitable result of the incredible success of American farmers in opening up new land and increasing yields with superior methods and equipment. And if industrial work was difficult, dirty and dangerous, it was a lot better than the lot that awaited many, especially immigrant workers, if they had not come to America’s cities.
The promise of industrialization was that it would relieve man’s estate by relieving material want, and if the first part was overdone the second, in late 19th century America, was not. Even with substantial population growth, real per capita income at least doubled during this “Great Depression.” And that’s because while many things went wrong, a major thing that went right was that the American government did not engage in wildly expensive attempts to prop up and preserve what was not working at the expense of what was, to freeze capital and labour resources in unproductive uses. The process of adjustment was painful, even brutal at times, but the cost of stagnation would have been far higher.
Stop the Boondoggles, Six-Lane Highways, MPOs (James S. Russell, Jan. 22, 2009, Bloomberg)
Next, knock out the fourth, fifth and sixth expressway lanes. When roads get that big, there’s enough demand to support high-quality transit. The six rail tracks that tunnel into New York’s Penn Station haul as many people as 45 freeway lanes.
What should Obama support? Lots of innovation has been trickling up from municipalities. Beltway suburbs like Bellevue, Washington, turned their parking-lot acres into high-value suburban downtowns. Focused on transit, they’re appealing as places to walk, shop, work and live.
Some metro areas are aligning roads and rails (both freight and passenger) in corridors to support these emerging urban hubs. The San Francisco Bay Area could use some cash to finally finish a rapid-transit extension linking Oakland and the East Bay to San Jose and Silicon Valley. Without additional aid, underfunded and overburdened big cities will soon have to stop long-planned, often-deferred projects like New York’s Second Avenue Subway.
Express bus lanes and bikeways sharing “green streets” with cars can reduce auto dependency. In the best cases, each mode is physically separated from the others by planted buffers. These little Riverside Parks aren’t just pretty. They make pedestrian crossings safer and sop up storm water -- essential in an increasingly flood-prone era.
Dollars spent that get Americans out of cars will ease traffic, save money, reduce pollution, slow global warming and make us less vulnerable to volatile oil oligarchs.
Road projects do little more than rearrange the traffic jams.
Obama Sides With Bush in Spy Case (David Kravets, January 22, 2009, Wired)
The Obama administration fell in line with the Bush administration Thursday when it urged a federal judge to set aside a ruling in a closely watched spy case weighing whether a U.S. president may bypass Congress and establish a program of eavesdropping on Americans without warrants. [...]
Thursday's filing by the Obama administration marked the first time it officially lodged a court document in the lawsuit asking the courts to rule on the constitutionality of the Bush administration's warrantless-eavesdropping program. The former president approved the wiretaps in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
"The Government's position remains that this case should be stayed," the Obama administration wrote (.pdf) in a filing that for the first time made clear the new president was on board with the Bush administration's reasoning in this case.
Closing Guantánamo: Will Europeans take detainees?: Europeans, who have long pushed to close the controversial facility, are hesitant to take some of its inmates. (Robert Marquand, 1/23/09, The Christian Science Monitor)
[E]uropean states are not rushing to take detainees, a step considered essential to closing the camps.
Rather, on the eve of a Jan. 26 meeting of foreign ministers in Brussels that takes up the question, there's more temporizing than unity – and a possibility that some states that say they will take inmates considered wrongly detained may hide behind bureaucratic moves to tie such help to a collective EU agreement. Such agreement may be difficult. [...]
"The Europeans said for years they would assist inmates if only the Bush administration would decisively close Guantánamo," [Lotte Leicht, director of EU affairs at Human Rights Watch in Brussels] continues. "Now we have a new reality with a new president. So to say the EU can only help if we do it together may be a bad excuse not to, rather than a real effort."
Changing the Verb of Homelessness (Daniel Allott, 1.23.09, American Spectator)
The man most responsible for the precipitous drop in homelessness is Philip Mangano, executive director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness. In a recent interview, Mangano talked to me about the secret to his success, which is rooted in his mission "to change the verb of homelessness. After 20 years of managing the crisis, our intent was ending the disgrace."
This small shift in emphasis has produced great results. Besides the 30 percent decrease in chronic homelessness (defined as homelessness of at least one year of a person with serious mental illness and/or drug or alcohol addiction), there was a 12 percent reduction in overall homelessness nationally (from 763,000 to 672,000). Also, there was an almost 40 percent decrease in the number of homeless veterans between 2001 and 2007.
In order to move from managing homelessness to ending it, Mangano recognized the need for his agency to get rid of the old strategies. Under President Clinton, funding was tripled for programs to decrease homelessness, but the number of homeless only increased. "We had been busy servicing homeless people," Mangano says, "spending more money without any results."
So when he was appointed by President Bush to lead the council in 2002, Mangano and his team implemented an approach to homelessness that was entirely appropriate for the administration of the first president with an MBA. "For many years," Mangano says, "the issue of homelessness was driven by anecdote, conjecture, guess work and feeling." But with Mangano at the helm, the touchy-feelyness was replaced by a results-oriented business approach rooted in evidence and data.
And, predictably, the evidence showed that moving chronically homeless people into housing units was the only reliable way to end chronic homelessness.
The council's "housing first" strategy was truly an innovation in compassion. But it also sounded expensive. And the seven consecutive years of record resources targeted to homeless people (this year's budget includes an unprecedented eighth year of record resources for homelessness) might make fiscal conservatives wince. But Mangano's position is: What's cheaper: putting homeless people in homes, or letting them cycle through shelters, hospital emergency rooms, jails and the street?
He says, "We discovered through our research that these are some of the most expensive people to the public purse, randomly ricocheting through very expensive primary health, behavioral health, law enforcement and court systems." The results of 65 cost studies revealed that the true costs of chronic homelessness are staggering, between $35,000 and $150,000 a year per person.
Francis Fukuyama as Teacher of Evil (Peter Augustine Lawler, Winter 2000, First Principles)
The aim of conservatives for some time now has been to resist what C.S. Lewis called “the abolition of man.” One effort at that abolition was communist ideology, another is the therapeutic pragmatism of Richard Rorty and others. But the most dangerous threat today comes from the science of biology. Denial of human distinctiveness is increasingly rooted in the homogenous materialism of evolutionary biology. And advances in biotechnology are providing the means to destroy what is qualitatively different about our species. Especially troubling is the uncritical acceptance of biological reductionism by writers often called conservative. Here I use Walker Percy’s defense of the goodness and mystery of the human being to expose the misanthropic implications of this reductionism in the influential writing of the “neoconservative” Francis Fukuyama. I present this effort as an example of what conservatives should be doing as the twenty-first century begins.
The philosopher-novelist Walker Percy says, contrary to modern thought, that the human being is by nature an alien. People, he adds, feel more like aliens than ever. Modern science has made great progress explaining everything but the human self and soul. Scientific experts tell people that they are fundamentally no different from the other animals, and so they should be happy in a world where lives are more free, prosperous, and secure than ever before. Their feelings of homelessness are either basically irrational or merely physiological. They can be cured through a change in environment, soothing therapeutic or ideological platitudes, or the right mix of chemicals.
The experts are evil, Percy contends, because they want to deprive human beings of their distinctive humanity, of their longings that point them beyond the satisfactions of this world and toward each other, the truth, and God. Their efforts may never completely succeed, but allegedly wise experts—from communist tyrants to therapeutic psychotherapists—have destroyed or needlessly diminished a huge number of human beings. The experts claim, in part, to be motivated by compassion. They want to provide the freedom from misery that the Christian God promised but could not produce in this world. The compassion they claim to feel for others they really feel for themselves. They, too, are aliens, and they want to free themselves from their trouble. They think that by reducing others to comprehensible or simply biological beings they can raise themselves to something like angels. They seek to be at home not in the world of human beings but through its complete transcendence. The world they have created is for angels and pigs, for theorists and consumers, not for human beings.
For Percy the best human life is to be at home with one’s homelessness or alienation, and so to be free to enjoy the good things of the world in consciousness of their limitations. This life is easier for Christians, who have an explanation for why the human being feels like an alien in this world. But it does not necessarily depend on religious belief. It is available to one who can tell the truth about one’s self and live well in acceptance of it. We are born to trouble, and doomed to failure and death. But we have compensations in the joyful sharing of what we can know with others, and in the love of one human being, one self-conscious mortal, for another. And those human goods are only given to aliens, to the beings with language, who can explain everything but themselves. Percy would restore the Socratic or psyche-iatric tradition against psychotherapy. People can be happier as human beings not through platitudes or drugs but through the search for the truth about their extraordinary natures.
From Percy’s perspective,a leading American teacher of evil over the last decade has been Francis Fukuyama.
The Expeditionary Imperative: America’s national security structure is designed to confront the challenges of the last century rather than our own. (John A. Nagl, Winter 2009, Wilson Quarterly)
Our overly militarized response to Al Qaeda’s attacks, the global war on terror, could be more sensibly recast as a global counterinsurgency campaign. Insurgency is an attempt to overthrow a government or change its policies through the illegal use of force; Al Qaeda’s stated objective—to expel the West from the Islamic world and re-establish the Caliphate—can be usefully conceived of as a global insurgency. It would then take a global counterinsurgency campaign to confront this challenge. Counterinsurgency—a coordinated use of all elements of national power to defeat an insurgency—is a slow and difficult process, often requiring years, but it can succeed when well resourced and executed. David Galula, the great French counterinsurgency theorist and veteran of the Algerian War, estimates that a successful counterinsurgency strategy is 80 percent nonmilitary and only 20 percent military—requiring not just armed forces but assistance to the afflicted government in the areas of politics, economic development, information operations, and governance. An ability to deliver such a coordinated response would be useful not just in the campaign against Al Qaeda, but also to confront emerging threats ranging from terrorists in Pakistan to 21st-century pirates.
Unfortunately, more than seven years into a global counterinsurgency campaign, the United States still lacks many of the nonmilitary capabilities required to secure, assist, and reconstruct societies afflicted by insurgency and terrorism. Prevailing in today’s conflicts will require more than just a few additional resources. It will require an expanded and better-coordinated expeditionary advisory effort involving all agencies of the executive branch, and it must include a re-created U.S. Information Agency to make the American case in the global war of ideas.
Defeating an insurgency requires winning the support of the population away from the insurgents, and unlikely as it seems, the “hierarchy of needs” propounded decades ago by humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow is never more applicable than in a combat zone. After obtaining basic security, people want to live and work under the rule of law, with a chance for economic progress. Many of the insurgents I fought as the operations officer of a tank battalion task force in Iraq in 2004 were not motivated by Islamic extremism but by hunger or at worst greed. At the time, Anbar Province was suffering from 70 percent unemployment, and the leaders of the insurgency were offering $100 to anyone who would fire a rocket-propelled grenade at one of my tanks. They would pay a $100 performance bonus if we were forced to call in a medical evacuation helicopter as a result. In this kind of conflict, development and reconstruction aid are perhaps our most valuable weapons. As the new U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual (which Ihelped to develop) puts it, “Dollars are bullets.”
Unfortunately, many of the people who are firing America’s dollar bullets today are untrained in that task. Because of a shortage of U.S. diplomats and U.S. Agency for International Development officers willing and able to deploy to combat zones, American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan are making daily decisions about the comparative economic benefits of giving microloans to small businesses and investing in water treatment plants. The military trained me well in how to coordinate close air support, artillery strikes, and tank and machine-gun fire, but I was left on my own in determining how to coordinate economic development in Anbar. Since my corner of Iraq included critical enemy support zones between the provincial capital of Ramadi and Fallujah, epicenter of the Sunni insurgency, my mistakes had strategic consequences.
In partial recognition of how badly my well-meaning but poorly informed peers and I were conducting this critical aspect of counterinsurgency, the State Department developed provincial reconstruction teams (PRTs), first in Afghanistan in 2003 and two years later in Iraq. There are currently 26 PRTs in Afghanistan, each led by a lieutenant colonel (or Navy commander) and composed of 60 to 100 personnel. More than 30 teams now operate in Iraq. They focus on governance, reconstruction and development, and promoting the rule of law. In Afghanistan, several other nations in the International Security Assistance Force, including Britain and Germany, now contribute PRTs of their own.
Although the creation of PRTs was an important step in the direction of building the government we need to win the wars of this century, they lack sufficient resources. The team I visited in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in November was composed almost exclusively of U.S. Air Force personnel, with a sprinkling of civilian experts. In Iraq, the absence of civilian specialists is also a chronic problem.
The State Department is in the midst of further efforts to establish effective civilian control of the political, economic, and social dimensions of nation-building operations. In 2004, it created the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization to oversee these efforts, but this office remains a poorly staffed and funded institution with fewer than 100 people assigned to accomplish its tasks of predicting, planning for, and mitigating the effects of state failure around the globe. To provide more muscle behind this new office, the Bush administration proposed a $250 million Civilian Response Corps, with 250 development and reconstruction experts from different parts of the government ready to deploy to a crisis within 48 hours and many more in reserve.
These are noble efforts, but they lack the required scale. Today, there are more musicians assigned to military bands than there are Foreign Service officers in the State Department. While a rousing rendition of John Philip Sousa’s “The Stars and Stripes Forever” always did wonders for my morale in a combat zone, having the economic and political expertise to persuade the people of Anbar not to shoot at me would have been even better.
On the other hand, just changing the names and jiggering a few procedures of the parts of the WoT that are "tainted" by association with W makes sense for a President Obama who doesn't plan on changing anything substantive, 6 signs Gitmo policies may not change (JOSH GERSTEIN, 1/23/09, Politico)
There may be less than meets the eye to the executive orders President Obama issued yesterday to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay and prohibit the torture of prisoners in American custody. Those pronouncements may sound dramatic and unequivocal, but experts predict that American policy towards detainees could remain for months or even years pretty close to what it was as President Bush left office. [...]
Here are a few of the delays, caveats and loopholes that could limit the impact of Obama’s orders:
1. Everyone has to follow the Army Field Manual—for now…
Science solves 'Italian Job' cliffhanger: Ingenious plan for Michael Caine's gang to retrieve stolen gold wins prize from Royal Society of Chemistry (Steve Connor, 23 January 2009, Independent)
It was probably the greatest cliff-hanger in cinema history, leaving fans of The Italian Job wondering how the mobster Charlie Croker could have extricated his gang – and the gold bullion – from a bus hanging precariously over the edge of a mountain road.
The getaway complete, the robbers were celebrating on the road to Switzerland when the bus went into a skid leaving the gold bars at the back end of the vehicle, perfectly balanced against the weight of 10 people at the front, who were unable either to leave the bus or collect the loot.
"Hang on a minute lads – I've got a great idea," says Croker, played by Michael Caine. But before he unfolded his plan, the film ended and viewers were left hypothesising how Croker and his gang could have extracted the stolen gold safely.
Now an IT specialist has come up with an ingenious solution, and won a competition organised by the Royal Society of Chemistry. John Godwin, of Godalming in Surrey, breaks down the task – which must take no longer than 30 minutes – into three steps.
Mayor's scandal divides Portland (AP, 1/23/09)
A confession by Portland's first openly gay mayor that he lied about having sex with a teenager is dividing this famously liberal city, as well as its homosexual community.
Just three weeks after Sam Adams was sworn in, many gays are questioning whether he is the man they want as their trailblazer.
U.S. faces paradigm shift in relations with Lebanon (Mona Yacoubian, January 23, 2009, Washington Times)
Hezbollah is certain to fare well in upcoming parliamentary elections, possibly echoing the January 2006 Palestinian elections when Hamas won a commanding majority.
Hezbollah hardly resembles a liberal-minded force for change. The inherent contradiction of an armed militia winning free and transparent elections is obvious. Hezbollah's democratic tendencies and its commitment to political reform are certainly suspect.
Obama flashes irritation in press room visit (JONATHAN MARTIN & CARRIE BUDOFF BROWN, 1/22/09, Politico)
President Obama made a surprise visit to the White House press corps Thursday night, but got agitated when he was faced with a substantive question.
Asked how he could reconcile a strict ban on lobbyists in his administration with a Deputy Defense Secretary nominee who lobbied for Raytheon, Obama interrupted with a knowing smile on his face.
"Ahh, see," he said, "I came down here to visit. See this is what happens. I can't end up visiting with you guys and shaking hands if I'm going to get grilled every time I come down here."
Already, the Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse refused to distribute official White House photos of Mr. Obama on his first day in the Oval Office, deeming the images nothing more than "visual press releases." Stung perhaps, the press office almost immediately granted photographers more time than usual with Mr. Obama as he signed an executive order Thursday.
Journalists also are weighing in on the new White House press office - "disorderly," according to Major Garrett of Fox News - as well as the initial appearance of press secretary Robert Gibbs.
Washington Post political writer Chris Cillizza compared the event to "Wrestlemania" while CNN correspondent Ed Henry cited "tough questions."
The Conservative Revolutionary (Michael Gerson, January 21, 2009, Washington Post)
In content, Obama's speech was more compelling. His vivid assurances of toughness on national security were genuinely reassuring. When is the last time we heard a national Democrat admit that "our nation is at war" and promise to "defeat" American enemies? His discussion of the role of government was more sophisticated than in any inaugural since Ronald Reagan's in 1981 -- though his postpartisan appeal more resembled Bill Clinton's Third Way than Reagan's firm assertion of limited government.
And Obama's main argument -- for a "new era of responsibility" -- was traditional without being tired. From the beginning, Americans have displayed a unique combination of revolutionary idealism and moral conservatism. American presidents have generally asserted that the achievement of radical or progressive ideals such as unity and social justice requires a return to timeless American values such as responsibility and self-restraint, charity and the end of malice. Woodrow Wilson, for example, argued that "there has been something crude and heartless and unfeeling in our haste to succeed and be great. Our thought has been, 'Let every man look out for himself.'" But the answer, he continued, would be found in restoring "the standards we so proudly set up at the beginning and have always carried at our hearts."
Similarly, Obama's address diagnosed a time of "standing pat, of protecting narrow interests." And he rooted his vision of social and economic restoration in the renewal of moral virtues -- courage, honesty, fair play, loyalty, tolerance, patriotism and duty. He insisted on using the word "virtue" and explained that such convictions are not merely useful but "true."
This shows a deep understanding of America, which remains moral to its core -- and a mature understanding of American leadership. Obama's argument should appeal to many conservatives, who would never accept a case for progressive policies based on relativistic or libertarian moral views. Like Lincoln or Martin Luther King Jr., Obama positioned himself as a conservative revolutionary -- attempting to re-create our country by reasserting the traditional moral principles that gave it birth.
It has been only two-and-a-half months since Mr Obama was elected, but his “Yes, We Can” coalition is already fraying at the edges. In his appointments and pronouncements, Mr Obama keeps hinting that he is neither as radical nor as pure as his progressive supporters dared to hope. Anti-war activists, who rallied round him in the Democratic primaries because he was the only top-tier candidate to have opposed the Iraq war from the outset, now see worrying signs that their hero is a closet hawk. On the stump, he used to say things like: “I will bring this war to an end in 2009. So don’t be confused.” Now he says it might take a bit longer. To make matters worse, he has kept George Bush’s defence secretary, Robert Gates, in his job. “Not a single member of Obama’s foreign-policy [and] national-security team opposed the war,” fumes Katrina vanden Heuvel, the editor of the Nation, a lefty magazine, adding that Mr Gates is “a terrible pick”.
Far from ending Mr Bush’s war on terror, Mr Obama plans to ramp it up in Afghanistan, albeit under a different label. When Israel started bombing Gaza, he barely protested. Medea Benjamin of Code Pink, an anti-war group, howled that Mr Obama “has been missing in action” while the people of Gaza were being massacred. Others go further. John Pilger, an Australian journalist, bristles that the vice-president, Joe Biden, is “a proud war-maker and Zionist”, while Mr Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, is a Zionist who “opposes meaningful justice for the Palestinians”. Some folks are outraged, too, by Mr Obama’s rumoured selection of Dennis Ross, a veteran of Bill Clinton’s administration, as his point man on Iran. Robert Naiman, an analyst at a group called Just Foreign Policy, thinks Mr Ross might “set the stage for war with Iran”. (Mr Ross favours offering Iran carrots and sticks to abandon its nuclear ambitions, but will not rule out military action.)
During the campaign, Mr Obama called the prison at Guantánamo Bay a “betrayal of American values” and promised to close it. On his first day in office he suspended legal proceedings against the inmates. But he has yet to figure out what to do with them. In an interview with the Washington Post, he said he would consider it a failure if he had not closed the prison system down by the end of his first term. On anti-terrorism policy generally, Dick Cheney, the former vice-president, recently remarked that before Mr Obama started to keep his campaign promises, he needed “to sit down and find out precisely what it is we did and how we did it.” Mr Obama described this as “pretty good advice”. The people who used to flock to his rallies with placards demanding that Mr Bush and Mr Cheney be tried as war criminals are aghast, not least because Mr Obama appears disinclined to prosecute anyone.
The end is near: Could the economy be fixing itself? (Irwin Kellner, 1/22/09, MarketWatch)
During the past three years personal incomes rose a total of 10% while home prices dropped by some 23%, on average.
This implies that by the time home prices bottom out, they will have fallen a total of 30% from their 2006 highs. In those markets where housing really got overheated, prices are already down by as much as 50%!
When combined with today's ultra-low mortgage rates, homes in many parts of the country may already be as affordable as they were in the halcyon days of the 1980s. [...]
Another piece of good news is that once housing prices touch bottom, it follows that the value of mortgage-backed securities will materialize as well. This is the sine qua non for thawing out the financial markets, for it will make the banks confident enough to resume lending -- first to each other, then to business and finally to consumers.
And once money begins circulating throughout the economy, many businesses will revive; they will stop firing and start hiring. For their part, consumers will resume spending -- which, in case you did not notice, now accounts for 70% of our gross domestic product.
So the Obama administration may not have to devise another plan to fix the economy. It could well be on the way to mending itself.
From revolutionary ideal to American reality (Mark Feeney, January 20, 2009, Boston Globe)
The United States is unique among nations for beginning in abstraction. Other countries arose from some specific condition: tribal membership, geographic boundaries, a common language. America has its origins in nothing more (or less) than a set of principles - or as the Declaration of Independence calls them, "truths."
The Declaration holds those truths "to be self-evident." The first of them is "that all men are created equal." The phrases are familiar enough from civics class.
What's less familiar is the realization that, insofar as any one thing might be said to define this country, it's those six words. They were quite literally revolutionary in 1776. In some ways, they remain revolutionary today, so much so that we still have a hard time defining exactly what "equal" means.
Classical republican writers maintained that to be free means to not be dominated--that is, not to be dependent on the arbitrary will of other individuals. The source of this interpretation of political liberty was the principle of Roman law that defines the status of a free person as not being subject to the arbitrary will of another person--in contrast to a slave, who is dependent on another person's will. As the individual is free when he or she has legal and political rights, so a people or a city is free insofar as it lives under its own laws. [...]
Classical republican theorists also stressed that the constraint that fair laws impose on an individual's choices is not a restriction of liberty but an essential element of political liberty itself. They also believed that restrictions imposed by the law on the actions of rulers as well as of ordinary citizens are the only valid shield against coercion on the part of any person or persons. Machiavelli forcefully expressed this belief in his Discourses on Livy (I.29), when he wrote that if there is even one citizen whom the magistrates fear and who has the power to break the law, then the entire city cannot be said to be free. It can be said to be free only when its laws and constitutional orders effectively restrain the arrogance of nobles and the licentiousness of the people.
Where was the "Hate"? (Dr. Paul Kengor, January 23, 2009, FrontPageMagazine.com)
I watched this on MSNBC. It was all so moving that it threw me for a loop when, as the Bush helicopter gradually disappeared from sight, the camera fixed on an Obama supporter carrying a giant sign that read: “BUSH GO TO HELL.” (I’ve since learned that such rude gestures were more common than I had realized, including the crowd chanting at Bush, “na na na na … hey, hey, hey, goodbye. Click here.)
My mind immediately raced back to the inauguration of George W. Bush in January 2000. On that other January day, Bush used his Inaugural Address as an opportunity to call for unity after the terribly divisive 2000 presidential election. “Unity,” he said shortly into his speech, “is within our reach, because we are guided by a power larger than ourselves, Who creates us equal in His image.” He spoke of the need for compassion, character—and civility.
He defined compassion as the work of a nation. He interjected one of his favorite Biblical stories—the account of the Good Samaritan. He made a “pledge” in those first presidential minutes: “When we see that wounded traveler on the road to Jericho, we will not pass to the other side.” Though no one could have foreseen it, Bush would later (April 2003) invoke that same parable in explaining to a shocked White House press corps why he was about to take the unprecedented step of spending $15 billion on African AIDS relief in a period of record budget deficits and amid a major war in Iraq—and with tens of billions more yet to follow.
The benediction at the 2000 inauguration was done by Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell of the Windsor Village United Methodist Church, an African-American congregation in Houston that Bush addressed as governor. Caldwell, who described himself as politically independent but a “spiritual supporter” of Bush, urged forgiveness: “Almighty God, the supply and supplier of peace, prudent policy, and non-partisanship, we bless your holy and righteous name. Thank you, O God, for blessing us with forgiveness.”
Yet, while unity and forgiveness, and compassion and civility, were themes for President Bush that January day in 2000, not everyone seemed in the mood—or quite so willing.
Get 'Lost': Acclaimed show asks big questions (Todd Hertz, 1/21/2009, Christianity Today)
One creator of the television series Lost says the most important scene of last year's stunning fourth season wasn't the pivotal moment when some survivors of downed Oceanic Flight 815 actually made it home. Instead, he says, it was a simple conversation in a greenhouse between character John Locke, a believer in the supernatural order of the universe, and Dr. Jack Shepherd, Lost's resident Man of Science. Locke told Jack that their plane crash was no accident: they were there for a reason. Jack ignored the talk of destiny and boldly left the island.
But even bigger for me was seeing Jack, months after getting home, change his tune by confessing, "We weren't meant to leave. We have to go back."
Lobbying Rules Complicate Lynn Nomination (Josh Rogin, 1/21/09, CQ)
President Obama’s new lobbying rules are fueling the concerns of senators from both parties regarding the nomination of William Lynn to become deputy defense secretary.
Obama signed an executive order Wednesday strengthening the restrictions on lobbyists and former lobbyists entering his administration.
“If you are a lobbyist entering my administration, you will not be able to work on matters you lobbied on, or in the agencies you lobbied, during the previous two years,” Obama said in a press conference.
Lynn lobbied on behalf of defense contractor Raytheon Co. until last year and now stands to be in a position to make decisions on a plethora of the defense giant’s programs as the new manager of the Pentagon.
The text of the executive order would require Lynn to recuse himself from any involvement in Raytheon programs for two years after taking his post.
Obama draws 37.8 million U.S. TV viewers: (Reuters, 1/22/09)
Almost 37.8 million Americans watched the full day of television coverage of President Barack Obama's inauguration from their homes -- less than the record numbers expected, according to figures released on Wednesday.
Nielsen Media Research said the Obama swearing-in ceremony, parade and other events on Tuesday were the second most-watched presidential inauguration after that of Ronald Reagan in 1981, which drew 41.8 million TV viewers.
Ever since all wheat pennies reached the point where there all worth a dime or more they've more or less stopped showing up in you change. But you do get one on occasion, which is kind of neat. So today I had a penny that had that dingy look of really old stuff and I figured it warranted a closer look. It was minted the year I was born.
Obama CIA choice won't call waterboarding torture (Reuters, 1/22/09)
President Barack Obama's choice to head the CIA declined on Thursday to call waterboarding "torture," only days after his attorney general nominee condemned the interrogation practice as precisely that.
Retired Adm. Dennis Blair replied cautiously when pressed on the waterboarding question at a hearing on his nomination to be director of national intelligence.
And, if that weren't an unflattering enough comparison, compare just the opening of the first president's inaugural address to that entirely forgettable piece of dreck the UR delivered this week:
Fellow Citizens of the Senate and the House of Representatives.
Among the vicissitudes incident to life, no event could have filled me with greater anxieties than that of which the notification was transmitted by your order, and received on the fourteenth day of the present month. On the one hand, I was summoned by my Country, whose voice I can never hear but with veneration and love, from a retreat which I had chosen with the fondest predilection, and, in my flattering hopes, with an immutable decision, as the asylum of my declining years: a retreat which was rendered every day more necessary as well as more dear to me, by the addition of habit to inclination, and of frequent interruptions in my health to the gradual waste committed on it by time. On the other hand, the magnitude and difficulty of the trust to which the voice of my Country called me, being sufficient to awaken in the wisest and most experienced of her citizens, a distrustful scrutiny into his qualifications, could not but overwhelm with dispondence, one, who, inheriting inferior endowments from nature and unpractised in the duties of civil administration, ought to be peculiarly conscious of his own deficiencies. In this conflict of emotions, all I dare aver, is, that it has been my faithful study to collect my duty from a just appreciation of eve ry circumstance, by which it might be affected. All I dare hope, is, that, if in executing this task I have been too much swayed by a grateful remembrance of former instances, or by an affectionate sensibility to this transcendent proof, of the confidence of my fellow-citizens; and have thence too little consulted my incapacity as well as disinclination for the weighty and untried cares before me; my error will be palliated by the motives which misled me, and its consequences be judged by my Country, with some share of the partiality in which they originated.
