February 28, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:55 PM


Israel PM's family link to Hamas peace bid
: Olmert rejected Palestinian attempts to set up talks through go-between before Gaza invasion (Peter Beaumont, 3/01/09, The Observer)

Hamas, the militant Palestinian organisation, attempted to conduct secret talks with the Israeli leadership in the protracted run-up to the recent war in Gaza - with messages being passed from the group at one stage through a member of prime minister Ehud Olmert's family. [...]

Over two years, from the kidnap of Shalit, which triggered Israel's economic blockade of the Gaza Strip and its 1.5 million residents right up to the days before Israel launched its three-week long assault, Hamas officials expressed a willingness to talk to Israel directly about the kidnap, conditions for a new ceasefire and the ending of the blockade.

The motivation - from Hamas's side - stemmed from a growing frustration with the role of Egypt as an intermediary over key issues between the two sides, especially in relation to ceasefires.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:43 PM


Bangladesh mutineers name tycoon with Pak links (Indrani Bagchi, 3/01/09, Times of India)

The first signs of a Pakistani footprint is showing up in the bloody mutiny that shook Bangladesh this week.

As mass graves continue to spew forth more bloody tales - 10 more bodies have been recovered, bringing the toll to 76 - what is emerging slowly is a larger design behind the apparently senseless killing over the past couple of days.

The preliminary interrogation of some of the rebels has thrown up the name of Salauddin Qadeer Chowdhury, a well-known shipping magnate and reportedly very close to the Pakistan military-intelligence complex and the opposition BNP.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:22 PM


Obama's Stunted Stimulus (Robert J. Samuelson, February 23, 2009, Washington Post)

Judged by his own standards, President Obama's $787 billion economic stimulus program is deeply disappointing. For weeks, Obama has described the economy in grim terms. "This is not your ordinary run-of-the-mill recession," he said at his Feb. 9 news conference. It's "the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression." Given these dire warnings, you'd expect the stimulus package to focus almost exclusively on reviving the economy. It doesn't, and for that, Obama bears much of the blame.

The case for a huge stimulus -- which I support -- is to prevent a devastating downward economic spiral. Spending is tumbling worldwide. In the fourth quarter of 2008, the U.S. economy contracted at a nearly 4 percent annual rate. In Japan, the economy fell at a nearly 13 percent rate; in Europe, the rate was about 6 percent. These are gruesome declines. If the economic outlook is as bleak as Obama says, there's no reason to dilute the upfront power of the stimulus. But that's what he's done.

His politics compromise the program's economics.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:19 PM


Obama’s Greenhouse Gas Gamble (JOHN M. BRODER, 2/27/09, NY Times)

[T]he full costs and benefits of controlling greenhouse gas emissions remain unknown, and perhaps unknowable. While there is rough consensus on the science of global warming — with some notable and vocal objectors — there is less agreement on the economics of the problem and very little on the policy prescriptions to address it. And while a cap-and-trade approach bears substantial cost, it also brings a benefit whose value is incalculable — a steady decrease in emissions that scientists say will over time reduce the risk of climate catastrophe.

Mr. Obama’s budget estimates $645 billion in cap-and-trade revenue over the next 10 years that will largely be paid by oil, electric power and heavy industries that produce the majority of carbon dioxide and other gases blamed for the warming of the planet. Many of these costs are expected to be passed on to consumers.

Why such a convoluted contraption--which has already failed in Eutrope--rather than direct taxation of consumption?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:15 PM


Web site tracks Obama’s unilateral actions (Kansascity.com, 2/27/09)

With 16 executive orders and 11 memorandums issued to the executive branch in his first 30 days in office, President Barack Obama leads all of his predecessors in volume of unilateral action.

These facts are being tracked by the American Presidency Project, a Web site developed by a pair of political scientists at the University of California-Santa Barbara.

...one of the things that made W so objectionable to the Looney Left?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:07 PM


The special relationship is going global (Gordon Brown, 3/01/09, Times of London)

[T]here is no international partnership in recent history that has served the world better than the special relationship between Britain and the United States.

It is a relationship that has endured and flourished because it is based not simply on our shared history but on the enduring values that bind us together – our countries founded upon liberty, our histories forged through democracy and an unshakeable belief in the power of enterprise and opportunity.

But if it reflects our values and our histories, this special relationship is also a partnership of purpose, renewed by every generation to reflect the challenges we face. In the 1940s it found its full force defeating fascism and building the postwar international order; in the cold war era we fought the growth of nuclear weapons and when the Berlin Wall fell we saw the end of communism. In this new century, since the horrors visited on America in 2001, we have worked in partnership to defeat terrorism.

Now, in this generation, we must renew our work together once again.

...but recall how Gordon was going to show his distance from Tony and Barrack from George by toning down the special relationship?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:02 PM


A Maine College Baseball Team That Is Always on the Road (BILL PENNINGTON, 2/28/09, NY Times)

Two days after leaving the Canadian border town of Presque Isle, Me., the bus with 14 players, 2 coaches and a manager pulled into a lot at the baseball field of Ferrum College in western Virginia. The drive had been 22 hours, but for this baseball team, the journey was finally over.

Or was it just beginning?

This February day’s doubleheader against Ferrum would be the first of 37 successive away games scheduled for the University of Maine at Presque Isle team this year.

Because winter can last until May in northern Maine, Presque Isle routinely plays its entire season on the road. With their campus 400 miles north of Boston, the Owls have not played a home baseball game since 2005, when there were two.

“You can either complain that the baseball field is buried under six feet of snow, or you drive to where you can play baseball,” said Tyler Delaney, a junior infielder. “We don’t complain.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:56 PM


Vacancies abound in crucial US posts: Obama vetting policy slows appointments (Farah Stockman and Bryan Bender, February 27, 2009, Boston Globe)

Only about 70 people have been formally nominated to fill the roughly 500 senior posts in the Defense, State, Treasury, and Education departments and dozens of other government agencies, according to White House records. Dozens of nominations are still pending as FBI and White House officials scrub potential nominees' tax returns, financial ties, and former activities in government.

It is not unusual for a new administration to take several months to fill political slots, but the absence of senior officials has been felt more keenly under Obama, who is vowing to quickly disburse a $787 billion stimulus package, revamp education and healthcare, and tackle two ongoing wars.

"It is extraordinarily unusual to have something like this stimulus package" this early in an administration, said Joel D. Aberbach, director of the Center for American Politics and Public Policy at the University of California at Los Angeles. "There has been this big expansion of mission in some areas, so that may exacerbate the consequences of appointments taking awhile."

The situation, which some say is tying up the administration's agenda, was spotlighted yesterday when White House economic adviser Paul Volcker called the absence of senior Treasury officials "shameful."

"The Secretary of the Treasury is sitting there without a deputy, without any undersecretaries, without any, as far as I know, assistant secretaries responsible in substantive areas at a time of very severe crisis," Volcker told a Joint Economic Committee hearing on Capitol Hill. "He shouldn't be sitting there alone."

"You can't be the leading economic power in the world with all the problems we have and have a weak Treasury," he added.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:38 PM


The Dangers Of Overselling Evolution: Focusing on Darwin and his theory doesn't further scientific progress. (Philip S. Skell, 02.23.09, Forbes)

[University of Chicago biologist Jerry] Coyne seems to believe the major importance of biological science is its speculations about matters which cannot be observed, tested and verified, such as origin of life, speciation, the essences of our fossilized ancestors, the ultimate causes of their changes, etc.

Experimental biology has dramatically increased our understanding of the intricate workings within living organisms that account for their survival, showing how they continue to function despite the myriad assaults on them from their environments. These advances in knowledge are attributable to the development of new methodologies and instruments, unimaginable in the preceding centuries, applied to the investigation of living organisms. Crucial to all fruitful experiments in biology is their design, for which Darwin's and Wallace's principles apparently provide no guidance.

Contrary to the beliefs of Professor Coyne and some other defenders of Darwin, these advances are not due to studies of an organism's ancestors that are recovered from fossil deposits. Those rare artifacts--which have been preserved as fossils--are impressions in stones which, even when examined with the heroic efforts of paleontologists, cannot reveal the details that made these amazing living organisms function.

To conflate contemporary scientific studies of existing organisms with those of the paleontologists serves mainly to misguide the public and teachers of the young. An examination of the papers in the National Academy of Sciences' premiere journal, The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), as well as many other journals and the Nobel awards for biological discoveries, supports the crucial distinction I am making.

Examining the major advances in biological knowledge, one fails to find any real connection between biological history and the experimental designs that have produced today's cornucopia of knowledge of how the great variety of living organisms perform their functions. It is our knowledge of how these organisms actually operate, not speculations about how they may have arisen millions of years ago, that is essential to doctors, veterinarians, farmers and other practitioners of biological science. [...]

In 1942, Nobel Laureate Ernst Chain wrote that his discovery of penicillin (with Howard Florey and Alexander Fleming) and the development of bacterial resistance to that antibiotic owed nothing to Darwin's and Alfred Russel Wallace's evolutionary theories.

The same can be said about a variety of other 20th-century findings: the discovery of the structure of the double helix; the characterization of the ribosome; the mapping of genomes; research on medications and drug reactions; improvements in food production and sanitation; new surgeries; and other developments.

Additionally, I have queried biologists working in areas where one might have thought the Darwinian paradigm could guide research, such as the emergence of resistance to antibiotics and pesticides. Here, as elsewhere, I learned that evolutionary theory provides no guidance when it comes to choosing the experimental designs. Rather, after the breakthrough discoveries, it is brought in as a narrative gloss.

The essence of the theory of evolution is the hypothesis that historical diversity is the consequence of natural selection acting on variations. Regardless of the verity it holds for explaining biohistory, it offers no help to the experimenter--who is concerned, for example, with the goal of finding or synthesizing a new antibiotic, or how it can disable a disease-producing organism, what dosages are required and which individuals will not tolerate it. Studying biohistory is, at best, an entertaining distraction from the goals of a working biologist.

It is noteworthy that Darwin's and Wallace's theories of evolution have been enormously aggrandized since the 1850s. Through the writings of neo-Darwinian biologists, they have subsumed many of the biological experimental discoveries of the 20th century. This is so despite the fact that those discoveries were neither predicted nor heuristically guided by evolutionary theory.

On the other hand, their pursuit of the distraction provides the rest of us with endless amusement.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:18 PM


Cassel and Vrabel to KC for pick (Christopher Price, 2/29/09, It Is What It Is)

While dissecting the weekend trade that sends quarterback Matt Cassel and linebacker Mike Vrabel to the Chiefs’ for their second-round pick in April — the 34th overall selection in the draft — I can’t help but believe this trade is not an isolated event, but the first step in a larger move (or series of moves) that’s coming sooner rather than later. [...]

New England was up against the cap when free agency began Friday at midnight with roughly $3 million to spare. Now, they’ve been able to clear roughly $18 million in space with the trade, and with holes at linebacker and in the secondary, you figure they aren’t just moving that kind of money around in hopes of re-signing James Sanders. There are a number of big names left out there — especially at linebacker — and now, the Patriots have the cap space to make a deal. They also have more flexibility when it comes to some players who are nearing the end of their current deals, a group that includes Logan Mankins, Stephen Gostkowski, Vince Wilfork and Richard Seymour.

In addition, New England adds a draft pick. It now holds five of the first 89 selections in April’s draft — the 23rd, 34th, 47th (from San Diego), 58th and 89th.

Keep the picks and take 5 defenders.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:45 PM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:04 AM


The Democratic Party Could Face an Internal Civil War: 'Gentry' and 'populist' factions square off on energy and the environment. (Joel Kotkin, 2/28/09, WSJ)

Broadly speaking, there is a long-standing conflict inside the Democratic Party between gentry liberals and populists. This division is not the same as in the 1960s, when the major conflicts revolved around culture and race as well as on foreign policy. Today the emerging fault-lines follow mostly regional, geographical and, most importantly, class differences.

Gentry liberals cluster largely in cities, wealthy suburbs and college towns. They include disproportionately those with graduate educations and people living on the coasts. Populists tend to be located more in middle- and working-class suburbs, the Great Plains and industrial Midwest. They include a wider spectrum of Americans, including many whose political views are somewhat changeable and less subject to ideological rigor. [...]

Although peace now reigns between the Clintons and the new president, the broader gentry-populist split seems certain to fester at both the congressional and local levels -- and President Obama will be hard-pressed to negotiate this divide. Gentry liberals are very "progressive" when it comes to issues such as affirmative action, gay rights, the environment and energy policy, but are not generally well disposed to protectionism or auto-industry bailouts, which appeal to populists. Populists, meanwhile, hated the initial bailout of Wall Street -- despite its endorsement by Mr. Obama and the congressional leadership.

Geography is clearly a determining factor here. Standout antifinancial bailout senators included Sens. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, Tim Johnson of South Dakota, and Jon Tester of Montana. On the House side, the antibailout faction came largely from places like the Great Plains and Appalachia, as well as from the suburbs and exurbs, including places like Arizona and interior California.

Gentry liberals, despite occasional tut-tutting, fell lockstep for the bailout. Not one Northeastern or California Democratic senator opposed it. In the House, "progressives" such as Nancy Pelosi and Barney Frank who supported the financial bailout represent districts with a large concentration of affluent liberals, venture capitalists and other financial interests for whom the bailout was very much a matter of preserving accumulated (and often inherited) wealth.

Energy and the environment are potentially even more explosive issues. Gentry politicians tend to favor developing only alternative fuels and oppose expanding coal, oil or nuclear energy. Populists represent areas, such as the Great Lakes region, where manufacturing still plays a critical role and remains heavily dependent on coal-based electricity. They also tend to have ties to economies, such as in the Great Plains, Appalachia and the Intermountain West, where smacking down all new fossil-fuel production threatens lots of jobs -- and where a single-minded focus on alternative fuels may drive up total energy costs on the farm, make life miserable again for truckers, and put American industrial firms at even greater disadvantage against foreign competitors.

In the coming years, Mr. Obama's "green agenda" may be a key fault line. Unlike his notably mainstream appointments in foreign policy and economics, he's tilted fairly far afield on the environment with individuals such as John Holdren, a longtime acolyte of the discredited neo-Malthusian Paul Ehrlich, and Carol Browner, who was Bill Clinton's hard-line EPA administrator.

...in order to comprehend how little a temporary Republican loss of power means to the long term triumph of American conservatism.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:01 AM


Illinois' highest-security prison a study in isolation: The state's most dangerous inmates live with sparse human contact, no jobs and little chance for education at Tamms. (Gary Marx, February 28, 2009, LA Times)

A few times a week, Joseph Dole stands in a back corner of the outdoor recreation area at Tamms Correctional Center, straining to catch a ray of sunlight.

"About four feet gets sun," said the rail-thin Dole, who is serving a life sentence for murder. "You can only get it if they call yard between 11 and 1. I just stand there. You feel warm, you feel refreshed."

Another murderer, Adolfo Rosario, said he hadn't shaken anyone's hand since his transfer to Tamms 11 years ago. "There is no contact at all, none," he said.

"The hardest part is the isolation," said Tyrone Dorn, serving time for carjacking. "It's like being buried alive."

The so-called supermax section of the prison was built in the 1990s to house Illinois' most dangerous inmates. Human-rights activists persistently criticize it. The long isolation of supermax prisons, opponents say, drives inmates to mental illness -- when the inmates aren't already ill.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:51 AM


Obama's Intelligence Blunder (Jon Chait, February 28, 2009, Washington Post)

Most of President Obama's "missteps" to date have been Washington peccadilloes of the "let's find something to complain about" sort. But Obama has made one major mistake that has attracted little public attention: his appointment of Charles Freeman as chairman of the National Intelligence Council. Freeman was attacked by pro-Israel activists, but the contretemps over Freeman's view of Israel misses the broader problem, which is that he's an ideological fanatic.

That may sound like an odd description for a respectable bureaucrat and impeccable establishmentarian such as Freeman. What's more, he's not an ideologue of the sort who draws most of the attention. When most people think of foreign policy ideology, they mean neoconservatism, which dominated the Bush administration. Broadly speaking, neoconservatism is obsessed with the moral differences between democracies and non-democracies. At its most simplistic (which, alas, it nearly always is) neoconservatism means supporting the "good guys" and fighting the "bad guys." As most of us have seen, neoconservatism has trouble recognizing that the good guys aren't perfectly good and that the bad guys aren't comic book villains.

Freeman belongs to the camp that's the mortal enemy of the neoconservatives: the realists. Realist ideology pays no attention to moral differences between states.

While it's accurate to say that Realism is geopolitics for the amoral, Mr. Chait's specific complaint -- there are many better ones -- about neoconservatism is quite backwards. Idealistic foreign policy doesn't require the good guys be perfect. It is opponents who insist that our allies can't be the good guys because they aren't perfect. Or that Hitler, for example, wasn't completely bad because he was a vegetarian.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:28 AM


Questions for Bret Mckenzie and Jemaine Clement: Dynamic Duo (Interview by DEBORAH SOLOMON, 3/01/09, NY Times Magazine)

Do you find it surprising that you’ve managed to have a hit television show in spite of your twangy accents?
Jemaine: In New Zealand, people don’t like the New Zealand accent, so we weren’t able to get a TV show there.

What do they watch in New Zealand?
Jemaine: American shows. Bret: They don’t understand their own accents, so they don’t talk very much.

What do Australians think of your accent?
Jemaine: They think our accent is crude. Bret: They do make fun of our accents when we’re there.

You first met as drama students at Victoria University in Wellington.
Bret: It started off as a punch-out. Jemaine: In the New Zealand tradition, we started off fighting like two Russell Crowes. Now we’re amicable rivals. Bret: In between fights we’d write comedy songs.

Is that a joke?
Bret: I don’t know.

Is it true there are more sheep than people in New Zealand?
Jemaine: Ten times more. But in America there are probably more ants than people. Bret: More cars than people.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:09 AM


Happy Birthday, Mr. Ripley (JAMES CAMPBELL, February 4, 2009, NY Times)

After her novel “Ripley Under Ground” was published in 1970, Patricia Highsmith presented a copy to a friend with the inscription “For Charles with love . . . from Tom (Pat).” According to her biographer, Andrew Wilson, Highsmith occasionally signed letters in the persona of her favorite character, a charming psychopath whose dedication to a life of art and refinement has erased his conscience. Highsmith recorded five installments of the Tom Ripley story over a period of 37 years. She was the author of 17 other novels, in many of which it is the good man (seldom a woman) who suffers, snaring himself in a trap of his own unconscious devising. With Ripley, matters are different. He has killed at least eight people — most of them unsavory types — yet he always walks free, as, perhaps, he continues to do. Highsmith died after a prolonged illness in 1995, but she gave no indication that Ripley had gone before.

Tom first stepped into view in “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” written in six months in 1954. He was 25 years old, which means he celebrates his 80th birthday in 2009.

...he was the perfect hero for our time.

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February 27, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:43 PM


Broad support for Obama Iraq plan (BBC, 2/28/09)

US Republicans have broadly welcomed President Barack Obama's plan to withdraw most troops from Iraq by 2010.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:52 PM


A shot across the bows of philistinism: What sets Denis Dutton’s lucid The Art Instinct apart from other books is not his attempt to use Charles Darwin to explain our cultural needs, but his insistence on both art’s universality and necessity. (Tim Black, Spiked Review of Books)

With a title invoking Steven Pinker’s The Language Instinct, and a publication date to coincide with the two-hundredth anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth, the reader could be forgiven for approaching Denis Dutton’s The Art Instinct with a degree of trepidation. I, for one, feared some sort of biological reductivism, an attempt, perhaps, to grasp aesthetic experience in terms of the material evolution of the brain, or to see the vast panoply of artistic achievement as little more than an evolutionary by-product of the survival of the fittest.

I needn’t have worried. For a start, The Art Instinct is beautifully written, gliding effortlessly from explaining the knotted abstraction of Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Judgement to a brilliantly pithy description of the meaning of kitsch. But the easy elegance of the writing, its ability to shift from concise explications of aesthetic theory to a critique of the relativism of twentieth-century anthropology, before sidling into personal, poetic passages on the meaning of art, is no accident of charm. Rather it touches upon the animus of Dutton’s book. For Dutton, a professor of the philosophy of art, is moved, not by a crude evolutionary psychologist’s desire to explain art in terms of evolutionary theory, but by a passion for art itself or, to be more precise, a conviction that art is essential to our humanity. That, he says, is what The Art Instinct is trying to explain: ‘the universal appeal of the arts – from soap operas to symphonies – across cultures and through history’.

Of course, this is not to diminish the centrality of evolutionary science to Dutton’s thesis. [...]

The universal preference for a particular type of landscape painting taps into universal innate inclinations formed during the Pleistocene period, ‘the 1.6million years during which modern human beings evolved’. Featuring, amongst other things, water, open spaces of low grasses interspersed with thickets of trees, evidence of animal or bird life, and an opening up to an unimpeded view of the horizon, this predilection for a particular landscape testifies to a primordial memory of the African Savannas, the scene for a large portion of human evolution 80,000 generations in length. Each element of the enigmatically appealing landscape painting is tailored to suit the needs of these ancient nomads, from the canopy of trees for shelter, to the food and water necessary for human sustenance.

It’s a compelling thesis. Yet if it struggles to account for the beauty of the worked-up nature captured, say, in the rural England of painter John Constable’s work, then might it seem irrelevant before other forms of painting, say a thirteenth-century portrait of the Magi, let alone before sonnets or symphonies? So, manifest in our hitherto ineffable attraction to a certain natural vistas, the theory of natural selection – ‘random mutation and selective retention’ – may well have fitted the human brain ‘with an assortment of mental blades and implements for solving specific problems of survival in prehistory’. But as a theory it seems ill-suited to explain, as Dutton himself puts it, all that is ‘creative, exuberant, imaginative, romantic, wasteful, storytelling, witty, loquacious, poetic [and] ideology-inventing’ in mankind.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:47 PM


From Nixonland to Obamaland: A thorough and absorbing account of how Richard Nixon took advantage of shifting political dynamics in the 1960s sheds new light on that era, and also on American politics today. (Sean Collins, Spiked Review of Books)

Historian Rick Perlstein tackles head-on the question of the relationship between Nixon’s ascendancy and the changes occurring in American society in Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America. Indeed, putting Nixon’s name in the title might be slightly misleading: the book is really a broad review of society and culture as well as politics in this period, and for long episodes Nixon virtually drops out of the picture. Weighing in at a hefty 748 pages, Nixonland is as sprawling, noisy and character-full as was the era itself. While uneven at times, it is a riveting read.

Indeed, Friend Perstein has given us an enjoyable history of the '60-early '70s marred only by its organizing thesis--that the decades were a reflection of Richard Nixon. the times created the man, not vice versa.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:38 PM


Kumquats: Sweet-tarts of the citrus rodeo: The perplexing fruit -- yes, you eat the rind too -- is finding respect with cooks and specialty growers alike. (David Karp, February 25, 2009, LA Times)

Growing up in Los Angeles in the 1960s, my brother and I knew just what to do with kumquats from the potted tree on the patio: We tossed them at each other. Like most Californians, we never ate them.

Kumquats do present a challenge for the uninitiated. In most citrus, the juicy pulp is consumed and the peel discarded. Kumquats, however, are eaten whole, and their appeal stems from the contrast between their tart flesh and thick, sweet rind.

But maybe folks are finally catching on. Without much fanfare, more and more kumquats are being grown in California, which now leads the nation in production. Granted, it's still a minor crop compared to other citrus, but chefs and home cooks alike are giving kumquats more respect, and specialty growers are planting intriguing, previously rare varieties.

Kumquats are intense, complex flavor bombs.

...real men use horse chestnuts as weapons.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:33 PM


Slow cookers have evolved over the decades: Crock-Pots of the '70s have given way to sleeker, more versatile models and recipes go way beyond soups and stews. (Noelle Carter, February 25, 2009, LA Times)

It all started with the Crock-Pot. Rival introduced the slow cooker to the market with the Crock-Pot brand in 1971. Almost overnight, the Crock-Pot enjoyed a popularity matched only by the fondue pot and defined a certain kind of culinary "chic" for the decade.

It "cooks all day while the cook's away," one 1976 advertisement declared. The Crock-Pot promised complete meals, cooked slowly over long periods of time, costing mere pennies to operate and requiring little, if any, supervision. Rival posted Crock-Pot sales of $2 million its first year on the market, and sales peaked at $93 million after just four years. Inevitably, it wasn't long before competitors jumped on the bandwagon and flooded the market. By the end of the 1970s, sales of slow cookers, including the Crock-Pot, decreased dramatically.

Of course, the slow cooker also had its detractors -- and most complaints were about the food. Many thought everything tasted the same no matter what was in the pot. Others claimed the food dried out despite the closed cooking environment (the lid should prevent moisture from escaping). Some complained about the lack of flavor, others about the lack of visual appeal. Still others said the slow cooker just made mush.

Andrew Schloss, author of the new "Art of the Slow Cooker: 80 Exciting New Recipes," says quality wasn't really a consideration with many of the early recipes. "Earlier recipes were so much about convenience that a lot of the food wasn't that good. Convenience started to trump quality."

People liked the convenience of the slow cooker, they just didn't necessarily like what had been cooked in them. Recipes began to evolve -- slowly -- as interest in the slow cooker grew once again over the last several years. And the cookers evolved too, with manufacturers offering different sizes and inserts (some that allow for conventional stove-top cooking) as well as offering programmable timers, "smart" settings and digital probes. Slow cookers improved cosmetically too.

Today, about 83% of American households own a slow cooker, according to the NPD Group, a leading marketing research firm. Of these households, almost half used a slow cooker within the past month.

Stephanie O'Dea blogged about using her slow cooker every day last year. Also known as the "Crockpot Lady," her adventures (crockpot365.blogspot.com) were a hit, landing her a spot on the "Rachael Ray" show and spawning a cookbook, due out this fall.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:03 PM


France Is Back: With Sarkozy in power, it's good to say ''I'm from Paris'' again. (Felix Marquardt, 02.27.09, Forbes)

As a kid in the early '80s, traveling to and from the French capital, I remember the irrepressible sense of pride I felt about living in one of the world's great cities. Paris was important. The often envious looks I saw on our foreign hosts' faces as they bid us farewell on our way to "Pa-ree!" at the end of holidays made it obvious my family and I were lucky to call it home.

It was just as clear something had changed when I returned in 1998 after my studies. There was suddenly something quite peripheral, indeed almost provincial about the city. By 2001, the gap between the urgent, planetary debate the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 attacks had spawned, and the parochial, indeed sadly introverted conversations they led to in France was demoralizing.

Paris just wasn't "where the world was at" anymore. Worse, in the years that followed, I was surprised to see that the growing unpopularity of the U.S. was almost (never quite) matched by the impatience I saw in many of my foreign interlocutors' eyes when I referred to anything French.

Once again, it's good to say, "I'm from Paris." The country's current leader has given France a sharper, more responsible image.

...after 8 years of being told that George Bush's America should be embarrassed because the French didn't like us it turns out they were just bathing in self-loathing? But now they're okay because they elected a guy who nakedly modeled himself--it being Paris--after Bush/Blair? And the Brights wonder why Americans don't listen to them....

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:44 PM


The Wisdom of the Discount Rack: The 25-cent rack at a local library offers some insights into the literary taste of a different time. (Phyllis Orrick, 2/10/09, Splice Today)

My husband Jamie and I go to West Branch about once a week, to pick up books and records and DVDs and CDs we've reserved online and to paw through the return trolleys and new book shelves. It's a tiny building, and in the crowded entry room, along with the piles of tax forms, adult school catalogs, lists of public showers, hot meals, paratransit services, and organic low-cost school lunches, sits a small bookcase, four or five shelves high, with a little vault next to it where you can deposit your payment for any of the books you purchase. The proceeds go to the Friends of the Library, and all titles are 25 cents.

I don't know what got me started, but sometime about six or seven months ago, I began pausing at the Friends bookcase to see what was on it. People just dump their old books. The library takes them as long as there is not too much underlining, mold or water damage, and that the covers are intact. I am guessing that the Friends' main bookstore downtown has first crack. They have a real book store there, with hardbacks cataloged by subject and selling for varying prices, all more than 25 cents. The books on the West Branch Friends sales shelves are the ones that no one thinks are worth hauling around any more. This is their final stop.

The idea that I would buy a book to bring home was apostasy in the house in which I was raised. One of my earliest Christmas memories is of my mother Ruth railing about "another damn book in the house" as one of the six of us tore the wrapping off the gift from the Doubleday store introduced into the family by an unknowing outsider. Our living room and den were walled with bookshelves, crammed with Dad's share of the huge library his father had collected. He told me of growing up in a house where the books were shelved two-deep to keep them off the floor.

I had been told that paying money and bringing a book home is anathema. Even if the book is a slight paperback and costs a quarter. So it took me a couple more weeks to get over Ruth's training.

When I saw a copy of The Feminine Mystique, I thought, you know, it's almost an iconic object, even if I don't read it. It is designed beautifully: the cover is a dark, midnight blue, the sans-serif DELL, also in blue, in the upper left corner, encased in a full-bleed black box. Opposite is the price in a white elegant font: 75c. The Feminine Mystique in red, of course, topped by a tagline in white uppercase: "THE YEAR'S MOST CONTROVERSIAL BESTSELLER." Betty Friedan's name is below the title, no "by" needed. And, the real capper from my point of view, a blurb from Ashley Montagu, one of the champion pop-anthropologist explainers who seemingly made a fortune on books depicting the revolutions, sexual and otherwise, that were playing out in the culture of the time. "The book we have been waiting for...the wisest, sanest, soundest, most understanding and compassionate treatment of contemporary American woman's greatest problem...a triumph."

It came out in hardback in 1963. It went paperback in '64. This was the fifth edition Dell printed that year: the first in February, second and third in April, fourth in June and this one, in November. Friedan was a married mother of three, Smith College graduate and journalist for the likes of Good Housekeeping, Harper's, McCall's and Reader's Digest, according to the blurb. That, after all, was where an ambitious woman with kids would find an outlet. (Remember, Sylvia Plath won the poetry contest in Redbook.)

I had to be careful when opening the pages: they're yellowed, and the glue in the binding is cracking. I haven't really done much more than dip into it. But someone has marked it up. There seem to be two or three annotators.

One used a blue ballpoint to make precise dots at the start of lines.

I've previously related the following story:
Much of my book buying is done at library book sales or in used book stores. Two favorite haunts being the local library, which hosts an ongoing book sale in the lobby, and a local store that buys and sells used books. At the library I recently found a book I'd previously never heard of, called The American Conservative Movement: The Philosophical Founders. As it's by former Senator John P. East, and is a hardcover in excellent condition, I bought it, for 50 cents. It went on top of the "to be read" pile, but that's a fair sized pile these days. If not forgotten, it had at least been back-burnered.

Meanwhile, at some point this Summer, perhaps at the Five Colleges Book Sale, I'd found a book called Did You Ever See a Dream Walking?: American Conservative Thought in the Twentieth Century a collection of conservative essays edited by William F. Buckley Jr.. As it happened, this had worked its way to the top of the "to be read" pile, because it includes an outstanding essay by Albert Jay Nock that needed rereading. The Nock piece, in which he discusses his pet theory of the Remnant made for a useful post at our blog and the book returned to the pile.

Then, a few days later, someone responding to a post asked if I was familiar with the work of Willmoore Kendall, though he assumed I'd not be, since few are any more. He included a link to a great profile of Kendall by retired Dartmouth professor Jeffrey Hart. To my chagrin, after reading the profile, I had to answer that no I was not previously familiar with Mr. Kendall. But the wheels had begun turning and, checking in Dream Walking, I did indeed find one of his essays--Democracy: The Two Majorities. Realizing now how central a figure he'd been in the conservative renaissance of the 50s, I checked the East book, and, sure enough, there was a whole chapter on him. And as the tumblers gradually clicked into place, it occurred to me that not only had I seen the edition of his essays that his wife collected posthumously at the local used bookstore, but it at least conceivably could have been Professor Hart's own copy--they'd told me he was the other regular customer who brought in conservative books periodically. So, of course, I raced down there and, mirabile dictu, there was the book, Willmoore Kendall Contra Mundum, perched on the shelf. Even better, not only was it once Professor Hart's, it's even inscribed by Nellie Kendall, thanking him for a previous profile he'd written, which serves as the Introduction to the book. Who could fail to feel the fates at work in all of this?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:14 PM


Denis Potvin's 30-year serenade (Sarah Kwak, 2/25/09, Sports Illustrated)

Madison Square Garden is an unforgiving place. Just ask any of the current Rangers, who have heard plenty of boos and catcalls during their recent slide. And anyone who has ever worn the uniform can attest to the tireless zest and crude genius of Rangers fans when it comes to voicing their displeasure. But no one really knows that ire better than a certain Hall of Fame defenseman who once played for the local rival Islanders.

It was 30 years ago -- on February 25, 1979 -- that Denis Potvin laid a hefty check, clean by all accounts, on Rangers forward Ulf Nilsson, who broke his ankle in the ensuing fall. And yet, the Garden faithful still hasn't forgotten or forgiven. Thirty years since Potvin struck, Ranger fans still chant a two-word combo that was born that fateful night: "Potvin sucks!"

If a great institutional memory has kept the chant alive, rendering Potvin perhaps the most enduring villain in sports history, imperfect human recollection has since twisted the incident that spawned it into grand hockey folklore.

One peculiarity of the great Islander teams was that it was their best players who were their enforcers. Not only was Potvin a beast but Clark Gillies was even bigger and just as brutal when the occasion required, plus Brian Trottier was perfectly happy to mix it up and Billy Smith--a goalie for cripessake--was a borderline psychopath. When they got good they were supplanting the notoriously dirty Flyers and there were a few games where the elders tried intimidating the upstarts, but in Game 5 of the '75 playoffs, Gillies served notice on Dave "The Hammer" Schultz and not only did the Flyers pass the torch rather meekly from there on but no one else in the NHL wanted to start fights when that group was on the ice either.

That made it possible, a couple seasons later, for the Islanders to draft Mike Bossy who was a finesse player, put him on a line (El Trio Grande) with Trottier and Gillies--and Potvin back then played nearly the entire game--so teams couldn't go after the slender scorer.

If it weren't so humiliating, Rangers fans might also recall Gillies breaking the jaw of their "enforcer," Ed "Boxcar" Hospodar.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:47 AM


How Predictable is the Premier League? (The Gaffer, February 27, 2009, EPL Talk)

There has been so much talk about the 2008/2009 Premier League season being one of the most exciting in years, but that dream is over. After a heroic start to the season, Hull City could be relegated by May. Manchester United are seven points clear at the top of the table and seem invincible. Aston Villa have lost their momentum, and the neutral’s fans hope of them cracking the top two are all but over. All that seemingly remains is the battle to avoid relegation, which in itself is becoming predictable too.

In addition to that, consider the following facts:

* When was the last time Manchester United lost a match in the Premier League against a club outside the Big Four? The answer is 383 days ago when Manchester City won 2-1 at Old Trafford.
* How about Chelsea? The last time they lost to a non Big Four club was 544 days ago when Aston Villa beat them 2-0 at Villa Park.
* Liverpool? It was 118 days ago when Tottenham Hotspur grabbed a last minute goal to win 2-1.
* And Arsenal? The last defeat to a team outside the Big Four in the league was 97 days ago when Man City won 3-0.
* Out of Liverpool’s last 13 league games, 61% of them have been draws.
* Out of Arsenal’s last 10 games, 70% of them have been draws.
* So far this season, 12% of all Premier League games have ended nil-nil.

So, not only do we have a predictable season with Man United running away with it again, but there continues to be few upsets. And, to compound matters, we’re now getting more scoreless draws.

As painful as it's been actually watching soccer this Winter, it's made up for by the curious spectacle that its fans provide. They're enjoyably savage about its awfulness and honest about the universally recognized flaws. For instance, it is accepted as a sad fact of life that when Manchester United is playing--especially if they're at home--nearly nothing that their players do will be called a foul but if their star, Christiano Ronaldo, has the ball you have to stay back from him or he'll flop to the ground and be awarded a free kick. They don't score in open play, for the most part, but on these bogus penalty shots. And everyone in England knows it.

So, and I kid you not, the focus of the League isn't who will win it, but which three teams will be sent down to the lower league after the season. Imagine, if you will, that the NFL's flexible schedule was used to move the Lions, Raiders, Bengals, etc. to primetime Sunday night games. That's right, it is the very worst games that "matter" most. It truly is bizarre.

On the other hand, some of the best writing in the British press is on the soccer pages and there are a bunch of entertaining podcasts about the game: The Guardian's Football Weekly; The Game from Times Online; the ESPN SoccerNet podcast; World Soccer Daily; and the BBC's 606 call-in show. Viewing the culture from a dispassionate distance is like watching a documentary about Trekkies or Civil War re-enactors. Their obsession is so amusing you don't much need to care about its subject.

N.B.: one of my favorite things about the League is that the two best goalies are, inevitably, American. It being the position where you use your hands...

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:30 AM


Margaret Thatcher: still guilty after all these years (26 February 2009, New Statesman)

It is 30 years since Margaret Thatcher entered No 10, setting in motion a revolution that would destroy the quasi-socialist political consensus of the postwar decades and, after much strife, turn Britain into the country it is today: riven, atomised, debt-stricken, hugely unequal, its prosperity excessively dependent on financial services, its public spaces degraded, and its towns, at least at night, the preserve of the binge drinker and the brawler.

Many of us may have grown more wealthy during the Thatcher and the New Labour years but, somehow, we seem as a society more spiritually bereft, more restless, unhappier even. This is not to deny that Britain, at the end of the 1970s, was dismal.

It is legitimate to argue that the absence of a Moral Majority in England meant that Mrs. Thatcher's economic revolution was not accompanied by the sort of spiritual counter-revolution needed to arrest the island's slide into secular rot. Whereas Ronald Reagan brought a sharp break with the malaise of the '60s-'70s and a Third Great Awakening, Britain experienced no such revival of its Judeo-Christian roots. Ironically, as Pope Benedict has argued, this may trace in large part to the fact that Britain has an established Church and we don't. It seems a tad much to blame the Iron Lady for that unfortunate historical artifact.

I was a teenage Tory boy: Harry Mount was seven when Maggie Thatcher came to power. He remains an ardent admirer today - with the odd reservation (Harry Mount, 26 February 2009, New Statesman)

She remains powerfully divisive. When a theatre producer decapitated her statue in the Guildhall Art Gallery with a cricket bat in 2002, it was a sort of compliment - who would attack a statue of John Major 12 years after he left power?

She was hated - real, deep hate - when I was at university, too. That summer, in 1990, I refused to burn my poll tax form in a brazier in the cloisters of Magdalen College, Oxford. It didn't go down well. On St Valentine's Day, I received a mocking card that read: "True Blue, Baby, I Love You." Teaching in Prague that August, I shared a flat with an otherwise affable Welshman who swore viciously at me when I praised her. Hatred of Mrs T was a badge of political honour for my contemporaries, but they jumped on her City bandwagon quickly enough, laying aside their protest flags, cutting their hair and putting on charcoal grey suits for their bank interviews. They hated her, but they knew she was right.

Mrs Thatcher was no Gordon Gecko. Her man­tra wasn't that greed is good; she understood that greed is inevitable in man, and students, too. Under Thatcher, that greed was harnessed to produce greater returns for more people and, after Big Bang in 1986, enormous City fortunes were made. What would her enemies have preferred: the old system, with jobs for the boys, over-regulation and antiquated, open-outcry deals?

Another by-product of this money obsession has been an epidemic of sadness. Tremendous expectations have been raised by consumer choice and the me-first cult. The inability to keep up has led to a boom in antidepressants, sleeping pills and anti-anxiety drugs, of visits to psychiatrists and therapists. Open the mirrored cabinets in half my friends' bathrooms, and you'll find pack up on pack of Xanax and Prozac.