Such being the impressions under which I have, in obedience to the public summons, repaired to the present station; it would be peculiarly improper to omit in this first official Act, my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the Universe, who presides in the Councils of Nations, and whose providential aids can supply every human defect, that his benediction may consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the People of the United States, a Government instituted by themselves for these essential purposes: and may enable every instrument employed in its administration to execute with success, the functions allotted to his charge. In tendering this homage to the Great Author of every public and private good I assure myself that it expresses your sentiments not less than my own; nor those of my fellow-citizens at large, less than either. No People can be bound to acknowledge and adore the invisible hand, which conducts the Affairs of men more than the People of the United States. Every step, by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation, seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency. And in the important revolution just accomplished in the system of their United Government, the tranquil deliberations and voluntary consent of so many distinct communities, from which the event has resulted, cannot be compared with the means by which most Governments have been established, without some return of pious gratitude along with an humble anticipation of the future blessings which the past seem to presage. These reflections, arising out of the present crisis, have forced themselves too strongly on my mind to be suppressed. You will join with me I trust in thinking, that there are none under the influence of which, the proceedings of a new and free Government can more auspiciously commence.
Darwin as Deity: At the Natural History Museum (
Peter Campbell, 1/15/09, London Review of Books)
But it’s what might seem the dullest things in the exhibition – bits of paper with writing in brown ink or pencil; some of them letters, some notes or manuscripts – that take you to the heart of the matter. The little notebooks Darwin kept over the years are as near as you can get to hearing him think. In the ones that set out ideas on evolution, propositions based on evidence teased and tested in the mind are given their first physical form in a few scribbled words. Here the physical red-bound relic really is thrilling: guessing at the swiftness of the pen, following the layout of the page, takes you a little closer to the moment when memories and thoughts became ideas.
Short Cuts (Thomas Jones, 11/01/01, LRB)
Evolution is a more satisfying explanation of life than intelligent design/creationism...
LRB contributors react to events in Gaza (John Mearsheimer, 1/15/09, London Review of Books)
Many in the West expect Barack Obama to ride into town and fix the situation. Don’t bet on it. As his campaign showed, Obama is no match for the Israel lobby. His silence during the Gaza war speaks volumes about how tough he is likely to be with the Israelis. His chief Middle East adviser is likely to be Dennis Ross, whose deep attachment to Israel helped squander opportunities for peace during the Clinton administration.
That's why the main criticism of the recent war is that it was an unwinnable waste, not that Israel is morally wrong:
Gaza war ended in utter failure for Israel (Gideon Levy, 1/22/09, Ha'aretz)
What seemed like a predestined loss to only a handful of people at the onset of the war will gradually emerge as such to many others, once the victorious trumpeting subsides.
The initial objective of the war was to put an end to the firing of Qassam rockets. This did not cease until the war's last day. It was only achieved after a cease-fire had already been arranged. Defense officials estimate that Hamas still has 1,000 rockets.
The war's second objective, the prevention of smuggling, was not met either. The head of the Shin Bet security service has estimated that smuggling will be renewed within two months.
Most of the smuggling that is going on is meant to provide food for a population under siege, and not to obtain weapons. But even if we accept the scare campaign concerning the smuggling with its exaggerations, this war has served to prove that only poor quality, rudimentary weapons passed through the smuggling tunnels connecting the Gaza Strip to Egypt.
Israel's ability to achieve its third objective is also dubious. Deterrence, my foot. The deterrence we supposedly achieved in the Second Lebanon War has not had the slightest effect on Hamas, and the one supposedly achieved now isn't working any better: The sporadic firing of rockets from the Gaza Strip has continued over the past few days.
The fourth objective, which remained undeclared, was not met either. The IDF has not restored its capability. It couldn't have, not in a quasi-war against a miserable and poorly-equipped organization relying on makeshift weapons, whose combatants barely put up a fight.
No more "wars of choice": If the Democrats will stop trying to out-hawk the Republicans, the Obama administration can begin rebuilding America's economy and military -- and international image. (Michael Lind, Jan. 22, 2009, Salon)
When Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in the 1980s, he sought a truce in the Cold War, a breathing spell that would provide time for reformers to engage in "perestroika," or "restructuring," of the Soviet Union. In the aftermath of the Bush administration's hyperactive militarism and manic overextension, the U.S. needs a similar breathing spell in foreign policy that will permit concentration on rebuilding, not just reviving, the U.S. economy and its social contract. The Soviet Union proved to be unreformable and collapsed. But an American perestroika has the chance to result in a modernized, stronger American economy and society -- if a period of relative calm in foreign affairs allows resources and attention to be given to domestic reform.
Unfortunately, the Democratic Party's foreign policy mandarins are ill-prepared for peace. Many centrist Democrats have spent so much time in the last few decades trying to prove that Democrats can be as hawkish as Republicans that they have become hard to distinguish from bellicose neoconservatives. A number of liberal hawks joined the Weekly Standard neocons in supporting the Iraq war. To make matters worse, many "humanitarian hawks" have spent a generation arguing that the U.S. should fight more wars, not fewer, intervening in countries like Sudan in the name of human rights or a "responsibility to protect." Worst of all, the fashionable idea among centrist Democratic foreign policy intellectuals has been the concept of a "concert of democracies," which would marginalize China and Russia. No wonder that John McCain and the neocons love the concert-of-democracies idea.
While we have to defend ourselves against genuine threats, we need a prolonged period without any more "wars of choice" and with fewer other optional and costly interventions abroad, in order to concentrate on reconstruction at home. [...]
[C]hina and Russia have...formed the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and carried out joint military exercises to send a signal to the United States. China shot down one of its own satellites to show the U.S. military what it is capable of. Fearing U.S. military control over Middle Eastern oil supplies, China has made deals with unsavory, anti-American petrostates from Sudan to Venezuela. Meanwhile, Russia has tried to rebuild a sphere of influence by bullying neighbors dependent on its natural gas lines and attacking Georgia, America's new satellite state and potential NATO member. My purpose is not to excuse Chinese or Russian policies, but merely to point out that they are predictable strategic responses to America's policy of encirclement and humiliation.
Neither the U.S. nor the world can afford Cold War II, which would be crippling in its costs even if it were relatively bloodless. All other foreign policy challenges -- from global warming and global development to anti-terrorism -- would become more difficult to address. The greatest geopolitical challenge facing the Obama administration is therefore not jihadism, a threat that is serious but limited, nor is it bringing permanent peace to the Middle East, important as that is. It is averting a second Cold War among the industrial great powers.
To that end, Obama should repudiate the failed strategy, pursued by the Clinton as well as Bush administrations, of seeking to establish American hegemony by keeping other great powers -- China and Russia in particular -- as humiliated, weak and isolated as possible. It is not enough to change the rhetoric and talk about multilateralism rather than unilateralism. Neither is it sufficient to engage in paternalistic language about "integrating" rising powers into a global system in which the U.S. continues to set the rules and grades the participants. Nor is the answer a "new Atlanticism," with a Euro-American axis as the center of world politics, and NATO rather than the U.S. as globo-cop. The era when the West policed the rest is over.
A new American liberal internationalism means genuine power-sharing in international security and international economic institutions, with China, Russia and India as well as the major states of the Muslim world, Latin America and Africa.
His pathology manifests itself in several ways here, that tend to fatally undercut his hopes for a new era of isolation, or Realism as the neo-isolationists like to think of it. The first, of course, is that the idea that the United States will make common cause with Communist China that not only represses the Tibetans, Uighurs, Falun Gong and other groups but tens of millions of Christians and, by association, with its allies in North Korea, Venezuela, The Sudan, etc., borders on derangement. The American people might welcome a short breather in which we aren't busily toppling evil regimes, like the PRC's and Hugo Chavez's, but we aren't going to transfer power to the dictators and make ourselves active participants in the subjugation of peoples.
As in his assertion that he isn't advocating isolationism, Mr. Lind is similarly playing with words when he refers to his proposed policy as "liberal internationalism." There is nothing liberal about such a conscious disregard for the life, liberty and pursuit of happiness of several billion people who happen not to be lucky enough to live in states we've already liberated. Michael Howard, in his tragi-comic classic on the centuries long search for world peace, War and the Liberal Conscience, writes:
I have chosen the term 'liberal conscience', for the word 'conscience' implies not simply a belief or an attitude but also an inner compulsion to act upon it. And by 'liberals' I mean in general all those thinkers who believe the world to be profoundly other than in should be, and who have faith in the power of human reason and human action to change it, so that the inner potential of all human beings can be more fully realised. This excludes on the one hand those conservatives who accept the world as it unalterably is and adjust to it with more or less of good grace; and on the other those disciples of Karl Marx and other determinists who see men as trapped in predicaments from which they can be rescued only by historical processes; which they may understand but are powerless to control. It is a definition which today would probably cover almost the entire range of political thinkers in Britain and the United States.
The United States..., virtually aloone among nations, found and to some extent still finds its identity not so much in ethnic community or shared historical experience as in dedication to a value system: and the reiteration of these values, the repeated proclamation of and dedication to the liberal creed, has always been a fundamental element in the cohesion of American society.
In this respect the United States has always resembled rather a secular church, or perhaps a giant sect, than it has the nation-states of the Old World.
Before moving on, we ought note the method by which Mr. Lind would undermine the America he is at odds with, it is, quite naturally, via a transnationalist attack on our sovereignty. It is to take power from the American Republic, which has used it so unwisely in his view, and transfer it to "international institutions." In his conclusion, Michael Howard offers a cogent analysis of this tendency too:
The basic fact that has been recognized by every serious political thinker who has turned his attention to the matter--by More and Bacon, by Hobbes and Locke, by Montesquieu and Rousseau, by Kant and Hegel--is that war is an inherent element in a system of sovereign states which lacks any supreme and acknowledged arbiter; and the more genuinely those states, by reason of their democratic structure, embody indigenous and peculiar cultural values and perceptions, the less likely they are to sacrifice that element of sovereignty which carries with it the decision if necessary to use force to protect their interests. The answer cannot lie, as Rousseau sardonically suggested, in the dissolution of the sovereign state, for as Rousseau perceived, it is only by creation of a sovereign with which they can completely identify themselves that men can feel themselves to be fully free. To this extent Mazzini was right: in order to have internationalism one must first create nations; and those peoples who have already achieved cultural self-consciousness and political independence can all too easily forget the claims of those who have not.
There's another important way in which this Realist is insensible to the realities of the American soul. Having no conscience pricking at him, he tends to look at wars as a function of interests, personal interest at that, though Realists tend to gussy it up as pretended national interest. The wars he favors are then cast as thrust upon us by necessity, while those he opposes are mere wars of choice. The facts of American history are quite otherwise. All of our wars have been wars of choice and they've overwhelmingly been a matter of responding to our liberal conscience, or our Evangelical ethos.
Nor is that about to change just because the secular believe that this election has given Judeo-Christianity its comeuppance. President Obama, like Mr. Bush before him and a long line of good men before, would undoubtedly like to approach the world with humility and hope that other countries would just evolve towards us quietly. And, in truth, over a sufficiently long period of time that might actually happen. But the conscience is unquiet and so we continue to intervene, to hasten the conformity of other states to the intelligent design of our own. And who would ever want an America that was unmoved by conscience, an America that no longer hears God's voice? Who would mourn our passing if we stopped listening?
Russia on the Brink (Jamie Glazov, 1/23/2009, FrontPageMagazine.com)
Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Alex Alexiev, a veteran analyst of Russian and Soviet affairs and an adjunct fellow at the Hudson Institute in Wash. D.C.
FP: You have recently written that this crisis could be the beginning of the end of Russia’s imperial ambitions and of Putin himself. Can you tell us about this view of yours?
Alexiev: I do indeed believe that this little gas quarrel will be seen by future historians as the beginning of the end of Russia’s neo-imperial quest -- and of Putin himself as the leader that personified it. This conflict has exposed better than any other recent event to what extent the house Putin built since 2000 is a house of cards. The Kremlin’s claim to a new great power status, a claim uncritically bought by those who lumped Russia together with China and India as the new powers of the 21st century, was entirely based on its purported economic resurgence in the past eight years. Few bothered to look closely and realize that while there certainly was economic resurgence of sorts, it wasn’t due to economic performance.
Instead, Putin’s Russia had become a quintessential banana republic with oil and gas and a few other things it could dredge from the ground. It had an incredible run of luck for eight years as oil and gas prices went into the stratosphere and allowed Putin to bribe the Russian populace by raising salaries and pensions 200%, while building an impressive $600 billion monetary reserve at the same time. But the Kremlin did nothing to use its good fortune and bulging state coffers to wean itself from the banana republic’s predicament of being dependent on prices it couldn’t control. Nothing was done to repair the dilapidated Russian infrastructure, restructure the moribund communist-era industry or reform the dismal health and education systems. It also did everything possible to prevent the normal functioning of a free market system by installing a corrupt and ultimately dysfunctional symbiosis of personalized power and crony capitalism. As a result, when the price of bananas collapsed, as they inevitably do now and again, Putin’s house of cards also collapsed.
It is inconceivable to me that as the economic and social crises begin slamming the Russian people and the state, that the Kremlin will remain unaffected.
FP: But wait, expand a bit on how exactly Putin’s neo-imperialist ambitions tie into the oil and gas sector.
Alexiev: As I alluded to earlier, the oil and gas windfall profits Russia collected since 2000 had everything to do with Putin’s neo-imperialist dreams of a resurgent Russia. It did that on two levels. On one level, it provided the monetary wherewithal to balance the books, keep the folks at home quiescent and modernize the military a bit while acting increasingly self-assured internationally. On another level, the oil and gas bonanza permitted not only bulging revenues but more importantly increased Russia’s imperial hubris vis-à-vis the former Soviet republics and those that were dependent on its gas in Eastern and Western Europe.
Oil and gas and especially the “national champion” Gazprom, which is run from top to bottom by Putin’s hand-picked puppets, came to be seen as the most important instrument of foreign policy and its policies had little to do with purely business considerations. Take, for instance, the planned Nord Stream project, designed to bring Russian gas directly to Germany through an underwater pipeline in the Baltic Sea. It is being pushed by Putin and his paid European sycophants like former German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, not because it makes any business sense, it doesn’t, but because it bypasses Poland and the Baltics and would allow the Kremlin to turn their gas tap off without sacrificing German revenues. No wonder some in Eastern Europe have compared this Kremlin deal with the Germans to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of yesteryear.
One of the most significant consequences of the gas crisis is that it has made clear to what extent Putin’s quest to use gas as a political weapon may be completely unrealistic.
After the revolution: It is 30 years since Ayatollah Khomeini ousted the Shah of Iran, ending 2,000 years of monarchical rule and heralding the age of radical Islamism. Since then, the US has had no diplomatic relations with Iran. But is that about to change with the arrival of Barack Obama? (Dominic Sandbrook, 22 January 2009, New Statesman)
Nothing in history is inevitable, but Iran was heading for crisis at the end of the 1970s. The Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, was a corrupt, indecisive man, more weak than wicked, a lover of fine wines and foreign women who dreamed of using his gigantic oil revenues to rebuild the Persian Empire. Elevated to the throne at the age of just 21 after the British ousted his father, he had become increasingly dependent on American aid, especially after he acquiesced, in a CIA-backed coup in 1953, to topple the nationalist prime minister Mohammad Mossadegh. In the aftermath of the 1973 oil shock, he spent more than $12bn on American arms and equipment. He wanted new factories and universities, grand boulevards and gleaming power plants, but the more money he spent, the more prices in the shops of Tehran soared beyond imagining. By the late Seventies, cities were buckling under the weight of thousands of rural peasants in search of his economic miracle. In Tehran's concrete nightmare, the streets were permanently blocked with traffic, overstuffed tower blocks groaned beneath the weight of hundreds of families and the electricity grid regularly broke down for four hours at a time. Amid the squalid shanty towns and the stinking sewers, frustration was inexorably turning to fury.
Looking back, the extraordinary thing is not that Iran slipped towards the last great ideological revolution of modern history, but that the Shah's American sponsors - who had installed one of the biggest CIA projects anywhere in the world, largely to monitor movements across the Soviet border - failed to realise what was happening.
Government Spending Is No Free Lunch: Now the Democrats are peddling voodoo economics. (ROBERT J. BARRO, 1/22/09, WSJ)
Back in the 1980s, many commentators ridiculed as voodoo economics the extreme supply-side view that across-the-board cuts in income-tax rates might raise overall tax revenues. Now we have the extreme demand-side view that the so-called "multiplier" effect of government spending on economic output is greater than one -- Team Obama is reportedly using a number around 1.5. [...]
A much more plausible starting point is a multiplier of zero. In this case, the GDP is given, and a rise in government purchases requires an equal fall in the total of other parts of GDP -- consumption, investment and net exports. In other words, the social cost of one unit of additional government purchases is one.
This approach is the one usually applied to cost-benefit analyses of public projects. In particular, the value of the project (counting, say, the whole flow of future benefits from a bridge or a road) has to justify the social cost. I think this perspective, not the supposed macroeconomic benefits from fiscal stimulus, is the right one to apply to the many new and expanded government programs that we are likely to see this year and next.
What do the data show about multipliers? Because it is not easy to separate movements in government purchases from overall business fluctuations, the best evidence comes from large changes in military purchases that are driven by shifts in war and peace. A particularly good experiment is the massive expansion of U.S. defense expenditures during World War II. The usual Keynesian view is that the World War II fiscal expansion provided the stimulus that finally got us out of the Great Depression. Thus, I think that most macroeconomists would regard this case as a fair one for seeing whether a large multiplier ever exists.
I have estimated that World War II raised U.S. defense expenditures by $540 billion (1996 dollars) per year at the peak in 1943-44, amounting to 44% of real GDP. I also estimated that the war raised real GDP by $430 billion per year in 1943-44. Thus, the multiplier was 0.8 (430/540). The other way to put this is that the war lowered components of GDP aside from military purchases. The main declines were in private investment, nonmilitary parts of government purchases, and net exports -- personal consumer expenditure changed little. Wartime production siphoned off resources from other economic uses -- there was a dampener, rather than a multiplier.
We can consider similarly three other U.S. wartime experiences -- World War I, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War -- although the magnitudes of the added defense expenditures were much smaller in comparison to GDP. Combining the evidence with that of World War II (which gets a lot of the weight because the added government spending is so large in that case) yields an overall estimate of the multiplier of 0.8 -- the same value as before. (These estimates were published last year in my book, "Macroeconomics, a Modern Approach.")
There are reasons to believe that the war-based multiplier of 0.8 substantially overstates the multiplier that applies to peacetime government purchases. For one thing, people would expect the added wartime outlays to be partly temporary (so that consumer demand would not fall a lot). Second, the use of the military draft in wartime has a direct, coercive effect on total employment. Finally, the U.S. economy was already growing rapidly after 1933 (aside from the 1938 recession), and it is probably unfair to ascribe all of the rapid GDP growth from 1941 to 1945 to the added military outlays. In any event, when I attempted to estimate directly the multiplier associated with peacetime government purchases, I got a number insignificantly different from zero.
Obama takes presidential oath _ again (AP, 1/21/09)
Chief Justice John Roberts has administered the presidential oath of office to Barack Obama for a second time just to be on the safe side. The unusual step came after Roberts flubbed the oath a bit on Tuesday, causing Obama to repeat the wording differently than as prescribed in the Constitution.
The Natural History of Unicorns by Chris Lavers (Helen Brown, 08 Jan 2009, Daily Telegraph)
The written history of the Western legend begins in 398 BC with an account from a rather credulous Greek physician called Ctesias of Cnidus, who spent two decades in Persia ministering to the king and his court. Like his famous predecessor, Herodotus, Ctesias had a characteristically Greek curiosity about exotic peoples and places and wrote down all the tales he heard to ship home. One was of a wild, Indian ass with a white body, dark-red head, blue eyes and one horn of white, red and black. “Those who drink out of these horns,” he wrote, “are not subject, they say, to convulsions or to the holy disease [epilepsy]. Indeed they are immune to poisons if, either before or after swallowing such, they drink wine, water, or anything else from these beakers.”
Delving into the possible origins of this tale, Lavers takes us on a tour of some Indian animals that share some of the characteristics of Ctesias’s miracle beast. We meet the Indian rhino, a fearsome ass called the kiang, a Tibetan antelope and a wild yak. Lavers is good at fitting the properties attributed to the mythical creature to the characteristics of the real animals, although readers may sometimes find themselves wondering why. People have always just made things up, and that probably says more about our species of ape than it does about the Himalayan yak.
I found Lavers’s chapters on unicorn lore more revealing, particularly the way in which Ctesias’s ass made it into the Bible. Lavers reveals that the numerous references to unicorns in the King James Bible are a consequence of mistranslation from the Hebrew to the Greek. Most probably the Bible’s authors were talking about an ox.
Things get interesting when the pagan myth of how to catch a unicorn (send a pretty young virgin into the forest, wait for her to attract and pacify the beast, then spring out from behind the bushes to kill it) fuses with Christian tradition. So the unicorn becomes a symbol of Christ, brought among men by a virgin and killed by mankind.
The natural order of things: Darwinian selection explains the appearance of seemingly ‘designed’ complexity throughout the world — not just in biology but in the economy, technology and the arts (Matt Ridley, 7th January 2009, The Spectator)
On the internet, Darwinian unordained order is now ubiquitous as never before.
Living beings are eddies in the stream of entropy. That is to say, while the universe gradually becomes more homogeneous and disordered, little parts of it can reverse the trend and become briefly more ordered and complex by capturing packets of energy. It happens each time a baby is conceived. Built by 20,000 genes that turn each other on and off in a symphony of great precision, and equipped with a brain of ten trillion synapses, each refined and remodelled by early and continuing experience, you are a thing of exquisite neatness, powered by glucose. Says Darwin, this came about by bottom-up emergence, not top-down dirigisme. Faithful reproduction, occasional random variation and selective survival can be a surprisingly progressive and cumulative force: it can gradually build things of immense complexity. Indeed, it can make something far more complex than a conscious, deliberate designer ever could: with apologies to William Paley and Richard Dawkins, it can make a watchmaker.
Ideas evolve by descent with modification, just as bodies do, and Darwin at least partly got this idea from economists, who got it from empirical philosophers. Locke and Newton begat Hume and Voltaire who begat Hutcheson and Smith who begat Malthus and Ricardo who begat Darwin and Wallace. Before Darwin, the supreme example of an undesigned system was Adam Smith’s economy, spontaneously self-ordered through the actions of individuals, rather than ordained by a monarch or a parliament.
Inaugural Incoherence: Reassuring Substance Meets Pedestrian Style (Michael Medved, 1/21/09, Townhall)
Based upon the big moments of his campaign, many observers expected a speech of scary, sweeping, socialistic substance written in a glittering, epic, eloquent and indelible style. Instead, the new president delivered a puzzling address of mostly reassuring substance, but worded in a pedestrian, platitudinous and occasionally clumsy style.
First, the good news about the speech: President Obama explicitly and forcefully distanced himself from the far-left “peace activists” who provided his drive for the presidency with much of its initial energy and urgency.
Near the very beginning of the Inaugural Address, Mr. Obama stated simply and clearly: “Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred.” With these words, he effectively rebuked all those in the Democratic Party who insist that our struggles against terrorism amount to a “phony war,” or that George W. Bush exaggerated the menace we face in order to seize power and advance imperialistic neo-con agenda.
Judge Obama on Performance Alone: Let's not celebrate more ordinary speeches. (JUAN WILLIAMS, 1/21/09, WSJ)
If his presidency is to represent the full power of the idea that black Americans are just like everyone else -- fully human and fully capable of intellect, courage and patriotism -- then Barack Obama has to be subject to the same rough and tumble of political criticism experienced by his predecessors. To treat the first black president as if he is a fragile flower is certain to hobble him. It is also to waste a tremendous opportunity for improving race relations by doing away with stereotypes and seeing the potential in all Americans.
Yet there is fear, especially among black people, that criticism of him or any of his failures might be twisted into evidence that people of color cannot effectively lead. That amounts to wasting time and energy reacting to hateful stereotypes. It also leads to treating all criticism of Mr. Obama, whether legitimate, wrong-headed or even mean-spirited, as racist.
This is patronizing. Worse, it carries an implicit presumption of inferiority. Every American president must be held to the highest standard. No president of any color should be given a free pass for screw-ups, lies or failure to keep a promise.
During the Democrats' primaries and caucuses, candidate Obama often got affectionate if not fawning treatment from the American media. Editors, news anchors, columnists and commentators, both white and black but especially those on the political left, too often acted as if they were in a hurry to claim their role in history as supporters of the first black president.
For example, Mr. Obama was forced to give a speech on race as a result of revelations that he'd long attended a church led by a demagogue. It was an ordinary speech. At best it was successful at minimizing a political problem. Yet some in the media equated it to the Gettysburg Address.
The importance of a proud, adversarial press speaking truth about a powerful politician and offering impartial accounts of his actions was frequently and embarrassingly lost.
Image by Laughing Squid via Flickr
Now that the grandeur of the inauguration is over, this morning is President Barack Obama's first in the Oval Office, and the hard work of governing finally begins. More than any president in memory, Mr. Obama has evoked Abraham Lincoln. He made his presidential announcement in Springfield, Ill., where Lincoln once served as a legislator. He copiously read Lincoln histories. He placed his hand yesterday on the Lincoln Bible. But what are the real lessons of Abraham Lincoln for his presidency?
Early on, Lincoln learned that tumult is inherent in governing. Mr. Obama has already declared that he doesn't want "drama" within his cabinet and staff, but Lincoln's experience suggests that he should expect precisely that. From the outset of his administration, Lincoln's secretary of state, William Seward, a former senator from New York, was assiduously scheming against his president. Where Lincoln saw civil war as inevitable, Seward was freelancing, calling for negotiations with the South and privately telling Confederates that their differences could be peacefully resolved.
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Then there were Lincoln's problems with his generals. In 1862, despite Lincoln's pleading, Gen. George McClellan refused to attack the Confederates. When senators clamored for McClellan to be removed, Lincoln feebly replied, "Whom shall I put in command?" "Well anybody!" Sen. Benjamin Wade told Lincoln. "Well anybody will do for you," Lincoln said, "but not for me. I must have somebody!"
Only after much wasted time was McClellan finally dismissed. But from there, Lincoln had to contend with a procession of woefully unsatisfactory generals until he eventually found Ulysses S. Grant: He had to fire Ambrose Burnside, get rid of Joseph Hooker, and marginalize George Meade. Even at war's end, Lincoln was still struggling to forge consensus inside his administration. He outlined his vision for reincorporating the South into the Union, only to meet with fierce resistance from his own cabinet. In one revealing moment, the president sheepishly said, "You are all against me."
Ghosts from the past (Chicago Tribune, January 21, 2009)
The Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930 raised tariffs on much more than agriculture, sparking a furious round of tit-for-tat protectionist retaliation among our trading partners. The result: world trade dropped by half—and stayed down for the rest of the decade. [...]
The Wall Street Journal reported recently that organized labor and the steel and textile industries are "pushing to include strong 'Buy America' provisions" in any economic stimulus package. The same story noted that India had already raised its tariffs on imported steel, Mexico is threatening to bar some U.S. meat imports and Indonesia is forcing importers of clothing, shoes and electronics to buy special licenses.
"Other countries will follow our lead," said Griswold, just as they did in the 1930s. It took years to undo the damage caused by the global trade war sparked by Smoot-Hawley. During the 2008 campaign, President-elect Barack Obama gave mixed signals about his faith in free trade. He needs to be its champion now.
The Fatah-Hamas rift deepens (David Kenner, 01/21/2009, Foreign Policy)
While the Israel-Hamas war has come to a inconclusive end, the ongoing Palestinian civil war shows no sign of abating. There had been some thought that the Israeli offensive in Gaza could lead Hamas and Fatah to find a common cause against their shared enemy. Instead, suspicion between the two factions appears to be at an all-time high.
Has Darwin Failed?: Human beings, animals and plants were not created by God, but are the result of evolution. Charles Darwin published this revolutionary theory 150 years ago. It's been a huge success with scientists, but it was never popular. Is the human brain wired toward supernatural belief? (Markus Becker, 1/20/09, Der Spiegel)
According to a survey completed by the European Commission in early 2005, 52 percent of the citizens in the European Union believe in God. About one in four Europeans stated that while not believing in a personal God, they did believe in "a sort of spirit or life force," and only 18 percent outed themselves as non-believers. Germany ranked in the middle of countries surveyed, with 47 percent of respondents declaring a belief in God. According to the 2005 study, 25 percent of Germans said they believed in a higher power other than God, while another 25 percent believed in neither.
In an international comparison, these numbers still place Germany and the EU among the world's most secular regions. In the United States, the Gallup Organization regularly polls people on questions of God and science. According to the most recent result only 14 percent believe Homo sapiens arrived in the world as a sole result of evolution. Thirty-six percent believe evolution did take place, but under the guidance of God. The largest group, comprising 44 percent, believes the Almighty himself created man in his current form -- and that this occurred no more than 10,000 years ago.
Even in Darwin's native Britain, a majority of citizens no longer adheres to the theory of evolution, as a 2006 survey showed. Only 48 percent of Britons claimed to believe in it. More than 40 percent would like to see the Biblical story of creation taught in government-run schools -- and not just in religious studies, but also in biology class. One in four teachers on the government's payroll agree.
But nowhere is the battle between supporters and opponents of Darwin's theory as heated as in the United States. On the one side are creationists, who for some years have promoted a worldview they call "intelligent design," in which God created man and all life. They are opposed by the overwhelming majority of scientists and an increasingly vocal atheist movement, which views organized religion as little more than a childish belief that rises to the level of a public danger. A large number of books that discuss religion, in terms ranging from the levelheaded to the irate, have made it onto US bestseller lists in recent years.