You can hardly say this is Mrs Thatcher's fault. Her one drug was malt whisky, and even that wasn't applied as liberally as is suggested in Margaret, BBC2's rather affectionate drama about her, broadcast on 26 February.

-Au revoir, never goodbye: The values Thatcherism embodied will never go away, argues Dominic Sandbrook, precisely because they are part of mainstream Tory tradition (Dominic Sandbrook, 26 February 2009, New Statesman)
To those who hate her, Thatcher must seem like the title character in Stephen King's novel Carrie. She never knows when she is beaten; she never stops coming. And for three decades, the creed that bears her name, Thatcherism, has been the dominant paradigm of British politics. "We are living in a post-Thatcherite world, a Margaret Thatcher theme park," is the verdict of her best biographer, John Campbell. For the columnist Simon Jenkins, Britain since 1979 has been a family firm, Thatcher & Sons. She "saw the need for change", declared the latest proprietor, Gordon Brown, shortly after taking charge. "I am a conviction politician, like her." [...]

The bad news for the left, however (and the good news for the right), is that reports of Thatcherism's demise have been grossly exaggerated. Certainly the notion that the current crisis marks the end of free-market capitalism seems completely bizarre, even allowing for the understandable attractions of wild hyperbole. We may have entered what threatens to be the deepest recession in decades, but, as yet, there is no sign that capitalism is about to give way to a new form of state socialism. Bankers are still taking home great wads of cash, much to the horror of their shareholders and the press. For all the analogies with the Great Depression and the New Deal, few commentators point out that during the 1930s the motor of global capitalism continued to chug along, albeit at a slower rate than before. And while free-market ideas have certainly been badly tarnished by the crisis, there is little sense of intellectual ferment on the hard left, and certainly no sign of voters deserting the centre ground for more challenging options. If we held a general election tomorrow, let us not forget, the Tories would probably win it.

If the 1930s represent an increasingly popular, if often ill-drawn parallel, then the events of 20 years ago offer an alternative one. The revolutions of 1989 dealt communism a blow from which, judging by the enfeebled state of Marxist parties the world over, it has never recovered, and for some commentators, neoliberalism now faces a similar fate. True-blue Thatcherites would doubtless shudder at the thought, but in truth it is a comparison they have been inviting for years.

In documentary series such as BBC4's fascinating Tory! Tory! Tory!, the veterans of 1979 typically present themselves as a tight-knit band of dedicated outsiders, plotting their way from the wilderness into the heart of government, as faithful to the gospel of Friedrich von Hayek and Milton Friedman as any Bolshevik was to Marx and Engels. Theirs, they never cease to remind us, was a peasants' revolt, an uprising against the paternalistic consensus, a revolution. So they can hardly complain when their opponents crow that, for the Thatcherite revolution, the Berlin Wall has just come down.

But all of this rests on a deeply misleading version of Thatcherism's origins, meaning and consequences. In many ways, it was not a revolutionary gospel at all, and in operation it was more fluid, more improvised, more complicated and more contradictory than the neat, sterile neoliberalism of the political science textbooks. For while devotees and opponents alike often give us a stereotyped account of fanatical deregulators, obsessive privatisers and uncompromising free-marketeers, the truth is that its standard-bearer would never have been so successful for so long, had she not been much more cautious and pragmatic than is often remembered. Behind the icy blue eyes about which her admirers rhapsodised, and beneath the strident rhetoric of a lady not for turning, Thatcher was a dedicated career politician, just as capable of backtracking, compromising and changing her mind as any other.

One thing that many people overlook about Thatcherism was that it was never a “creed” in the sense of a coherent, self-contained, carefully worked-out set of beliefs. Thatcher’s personal principles were rigid (unlike, say, David Cameron’s), but judging by the record of her governments, Thatcherism in practice was both more and less than formal neoliberalism, which would never have tolerated, say, the retention of the National Health Service.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:26 AM


Senate nixes Fairness Doctrine revival (David R. Sands, February 27, 2009, Washington Times)

The Senate overwhelmingly put itself on record Thursday against any revival of the defunct Fairness Doctrine, designed to require public broadcasters to air "balanced" coverage of controversial issues of public importance.

Conservatives have worried that the Obama administration and congressional Democrats were plotting to revive the policy, dropped in the last years of the Reagan administration, as a means of curbing the influence of commercial talk radio and other media dominated by right-of-center broadcasters.

The 87-11 vote came on an amendment to the bill that would give the District full voting rights in the House of Representatives. It was offered by Sen. Jim DeMint, South Carolina Republican.

It must all be part of a diabolical scheme....

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:17 AM


The Obamaist Manifesto (Charles Krauthammer, February 27, 2009, Washington Post)

Some men become president to be someone, others to do something. This is what separates, say, a Bill Clinton from a Ronald Reagan. Obama, who once noted that Reagan altered the trajectory of America as Clinton had not, sees himself a Reagan.

Reagan came to office to do something: shrink government, lower taxes, rebuild American defenses. Obama made clear Tuesday night that he intends to be equally transformative. His three goals: universal health care, universal education, and a new green energy economy highly funded and regulated by government.

While involving government so much will obviously tend to stall rather than hasten innovation, that agenda is quite meager. Indeed, if he were to do the first through universal HSAs, the second through something like Paul O'Neill's investment accounts, and the third through carbon taxes, it would be a worthwhile Third Way agenda.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:42 AM


Dem backlash to Obama tax plan? (JOSH GERSTEIN | 2/27/09, Politico)

In a move that reprises several pitched Washington battles, Obama is proposing to limit the federal tax deduction for state and local taxes. He would cap most itemized deductions at 28%, effectively hiking federal taxes further on families making more than roughly $250,000. Taxpayers in higher brackets, whose federal income tax rate is set to rise as high as 39.6% in 2011, would lose up to a quarter of their current deductions.

The limit would have the greatest impact in high-tax states like New York New Jersey, California and Maryland, as well as in the District of Columbia.

Sen. Charles Schumer deemed a similar proposal by President Bush "a dagger aimed right at the heart of New York."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:35 AM


Rendering Unto Caesar: The Catholic Political Vocation: The following lecture was delivered on Monday evening, February 23, 2009, to a standing-room only audience in St. Basil’s Collegiate Church on the campus of the University of Toronto. (ARCHBISHOP CHARLES J. CHAPUT, O.F.M. CAP, CERC)

I think the message of Render Unto Caesar can be condensed into a few basic points.

Here's the first point. For many years, studies have shown that Americans have a very poor sense of history. That's very dangerous, because as Thucydides and Machiavelli and Thomas Jefferson have all said, history matters. It matters because the past shapes the present, and the present shapes the future. If Catholics don't know history, and especially their own history as Catholics, then somebody else -- and usually somebody not very friendly -- will create their history for them.

Let me put it another way. A man with amnesia has no future and no present because he can't remember his past. The past is a man's anchor in experience and reality. Without it, he may as well be floating in space. In like manner, if we Catholics don't remember and defend our religious history as a believing people, nobody else will, and then we won't have a future because we won't have a past. If we don't know how the Church worked with or struggled against political rulers in the past, then we can't think clearly about the relations between Church and state today.

We need to be very forceful in clarifying what the words in our political vocabulary really mean. Words are important because they shape our thinking, and our thinking drives our actions.

Here's the second point, and it's a place where the Canadian and American experiences may diverge. America is not a secular state. As historian Paul Johnson once said, America was "born Protestant." It has uniquely and deeply religious roots. Obviously it has no established Church, and it has non-sectarian public institutions. It also has plenty of room for both believers and non-believers. But the United States was never intended to be a "secular" country in the radical modern sense. Nearly all the Founders were either Christian or at least religion-friendly. And all of our public institutions and all of our ideas about the human person are based in a religiously shaped vocabulary. So if we cut God out of our public life, we also cut the foundation out from under our national ideals.

Here's the third point. We need to be very forceful in clarifying what the words in our political vocabulary really mean. Words are important because they shape our thinking, and our thinking drives our actions. When we subvert the meaning of words like "the common good" or "conscience" or "community" or "family," we undermine the language that sustains our thinking about the law. Dishonest language leads to dishonest debate and bad laws.

Here's an example. We need to remember that tolerance is not a Christian virtue. Charity, justice, mercy, prudence, honesty -- these are Christian virtues. And obviously, in a diverse community, tolerance is an important working principle. But it's never an end itself. In fact, tolerating grave evil within a society is itself a form of serious evil. Likewise, democratic pluralism does not mean that Catholics should be quiet in public about serious moral issues because of some misguided sense of good manners. A healthy democracy requires vigorous moral debate to survive. Real pluralism demands that people of strong beliefs will advance their convictions in the public square -- peacefully, legally and respectfully, but energetically and without embarrassment. Anything less is bad citizenship and a form of theft from the public conversation.

Here's the fourth point. When Jesus tells the Pharisees and Herodians in the Gospel of Matthew (22:21) to "render unto the Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's," he sets the framework for how we should think about religion and the state even today. Caesar does have rights. We owe civil authority our respect and appropriate obedience. But that obedience is limited by what belongs to God. Caesar is not God. Only God is God, and the state is subordinate and accountable to God for its treatment of human persons, all of whom were created by God. Our job as believers is to figure out what things belong to Caesar, and what things belong to God -- and then put those things in right order in our own lives, and in our relations with others.

So having said all this, what does a book like Render Unto Caesar mean, in practice, for each of us as individual Catholics? It means that we each have a duty to study and grow in our faith, guided by the teaching of the Church. It also means that we have a duty to be politically engaged. Why? Because politics is the exercise of power, and the use of power always has moral content and human consequences.

As Christians, we can't claim to love God and then ignore the needs of our neighbors. Loving God is like loving a spouse. A husband may tell his wife that he loves her, and of course that's very beautiful. But she'll still want to see the proof in his actions. Likewise if we claim to be "Catholic," we need to prove it by our behavior. And serving other people by working for justice, charity and truth in our nation's political life is one of the very important ways we do that.

The "separation of Church and state" does not mean -- and it can never mean -- separating our Catholic faith from our public witness, our political choices and our political actions. That kind of separation would require Christians to deny who we are; to repudiate Jesus when he commands us to be "leaven in the world" and to "make disciples of all nations." That kind of radical separation steals the moral content of a society. It's the equivalent of telling a married man that he can't act married in public. Of course, he can certainly do that, but he won't stay married for long.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:29 AM


Fictional drivel (BARBARA KAY, 2/27/09, CERC)

Monday's front page news contained an unprecedented case of literary lèse majesté. A parent of a Grade 12 Toronto high school student petitioned for the removal from the school's reading list of The Handmaid's Tale, a 1986 novel by the queen of Canadian literature, Margaret Atwood.

A review board concluded that the book should remain a classroom text. No surprise there. It is hard to imagine the venerated Ms. Atwood being effectively "dissed" by a mere parent.

The parent thinks the novel, a futuristic fantasy of a totalitarian society -- American, not Canadian! -- in which women become the reproductive slaves of conservative patriarchs, is "fictional drivel." Well, of course it is, and so is much else in the gifted Ms. Atwood's diverse oeuvre, but the parent misses the greater point.h

The Handmaid's Tale isn't drivel because of the sex and violence that concerned the parent. It is drivel because it is a paranoiac fantasy whose principal purpose and effect is to stir up hatred of men.

...is that it attributes the politics of women to men.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:19 AM


National Security Structure Is Set
Under Obama, Council Will Grow
(Karen DeYoung, 2/27/09, Washington Post)

President Obama's first presidential directive, outlining the organization of his national security structure, adds the attorney general, the secretaries of energy and homeland security, and the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations to the formal National Security Council.

The four-page directive sketches wide input to NSC meetings, providing for "regular" inclusion of senior trade, economic and science advisers.

If the UR had been planted in the White House by a rightwing conspiracy trying to make the operations of the Executive grind to a halt he'd make all the same moves he has so far.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:13 AM


Pelosi butts heads with Obama (JOHN BRESNAHAN, 2/27/09, Politico)

On Wednesday morning, Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.)—the longest-serving member of the Senate—accused Obama of trying to steal power from Congress by appointing White House “czars” to handle issues that would otherwise be handled by departments subject to congressional oversight.

On Wednesday night, Pelosi made it clear to MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow that she wasn’t happy with Obama’s plan to leave 50,000 U.S. troops in Iraq and that, unlike Obama, she “absolutely” favors criminal prosecutions for any Bush administration officials involved in torture or other excesses in the fight against terrorism.

On Thursday, Pelosi said she’d move “faster” than Obama is to roll back Bush-era tax cuts. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Democratic Caucus Vice Chairman Chuck Schumer joined Pelosi’s critique of Obama’s plan to leave. Reid urged Obama not to push too hard to eliminate congressional earmarks. And Democratic Rep. Gene Taylor of Mississippi took a shot at Obama’s budget, saying “change is not running up even bigger deficits that George Bush did.”

Congressional Democrats are hardly in open revolt. But Obama apparently took the criticisms of his Iraq plan seriously enough that he summoned Democratic and Republican leaders to the White House to brief them on the plan Thursday evening in advance of his roll-out Friday at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.

...by their alliance with the UR and the Blue Dogs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:21 AM


The Ultimate Kibitzer: Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein wants Jews to trust evangelicals, and evangelicals to love Israel. (John W. Kennedy,2/24/2009, Christianity Today)

At Kehilath Jeshurun, [Rabbi Yechiel Z. Eckstein] defends American evangelicals with the fervor of a Southern preacher. In a nonthreatening manner, he takes to task the crowd of primarily white-collar professionals for prejudices they may harbor against evangelicals. The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ), Eckstein's 26-year-old organization, is proficient at raising funds from Christians via direct mail and the Internet. Last year, the organization raised about $88 million, making it one of the largest, most successful religious charities in America.

Eckstein recounts for the crowd a litany of sacrificial gifts evangelicals have made to ensure poor Jews get the help they need: there is the woman who gives from her meager Social Security check; another who switched from lattes to "coffees of the day" on her daily coffee runs and donates the difference; and the family that forgoes Christmas gifts to feed Israeli kids. Over the years, Christians have donated half a billion dollars to an organization founded by the Orthodox rabbi.

The Christian-Jewish connection Eckstein is describing transcends charity, however. Earlier this decade, evangelicals led the way in reviving Israel's dormant tourism industry after lethal terrorist attacks in the Jewish state. Eckstein asks his audience, "How many of you realize IFCJ recently gave at least $500 to every Holocaust survivor—an act no Jewish group has performed?"

No hands go up.

If Eckstein hasn't turned his audience into friends of evangelicals by the time he is finished, he has at least made sure they don't hate them.

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February 26, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:23 PM


Huckabee takes on fiscal conservatives (Domenico Montanaro, 2/26/09, NBC First Read)

"The GOP can't be a haven for rich, white guys,” Huckabee added. He called himself "prophetic" for saying during the campaign that the party was too close to Wall Street. And he lashed out against conservative critics -- from whom he's still waiting for an "apology," he said -- who criticized his "populist" rhetoric on the campaign trail.

“I’m not a Republican because I grew up rich,” Huckabee said, reprising a line, notably from his Republican National Convention speech. “I’m a Republican because I grew up poor and didn’t want to sit around waiting for the government to come rescue me.”

Huckabee told fiscal conservatives they should embrace -- not criticize -- social conservatives.

"That's wrong," he said, as only about two-thirds of the crowd stood and cheered. "Fiscal conservatives need to realize without strong families," Republicans can't achieve their goals.

Yeah, but a lot of those families aren't white.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:05 PM


Obama Tries to Quell Iraq Criticism (Anne E. Kornblut and Paul Kane, 2/26/09, Washinton Post)

President Obama has invited members of Congress to the White House for a meeting later this afternoon to discuss his plans for drawing down troops in Iraq -- a plan that has already drawn stiff criticism from his Democratic allies.

After Speaker Nancy Pelosi complained that the level of troops -- 50,000 -- who would remain in Iraq is too high, other senior Democrats voiced similar concerns on Thursday. Among Democratic leaders, only Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois is defending the new Obama plan, which will take three months longer than he promised and still leave a significant force structure on the ground.

"I'm happy to listen to the secretary of defense and the president, but when they talk about 50,000, that's a little higher number than I had anticipated," Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said.

"It has to be done responsibly, we all agree, but 50,000 is more than I would have thought, and we await the justification," said Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).

It's Republicans and the UR vs Democrats.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:00 PM


Obama's budget plan seeks repeal of oil and gas industry tax breaks (BEN GEMAN, 2/26/09, NY Times)

President Obama's budget proposal would repeal several oil industry tax incentives while imposing new taxes on Gulf of Mexico producers to close "loopholes" that have allowed companies to avoid royalty payments.

The overall budget eliminates $31.5 billion in "oil and gas company preferences" over a decade, according to a slender summary released by the White House this morning.

Panel Suggests Higher Gas Tax (KATE GALBRAITH, 2/26/09, NY Times)
A commission established by Congress to study options for financing the nation’s roads and bridges on Thursday recommended raising the federal gas tax by 10 cents a gallon.

...is that they just pass the cost on to the consumer.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:53 PM


Asean to Sign Key Free-Trade Pact (DAVID ROMAN, 2/26/09, WSJ)

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations said it plans to sign Friday a free-trade agreement with Australia and New Zealand that the parties involved have described as the most comprehensive trade pact the regional group has negotiated.

The agreement will be signed as part of the Asean summit now under way. Leaders of the 10 member nations will meet this weekend.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:50 PM


Two-legged knockout isn't soccer (Gabriele Marcotti, 2/26/09, Sports Illustrated)

Half an hour after going down to a 1-0 defeat by Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium in the Champions League, Roma's Philippe Mexes stopped on his way to the team bus to chat with the media.

"It could have been better, but it's not a bad result," he said. "It's manageable, we'll sort it out in the return leg."

Around the same time, over in Milan, Manchester United players were expressing concern after holding Inter to a scoreless draw. The thinking was that United could have done more to put the game away and that it would have been better if it had managed a 1-1 draw.

Ah, the vagaries of two-legged knockout competition and that thing we call the "away-goals rule." We probably don't think about it because we're so used to it, but when you break it down, competitions like the Champions League might as well be a different sport from domestic leagues.

The basic principle that you can lose and be happy (especially when you lose 3-2, the "dream defeat") seems alien not just to soccer, but to sports in general. Equally, the fact that drawing 0-0 on the road is somehow worse than drawing 1-1 or 2-2 also feels wrong.

Isn't the point of the game to go and win?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:07 PM


Reality check for Vice President Joe Biden (Fred Childers, 2/15/09, KSLA)

"But what I don't understand from Governor Jindal is what would he do?," asks Joe Biden while on the Early Show. That rhetorical question to Governor Jindal on the Early Show, was followed with this.

"in Louisiana there's 400 people a day losing their jobs, what's he doing?" asks Biden.

But that claim is wrong, if you look at the numbers from the Louisiana Workforce Commission.

"In December, Louisiana was the only state in the nation besides the District of Columbia, according to the national press release that added employment over the month," says Patty Granier with the Louisiana Workforce Commission. According to her, not only is Louisiana not losing jobs. "The state gained 3,700 jobs for the seasonally adjusted employment," Granier said of the most recent figures.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:03 PM


Ronald Reagan, closet socialist (Jay Bookman, February 26, 2009, Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Since 1970, the annual federal budget has been as low as 18.4 percent of our gross domestic product, and as high as 23.5 percent. (In 2008, preliminary figures say it was 20.5 percent.) (Source, Historical Tables, Office of Management and Budget).

Interestingly, that peak of 23.5 percent occurred in 1983, under President Ronald Reagan. In fact, the federal government consumed a greater share of our national income that year than in any year since the end of World War II.

To take it further, since 1947, the four years in which the federal government consumed the biggest chunk of our national income — the years in which Washington stole the most food off our children’s plates, as conservative rhetoric might put it — all occurred under Reagan.

...but starting from 1947 is revealing. Reagan and W should be measured against other wartime presidencies, as Bill Clinton ought be measured against interwar administrations.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:57 PM


Pelosi tosses cold water on assault-weapon ban (Mike Soraghan 02/26/09, The Hill)

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tossed cold water on the prospect of reinstating the assault weapons ban, highlighting Democrats’ reluctance to take on gun issues.

Attorney General Eric Holder raised the prospect Wednesday that the administration would push to bring back the ban. But Pelosi (D-Calif.) indicated on Thursday that he never talked to her. The Speaker gave a flat “no” when asked if she had talked to administration officials about the ban.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:44 PM


“Yellow Ants”, Fundamentalists, and Cowboys: An interview with Rémi Brague (Interview and translation by Diederik Boomsma & Yoram Stein, Clarion Review)

[W]estern civilization is something very strange and unusual. Most civilizations have only one centre. Islam has Mecca. Ancient Egypt had Memphis. Babylon had Babylon. But Western civilization had two sources, Athens and Jerusalem—the Jewish and later Christian tradition and that of pagan antiquity—often described as being in dynamic conflict. This opposition is founded on the opposition of Jew and Greek, borrowed from Saint Paul, which was then systemized in different ways: Hellenism versus Hebraism, the religion of beauty versus the religion of obedience, reason versus faith, aesthetics versus ethics, etc. The curious thing is that one was never swallowed by the other. Europe is neither Jewish nor Greek. In “Rome” in Christianity (e.g., the Roman Catholic Church), Jerusalem and Athens are simultaneously joined and kept apart.

With the coming of Christianity the preceding cultures were not destroyed, but a new civilization was formed. As the Romans recognized that their culture was "secondary" to that of the Greeks, the Christians recognized that Judaism preceded Christianity. This understanding gave European civilization a unique openness and humility towards the enormous cultural achievements of the past.

This humility has been a great strength. It fosters the awareness that you cannot simply inherit a civilizing tradition, but that you must work very hard to obtain it—to control the barbarian inside. This has given European culture the possibility of renaissances: a renewed appreciation of the sources of our culture, to correct what has gone wrong.

This becomes apparent in the different ways in which Islam and Christianity approached their older Greek and Jewish sources. The difference could be described by the words “digestion” and “inclusion”. In Islam, the original Jewish and Christian texts were digested, changed into something completely new, purely authentic to Islam itself. In Europe on the other hand, the original texts were left in their original state. The Christian Old Testament and the Jewish Tenakh are almost exactly the same; and Christians recognize the Jewish origins of the books of the Old Testament. Similarly, the Church Fathers took up classical philosophy, and Thomas Aquinas studied Aristotle and included Aristotelian notions in his theology. Yet scholars have never stopped reading the works of Aristotle himself.

The success of Western Europe is remarkable. Who could have thought in the early Middle Ages that Western Europe would become so powerful, and not the Byzantine or Islamic civilizations? Europe is a continent of parvenus. The Roman and Christian inferiority complexes have worked as spurs on the horse.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:36 AM


Gas tax: Paying cents to save big bucks (Barry Bluestone and Stephanie Pollack, February 26, 2009, Boston Globe)

Strange as it may seem, increasing the gas tax by 19 cents a gallon will actually save most Massachusetts drivers more than the higher tax will cost them.

How can that be?

If the gas tax does not go up, tolls (on the Pike and Tobin Bridge) and fares (for MBTA and regional transit riders) will. An increase of even 25 cents per toll or transit trip amounts to more than $10 per month for regular users, so current toll payers and transit riders save if tolls and fares are frozen and the gas tax rises by the proposed 19 cents per gallon.

But what about those who never pay a toll or transit fare? They, too, are better off financially with a higher gas tax. Due in no small measure to inadequate funding, the Massachusetts transportation system is so poorly maintained and badly congested that Massachusetts motorists spend an estimated $718 million each year on car repairs attributable to bad roads. This amounts to nearly $300 per household or roughly three times the proposed gas tax increase. One blown-out tire or bent wheel can cost a lot more to fix than several years of a higher gas tax.

Inadequately maintained roads and lack of funding for paving and other improvements also contributes to Massachusetts's growing traffic congestion, which costs motorists both time and money. The Texas Transportation Institute has calculated that each rush-hour driver in metropolitan Boston bears an annual cost of $895 due to time and gasoline wasted sitting in traffic jams.

The costs don't stop there.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:33 AM


Justice Defends Telecom Immunity in Surveillance Law (Keith Perine, 2/26/09, CQ)

The Justice Department is defending a provision in a 2008 surveillance law that provides legal immunity to telecommunications companies that cooperated with the Bush administration’s warrantless surveillance program.

The department was expected to defend the provision. But its stance in a brief filed Wednesday in a California federal court underscores the surprising degree to which the Obama administration — at least in court — is determined to shield President George W. Bush ’s controversial counterterrorism policies from legal challenge or even public scrutiny.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:01 AM


Homo Economus Christianus: a review of Third Ways: How Bulgarian Greens, Swedish Housewives, and Beer-Swilling Englishmen Created Family-Centered Economies - And Why They Disappeared. by Allan C. Carlson (Bart Fleuren, Clarion Review)

[A]llan C. Carlson sketches various movements in twentieth century Europe that—based on Christian values, the appreciation of the family, and agrarian forms of life—provided a way out of the false dichotomy between state-dominated socialism and laissez-faire capitalism.

Third ways, as Carlson describes them, are characterized by four prevailing features. First, they take private property as the basis of all economic relations. Holding and maintaining property in private possession is intrinsic to full human participation in the world. Therefore, socialism, although perhaps based on a legitimate concern for human wellbeing, is based on a false conception of human nature; the respect of private property is missing. Second, proponents of third ways seek to protect small scale business, agrarian and other “organic” forms of life, and the wellbeing of the working class against the dangers of laissez-faire capitalism. Third, third ways are geared at the preservation of the family as society’s cornerstone, and as the “chamber of liberty”[i] (Chesterton). Liberty should be protected against erosion from both the state and the market. The fourth and most distinctive feature of the third ways is their inspiration in a profound but practical Christian understanding of the human person, who belongs to the family, the land, and the community.

Although the term “third way” was coined by Leo XIII more than a century ago, it must be noted that in contemporary political theory it is not taken to refer to a Christian middle ground between the excesses of capitalism and socialism. Rather, it refers to the blend of social-liberalism advanced by the UK Labour Party under Tony Blair, the Democrats under Bill Clinton, and other progressive Western administrations of the 1990s.This social-liberal ‘third way’—which is intellectually indebted to the Cambridge sociologist Anthony Giddens—is a middle ground between capitalism and socialism. But it is based on a secular, rather than Christian, understanding of the human person.[ii] Distinctively, Giddens’ third way does not set the preservation of organic forms of life and the family as its main purpose but rather focuses on the advancement of technology, education, and social welfare. The weakness of such postmodern third ways is that they are not grounded in a constitutive understanding of the human person. They mostly look after the needs of the individual human body, not the whole person, and not the community.

The first and foremost merit of Carlson’s book, therefore, is to remind the intellectual and political community that Giddens cum suis were not the first to have offered a way out of the false dichotomy of capitalism or socialism. And second, Carlson shows that social-liberalism is not the only third way by demonstrating the relevance of a Christian conception of the human person for economic law and policymaking. The most important implication thereof is that human happiness consists in more than just the maximization of utility or pleasure: in addition to the socioeconomic variables of the market and the state, the human person and his distinctive natural rights and obligations—such as those regarding the family—constitute a third variable that despite its unquantifiable nature should be of decisive importance.

It's important to keep two things in mind here: first, Bill Clinton and Tony Blair faced the task of selling fundamentally Christian theories of politics to parties dominated at their upper levels by secular intellectuals, so their comparative silence about the sources of the Third Way are understandable; and, two, it's significant that the one is a devout Baptist and the other actually became a Catholic either while in office or shortly after leaving.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:35 AM


Obama's Straw Men: Why does he routinely ascribe to opponents views they don't espouse? (KARL ROVE, 2/26/09, WSJ)

Mr. Obama also said that America's economic difficulties resulted when "regulations were gutted for the sake of a quick profit at the expense of a healthy market." Who gutted which regulations?

Perhaps it was President Bill Clinton who, along with then Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, removed restrictions on banks owning insurance companies in 1999. If so, were Mr. Clinton and Mr. Summers (now an Obama adviser) motivated by quick profit, or by the belief that the reform was necessary to modernize our financial industry?

Perhaps Mr. Obama was talking about George W. Bush. But Mr. Bush spent five years pushing to further regulate Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. He was blocked by Democratic Sen. Chris Dodd and Rep. Barney Frank. Arriving in the Senate in 2005, Mr. Obama backed up Mr. Dodd's threat to filibuster Mr. Bush's needed reforms.

Even in an ostensibly nonpartisan speech marking Lincoln's 200th birthday, Mr. Obama used a straw-man argument, decrying "a philosophy that says every problem can be solved if only government would step out of the way; that if government were just dismantled, divvied up into tax breaks, and handed out to the wealthiest among us, it would somehow benefit us all. Such knee-jerk disdain for government -- this constant rejection of any common endeavor -- cannot rebuild our levees or our roads or our bridges."

Whose philosophy is this? Many Americans justifiably believe that government is too big and often acts in counterproductive ways. But that's a far cry from believing that in "every" case government is the problem or that government should be "dismantled" root and branch. Who -- other than an anarchist -- "constantly rejects any common endeavor" like building levees, roads or bridges?

During his news conference on Feb. 9, Mr. Obama decried an unnamed faction in the congressional stimulus debate as "a set of folks who -- I don't doubt their sincerity -- who just believe that we should do nothing."

Who were these sincere do-nothings? Every House Republican voted for an alternative stimulus plan, evidence that they wanted to do something. Every Senate Republican -- with the exception of Judd Gregg, who'd just withdrawn his nomination to be Mr. Obama's Commerce secretary and therefore voted "present" -- voted for alternative stimulus proposals.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:28 AM


A New Tradition for Obama's Presidential Events: Opening With a Prayer (Dan Gilgoff, 2/24/09, US News)

A once-in-a-lifetime experience for [Ryan] Culp has become routine for President Obama: In a departure from previous presidents, his public rallies are opening with invocations that have been commissioned and vetted by the White House.

During Obama's recent visit to Fort Myers, Fla., to promote his economic stimulus plan, a black Baptist preacher delivered a prayer that carefully avoided mentioning Jesus, lest he offend anyone in the audience. And at Obama's appearance last week near Phoenix to unveil his mortgage bailout plan, an administrator for the Tohono O'odham Nation delivered the prayer, taking the unusual step of writing it down so he could E-mail it to the White House for vetting. American Indian prayers are typically improvised.

Though invocations have long been commonplace at presidential inaugurations and certain events like graduations or religious services at which presidents are guests, the practice of commissioning and vetting prayers for presidential rallies is unprecedented in modern history, according to religion and politics experts.

Interviews with former White House aides and official presidential archivists going back to the Carter administration turn up no evidence of similar programs, though some of Ronald Reagan's events featured invocations from clergy from a variety of religious traditions. The Reagan White House appears to have received copies of the invocations after they were delivered, as opposed to before, according to Ronald Reagan Presidential Library archivist Lisa Jones.

"If a similar thing had been done by President Bush's White House, I guarantee you there would have been a lot of people crying foul," says Bill Wichterman, deputy director of the Office of Public Liaison under President George W. Bush. "Democrats can do this with immunity, but when Republicans do it, it becomes controversial."

Of course, it ought not be controversial, so there are benefits to reducing Liberal Derangement Syndrome.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:20 AM


Terrible team names and beauties in short skirts: Women's 'soccer' gets the American treatment (Ashley Gray, 26th February 2009, Daily Mail)

How do you make women's football more attractive? Simple. Make the players wear tighter shorts.

That was once the idea of Sepp Blatter, the most powerful if not the most respected man in world football.

But while the FIFA president's comments caused uproar back in 2003, he may be interested to see what the world's best players will be wearing in the new Women's Professional Soccer league here in the United States.

The shorts may not be the skin-tight volleyball style that Blatter enjoys, but the Puma kit arguably goes one better by incorporating an optional 'wrap' (that's a mini-skirt to you and I).

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:10 AM


The Blight of Bagram: Human-rights advocates expected Obama to reverse the previous administration's position on detention, but undoing that policy may take more time than expected. (Adam Serwer, February 26, 2009, American Prospect)

[S]ince January, a number of the decisions made by the Obama administration have caused anxiety among human-rights advocates, who fear that the new president may indeed continue many Bush-era policies. Obama officials such as Attorney General Eric Holder, solicitor general nominee Elena Kagan, and Principal Deputy Solicitor General Neal Katyam have released statements endorsing the idea that terror suspects can be defined as "enemy combatants" and held "for the duration of hostilities" without trial.

The Obama administration also recently invoked the state-secrets doctrine to dismiss a civil suit against a Boeing subsidiary that plaintiffs contend aided the CIA in their rendition to countries where they were tortured. Prior to the Bush administration, the state-secrets doctrine was used to dismiss individual pieces of evidence, rather than entire lawsuits. Civil libertarians bristled at Obama's use of the doctrine in the same manner, and on Feb. 11, Sen. Patrick Leahy introduced a bill in Congress that would regulate its use. The administration's actions were in contrast to Obama's earliest executive orders mandating that all interrogations by U.S. government agents comply with the Army Field Manual and that the Bush administration's infamous "black sites" be closed. President Obama is walking a fine line between Dick Cheney's "dark side" and his own promise to not compromise American values in the name of national security.

"If you want to give the administration the benefit of the doubt, they are taking the six months they've been given to figure out what their position is going to be," says Sahr Muhammedally, a senior law associate at Human Rights First. "Or the other way of reading it is that they want to embrace the whole Bush position on detention."

The third way of reading it is that their own review convinces them that the whole Bush position was, in fact, consistent with American values.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:42 AM


The 2% Illusion: Take everything they earn, and it still won't be enough. (WSJ, 2/26/09)

Consider the IRS data for 2006, the most recent year that such tax data are available and a good year for the economy and "the wealthiest 2%." Roughly 3.8 million filers had adjusted gross incomes above $200,000 in 2006. (That's about 7% of all returns; the data aren't broken down at the $250,000 point.) These people paid about $522 billion in income taxes, or roughly 62% of all federal individual income receipts. The richest 1% -- about 1.65 million filers making above $388,806 -- paid some $408 billion, or 39.9% of all income tax revenues, while earning about 22% of all reported U.S. income. [...]

[A]s a thought experiment, let's go all the way. A tax policy that confiscated 100% of the taxable income of everyone in America earning over $500,000 in 2006 would only have given Congress an extra $1.3 trillion in revenue. That's less than half the 2006 federal budget of $2.7 trillion and looks tiny compared to the more than $4 trillion Congress will spend in fiscal 2010. Even taking every taxable "dime" of everyone earning more than $75,000 in 2006 would have barely yielded enough to cover that $4 trillion.

...shouldn't the UR seek to have them paid more so that he can take it in taxes?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:19 AM


Does Obama Have a Double Standard on Earmarks? (Jay Newton-Small and Michael Scherer, Feb. 26, 2009, TIME)

On Tuesday evening, when President Barack Obama declared before a joint session of Congress that "we passed the recovery plan free of earmarks," House Democrats led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi popped like jackrabbits out of their seats for a standing ovation. On Wednesday, those same House Democrats led by Pelosi passed a budget with, by some counts, nearly 9,000 earmarks, worth an estimated $7.7 billion. [...]

And while the Obama Administration is turning a blind eye to the 2009 earmarks, White House officials say they fully expect Congress to live up to his campaign pledge of reducing earmarks to below 1994 levels — when the GOP took control of the House — or less than $7.8 billion a year. "They have got to draw a line in the sand, and they didn't do it here," says Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense. "They have got to draw it in 2010 or it's irrelevant, whatever the promises are." (The Democratic leadership estimates there are only $3.8 billion earmarks in the bill, while Ellis's nonpartisan watchdog group includes Army Corps of Engineers projects to reach a total of $7.7 billion — a figure still under Obama's target 1994 figure of $7.8 billion.)

So not only is it packed with pork but he specifically approved that much pork ahead of time?

President and His Inner Circle Have Earmarks in Omnibus (Jonathan Allen, 2/26/09, CQ)

Funny how items show up in spending bills without any notice — like an earmark for a president who promised not to seek any.

President Obama, who took a no-earmark pledge on the campaign trail, is listed as one of dozens of cosponsors of a $7.7 million set-aside in the fiscal 2009 omnibus spending bill (HR 1105) passed by the House on Wednesday.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:15 AM


Binyam Mohamed: Britain is too cold after Guantanamo Bay (Ben Leach, 26 Feb 2009, Daily Telegraph)

Binyam Mohamed, the British resident released from US detention base Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, has told friends that Britain is too cold. [...]

[S]ince arriving back in the country the former Al Qaeda suspect has told supporters he is finding it difficult to adjust to the British climate after four years in Cuba.

Temperatures at the detention centre at this time of year are about 26C, compared with 10C in London.

Moazzem Begg, a fellow former Guantanamo detainee, said Mr Mohamed was in "good spirits" but was struggling to cope with the weather, according to the Daily Express newspaper.

He added: "He's been wearing a jacket most of the time.

One of these days I'm going to have that talk with my son, the one when he asks me what satire was.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:11 AM


The second chance: Critics say my country can’t be saved. But a new push from America and Kabul could work (Ashraf Ghani, March 2009, Prospect)

When the Taliban was overthrown in 2001 Afghans welcomed the international forces, and the US enjoyed overwhelming support. But too few forces came to help keep law and order. When more finally did, in 2006, they were too late to stop the al Qaeda and Taliban insurgency, which also operated with impunity from Pakistan, a problem that only started to be addressed late in 2008.

Resources for Afghan reconstruction have been far too low. The aid that has arrived comes through contractors or UN agencies, creating new bureaucracies, not strong Afghan institutions. Put bluntly, the international community did its institution building on the cheap.

Many western media experts now claim that Afghanistan can’t be saved and that history “proves” it is incapable of decent government. But the first eight decades of the 20th century were a period of relative peace and economic development. Millions of tourists passed through, en route to India. Unarmed police constables could get local chiefs to appear before courts of law.

Afghans regard the subsequent years of war as an aberration. They agree with the international community that the country needs a functioning state to deliver law and order, and deny Afghan territory to both al Qaeda and the Taliban.

The way forward now falls to General Petraeus and his colleagues who have until April’s Nato summit in Germany to announce a plan for Afghanistan. Petraeus’s approach is likely to move beyond the old counter-terrorism strategy and recognise that force can work only when it changes the political equation. Other instruments—diplomacy, development, trade and the creation of functioning institutions—are the key to winning support and defeating the insurgency.

The first step is establishing order.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:05 AM


The cult of transparency is a threat to democracy (Brendan O’Neill, 2/26/09, spiked)

‘Transparency’ is not the same thing as democracy. Democracy does not mean revealing every off-the-cuff comment made in committee meetings or rush-written ‘memo of concern’ sent between ministers; democracy is something more profound than that.

It is crucial that governments, political parties and institutions are able to hold frank and strictly private discussions of an issue before arriving at a public position. This is especially important when the issue is a stinkingly controversial one, such as the Iraq war: on such potentially heated matters it is imperative that ministers can interrogate every issue and concern internally before putting forward a clear line for rigorous public debate. Political leadership is not a Diana-style blurting out of unformed feelings, half-cocked concerns and snatched conversations; it must also involve working out in private what the public line should be, so that ministers can then take collective responsibility for it, and the rest of us can challenge it. Just as I would die of shame if the minutes of spiked’s sometimes expletive-laden morning editorial meetings were made public, so it is justifiable for the Cabinet to want to hold back its minutes, too; like spiked and other political outlets and institutions, the government should be held to account for what it says and does publicly, rather than for its tense, coffee-fuelled discussions behind closed doors.