Between the two fronts are those who are either uninterested in the issue or believe that science and religion could be reconciled, perhaps even complement each other. Their favorite argument is that religion does not, in fact, seek to make any scientific claims, while science is only interested in mapping the galaxies and analyzing genes, avoiding ethical and ideological questions.
So maybe it's just a big misunderstanding? Hardly. Some academics like to point out that certain questions are beyond the scope of science, such as the ultimate source of the universe and whether there is a higher purpose to its existence. But even in these metaphysical realms, there is overlap. "Religions make existence claims, and this means scientific claims," says Richard Dawkins, biologist, bestselling author and figurehead of the so-called New Atheists. "A universe with a supernatural presence would be a fundamentally and qualitatively different kind of universe from one without."
Now it’s time to put the ‘we’ into ‘Yes we can’: The inauguration of Barack Obama as the Forty-Fourth President captured people’s yearning for historic momentum, and Obama’s lack of it. (Brendan O’Neill, 1/21/09, Spiked)
[W]e’re already seeing the downsides to the Obama momentum, signals that this new administration might fail to live up to people’s expectations of History with a capital H. Yes, people have had enough of dull mainstream politics, yet for Obama that seems to mean we should get rid of partisanship and debate – the lifeblood of politics – entirely. ‘On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics’, he said, implicitly demonising the rough-and-tumble of political infighting and outfighting that accompanies every true historic leap forward. ‘We will return science to its rightful place’, he said, which was widely and rightly interpreted as a swipe at the Bush administration’s ‘ignorance of scientific facts’. Yet it also suggests we will see the further elevation of expertise over debate, and cool judgements over fiery discourse. In their policy promises, also published yesterday, Obama/Biden said they will: ‘Restore the basic principle that government decisions should be based on the best-available, scientifically-valid evidence and not on ideological predispositions.’ In short, we can expect under Obama the intensification of managerial, ideology-free and principle-lite politics, only it will have the grand title of ‘respecting science’. This is not history so much as physics.
The inauguration was a supremely revealing snapshot of our age. It showed people’s thirst for change. And it captured the absence of a sense of agency that means we project this desire for change on to one man who has ‘come’. It showed Obama as the beneficiary of a yearning for historic momentum. And it showed Obama as a man who seems to lack the vision or political programme to transform old, small, cynical politics into something properly historic. Most strikingly, it confirmed that, so long as we the people remain passive observers of officially decreed History, politics will be dominated by expertise and the wisdom of the few, rather than by passion and the desires of the many. It might be time to put the ‘we’ into ‘Yes we can’.
Human Nature: The X Factor in Economic Theory: Irrationality plays a part in economic behavior. For example, people who took on too much mortgage debt helped cause the housing collapse (Marshall Goldsmith, 1/20/09, Business Week)
According to Dan Ariely, author of the recently released book Predictably Irrational and the James B. Duke Professor of Behavioral Economics at Duke University, behavioral economics is an important and useful tool for society because it takes into account the irrationality of human nature. I loved this book—and highly recommend it. I've asked Dan to give us his take from a behavioral economics perspective on the current economic situation. Edited excerpts of our conversation follow:
How is behavioral economics different from standard economics?
Standard and behavioral economics are interested in similar topics, i.e., the choices people make; the effects of incentives; the role of information; etc. However, the starting point for behavioral economists is how people behave, often in a controlled lab environment, which often leads to different conclusions about the logic and efficacy of many things, including mortgages, savings, and health care in both business and personal realms.
The size of a purse, Sony's netbook is slickest around (Mark Prigg, 21st January 2009, Daily Mail)
In the last 12 months, laptops have got smaller and more powerful by the day, and advances in technology have led to the emergence of the netbook, a new class of tiny machine.
Sony's Vaio P is without doubt the slickest implementation of this idea (at least until Apple makes one).
No larger than a women's clutch purse, it measures 245 x 120 x 19.8mm, and weighs just 638 grams.
The eight-inch widescreen display is superb, although cramming an entire Windows desktop onto such a small screen does mean small objects on screen can be hard to spot - you might find yourself using a slightly larger font than normal, for example.
But overall the machine works exactly as a full-sized laptop would.
President Obama the Liberal Nationalist (Gil Troy, 1/21/09, History News Network)
At the inauguration, Obama seemed sobered by America’s unrealistic expectations despite such crushing challenges. While Obama’s inauguration was moving, his address was muted. Now, Obama is such a master speechmaker that, as with Babe Ruth swinging a bat, anything less than a game-winning homer disappoints. Still, Obama seemed determined to manage Americans’ expectations, warning that America’s problems could not be solved simply by sloganeering.
Obama understands that the growing cult of personality surrounding him is a great asset, giving him a mandate to succeed. But he also knows that hope is like a balloon, if properly inflated it soars into the sky, dazzling, delighting, and elevating; but if overblown, it pops. The frenzied hopes his election triggered could sour.
Let's Stimulate Private Risk Taking: Tax cuts are the way to nudge capital toward productive uses. (ALBERTO ALESINA and LUIGI ZINGALES, 1/21/09, WSJ)
In virtually all economics classes, including those taught by the many excellent economists on the Obama team, the idea of government spending as an engine for growth is not a popular topic. Yet despite their skepticism of Keynesianism in the classroom, when it comes to public policy, these economists happily endorse a large stimulus package that could bring our deficit to 10% of GDP. Why? [...]
[T]his particular recession is unique not in its dimensions, but in its sources. First, it is the result of a financial crisis that severely affected stock-market valuations. The bad equilibrium did not originate in the labor market, but in the credit market, where investors are reluctant to lend to risky firms. This reluctance is making it difficult for these firms to refinance their debt, forcing them to default on their credit, further validating investors' fear. Thus, the problem is how to increase investors' willingness to take risk. It's unclear how the proposed stimulus package would help inspire investors to do so.
The second reason this recession is unusual is that it was caused in large part by a significant current-account imbalance due to the low savings rate of Americans (families and government). Even assuming that more public spending would increase private consumption -- a big if -- such a measure would cause even more imbalance.
So how do we stimulate the economy without increasing the already large current-account deficit? It's not easy, but here is an idea: Create the incentive for people to take more risk and move their savings from government bonds to risky assets. There is no better way to encourage this than a temporary elimination of the capital-gains tax for all the investments begun during 2009 and held for at least two years.
If we fear this is not enough, we can temporarily increase the size of the capital loss that is deductible against ordinary income. This will reduce the downside of new investments and increase the upside.
Revenge of the nerds: For the first time since JFK, 'the best and the brightest' are back in the White House. Will Ivy-League intellect be enough to set the country straight? (STEVEN STARK, January 21, 2009, Boston Phoenix)
Barack Obama's new administration has been characterized many ways — as a return to liberalism, a Chicago Mafia, and the harbinger of a new age.
But what it represents on a grander, political-science level is the return of the intellectual establishment to the seat of power in American politics. Or call it revenge of the nerds.
If there's one overriding theme that characterizes Obama's team, it is that anyone who went to Harvard (or another high-powered elite school) has his full trust. The Boston Globe calls the newly ensconced White House team "Cambridge on the Potomac." And Obama's actions and rhetoric confirm the same impulse. One Obama advisor even told ABC's George Stephanopoulos that the cabinet would be a mixture of Abraham Lincoln's "band of rivals" and "the best and the brightest." In truth, we've seen a lot more of the latter than the former.
Thus, as promised, Obama is moving beyond leftists and rightists and setting up "the establishment" in its place.
Pakistan's shift alarms the US (Syed Saleem Shahzad, 1/22/09, Asia Times)
NATO has repeatedly urged Pakistan to do something about protecting the route, but it has been helpless because of a serious lack of human resources as many of its forces are engaged in combating the Taliban in Bajaur Agency and in the Swat Valley.
And significantly, following the Mumbai attack, Islamabad has moved troops from the border with Afghanistan to the border with India, where Indian troops are also mobilized. On Tuesday, India tested a cruise missile close to the Pakistan border. An Indian Defense Ministry spokesman said a Brahmos supersonic cruise missile had been successfully fired. The missiles have a range of up to several hundred kilometers.
It is Pakistan's focus on India that has Washington concerned, yet the heightened tensions between Islamabad and Delhi suit both countries. India has to hold general elections before May, and the ruling Congress-led government needs to be seen as doing something about the Mumbai attacks. Pakistan, meanwhile, has an excuse to bail out its highly demoralized troops on the western borders with Afghanistan by moving them to the Indian border.
President Oxybarama (Spengler, 1/22/09, Asia Times)
United States President Barack Obama "signaled a commitment to pragmatism not just as a governing strategy but as a basic value", according to unintentionally hilarious inauguration dispatch by the New York Times' Washington bureau chief David Sanger. Pragmatism, of course, is not a value, but rather the triumph of expediency over values. To call pragmatism a "basic value" is an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms, like "studied ignorance", or "impassioned apathy". Obama had plenty of that today, too.
"[Obama's] appearance on the Capitol steps was so historic that the address became larger than its own language, more imbued with meaning than anything he could say," added Sanger, which is to say that Obama said nothing memorable. Just what was historic?
This half-Luo tribesman from Hawaii whose African father had no connection whatsoever with the West African ancestors of American slaves, was not imbued, but rather hued, with significance. His melanin carried the meaning, which is to say that he was judged by the color of his skin rather than the content of his character, in a precise reversal of Martin Luther King Jr's famous phrase.
America's African Americans, who have failed to produce a credible leader in the two generations since the Civil Rights Act of 1965, broke America's last color bar, hailed this carpetbagger as a savior. For a generation of white liberals raised on the notion that skin-color aversion is the original sin of American politics, the confusion is understandable. The African Americans in attendance should have known better. In a way, they did. If not for Aretha Franklin, the day would have been a total loss.
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Obama inauguration: A new tone. No more fake optimism for the people (Naomi Wolf, 1/21/09, The Guardian)
I know that Barack Obama is incredibly smart, and it's not that I'm surprised that he gave a fantastic speech. But I've been following American politics for a long time, and sometimes you see something that works on so many levels that you kind of have to gasp at its sophistication.
This speech marked a sharp line in the sand, breaking overtly with the past administration. That message was clear and intentional. It is a much more confrontational approach than inauguration speeches have typically been in America. I am overjoyed.
I thought Obama did three things impressively. [...]
Thirdly, most amazingly, I feel that he dialled down the threat level of the US with just a few sentences. He reached out a hand to the Muslim world. For Obama to say, "I'm not going to demonise you" – that is extraordinarily stabilising.
Bush's Real Sin Was Winning in Iraq (William McGurn, 1/20/09, WSJ)
For many of these critics, the template for understanding Iraq was Vietnam -- especially after things started to get tough. In terms of the wars themselves, of course, there is almost no parallel between Vietnam and Iraq: The enemies are different, the fighting on the ground is different, the involvement of other powers is different, and so on.
Still, the operating metaphor of Vietnam has never been military. For the most part, it is political. And in this realm, we saw history repeat itself: a failure of nerve among the same class that endorsed the original action.
As with Vietnam, with Iraq the failure of nerve was most clear in Congress. For example, of the five active Democratic senators who sought the nomination, four voted in favor of the Iraqi intervention before discovering their antiwar selves.
As in Vietnam too, rather than finding their judgment questioned, those who flip-flopped on the war were held up as voices of reason. In a memorable editorial advocating a pullout, the New York Times gave voice to the chilling possibilities that this new realism was willing to accept in the name of bringing our soldiers home.
"Americans must be clear that Iraq, and the region around it, could be even bloodier and more chaotic after Americans leave," read the editorial. "There could be reprisals against those who worked with American forces, further ethnic cleansing, even genocide." Even genocide. With no hint of irony, the Times nevertheless went on to conclude that it would be even worse if we stayed.
This is Vietnam thinking. And the president never accepted it. That was why his critics went ape when, in a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, he touched on the killing fields and exodus of boat people that followed America's humiliating exit off an embassy rooftop. As the Weekly Standard's Matthew Continetti noted, Mr. Bush had appropriated one of their most cherished analogies -- only he drew very different lessons from it.
Mr. Bush's success in Iraq is equally infuriating, because it showed he was right and they wrong. Many in Washington have not yet admitted that, even to themselves. Mr. Obama has. We know he has because he has elected to keep Mr. Bush's secretary of defense -- not something you do with a failure.
Great expectations (Benjamin Teicher, 21 January 2009, Online Opinion)
Where the Bush administration was indifferent to the threat of global warming, Obama has announced that America will join the carbon-trading fold. He has also promised that the prison at Guantanamo Bay will close, if not as quickly as he had initially promised.
The risk is that Obama's supporters will wait for these initiatives to change the world for them. They will slowly forget that they too played a part in the events that concern us today.
The problem with words like economy, environment and government is that they seem like malevolent entities, independent of ourselves.
The economy, for instance, is comprised of all the different moments of economic activity in our daily lives. When we work for money, when we pay for a book or a DVD, when a bank or lender approves a home loan, these are moments that shape what we call the global economy.
Likewise, while Obama has promised to make the environment a focus of his presidency, it is a comforting illusion the idea that the world can halt global warming, reverse the destruction of forests and clear the choking pollution from its cities without actions on the part of individual human beings.
If human civilisation is truly facing an environmental catastrophe, then it will be up to citizens, workers, business leaders and consumers to opt for sacrifice at both the board room and kitchen tables.
The actions of individuals are key even on the issue of human rights. The torture of terrorism suspects was never merely the action of a sinister cabal in a dark corner of the White House. It occurred because, on the most part, these acts of the government were met with the acquiescence of ordinary citizens.
It is up to these citizens to ensure that human rights remains on the political agenda if such cruel acts are never to be repeated.
Supporters of Barack Obama must be willing to act and make changes in their lives if for no other reason than that this is something fundamental to Obama's message.
Obama may be the 'no we can't' President: After the waves of optimism, this was an inaugural speech that dared to set limits on the world's expectations (Daniel Finkelstein , 1/21/09, Times of London)
Mr Obama was elected on a wave of optimism, a surge of hope. But I think that when he is remembered by future generations it may be as the man who said: “No we can't.” Mr Obama's soaring rhetoric lifts hearts, his ambition excites the imagination, but just as impressive to those who meet him is his cool, detached demeanour. He may prove just the man America is looking for - the man who can unleash its “can't do” spirit. [...]
He described a nation at war, an economy badly weakened, a collective failure to make hard choices. And while the new President promised to face these difficulties, he was extremely careful not to promise to eliminate them.
His attempt to summarise his attitude to the state produced this: “The question we ask today is not whether our Government is too big or too small, but whether it works.” In other words, he offered his audience ruthless pragmatism, a clear-eyed realism distinct from the upbeat message of the campaign trail.
On foreign policy, too, his message was one of restraint. In a speech that was longer on poetic phrases than on arresting ideas, one of the most interesting passages was when he said that earlier generations “knew that our power grows through its prudent use” and that security emanates from “the tempering qualities of humility and restraint”.
Mr Obama's inaugural address, then, was a piece of expectation management. Already he is warning his supporters to understand the limits of change and the constraints he is under.
It was a distinctly different tone from the campaign.
No More Mr. Eloquent (SIMON SCHAMA, 1/20/09, Daily Beast)
Did it soar? Did the pilot lift America and the rest of the watching world into a better place by the sheer thrust of his rhetorical engines? No, not exactly. Maybe there was ice on the wings of Obama’s prose, and not just deposited by the knife-slicing January cold. The chill was more a matter of mood: his and the country’s at a moment of unparalleled crisis. So there was no sugar-coating; not much in the way of head-patting and lullabies. What there was instead was great seriousness of tone and substance; the integrity that comes from telling it like it is; a feeling that the time was too tough for cheap lyrics.
My fellow citizens:
I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors. I thank President Bush for his service to our nation, as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.
Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath. The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because We the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our forbearers, and true to our founding documents.
So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Americans.
That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.
These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land - a nagging fear that America's decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.
Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many.
They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America - they will be met. On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.
On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.
We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.
In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of short-cuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted - for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things - some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.
For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life.
For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.
For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn. Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.
This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions - that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.
For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act - not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. And all this we will do.
Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions - who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.
What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them - that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works - whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public's dollars will be held to account - to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day - because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.
Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control - and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our Gross Domestic Product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart - not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.
As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake. And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.
Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.
We are the keepers of this legacy. Guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort - even greater cooperation and understanding between nations. We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan. With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet. We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.
For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus - and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.
To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect.
To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West - know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.
To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.
As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us today, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages.
We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service; a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves. And yet, at this moment - a moment that will define a generation - it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.
For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter's courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent's willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.
Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends - hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism - these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility - a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.
This is the price and the promise of citizenship.
This is the source of our confidence - the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.
This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed - why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall, and why a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.
So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have traveled. In the year of America's birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:
"Let it be told to the future world...that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive...that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it]."
America. In the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.
That said, and even heading in with low expectations, I think it's fair to say that today's inaugural address wasn't just prosaic rather than poetic, as we anticipated, but actually fell flat. Indeed, what seems to have been a conscious decision to drain the occasion of soaring rhetoric and sweeping vision was so inappropriate to the requirements of the day and the role he now assumes that we may question whether he understood either.
The speech he gave was reminiscent of one of those Bill Clinton State of the Union's, where you drone on about various specifics, ticking off a laundry list of items. It can at least be argued that such a speech is suitable to Congress, where you're basically advancing a legislative agenda and/or trying to shape theirs. But an Inaugural is quite a different beast. It is, or ought to be, a president's vision of where we are, where we've been, and where we're going. It's a time for sweeping strokes, not pointillism. And where we usually have a fairly good handle on who a new president is, Mr. Obama has remained unusually obscure through an election season where he studiously avoided ideas, presenting himself and the fact of his race as the primary reason to elect him. So it would have been an especially appropriate moment for him to enunciate the personal philosophy that guides him, to position that philosophy within the flow of American ideas and ideals, and to suggest where that philosophy is likely to lead him and us.
Bad enough to have whiffed on the historical context of the Inaugural Speech in general, he also got wrong what was needed from him at this specific time. While it is a good idea for him to tamp down the unreasonable expectations of the Left, which read into his silence a Progressivism that nothing in his career and candidacy supports, and of the World, which sees in him a departure from prior American presidents, even as he apes his predecessors, the sort of workmanlike tone of the address suggested a role for his presidency that no president can fill. Meanwhile, he eschewed the one role that he is particularly adapted to filling successfully. While it is self-flatting to pretend that you take on the burden of office at a uniquely difficult point in the nation's history and that will only be by your own semi-miraculous leadership that things improve, the reality is that most of the heavy-lifting on both the war and economic fronts has already been done for him. Over the next couple years he will be responsible for the orderly withdrawal of forces from the Middle East, but unless he has the unexpected good sense and moral drive to regime-change Syria, there isn't much left for him to do on the battlefield. Likewise, while he inherits an economy softened by a credit crunch, artificially high gas prices, mistakenly high interest rates, and nativism, the only one of these that hasn't yet been ameliorated is the anti-immigration problem. For the rest he can sit back and reap what's already sown.
More importantly, even if there were some sort of existential crisis of the liberal democratic capitalist West, it's not as if rolling up his sleeves and hammering out legislative Rube Goldberg schemes with Congress would do anything to address that. We've had our share of presidents who descend into the details in that way and they are--without exception--failures. It isn't just that the solutions to life's problems aren't to be found in the innards of congressional actions, but that it is a waste of a president's political and personal capital to try fine-tuning such imperfect devices.
What our successful presidents have done is used their office as a bully pulpit, to summon the national will to do certain things, to pressure the Congress to respond, and to establish broad frameworks to which the eventual solutions should roughly correspond. They have also used their leadership and moral and political authority to move America and Americans to overcome mere crises of confidence and moments of fright, without necessarily tying the words to legislative programs. This is where Mr. Obama could have been useful, but instead exacerbated the problem. Whether rational or not, people across the planet have greeted the coming of the Obama presidency with enormous hope and optimism. At a moment in time where we have little to fear but our funk itself, he should have drawn upon this reservoir of good will and sought to snap everyone out of it. Rather than giving such a downer of a speech and kind of covering his own butt in advance, just in case things aren't better four years from now, he should have reveled in all that is right and good and summoned us all to greater heights. Instead he asked us all to wallow with him in depressing self-indulgence about how tough times are.
One hates to say it, but if you look back through recent presidential history the speech that comes closest to this one is Jimmy Carter's "malaise" speech--the defects of which we've analyzed previously. It would not be all that surprising if someone as inexperienced as Mr. Obama already fears that he has taken on a job that it too big for him, as Mr. Carter's speech revealed the recognition that he was in way over his head. But to be treading so close to the edge of despair before you actually have the responsibilities is not a hopeful sign.
In fairness, Mr. Obama is such a neophyte that this grievous error in tone may just be symptomatic of the steep learning curve he faces. But, jiminy-cricket, we'd better all hope and pray he's a quick learner.
N.B. On the bright side, it was certainly more poetic than the official poem, which seemed to have been read off of a Scrabble board for all the sense it made.
On the other hand, it was remarkable that even though Reverend Lowrey was barely coherent, his cadences were still uplifting in the unique fashion of a black preacher. Generally, even when candidate Obama was giving the blandest speeches he could get by if he just imitated those rhythms, but today he speech lacked even that advantage.
I thought maybe I was being unduly harsh until even CNN and NPR correspondents sounded disappointed and then Hendrik Hertzberg just hammered it.
-Fox News gives thumbs down to Obama inaugural speech (Scott Collins, Jan 20 2009, LA Times)
After praising Obama for his presence and delivery, [Michael] Gerson attacked the speech itself. "The surprising thing about this speech, however, was that in this extraordinary moment, the speech was actually quite ordinary from a literary perspective," Gerson said. "There were too many 'raging storms' and 'gathering clouds' and other things that any writer could consider cliched. And I don't understand, given Obama's literary ear in so many past speeches, how some of these things got through into an inaugural address. I think it's a mystery."
President Barack Obama's inauguration address today was not the inspiring, memorable message many Americans had hoped to hear.
Obama didn't cover much new ground. The speech started out as a downer, and didn't get much better from there.
Inauguration day brings to mind the reason I don't read science fiction. It's never weird enough. Today, America will place more power than any peacetime president ever has wielded into the hands of a man nobody knows. He has convinced more incompatible constituencies that he takes their side than any politician in American history. And through no fault or merit of his own, he has stumbled into more power than the White House has had since World War II.
President Barack Obama’s inaugural address was surprisingly leaden. It did not soar like his "Yes, We Can" speech after losing the New Hampshire primary, nor did it chart his plans for governance as did his convention speech in Denver. Most strangely, it did not seem to capture the history of the moment the way his election night speech did.
Part of the problem is with the nature of such an address. This was the speech of a head of state, not a head of government, even though the President serves both functions. But, presidential oratory only succeeds in head of state mode at times of national tragedy. After the space shuttle Challenger disaster, Ronald Reagan gave his best speech as Bill Clinton did in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing. Inaugurals are festive occasions, and as we saw today, the impulse to speak for the nation often leads to the kinds of abstractions that do not make for great oratory. Still, one need not be so opaque about historical illusions: If you want to refer to Washington crossing the Delaware, speak of Washington crossing the Delaware not of "the coldest of months" and "the icy river."
As soon as the applause had died down, an African American standing man near me on the Mall said to his friend: "I thought the speech was [****]." Another woman said, correctly, that "we had heard it all before at other events".
In a way Obama was a victim of his own success. Having given so many dynamic speeches he had set his own bar very high. What he tried to do at his inauguration was tell Americans that they had to sacrifice to make gains, while making them believe this was well within their capabilities. The emphasis on sacrifice was too weak however.
To the disappointment of many black people in the crowd, he also made but one reference to the enormity of a black man occupying the White House for the first time. Obama has never laboured the issue of his race, but on this historic day the issue needed more.
Jon Favreau, his co-writer, recently admitted that he had been pouring over previous inaugural speeches. That might have been a bad idea. Obama seemed weighed down by the past, and failed to seize the moment.
"It was not as lofty as I would have anticipated," said Gergen, noting that Obama had visited sites such as the Lincoln Memorial for inspiration.
Barack Obama has undercut any claims of meritocracy with at least one choice: the woman who will delivering his inaugural poem. Aside from the fact that she has known Obama since they worked together at the University of Chicago, one is hard-pressed to find a rationale for this honor. Only the fourth poet to participate in a presidential inauguration, Elizabeth Alexander is no Robert Frost, nor even Maya Angelou. Alexander is an unpoet who arranges words into impenetrable jumbles flecked with juvenile imagery, inappropriate word choice, an obsessive PC view of race and "gender," a dubious take on miscegenation, and an occasional desire to kill whitey.
It was a cheery morning until Barack Obama showed up. Joe Biden practically skipped out of the Capitol building toward the dais, grinning and greeting friends. Aretha Franklin outdid even her own reputation. The Simple Gifts instrumental awed the crowd, dignified, lovely, a vast improvement over, say, Maya Angelou's leaden and banal poetry at Bill Clinton's first inaugural 16 years ago. Even Rick Warren, the cause of so much lefty hyperventilation, turned in a soothing performance, more Episcopal priest than right-wing crazy.
Then came Obama. The new president glided onto the stage as if in a trance, not inhabiting his own body. He stumbled through his oath, ad libbing at one point, then launched into a somber speech almost indistinguishable from a State of the Union address. As for the state of our union, Obama described it as "this winter of our hardship."
It was a good speech but not a soaring one. This may have been because Obama has given so many strong speeches, he's graded on his own special curve—or because he wanted the speech to be thoroughly conventional.
Carter Snubs Clinton (David Wright, 1/20/09, ABC News)
Today may be a day when the nation briefly sets aside partisan enmity for the peaceful transition of power, but personal enmity? That’s another matter. [...]
Former Democratic President Jimmy Carter appeared to greet former Republican President George H.W. Bush and his wife warmly, kissing Barbara Bush on the cheek. But as Carter passed fellow Democrats Bill and Hillary Clinton, the two men did not appear to acknowledge each others presence at all. A total snub.
-ARCHIVES: Inaugural Addresses (American Rhetoric)
-VIDEOS: Presidential Inauguration Videos. (Metafilter, 1/18/09)
The first recorded on video was McKinley's Second (March 4, 1901).
Theodore Roosevelt (March 4, 1905)
Woodrow Wilson's Second (March 4, 1917)
Warren G. Harding (March 4, 1921)
Calvin Coolidge (March 4, 1925)
Franklin D. Roosevelt's First (March 4, 1933)
Frank lin D. Roosevelt's Fourth (January 20, 1945)
Harry S. Truman (January 20, 1949)
Dwight D. Eisenhower's First (January 20, 1953)
Dwight D. Eisenhower's Second (January 20, 1957)
John F. Kennedy - (part 2) (January 20, 1961)
Lyndon B. Johnson (January 20, 1965)
Richard M. Nixon's First (January 20, 1969)
Richard M. Nixon's Second (January 20, 1973)
Jimmy Carter (January 20, 1977)
Ronald Reagan's First (January 20, 1981)
Ronald Reagan's Second (January 20, 1985)
George H. W. Bush (January 20, 1989)
Bill Clinton's First (January 20, 1993)
Bill Clinton's Second (January 20, 1997)
George W. Bush's First (January 20, 2001)
George W. Bush's Second (January 20, 2005)
The American Promise: From 1776 to Sumter, from Selma to Obama, we've been shaped by the fights for freedom. (Jon Meacham, 1/20/09, Newsweek)
As Barack Obama begins his work as the 44th president of the United States, he is living testament to the possibilities and promise of an America founded in the 18th century, tested in the 19th, triumphant in the 20th and now finding its way in the 21st. Depending on your point of view, the following point is now clichéd or canonical (though, come to think of it, they are not mutually exclusive): the election of the son a Kenyan and a Kansan would have been unthinkable even 20 years ago. One of the spectators on the inaugural stand in Washington was John Lewis, who bears the physical scars of the all-too-recent war to win the right to vote; in historical terms, Selma was only the day before yesterday, Sumter the day before that.
The theme that connects our triumphant and tragic past with the future now unfolding is at once the simplest and most complex of forces in human affairs: the freedom of the individual to decide his own destiny in a republic created by Madison but turned democratic by Jackson. Destiny in an Aristotelian polis, or city, is not only a private matter; one's values and hopes and fears are inextricably connected to the larger community. Hence liberty under law rather than liberty without constraint: that way lies madness.
Our collective sense of freedom, then, is fundamental to who we are but cannot be understood with the reassuring simplicity of fundamentalism. Put another way, freedom is not necessarily permanent; it is fluid, in constant need of redefinition and rethinking, and that work is never done. We are stewards of the revolutionary impulse toward what Washington called "the sacred fire of liberty," but freedom is not a buy-and-hold proposition. When we have been at our best, we have redefined and rethought what freedom means, and what it signifies to say something—or someone—is American.
In the beginning, the definition was clear enough: America was its own nation, master of its own fate, free from imperial rule. When the Declaration was signed—the Founding Fathers, as they were to become, were bedeviled by horseflies during the ceremony—the Virginia state convention in Williamsburg immediately voted to suppress the standard Anglican prayer for the king and the royal family, directing congregations instead to ask God to guide "the magistrates of the commonwealth." In Philadelphia itself, John Adams said, "the bells rung all day and all night." In New York, an ecstatic crowd tore down a statue of George III. General Washington, in command of the Continental Army, was not amused. "The general hopes and trusts," Washington told the troops, speaking in the third person, "that every officer and man will endeavor so to live and act as becomes a Christian soldier, defending the dearest rights and liberties of his country."