What has a close-up view of every machination of government gotten us besides contempt for the governors? Where a supposedly more democratic means tends towards anti-democratic ends in practice we ought to reconsider it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:54 AM


Ignatieff: an intellectual in politics: Michael Ignatieff, the telegenic intellectual and writer, has had three separate careers in three different countries. Now the former presenter of the Late Show is tipped to become the next prime minister of Canada (David Herman, March 2009, Prospect)

Ignatieff’s second career was in America, as director of the Carr Centre for Human Rights Policy at Harvard. Here he played a leading part in debates on contemporary war, terrorism and human rights. He was one of the most quoted liberal supporters of the Iraq war and defended “the American empire” in a series of long articles in the New York Times. Then in 2005 he left the US for Canada, and his third career, this time as a politician, first as a Liberal MP, then within three years as leader of the Liberal opposition party. [...]

[A]mid the breaks—changing country, changing career, moving on to new subjects—there have been important continuities too.

There is the importance of anti-communism and liberal anti-leftism, which led to two sharp breaks with the mainstream left, first in Britain over Thatcherism and the miners’ strike, then in America over 9/11, Iraq and the war on terror. His intellectual fathers, Berlin and Milosz among them, were famous anti-communists.

There is another continuity: the importance of service and public duty. His paternal grandfather, Pavel Ignatiev, a Russian count, was Nicholas II’s last education minister. His great-grandfather, Count Nikolay Ignatyev, was the Russian minister of the interior under Tsar Alexander III. “My grandfather’s favourite phrase,” he writes in The Russian Album, was “Life is not a game, life is not a joke. It is only by putting on the chains of service that man is able to accomplish his destiny on earth.” Ignatieff’s father, too, put on “the chains of service” as a lifelong Canadian diplomat. [...]

[B]osnia, and then Kosovo, changed everything. In 1993, Ignatieff wrote and presented Blood and Belonging, a six-part television series on “the new nationalism.” From then on, through the 1990s, he was increasingly drawn to a new agenda: post-1989 nationalism, new kinds of war and the challenge both present to liberalism. In a later interview in the New York Times, Ignatieff told Kate Zernike, “being anti-war and anti-use-of-force was a kind of defining signature of being a liberal, but that was 30 years ago. In the 90s, being a liberal meant being in favour of military intervention in Bosnia and Kosovo. Human rights has come into this and complicated the picture.”

Two things were going on in the mid and late 1990s, side by side. On the one hand, Ignatieff was going to Oxford regularly to interview Isaiah Berlin for the authorised biography. Many of these conversations were about liberalism and its enemies, including nationalism. At the same time, he was writing about the war in former Yugoslavia and then Kosovo which put these issues to the test.

There was something else which may explain the impact that the war in former Yugoslavia had on Ignatieff. In an essay in 2002, on the bridge at Mostar, in Bosnia, he writes: “[I] saw the bridge once in my childhood. In 1959, my family and I drove through Bosnia in a heavy black Buick.” His father had been Canadian ambassador to Yugoslavia and later to the UN. He was the embodiment of UN ideals, which have such a powerful resonance in liberal Canada. For Ignatieff, Bosnia was not just about liberalism, it was about the values his father stood for. [...]

Then came 9/11. America was fighting terrorism and then in Iraq. How does a liberal intellectual face up to the choices and dilemmas of liberalism during a war on terror? He ended up siding with Hitchens, Amis and Paul Berman against most of his former friends on the left. “September 11th was not politics by other means,” he wrote in the Guardian. “There were no demands and there never will be… Since the politics of reason cannot defeat apocalyptic nihilism, we must fight.” But, and here came the voice of liberalism, “a war against terror must be discriminate, proportional and restrained.”

And what if it isn’t? This was the question he faced as 9/11 gave way to the war on terror and then the war against Saddam. In January 2003, he wrote a piece called, “The American Empire: The Burden” for the New York Times magazine. He declared his support for the invasion of Iraq. Sanctions weren’t working. “The disagreeable reality for those who believe in human rights is that there are some occasions—and Iraq may be one of them—when war is the only real remedy for regimes that live by terror… The choice is between two evils, between containing and leaving a tyrant in place and the targeted use of force, which will kill people but free a nation from the tyrant’s grip.”

Two experiences influenced Ignatieff’s support for Iraq. In 1999 he was filming in Belgrade. He was struck by the precision of the bombing raids on Belgrade. Particular buildings had been destroyed, leaving adjoining ones standing. This was a new kind of war. His next television project was Future War, a three-part series for BBC2, the basis for his book, Virtual War (2000). New technology was changing war. This was not Guernica or Dresden, or even Gaza.

Secondly, like Hitchens, Ignatieff was hugely influenced by Iraqi exiles. He saw this as a humanitarian war against one of the most despicable tyrants in the world, not just the region. He was part of a generation haunted by Rwanda and Bosnia. Like Tony Blair, he was a humanitarian interventionist.

One of the linchpins of BDS is the bizarre notion that W drove away our previously uber-friendly allies. The canard is nicely illustrated by Canada, where not only was an anti-American prime minister replaced by a Bush-like conservative but even the party of the Left chose a Blair-like leader.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:51 AM


Assessing Obama’s Job Approval at the One-Month Mark (Lydia Saad, 2/23/09, Gallup)

According to Gallup polling on all elected presidents from Richard Nixon through George W. Bush (this excludes Gerald Ford, who assumed office after Nixon resigned), the range of job approval for new presidents after about a month in office extends from 55% for Ronald Reagan to 71% for Jimmy Carter. The average one-month approval rating for all six past presidents is 62% -- nearly identical to Obama's current 63%.

The average first-month disapproval rating for these same past presidents was 16%. However, Obama's slightly higher 24% disapproval score is similar to those seen for the most recent two presidents -- Bush and Bill Clinton -- perhaps owing to heightened partisanship or media scrutiny in recent years.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:34 AM


On the Road, for Reasons Practical and Spiritual (LARRY ROHTER, 2/25/09, NY Times)

After a five-year stint in a Zen Buddhist monastery and various legal distractions, he is back on the road: an undertaking that seems to combine his quest for spiritual fulfillment with an effort to regain his financial footing, lost when his former business manager made off with his money while Mr. Cohen was living as a monk on a mountaintop above Los Angeles.

“It was a long, ongoing problem of a disastrous and relentless indifference to my financial situation,” Mr. Cohen said on Friday of the resulting legal proceedings, which awarded him $9.5 million — money he has yet to collect. “I didn’t even know where the bank was.”

So on April 2, for reasons both practical and aesthetic, Mr. Cohen will embark on a two-month North American tour, including a performance at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival on April 17 and an appearance at Radio City Music Hall on May 16. In addition, Columbia Records on March 31 will release a live CD/DVD of a show he did in London last year, and songs from the concert he played last Thursday at the Beacon Theater will begin streaming online on Thursday on the National Public Radio Web site (npr.org/music or nprmusic.org).

Mr. Cohen’s world tour, which actually began in May 2008 in his native Canada, is scheduled to continue through the end of this year, a feat of endurance for a man his age. At 74, Mr. Cohen is nine years Mick Jagger’s senior and two years older than John McCain. But he is remarkably limber, skipping on and off the stage during his three-hour show and repeatedly dropping to his knees to sing.

Roscoe Beck, Mr. Cohen’s musical director, says that even on the longest flights Mr. Cohen sits cross-legged and straight-backed in his seat, in a monk’s posture. Asked whether he also does yoga to build strength and agility for his stage shows, Mr. Cohen, his demeanor courtly but reserved, smiled and replied, “That is my yoga.”

In fact, Mr. Cohen appears to see performance and prayer as aspects of the same larger divine enterprise. That may not be surprising, coming from an artist whose best-known songs mingle sacred concerns with the secular and the sexual and sound like “collaborations between Jacques Brel and Thomas Merton,” as the novelist Pico Iyer put it.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:23 AM


Raid on illegals dismays Obama backers: Rights groups see broken 'commitment' on illegals policy (Stephen Dinan, February 26, 2009, Washington Times)

Immigrant rights groups blasted President Obama on Wednesday for breaking what they called his "personal commitment" to change Bush-era immigration raids after U.S. authorities raided an engine machine shop in Washington state and detained illegal immigrants.

The Obama administration itself seemed taken aback by the raid by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano vowing to Congress that she would "get to the bottom of this."

"The secretary is not happy and this is not her policy," a Homeland Security official said Wednesday evening, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the secretary's review is ongoing.

George Bush needed to pretend to care about these raids -- and the "fence" -- to quiet his Right. The UR has no such need. Just pass the Amnesty.

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February 25, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:21 PM


Top 5: Ash Wednesday (John Nolte, 2/25/09, Big Hollywood)

There are a billion Catholics in what Hollywood calls the worldwide market and today’s Ash Wednesday, one of most important holy days of the faith and the beginning of our Lenten season — and how many films have been produced to tap that market this year? Is “squat” a number? But the profit driven movie business, in keeping with the spirit of that old saying, “the sixteenth time’s the charm,” does have a couple more Iraq films in the pipeline.

So as we enter the next 46 days, during which we’re asked to reflect on our relationship with God and how we can improve on that relationship and as individuals, here are five films about just that, about lost souls who one way or another found their way home.

1. Tender Mercies (1983) [...]

2. The Sign of the Cross (1932) [...]

3. The Next Voice You Hear (1950) [...]

4. The Exorcist (1973) [...]

5. Bad Lieutenant (1992)

To which allow me to add one more. When we recently mentioned Clive Owen's role in the lamentable film version of Children of Men, mokuren recommended his turn in the British tv adaptation of Minette Walters', The Echo. Therein, Mr. Owen plays a down at the heels reporter -- Mike Deacon -- who is sent to write a piece on the wealthy architect who found a tramp starved to death in her garage. The gist of the story--properly mocked--is: "poverty persists in Blair's Britain." What Deacon finds though is an altogether different tale, about a bum who styled himself after William Blake and who a psychiatrist describes as "something quite unfashionable these days, a repentant sinner."

As deacon investigates he gets involved with a hapless crew of helpers--a photographer who dresses like a slut then wonders why no one takes her seriously; an elderly and lonely Jewish lawyer who'd been friend's with his father; a street urchin with a heart of gold; and a momma's-boy archivist at the newspaper. The scene in which the lawyer hands out deeply personal Christmas gifts to the motley bunch is worth the price of admission by itself.

But it's the unravelling of how "Billy" Blake chose that specific garage to die in and the reporter's realization that he too is in need of redemption that really lifts the material beyond genre. Blake, it develops, believed that he could be saved if he sacrificed his own soul to redeem the soul of another. Deacon takes up the salvific mission and pursues it to a thoroughly satisfying end.

The film torrent is available to download at The Box. I'm happy to provide an invite to anyone who needs one.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:17 PM


They Don't Make Homo Sapiens Like They Used To: Our species—and individual races—have recently made big evolutionary changes to adjust to new pressures. (Kathleen McAuliffe, February 9, 2009, Discover)

[T]o suggest that humans have undergone an evolutionary makeover from Stone Age times to the present is nothing short of blasphemous. Yet a team of researchers has done just that. They find an abundance of recent adaptive mutations etched in the human genome; even more shocking, these mutations seem to be piling up faster and ever faster, like an avalanche. Over the past 10,000 years, their data show, human evolution has occurred a hundred times more quickly than in any other period in our species’ history.

The new genetic adaptations, some 2,000 in total, are not limited to the well-recognized differences among ethnic groups in superficial traits such as skin and eye color. The mutations relate to the brain, the digestive system, life span, immunity to pathogens, sperm production, and bones—in short, virtually every aspect of our functioning.

Many of these DNA variants are unique to their continent of origin, with provocative implications. “It is likely that human races are evolving away from each other,” says University of Utah anthropologist Henry Harpending, who coauthored a major paper on recent human evolution. “We are getting less alike, not merging into a single mixed humanity.”

Harpending theorizes that the attitudes and customs that distinguish today’s humans from those of the past may be more than just cultural, as historians have widely assumed. “We aren’t the same as people even a thousand or two thousand years ago,” he says. “Almost every trait you look at is under strong genetic influence.”

Not surprisingly, the new findings have raised hackles. Some scientists are alarmed by claims of ethnic differences in temperament and intelligence, fearing that they will inflame racial sensitivities.

Obviously anyone who believes a big beak finch is a different species than a small beak finch can't coherently argue that even an Englishman is the same species as an Irishman. Then again, Darwinists forsook coherence long ago.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:08 PM


The elephant also rises: The GOP has a bumpy road ahead of them, but if they're savvy they'll be back in power sooner rather than later (STEVEN STARK, February 25, 2009, Boston Phoenix)

Lest Republicans think their party is in bad shape now, it was in far worse shape then. In 1965, along with the presidency, the Dems held a huge 295-140 majority in the House and a whopping 68-32 advantage in the Senate. Yet within four years, by 1969, the Dems had lost 11 seats in the Senate and 52 in the House, as well as the presidency. [...]

In the 1966 elections, the GOP made only few gains in the Senate; then, as it will likely be in 2010, too many seats were out of reach. But in 1966 the Republicans made much larger gains in the House and, perhaps most significant, won eight new governorships and held some key others. George Romney won big in Michigan, Nelson Rockefeller held on in New York, and a neophyte named Ronald Reagan was unexpectedly elected in California. (The GOP also won in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Arkansas, and, to almost everyone's surprise, in Maryland, with a new candidate named Spiro Agnew). This is likely to be the path the GOP pursues again in 2010 — if it's strategically savvy.

Because of the composition of the Senate and the seats that will be up for election, the Republicans could lose a seat or two in the upper body during the next trip to the polls. The House is a different story. Still, the number of "safe seats" due to districting has increased greatly since 1966, favoring incumbents and making it more difficult for any party to make huge gains.

What Democrats need to be worry about in 2010, then, are the State House races, where ideological issues play less of a role. Pennsylvania and Michigan have term-limited Democratic governors who can't seek re-election. States such as Maryland, Illinois, and New York should be in play — especially the latter two, now that "Blago" has tainted the Dems in Obama's home state and David Patterson has gotten off to such a stumbling start in his effort to replace the resigned Eliot Spitzer in New York. Meanwhile, the Republicans are a good bet to retain Florida (Charlie Crist, or someone else if he runs for the Senate), Texas (most likely Kay Bailey Hutchison), and California (especially if former eBay head Meg Whitman runs).

The result could well be a formidable GOP executive base around the country — just as in 1967. And, in an era of economic turmoil, that could give the party a platform of executive competence from which to launch a national campaign in 2012. Plus, it would neatly coincide with the fact that almost all the major GOP candidates thinking about running in the next presidential election are current or former state executives themselves: Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin, even Bobby Jindal.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:57 PM


Sox to win 98 in '09?: Statistically Speaking (MIKE MILIARD, February 25, 2009, Boston Phoenix)

Stat savant Nate Silver, widely lauded for foretelling the 2008 election in detail, was a baseball geek first. He's a long-time contributor to Baseball Prospectus's annual almanac, where he unveiled his PECOTA (Player Empirical Comparison and Optimization Test Algorithm) system, which forecasts — fairly accurately — the future performances of players and teams.

Silver himself won't be at the Baseball Prospectus 2009 book discussion at the BU Barnes & Noble on Tuesday night, but many of the baseball think tank's principals will, including Boston-based contributor David Laurila. As he packed for a trip to Spring Training, the Phoenix asked Laurila for some thoughts on the coming season.

On what PECOTA says we should expect

They're picking the Sox to win the AL East, based on the computer projections. [In fact, it projects them as the best team in baseball, with 98 wins.]

not only is the Sox 6th starter a hall of Famer--John Smoltz--but the 7th is a top prospect who's already thrown a major league no-hitter--Clay Buchholz--and their righty mop upo guy in the bullpen was the Dodgers closer the past several years--Takashi Saito. It's a filthy staff.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:29 PM


Locke's China work complicates bid (KENNETH P. VOGEL, 2/25/09, Politico)

The problem is that Locke, a partner in an international law firm’s China division, has advocated for Microsoft, Starbucks, and banking, timber and shipping interests in recent years, raising potential conflicts for him as head of a department charged with promoting U.S. trade around the globe.

One of Obama’s first acts as president was to sign an executive order barring executive branch officials from working on issues “directly and substantially related” to their former clients or employers for two years.

Yet if he’s confirmed as commerce secretary, Chinese trade issues – including some with direct impact on the companies he went to bat for – are likely to be high on the agenda for Locke, who is the first Chinese-American governor.

Software piracy issues would rank among them. Microsoft and other software developers have lobbied both the U.S. and Chinese governments to crack down on profit-draining practice. On a similar front, Starbucks recently won a trademark lawsuit against a Chinese company using its logo.

An administration official brushed off questions about what steps, if any, would be necessary to ensure Locke complied with Obama’s ethics policy.

Wouldn't it save time if the UR just announced the one or two people on the planet who are actually barred from his cabinet by his rather elastic ethics "rules"?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:20 PM


House Kills Move to Examine Earmark-Campaign Contribution Axis (Jonathan Allen, 2/25/09, CQ)

House Democrats killed a resolution Wednesday that called for an ethics committee inquiry into the relationship between campaign contributions and earmarks.

The resolution, drafted by Jeff Flake , R-Ariz., cited recent reports of a federal investigation into the campaign finance activities of a lobbying firm, The PMA Group, which has been a major contributor to lawmakers’ campaigns and a successful advocate for earmarked federal dollars for its clients.

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland moved to table, or kill, Flake’s resolution, and the House voted, 226-182, to do so. The move prevented a direct vote on whether to refer the matter to the ethics committee.

...but as soon as the GOP won in 1994 we stopped having a US Congress and suddenly had a Republican Congress, which is why every scandal tars just the one party. They need to implant the realization that the body that everyone hates is the Democrat Congress now.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:06 PM


AG Holder says closing Guantanamo won't be easy (DEVLIN BARRETT, 2/25/09, Associated Press)

Holder said his visit to the site was instructive. He met with military officials and toured the facilities, including the court setting where military commissions were to be held until Obama suspended them.

He said he did not witness any rough treatment of detainees, and in fact found the military staff and leadership performing admirably.

"I did not witness any mistreatment of prisoners. I think, to the contrary, what I saw was a very conscious attempt by these guards to conduct themselves in an appropriate way," he said.

The attorney general said none of those impressions alters the administration's goal of closing Guantanamo by January 2010.

I'm starting to doubt that George W. Bush was a crypto-fascist.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:21 PM


Republicans Smell Weakness In Obama: How did the president's address look from the other side of the aisle? According to insiders, the GOP wasn't fazed one bit. Some Republicans are eager for battle, and some even feel sorry for Obama. (John Batchelor, 02/25/09, Daily Beast)

Here’s how it looked from the Republican side of the aisle. “[House Minority Leader John] Boehner told us,” a senior Republican recounted to me after the president’s address on the financial crisis to a joint session of Congress, “‘Behave, be cool, be nice, sit back, all smiles, no carping, no attacking the president, no trouble. For six months.’ And everyone is cool with that. The morale is great. The old guys are into it as much as the young. We just sat there through the speech and smiled and nodded. There was only one time there might have been towel snapping, when he mentioned there were no earmarks in the stimulus bill. The boys got a little rowdy at that point. A little out of line. Could you hear it on the TV? They were a little rude. The president kept looking to the Democrats for the love, and then he would look at us to act smug, and we gotta out of line at that earmark mention.” [...]

Whether they are right or not, the GOP House members sense animal weakness in the Obama administration on just this point: that the stimulus plan won’t work, that the polls show the American voters doubt it will work, and that the Obama administration is clumsily defensive and prickly because they cannot demonstrate it will work. Hence the strange line, “No one messes with Joe,” in Obama’s speech, as if Joe Biden will be the enforcer of the stimulus trillions. “Joe Biden is just another back-slapping senator who no one dislikes,” said senior House Republican told me, laughing and dismissing the question. “The most you can say is that he might be nutty.”

“I feel sorry for him sometimes,” confided a senior Republican House member about President Obama. “He invited us over to the White House to explain to us how the stimulus plan is working, and how the budget is going to work, and he spoke to us a couple of times. He doesn’t act like he knows what’s going on with the economy. He’s so afraid of confrontation, when you challenge him, he backs off, like he doesn’t know the right answer. Who does? That’s why you kinda feel sorry for him. Not his guys, they don’t act like they know. Do they notice the stock market sinking? Who doesn’t? There’s this sense of disarray. The administration is made up of a lot of numbers twos. The only one with any gravitas is [David] Axelrod. Geithner? He looks like he’s 12-years-old, or a grad student. The president is like a perfect vice-president. That’s what the big speech was like. A vice-president was talking.”

As an academic enterprise, it's interesting to see a president who is the living illustration of the Peter Principle. As an American, it's unfortunate. Mr. Obama seems a nice enough fellow and painfully earnest, but he's in way, way over his head.

Memo to voters: a presidential candidate's first executive experience ought not be prospective.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:13 PM


Tennessee may reject stimulus aid for jobless: Bredesen balks at conditions tied to federal package, long-term costs (Chas Sisk, 2/25/09, THE TENNESSEAN)

Tennessee could reject a portion of the $787 billion economic stimulus package out of concerns that it would force the state to raise taxes on businesses in the future.

At the National Governors Association meetings in Washington, D.C., Gov. Phil Bredesen said this week that he might turn down relief for unemployed workers worth an estimated $143 million because of conditions placed on the money by Congress.

The stimulus package would also raise unemployment benefits by $25 a week for all workers, but in addition, lawmakers want states to expand the pool of people who can apply for benefits. That would put more pressure on an unemployment trust fund that is already trying to stave off insolvency.

There goes his cabinet spot....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:55 PM


Exclusive First Listen: Neko Case (NPR.org, February 18, 2009)

When Neko Case toured in support of 2006's Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, she claimed that she didn't like love songs, and that she was incapable of writing one. But on her sixth studio album, due out March 3, Case offers up what she calls "a bunch of love songs," which are heartbreakingly beautiful and, at times, comical. NPR Music offers an exclusive sneak preview of the entire record, Middle Cyclone. [...]

The opening track, "This Tornado Loves You," imagines what it would be like to have an affair with a funnel cloud.

"What would it be like to be pursued by a force of nature?" Case asks. "That's a frightening and exciting prospect. For me, the song is very literal."

Ultimately, Case says, the songs on Middle Cyclone are more about the universal need for love, regardless of what form it may take.

"What other people might call 'love songs,' I think of as homages," she says. "They can be to a person, a region, a feeling, even sad feelings."

In addition to 12 new tracks, Case also covers two songs on Middle Cyclone: "Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth" by Sparks, and "Don't Forget Me" by Harry Nilsson.

Middle Cyclone was produced by Case, with Darryl Neudorf, and recorded in Tucson, Brooklyn, Toronto and Vermont. It features Case, backed by her core band: guitarist Paul Rigby, bassist Tom V. Ray, backing vocalist Kelly Hogan, multi-instrumentalist Jon Rauhouse, and drummer Barry Mirochnick. She's also joined by a number of guests, including M. Ward, Garth Hudson, Sarah Harmer and members of The New Pornographers, Los Lobos, Calexico, The Sadies, Visqueen, The Lilys and Giant Sand.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:44 PM


Gaza and After: An Interview with Paul Berman (Michelle Sieff, March 2009, Z)

PAUL BERMAN IS A writer on politics and literature, an editor at Dissent and The New Republic, a professor of Journalism at New York University, and a preeminent public intellectual. He has written or edited eight books, including, most recently, Carl Sandburg: Selected Poems, edited with an introduction, published by the Library of America in 2006.

Many of Berman's political writings have analyzed progressive political movements and their ideas as well as the political movements and ideologies that have challenged these ideas in the modern era. In two of his books - A Tale of Two Utopias, published in 1996 and Power and the Idealists, published in 2005 - Berman analyzed the intellectual evolution of the student radicals of 1968, both in the United States and Europe. In Terror and Liberalism, published in 2003, Berman examined the ideas which underpin radical Islamist political movements and illuminated the connections between Islamist and European totalitarian ideologies.

In the wake of Israel's war against Hamas, I sat down with Paul Berman to discuss the war, the Obama Administration and the Middle East, and the persistence of antisemitism in our own time.

During the Gaza conflict, there were several anti-Israel protests where Israel was routinely demonized as a Nazi or Apartheid state. Why do you think so many activists, especially on the left, demonize Israel? Is it a sign of antisemitism?

Oh, as Irving Howe said, "There is no heart so warm that it doesn't have a cold spot for the Jews." We like to think of hatred of the Jews as a low, base sentiment that is entertained by nasty, ignorant people, wallowing in their own hatefulness. But normally it's not like that. Hatred for the Jews has generally taken the form of a lofty sentiment, instead of a lowly one - a noble feeling embraced by people who believe they stand for the highest and most admirable of moral views.

In the Middle Ages, Christians felt they were upholding the principles of universal redemption, and they looked on the Jews as terrible people because the Jews had refused the word of God - had insisted on remaining Jews. And so, the loftiest of religious sentiments led to hatred of the Jews.

In the 18th century, the Enlightenment philosophers looked on the Enlightenment itself as the loftiest form of thought - the truest of all possible guides to universal justice and happiness. The Enlightenment philosophers detested Christianity because it was a font of superstition and oppression. But this only led them to despise the Jews even more - no longer because the Jews had refused the message of Christianity, but because the Jews had engendered the message of Christianity. And the damnable Jews insisted on remaining Jews, instead of repudiating religion altogether.

The religious wars wreaked all kinds of damage on Europe. But the Treaty of Westphalia came along in 1648 and put an end to religious wars by establishing a system of states with recognized borders, each state with its own religion. The new Westphalian system embodied yet another Enlightenment idea of lofty ideals - the grandest guarantee of universal peace and justice. But the Jews were scattered throughout Europe, instead of being gathered together in a single state. The new state system was supposed to be a comfortable shoe, and the Jews were a pebble. And they insisted on remaining Jews, instead of helpfully disappearing. So one hated the Jews for failing to conform to the new system of states.

Today we have arrived at yet another idea about how to bring about universal peace and justice - the loftiest, most advanced idea of our own time. Instead of looking on well-established states with solid borders to keep the peace, Westphalia-style, we look on states as a formula for oppression and war. Lofty opinion nowadays calls for post-state political systems, like the European Union. Unfortunately, nowadays the Jews possess a state. Thus one hates the Jews in the name of lofty opinion, no longer because the Jews lack a state but because, on the contrary, they have a state. They seem keen on keeping their state. And once again the Jews are seen to be affirming a principle that high-minded people used to uphold but have now rejected as antiquated.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, people with advanced ideas began to look on Christian hatred of the Jews as a retrograde prejudice - and the advanced thinkers embraced, instead, the pseudo-science of racism. They no longer hated the Jews on religious grounds - they hated the Jews on racial grounds. The word "racism" originally applied to hatred of the Jews. Racial hatred seemed up to date. Today, however, racism itself has come to seem like a retrograde prejudice. And so, people with advanced opinions hate the Jews on anti-racist grounds, and they regard the Jews as the world's leading racists.

And so forth. The unstated assumption is always the same. To wit: the universal system for man's happiness has already arrived (namely, Christianity, or else Enlightenment anti-Christianity; the Westphalian state system, or else the post-modern system of international institutions; racial theory, or else the anti-racist doctrine in a certain interpretation). And the universal system for man's happiness would right now have achieved perfection - were it not for the Jews. The Jews are always standing in the way. The higher one's opinion of oneself, the more one detests the Jews.

The political left has always been of two minds on these matters. An opposition to anti-Semitism (and to all kinds of bigotry) did use to be one of the pillars of the modern left. But the left has always rested on more than one pillar, and some of those pillars are a little wobbly. And there is the left-wing conceit that, today at last, the system for universal justice and happiness has been discovered, and should be embraced by all advanced thinkers. The cosmopolitan abolition of states, let us say. And here are the Jews resisting it. In short, nothing leads more quickly to a disdain for the Jews than a feeling of smug loftiness.

Odd that the Israel born in reaction to Nationalism-Socialism is now a nationalist stumbling block to Transnationalism

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:27 PM


European Creationists Take On Darwin: The US isn't the only place with heated debates about Darwin's theory of evolution: Europe has its own hardcore creationists and intelligent design backers, too. Increasingly, they are making their voices heard. (Jens Lubbadeh, 2/25/09, Der Spiegel))

Fundamentalist Christians who believe in creationism -- which holds that God created the world and humanity in the manner described in the Bible -- reject the principle of evolution and are striking back. They are pushing for the use of school texts that vilify the theory of evolution as a mere ideology. They have sued to have the theory of intelligent design -- a water-down version of creationism -- taught in biology courses at the same time as evolution, as both an equally valid scientific theory and alternative to evolution.

"It would be like claiming a right to teach astrology in a physics course," said James Williams, a lecturer in science education at the University of Sussex, at a conference entitled "Attitude and Knowledge Concerning Evolution and Science in Europe" held in Dortmund on Feb. 20. Williams has studied the influence that creationists have had in the United Kingdom. And it is big: According to a survey conducted in 2006, the majority of British have their doubts about evolution, and 40 percent want creationism taught in biology classes.

Scientists agree that the overwhelming mass of evidence supports the theory of evolution. "No serious scientist questions the theory of evolution," says Ralf Sommer, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Tübingen. "The only thing being discussed is the mechanisms of evolution, and that is a rather animated field of study."

Mr. Sommer concedes too much there as that is indeed the entire question between Darwinism, Creationism and Design: the mechanisms.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:12 PM


Pink at the Rink Set for Men's Hockey Game on Friday (Dartmouth Sports, 02/25/2009)

HANOVER, N.H. - This Friday the Dartmouth men's hockey team takes on Princeton at 7:30 and will be participating in the second annual Pink at the Rink to benefit the American Cancer Society and promote cancer awareness. The first 250 fans in the door will receive a pink "Real Men Wear Pink" t-shirt, courtesy of Northeast Waste Services. This is the first time the men's team will be wearing special jersey's to promote the event. The jersey's will be autographed and auctioned off after the game. [...]

Dartmouth is teaming up with its community and particularly the Norris Cotton Cancer Center at its own Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center. The Big Green is doing its part to raise awareness and lend support to those fighting all cancers and recognize the work of those who care for them. If anyone would like to bid on either the game-worn jerseys or the special neck-tie worn by Coach Gaudet you can go to ecachockeycoachesvscancer.com from Feb. 27 to March 8 to place your bid. A minimum bid of $150 is sought for each player’s jersey.

"Our team is excited that we're able to be a bigger part of the activities," said senior captain Rob Pritchard. "Last season the women got to wear the pink jerseys and participate in the acution and I didn't feel like our team was able to contribute as much. So this year we're excited to be a big part of it and proud to bring some awareness and money to the cause."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:06 PM


Muslim Publics Oppose Al Qaeda's Terrorism, But Agree With Its Goal of Driving US Forces Out (PIPA, February 24, 2009)

In nearly all nations polled more than seven in 10 say they disapprove of attacks on American civilians. "Bombings and assassinations that are carried out to achieve political or religious goals" are rejected as "not justified at all" by large majorities ranging from 67 to 89 percent. There is a growing belief that attacks on civilians are ineffective, with approximately half now saying that such attacks are hardly ever effective.

At the same time large majorities endorse the goal of al Qaeda to "push the US to remove its bases and its military forces from all Islamic countries," including 87 percent of Egyptians, 64 percent of Indonesians, and 60 percent of Pakistanis.

Asked specifically about the US naval forces based in the Persian Gulf, there is widespread opposition across the Muslim world. Across eight Muslim publics on average, 66 percent said it was a bad idea; only 13 percent called it a good idea. Opposition is largest in Egypt (91%) and among the Palestinians (90%), but opposition is also large in America's NATO ally Turkey (77%).

Significant numbers approve of attacks on US troops based in Muslim countries, presumably as a means to apply pressure for their removal. Respondents were asked about US troops based in Iraq, the Persian Gulf, and Afghanistan. Large majorities approve of attacks in Egypt (78-83%), the Palestinian territories (87-90%), and Jordan (66-72%). In Turkey and Pakistan views are more divided. However, only minorities support attacks in Indonesia and Azerbaijan. [...]

Support for Islamist groups participating in the political process, though, is quite strong. Respondents were reminded that "in some countries there is a debate about whether Islamist political groups should be allowed to organize parties and run candidates in elections," and then asked to choose between two statements. Majorities or pluralities in every country chose the statement "All people should have the right to organize themselves into political parties and run candidates, including Islamist groups," including Pakistan (83%), Indonesia (81%), Azerbaijan (75%), Palestinian territories (69%), Turkey (53%), and Jordan (50%). Few chose the statement "Islamist groups should not be allowed to organize and run candidates because their ultimate goals are not consistent with democracy."

In all Muslim publics polled, majorities see US support for democracy in Muslim countries as conditional at best. Only very small minorities say "the US favors democracy in Muslim countries whether or not the government is cooperative with the US." The most common response is that the US favors democracy only if the government is cooperative, while nearly as many say that the US simply opposes democracy in the Muslim countries.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 PM


Placebo Effect: A Cure in the Mind: Belief is powerful medicine, even if the treatment itself is a sham. New research shows placebos can also benefit patients who do not have faith in them (Maj-Britt Niemi, February 2009, Scientific American)

A man whom his doctors referred to as “Mr. Wright” was dying from cancer of the lymph nodes. Orange-size tumors had invaded his neck, groin, chest and abdomen, and his doctors had exhausted all available treatments. Nevertheless, Mr. Wright was confident that a new anticancer drug called Krebiozen would cure him, according to a 1957 report by psychologist Bruno Klopfer of the University of California, Los Angeles, entitled “Psychological Variables in Human Cancer.”

Mr. Wright was bedridden and fighting for each breath when he received his first injection. But three days later he was cheerfully ambling around the unit, joking with the nurses. Mr. Wright’s tumors had shrunk by half, and after 10 more days of treatment he was discharged from the hospital. And yet the other patients in the hospital who had received Krebiozen showed no improvement.

Over the next two months, however, Mr. Wright became troubled by press reports questioning the efficacy of Krebiozen and suffered a relapse. His doctors decided to lie to him: an improved, doubly effective version of the drug was due to arrive the next day, they told him. Mr. Wright was ecstatic. The doctors then gave him an injection that contained not one molecule of the drug—and he improved even more than he had the last time. Soon he walked out of the hospital symptom-free. He remained healthy until two months later, when, after reading reports that exposed Krebiozen as worthless, he died within days.

As Mr. Wright’s experience illustrates, a patient’s expectations and beliefs can greatly affect the course of an illness. When psychological factors tied to an inactive substance such as Krebiozen lead to recovery, doctors call the improvement a placebo effect.

In recent decades reports have confirmed the efficacy of such sham treatments in nearly all areas of medicine. Placebos can help not only to alleviate illnesses with an obvious psychological component, such as pain, depression and anxiety, but also to lessen the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease and inflammatory disorders. Occasionally, as in Mr. Wright’s case, placebos have shrunk tumors.

Here's the Brothers Judd Health Care Plan: ignore everything. It'll either go away or kill you.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:54 AM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:44 AM


Shopping is 'throwback to days of cavewomen' (Ben Leach, 25 Feb 2009, Daily Telegraph)

A woman's love of shopping is a throwback to her days in the caves, according to a new study.

...but the assertion that women all buy 400 pairs of shows because it harkens to their cave-dwelling days is especially imbecillic.

Though, in fairness, the otherwise estimable Dennis Dutton's penchant for such theories has led him to the absurd notion that the universal revulsion at abstract art and preference for realism is a function of our longing for the African Savannah of our species' youth.

The promised land: Art theory assumes that our aesthetic tastes are conditioned by the culture in which we live. But does genetic programming have more to do with it than we think? (Denis Dutton, 05 February 2009, New Statesman)

Unknown to most art historians, there exists a body of psychological scholarship that is much more potent in addressing cross-cultural tastes in landscape than hypotheses about enculturation. For example, the biologist Gordon H Orians has described the ideal landscape that human beings would find intrinsically pleasurable. In his formulation, this landscape has much in common with the savannahs and woodlands where hominids split off from chimpanzee lineages and where much of early human evolution was played out; hence, it is called "the Savannah Hypothesis". In brief, this landscape type includes these elements:

1. open spaces of low (or mown) grasses interspersed with thickets of bushes and groupings of trees;

2. presence of water directly in view, or evidence of water nearby or in the distance;

3. an opening-up in at least one direction to an unimpeded vantage on the horizon;

4. evidence of animal and bird life; and

5. diversity of greenery, including flowering and fruiting plants.

These innate preferences turn out to be more than just vague, generalised attractions towards generic scenes: they are notably specific. African savannahs are not only the probable scene of a significant portion of human evolution, they are to an extent the habitat meat-eating hominids evolved for - savannahs contain more protein per square kilometre than any other landscape type. Moreover, savannahs offer food at or close to ground level, unlike rainforests, which are more easily navigable by tree-dwelling apes.

Human beings are less attracted to open, flat grasslands and more attracted towards a mod­erate degree of hilly undulation, suggesting a desire to attain vantage points for orientation. Verdant savannahs are preferred experimentally to savannahs in the dry season. The type of savannah that is ideal appears to be the very savannah imitated not only in paintings and calendars but in many great public parks, such as portions of New York's Central Park. Modernly designed golf courses can make stunning use of such savannah motifs.

High-quality savannahs are characterised by Acacia tortilis, a spreading tree that branches close to the ground. Research shows that there is a cross-cultural preference for trees with moderately dense canopies which fork near the ground (a common tree type in 17th-century Dutch landscape painting). Trees with either skimpy or very dense canopies were less preferred, as were trees whose first branches were well out of human reach. A climbable tree was a device to escape predators in the Pleistocene epoch. This life-and-death fact is revealed today in our aesthetic sense for trees (and in children's spontaneous love for climbing them).

Landscape preference is not always for wildness, a sense of virgin territory, which can appear intuitively forbidding. In particular, the attraction of natural savannah-like scenes can be increased by signs of human habitation - control and intervention. Low grasses that appear to have been grazed by domestic stock can add appeal, as do such modern clichés as a cottage with smoke curling up from the chimney. Such features seem to humanise a landscape, rendering it less threatening.

Responses to landscape also depend on possibilities for exploration and orientation: "reading" a terrain. Experimental work by the psychologists Stephen and Rachel Kaplan shows that the most desirable landscapes have a moderate degree of complexity. Extremes of intricacy, such as an impenetrable jungle, or boring simplicity, such as a flat, open plain, are undesirable. Preferred landscapes are characterised by coherence and legibility - terrain that provides orientation and intelligibility invites exploration.

A sense of a natural or man-made path is the most common cue for exploration, along with a surface that is even enough for walking. A path or a riverbank that can be followed into the distance can greatly increase the appeal of a landscape. This feature is found in landscape arts across the world, and is particularly potent if the scene suggests that a fertile valley or cool mountains might be where the path leads.

The Kaplans have also stressed a preference for an element of mystery, which they define as a feeling that "one could acquire new information if one were to travel deeper into the scene" - following the path or looking around the bend. They speculate that a sense of mystery implies a "longer-range, future aspect" of landscape preference. More than any other component of landscape characteristics, mystery stirs the imagination and as such is vitally important to landscape as an art form.

In a well-known experiment that has been replicated, the psychologists J D Balling and J H Falk showed photographs of five natural landscape types to six different age groups, each of which was asked about its preferences to "live in" or to "visit" each. The landscape types were tropical forest, coniferous forest, deciduous forest, East African savannah and desert. None of the photographs included water or animals. The age groups were eight, 11, 15, 18, 35, and 70 and over. From age 15 onwards, preferences were varied, with an equal liking for deciduous forest, savannah and coniferous forest, all three of which outrated tropical forests and desert, the latter being the least preferred by all age groups. The most striking finding was in the youngest group: eight-year-olds preferred savannahs for both living and visiting above all the other age groups. It is hard to explain this result from habituation, as none of the eight-year-olds had ever been in a savannah environment.