Among those dear rights and liberties was what FDR would later call the freedom to worship according to the dictates of one's own conscience. At this distance it can be difficult to explain the enormity of then-nascent American tradition of religious liberty, but the right of freedom of conscience—and the Constitution's prohibition against a religious test for federal office—was among the most revolutionary features of a revolutionary time.
To free the mind and the heart from compulsory religious confession and observance was good for all three interested parties: the state, the church and the people. For the state, the removal (mostly) of religious conflicts from the business of government freed the young nation's leaders to focus on other things without the distraction of matters spiritual. For the church, what Jefferson called the wall of separation between church and state in 1802 meant that religion stood a better chance of remaining chiefly concerned with its own affairs rather than becoming, as it so often had in the Old World, a tool of empires and politicians.
Suddenly religious devotion became a choice, not a chore; religion was more vibrant after Jefferson's wall (albeit a very short one) went up.
Slowly, ever slowly, Jefferson's definition of "men" grew. Through what Lincoln called the "fiery trial" of the Civil War, through the miseries of Jim Crow, through the women's suffrage movement, through nativist battles over immigration, we are now, 400 years after the founding of Jamestown, a bigger, freer and in many ways stronger country than we have ever been. That is true now, but may not be true tomorrow: to be repetitive, we require vigilance, redefinition and rethinking to preserve what Reagan used to call, in an evocation of Lincoln, the last, best hope of man on earth.
Such a sentiment may seem out of step with the hip global sensibility of the Age of Obama, but we should not shy away from noting what we have achieved any more than we ought to avoid the tasks of social and moral recovery ahead. As Patrick Henry said, "I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided; and that is the lamp of experience. I know of no way of judging the future but by the past." The American record on freedom is neither perfect nor dismal: like human nature, it contains elements of both.
Inaugural Address (Calvin Coolidge, delivered 4 March 1925)
Realizing that we can not live unto ourselves alone, we have contributed of our resources and our counsel to the relief of the suffering and the settlement of the disputes among the European nations. Because of what America is and what America has done, a firmer courage, a higher hope, inspires the heart of all humanity.
These results have not occurred by mere chance. They have been secured by a constant and enlightened effort marked by many sacrifices and extending over many generations. We can not continue these brilliant successes in the future, unless we continue to learn from the past. It is necessary to keep the former experiences of our country both at home and abroad continually before us, if we are to have any science of government. If we wish to erect new structures, we must have a definite knowledge of the old foundations. We must realize that human nature is about the most constant thing in the universe and that the essentials of human relationship do not change. We must frequently take our bearings from these fixed stars of our political firmament if we expect to hold a true course. If we examine carefully what we have done, we can determine the more accurately what we can do.
We stand at the opening of the one hundred and fiftieth year since our national consciousness first asserted itself by unmistakable action with an array of force. The old sentiment of detached and dependent colonies disappeared in the new sentiment of a united and independent Nation. Men began to discard the narrow confines of a local charter for the broader opportunities of a national constitution. Under the eternal urge of freedom we became an independent Nation. A little less than 50 years later that freedom and independence were reasserted in the face of all the world, and guarded, supported, and secured by the Monroe doctrine. The narrow fringe of States along the Atlantic seaboard advanced its frontiers across the hills and plains of an intervening continent until it passed down the golden slope to the Pacific. We made freedom a birthright. We extended our domain over distant islands in order to safeguard our own interests and accepted the consequent obligation to bestow justice and liberty upon less favored peoples. In the defense of our own ideals and in the general cause of liberty we entered the Great War. When victory had been fully secured, we withdrew to our own shores unrecompensed save in the consciousness of duty done.
Throughout all these experiences we have enlarged our freedom, we have strengthened our independence. We have been, and propose to be, more and more American. We believe that we can best serve our own country and most successfully discharge our obligations to humanity by continuing to be openly and candidly, intensely and scrupulously, American. If we have any heritage, it has been that. If we have any destiny, we have found it in that direction.
But if we wish to continue to be distinctively American, we must continue to make that term comprehensive enough to embrace the legitimate desires of a civilized and enlightened people determined in all their relations to pursue a conscientious and religious life. We can not permit ourselves to be narrowed and dwarfed by slogans and phrases. It is not the adjective, but the substantive, which is of real importance. It is not the name of the action, but the result of the action, which is the chief concern. It will be well not to be too much disturbed by the thought of either isolation or entanglement of pacifists and militarists. The physical configuration of the earth has separated us from all of the Old World, but the common brotherhood of man, the highest law of all our being, has united us by inseparable bonds with all humanity.
'W' leaves note for Obama in Oval Office desk (AP, 20 January 2009)
During his last moments in the Oval Office, former President Ronald Reagan scribbled a note for his successor on a notepad with a turkey insignia that said "Don't let the turkeys get you down." He, too, slipped the note in the presidential desk for his successor, President George H.W. Bush.
Four years after that, the elder Bush left a note for President Bill Clinton. And eight years after that, Mr Clinton wrote a note for Mr Bush, and included a copy of the message he had received from his father.
Why 'The Prisoner' Endures (John Fund, 1/20/09, WSJ)
Mr. McGoohan came up with the rarest kind of TV show: a thought-provoking thriller that raises more questions than it answers. Its cult status rivals that of "Star Trek," and its popularity is so enduring that a big-budget remake of the series will air later this year on the AMC network in the U.S. and on ITV in Britain. In fact, just last week AMC launched a Web site (http://www.amctv.com/videos/the-prisoner-1960s-video/) that allows anyone to view the 17 episodes of the original series. Each of them opens with a prologue in which Mr. McGoohan's character tells the village's administrator, known as Number Two: "I am not a number! I am a free man!" When he asks who Number One is, he is only told that "You are Number Six."
In every episode, Number Six resists attempts to pry information out of him, but his own efforts to escape are also thwarted -- often by a menacing weather balloon called "Rover." As each Number Two fails to break him, that man is replaced by another. The Village itself is filled with people who "know too much" and live a comfortable existence so long as they conform. Various episodes explored profound issues of privacy, individualism and mind control. The whole series struck me as Mr. McGoohan's unique take on George Orwell's novel "1984," but with a sense of humor.
Although the role somewhat typecast him, Mr. McGoohan always identified with his best-known character and his fierce independence.
Holder for Wiretaps: The AG nominee bows on Presidential power. (WSJ, 1/20/09)
First it was the special surveillance court that we learned last week has affirmed the President's constitutional power to undertake warrantless wiretaps. Now comes Attorney General nominee Eric Holder, who endorsed this executive authority during his confirmation hearing late last week. [...]
Mr. Holder now concedes that Presidents have inherent powers that even a statute can't abridge, notwithstanding his campaign speeches. That makes us feel better about a General Holder on national security. But his concession is further evidence that the liberal accusations about "breaking the law" and "illegal wiretaps" of the last several years were mostly about naked partisanship. Mr. Holder's objection turns out to be merely the tactical political one that the Bush Administration would have been better off negotiating with Congress for wiretap approval, not that it was breaking the law. Now he tells us.
The Opacity of Hope: A President of great personal talents but public elusiveness. (Wall Street Journal, 1/20/09)
[T]here remains an elusiveness, an opacity, to Mr. Obama's political character. This is in contrast to Reagan, who was personally distant but publicly well defined. Mr. Obama won the primaries and then the White House with a campaign based on the gauzy promise of change more than on a clear agenda. He became a political Everyman into whom Democrats, independents and even many Republicans could pour their great expectations.
This lack of definition has also marked his personnel choices. When given the chance to pick someone from one policy camp or another, Mr. Obama has typically chosen both: Free-trader Ron Kirk and protectionist Hilda Solis; command-and-control regulator Carol Browner and more market-oriented Cass Sunstein; Tim Geithner, who has voted to open the monetary floodgates, and Paul Volcker, who is worried about the dollar; Tom Daschle, who wants to nationalize all U.S. health care, and Peter Orszag, who believes current entitlements must be reformed.
Soon Mr. Obama will have to choose. That is especially true on the struggling economy, which is the main reason he won so handily. For 25 years from the moment the Reagan policy mix took hold in 1983, the U.S. has had a run of economic expansion marred only by two mild recessions. Younger Americans have grown accustomed to rising incomes and growing 401(k)s. Mr. Obama was elected on his promise to restore that middle-class prosperity. He can best serve the country, and his own Presidency, by focusing his political capital on policies that promote growth.
Yet over that same 25 years Mr. Obama's political coalition has amassed a wish-list of regulatory and redistributionist ideas that would undercut that effort. The global warming crowd wants a huge new carbon tax that would hit the South and Midwest especially hard. Big Labor wants to make union organizing easier, which would slow job creation. Speaker Nancy Pelosi is agitating to raise taxes immediately, even amid recession, to finance a spending spree we haven't seen since LBJ's Great Society. Part of Mr. Obama's success will depend on whether he says no to these liberal interests. If he does, he will make it easier for the economy's natural recuperative powers to work -- and he and his party will benefit.
Mr. Obama can also go a long way toward removing the bile from the debate over national security.
Letter to President Obama (Cardinal George, Archbishop of Chicago and President of the USCCB)
Dear Mr. President-elect:
I recently wrote to assure you of the prayers of the Catholic bishops of the United States for your service to our nation, and to outline issues of special concern to us as we seek to work with your Administration and the new Congress to serve the common good.
I am writing today on a matter that could introduce significant negative and divisive factors into our national life, at a time when we need to come together to address the serious challenges facing our people. I expect that some want you to take executive action soon to reverse current policies against government-sponsored destruction of unborn human life. I urge you to consider that this could be a terrible mistake -- morally, politically, and in terms of advancing the solidarity and well-being of our nation's people.
During the campaign, you promised as President to represent all the people and respect everyone's moral and religious viewpoints. You also made several statements about abortion. On one occasion, when asked at what point a baby has human rights, you answered in effect that you do not have a definite answer. And you spoke often about a need to reduce abortions.
The Catholic Church teaches that each human being, at every moment of biological development from conception to natural death, has an inherent and fundamental right to life. We are committed not only to reducing abortion, but to making it unthinkable as an answer to unintended pregnancy. At the same time, I think your remarks provide a basis for common ground. Uncertainty as to when human rights begin provides no basis for compelling others to violate their conviction that these rights exist from the beginning. After all, those people may be right. And if the goal is to reduce abortions, that will not be achieved by involving the government in expanding and promoting abortions.
The regulation to protect conscience rights in health care issued last month by the Bush administration is the subject of false and misleading criticisms. It does not reach out to expand the rights of pro-life health professionals, but is a long-overdue measure for implementing three statutes enacted by Congress over the last 35 years. Many criticizing the new rule have done so without being aware of this legal foundation - but widespread ignorance of a longstanding federal law protecting basic civil rights is among the good reasons for more visibly implementing it. An Administration committed to faithfully implementing and enforcing the laws of the United States will want to retain this common-sense regulation, which explicitly protects the right of health professionals who favor or oppose abortion to serve the basic health needs of their communities. Suggestions that government involvement in health care will be aimed at denying conscience, or excluding Catholic and other health care providers from participation in serving the public good, could threaten much-needed health care reform at the outset.
The Mexico City Policy, first established in 1984, has wrongly been attacked as a restriction on foreign aid for family planning. In fact, it has not reduced such aid at all, but has ensured that family planning funds are not diverted to organizations dedicated to performing and promoting abortions instead of reducing them. Once the clear line between family planning and abortion is erased, the idea of using family planning to reduce abortions becomes meaningless, and abortion tends to replace contraception as the means for reducing family size. A shift toward promoting abortion in developing nations would also increase distrust of the United States in these nations, whose values and culture often reject abortion, at a time when we need their trust and respect.
The embryonic stem cell policy initiated by President Bush has at times been criticized from both ends of the pro-life debate, but some criticisms are based on false premises. The policy did not ban embryonic stem cell research, or funding of such research. By restricting federally funded research to cell lines in existence at the time he issued his policy, he was trying to ensure that Americans are not forced to use their tax dollars to encourage expanded destruction of embryonic human beings for their stem cells. Such destruction is especially pointless at the present time, for several reasons. First, basic research in the capabilities of embryonic stem cells can be and is being pursued using the currently eligible cell lines as well as the hundreds of lines produced with nonfederal funds since 2001. Second, recent startling advances in reprogramming adult cells into embryonic-like stem cells - hailed by the journal Science as the scientific breakthrough of the year - are said by many scientists to be making embryonic stem cells irrelevant to medical progress. Third, adult and cord blood stem cells are now known to have great versatility, and are increasingly being used to reverse serious illnesses and even help rebuild damaged organs. To divert scarce funds away from these promising avenues for research and treatment toward the avenue that is most morally controversial as well as most medically speculative would be a sad victory of politics over science.
I hope you will consider these comments in the spirit in which they are intended, as an invitation to set aside political pressures and ideologies and focus on the priorities and challenges that will unite us as a nation. Again I want to express our hopes for your Administration, and our offer to cooperate in advancing the common good and protecting the poor and vulnerable in these challenging times.
As we approach the first days of your new responsibilities as President of the United States, I will offer my prayers for you and for your family. May God bless your efforts in fostering justice and peace for all, Mr. President, as you begin your term.
Cardinal Francis George
Despite threats, Hamas put up resistance (Matti Friedman, 1/20/09, AP)
Before Israel invaded the Gaza Strip, Hamas vowed to turn the territory into a "graveyard" for Israeli soldiers, and the military braced for dozens of fatalities. The results were markedly different.
Smugglers Get Tunnels Back in Operation: Israel wanted to destroy the tunnels used to smuggle arms into the Gaza Strip from Egypt. But they failed to reach their objective: Gaza's tunnel diggers are already getting the underground passages back into order. (Volkhard Windfuhr and Bernhard Zand, 1/20/09, Der Spiegel)
Hassan's boss stands in a shoddily built concrete shack on the border strip and screams down a deep black hole in front of him. "Mohammed! Hang the lamp on the rope and come up! I'll shine a light for you!" The tunnel is 26 meters (85 feet) deep and 330 meters (1,080 feet) long. The two vertical shafts are lined with wood, but not the tunnel itself. Each tunnel costs around $70,000 (€54,000) to build. This particular tunnel ends in a house on the Egyptian side of the border. The police there are aware of the secret passage, but they have done nothing about it.
At the moment the electricity in the tunnel is out, meaning no goods can be transported through it. The motors for the cranes and transport sled aren't working and neither are the ventilation and lighting.
A dim light can be seen wobbling in the depths of the hole -- Mohammed is coming up. Two minutes later, he is at the top of the wooden ladder. The sweat is running off his forehead and his red Lacoste shirt is wet. "Everything's okay," he gasps and lies down on the ground, breathing heavily. "A lot of sand has got in, it'll take us a while to shovel it all out. But I managed to get across to the other side. Our friends in Egypt send their regards."
President Clinton, distinguished guests and my fellow citizens, the peaceful transfer of authority is rare in history, yet common in our country. With a simple oath, we affirm old traditions and make new beginnings.
As I begin, I thank President Clinton for his service to our nation.
And I thank Vice President Gore for a contest conducted with spirit and ended with grace.
I am honored and humbled to stand here, where so many of America's leaders have come before me, and so many will follow.
We have a place, all of us, in a long story--a story we continue, but whose end we will not see. It is the story of a new world that became a friend and liberator of the old, a story of a slave-holding society that became a servant of freedom, the story of a power that went into the world to protect but not possess, to defend but not to conquer.
It is the American story--a story of flawed and fallible people, united across the generations by grand and enduring ideals.
The grandest of these ideals is an unfolding American promise that everyone belongs, that everyone deserves a chance, that no insignificant person was ever born.
Americans are called to enact this promise in our lives and in our laws. And though our nation has sometimes halted, and sometimes delayed, we must follow no other course.
Through much of the last century, America's faith in freedom and democracy was a rock in a raging sea. Now it is a seed upon the wind, taking root in many nations.
Our democratic faith is more than the creed of our country, it is the inborn hope of our humanity, an ideal we carry but do not own, a trust we bear and pass along. And even after nearly 225 years, we have a long way yet to travel.
While many of our citizens prosper, others doubt the promise, even the justice, of our own country. The ambitions of some Americans are limited by failing schools and hidden prejudice and the circumstances of their birth. And sometimes our differences run so deep, it seems we share a continent, but not a country.
We do not accept this, and we will not allow it. Our unity, our union, is the serious work of leaders and citizens in every generation. And this is my solemn pledge: I will work to build a single nation of justice and opportunity.
I know this is in our reach because we are guided by a power larger than ourselves who creates us equal in His image.
And we are confident in principles that unite and lead us onward.
America has never been united by blood or birth or soil. We are bound by ideals that move us beyond our backgrounds, lift us above our interests and teach us what it means to be citizens. Every child must be taught these principles. Every citizen must uphold them. And every immigrant, by embracing these ideals, makes our country more, not less, American.
Today, we affirm a new commitment to live out our nation's promise through civility, courage, compassion and character.
America, at its best, matches a commitment to principle with a concern for civility. A civil society demands from each of us good will and respect, fair dealing and forgiveness.
Some seem to believe that our politics can afford to be petty because, in a time of peace, the stakes of our debates appear small.
But the stakes for America are never small. If our country does not lead the cause of freedom, it will not be led. If we do not turn the hearts of children toward knowledge and character, we will lose their gifts and undermine their idealism. If we permit our economy to drift and decline, the vulnerable will suffer most.
We must live up to the calling we share. Civility is not a tactic or a sentiment. It is the determined choice of trust over cynicism, of community over chaos. And this commitment, if we keep it, is a way to shared accomplishment.
America, at its best, is also courageous.
Our national courage has been clear in times of depression and war, when defending common dangers defined our common good. Now we must choose if the example of our fathers and mothers will inspire us or condemn us. We must show courage in a time of blessing by confronting problems instead of passing them on to future generations.
Together, we will reclaim America's schools, before ignorance and apathy claim more young lives.
We will reform Social Security and Medicare, sparing our children from struggles we have the power to prevent. And we will reduce taxes, to recover the momentum of our economy and reward the effort and enterprise of working Americans.
We will build our defenses beyond challenge, lest weakness invite challenge.
We will confront weapons of mass destruction, so that a new century is spared new horrors.
The enemies of liberty and our country should make no mistake: America remains engaged in the world by history and by choice, shaping a balance of power that favors freedom. We will defend our allies and our interests. We will show purpose without arrogance. We will meet aggression and bad faith with resolve and strength. And to all nations, we will speak for the values that gave our nation birth.
America, at its best, is compassionate. In the quiet of American conscience, we know that deep, persistent poverty is unworthy of our nation's promise.
And whatever our views of its cause, we can agree that children at risk are not at fault. Abandonment and abuse are not acts of God, they are failures of love.
And the proliferation of prisons, however necessary, is no substitute for hope and order in our souls.
Where there is suffering, there is duty. Americans in need are not strangers, they are citizens, not problems, but priorities. And all of us are diminished when any are hopeless.
Government has great responsibilities for public safety and public health, for civil rights and common schools. Yet compassion is the work of a nation, not just a government.
And some needs and hurts are so deep they will only respond to a mentor's touch or a pastor's prayer. Church and charity, synagogue and mosque lend our communities their humanity, and they will have an honored place in our plans and in our laws.
Many in our country do not know the pain of poverty, but we can listen to those who do.
And I can pledge our nation to a goal: When we see that wounded traveler on the road to Jericho, we will not pass to the other side.
America, at its best, is a place where personal responsibility is valued and expected.
Encouraging responsibility is not a search for scapegoats, it is a call to conscience. And though it requires sacrifice, it brings a deeper fulfillment. We find the fullness of life not only in options, but in commitments. And we find that children and community are the commitments that set us free.
Our public interest depends on private character, on civic duty and family bonds and basic fairness, on uncounted, unhonored acts of decency which give direction to our freedom.
Sometimes in life we are called to do great things. But as a saint of our times has said, every day we are called to do small things with great love. The most important tasks of a democracy are done by everyone.
I will live and lead by these principles: to advance my convictions with civility, to pursue the public interest with courage, to speak for greater justice and compassion, to call for responsibility and try to live it as well.
In all these ways, I will bring the values of our history to the care of our times.
What you do is as important as anything government does. I ask you to seek a common good beyond your comfort; to defend needed reforms against easy attacks; to serve your nation, beginning with your neighbor. I ask you to be citizens: citizens, not spectators; citizens, not subjects; responsible citizens, building communities of service and a nation of character.
Americans are generous and strong and decent, not because we believe in ourselves, but because we hold beliefs beyond ourselves. When this spirit of citizenship is missing, no government program can replace it. When this spirit is present, no wrong can stand against it.
After the Declaration of Independence was signed, Virginia statesman John Page wrote to Thomas Jefferson: ``We know the race is not to the swift nor the battle to the strong. Do you not think an angel rides in the whirlwind and directs this storm?''
Much time has passed since Jefferson arrived for his inauguration. The years and changes accumulate. But the themes of this day he would know: our nation's grand story of courage and its simple dream of dignity.
We are not this story's author, who fills time and eternity with his purpose. Yet his purpose is achieved in our duty, and our duty is fulfilled in service to one another.
Never tiring, never yielding, never finishing, we renew that purpose today, to make our country more just and generous, to affirm the dignity of our lives and every life.
This work continues. This story goes on. And an angel still rides in the whirlwind and directs this storm.
God bless you all, and God bless America.
Gregg's newest friend: Obama wants his help on entitlements (LAUREN R. DORGAN, 1/18/09, Concord Monitor)
U.S. Sen. Judd Gregg appeared well on the way toward becoming Barack Obama's new Republican best friend last week.
The president-elect told the Washington Post on Thursday that he hopes to convene a "fiscal responsibility summit" next month, bringing together an array of folks worried about deficits and entitlements. Obama named Gregg as a person on the list, along with outside groups, Kent Conrad and conservative "Blue Dog" Democrats.
"Sen. Gregg is looking forward to it and is pleased that President-elect Obama is working so hard to work across the aisle," said Gregg spokeswoman Laena Fallon.
Peres to Bush: If only what you did to Saddam was done to Hitler (Ronen Medzini, 01.19.09, Israel News)
[President Shimon] Peres said to Bush, "If the world had acted against Hitler the way you acted against Saddam Hussein, the lives of millions would have been saved." The president added, "You made a historic contribution to the entire world and to the Jewish people in particular. We will treasure this forever and will never forget it."
McCain Says Palin Could Be Prez, Speaks To Her Often (Walter Alarkon, 1/19/09, The Hill)
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) praised Gov. Sarah Palin (R-Alaska), saying that he was proud of having her as his running mate and that he thought she could one day become president.
McCain, on Fox News on Monday, said that he was "very proud" of Palin, whom he picked to be the GOP vice presidential nominee. Asked by Fox's Sean Hannity if he spoke with Palin often, McCain said he did.
William Ayers turned back at Canadian border (Debra Black, 1/19/09, Toronto Star)
An American education professor, one of the founders of a radical 1960s group known as the Weather Underground, which was responsible for a number of bombings in the United States in the early 1970s, was turned back at the Canadian border last night.
Dr. William Ayers, a professor of education at the University of Illinois-Chicago and a leader in educational reform, was scheduled to speak at the Centre for Urban Schooling at University of Toronto's Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. But that appearance has now been temporarily cancelled.
Gates to sit out Obama inauguration (Yahoo, 1/19/09)
US Defense Secretary Robert Gates will sit out Barack Obama's inauguration at an undisclosed location as the "designated successor" in the event of a catastrophe, the White House announced Monday.
While the eyes of the world are glued Tuesday to Obama's historic swearing-in, attended by outgoing US President George W. Bush and both outgoing and incoming senior aides, Gates will stay away, said spokeswoman Dana Perino.
"In order to ensure continuity of government, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has been designated by the outgoing administration, with the concurrence of the incoming administration, to serve as the designated successor during Inauguration Day, Tuesday, January 20th," Perino said.
What Did Reagan’s Inaugural Say?: “Government is not the solution to our problems; government is the problem.” (Larry Kudlow, 1/19/09, National Review)
For one thing inflation today is zero. Back in Reagan’s time it was double-digits. Interest rates today are historically low. In Reagan’s day they were 15 to 20 percent. We have suffered a tremendous oil shock, as did Reagan. But today’s shock has completely reversed. And while today’s recession is over a year old, Reagan inherited a recession that began in 1979 and didn’t end until late 1982.
Obviously, we now have the housing problem and the bank credit crunch. But some of that was present in Reagan’s challenge, too. And a recent study from the Minneapolis Fed shows that several measures of output and employment haven’t come close to the severe levels reached during many post-WWII recessions, much less the Great Depression.
Rising to these challenges, Reagan gave his Fed chairman, Paul Volcker, the political ground to stand on to slay inflation with tough monetary restraint and a strong dollar. It was a signature achievement, and it opened the door to more than 25 years of unbelievable prosperity and wealth creation. Reagan also fingered excessive taxes as a chief recessionary factor. His second great achievement was dropping the top marginal tax rate on individuals from 70 percent to 28 percent.
It’s interesting how Obama has also cast himself as a tax cutter, even though he’s not slashing marginal tax rates. He instead opts for tax credits. But there’s a similarity here to Reagan.
44% Say Global Warming Due To Planetary Trends, Not People (Rasmussen Reports, January 19, 2009)
Al Gore’s side may be coming to power in Washington, but they appear to be losing the battle on the idea that humans are to blame for global warming.
Forty-four percent (44%) of U.S. voters now say long-term planetary trends are the cause of global warming, compared to 41% who blame it on human activity.
Seven percent (7%) attribute global warming to some other reason, and nine percent (9%) are unsure in a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey.
The Next War President (WILLIAM KRISTOL, 1/19/09, NY Times)
The incoming president is the man of the moment. He deserves good wishes and sincere prayers. But I’ve found myself thinking these last few days more about the man who has shouldered the burdens of office for the past eight years, George W. Bush.
He wasn’t my favorite among Republicans in 2000. He has made mistakes as president, and has limitations as a leader. But he has exercised his just and rightful authority in a way — I believe — that deserves recognition and respect.
It will probably be a while before he gets much of either. In synagogue, right after the prayer for our country, there is a prayer for the state of Israel, asking the “rock and redeemer of the people Israel” to “spread over it the shelter of your peace.” As we recited this on Saturday, I couldn’t help but reflect that a distressingly small number of my fellow Jews seem to have given much thought at all to the fact that President Bush is one of the greatest friends the state of Israel — and, yes, the Jewish people — have had in quite a while. Bush stood with Israel when he had no political incentive to do so and received no political benefit from doing so. He was criticized by much of the world. He did it because he thought it the right thing to do.
Israel rushes to withdraw troops as Gaza reconstruction talks begin: Olmert aims to have forces out before Obama inauguration: Hamas says it intends to rearm as soon as possible
(Rory McCarthy in Zeitoun, Peter Walker and agencies, 1/19/09, guardian.co.uk
The Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, said his government wanted to get forces out of Gaza "at the greatest possible speed". Israeli officials told the Associated Press the plan was to leave before Barack Obama's inauguration as US president tomorrow.
No Israeli troops or tanks could be seen along the main road between Rafah, in the south of Gaza, and the outskirts of Gaza City, to the north. The bulk of the forces were believed to have withdrawn towards Israel's border with the east of Gaza. [...]
Today, Hamas's military wing vowed to begin rearming as soon as possible. "Manufacturing the holy weapons is our mission and we know how to acquire weapons," Reuters reported Abu Ubaida as telling a news conference.
Leaders and representatives from more than 20 Arab nations met today in Kuwait to discuss reconstruction in Gaza. Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah said his country would begin by donating $1bn (£680m) to help finance the rebuilding.
Enjoy the History, Ignore the Politics: Why conservatives should be looking forward to the Obama inauguration (Rachael Larimore, Jan. 19, 2009, Slate)
As a conservative, I think I may actually enjoy Barack Obama's inauguration more than my many Obama-supporting friends. I'm not planning a special trip to Washington, D.C., or stocking up on commemorative coins or coffee cups. Throughout the campaign, I considered Obama to be an impressive orator, a compelling candidate, and, as we got closer to November, the likely victor. But, at the end of the day, he was still—in my eyes—just a politician, and, perhaps more distressing to his legions of fans, a human being. My hopes and expectations for Obama, therefore, are much more reasonable, and I will be able to take in the history and the pomp without the accompanying anxiety that Inauguration Day will bring to my more liberal friends.
For years, conservatives liked to mock those who became unhinged in their hatred of President Bush by saying they had Bush Derangement Syndrome. I could see a similar malady developing over the next four years: Obama Disillusionment Syndrome. And I fear that many of the same folks now just recovering from BDS are most at risk for ODS. Is it possible for anyone—even the great Obama—to live up to such heightened expectations?
We've already seen hints of this anxiety.
IF WYETH WERE AN anti-modernist it was only because he placed the work first and foremost, keeping his ego squarely in the background. Compare and contrast today's art darling Jeff Koons' giant balloon animals, recently exhibited at, of all places, Versailles, with a Wyeth "Distant Thunder," in which the artist's wife Betsy naps on a hillside after a morning of blueberry picking, while the family dog listens nervously to the ominous sounds of an approaching storm. The Koons piece quite consciously has no artistic merit. His toy balloons blown up 100 times their normal size are not even anti-art. They are kitsch, pure and simple, a stunt not unlike his sham short-lived marriage to Italian porn star-turned-lawmaker "La Cicciolina." This is the modern artist's way of saying, "Look at me, clever boy, don't look at the art." The curious thing is anti-art is still believed to have something new to say, even though it has been round at least a century, and even though its purpose is not to say anything, but to massage the artist's giant ego.