Choice of habitat was a crucial, life-and-death matter for people (and proto-people) in the Pleistocene. From our day back to the time of Socrates and Plato is a mere 120 generations. If we go further back from their Athens to the invention of writing, agriculture and the first cities, it is a lot longer: another 380 generations. But the Pleistocene epoch itself - the evolutionary theatre in which we acquired the tastes, intellectual features, emotional dispositions and personality traits that distinguish us from our hominid ancestors and make us what we are - was 80,000 generations long.

Over such a vast period of time, human beings moved out of Africa and into environments very different from the savannahs. Our ancestors walked along coastlines, went inland, learned to survive as Arctic hunters, and managed to sustain life in the deserts of Asia and Australia. They populated rainforests both temperate and tropical, followed the receding glaciers northward through Europe, and found islands off the east coast of Asia. Human evolution occurred not in any single geographical place, but over much of the globe. Unlike many animal species that are adapted to a single physical habitat and will die out if that environment disappears, human beings - clever, social, language-using tool- makers - devised ways to live in almost all physical environments on earth.

Nevertheless, the desirability of the original savannahs is an innate idea that lies deep in the human mind. We remain emotionally attached to them today because having an emotional predisposition toward such landscape types was a ­survival advantage for our prehistoric ancestors, not unlike a liking for sweet and fat, or sex. Even if an emotional attachment to such landscapes and a longing to go down the roads they offered had only a small survival advantage in the Pleistocene, it would still have become deeply engrained in the emotional life of the species over thousands of generations. Landscapes cannot be eaten or experienced by touch. They can, however, be seen, and their visual beauty is evolution's way of directing us first to the most fruitful and survivable landforms, just as the beauty and charm of a child is evolution's way of ensuring we treasure our offspring.

Show the kids a picture with a house in it and guess which they'll choose? There's a reason we hang Rockwell, Wyeth and Parrish on our walls.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:01 AM


Hacks versus Franco: Was it possible to report neutrally on the Spanish Civil War?: a review of WE SAW SPAIN DIE: Foreign correspondents in the Spanish Civil War by Paul Preston (Ronald Fraser, February 25, 2009, The Times Literary Supplement)

Through the pages of this outstanding book stride some of the great correspondents and writers of the period: Ernest Hemingway, John Dos Passos, Arthur Koestler, Arturo Barea, Martha Gellhorn and Herbert Matthews; and a number of others, among them Ilya Ehrenburg, George Orwell, André Malraux and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, make fleeting appearances. But the correspondents who most concern Paul Preston are those whose work will be best known to readers interested in the Civil War: Jay Allen, George Steer, Louis Fischer, Mikhail Koltsov and Henry Buckley. And even these are only a few of the mainly anglophone and French newspapermen who people this work with their lively presence.

The war was certainly dangerous, but it also raised new challenges for correspondents which resonate to this day. Could journalists be partisan and still truthful? Could they openly aid the side from which they were reporting and still be objective? Were actively partisan correspondents who also reported to their national intelligence services betraying their profession? In short, was each of these a regressive step down a slippery spiral, where “truth” was ultimately sacrificed? As usual in such matters, it is advisable to consider first the circumstances in which these challenges arose.

With a few exceptions – notably Allen and Buckley, who had lived for considerable periods in Spain before the war – most of the correspondents knew little if anything about the country in which they suddenly found themselves at the start of hostilities. Nor was there the time to learn about the recent Spanish past, for the present weighed too heavily on them; and even if they had the inclination, as Cedric Salter of the Daily Telegraph discovered, any discussion of the core of the conflict was regarded in British polite society as “not in quite the best of taste”. What, then, was left for correspondents in the Republican zone but to report the fighting against the insurgent military – whose coup to overthrow the democratically elected government had failed and precipitated the war – by the hastily formed, untrained and poorly armed working-class militias that were trying to hold the rebels back?

Here we already have a correspondent’s elemental story: David’s sling and stone against an armed Goliath supported by home-grown Falangists and the fascist powers of Germany, Italy and Portugal. [...]

In the light of the fascist powers’ intervention and the non-intervention of the Western democracies, the war, not surprisingly, centred for foreign correspondents on its international, anti-fascist, dimensions. The more percipient of them saw clearly the writing on the wall: the Civil War was the precursor of the inevitable and greater war that would follow if fascism were not stopped in Spain. They were privileged, they felt, to be “writing the first draft of history”, as Matthews put it, and were enraged by their own countries’ pusillanimity, which was pushing the Republic into the arms of the only major nation prepared to support it, the Soviet Union. The fact that most “loyalist” Spaniards – committed Communists, socialists and anarcho-syndicalists alike – were neither loyal to the pre-war Republic nor entranced by what they saw as “bourgeois” democracy was overlooked.

"Was"? Try, "is." We know quite well what would have happened had the Left prevailed in the Civil War. Spain would have been a gulag and the USSR would have controlled a vital naval chokepoint. In short, it would have been a disaster for Spaniards and the West. Thankfully, Franco defeated the philistines.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:40 AM

Pork Ragu for a Crowd (Contra Costa Times, 02/25/2009)

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed

3 pounds boneless pork shoulder (Boston butt), in 1 or 2 large pieces

Kosher or sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

3 large yellow onions, cut into ¼-inch dice (about 5 cups)

4 medium cloves garlic, minced

1 cup dry red wine, such as a cabernet sauvignon

7 cups canned diced tomatoes, with their juices

4 fresh bay leaves

1 large or 2 small sprigs rosemary

1 pound mild (fresh) Italian pork sausage, casings removed

1. Heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed Dutch oven or pot over medium-high heat. Generously season the pork shoulder all over with salt and pepper. Place in the pot and brown for 3 to 4 minutes on each side, turning until all sides are nicely browned. Transfer to a large plate.

2. Reduce the heat to medium and add the onions to the pot. Stir to coat evenly, adding a tablespoon of oil if necessary. Add the garlic. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions are translucent and the garlic has softened.

3. Return the pork shoulder to the pot. Increase the heat to medium-high, then add the wine, stirring to incorporate. Let it bubble for a minute or so, and then add tomatoes, bay leaves and rosemary. Reduce the heat to medium-low.

4. Add the pork sausage to the sauce in small pinches. Cover and cook for 2 to 2½ hours, adjusting the heat as needed so the sauce cooks gently. The pork shoulder should be fork-tender.

5. Use tongs to transfer the pork shoulder to a cutting board. Use two forks to shred the meat into bite-size pieces, then return it and any accumulated juices to the pot.

6. Reduce the heat to low; cook until the meat is heated through. Taste the ragu and adjust the seasoning with salt if necessary. Discard the bay leaves and rosemary before serving or storing. The sauce increases in flavor after a day's refrigeration. (And it can be chilled for up to three days or frozen up to three months.) Best served over short, sturdy pasta, such as rigatoni, penne, tortiglioni or cavatappi (corkscrews), with freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:21 AM


Asharq Al-Awsat Talks to Somali President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed (Michel Abu Najm, 2/25/09, Asharq Al-Awsat

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you have a plan for normalizing the situation in Somalia as acts of violence and piracy continue to be launched from the Somali coasts?

[Ahmad] We have started taking bold steps to address this problem. We have set up committees to be in charge of security in the capital. Calm is returning to Mogadishu's neighborhoods and to many other parts of the country. The government's plan is to give the security issue absolute priority and provide humanitarian aid to the needy and to those affected by both wars and drought. In tandem with these steps, we want the government's work to be transparent, and to keep in contact with the other parties in Somalia and with the outside world, and to focus on fostering our relations with the Arab world.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] How can you move on in Somalia as there is no central administration or state, and there is no security, and government authority is absent in large parts of the country?

[Ahmad] The problems of the absence of administration and the collapse of the state will be solved by our efforts. The new government contains competent cadres. I believe these cadres will push for restructuring the state and rebuilding its institutions. In addition, we will have in the government a security team that will be tasked with establishing peace in the country. The government has begun working along the lines I have mentioned. As for the Somali parties that did not approve of the government formation, our response is that we will be open to dialogue. Efforts and mediation attempts are being made by Somali religious scholars, tribal chiefs, notables, and by the religious scholars of the Islamic world. All these efforts seek to achieve the sole goal of persuading the Somali parties to lay down their arms and opt for negotiation and conviction.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:03 AM


Remarks of President Barack Obama -- Address to Joint Session of Congress (Remarks of President Barack Obama – As Prepared for Delivery, Address to Joint Session of Congress
Tuesday, February 24th, 2009)

Madame Speaker, Mr. Vice President, Members of Congress, and the First Lady of the United States:

I’ve come here tonight not only to address the distinguished men and women in this great chamber, but to speak frankly and directly to the men and women who sent us here.

I know that for many Americans watching right now, the state of our economy is a concern that rises above all others. And rightly so. If you haven’t been personally affected by this recession, you probably know someone who has – a friend; a neighbor; a member of your family. You don’t need to hear another list of statistics to know that our economy is in crisis, because you live it every day. It’s the worry you wake up with and the source of sleepless nights. It’s the job you thought you’d retire from but now have lost; the business you built your dreams upon that’s now hanging by a thread; the college acceptance letter your child had to put back in the envelope. The impact of this recession is real, and it is everywhere.

But while our economy may be weakened and our confidence shaken; though we are living through difficult and uncertain times, tonight I want every American to know this:

We will rebuild, we will recover, and the United States of America will emerge stronger than before.

The weight of this crisis will not determine the destiny of this nation. The answers to our problems don’t lie beyond our reach. They exist in our laboratories and universities; in our fields and our factories; in the imaginations of our entrepreneurs and the pride of the hardest-working people on Earth. Those qualities that have made America the greatest force of progress and prosperity in human history we still possess in ample measure. What is required now is for this country to pull together, confront boldly the challenges we face, and take responsibility for our future once more.

Now, if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that for too long, we have not always met these responsibilities – as a government or as a people. I say this not to lay blame or look backwards, but because it is only by understanding how we arrived at this moment that we’ll be able to lift ourselves out of this predicament.

The fact is, our economy did not fall into decline overnight. Nor did all of our problems begin when the housing market collapsed or the stock market sank. We have known for decades that our survival depends on finding new sources of energy. Yet we import more oil today than ever before. The cost of health care eats up more and more of our savings each year, yet we keep delaying reform. Our children will compete for jobs in a global economy that too many of our schools do not prepare them for. And though all these challenges went unsolved, we still managed to spend more money and pile up more debt, both as individuals and through our government, than ever before.

In other words, we have lived through an era where too often, short-term gains were prized over long-term prosperity; where we failed to look beyond the next payment, the next quarter, or the next election. A surplus became an excuse to transfer wealth to the wealthy instead of an opportunity to invest in our future. Regulations were gutted for the sake of a quick profit at the expense of a healthy market. People bought homes they knew they couldn’t afford from banks and lenders who pushed those bad loans anyway. And all the while, critical debates and difficult decisions were put off for some other time on some other day.

Well that day of reckoning has arrived, and the time to take charge of our future is here.

Now is the time to act boldly and wisely – to not only revive this economy, but to build a new foundation for lasting prosperity. Now is the time to jumpstart job creation, re-start lending, and invest in areas like energy, health care, and education that will grow our economy, even as we make hard choices to bring our deficit down. That is what my economic agenda is designed to do, and that’s what I’d like to talk to you about tonight.

It’s an agenda that begins with jobs.

As soon as I took office, I asked this Congress to send me a recovery plan by President’s Day that would put people back to work and put money in their pockets. Not because I believe in bigger government – I don’t. Not because I’m not mindful of the massive debt we’ve inherited – I am. I called for action because the failure to do so would have cost more jobs and caused more hardships. In fact, a failure to act would have worsened our long-term deficit by assuring weak economic growth for years. That’s why I pushed for quick action. And tonight, I am grateful that this Congress delivered, and pleased to say that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is now law.

Over the next two years, this plan will save or create 3.5 million jobs. More than 90% of these jobs will be in the private sector – jobs rebuilding our roads and bridges; constructing wind turbines and solar panels; laying broadband and expanding mass transit.

Because of this plan, there are teachers who can now keep their jobs and educate our kids. Health care professionals can continue caring for our sick. There are 57 police officers who are still on the streets of Minneapolis tonight because this plan prevented the layoffs their department was about to make.

Because of this plan, 95% of the working households in America will receive a tax cut – a tax cut that you will see in your paychecks beginning on April 1st.

Because of this plan, families who are struggling to pay tuition costs will receive a $2,500 tax credit for all four years of college. And Americans who have lost their jobs in this recession will be able to receive extended unemployment benefits and continued health care coverage to help them weather this storm.

I know there are some in this chamber and watching at home who are skeptical of whether this plan will work. I understand that skepticism. Here in Washington, we’ve all seen how quickly good intentions can turn into broken promises and wasteful spending. And with a plan of this scale comes enormous responsibility to get it right.

That is why I have asked Vice President Biden to lead a tough, unprecedented oversight effort – because nobody messes with Joe. I have told each member of my Cabinet as well as mayors and governors across the country that they will be held accountable by me and the American people for every dollar they spend. I have appointed a proven and aggressive Inspector General to ferret out any and all cases of waste and fraud. And we have created a new website called recovery.gov so that every American can find out how and where their money is being spent.

So the recovery plan we passed is the first step in getting our economy back on track. But it is just the first step. Because even if we manage this plan flawlessly, there will be no real recovery unless we clean up the credit crisis that has severely weakened our financial system.

I want to speak plainly and candidly about this issue tonight, because every American should know that it directly affects you and your family’s well-being. You should also know that the money you’ve deposited in banks across the country is safe; your insurance is secure; and you can rely on the continued operation of our financial system. That is not the source of concern.

The concern is that if we do not re-start lending in this country, our recovery will be choked off before it even begins.

You see, the flow of credit is the lifeblood of our economy. The ability to get a loan is how you finance the purchase of everything from a home to a car to a college education; how stores stock their shelves, farms buy equipment, and businesses make payroll.

But credit has stopped flowing the way it should. Too many bad loans from the housing crisis have made their way onto the books of too many banks. With so much debt and so little confidence, these banks are now fearful of lending out any more money to households, to businesses, or to each other. When there is no lending, families can’t afford to buy homes or cars. So businesses are forced to make layoffs. Our economy suffers even more, and credit dries up even further.

That is why this administration is moving swiftly and aggressively to break this destructive cycle, restore confidence, and re-start lending.

We will do so in several ways. First, we are creating a new lending fund that represents the largest effort ever to help provide auto loans, college loans, and small business loans to the consumers and entrepreneurs who keep this economy running.

Second, we have launched a housing plan that will help responsible families facing the threat of foreclosure lower their monthly payments and re-finance their mortgages. It’s a plan that won’t help speculators or that neighbor down the street who bought a house he could never hope to afford, but it will help millions of Americans who are struggling with declining home values – Americans who will now be able to take advantage of the lower interest rates that this plan has already helped bring about. In fact, the average family who re-finances today can save nearly $2000 per year on their mortgage.

Third, we will act with the full force of the federal government to ensure that the major banks that Americans depend on have enough confidence and enough money to lend even in more difficult times. And when we learn that a major bank has serious problems, we will hold accountable those responsible, force the necessary adjustments, provide the support to clean up their balance sheets, and assure the continuity of a strong, viable institution that can serve our people and our economy.

I understand that on any given day, Wall Street may be more comforted by an approach that gives banks bailouts with no strings attached, and that holds nobody accountable for their reckless decisions. But such an approach won’t solve the problem. And our goal is to quicken the day when we re-start lending to the American people and American business and end this crisis once and for all.

I intend to hold these banks fully accountable for the assistance they receive, and this time, they will have to clearly demonstrate how taxpayer dollars result in more lending for the American taxpayer. This time, CEOs won’t be able to use taxpayer money to pad their paychecks or buy fancy drapes or disappear on a private jet. Those days are over.

Still, this plan will require significant resources from the federal government – and yes, probably more than we’ve already set aside. But while the cost of action will be great, I can assure you that the cost of inaction will be far greater, for it could result in an economy that sputters along for not months or years, but perhaps a decade. That would be worse for our deficit, worse for business, worse for you, and worse for the next generation. And I refuse to let that happen.

I understand that when the last administration asked this Congress to provide assistance for struggling banks, Democrats and Republicans alike were infuriated by the mismanagement and results that followed. So were the American taxpayers. So was I.

So I know how unpopular it is to be seen as helping banks right now, especially when everyone is suffering in part from their bad decisions. I promise you – I get it.

But I also know that in a time of crisis, we cannot afford to govern out of anger, or yield to the politics of the moment. My job – our job – is to solve the problem. Our job is to govern with a sense of responsibility. I will not spend a single penny for the purpose of rewarding a single Wall Street executive, but I will do whatever it takes to help the small business that can’t pay its workers or the family that has saved and still can’t get a mortgage.

That’s what this is about. It’s not about helping banks – it’s about helping people. Because when credit is available again, that young family can finally buy a new home. And then some company will hire workers to build it. And then those workers will have money to spend, and if they can get a loan too, maybe they’ll finally buy that car, or open their own business. Investors will return to the market, and American families will see their retirement secured once more. Slowly, but surely, confidence will return, and our economy will recover.

So I ask this Congress to join me in doing whatever proves necessary. Because we cannot consign our nation to an open-ended recession. And to ensure that a crisis of this magnitude never happens again, I ask Congress to move quickly on legislation that will finally reform our outdated regulatory system. It is time to put in place tough, new common-sense rules of the road so that our financial market rewards drive and innovation, and punishes short-cuts and abuse.

The recovery plan and the financial stability plan are the immediate steps we’re taking to revive our economy in the short-term. But the only way to fully restore America’s economic strength is to make the long-term investments that will lead to new jobs, new industries, and a renewed ability to compete with the rest of the world. The only way this century will be another American century is if we confront at last the price of our dependence on oil and the high cost of health care; the schools that aren’t preparing our children and the mountain of debt they stand to inherit. That is our responsibility.

In the next few days, I will submit a budget to Congress. So often, we have come to view these documents as simply numbers on a page or laundry lists of programs. I see this document differently. I see it as a vision for America – as a blueprint for our future.

My budget does not attempt to solve every problem or address every issue. It reflects the stark reality of what we’ve inherited – a trillion dollar deficit, a financial crisis, and a costly recession.

Given these realities, everyone in this chamber – Democrats and Republicans – will have to sacrifice some worthy priorities for which there are no dollars. And that includes me.

But that does not mean we can afford to ignore our long-term challenges. I reject the view that says our problems will simply take care of themselves; that says government has no role in laying the foundation for our common prosperity.

For history tells a different story. History reminds us that at every moment of economic upheaval and transformation, this nation has responded with bold action and big ideas. In the midst of civil war, we laid railroad tracks from one coast to another that spurred commerce and industry. From the turmoil of the Industrial Revolution came a system of public high schools that prepared our citizens for a new age. In the wake of war and depression, the GI Bill sent a generation to college and created the largest middle-class in history. And a twilight struggle for freedom led to a nation of highways, an American on the moon, and an explosion of technology that still shapes our world.

In each case, government didn’t supplant private enterprise; it catalyzed private enterprise. It created the conditions for thousands of entrepreneurs and new businesses to adapt and to thrive.

We are a nation that has seen promise amid peril, and claimed opportunity from ordeal. Now we must be that nation again. That is why, even as it cuts back on the programs we don’t need, the budget I submit will invest in the three areas that are absolutely critical to our economic future: energy, health care, and education.

It begins with energy.

We know the country that harnesses the power of clean, renewable energy will lead the 21st century. And yet, it is China that has launched the largest effort in history to make their economy energy efficient. We invented solar technology, but we’ve fallen behind countries like Germany and Japan in producing it. New plug-in hybrids roll off our assembly lines, but they will run on batteries made in Korea.

Well I do not accept a future where the jobs and industries of tomorrow take root beyond our borders – and I know you don’t either. It is time for America to lead again.