One understands an artist's need to gratify his overwhelming ego, but why did so many ostensibly intelligent critics, museum directors and aficionados fall for the idea that anti-art was preferable or superior to traditional art? Quite simply they feared being labeled "conservative" during a time of rapid, chaotic and unprecedented change. It was the artist's (and by extension, the critic's) mission, they reasoned, to be in the avant-garde, not pulling up the rear. And that avant-garde was made of shock troops, terrorizing the masses with outrageous, incomprehensible, or pornographic works. It was all great fun.
Wyeth had no interest in shocking anyone. He was a great admirer of Edward Hopper, who thrived in the early 20th century, when social realism was the accepted art form, and when the term "people's painter," was a badge of honor, an expression of solidarity with the workingman, and not the derogatory label it would become when applied to Wyeth a generation later.
There are those who say Wyeth came along a generation too late. Others, noting his critics are now mostly dead and forgotten, conclude he was before his time, now that we have finally outgrown the childish rebelliousness of anti-art.
A case in point is Walsh’s discussion of the Symphony in C (1938-40), the masterpiece of the later phase of Stravinsky’s neoclassical period, premiered by the Chicago Symphony after he pulled up stakes for the second time in his life and emigrated from France to the U.S.:
Conducting symphony concerts all over provincial America, Stravinsky had become conscious of the intensely conservative world he was invading, and what an incongruous figure he cut in it. . . . What sort of work might he himself contribute to such a culture? The obvious answer was a symphony: a symphony in C, of course—like Beethoven’s first and Mozart’s last, the purest, most archetypical, most classical, above all least frightening kind of orchestral concert work.
It's a great tradition of our Congress to honor fantastic and noble Americans, and we're doing just the thing with Jack Roosevelt Robinson.
You know, he was a great ball player. Anybody who follows baseball knows how great he was -- fantastic statistics: MVP, all the big honors you could get. But his electricity was unbelievable. Think about this. This is a guy who inspired little seven-year-olds to dream of wearing "42" and dashing for home in Brooklyn, and a seven-year-old like me hoping to get his Topps baseball card, even though I was an avid Giants fan. He was an amazing guy. And his story was powerful then, and it is powerful today.
His story is one that shows what one person can do to hold America account -- to account to its founding promise of freedom and equality. It's a lesson for people coming up to see. One person can make a big difference in setting the tone of this country.
He always fought for what he called "first-class citizenship." That's an interesting phrase, isn't it -- "first-class citizenship." Not second-class, not third-class -- first-class citizenship for all. As John Kerry mentioned, it started in the Army. Obviously, it really manifested itself on the baseball field. After all, it was Branch Rickey who said he was looking for a man to cross the color line who could play baseball and had the character necessary to do so. Jackie Robinson had both. And that's why we're honoring him today.
I found Martin Luther King's quote about him interesting. I'm sure you will, too. He said, "He was a freedom rider before freedom rides." That's a pretty high compliment, when you think about it. To me, it just says, courage and decency and honor.
This son of Georgia sharecroppers was taught by his mother that the best weapon against racism was the use of his talent, his God-given talent, not to waste a minute, and he didn't. And that spirit, passed on from mother to son, and now son to family, still lives through the Jackie Robinson Foundation. The Jackie Robinson Foundation is a noble cause to help academically-gifted students of color go to college. I know the Dodgers will continue to support that foundation. I hope baseball continues to do so, as well.
[originally posted: 3/03/05]
Rosa Parks, civil rights icon, dead at 92: With act of dignity, a movement began (Mark Feeney, October 25, 2005, Boston Globe)
Rosa Parks, the Alabama seamstress whose soft-spoken refusal to give up her bus seat to a white man triggered the Montgomery bus boycott, the first great mass action in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, died yesterday. She was 92.
Mrs. Parks died at her home in Detroit of natural causes, according to a spokesman for US Representative John Conyers, Democrat of Michigan.
The boycott brought to national prominence a 26-year-old Baptist minister named Martin Luther King Jr. He later inscribed a copy of his book ''Stride Toward Freedom" to Mrs. Parks, ''Whose creative witness," he wrote, ''was the great force that led to the modern stride toward freedom."
That act of ''creative witness" made Mrs. Parks a world icon of freedom and earned her the popular title ''mother of the civil rights movement."
''I had no idea when I refused to give up my seat on that Montgomery bus that my small action would help put an end to the segregation laws in the South," she wrote in her autobiography, ''Rosa Parks: My Story" (1992). ''People always say that I didn't give up my seat because I was tired, but that wasn't true. I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then. I was 42. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in."
Bus Ride Shook a Nation's Conscience (Patricia Sullivan, October 25, 2005, Washington Post)
Within days, her arrest sparked a 380-day bus boycott, which led to a U.S. Supreme Court decision that desegregated her city's public transportation. Her arrest also triggered mass demonstrations, made the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. famous, and transformed schools, workplaces and housing.
Hers was "an individual expression of a timeless longing for human dignity and freedom," King said in his book "Stride Toward Freedom."
"She was planted there by her personal sense of dignity and self-respect. She was anchored to that seat by the accumulated indignities of days gone and the boundless aspirations of generations yet unborn."
She was the perfect test-case plaintiff, a fact that activists realized only after she had been arrested. Hardworking, polite and morally upright, Parks had long seethed over the everyday indignities of segregation, from the menial rules of bus seating and store entrances to the mortal societal endorsement of lynching and imprisonment.
She was an activist already, secretary of the local chapter of the NAACP. A member of the African Methodist Episcopal Church all her life, Parks admired the self-help philosophy of Booker T. Washington -- to a point. But even as a child, she thought accommodating segregation was the wrong philosophy. She knew that in the previous year, two other women had been arrested for the same offense, but neither was deemed right to handle the role that was sure to become one of the most controversial of the century.
[originally posted: 10/25/05]
Masters of the Tiles: Even to initiates, Scrabble has yet to yield up all its secrets (Barry Chamish , June 1987, The Atlantic)
A Scrabble master is not born; like the alphabet he uses, he is made. An enormous amount of training lies behind his apparent gift. First, all of the OSPD's two-letter words must be memorized. Also learned are which ones can be pluralized and which ones cannot. For instance, ka can take an s but xu can't. Next, all three-letter words are learned by heart, both those that hook to two-letter words, like kab, and those that stand alone, like neb. After this, all four-letter words that hook to three-letter words (for example, rani and taro) must be memorized. Then all four-letter words are memorized. Short words are not a majority of all words in the language, but they are disproportionately important in Scrabble. In a typical game they account for three quarters of the words put down and for more than half the points scored. Knowing these two-, three-, and four-letter words makes possible the dumping of unwanted letters and the hoarding of important ones. This is known as rack management.
Learning all the English words of four letters is the most valuable of the memorizing operations. Just knowing which ones are verbs and which ones adjectives increases the likelihood of making "bingos"—that is, laying down all seven letters in one's rack, thereby earning fifty bonus points. For instance, if you know that toit is a verb, then you can make a bingo with toiting. Or if you remember that logy is an adjective, then logiest can clear your rack.
Mastering Scrabble does not, however, end at the fours. All five-letter words that hook to fours, like ranid and taroc, must be learned. However, not even champions can memorize all five- and six-letter words, and these play a small role in the game. In fact, the only predictable situation in which knowing a five-letter-word list comes in handy is that of wanting to join a triple-letter square to the double-word-score square five places away.
Master players concentrate their efforts on the memorization of useful words only. To begin with, they learn longer hooks. For instance, chore can become chorea, which can become choreal. Also, they concentrate on learning "what to do with vowel- or consonant-heavy racks. Four consonants and three vowels are the best combination for a seven-letter word. Think about it: how many five-letter words do you know with four vowels in them? A Scrabble master knows them all. Putting down oorie, ourie, aeda, oidia, orzoeae cleans out a vowel-heavy rack and gets points. How many words do you know with no vowels whatsoever (other than y)? The Scrabble master knows nth, cwm, crwth, phpht, andtsktsks, among others, and so can deal with a consonant-heavy rack. He learns bingo words that are overbearingly vowelish. Ask a Scrabble grand master what five 8-letter words contain six vowels and he will answer, as if bored by the obviousness of the inquiry, eulogiae, epopoeia, aboideau, aboiteau, and aurrolae.
Next to be studied is the so-called three-percent list. The three-percent list was pioneered by a psychologist, Michael Baron, of Albuquerque. It is based on the assumption that of the 76,000 bingos listed in the OSPD, most can be discarded as unlikely ever to appear on a Scrabble rack; a few thousand, however, will appear over and over again. There are, for example, two Vs in a Scrabble set. Trying to memorize bingos with Vs in them is inefficient, because picking one is relatively unlikely. However, there are twelve Es in the game, eight Os, six Rs, six Ns, and so on. The chance that on your first draw you will pick any of the twelve letters contained in Baron's list of bingos is three percent or better—hence the name. Baron also discovered that certain six-letter combinations occur with uncanny frequency. By learning the six-letter words and all the possible sevens that can be made from them, players can digest an enormous number of new words and immediately find the bingo when a familiar combination is picked. The letters in satine can form sixty other words with the addition of a seventh letter, and the letters in retina can form almost as many.
Consider the word amines, meaning certain chemical compounds. It has six letters, and by adding a seventh you can make a bingo. Try it. Okay, you've failed. But if you were familiar with the list, you wouldn't have fumbled with the letters, arranging and rearranging them for the solution. You would say amines with a d is sideman or maidens. With a g it's seaming or gamines; with an l, seminal; with an r, seminar or marines; and so on. The strategy is to assemble a six-letter word known to be fertile territory for seven-letter words and just add the missing letter from memory. Thus, the astute player assembles satine oramines, recalls his list, and makes etesian or samisen.
Another tool is the Scrabble "bonus-word" list, which was assembled by three competitive players, Stuart Goldman, David Schulman, and Edward Andy. Schulman is a contributor to the Oxford English Dictionary and the author of An Annotated Bibliography of Cryptography. He has written many articles about words for American Speech magazine and would be expected to be a Scrabble star. Goldman holds the record for the most official Scrabble games played in a lifetime, but neither he nor Andy has anything in his background extraneous to Scrabble to suggest a mastery of words. The Scrabble bonus-word list is similar to the three-percent list, but it takes into account all letters, even the rare high-scoring ones. It is not as mathematically precise as Baron's list but rather reflects the combined instincts of three great Scrabble players. It's arranged in alphabetical order. For instance, if you have AAABLST on your rack and you're stumped, and after the game you look at the bonus list, you will discover, to your amazement, that you had not one but three bingos:atabals, balatas, and albatas.
The Fire Next Time (Joseph Bottum, Spring 2004, The Public Interest)
"Think not that I am come to send peace on earth," Christ declares in the Gospel of Matthew. "I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man's foes shall be they of his own household."
The Bible is full of hard sayings like this--too many, too hard, to be entirely exegeted away in historical criticism, or eased with gentler passages in antidote, or shrugged off as the overstatement of prophetic rhetoric. From the Pentateuch to the prophets, from the gospels to the Book of Revelation, there is something in both testaments that has no patience for political compromise, or moral casuistry, or conventional prudence, or philosophical judiciousness. It's not the only thing in the Bible, of course, but without it, we have no Bible. "A fire is kindled in mine anger," as Deuteronomy puts it, "and shall burn unto the lowest hell, and shall consume the earth with her increase, and set on fire the foundations of the mountains."
There is something in America, as well, that has always burned against the world. From Cotton Mather to William Lloyd Garrison, from John Brown to Martin Luther King, Jr., there has been a hunger here to speak with lips touched by burning coals, a blessed rage for the apocalyptic lessons taught only by tongues of fire. A nation formed by political geniuses--masters of compromise, philosophers of prudence, judges of wisdom--we are also a nation with another theme. Something here has, from the beginning, disdained political order and sought not to be brilliant, wise, and learned, but only true, though the heavens fall as a result. "I am come to send fire on the earth," Christ says in the Gospel of Luke, "and what will I, if it be already kindled?" It's not the only thing in America, of course, but without it there is no America. [...]
Once we set aside the superannuated secularists, however, there remains the genuine theologico-political problem they masked from us for decades. Public order in a democracy--the structure of liberalism that needs a people of virtue to maintain itself--seems to require the bulk of citizens to believe in God. But no one ever believed in God for the sake of public order in a democracy. Especially not Americans.
This is a momentous dilemma. Liberalism needs religion, but religion doesn't need liberalism. The rhetoric of biblical prophecy would burn the world to the ground if a still, small voice demanded it. "God gave Noah the rainbow for a sign," as the old slaves' spiritual put it: "No more water, but the fire next time." And to reap the benefits it needs, a democracy must allow religion to remain the potential trump, the threatened uncontrollable, the possible authority outside a modern state that longs to have no authority outside itself.
Liberal democracy can be threatened even when the prophet doesn't return from the wilderness to preach fire and brimstone in the public square. Throughout our history, biblical America has stood outside political America: the wayfaring stranger far away from the public man, however much the political world echoes with the words of a public God. And this, too, is a threat--perhaps even a greater threat than a prophet like Garrison proclaiming publicly that a constitution perpetuating slavery is a "pact with the Devil"--for it leaves us with a mass of citizens who suffer the political order merely because it doesn't occur to them to think it particularly important either to attack or, worse, to defend.
In other words, the Bible may help produce the ethics a modern state needs to assume in its citizens if it is to allow them freedom, but the Bible didn't start out as the ethics of liberal democracy. It may not even be an ethics at all, in the sense in which philosophers speak of "ethics." Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, yes. Understand that God Himself has allowed the sword to remain in the hands of the magistrate, indeed. But the day may come when a prophet is told to enter the public square and cast down the nations--just as the day may come when a private man is told, "Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering." And with these possibilities, ethics in any philosophical sense has disappeared. Whatever political benefits a state gains from biblical religion, how can a liberal democracy allow even the chance of such things? They are immoral on their face--or amoral, or supermoral, or extramoral, or call it what you will: They are outside the capacity of any ethical political order to allow.
Except, of course, that if the political order doesn't admit their possibility, then the political benefits of religion cannot be held, and democracy itself decays. "Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure," as Washington famously warned in his Farewell Address, "reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle." The United States, as it naturally wants to be--what we might call the platonic ideal of America--contains a tension we must be careful not to resolve. From its founding, the nation has always been something like a school of Enlightenment rationalists aswim in an ocean of Christian faith. And how shall the fish hate the water wherein they live? Or the water hate the fish?
WELL, perhaps the modern secularists showed us that it was possible. They would have been left gasping to death on the beach had they ever fully succeeded--as intelligent observers have known since Virgil exposed the way Lucretius was trapped in self-contradiction: If the public ever accepted Lucretius's preaching of the good life of atheism, then Lucretius would lose the personal advantages he claimed to gain from atheism. But genuine secularism--of the kind that would lead, for example, to French laicite and the complete banning of religion from public life--was never really what the American theologico-political tension was about. In its modern form, that secularism was an import from nineteenth-century France and Germany, mostly, based on a notion of intellectuals' vast superiority to vulgar religious belief and a reading of history as proving that battles among Christian sects are the greatest danger to political order.
None of America's Founders had a comparable disdain for religious belief, and American history contains nothing analogous to the European wars over Protestantism. Both sides "read the same Bible, and pray to the same God, and each invokes his aid against the other," Lincoln said of America's most costly division, and as the Civil War went on, his cadences and his thought grew more biblical, not less, as though only the language of the prophets were sufficient to express the horror and the necessity of the conflict:
Fondly do we hope--fervently do we pray--that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn by the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said, "The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."
No, the question in America was always how to reap the benefit from biblical religion while minimizing the dangers of extra-political authority and a set of citizens called by their deepest beliefs away from any desire to help defend the political order. Part of the American situation in the eighteenth century was historical accident, or perhaps--as Madison put it in an extraordinary letter--God's direct providence that preserved the New World undiscovered by Europeans until they were ready to try this experiment in freedom. But, whether the participants willed it or not, the American Revolution occurred in a Christian moment, formed most immediately by the progress of religion from the Puritans to the Great Awakening.
That gave the Founding Fathers massive advantages. From Max Weber's sociological descriptions to the economic analysis of John Paul II's Centesimus Annus, from the political thought of St. Augustine to the Christian realism of Reinhold Niebuhr, innumerable arguments have suggested that biblical religion offers enormous public benefits. And the examples of Maimonides and St. Thomas Aquinas alike make it impossible to deny that a philosophically sophisticated ethics can be reconciled with the superadded truths of biblical revelation.
But the overwhelming Christian faith of America also presented the Founders with terrible disadvantages, for the Bible cannot be entirely tamed to any public purpose or ethical reading. The tense and awkward solution of the Constitution derives from an awareness that the benefits and the dangers have the same root. "Biblical America" is the oxymoron that defines us, the contradiction that maintains us. If we lose either our extra-public religion or our Enlightenment use of public religion--if either side in this tension ever entirely vanquishes the other--the United States will cease to be much of anything at all.
We can not be surprised then when our former liberal democratic allies in Europe prove incapable of being summoned to a higher cause--like liberalizing the Islamic world--their only cause is themselves. Though folk have been slow to accept the fact, it is simply the case that we longer share a common culture with them.
2004: A competitive presidential race (John Zogby, 1/02/04, St. Louis Business Journal)
I have just finished an extensive poll of values and issues with my friend and colleague Brad O'Leary, a well-known conservative political consultant and commentator. We will release the full results in early January, but the poll reveals in great detail how much we have become divided into separate and distinct political cultures in the past decade.
"We are two separate nations," warned the Kerner Commission in 1969 following its detailed study of race relations and the causes of civil disorder in the 1960s. While the problem of race continues, the United States is slowly cleaving into separate nations culturally. While much exists to homogenize our lives and culture -- the ever-present McDonalds, Holiday Inns, Home Depots and Blockbuster Videos, so much that it is hard for the traveler to tell where he or she is waking up on a given day because it all looks the same -- the fact is that we are separated by the way we live our lives and think about our world.
In 2000, the Presidential election was as close to a tie as it could possibly be. George W. Bush won the so-called "Red States" in the South, Southwest and mountain West, while Al Gore won in the Northeast, the Mid-Atlantic, the Great Lakes, and the far West. But the tie was more than about the candidates. These are the two separate nations as we move into the 2004 campaign.
The O'Leary Report/Zogby International Values Poll is an attempt to get at the core of this division. What we see in the poll are significant demographic and ideological differences between the two regions -- the Blue States have fewer Republicans, 55- to 69-year-olds (the most conservative age cohort), rural dwellers, conservatives, born-again Christians, daily or weekly attendees at a place of worship, local sports fans, gun owners, investors, military veterans, and married voters. All of these differences portend a harder sell for Republican candidates.
On the other hand, the Red States have fewer younger voters, single voters, college graduates, liberals, Catholics and Jews, union members, and non-prayers.
In short, the two regions think and vote differently because they are different.
Voter opinions on the political, economic, and social values espoused by former president Bill Clinton and his wife, Senator Hillary Clinton further underscore the divisions between Red and Blue States. A solid majority of Red State voters reject the Clinton’s values (56%) while 34% agree. Blue State voters are split with 45% responding favorable to the Clinton’s values and 47% disagreeing.
Respondents are also at odds on the issue of civil unions and the definition of marriage itself. Seventy percent of Red State voters side with the proposition that marriage should be confined to a man and a woman. Only 25% support the idea of civil unions. Conversely, Blue State voters are much more divided, with 42% supporting civil unions, while 55% support marriage restrictions.
Religion also separates the two Americas. Fifty-seven percent of Red State voters are Protestants, 23% are Catholic, and 1% are Jewish. In Blue America, the religious demographics are vastly different: Protestant, 37%; Catholic, 33%; Jewish just 4%. When respondents were asked how they practiced their faith, just over half (51%) of Red State voters said that they attend their local church, synagogue, or mosque either once a week or more often, while a near-majority (46%) of those residing in the Blue States said they attend religious services only on holidays, rarely, or never.
Ideologically, the two Americas are quite distinct. Those who label themselves "progressive" constitute just 5 percent of voters in the Red States, but 11 percent of voters in the Blue States. Meanwhile, conservatives account for 39% of respondents in the Red States and just 29% of those in the Blue States.
Ideological differences are buttressed by considerable discrepancies in party identification. In the Red States, 38% call themselves Democrats while 39% are Republican. In the Blue States, Democrats dominate with 40% of the respondents while Republican identifiers total 31%. The number of independents is higher in the Blue States (29%) than in the Red States (22%).
Family life is also quite different in the two nations. Nearly two-thirds (64%) of those living in the Red State are married as opposed to 56% in the Blue States. Meanwhile, one in ten (10%) voters in the Red States are single; in the Blue States, one in five (20%).
There are significant differences in gun ownership. A majority (51%) of those living in the Red States say they own a gun, while 64% in the Blues States do not.
[originally posted: 3/30/04]
Dr. King also offered the most important definition of democratic equality in modern America:
SPEECH: I Have a Dream (Martin Luther King, Jr., August 28, 1963)
I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
How to Reach Black America (William Raspberry, January 17, 2005, Washington Post)
A quote from Martin Luther King Jr.'s 1958 book, "Stride Toward Freedom," says something that badly needs saying as we celebrate his birthday nearly five decades later:
"In short," he wrote, "we must work on two fronts. On the one hand, we must continue to resist the system . . . which is the basic cause of our lagging standards; on the other hand, we must work constructively to improve the standards themselves. There must be a rhythmic alternation between attacking the causes and healing the effects."
The quote comes to mind because of the public reaction to what Bill Cosby has been saying: that low-income black parents are spending too much on Nikes and too little on "Hooked on Phonics," and that they are failing to instill proper discipline in their "knucklehead" children, who, by their speech and behavior, are dooming themselves to economic failure.
The words are harsh, as Cosby meant them to be. But they are not wrong. Adjusting for the fact that one is a comic and the other was an unusually eloquent preacher, Cosby was saying what King said a generation ago when he demanded that we be judged not by what we are but by how we behave -- "by the content of our character."
King, obviously hoping white people were listening, was saying: If we do what we have to do to limit our behavior-spawned problems, then you must learn to look beyond our skin and see our behavior. Cosby, whose target is low-income black America, is saying: White people can't save you if you won't try to save yourselves.
[originally posted: 1/17/05]
What Was Liberal History?: RICHARD HOFSTADTER'S LEGACY : a review of Richard Hofstadter: An Intellectual Biography By David S. Brown (Sean Wilentz, 07.12.06, New Republic)
In March 1965, a delegation of historians joined Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s fifty-four-mile march from Selma to Montgomery in Alabama. Weeks earlier, Alabama state troopers had brutally broken up a voting rights march in Selma with nightsticks and tear gas, and King aimed to finish what the protesters had started. The historians, who included the renowned Richard Hofstadter, went south to take a stand. That the normally circumspect Hofstadter struck his tasks at Columbia University and made the trip suggested just how deep the outrage at Jim Crow repression had become.
Hofstadter, in character, acted more the dry wit than the rabble-rouser. At one point, the bus carrying the scholars to the march swerved badly, leaving the professors momentarily shaken and frightened. Hofstadter broke the tension. "If your driving leads to an accident that kills us all," he pleaded with the bus driver, "you will set back the liberal interpretation of American history for a century!"
What made the writings of these historians liberal? This liberalism originated in a twofold desire. First, in the most precise sense of liberal as large, generous, capacious, these historians wanted to be more inclusive, examining aspects of American political and social life that previous historians had slighted, from race and ethnicity to the power of irrational symbolic appeals. Second, they wanted to re-interpret a liberal tradition that they believed had dominated American history more critically, freed from the self-ratifying pieties of much liberal historiography as well as from the deceptive, often manipulative populism that characterized the 1930s and 1940s Popular Front left.
Looking back, they appear, in keeping with the political trends of their formative and middle years, to have badly overestimated liberalism's dominance of the American political tradition. Much of their writing through the 1970s did little to prepare readers for the conservative era that was to come. [...]
Nothing can be understood about Hofstadter's intelligence without understanding his visceral urban proclivities, inflected by his aversion to the smug absolutism that too often afflicted big-city intellectuals. Much of the so-called "counter-Progressive" historiography of the 1940s and 1950s rebelled against the Midwestern biases of the previous generation, which beheld the nation's cities as sinks of political and economic corruption. [...]
At Buffalo, Hofstadter joined the radical left. An active member and eventually Buffalo chapter president of the National Student League, the dominant campus left-wing organization of the time, he participated in a nationwide student antiwar strike of classes in April 1935. He fell in love with and married Felice Swados, a fellow left-wing student and committed activist (and the sister of Harvey Swados, later known as a fine fiction writer and essayist). Over the objection of family members, he decided against becoming a lawyer, began taking courses in Columbia's history department in 1937, and wrote an M.A. thesis that berated, from a leftist perspective, the New Deal's Agricultural Adjustment Act. In 1942, he completed the dissertation that would become his first book, a scathing survey of capitalist apologia, Social Darwinism in American Thought, 1860-1915. He also attended, with Felice, meetings of the Young Communist League, and in October 1938 he dutifully enlisted in the Columbia graduate unit of the Communist Party. "I don't like capitalism and want to get rid of it," he wrote.
Appalled by the communists' authoritarianism and, Brown suggests, by reports on the Moscow trials, Hofstadter abruptly quit the party after only four months, but for years thereafter he appears to have considered himself a man of the radical left. His Marxist phase was common for the disaffected students of his generation, and it made a lasting impression. Above all, it gave him ways to think about American politics outside the mainstream categories of liberal and conservative. From this radicalized perspective, American politics appeared to be not an abiding battle between equality and privilege but rather a contest between political parties whose similarities overwhelmed their differences. The Marxism of the 1930s lay just below Hofstadter's oft-quoted later observation that America's egalitarianism "has been a democracy in cupidity rather than a democracy of fraternity"--a left-wing formulation that, paradoxically, also seemed to declare the futility of left-wing politics in the United States.
[originally posted: 7/13/06]
China's New Legal Eagles: Evangelical lawyers spur civil rights movement forward. (Tony Carnes, 09/18/2006, Christianity Today)
"We pray that a Chinese Martin Luther King will arise from the church in China," say Christian leaders of the new Human Rights Protection Movement (HRPM).
These lawyers, pastors, journalists, and human rights leaders across China are trying out the strategies of the historic American civil rights movement, using litigation, media publicity, and nonviolent protests.
Fan Yafeng, an influential constitutional scholar in Beijing, says, "We are seeing the intersection of law and religion in China. More and more Chinese public intellectuals say that only Christianity can provide a solid foundation for the rule of law in China."
Inspired by examples of American civil rights activists, such as the freedom riders of 1961, HRPM members travel at a moment's notice to fight injustice and defend villagers thrown off their land, persecuted believers of any religion, and the human rights of all.
Four years ago, the Human Rights Protection Movement began with about 24 members. Now there are 300. HRPM lawyers are official legal counsel for the Chinese House Church Alliance, established in 2004 to represent 300,000 members of smaller independent churches. The lawyers also represent older house church networks. The demand for legal services is high. On average, they receive 30 requests per week.
[originally posted: 9/18/06]
: PATRICIA WATKINS IS CALLED THE EVANGELIST, AND NOT JUST BECAUSE SHE'S A PENTECOSTAL MINISTER. SHE CHASES DRUG DEALERS FROM THE STREETS AND WINS LEGISLATIVE VICTORIES IN SPRINGFIELD. (Don Terry, January 30, 2005, Chicago Tribune Magazine)
The Evangelist wipes a white handkerchief across her gleaming face, but it doesn't make much difference. Her cheeks continue to glisten. Tears or sweat, it's hard to tell from the back of the sanctuary at the Ambassadors for Christ World Outreach Ministries, a Pentecostal church on the South Side dedicated to salvation and struggle. n She's preaching hard. When she talks about fire and brimstone, you can feel the heat. n She lowers the microphone and pauses to say a private prayer as she does anytime she speaks in public. She is asking God to make her his instrument, to give her the words and the wisdom and the courage to say what has to be said here in church and to the high and mighty wherever they may be. She knows there are too many of God's children hungry and homeless on the streets, too much poverty and racism, too much war and suffering, too many mothers and daughters forced to sell their bodies to feed their children, too many fathers and sons returning from prison with no place to be somebody, no job to go to, no future to dream about. n She lifts the microphone back to her mouth and continues to preach. n "If we make a decision to stay in a place of despondency, we will die," she says. "We will lose ground. We will find ourselves someplace other than where we intended to be. Amen. That's why we have to encourage ourselves. Tell your neighbor to encourage yourself." n "Encourage yourself" spreads through the room. n "God wants us to encourage ourselves and speak righteously in the face of adversity," she says. "That's the only way we can be Christians."
Patricia Van Pelt Watkins is the Evangelist, a high-school dropout and former drug addict who once upon a dark and painful period of her life didn't like to eat because it took time away from getting high. Today, she is a Pentecostal minister and community organizer, saved and sober for 25 years, armed with a fortified faith and college degrees.
She calls herself, in the words of an old steel-your-spirit song, "a soldier in the Army of the Lord." Everyone else calls her Evangelist. "I'm the one who makes the noise," she explains.
Among her peers in the world of neighborhood advocacy groups and social service agencies, Watkins is hailed as one of the most effective grass-roots organizers in Chicago, a city that has often turned a cold shoulder and blind eye to its reformers and secular saints. No matter. Watkins is as stubborn as she is sanctified. Yet, she is also funny and warm, quick to laugh. "She connects with people really well," says Jim Field, program director of the Community Renewal Society, a coalition of religious and advocacy groups. "In organizing, that's very important. She's amazing."
She gracefully juggles the sacred and the secular, going from spirited church services to somber anti-violence vigils, from revival meetings to lobbying sessions with powerful state politicians. It is as though the spirits of Saul Alinsky and Martin Luther King Jr. have taken up residence in the body of this middle-aged, coffee-colored woman with oft-braided hair who speaks in tongues when moved by the Holy Ghost and allows neither cigarettes nor alcohol to touch her lips. Or bread, either-she's on the low-carb diet.
In her black leather jacket, which fits a lot better now, and her white clerical collar, she shows up at demonstrations holding a bullhorn in her left hand and a Bible in her right. She once held a months-long vigil on a drug-plagued street corner and chased away a dealer.
Watkins is also a loyal citizen of the America that attends church twice a week, studies scripture and spends at least an hour a day praying to God on bended knee. She believes that every word in the Bible is literally true. Most of all, she believes that faith was the only thing that kept her from going mad with grief when her 17-year-old daughter, Sheba, was killed in an airplane collision over Lake Michigan in 1997.
A couple of weeks after Sheba died, Watkins went back to work. She sat down with Field to polish a grant proposal. "She was in a lot of pain," he remembers. "I said we can wait. She said, 'I will see my daughter again. Don't worry about it.' You seldom see faith like that. What she believes, she believes."
She does not believe the term "moral values" is a synonym for the Republican platform or Christian fundamentalism. Her concern for the country's soul goes beyond same-sex marriage and Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction. At the top of her list is ending poverty, fighting for racial justice and keeping troubled teenagers in school and out of prison.
She says she is simply doing "what Jesus would do if he were here."
[originally posted: 2/10/05]
Sly and Robbie interview: Sly and Rabbie (Chitra Ramaswamy, 1/18/09, Scotland on Sunday)
For Dunbar, the simple act of playing alongside Scottish musicians and singers including Karine Polwart, Edwyn Collins and Sushil K Dade is the point. This, he believes, is the way to heal and strengthen the bond between Scots and Jamaicans in the 21st century.
It's a principle that this duo, who have worked with everyone from Peter Tosh, Black Uhuru, Grace Jones and Bob Dylan to, more recently, Britney Spears and Madonna, have been putting into practice for more than 30 years, mixing Jamaican rhythms with rock, funk and disco, and in the process reinventing reggae – and pop music for that matter – over and over again. They are both very touching on their fruitful partnership, which some say has made them the most prolific artists ever, with upwards of 200,000 recordings. Neither of them is counting because, says Shakespeare, "it's about quality, not quantity. We're just playing music as easy as we come, and we try to get the best every time."
They may no longer play upwards of 50 tracks a day – yes, 50 – but they're not far off. On the day I chat to these men, both in their late fifties, their plan is to head to the studio at lunchtime and stay there until 2am.
They met in Kingston in 1973, when they were playing in clubs next door to each other. Both checked the other out, and they decided to play together. Since then, the longest they've spent apart is three weeks. "The first time we played together I think it was magic," says Dunbar. "We locked into that groove immediately. I listen to him and he listens to me. We try to keep it simple."
Shakespeare, the more gruff and withdrawn of the two, comes to life when he's talking about Dunbar. "When I'm away I miss him a lot," he says. "Even now, when he plays I say: 'Damn, boy.' You can never tell what he's going to come up with. We smile and joke and have fun. We keep happy."
What is the secret of their long-lasting relationship? "We have respect for each other, no ego, and we never forget where we come from," says Dunbar.
There Must No Longer Be An Iranian Terror Base in Gaza (Ephraim Sneh, www.israelhazaka.org.i)
Everyone is now urging a quick end to Operation “Cast Lead”. This operation has been unprecedented in its scale, relative to Israel’s past actions in the Gaza Strip. So is the damage it is leaving behind unprecedented, and that won’t make things easier for us on the diplomatic front. A campaign like this needs to have a strategic outcome that justifies its scale. The needed outcome is for there to no longer be an Iranian terror base 3 kilometers from Sderot and 8 kilometers from Ashkelon.
The government is not doing enough to achieve this goal. As things now stand, the focus of the diplomatic efforts is on the issue of engineering—sealing off the Gaza-Egypt border—and not on the formation of a different reality in Gaza. If there is no one in Gaza to accept the missiles and the money from Iran, the tactical/engineering issue becomes secondary. If we leave behind a Hamas regime in Gaza, it will soon find a way to bypass the obstacles and to rearm.
The immense missed opportunity of the present campaign is that Gaza will evidently remain under Hamas rule. This is not the fault of the IDF, which has done an excellent job, but our political leadership.
What is going to happen? The Hamas chiefs will emerge from their bunkers after the cease fire, will hold a victory march down Gaza’s main streets, and like Hizbollah in 2006 will manufacture an image of victory. “Three weeks of aerial assaults and a ground invasion by the IDF did not break us.”
The Hamas government in Gaza will be the address for the hundreds of millions of dollars that will come in from Iran, but also from other countries, to reconstruct Gaza’s ruins. Hamas will rebuild Gaza and also its own status after having brought about its destruction.
Pelosi-Obama brawl on tax cuts? (Glenn Thrush, 1/18/09, Politico)
As we've been reporting for a week, Nancy Pelosi seems to be on a collision course with Obama over the Bush administration tax cuts for families earning more than $250k.
He's edging towards letting them expire in 2010, after running against their existence for two years. She wants 'em repealed immediately -- as in now.
And she 's not backing down, telling FOX on Sunday: "I don't want them to wait two years to expire because they have to prove their worth to me,'' citing her oft-repeated argument that they are one of the biggest factors swelling the pre-stimulus deficit.
GEORGE W. CLINTON: FOR 16 YEARS, IT'S BEEN THE SAME THING (KYLE SMITH, January 18, 2009, NY Post)
A thought experiment. Suppose tomorrow were the last full day of the Clinton administration. Suppose Dubya was elected in 1992, and people got tired of his party, so the electoral college barely sloshed over to the opposite side in 2000.
The idea is not that bizarre. Both presidents left office a few months after a stock market implosion. Both left their successors to deal with a recession. (Though only one of them was blamed for these things.) Both left with Iraq looking dangerous.
Clinton would have loved. Loved. Loved. To have been president during a crisis like 9/11. He would have called in the most celebrated strategists for urgent all-nighters, let it leak out to the press that he was reading up on Kennedy and Cuba if not Churchill and Chamberlain.
Bush would have been de-freaking-lighted to have presided over the Nothing Years. (Has there ever been a period so uneventful as the 1990s? The only rival lately is the Eisenhower administration - a time when little kids practiced hiding under their desks in case of nuclear annihilation.) He would have been spotted on the golf course every other week, joking about his divots.
Bush, if he'd been elected in 1992 (replacing that feckless dunce, President Dukakis), wouldn't have opened the military to gays, so we as a nation would not have spent half a year discussing the fate of the 45 gay Americans interested in serving in uniform. Bush wouldn't have raised taxes (after Dukakis, he probably would have had to lower them).
Everything else (barring the celebrated Clinton character flaws that, while amusing, didn't do a lot to change your life or mine) would have been about the same.
Broken tax code snagged Obama's Treasury pick: The Geithner episode highlights the lunacy of a federal tax code that now runs more than 60,000 pages. (David Lazarus, January 18, 2009, LA Times)
Aside from the entertainment value of our likely next Treasury secretary either being ignorant of tax rules or being a tax cheat, the episode highlights the lunacy of a tax code that now runs more than 60,000 pages. More than 500 changes were made last year alone.
The Internal Revenue Service's national taxpayer advocate estimates that the complexity of the tax code results in taxpayers spending about $193 billion a year complying with filing requirements -- the equivalent of 14% of all income taxes collected.
About 60% of taxpayers feel it necessary to pay a professional to handle their taxes, and another 22% purchase tax-preparation software like TurboTax. In other words, more than 80% of Americans pay each year for help with their taxes.
"The system is broken," said Gina DeRosa, a certified public accountant in Torrance. "Eighty percent of the country should not need help filing taxes."
Most tax-reform mavens will say any remedy should include at least three key components: fairness, sustainability and simplicity.
Fairness means we want people with more money to pay more in taxes -- a progressive system like we have now.
Sustainability means that any changes will either maintain existing revenue levels or increase revenue.
As for simplicity, well, that speaks for itself. And it's perhaps the most challenging goal of all.
Hamas announces ceasefire and gives Israel one week to leave Gaza (Martin Fletcher in Jerusalem, and David Byers, 1/18/09, Times of London)
In a decision designed to throw the international focus back on Israel, the Islamists said that they would halt all rocket attacks on the country for a week, but that the attacks would resume if Israel failed to pull its troops out of the territory during that time. [...]
Israel announced its own unilateral ceasefire in the early hours of this morning, in a move designed to show the international community the problems it faced if — as Israeli officials expected — Hamas kept firing rocketsat the towns of Sderot and Ashkelon in southern Israel.
The strategy appeared to be working when Hamas sent at least five rockets towards Sderot and said thatit would not stop fighting until all Israeli troops had left Gaza. Israeli aircraft swiftly destroyed the rocket-launching site.
By making its announcement this afternoon, Hamas expects to place international pressure back on Israel's shoulders.
After his forces' humiliating failure to defeat Hezbollah guerrilas in southern Lebanon in 2006, Ehud Olmert, the Israeli Prime Minister, would want to avoid at all costs bowing to a Hamas ultimatum without being sure of first wrecking the group's rocket-firing capabilities.
The facts of the matter are that Hamas is insignificant as a military entity but ineradicable as a political one.
For Obama supporters, post-inauguration letdown is inevitable: On many issues, including gay marriage and the Mideast, his backers seem to have just assumed he didn't mean all those things he said on the campaign trail. (Jonah Goldberg, January 18, 2009, LA Times)
Presidential inaugurations are in many ways the high-water marks of any presidency because they're so full of hope. All things seem possible. The rivalries and backbiting haven't set in yet, at least not publicly. Even the inevitable disappointments over Cabinet picks and White House staffing are tempered by the wide-eyed dreams of an ambitious agenda. Everyone -- or at least everyone who backed the guy -- has that "we can make this the best yearbook ever!" feeling.
Then comes the letdown. No, I don't mean Barack Obama will be a failed president. But even the most successful presidents bitterly disappoint some people, usually some of their biggest supporters. Indeed, they can only disappoint supporters because disappointment first requires confidence and hope. Those who voted against Obama can either have their low expectations fulfilled or be pleasantly surprised.
Many conservatives, for example, had hoped that George W. Bush's "compassionate conservatism" was simply a marketing slogan. They were dismayed to discover he really meant it.
Robots at War: The New Battlefield: It sounds like science fiction, but it is fact: On the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, robots are killing America’s enemies and saving American lives. But today’s PackBots, Predators, and Ravens are relatively primitive machines. The coming generation of “war-bots” will be immensely more sophisticated, and their development raises troubling new questions about how and when we wage war. (P. W. Singer, Wilson Quarterly)
The PackBot is only one of the many new unmanned systems operating in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan today. When U.S. forces went into Iraq in 2003, they had zero robotic units on the ground. By the end of 2004, the number was up to 150. By the end of 2005 it was 2,400, and it more than doubled the next year. By the end of 2008, it was projected to reach as high as 12,000. And these weapons are just the first generation. Already in the prototype stage are varieties of unmanned weapons and exotic technologies, from automated machine guns and robotic stretcher bearers to tiny but lethal robots the size of insects, which look like they are straight out of the wildest science fiction. Pentagon planners are having to figure out not only how to use machines such as the PackBot in the wars of today, but also how they should plan for battlefields in the near future that will be, as one officer put it, “largely robotic.”
The most apt historical parallel to the current period in the development of robotics may well turn out to be World War I. Back then, strange, exciting new technologies that had been the stuff of science fiction just years earlier were introduced and used in increasing numbers on the battlefield. Indeed, it was H. G. Wells’s 1903 short story “Land Ironclads” that inspired Winston Churchill to champion the development of the tank. Another story, by A. A. Milne, creator of the beloved Winnie the Pooh series, was among the first to raise the prospect of using airplanes in war, while Arthur Conan Doyle (in “Danger”) and Jules Verne (in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea) pioneered the notion of using submarines in war. These new technologies didn’t really change the fundamentals of war. But even the earliest models quickly proved useful enough to make it clear that they weren’t going to be relegated to the realm of fiction again anytime soon. More important, they raised questions not only about how best to use them in battle, but also about an array of new political, moral, and legal issues. For instance, the United States’ and Germany’s differing interpretations of how submarine warfare should be conducted helped draw America into a world war. Similarly, airplanes proved useful for spotting and attacking troops at greater distances, but also allowed for strategic bombing of cities and other sites, which extended the battlefield to the home front.
Much the same sort of recalibration of thinking about war is starting to happen as a result of robotics today. On the civilian side, experts such as Microsoft’s Bill Gates describe robotics as being close to where computers were in the early 1980s—still rare, but poised for a breakout. On the military side, unmanned systems are rapidly coming into use in almost every realm of war, moving more and more soldiers out of danger, and allowing their enemies to be targeted with increasing precision.
And they are changing the experience of war itself. This is leading some of the first generation of soldiers working with robots to worry that war waged by remote control will come to seem too easy, too tempting. More than a century ago, General Robert E. Lee famously observed, “It is good that we find war so horrible, or else we would become fond of it.” He didn’t contemplate a time when a pilot could “go to war” by commuting to work each morning in his Toyota to a cubicle where he could shoot missiles at an enemy thousands of miles away and then make it home in time for his kid’s soccer practice.
As our weapons are designed to have ever more autonomy, deeper questions arise. Can the new armaments reliably separate friend from foe? What laws and ethical codes apply? What are we saying when we send out unmanned machines to fight for us? What is the “message” that those on the other side receive?
Transition Signals A Centrist Approach In Obama White House: Weeks Since Election Saw Minimal 'Drama' (Anne E. Kornblut, 1/18/09, Washington Post)
Just as Bill Clinton's chaotic preparations for taking office foreshadowed an occasional lack of discipline in the White House, and as George W. Bush's -- begun before the Florida recount ended -- laid the groundwork for a pattern of Oval Office decisiveness, Obama has strongly signaled an administration that will be more centrist than his campaign but that will have a hard time duplicating one of the campaign's cardinal tenets: "no drama."
Richards's context for Haeckel is an intellectual one that stretches from the Age of Goethe and the German Romantics, through the generation of Haeckel's teachers (all scientific luminaries of the 1850s, such as Johannes Müller, Rudolf Virchow and Albert von Kölliker), to Charles Darwin. Haeckel builds on this intellectual foundation, also taking inspiration from a younger generation of intellectual allies, including the morphologist Carl Gegenbaur and the pioneering historical linguist August Schleicher. Haeckel defends the resulting system of thought against a variety of opponents, ranging from embryologist Wilhelm His to Jesuit myrmecologist Erich Wasmann. But this is not intended as a story of the march of ideas or intellectual influences in the abstract. Richards stresses that ideas can only effect historical change when living, feeling people are motivated to embrace them and put them to use. That is why the biographical element is crucial, and why a bloodless Haeckel will not do.
As the title The Tragic Sense of Life suggests, however, Richards's Haeckel is often more melancholy than sanguine. This is mainly because of the death of his first wife Anna in 1864, just as his career as an evolutionary biologist was taking off. Haeckel lived a long and eventful life, but no other event is as important to Richards's interpretation as this one -- Haeckel never gets over this loss. Darwinism fills the emotional void created by Anna’s death and merges with the rest of his intellectual background into a comprehensive worldview. Haeckel then wields his Darwinism with a vengeance against reassuring religious lies, but he can also find comfort in Darwin, along with new ways of seeing and loving the beauty of nature.
Progressives Hope U.S. Shifts Global Social Policy (Colum Lynch, 1/18/09, Washington Post)
After being shut out for eight years by the Bush White House, social progressives are pressing President-elect Barack Obama to transform the way the United States deals with matters of sex, marriage and religious values in the international arena.
The battle will play out in upcoming U.N. conferences and meetings that set international norms on issues including human rights, public health, family planning and HIV/AIDS. But advocacy groups of varying stripes have already begun pressing the administration to end an era in which faith-based groups blocked funding for abortions in the developing world and helped place conservative values -- including abstinence-only sex education -- at the heart of U.S. health efforts.
Obama's Path to Faith Was Eclectic: President-Elect Will Reach Out to Diverse Set of Religious Leaders for Advice (Eli Saslow, 1/18/09, Washington Post)
For the president-elect, religion has always been less about theology than the power God inspires in communities that worship Him, friends and advisers said.
N.B.: Note that this basically makes him a Straussian. ("Him" being the UR, not God.)
[I]f Iraq overall represents a massive stain on Bush's record, his decision to increase America's troop presence in late 2006 now looks like his finest hour. Given the mood in Washington and the country as a whole, it would have been far easier to do the opposite. Politically, Bush took the path of most resistance. He endured an avalanche of scorn, and now he has been vindicated. He was not only right; he was courageous.
It's time for Democrats to say so. During the campaign they rarely did for fear of jeopardizing Barack Obama's chances of winning the presidency. But today, the hesitation is less tactical than emotional. Most Democrats think Bush has been an atrocious president, and they want to usher him out of office with the jeers he so richly deserves. Even if they suspect, in their heart of hearts, that he was right about the surge, they don't want to give him the satisfaction.
Yet they should -- not for his sake but for their own. Because Bush has been such an unusually bad president, an entire generation of Democrats now takes it for granted that on the big questions, the right is always wrong. Older liberals remember the Persian Gulf War, which most congressional Democrats opposed and most congressional Republicans supported -- and the Republicans were proven right. They also remember the welfare reform debate of the mid-1990s, when prominent liberals predicted disaster, and disaster didn't happen.
Younger liberals, by contrast, have had no such chastening experiences. Watching the Bush administration flit from disaster to disaster, they have grown increasingly dismissive of conservatives in the process. They consume partisan media, where Republican malevolence is taken for granted. They laugh along with the "Colbert Report," the whole premise of which is that conservatives are bombastic, chauvinistic and dumb. They have never had the ideologically humbling experience of watching the people whose politics they loathe be proven right.
Admiral takes new tack with intel position (Richard Halloran, January 18, 2009, Washington Times)
When Adm. Dennis C. Blair was in China as commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific, a Chinese admiral confronted him rather aggressively on the issue of Taiwan, warning the United States not to interfere in China's campaign to gain control of the self-governing island.
Admiral Blair listened for a minute, then said: "Admiral, let me tell you a couple of things. First, I own the water out there," gesturing toward the Pacific Ocean. "And second, I own the sky over the water out there. Now, don't you think we should talk about something more constructive?" [...]
His main connection with intelligence, however, has been as a consumer. He absorbed intelligence on the staff of the National Security Council in the White House, as director of the Joint Staff in the Pentagon, and especially as commander of the Pacific Command from 1999 to 2002. With headquarters in Honolulu, it is the world's largest military command, with 300,000 people operating from the West Coast of the U.S. to the East Coast of Africa.
After he took charge in Honolulu, Adm. Blair was a demanding taskmaster. Dissatisfied with the command's war plans, he ordered them updated to account for China's acquisition of modern Russian warplanes and ships.
"That was laborious stuff," said one officer who spoke on condition he not be named. "It took thousands of man-hours. Some of the staff had to work so hard they started calling it the 'Blair Witch Project,'" the name of a popular horror movie.
Adm. Blair's organizational duties as DNI will parallel those of the Pacific commander.
Can Hamas still walk tall in Gaza's streets?: Israel's ferocious bombardment of Gaza was intended to teach its radical Islamist government a permanent lesson. But after three weeks of fighting, Hamas has not been battered into submission. And, amid the rubble, the organisation's prestige among many of the Palestinians remains intact. (Peter Beaumont and Hazem Balousha, 1/18/09, The Observer)
In the case of Said Siam and his Interior Ministry - once one of Hamas's major centres of power - the assessment is simple to make. The four-storey Interior Ministry complex was flattened by a missile strike early in the campaign. Police stations and other facilities have also been destroyed. Scores, perhaps several hundred, of his men have died. And while buildings can be rebuilt, the death of Siam is something different.
The most senior Hamas figure to be killed by Israel since the assassination of Abdel Aziz Rantisi, Hamas's political leader, in 2004, Siam was a pillar of the organisation, a hardliner close to exiled leader Khaled Meshaal in Damascus. He was credited with commanding its security apparatus, including Hamas's elite executive force.
It was Siam who was reputedly one of the most forceful movers against the rival Fatah faction in the so-called "internal fighting" between the organisations that followed Hamas's election victory in Gaza in 2006. Hamas won that battle, ousting its secular opponents from Gaza and launching the chain of events that led to Israel's assault on its power-base. Now the Hamas hardman is gone. But the organisation's prestige appears to have survived intact, and even emerged enhanced.
Wael Abd Latef, 38, a bookshop owner from the Tal el-Hawa district of Gaza City, was convinced that the long days of bombardment have had little effect on Hamas. He abandoned his house five days ago with the arrival of Israeli tanks, and on Friday returned to check his property. "It's a war against the civilians. It's not against Hamas," he said. "They think that it's against Hamas, but it's not. The situation is a disaster for Palestinian people, not Hamas. Israel started the war against Palestinians. They imposed sanctions on Palestinians. Hamas demands the world just leave the siege and break the blockade on Palestinians by opening the curtains. Hamas spent a long time helping the Palestinian people here and worked for its interests.
"Hamas has the authority and the legitimacy to rule Gaza. I don't think the war affected Hamas that much. They destroyed everything, but Hamas is still there. Hamas will show its power when the war is over." He was scathing about the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, head of Fatah, whose term in office is ending.
Across Gaza and the West Bank, the rumblings of discontent have grown as Abbas stood on the sidelines while Israeli artillery has pounded Gaza. "Abbas has no authority to lead the Palestinian people. When he was elected, we were expecting him to be the leader for all Palestinian people, but he became just a leader for Fatah and its people. I don't think he will be back here."
-TRIBUTE: A talent for being loved: my father, John Mortimer: Being with him made you feel better about yourself (Jeremy Mortimer, GMT 18 Jan 2009, Daily Telegraph)
He was the most stoical hypochondriac, for instance: when he had a cold, he would say that he felt like he was dying. Yet when he was actually dying, and suffering a great deal, he was extraordinarily brave.
Another example was his intolerant libertarianism. He believed passionately in people's freedom to do things, but he could also get incredibly irritated when they did things he didn't approve of.
He didn't understand the concept of patience. Attention, service, champagne – there was no time to waste. It was the same with his work. If he wasn't writing, often two or three things at once, he wasn't really living.
He also called himself an atheist for Christ. His atheism was unshakable, but he was really fascinated by religion. His religion was of a Wordsworthian and Huxleyan kind, and he had a great faith in it.
Perhaps some of those contradictions were demonstrated in my father's great ability as a lawyer to always be able to see and understand both sides of an argument.
Rumpole, especially as embodied by Leo McKern in the many BBC television dramatizations, is a character of almost Dickensian lovableness. He’s disheveled, grumpy, henpecked (forever in thrall to the dread Hilda, “She Who Must Be Obeyed”), an enthusiastic quaffer of plonk (his favorite tipple is Château Thames Embankment) — a disreputable mess, in short, until he cross-examines a witness or addresses a jury and turns into an adversary of surpassing slyness. His legal cleverness may owe something to Mr. Mortimer’s father, a famous divorce lawyer, who once established adultery with no more evidence than a pair of footprints upside down on the dashboard of an Austin Seven.
Over the years Rumpole never altered or developed much, if at all, and the plots were sometimes stretched pretty thin, but Mr. Mortimer never wearied of his creation, and the stories were always reliably and reassuringly entertaining. At their best, they combine the whodunit satisfaction of Arthur Conan Doyle, say, with some of the comic fizz of P. G. Wodehouse.
Rumpole was something of an alter ego. Until he grew bored with the law, Mr. Mortimer was himself a barrister and a famous defender of free-speech cases, and he was at least as outspoken as Rumpole. He was a liberal who hated vegetarians, atheists and animal-rights activists. But Mr. Mortimer was a bon vivant who liked to begin the day with a glass of Champagne at 6 a.m.; a husband and doting father; and — perhaps in compensation for having been kicked out of Oxford for writing mash notes to a 17-year-old schoolboy — an enthusiastic, if unlikely, ladies’ man and bedder of actresses. He loved attention and was in many ways his own best character.
What went right for Bush (Greg Sheridan, January 17, 2009, The Australian)
One important reality check came from Walter Russell Mead, the Henry Kissinger fellow at the US Council for Foreign Relations, in a recent lecture to the Institute of Public Affairs in Melbourne.
Mead is in no sense a Bush partisan or neo-con. He is a non-partisan voice of great elegance and sophistication in US foreign policy. Speaking just after the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, and in the midst of the global financial crisis, He asserted that he was an optimist about the international scene. He advanced five reasons for his optimism.
One: Financial and banking crises are a regular and perhaps inevitable part of the capitalist system. But the US and the world always recovers from them and life goes on, generally with a better understanding of the way economies work and often, therefore, a better regulatory system.
Two: The failure of Osama bin Laden and his project throughout the Islamic world. This is most evident in Iraq. The Sunni Arabs there saw the US in a sense at its worst - given the abuses of Abu Ghraib and the mismanagement of the early part of the occupation - and al-Qa'ida potentially at its most appealing as the leader of resistance against Western domination. And yet in the Iraqi Sunni awakening, they rejected al-Qa'ida and chose partnership with the West.
Three: The rise of Asia. Mead rejects the intellectually constipated notion that China's rise equals America's decline. Instead he thinks that Asia is producing numerous big powers - China, Japan, India - that will naturally balance each other and always seek the involvement of the US as a further balancing and stabilising force.
Four: The enduring strength of American soft power. But how can this be? Surely Bush's global unpopularity has permanently ruined America's standing in the world? Not at all, Mead argues. One election, the triumph of Obama, and suddenly the world loves the US again.
European magazines recently at the centre of anti-Americanism declare that we are all Americans now and that Obama is the president of the world.
But if anti-Americanism is so easily banished, was it really such a powerful force? Another possible explanation (and here I am not quoting Mead) is that much anti-Americanism is exported from the US itself and reflects not much more than the visceral hatred of Bush by The New York Times class.
The New York Times itself is reprinted all over the world and its attitudes and disdains aped by faux sophisticates from Brussels to Balmain.
Five: The enduring dynamism of US society. No candidate ran in the US presidential election in 2008 as the status quo candidate.
I find Mead's arguments pretty convincing. If there is even a glimmer of truth to them, they suggest that the world Bush created was not altogether and entirely as evil as contemporary reviews suggest.
From Australia's point of view, at any rate, the Bush presidency was overwhelmingly successful.
What are the core Australian national interests that Canberra would always want a US administration to protect? Surely three would be: a stable security order in the Asia Pacific; the integrity of the international trading system; and the health of the US-Australian alliance.
On all three, Bush was outstandingly good for Australia. Bush's success in Asia is simply undeniable, and Rudd, among many others, has often acknowledged it. Michael Green, the former Asia director at the NSC under Bush, has in several important articles collated opinion poll data about the US in Asia. It turns out that Asia is the one region in the world where the US's poll ratings are higher at the end of the Bush administration than they were at the beginning.
This was anything but inevitable.
President Bush Will Leave Strong Pro-Life Legacy on Abortion, Bioethics Issues (Steven Ertelt, 1/16/09, LifeNews.com)
During his administration, President Bush saw abortions decline to historic lows and he made history himself by signing the first measure to ever ban a form of abortion.
Every pro-life leader LifeNews.com contacted showered Bush with words of praise. [...]
The president demonstrated his pro-life commitment on his first day in office when he reinstituted the Mexico City Policy that stops taxpayer funding of groups that promote or perform abortions in other nations. Later he extended that policy further to prevent pro-abortion funding within all State Department programs.
He also cut off funding for the UNFPA, a United Nations agency found to have been involved in supporting and working with Chinese family planning officials as the implemented the nation's one-child policy with forced abortions.
Bush followed that up with a policy preventing taxpayers from being forced to pay for new embryonic stem cell research that destroys human life.
The president signed every piece of pro-life legislation that came to his desk, including the partial-birth abortion ban and a bill to make sure babies who survive botched abortions receive appropriate medical care.
He also signed measures to reduce abortions among disabled babies by helping provide parents of children with Down syndrome and other ailments with alternatives.
President Bush also repeatedly threatened to veto any Congressional bill that removed one of the many different protections against taxpayer funded abortions.
On the bioethics front, President Bush offered to sign a ban on all forms of human cloning, though Congress never took him up on the offer. He also pressed for a UN call for nations to ban human cloning.
Bush tried to stop the use of federally-controlled drugs in assisted suicides in Oregon, but the courts stopped him from doing so and Congress never approved a bill backing him up.
And Bush signed into law a measure designed to help the family of Terri Schiavo save her from a painful starvation and dehydration death at the hands of her former husband.
"His attempt to save Terri Schindler Schiavo from a painful death showed his compassion for one vulnerable life," Wright said.
Barack Obama plans to make US relationship with Britain less special than before (Tim Shipman, 17 Jan 2009, Daily Telegraph)
Barack Obama will play down Britain's importance and cast it as merely "one of the crowd" of countries with which America has a special relationship, sources close to the incoming president have warned.
He intends to move away from the tight links with Britain forged under George W.Bush and develop closer relations with a far wider range of countries, according to his closest allies.
Foreign Office officials admit that they feel "threatened" by Mr Obama's plans to "flirt" with others and they know that the British influence may seem to wane in Washington as Mr Obama looks elsewhere to forge friendships and alliances on the world stage.
Venezuela`s Chavez Says Obama Has `Stench` Of Bush (Javno, 1/17/09)
[C]havez said frayed ties with Washington were unlikely to improve despite the departure of Bush, who the Venezuelan leader has often called the "devil."
"I hope I am wrong, but I believe Obama brings the same stench, to not say another word," Chavez said at a political rally on a historic Venezuelan battlefield.
Israel declares ceasefire in Gaza (BBC, 1/17/09)
Israel is to halt its three-week military offensive against Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said.
A bin Laden subtext (Boston Globe, January 17, 2009)
In his oratory about the suffering of Palestinians in Gaza, bin Laden never mentioned Hamas. The reason for this omission is well known to Hamas and much of the Arab world. It reflects the lethal enmity between Al Qaeda and like-minded Salafi extremists on the one hand, and the Palestinian Hamas movement on the other. Salafis are purists who believe that Sunni Muslims must establish an Islamic caliphate under the severe version of Islamic law, or Sharia, that they associate with the Prophet Mohammed and his early followers.
Having these aims, they denounce Hamas for participating in elections and other democratic practices and for failing to impose a strict form of Sharia in Gaza. Al Qaeda and its Salafi fellow travelers also castigate Hamas for preventing non-Palestinian jihadists from going to Gaza to organize for holy war. There have been shoot-outs in Gaza between Hamas security forces and a Salafi group known as Jaysh al-Islam, or Army of Islam. In one recent clash, nine Army of Islam members were killed, and the group swore revenge against Hamas for the killings.
This deep-seated hostility between the Al Qaeda current of Islamism and the more nationalist tendency represented by Hamas suggests that Israel, the United States, and others might do well to shape policy with these distinctions in mind.
Fast Train to the 21st Century (Joseph R. Paolino Jr., January 17, 2009, Washington Post)
Instead of patching yet another rail line, we should take a step back and consider the best way to contribute to our economy and meet our long-term transportation needs. It is past time to give the Northeast a 21st-century transportation system. High-speed rail could cut in half the travel time along the corridor -- the best high-speed systems in Europe and Asia travel at twice the effective speed of Amtrak's fastest Acela train -- and invigorate the metro economies of Boston, Providence, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington.
Consider the economic and environmental benefits: During the construction phase, a project of this magnitude would put tens of thousands to work. The faster trains would draw travelers from automobiles and airlines, as they do in Europe and Asia. The London-to-Paris run, via a tunnel under the English Channel, has captured 70 percent of the public-transit market between those cities. Similar demand in the Northeast would significantly reduce gasoline consumption, as well as highway and airport congestion, and it would improve air quality.
Secret List of U.S. Military Bases to Replace Gitmo: Pendleton, Leavenworth, Miramar Included as Possible New Home for 250 Detainees (BRIAN ROSS and LUIS MARTINEZ, Jan. 16, 2009, ABC News)
The list -- which includes Camp Pendleton in California, Fort Leavenworth in Kansas; the Marine Air Station in Miramar, California; and the U.S. Naval Consolidated Brig in South Carolina -- has been circulated in a classified brief to members of Congress and was prepared by the Pentagon's Joint Staff.
President-elect Barack Obama is expected to order that the Guantanamo Bay detainee facility be closed on his first day in office, officials say. Officials say it would take at least a year to prepare a new prison and transfer the detainees.
When Buckley Met Reagan (ROSS DOUTHAT, 1/18/09, NY Times)
At its most interesting, “The Reagan I Knew” provides a case study on the relationship between intellectuals and power, and specifically on the marriage between right-wing thinkers and populist politicians that has defined the modern right from the Goldwater era to our own.
This union occasioned a great deal of comment during 2008, which turned out to be an annus horribilis for conservatism, and little of it was positive. Populism’s corrosive influence on the conservative mind — or the conservative mind’s cynical manipulation of populism — was cited in briefs against Sarah Palin, against the record of George W. Bush and against the entire run of conservative governance going back to Richard Nixon. Sometimes it was liberals arguing that an earlier generation of high-minded conservatives (Buckley being the prime example) would be horrified by the anti-intellectual spirit that had overtaken their movement in the age of Bush and Palin. Sometimes it was conservatives, your David Frums and Peggy Noonans, hinting at the same. And sometimes it was left-wingers — like Rick Perlstein, in his teeming history “Nixonland” — arguing that conservatives had always been cynical manipulators of populist sentiment: the mask might have slipped a bit more in the Bush era, but beneath the genteel facade provided by wordsmiths like Buckley (or William Safire or George Will or whomever), the modern right has been Palins all the way down.
Buckley would doubtless plead innocent to the charge of cynicism. But he would probably acknowledge that a populist spirit — the same spirit that gave us talk radio, Fox News and “drill, baby, drill” — has hung over postwar conservatism from its inception. The National Review founder was personally highbrow, but he was more than happy to yoke his intellect and self-conscious intellectualism to small-d democratic enthusiasms: Buckley began his writing life, after all, as a quasi-apologist for Joe McCarthy and ended his career as a great friend to Rush Limbaugh. And he spent most of the intervening decades championing Reagan, the greatest right-wing populist of all — more authentically middle-American than Bush, a cannier player of the “jes’ folks” card than Palin, and as roundly disliked and disdained by the liberal commentariat as either one of them.
Three years ago, in “The Making of the American Conservative Mind,” a rambling history of the intellectual circle that gathered around National Review, the longtime contributor Jeffrey Hart suggested that Buckley was torn between his patrician roots and the populist temper of the movement he championed. An echt Burkean with a snob’s disdain for the contemporary Republican Party, Hart hinted at a road not taken, in which a Buckley-led conservative intelligentsia might have labored to infiltrate and convert the liberal-leaning Eastern Establishment, rather than making common cause with Sunbelt populists, Reagan Democrats and other faintly embarrassing constituencies.
But it’s doubtful Buckley himself harbored such fantasies. From the beginning of his career, he seemed to grasp that any successful right-of-center politics in America would be populist, or it wouldn’t be at all.
But once the people took over the Party it was those with powerful voices who became the disgruntled, and so you've had loud bitching and griping about the reality of the Party by those who don't much believe in its tenets, but need it to pursue their narrow agendas. Thus, Eastern Republicans were: just as rabidly anti-Goldwater as Democrats; eagerly helped bring down the anomalous Nixon; fought the Reagan ascendancy, to the point of running a third party candidate against him; backed John McCain against W and then Mitt and Rudy against Maverick; waged war on Harriet Miers and Sarah Palin; and so on and so forth. Notably, where choice in the matter is left to the party and/or the people as a whole, the Easterners have tended to get whipped. But where institutions control the results, they've tended to win, though at a high cost to the Party and, often, the country. This has afforded Democrats the opportunity--when their nominee is sufficiently unthreatening--to squeak out a few victories during a generally conservative epoch. These victors being socially permissive but pro-business, they've not represented bad outcomes for the Eastern Establishment.
Now, the Party being hierarchical, when there is a natural claimant to the nomination mantle he's nearly undeniable, regardless of where he stands on the ideological arc: thus, Nixon '68; Ford '76; Bush '88; and McCain '08. But 2012 is reasonably open. Jeb Bush would win in a walkover, but may not want to run. Sarah Palin will be formidable, but is not a shoo-in. Both Bobby Jindal and Mitch Daniels could mount significant challenges to her candidacy, though they might hold off until the next cycle if President Obama is riding high in 2010. Note the similarities amongst this group. They are social conservatives, governors, and have wielded power far outside the Eastern Seaboard. Mitt Romney--socially liberal and identified with MA, Detroit, and Wall Street--might try to run again, but no one outside Washington and New York takes him seriously. And, if he takes the sorts of steps necessary to appeal to the base, the neocons will ditch him the same way they did John McCain. Essentially, the triumph of the embarrassing Republican populace is baked into the cake at this point and the elites are without a candidate or a major voice in the Party. All the Intellectual Right can really do is snipe from without about the Oogedy-Boogedy captivity of conservatism.
Coincidentally, I've just been reading Columbia University Press's timely re-release of Benjamin Barber's memoir, The Truth of Power: Intellectual Affairs in the Clinton White House, in which he charts the problem from the opposite side. For, if Intellectuals on the Right are consistently perturbed by the fact that the Republican Party is successful when it ignores them and sticks to the politics of the base, imagine how much more frustrating it is for Intellectuals of the Left that while the country generally prefers the Republican presidential nominee, Democrats win only when they run someone who seeks to make himself ideologically indistinguishable from the GOP. Richard Hofstadter fretted about American Anti-Intellectualism 45 years ago, when he could convince himself and other liberals that it was mostly a peripheral, if endemic, problem, afflicting the Right. So much more painful for the Left now when it has been revealed as America's default position.
Mr. Barber was called into the White House to help in the brainstorming sessions that followed the Republican Revolution of 1994. Ostensibly, he and others--Robert Putnam, Michael Lind, Sam Beer, etc.--were to hash out the parameters of what the Third Way politics of the New Democrats really meant. Bill Clinton had, after all, been elected as a supposed representative of this philosophy, but had then proceeded to govern as an old-style liberal. This, after all, was a guy who hadn't just run on tax cuts, ending Welfare as we knew it, and being tougher on China than the Republican incumbent, but had hurried home to Arkansas from the campaign trail to execute a convict, publicly humiliated the Reverend Jesse Jackson in the Sista Souljah incident, and called Mario Cuomo a mafioso. Then he got elected and inflicted HillaryCare, Lani Guennier, Joycelen Elders, gun control, gays in the military, tax cuts and all the rest on an unsuspecting country, managing to obscure the fact that on economic policy he was acting like an "Eisenhower Republican." After voters punished his party in the Midterm, it was obvious that he had to get back to the Right -- to being a New, not an old, Democrat -- in a hurry if he was to survive 1996.
So the wonks were summoned, with high hopes that they'd get to shape the rest of the Clinton Administration, whether for two or six years. But it quickly became apparent to Mr. Barber that, whatever the other participants thought of these seminars, "the president treated it more as intellectual calisthenics to keep his mind nimble than as a part of the policy process." They were there to help organize Bill Clinton's own thinking, not to help him wield power. Dick Morris and polling data would ultimately be far more influential in that regard. Political reality would trump political theory. And the most profound example of that reality--the lynchpin of Bill Clinton's eventual legacy--was Reforming Welfare along with Newt Gingrich.
One peculiarity here is that while Mr. Barber was called in because he had reformist ideas and casts himself as someone whose primary concern is civil society, he seems to take no pride nor ownership of this reform. Indeed, he characterizes it as the "New Democrats' surrender" to a Republican idea. On the other hand, at least at the time he originally wrote the book, he genuinely seems to believe that Bill Clinton's great legacy will be Americorps. It's pretty hard to distinguish why a program that requires community service in exchange for educational assistance is a glorious achievement while one that requires work in exchange for public assistance is so awful. One is tempted to conclude that the only real difference is that the latter is perceived as anti-Black, though the notion that employment is racially degrading rather than empowering is rather bizarre. At any rate, more than a decade on from both, it is sufficient to point out that Americorps is utterly forgotten, while Welfare Reform--along with free trade, and balanced budgets--is recalled as the chief accomplishment of the Clinton years.
Mr. Barber concludes his book with an admonishment which it would be a very good idea for intellectuals of the Left to read as we enter the Obama era this coming week:
I do not...wish I had spoken truth to power. That phrase, I hope I have shown, is almost always illusory, even dangerous. When we intellectuals make policy or--efficient mandarins--draw the ears of the people's representatives away from the loud voices of those to whom they are accountable so that they will attend to our whispered schemes rooted in some version of higher truth, democracy is almost always corrupted. Our task is to persuade the people at large, to do battle in the intellectual marketplace of ideas and move public opinion. It is the task of citizens and citizens alone, moved by us or not, to then elect delegates who share their persuasion, and to insist that those they elect remain faithful to them. [...] In a democracy leaders must abide by the views of the electorate, even where wisdom may seem to belong to the mandarins. And while I would have preferred a more subtle democratic method than polling and a more representative spokesman of the people's interests than Dick Morris, better for Clinton to have erred in that direction than to have allowed self-appointed guardians of the truth like me to lure him into grand notions for which there is no popular mandate.
For anyone who feels betrayed or bewildered as we watch President Obama shuck off most of the liberal cant that he needed to defeat Hillary Clinton in the primaries and morph into George W. Bush before our very eyes, that passage explains it all.
Is a Change in Migration Patterns at Hand? (Michael Barone, 01/17/2009, Human Events)
Classrooms in Orange County, Calif., are suddenly half-empty. Latino day laborers seem to be less thick on the ground at their morning gathering places. Remittances to Mexico and other Latin countries are down, and men are returning to some villages from the United States.
Latinos appear to account for a disproportionate share of mortgage foreclosures. The Census Bureau estimates that net immigration in 2007-08 was 14 percent lower than the average for 2000-07, and those estimates don't cover the period after June 30, when the recession really started hitting.
Demographic forecasters tend to assume that the long-term future will look a lot like the short-term past. That's why the Census Bureau estimates that there will be more than 100 million people classifying themselves as Hispanics in 2050, compared to 45 million today. But history tells us that trend lines don't go on forever. Sometimes they turn around and go downward.
We have had major Latino immigration now throughout the 25 years since the economic recovery of the early 1980s.
Obama Set to Kick Off 'Whistle Stop' Tour (FOXNews.com, January 17, 2009)
President-elect Barack Obama kicks off his three-state "Whistle Stop Tour" Saturday mirroring Abraham Lincoln's historic 1861 journey by train from Philadelphia to Washington.
Presidency a test of Obama's leadership model: Campaign offered hints, analysts say (Brian C. Mooney, January 17, 2009, Boston Globe)
"Some of his skills are transferable and they are significant ones," said David Gergen, a professor and program director at Harvard's Kennedy School who has served in four different administrations. "His capacity to move people through rhetoric, as he did during the campaign, is clearly a major asset in the presidency. Our most memorable presidents of the last 50 years have been wonderful communicators on television; one was John Kennedy and the other was Ronald Reagan.
"The other that's transferable, and in a very interesting way and an asset no Democrat has had in recent years, is the data base he has built up on the Internet," Gergen said. "That can be used to build grass-roots support for his legislative programs." [...]
Obama's leadership skills notwithstanding, many questions remain about his managerial credentials to preside over a sprawling government with about 1.6 million civilian employees, not to mention serve as commander-in-chief of armed forces 1.4 million strong. The 44th president has no prior executive experience or military background.
"The transition from campaign to governing will be a lot tougher in the managerial area," said Gergen, who worked in the Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and Clinton White Houses. "It's difficult to get a handle on it, and it is hard, messy work to reform the bureaucratic structures."
Ronald Reagan succeeded not just because of his rhetoric and capacity generate letters to the Hill (last generation's Internet), but because he had a governing philosophy, experience as executive of a nation-sized state, and an agenda he was seeking to enact.
Bill Clinton gave awful speeches that were often effective politically. Meanwhile, his Third Way ideology and experience as governor of a Southern state served him well, once the GOP took control in 1994, because it prepared him to govern towards the Right.
Barrack Obama has no political philosophy to draw upon, no agenda to steer his Administration, and no experience as an executive. He, like Clinton, inherits a peace dividend--though smaller than the post-Cold War one--and an economy poised to boom again after a brief slowdown. But he also has the problem that ruined Bill Clinton's first two years, a Democratic Congress, aching to react against the conservative restoration. Whether or not his presidency succeeds will have rather little to do with his speeches and nothing to do with the netroots, but will be almost entirely dependent on how well he understands the Clinton presidency. If he tries being Clinton '93, he runs the risk of being a failed president. If he skips directly to Clinton '95, he will be a success.
The initial signs, from appointments, to backpedaling on nearly every campaign promise he made the Left, to cultivating relationships with Republicans and conservative pundits, suggests that he's already triangulating as Dick Morris would counsel him to do and looking to govern as a New Democrat. That affords ample reason to be hopeful about the coming years.
Hamas Says Will Fight On Unless Demands Met (Javno, 1/17/09)
Hamas will fight on in Gaza against an Israeli offensive unless its demands are met, the Islamist group said on Saturday, indicating it would ignore a unilateral ceasefire if declared by the Jewish state.
Speaking in Beirut, Hamas's representative in Lebanon, Osama Hamdan, told a forum, "Today the movement's delegation arrives in Cairo. And clearly, we have nothing new to offer... Either we hear what we have demanded or the result will be the continuation of confrontation on the ground."
Israeli warplanes returned to the attack on the Gaza Strip before first light today as leaders of the Jewish state weighed a unilateral ceasefire.
Political sources said a decision could come by evening. The government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert may declare a halt to the three-week-old offensive without concluding any deal with Hamas-led militants who control Gaza, they said.
Andrew Wyeth, Revered and Ridiculed Artist, Dies (MICHAEL KIMMELMAN, 1/17/09)
Andrew Wyeth, one of the most popular and also most lambasted artists in the history of American art, a reclusive linchpin in a colorful family dynasty of artists whose precise realist views of hardscrabble rural life became icons of national culture and sparked endless debates about the nature of modern art, died Friday at his home in Chadds Ford, Pa. [...]
Wyeth gave America a prim and flinty view of Puritan rectitude, starchily sentimental, through parched gray and brown pictures of spooky frame houses, desiccated fields, deserted beaches, circling buzzards and craggy-faced New Englanders. A virtual Rorschach test for American culture during the better part of the last century, Wyeth split public opinion as vigorously as, and probably even more so than, any other American painter including the other modern Andy, Warhol, whose milieu was as urban as Wyeth’s was rural.
Because of his popularity, a bad sign to many art world insiders, Wyeth came to represent middle-class values and ideals that modernism claimed to reject, so that arguments about his work extended beyond painting to societal splits along class, geographical and educational lines. One art historian, in response to a 1977 survey in Art News magazine about the most underrated and overrated artists of the century, nominated Wyeth for both categories.
Art critics mostly heaped abuse on his work, saying he gave realism a bad name. Supporters said he spoke to the silent majority who jammed his exhibitions. “In today’s scrambled-egg school of art, Wyeth stands out as a wild-eyed radical,” one journalist wrote in 1963, speaking for the masses. “For the people he paints wear their noses in the usual place, and the weathered barns and bare-limbed trees in his starkly simple landscapes are more real than reality.”
Modern Art--beginning with Impressionism--has quite intentionally grown ever uglier as it has descended from aesthetics into naught but theory.
Obama may not lift stem cell limits (CARRIE BUDOFF BROWN, 1/16/09, Politico)
President-elect Barack Obama signaled Friday that he might not use his executive authority to reverse Bush-era limits on stem cell research, but instead might wait for Congress to change the policy.
Obama pledged during the campaign to lift the restrictions, and political observers had expected him to move swiftly to reverse President Bush’s 2001 executive order – most likely with his own executive order.
But the president-elect suggested Friday that he would wait for Congress to weigh in on the issue.
President-elect Barack Obama is preparing to prohibit the use of waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques by ordering the CIA to follow military rules for questioning prisoners, according to two U.S. officials familiar with drafts of the plans. [...]
However, Obama's changes may not be absolute. His advisers are considering adding a classified loophole to the rules that could allow the CIA to use some interrogation methods not specifically authorized by the Pentagon, the officials said.
Sound And Fury In Gaza: On the ground, it's hard to see a path to victory (Rod Nordland, 1/16/09, Newsweek)
If Hamas is getting bombed into submission, it doesn't much show. As the bedraggled old bus crosses from Egypt into the Gaza Strip, Ghazi Hamad meets it at the Rafah Gate. Spokesman for the Palestinian government and formerly an aide to the Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, Hamad is proud to identify himself as a Hamas official. Is he worried about the sort of "F-16 assassinations" that Israel has been handing out? He rolls his eyes skyward and shrugs: "Whatever happens, happens." The group of men at the entrance to the Red Crescent Hospital here in Khan Younis, further north, is quiet and even-tempered; the hospital is so full there isn't even room to shelter a visiting journalist. Only after questioning does it become clear that the gathered men have just lost their homes to air strikes. "Yesterday they destroyed my house," says Hamis Odeh, a driver, "and today I have joined Hamas for the first time."
The calmness of Gaza under fire is striking, almost as if they had expected this and prepared for it long ago. There are no armed Palestinians visible in the streets, but nor are people staying off them. Most places, there's no electricity; but when night falls the lights twinkle on from a thousand small generators. Hamas military spokesmen had openly boasted that they used the previous, six-month-long ceasefire well, preparing underground bunkers and secret tunnels. Gaza's civilians too have been busy, stockpiling food in their homes and fuel for their generators. "Look here," says Hassan (who prefers not to be identified further in case a missile were to find him), pulling back a curtain in his living room; behind it are suitcases, already packed with his family's most precious possessions, warm clothes and emergency food. "If the Israelis come, we can leave on a moment's notice," he says. He is unemotional about it. "Where we will go, who knows, but we are ready."
Officials Tempted By Alcohol Taxes (DAVID KESMODEL, 1/16/09, Wall Street Journal)
State lawmakers are hoping alcohol will ease the pain of recession and budget deficits.
Politicians in Kentucky and Arkansas in the past week announced proposals to increase taxes on alcoholic beverages, echoing similar efforts in New York and California.
Higher taxes on beer, wine and liquor face stiff opposition from alcohol distributors, retailers and other industry groups. Lobbies have helped kill most efforts to increase alcohol taxes in recent years. Still, deep economic woes might make such measures easier to pass in 2009.
With three loaded teams, AL East figures to stage epic race in 2009 (Ted Keith, 1/15/09, Sports Illustrated)
The first salvo of what promises to be the most entertaining -- and quite possibly the best -- division race in years was fired at Fenway Park on a frozen January day in the midst of what was supposed to be a relatively friendly roundtable discussion for a charity event.
At a Q&A that is part of the annual "Hot Stove, Cool Music" weekend put on by Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein and Hall of Fame journalist Peter Gammons, Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Fernando Perez was asked what it was like to beat the Red Sox in last year's American League Championship Series. Boston's diminutive and opinionated second baseman -- and the reigning AL MVP -- Dustin Pedroia, chimed in: "Don't get used to it."
The remark may have been meant to elicit a laugh, but it nevertheless spoke to the heart of why the AL East will be so competitive and so much fun to watch in 2009. In what is by far the toughest division in baseball, there is no offseason.
Now stop starving the Gazans (Yossi Alpher, January 15, 2009, IHT)
For the past year and a half, Israel, with the full backing and encouragement of the quartet of Middle East mediators (the European Union, the United States, the United Nations and Russia), as well as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and even the West Bank-based PLO, has maintained an economic blockade on the Gaza Strip.
Generally it has allowed into Gaza only the equivalent of the UN minimum number of calories required daily for subsistence, multiplied by the 1.5 million or so population of the Gaza Strip, along with minimal medical supplies and fuel.
This economic-warfare strategy against Gaza has failed totally; indeed, it has proven counterproductive. [...]
Over the past 42 years, Israel has periodically invoked collective economic punishment and incentives toward Palestinians on the theory that empty or full stomachs - impoverishment or development - would effectively alter Palestinian political behavior.
There is not a shred of evidence that this has worked.
Our world may be a giant hologram (Marcus Chown, 1/15/09, New Scientist)
[Craig Hogan, a physicist at the Fermilab particle physics lab in Batavia, Illinois], who has just been appointed director of Fermilab's Center for Particle Astrophysics, has an even bigger shock in store: "If the GEO600 result is what I suspect it is, then we are all living in a giant cosmic hologram."
The idea that we live in a hologram probably sounds absurd, but it is a natural extension of our best understanding of black holes, and something with a pretty firm theoretical footing. It has also been surprisingly helpful for physicists wrestling with theories of how the universe works at its most fundamental level.
The holograms you find on credit cards and banknotes are etched on two-dimensional plastic films. When light bounces off them, it recreates the appearance of a 3D image. In the 1990s physicists Leonard Susskind and Nobel prizewinner Gerard 't Hooft suggested that the same principle might apply to the universe as a whole. Our everyday experience might itself be a holographic projection of physical processes that take place on a distant, 2D surface.
UN to Obama: Don't Change Afghan Strategy (FISNIK ABRASHI, 1/16/09, Associated Press)
The top U.N. official in Afghanistan said U.S. President-elect Barack Obama should resist calls to change strategy in Afghanistan, urging him instead to focus on implementing the one already being pursued.
Bush OKs Peru Trade Pact, Despite Democrat Concern (Javno, 1/15/09)
U.S. President George W. Bush put into effect a free trade agreement with Peru on Friday, despite concerns raised by Democrats and labor groups about whether Peru had fulfilled all of its labor obligations.
"Today's proclamation marks an important milestone in our relationship with Peru, one of our strongest allies in Latin America," U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab said in a statement after Bush issued the order.
The action makes Peru the 17th free trade partner of the United States and the 14th country added to that list since Bush took office eight years ago.
Signs of Trouble Emerge in Transition’s Last Days (PETER BAKER and HELENE COOPER, 1/16/09, NY Times)
[A] transition that has moved forward with precision and decisiveness has also begun encountering signs of trouble that could foreshadow the challenges awaiting him once he moves into the White House next week.
The failure of Mr. Obama’s pick for Treasury secretary to pay all of his taxes has pushed off his confirmation so that a stand-in will temporarily lead the department after Mr. Obama’s swearing-in, even as renewed turmoil buffets the financial sector. Aides said Mr. Obama would likewise take office without settling on a commerce secretary to replace his first choice, who dropped out. And the man Mr. Obama once declared should not fill his Senate seat was nonetheless sworn in on Thursday. [...]
That means that Senate Democrats, who once hoped to beat Mr. Bush’s record of having seven of his cabinet nominees confirmed by Inauguration Day, are no longer confident they can match that.
Rumpole of the Bailey creator John Mortimer dies (Alison Flood, 1/16/09, The Guardian)
The novelist, playwright and former barrister, who was born in London in 1923, created the Rumpole series, detailing the adventures of ageing London barrister Horace Rumpole, for television, later spinning it off into a series of books and radio programmes. Up until his death he was producing more than one book a year. "He would announce to me on the phone that he thought he ought to 'do a Rumpole' on Asbos or Weapons of Mass Destruction, or some similar topic about which he felt particularly strongly. Rumpole and John became increasingly fused," said Lacey.
Mortimer worked with the Crown Film Unit during the war, writing a number of novels before turning to the theatre. He also wrote a range of film scripts, and plays for television and radio including A Voyage Around My Father, an adaptation of Brideshead Revisited, and the Rumpole dramas, which won him the British Academy Writer of the Year Award.
He also wrote a trilogy of political novels about the rise of an ambitious Tory MP - Paradise Postponed, Titmuss Regained and The Sound of Trumpets, and four volumes of autobiography, receiving a knighthood for his services to the arts in 1998.
-OBIT: Sir John Mortimer: Writer by choice, lawyer at his father's behest (Daily Telegraph, 16 Jan 2009)
Sir John Mortimer, who has died aged 85, became a lawyer at his father's behest and a writer by his own preference; through rare gifts of energy, confidence, intelligence and wit he succeeded brilliantly in both careers.
His experiences at the Bar afforded the material for the creation of Horace Rumpole, the shambling but stylish barrister whose quirky devotion to apparently hopeless causes made him one of the most compelling characters on British television.
In the early 1970s Mortimer was appearing for some football hooligans when James Burge, with whom he was sharing the defence, told him: “I’m really an anarchist at heart, but I don’t think even my darling old Prince Peter Kropotkin would have approved of this lot.” “And there,” Mortimer realised, “I had Rumpole.”
-OBIT: Sir John Mortimer, creator of Rumpole of the Bailey, dies age 85 (Anita Singh, 16 Jan 2009, Daily Telegraph)
-OBIT: Rumpole creator Sir John Mortimer dies, aged 85 (Daily Mail, 16th January 2009)
Asked last year if he was still drinking as much as ever, he replied: 'One of my weaknesses is that I like to start the day with a glass of champagne before breakfast.'
'I drink brandy and soda, and I don't eat a meal without drinking white wine. I've smoked all my life and, although I'd given up a bit, I now force myself to smoke because of the ban,' he said last July.
And despite his physical frailty, he was also determined to keep writing and had even hinted another Rumpole book might in the pipeline months before he died.
To give up, he said, would have been 'awful'. 'You will die on a golf course or end up sat with nothing to do in an old people’s home. Ugh.'
The sincerest form of flattery: Barack Obama is following in George Bush's footsteps (Charles Krauthammer, January 16th 2009, NY Daily News)
Vindication is being expressed not in words but in deeds - the tacit endorsement conveyed by the Obama continuity-we-can-believe-in transition. It's not just the retention of such key figures as Secretary of Defense Bob Gates or Treasury Secretary nominee Timothy Geithner, who, as president of the New York Fed, has been instrumental in guiding the Bush financial rescue over the last year. It's the continuity of policy.
It is the repeated pledge to conduct a withdrawal from Iraq that does not destabilize its new democracy and that, as Vice President-elect Joe Biden said just this week in Baghdad, adheres to the Bush-negotiated status of forces agreement that envisions a U.S. withdrawal over three years, not the 16-month timetable on which Obama campaigned.
It is the great care Obama is taking in not preemptively abandoning the anti-terror infrastructure that the Bush administration leaves behind. While still a candidate, Obama voted for the expanded presidential wiretapping (FISA) powers that Bush had fervently pursued. And while Obama opposes waterboarding (already banned, by the way, by Bush's CIA in 2006), he declined George Stephanopoulos' invitation (on ABC's "This Week") to outlaw all interrogation not permitted by the Army Field Manual. Explained Obama: "Dick Cheney's advice was good, which is let's make sure we know everything that's being done," i.e., before throwing out methods simply because Obama campaigned against them.
Court ruling endorses Bush surveillance policy (PETE YOST, 1/16/09, AP)
A special appeals court for the first time has upheld a Bush administration program of warrantless surveillance. [...]
The U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review said the time needed to get a court warrant would hinder the government's ability to collect time-sensitive information, impeding vital national security interests.
The challenge to the law has presented no evidence of any actual harm or any broad potential for abuse, the court's three judges concluded.
"Our decision does not constitute an endorsement of broad-based, indiscriminate executive power," the court said. "Rather, our decision recognizes that where the government has instituted several layers of serviceable safeguards ... its efforts to protect national security should not be frustrated by the courts."
Castro's disappearance fuels new health fears (Rory Carroll, 1/16/09, The Guardian)
Fidel Castro's failure to meet visiting dignitaries or publish his regular newspaper column has fuelled speculation that his health has deteriorated dramatically.
The former president, 82, has not appeared on TV or in print in recent weeks despite expectations that he would participate in the celebrations for the Cuban revolution's 50th anniversary on 1 January.
Venezuela's president, Hugo Chavez, an ally and unofficial spokesman, fed the rumour-mill by saying Castro would not surface in public again.
Why Tintin fans had to leap straight to his defence (Charles Bremner, 1/16/09, Times of London)
An article by Matthew Parris, The Times columnist, on Tintin’s “obvious” homosexuality has triggered an outcry in the media and on the internet. [...]
France has long adored Tintin as one of its own although his creator, Georges Remy, known as Hergé, was a French-speaking Belgian. That explains the patriotic reflex over Parris’s recital of the long-standing belief among gays that Tintin is one of their own.
“What debate can there be when the evidence is so overwhelmingly one-way?” Parris asked. “A callow, androgynous, blonde-quiffed youth in funny trousers and a scarf moving into the country mansion of his best friend, a middle-aged sailor? A sweet-faced lad devoted to a fluffy white toy terrier, whose other closest pals are an inseparable couple of detectives in bowler hats.”
The theory may have been around since it became the subject of books in the 1970s, but it was too much for some French critics coming from un anglais on the anniversary of Tintin’s appearance in a Brussels children’s newspaper.
The American Character: Bucking scholarly trends, Simon Schama argues it has a bright future (LOUIS P. MASUR, 1/16/09, The Chronicle Review)
With Barack Obama's election, the idea of an American national character is back, and it feels more salient than ever. Time and again during the presidential campaign, Obama told us his story: the mixed-race child of a man from Kenya and a woman from Kansas. He graduated from the Ivy League and was elected a U.S. senator. And then the self-described "mutt" became president. "Only in America," he declared.
Obama's popular narrative, and the way he has told it, promises to revive interest in what scholars term American exceptionalism — the idea that the American story is somehow unique. Attempts to define that quality have led foreigners to these shores, generated countless commentaries, and after World War II helped give rise to an entire academic discipline — American studies. But the topic has been notably out of fashion in the scholarly world. Now, from the well-known historian Simon Schama, we have a new, contrarian view that looks at what's unique in the American character, putting our past in the context of the election of the new president we are just inaugurating. [...]
"The big American story," Schama realizes, is "the war of toleration against conformity; the war of a faith that commands obedience against a faith that promises liberty." He does not say whether a fundamental change in the American character would occur if the wall between church and state crumbles under, for example, the kind of steady assault it has suffered in recent years. But he does note that the election in 2008, as he was writing, showed signs that "evangelical politics has had its day." In Europe, he says, the state crushes alternative dogmas; in America, the continuing dialogue between faith and freedom allows for pluralist beliefs.
An even bigger story is the making of Americans, the familiar narrative of America as asylum, melting pot, land of opportunity. Schama, who has a knack for apothegms, puts it this way: "In the Old World you knew your place; in the New World you made it." The language of the self-made can be found everywhere, he points out, whether in the words of Thomas Paine or Abraham Lincoln or Barack Obama.
But not everyone in America is welcome to participate in self-fashioning, Schama goes on. There was ambivalence over immigration present at the founding (for example, Benjamin Franklin denounced German newcomers), and it was never resolved. Immigration promoted liberty and prosperity while simultaneously posing a threat to national purity. The cycles of admission versus restriction have most often been tied to economic conditions. "Every time the American economy hits a reef," observes Schama, "the last on the boat are usually those whom nationalist politicians want to throw from the decks." The 1890s saw the establishment of the Immigration Restriction League, anxious about the influx of Southern and Eastern Europeans. Today an official league may not exist, but immigration officials watch out for groups seen as "undesirable."
Second, anti-immigration hysteria precedes economic downturns--a booming economy being a powerful magnet attracting immigrants seeking opportunity. The backlash against the immigrants then helps feed the slowdown which would occur naturally because of the cyclical nature of economies.
Vatican: Gay `behavior' in seminaries declines (RACHEL ZOLL , 1/15/09, AP)
A Vatican evaluation of U.S. Roman Catholic seminaries in response to the clergy sex abuse scandal concluded that administrators have largely been effective in rooting out "homosexual behavior" in the schools, although the agency said it persists.
The Congregation for Catholic Education sought a broad review of how the schools screen and educate prospective priests, but gave special attention to teachings on chastity and celibacy. The Vatican also directed evaluators to look for "evidence of homosexuality" in the schools.
In a report U.S. bishops released this week, the Vatican agency noted past "difficulties in the area of morality" within seminaries that "usually but not exclusively" involved "homosexual behavior." The evaluators said the appointment of better administrators in diocesan seminaries "has ensured that such difficulties have been overcome."
How Jazz Helped Hasten the Civil-Rights Movement (NAT HENTOFF, 1/14/09, Wall Street Journal)
As this music reached deeply into more white Americans, their sensitivity to segregation, affecting not only jazz musicians, increased. A dramatic illustration is the story told by Charles Black, a valuable member of Thurgood Marshall's team of lawyers during the long journey to Brown v. Board of Education. In 1931, growing up white in racist Austin, Texas, Black at age 16 heard Louis Armstrong in a hotel there. "He was the first genius I had ever seen," Black wrote long after in the Yale Law Journal. "It is impossible," he added, "to overstate the significance of a sixteen-year-old southern boy's seeing genius, for the first time, in a black. We literally never saw a black then in any but a servant's capacity. It was just then that I started toward the Brown case where I belonged."
Armstrong himself, in a September 1941 letter to jazz critic Leonard Feather, wrote: "I'd like to recall one of my most inspiring moments. I was playing a concert date in a Miami auditorium. I walked on stage and there I saw something I'd never seen. I saw thousands of people, colored and white, on the main floor. Not segregated in one row of whites and another row of Negroes. Just all together -- naturally. I thought I was in the wrong state. When you see things like that, you know you're going forward."
As Stanley Crouch, a keenly perceptive jazz historian and critic, wrote recently in the New York Daily News: "Once the whites who played it and the listeners who loved it began to balk at the limitations imposed by segregation, jazz became a futuristic social force in which one was finally judged purely on the basis of one's individual ability. Jazz predicted the civil rights movement more than any other art in America."
Also providing momentum were the roots of jazz -- going back to the field hollers of slaves reaching each other across plantations; gospel songs and prayers connecting slavery here with Old Testament stories of deliverance of Jews from slavery; and the blues, the common language of jazz, echoing in Armstrong singing "What did I do to be so black and blue?"
In his recently published "The Triumph of Music" (Harvard University Press), spanning four centuries and diverse nations, Tim Blanning of Cambridge University, tells how black musicians have helped prepare and participated in the civil-rights movement. As when opera singer Marian Anderson, denied permission to sing at Constitution Hall by the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1939, sparked the start of the 1963 March on Washington by rousing the huge crowd with "I've Been 'Buked and I've Been Scorned."
I was there, at the back of the stage, covering this typhoon of protest for Westinghouse radio; and during Martin Luther King's world-resounding speech, Tim Blanning writes, "Mahalia Jackson called out to him: 'Tell them about your dream, Martin!'"
The tribunes of soul music also quickened the tempo of what A. Philip Randolph, the primary organizer of the March on Washington, called "the unfinished revolution" -- among them James Brown, "Say It Loud -- I'm Black and I'm Proud."
During the 1950s and early '60s, when my day and night jobs were all about jazz, I wrote of the civil-rights surge among jazz creators: Sonny Rollins's "Freedom Suite"; "Alabama" recorded by John Coltrane; and an album I produced for Candid Records that was soon banned in South Africa -- Max Roach's "Freedom Now Suite."
It was Max who first taught me the connection between jazz and my other passion, the Bill of Rights. "Like the Constitution, we are individual voices," he said, "listening intently to all the other voices and creating a whole from all these personal voices."
Chávez Lets West Make Oil Bids as Prices Plunge (SIMON ROMERO, 1/15/09, NY Times)
President Hugo Chávez, buffeted by falling oil prices that threaten to damage his efforts to establish a Socialist-inspired state, is quietly courting Western oil companies once again. [...]
[T]he shift...shows how the global financial crisis is hampering Mr. Chávez’s ideological agenda and demanding his pragmatic side. At stake are no less than Venezuela’s economic stability and the sustainability of his rule. With oil prices so low, the longstanding problems plaguing Petróleos de Venezuela, the national oil company that helps keep the country afloat, have become much harder to ignore.
Embracing the Western companies may be the only way to shore up Petróleos de Venezuela and the raft of social welfare programs, like health care and higher education for the poor, that have been made possible by oil proceeds and have helped bolster his popular support.
Where Sweatshops Are a Dream (NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF, 1/15/09, NY Times)
Mr. Obama and the Democrats who favor labor standards in trade agreements mean well, for they intend to fight back at oppressive sweatshops abroad. But while it shocks Americans to hear it, the central challenge in the poorest countries is not that sweatshops exploit too many people, but that they don’t exploit enough.
Talk to these families in the dump, and a job in a sweatshop is a cherished dream, an escalator out of poverty, the kind of gauzy if probably unrealistic ambition that parents everywhere often have for their children.
“I’d love to get a job in a factory,” said Pim Srey Rath, a 19-year-old woman scavenging for plastic. “At least that work is in the shade. Here is where it’s hot.”
Another woman, Vath Sam Oeun, hopes her 10-year-old boy, scavenging beside her, grows up to get a factory job, partly because she has seen other children run over by garbage trucks. Her boy has never been to a doctor or a dentist, and last bathed when he was 2, so a sweatshop job by comparison would be far more pleasant and less dangerous.
I’m glad that many Americans are repulsed by the idea of importing products made by barely paid, barely legal workers in dangerous factories. Yet sweatshops are only a symptom of poverty, not a cause, and banning them closes off one route out of poverty. At a time of tremendous economic distress and protectionist pressures, there’s a special danger that tighter labor standards will be used as an excuse to curb trade.
Poll: Public Will Sour on Overhaul When Hill Debates the Details (John Reichard, 1/15/09, CQ)
[T]he findings detail the difficult terrain of public opinion that change-minded lawmakers must negotiate. “This is the audience they have to talk to and who they have to bring along,” said Mollyann Brodie, director of public opinion for the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, which conducted the survey along with researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health.
“The economic crisis has created an unprecedented window of opportunity for health reform,” said Kaiser CEO Drew Altman. “But we are in the early happy-talk stage on health reform, and the window could close if policymakers cannot move fairly quickly to take advantage of the opportunity they have.”
The survey was conducted Dec. 4-14 using a random sample of 1,628 adults ages 18 and older. [...]
But support faded when people were heard criticisms of specific approaches. Thus 71 percent said they would favor requiring employers to offer insurance or pay money into a government pool but that support dropped to 29 percent when those polled were asked what if they heard that paying for this may cause some employers to lay off some workers. Similarly, 67 percent said they would favor requiring all Americans to have health insurance with help for those who could not afford it. But only 19 percent said they would still support such a mandate if they heard that this could mean some people would be required to buy health insurance that they find too expensive or did not want.
Those kinds of criticisms of such mandates have been made in past debates, the pollsters said.
Majorities of those surveyed said they would be less likely to support a plan if they heard it would cause the government to get too involved in their personal health care decisions, that it was going to increase premiums or other out-of-pocket costs to rise, or that it would limit their own choice of doctors.
With respect to cost controls, sixty-six percent expressed support when asked if they would favor the creation of “a new independent federal scientific body which would decide whether approved new medical technology, procedures, and drugs should be covered by insurance, based on whether they are proven to be more effective than existing, less expensive treatments.”
But when told that “this might mean that in some cases, treatments or drugs recommended by a person’s own doctor wouldn’t be covered by their health insurance,” support plummeted to 32 percent and 63 percent said they were opposed.
There was clear bipartisan support for regulation; 78 percent of Americans favored requiring health insurance companies to cover anyone who applies, even if they have a pre-existing condition. This level of support remained high — 72 percent —even when those polled were given the argument often made that such a change may raise costs for healthier people as it lowers them for those who are less healthy. Seventy-seven percent of Democrats favored eliminating exclusions for pre-existing conditions and 58 percent of Republicans.
Sixty-five percent of Americans strongly or somewhat favor limiting administrative expenses health insurers can claim and 62 percent favor limiting the profits they can earn. This was true of majorities of both Democrats and Republicans.
Fifty-one percent of the public said there isn’t enough regulation of health care costs and 52 percent said there isn’t enough regulation of prescription drug prices.
With respect to taxes, 63 percent said they strongly favored increasing the cigarette tax to expand coverage and 51 percent said they favor doing so by raising income taxes for families making more than $250,000 a year. But the pollsters noted that cigarettes have been hit with tax hikes repeatedly.
And Harvard pollster Robert Blendon said in an interview after the briefing that his separate polling at the state level as the recession deepens shows that people are “furious” at the idea of raising state taxes to close budget shortfalls.
Raising federal taxes to fund a health expansion as a way to help people whose biggest complaint is about the affordability of care is likely to be extremely unpopular, he said.
That leaves policy makers with a dilemma, he noted. Where will they find the revenue to pay for a coverage expansion when opposition to a employer mandate could be strong and the downturn makes higher taxes even more unpopular?
Big Bang Evidence for God (Frank Turek, 1/14/09, Townhall)
Once there was no time, no space, and no matter and then it all banged into existence out of nothing with great precision.
The evidence led astronomer Dr. Robert Jastrow—who until his recent death was the director of the Mount Wilson observatory once led by Edwin Hubble—to author a book called God and the Astronomers. Despite revealing in the first line of chapter 1 that he was personally agnostic about ‘religious matters,” Jastrow reviewed some of the SURGE evidence and concluded, “Now we see how the astronomical evidence leads to a biblical view of the origin of the world. The details differ, but the essential elements in the astronomical and biblical accounts of Genesis are the same: the chain of events leading to man commenced suddenly and sharply at a definite moment in time, in a flash of light and energy.”
In an interview, Jastrow went even further, admitting that “Astronomers now find they have painted themselves into a corner because they have proven, by their own methods, that the world began abruptly in an act of creation to which you can trace the seeds of every star, every planet, every living thing in this cosmos and on the earth. And they have found that all this happened as a product of forces they cannot hope to discover. . . . That there are what I or anyone would call supernatural forces at work is now, I think, a scientifically proven fact.”
Jastrow was not alone in evoking the supernatural to explain the beginning. Athough he found it personally “repugnant,” General Relativity expert Arthur Eddington admitted the same when he said, “The beginning seems to present insuperable difficulties unless we agree to look on it as frankly supernatural.”
Report: Israel, Hamas agree on 2-week truce (Ali Waked, 01.15.09, Israel News)
Palestinian sources told Ynet on Thursday evening that Israel and Hamas have agreed on all the general outlines of the Egyptian ceasefire initiative to end the fighting in Gaza.
According to the report, the sides have agreed on the truce, on the supervision of the smuggling issue, on the crossings and on lifting of the blockade imposed on the Strip.
The noble plot: a review of Countdown to Valkyrie: the July Plot to Assassinate Hitler by Nigel Jones (Jason Webster, 15 January 2009, New Statesman)
Various attempts were made from almost as soon as Hitler became chancellor in 1933, but the best-organised and most celebrated of them was the plot spearheaded by Colonel Count Claus von Stauffenberg and carried out on 20 July 1944.
That this, like the ones before it, ultimately failed is only too evident. But as Nigel Jones's page-turning account demonstrates, it came nail-bitingly close to ridding the world of Hitler and overthrowing the entire Nazi regime just as the Western Front was opening up in France. With just a little more resolve - and a little more luck - things could easily have gone the conspirators' way. By this point in the war, the Allies had agreed that they would accept nothing less than unconditional surrender from Germany, but even then, with Hitler gone, thousands (perhaps millions) of lives might have been saved. Instead, we have Hitler's undeserved suicide in the Berlin bunker the following year, and Stauffenberg and his colleagues as martyrs to an attempt to save their country's "soul". As one of the plotters, Peter Yorck von Wartenburg, commented after his subsequent capture: "We want to kindle the torch of life; a sea of flame surrounds us."
Jones is a consummate storyteller - a basic, yet often overlooked skill among historians - and he tells us about the build-up to the plot in an easy, flowing style. Brief accounts of Hitler's rise to power and the period leading to the outbreak of war are interspersed with an overview of the opposition to the Nazis and the previous assassination attempts on Hitler. All this acts as a backdrop to the meat of the book: the July 1944 plot, code-named "Valkyrie".
Like most of the conspirators, Stauffenberg was driven to act by a combination of pride in the Wehrmacht and a deep Christian faith. The unnecessary disaster of Stalingrad offended the former, and the brutal racial policies clearly unfolding in occupied territories shocked the latter. Stauffenberg was a latecomer to the plot, but once on board he became its driving spirit and, eventually, its executioner.
Going Dark (Joe Posnanski, 1/15/09)
I have some Hall of Fame wrap-up thoughts, but those are for another day. Except this: I noticed some brilliant readers were breaking down Bert Blyleven’s ERA by wins, losses and no-decisions. They ARE interesting. Here are the numbers.
Blyleven in wins: 1.60 ERA
Blyleven in losses: 5.40 ERA
Blyleven in no-decisions: 3.90 ERA.
You can take away a lot from that. Here’s what I take away from it: Bert Blyleven in his 155 no-decision — in his NO DECISIONS — had the same ERA that Jack Morris had over his entire career. I think every voter who votes Morris but not Blyleven should have that tattooed on his/her arm.
Here are some other breakdowns of interest:
Greg Maddux: 1.83 ERA in wins; 5.66 ERA in losses; 3.16 ERA in NDs.
Roger Clemens: 1.73 ER in wins; 5.80 ERA in losses; 3.74 ERA in NDs.
Nolan Ryan: 1.45 ERA in wins; 5.60 ERA in losses; 3.44 ERA in NDs.
Tom Seaver: 1.61 ERA in wins; 4.92 ERA in losses; 3.49 ERA in NDs.
Gaylord Perry: 1.54 ERA in wins; 5.26 ERA in losses; 3.71 ERA in NDs.
Don Sutton: 1.66 ERA in wins; 5.70 ERA in losses; 3.64 ERA in NDs.
Phil Niekro: 1.77 ERA in wins; 5.37 ERA in losses; 4.02 ERA in NDs.
JIm Palmer: 1.52 ERA in wins; 5.02 ERA in losses; 4.00 ERA in NDs.
Steve Carlton: 1.73 ERA in wins; 5.28 ERA in losses; 4.32 ERA in NDs.
Ferguson Jenkins: 185 ERA in wins; 5.27 ERA in losses; 4.57 ERA in NDs.
Catfish Hunter: 1.76 ERA in wins; 5.43 ERA in losses; 4.27 ERA in NDs.
Jack Morris: 2.29 ERA in wins; 6.18 ERA in losses; 4.74 ERA in NDs.
Interesting. I have some thoughts about it … we’ll pull them out upon our return. In the meantime, I pulled out Morris for obvious reasons, he simply does not fit with the group above him. He was a durable guy who took advantage of a team that scored a LOT of runs. To have a substantial percentage of Hall of Fame voters call Jack Morris “a winner” while offering NO Hall of Fame support for Lou Whitaker and little for Alan Trammell tells you a lot, I think, about the misreading of statistics and the power of myth.
Obama Climate Czarina Was Member of Socialist Group's Environmental Commission (FOXNews.com, January 15, 2009)
Carol Browner, President-elect Barack Obama's choice to be his climate czarina, served until last summer as a member of a socialist organization whose mission is to enact progressive government policies, including toward environmental concerns like climate change.
Browner's name and biography have been scrubbed from the Web site of Socialist International, the umbrella group for 170 "social democratic, socialist and labor parties" in 55 countries. But a photo of Browner speaking in Greece to the group's Congress on June 30 was captured.
Darwinists Cannot Deny “Disturbing” Implications (Jan 15, 2009)
In its continuing celebration of Darwin, Science magazine printed an article about “Darwin’s Originality” by Peter J. Bowler. This philosopher from Queen’s University of Belfast described how Darwin’s theory of evolution had “disturbing” ramifications. “In this essay,” he began, “I argue that Darwin was truly original in his thinking, and I support this claim by addressing the related issue of defining just why the theory was so disturbing to his contemporaries.” [...]
In his final section, “The Struggle for Existence,” Bowler is not so keen to let Darwin and the modern Darwinists off the hook with a “Get out of jail free” card just for being scientists. In the first place, the Malthusian idea of struggle for existence, which was pervasive in Victorian England, could have been applied in different ways. Bowler argues that Spencer applied it to individual effort to succeed. “Much of what later became known as ‘social Darwinism’ was, in fact, Spencerian social Lamarckism expressed in the terminology of struggle popularized by Darwin,” he claimed. What Darwin did, though, was make this struggle metaphor something ruthless and impersonal:
This point is important in the context of the charge raised by modern opponents of Darwinism that the theory is responsible for the appearance of a whole range of unpleasant social policies based on struggle. Darwin exploited the idea of the struggle for existence in a way that was unique until paralleled by Wallace nearly 20 years later. Their theory certainly fed into the movements that led toward various kinds of social Darwinism, but it was not the only vehicle for that transition in the late 19th century. It did, however, highlight the harsher aspects of the consequences of struggle. The potential implications were drawn out even more clearly when Galton argued that it would be necessary to apply artificial selection to the human race in order to prevent “unfit” individuals from reproducing and undermining the biological health of the population. This was the eugenics program, and in its most extreme manifestation at the hands of the Nazis, it led not just to the sterilization but also to the actual elimination of those unfortunates deemed unfit by the state. Did Darwin’s emphasis on the natural elimination of maladaptive variants help to create a climate of opinion in which such atrocities became possible?
It has to be admitted that, by making death itself a creative force in nature, Darwin introduced a new and profoundly disturbing insight into the world, an insight that seems to have resonated with the thinking of many who did not understand or accept the details of his theory.
Darwin himself, of course, could not have known what was coming. Lest anyone misunderstand, Bowler states clearly that “Darwinism was not ‘responsible’ for social Darwinism or eugenics in any simple way.” In fact, some eugenicists and social Darwinists denied the mechanism of natural selection. The Nazis did not want to believe that Aryans had evolved from apes. There were a variety of views about evolution and the struggle for existence. Nevertheless, Bowler is not ready to let Darwin off the hook so easily:
But by proposing that evolution worked primarily through the elimination of useless variants, Darwin created an image that could all too easily be exploited by those who wanted the human race to conform to their own pre-existing ideals. In the same way, his popularization of the struggle metaphor focused attention onto the individualistic aspects of Spencer’s philosophy.
This brings us back to the original question: can scientists distance themselves from their findings? Keep in mind that Darwinism goes beyond a discovery of facts about the living world. The Origin did not really catalog any new facts of biology that were not already known. What he did was put them together into “one long argument” that presented an entire history of life, a world view, that generated all the variety of living organisms via selfishness and struggle. When any scientist proposes to change the way we think about the world, Bowler argues that he or she must be willing to take responsibility for the consequences. Let’s listen to his closing paragraph, where he generalizes the Darwin saga to all of science.
Modern science recognizes the importance of Darwin’s key insights when used as a way of explaining countless otherwise mysterious aspects of the natural world. But some of those insights came from sources with profoundly disturbing implications, and many historians now recognize that the theory, in turn, played into the way those implications were developed by later generations. This is not a simple matter of science being “misused” by social commentators, because Darwin’s theorizing would almost certainly have been different had he not drawn inspiration from social, as well as scientific, influences. We may well feel uncomfortable with those aspects of his theory today, especially in light of their subsequent applications to human affairs. But if we accept science’s power to upset the traditional foundations of how we think about the world, we should also accept its potential to interact with moral values.
On National Sanctity of Human Life Day, we recognize that each life has inherent dignity and matchless value, and we reaffirm our steadfast determination to defend the weakest and most vulnerable members of our society.
America was founded on the belief that all men are created equal and have an inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and our country remains committed to upholding that founding principle. Since taking office, I have signed legislation to help protect life at all stages, and my Administration will continue to encourage adoption, fund abstinence education and crisis pregnancy programs, and support faith-based groups. Today, as our society searches for new ways to ease human suffering, we must pursue the possibilities of science in a manner that respects the sacred gift of life and upholds our moral values.
Our Nation has made progress in its efforts to protect human life, and we will strive to change hearts and minds with compassion and decency. On National Sanctity of Human Life Day and throughout the year, we help strengthen the culture of life in America and work for the day when every child is welcomed in life and protected in law.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim Sunday, January 20, 2008, as National Sanctity of Human Life Day. I call upon all Americans to recognize this day with appropriate ceremonies and to underscore our commitment to respecting and protecting the life and dignity of every human being.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this eighteenth day of January, in the year of our Lord two thousand eight, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-second.
GEORGE W. BUSH
"The Palestinians must be made to understand in the deepest recesses of their consciousness that they are a defeated people", said Moshe Yaalon, the then Israel Defence Forces (IDF) chief-of-staff in 2002. The war launched by Israel in the Gaza strip at the end of 2008 is designed in part to force the Hamas movement too to internalise this belief. It will not and cannot work; indeed, it is my argument that the war will have the opposite effect.
After three weeks of intense and round-the-clock attacks by air, land and sea, Israel is far from achieving either its immediate aim of halting rocket-attacks from Gaza or the larger "psychological" aim enunciated by Moshe Yaalon. It has become apparent that the war itself will instead convince many more Palestinians that their ability again to withstand an assault by the fourth most powerful army in the world is a source of their power rather than their weakness.
In this, the 1.5 million Palestinians under siege in Gaza are writing a new chapter in their own uncompleted modern history. They are also demonstrating a more general lesson of warfare: that wars and armed conflicts have unexpected consequences, including often the creation of a new reality quite different from what it was launched to achieve.
In this case, the outcome of the Gaza war of 2008-09 is likely to leave Hamas stronger and with an enhanced legitimacy among the Palestinians and within the region.
Why A New Power Grid Will Pay: The government can easily sell off the right infrastructure investments. (Alexander Mishkin, 01.15.09, Forbes)
Officials have thus far dispensed TARP money in ways that make it very likely that private sector recipients of those funds will repay the government over time. As a result, taxpayers will ultimately be responsible for little to none of the TARP expenditures.
As the TARP money has been doled out to banks and other financial companies, the government has taken back preferred stock and equity warrants in these companies.
The Treasury Department can sell these securities or hold them until they are redeemed by the companies that issued them. So in any company that survives--and most will with the benefit of government support--the government should get all its money back with interest.
New Hampshire Sen. Judd Gregg's recent estimate that the TARP funds have earned the government a profit of $8 billion in three months only underscores this point. As the new administration looks for ways to revive the economy, it should favor projects that could be sold or leased to the private sector after completion.
For example, the federal government could rebuild the nation's electricity transmission grid.
The Elephant in the Room: McCain may be Obama's secret weapon: A desire by both men to secure their places in history might forge an unlikely pairing (Rick Santorum, 1/15/09, Philadelphia Inquirer)
Obama was a candidate of scant accomplishment but grand promise. Promise won, but promising to be a unifying, transformational force creates high expectations. Rolling Republicans right away would shatter that Hollywood story line.
Obama also faces the reality of needing at least one Republican senator to join him to break filibusters. Many speculate that three moderate Republicans will provide the necessary Senate votes and the imprimatur of bipartisanship.
Still, Obama and the GOP moderates will not produce the kind of post-partisan harmony that Obama promised and the public now expects.
But I believe Obama has an ace in the hole among Senate Republicans. This unlikely ace can deliver not only the GOP moderates needed to break a filibuster, but also the stamp of bipartisanship: the 2008 GOP standard bearer, John McCain.
McCain was once the mainstream media darling, back when he joined Democrats on a host of issues. He prized his maverick moniker and used it to propel himself onto the national scene in the 2000 Republican presidential primary. Early in the Bush years, he shored up his status as the media's favorite Republican by opposing Bush on taxes and the environment.
But this love fest came to a halt when McCain became the front-runner for the GOP nomination. First he began to sound more like a conservative by altering his stands on immigration, the environment and taxes. Then he named Sarah Palin his running mate. It was too much for a media that had fallen head over heels for Obama. The media had a new darling.
In McCain's mind, however, losing the presidency will not be the final chapter of his life story. He knows the path to "Big Media" redemption. Working with the man who vanquished him in November will show them all the real McCain again.
Remember, it was this onetime prisoner of war who led the charge to open diplomatic relations with Vietnam. If that past is prologue, and McCain's legislative record is any guide, he will not just join with Obama but lead the charge in Congress on global warming, immigration "reform," the closing of Guantanamo, federal funding for embryonic-stem-cell research, and importation of prescription drugs.