Thanks to our recovery plan, we will double this nation’s supply of renewable energy in the next three years. We have also made the largest investment in basic research funding in American history – an investment that will spur not only new discoveries in energy, but breakthroughs in medicine, science, and technology.

We will soon lay down thousands of miles of power lines that can carry new energy to cities and towns across this country. And we will put Americans to work making our homes and buildings more efficient so that we can save billions of dollars on our energy bills.

But to truly transform our economy, protect our security, and save our planet from the ravages of climate change, we need to ultimately make clean, renewable energy the profitable kind of energy. So I ask this Congress to send me legislation that places a market-based cap on carbon pollution and drives the production of more renewable energy in America. And to support that innovation, we will invest fifteen billion dollars a year to develop technologies like wind power and solar power; advanced biofuels, clean coal, and more fuel-efficient cars and trucks built right here in America.

As for our auto industry, everyone recognizes that years of bad decision-making and a global recession have pushed our automakers to the brink. We should not, and will not, protect them from their own bad practices. But we are committed to the goal of a re-tooled, re-imagined auto industry that can compete and win. Millions of jobs depend on it. Scores of communities depend on it. And I believe the nation that invented the automobile cannot walk away from it.

None of this will come without cost, nor will it be easy. But this is America. We don’t do what’s easy. We do what is necessary to move this country forward.

For that same reason, we must also address the crushing cost of health care.

This is a cost that now causes a bankruptcy in America every thirty seconds. By the end of the year, it could cause 1.5 million Americans to lose their homes. In the last eight years, premiums have grown four times faster than wages. And in each of these years, one million more Americans have lost their health insurance. It is one of the major reasons why small businesses close their doors and corporations ship jobs overseas. And it’s one of the largest and fastest-growing parts of our budget.

Given these facts, we can no longer afford to put health care reform on hold.

Already, we have done more to advance the cause of health care reform in the last thirty days than we have in the last decade. When it was days old, this Congress passed a law to provide and protect health insurance for eleven million American children whose parents work full-time. Our recovery plan will invest in electronic health records and new technology that will reduce errors, bring down costs, ensure privacy, and save lives. It will launch a new effort to conquer a disease that has touched the life of nearly every American by seeking a cure for cancer in our time. And it makes the largest investment ever in preventive care, because that is one of the best ways to keep our people healthy and our costs under control.

This budget builds on these reforms. It includes an historic commitment to comprehensive health care reform – a down-payment on the principle that we must have quality, affordable health care for every American. It’s a commitment that’s paid for in part by efficiencies in our system that are long overdue. And it’s a step we must take if we hope to bring down our deficit in the years to come.

Now, there will be many different opinions and ideas about how to achieve reform, and that is why I’m bringing together businesses and workers, doctors and health care providers, Democrats and Republicans to begin work on this issue next week.

I suffer no illusions that this will be an easy process. It will be hard. But I also know that nearly a century after Teddy Roosevelt first called for reform, the cost of our health care has weighed down our economy and the conscience of our nation long enough. So let there be no doubt: health care reform cannot wait, it must not wait, and it will not wait another year.

The third challenge we must address is the urgent need to expand the promise of education in America.

In a global economy where the most valuable skill you can sell is your knowledge, a good education is no longer just a pathway to opportunity – it is a pre-requisite.

Right now, three-quarters of the fastest-growing occupations require more than a high school diploma. And yet, just over half of our citizens have that level of education. We have one of the highest high school dropout rates of any industrialized nation. And half of the students who begin college never finish.

This is a prescription for economic decline, because we know the countries that out-teach us today will out-compete us tomorrow. That is why it will be the goal of this administration to ensure that every child has access to a complete and competitive education – from the day they are born to the day they begin a career.

Already, we have made an historic investment in education through the economic recovery plan. We have dramatically expanded early childhood education and will continue to improve its quality, because we know that the most formative learning comes in those first years of life. We have made college affordable for nearly seven million more students. And we have provided the resources necessary to prevent painful cuts and teacher layoffs that would set back our children’s progress.

But we know that our schools don’t just need more resources. They need more reform. That is why this budget creates new incentives for teacher performance; pathways for advancement, and rewards for success. We’ll invest in innovative programs that are already helping schools meet high standards and close achievement gaps. And we will expand our commitment to charter schools.

It is our responsibility as lawmakers and educators to make this system work. But it is the responsibility of every citizen to participate in it. And so tonight, I ask every American to commit to at least one year or more of higher education or career training. This can be community college or a four-year school; vocational training or an apprenticeship. But whatever the training may be, every American will need to get more than a high school diploma. And dropping out of high school is no longer an option. It’s not just quitting on yourself, it’s quitting on your country – and this country needs and values the talents of every American. That is why we will provide the support necessary for you to complete college and meet a new goal: by 2020, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.

I know that the price of tuition is higher than ever, which is why if you are willing to volunteer in your neighborhood or give back to your community or serve your country, we will make sure that you can afford a higher education. And to encourage a renewed spirit of national service for this and future generations, I ask this Congress to send me the bipartisan legislation that bears the name of Senator Orrin Hatch as well as an American who has never stopped asking what he can do for his country – Senator Edward Kennedy.

These education policies will open the doors of opportunity for our children. But it is up to us to ensure they walk through them. In the end, there is no program or policy that can substitute for a mother or father who will attend those parent/teacher conferences, or help with homework after dinner, or turn off the TV, put away the video games, and read to their child. I speak to you not just as a President, but as a father when I say that responsibility for our children's education must begin at home.

There is, of course, another responsibility we have to our children. And that is the responsibility to ensure that we do not pass on to them a debt they cannot pay. With the deficit we inherited, the cost of the crisis we face, and the long-term challenges we must meet, it has never been more important to ensure that as our economy recovers, we do what it takes to bring this deficit down.

I’m proud that we passed the recovery plan free of earmarks, and I want to pass a budget next year that ensures that each dollar we spend reflects only our most important national priorities.

Yesterday, I held a fiscal summit where I pledged to cut the deficit in half by the end of my first term in office. My administration has also begun to go line by line through the federal budget in order to eliminate wasteful and ineffective programs. As you can imagine, this is a process that will take some time. But we’re starting with the biggest lines. We have already identified two trillion dollars in savings over the next decade.

In this budget, we will end education programs that don’t work and end direct payments to large agribusinesses that don’t need them. We’ll eliminate the no-bid contracts that have wasted billions in Iraq, and reform our defense budget so that we’re not paying for Cold War-era weapons systems we don’t use. We will root out the waste, fraud, and abuse in our Medicare program that doesn’t make our seniors any healthier, and we will restore a sense of fairness and balance to our tax code by finally ending the tax breaks for corporations that ship our jobs overseas.

In order to save our children from a future of debt, we will also end the tax breaks for the wealthiest 2% of Americans. But let me perfectly clear, because I know you’ll hear the same old claims that rolling back these tax breaks means a massive tax increase on the American people: if your family earns less than $250,000 a year, you will not see your taxes increased a single dime. I repeat: not one single dime. In fact, the recovery plan provides a tax cut – that’s right, a tax cut – for 95% of working families. And these checks are on the way.

To preserve our long-term fiscal health, we must also address the growing costs in Medicare and Social Security. Comprehensive health care reform is the best way to strengthen Medicare for years to come. And we must also begin a conversation on how to do the same for Social Security, while creating tax-free universal savings accounts for all Americans.

Finally, because we’re also suffering from a deficit of trust, I am committed to restoring a sense of honesty and accountability to our budget. That is why this budget looks ahead ten years and accounts for spending that was left out under the old rules – and for the first time, that includes the full cost of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. For seven years, we have been a nation at war. No longer will we hide its price.

We are now carefully reviewing our policies in both wars, and I will soon announce a way forward in Iraq that leaves Iraq to its people and responsibly ends this war.

And with our friends and allies, we will forge a new and comprehensive strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan to defeat al Qaeda and combat extremism. Because I will not allow terrorists to plot against the American people from safe havens half a world away.

As we meet here tonight, our men and women in uniform stand watch abroad and more are readying to deploy. To each and every one of them, and to the families who bear the quiet burden of their absence, Americans are united in sending one message: we honor your service, we are inspired by your sacrifice, and you have our unyielding support. To relieve the strain on our forces, my budget increases the number of our soldiers and Marines. And to keep our sacred trust with those who serve, we will raise their pay, and give our veterans the expanded health care and benefits that they have earned.

To overcome extremism, we must also be vigilant in upholding the values our troops defend – because there is no force in the world more powerful than the example of America. That is why I have ordered the closing of the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, and will seek swift and certain justice for captured terrorists – because living our values doesn’t make us weaker, it makes us safer and it makes us stronger. And that is why I can stand here tonight and say without exception or equivocation that the United States of America does not torture.

In words and deeds, we are showing the world that a new era of engagement has begun. For we know that America cannot meet the threats of this century alone, but the world cannot meet them without America. We cannot shun the negotiating table, nor ignore the foes or forces that could do us harm. We are instead called to move forward with the sense of confidence and candor that serious times demand.

To seek progress toward a secure and lasting peace between Israel and her neighbors, we have appointed an envoy to sustain our effort. To meet the challenges of the 21st century – from terrorism to nuclear proliferation; from pandemic disease to cyber threats to crushing poverty – we will strengthen old alliances, forge new ones, and use all elements of our national power.

And to respond to an economic crisis that is global in scope, we are working with the nations of the G-20 to restore confidence in our financial system, avoid the possibility of escalating protectionism, and spur demand for American goods in markets across the globe. For the world depends on us to have a strong economy, just as our economy depends on the strength of the world’s.

As we stand at this crossroads of history, the eyes of all people in all nations are once again upon us – watching to see what we do with this moment; waiting for us to lead.

Those of us gathered here tonight have been called to govern in extraordinary times. It is a tremendous burden, but also a great privilege – one that has been entrusted to few generations of Americans. For in our hands lies the ability to shape our world for good or for ill.

I know that it is easy to lose sight of this truth – to become cynical and doubtful; consumed with the petty and the trivial.

But in my life, I have also learned that hope is found in unlikely places; that inspiration often comes not from those with the most power or celebrity, but from the dreams and aspirations of Americans who are anything but ordinary.

I think about Leonard Abess, the bank president from Miami who reportedly cashed out of his company, took a $60 million bonus, and gave it out to all 399 people who worked for him, plus another 72 who used to work for him. He didn’t tell anyone, but when the local newspaper found out, he simply said, ''I knew some of these people since I was 7 years old. I didn't feel right getting the money myself."

I think about Greensburg, Kansas, a town that was completely destroyed by a tornado, but is being rebuilt by its residents as a global example of how clean energy can power an entire community – how it can bring jobs and businesses to a place where piles of bricks and rubble once lay. "The tragedy was terrible," said one of the men who helped them rebuild. "But the folks here know that it also provided an incredible opportunity."

And I think about Ty’Sheoma Bethea, the young girl from that school I visited in Dillon, South Carolina – a place where the ceilings leak, the paint peels off the walls, and they have to stop teaching six times a day because the train barrels by their classroom. She has been told that her school is hopeless, but the other day after class she went to the public library and typed up a letter to the people sitting in this room. She even asked her principal for the money to buy a stamp. The letter asks us for help, and says, "We are just students trying to become lawyers, doctors, congressmen like yourself and one day president, so we can make a change to not just the state of South Carolina but also the world. We are not quitters."

We are not quitters.

These words and these stories tell us something about the spirit of the people who sent us here. They tell us that even in the most trying times, amid the most difficult circumstances, there is a generosity, a resilience, a decency, and a determination that perseveres; a willingness to take responsibility for our future and for posterity.

Their resolve must be our inspiration. Their concerns must be our cause. And we must show them and all our people that we are equal to the task before us.

I know that we haven’t agreed on every issue thus far, and there are surely times in the future when we will part ways. But I also know that every American who is sitting here tonight loves this country and wants it to succeed. That must be the starting point for every debate we have in the coming months, and where we return after those debates are done. That is the foundation on which the American people expect us to build common ground.

And if we do – if we come together and lift this nation from the depths of this crisis; if we put our people back to work and restart the engine of our prosperity; if we confront without fear the challenges of our time and summon that enduring spirit of an America that does not quit, then someday years from now our children can tell their children that this was the time when we performed, in the words that are carved into this very chamber, "something worthy to be remembered." Thank you, God Bless you, and may God Bless the United States of America.

The President has been handed a great gift, an economic contraction that's unusual enough these days that he could use it to enact to some big legislative changes. But, instead, all he offered was: the McCain-Lieberman-style cap-and-trade program, despite the collapse of Europe's; a promise to reduce health care spending while pumping money into the industry; a promise to reduce the cost of education while pumping more money into that system; and tax increases on the tiny fraction of the population that already pays 60%+ of them? We've been pretty disparaging of the notion that this guy has any vision of what he wants to do with the presidency, but even so, this is laughably small potatoes for a "day of reckoning."

Fact-Checking The Speech: Some Claims Aren't Completely True (AP, 2/24/09)

OBAMA: "Regulations were gutted for the sake of a quick profit at the expense of a healthy market. People bought homes they knew they couldn't afford from banks and lenders who pushed those bad loans anyway. And all the while, critical debates and difficult decisions were put off for some other time on some other day."

THE FACTS: This may be so, but it isn't only Republicans who pushed for deregulation of the financial industries. The Clinton administration championed an easing of banking regulations, including legislation that ended the barrier between regular banks and Wall Street banks. That led to a deregulation that kept regular banks under tight federal regulation but extended lax regulation of Wall Street banks. Clinton Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, later an economic adviser to candidate Obama, was in the forefront in pushing for this deregulation.


OBAMA: "In this budget, we will end education programs that don't work and end direct payments to large agribusinesses that don't need them. We'll eliminate the no-bid contracts that have wasted billions in Iraq, and reform our defense budget so that we're not paying for Cold War-era weapons systems we don't use. We will root out the waste, fraud and abuse in our Medicare program that doesn't make our seniors any healthier, and we will restore a sense of fairness and balance to our tax code by finally ending the tax breaks for corporations that ship our jobs overseas."

THE FACTS: First, his budget does not accomplish any of that. It only proposes those steps. That's all a president can do, because control over spending rests with Congress. Obama's proposals here are a wish list and some items, including corporate tax increases and cuts in agricultural aid, will be a tough sale in Congress.

Second, waste, fraud and abuse are routinely targeted by presidents who later find that the savings realized seldom amount to significant sums. Programs that a president might consider wasteful have staunch defenders in Congress who have fought off similar efforts in the past.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:56 AM

Jamaican pineapple upside-down cake (Susan Sampson, 2/25/09, Toronto Star)

1/4 cup unsalted butter

1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar

14 oz [...] can pineapple slices

1/2 cup pecan halves

1-1/3 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 cup granulated sugar

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

3/4 cup whole milk

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1 large egg

Finely grated zest of 1 lime

1 tbsp lime juice

1 tsp vanilla extract


Melt butter in 10-inch, cast-iron skillet on medium heat. Remove from burner. Sprinkle in brown sugar evenly. Arrange pineapple slices in pan. (I used 7 of the 8 rings in the can.) Arrange pecans over top, especially in spaces around pineapple rings.

In large bowl, whisk together flour, granulated sugar, baking powder and salt. Add milk and oil. Beat with electric mixer on medium speed 1 minute. Scrape bowl. Add egg, zest, juice and vanilla. Beat just until well combined.

Pour batter evenly over pineapple in pan. Bake in preheated 350F oven until tester inserted into centre of cake comes out clean and top of cake is golden, 25 to 30 minutes. Let sit 5 minutes. Carefully invert onto circular platter. Eat warm or at room temperature.

February 24, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:12 PM


Bacon-wrapped meatloaf (Boston Globe, February 25, 2009)

1 1/2 pounds ground beef
1 1/2 pounds ground pork
1 Spanish onion, chopped
3/4 cup panko (bread crumbs)
2 eggs
1 cup ketchup
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 cloves garlic, very finely chopped
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon hot sauce
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
8 thick slices bacon

1. Set the oven at 350 degrees.

2. In a large bowl, combine the beef, pork, onion, panko, eggs, ketchup, milk, parsley, garlic, Worcestershire, hot sauce, salt, and cayenne. With your hands, work the mixture until thoroughly combined.

3. Lay a 16-by-12-inch piece of plastic wrap lengthwise on your work surface. Arrange the bacon strips vertically on the plastic, slightly overlapping. Turn the meat out onto the bacon and form into a loaf shape with your hands by pressing the loaf lengthwise along the bacon first, and then shaping the sides. Use the sides of the plastic to wrap and press the bacon around the loaf. Transfer the loaf to a rimmed baking sheet and flip it over. Gently remove the plastic wrap.

4. Bake the meatloaf for 60 to 70 minutes or until it is firm to the touch and the bacon starts to brown. For extra-crisp bacon, place the meatloaf under the broiler for 2 to 3 minutes, watching it carefully. Set aside for 10 minutes. Use a serrated knife to cut into slices.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:07 PM


The Big Test (DAVID BROOKS, 2/24/09, NY Times)

When I was a freshman in college, I was assigned “Reflections on the Revolution in France” by Edmund Burke. I loathed the book. Burke argued that each individual’s private stock of reason is small and that political decisions should be guided by the accumulated wisdom of the ages. Change is necessary, Burke continued, but it should be gradual, not disruptive. For a young democratic socialist, hoping to help begin the world anew, this seemed like a reactionary retreat into passivity.

Over the years, I have come to see that Burke had a point. The political history of the 20th century is the history of social-engineering projects executed by well-intentioned people that began well and ended badly. There were big errors like communism, but also lesser ones, like a Vietnam War designed by the best and the brightest, urban renewal efforts that decimated neighborhoods, welfare policies that had the unintended effect of weakening families and development programs that left a string of white elephant projects across the world.

These experiences drove me toward the crooked timber school of public philosophy: Michael Oakeshott, Isaiah Berlin, Edward Banfield, Reinhold Niebuhr, Friedrich Hayek, Clinton Rossiter and George Orwell. These writers — some left, some right — had a sense of epistemological modesty. They knew how little we can know. They understood that we are strangers to ourselves and society is an immeasurably complex organism. They tended to be skeptical of technocratic, rationalist planning and suspicious of schemes to reorganize society from the top down.

Before long, I was no longer a liberal.

"In baseball, you don't know nothin'."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:15 PM


Potential intel pick peddled Saudi-funded textbook accused of bias (Ron Kampeas, February 24, 2009, JTA)

The Obama administration’s reported pick for a top intelligence post helped peddle a Saudi-funded school study guide decried by Jewish groups and educators for having anti-Jewish biases.

Charles "Chas" Freeman, the U.S. envoy to Saudi Arabia during the first Gulf War, is slated to chair the National Intelligence Council, according to The Cable, a blog at Foreign Policy magazine that has been unerring in reporting Obama administration national security appointments. [...]

Freeman is president of the Middle East Policy Council, a Saudi-funded think tank. A JTA investigative series in 2005 exposed how the council, led by Freeman, joined with Berkeley, Calif.-based Arab World and Islamic Resources in peddling the “Arab World Studies Notebook” to American schools. In the version examined that year by JTA staff, the "Notebook" described Jerusalem as unequivocally "Arab," deriding Jewish residence in the city as "settlement"; cast the "question of Jewish lobbying" against "the whole question of defining American interests and concerns"; and suggested that the Koran "synthesizes and perfects earlier revelations."

Freeman's reported appointment already has set off a firestorm among Middle East policy bloggers, with some on the dovish side welcoming it as refreshing injection of "realism" after the neo-conservatism that defined the Bush administration, and others expressing alarm at pronouncements of Freeman and the council that have been relentlessly critical of Israel.

"Freeman is a strident critic of Israel, and a textbook case of the old-line Arabism that afflicted American diplomacy at the time the state of Israel was born," Steve Rosen, a former top official of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, wrote on his Obama Mideast Monitor blog hosted by the Middle East Forum.

Likely Obama Appointee Had Bin Laden Ties (Ashley Rindsberg, 2/24/09, Daily Beast)
Amid the criticism that has already emerged about President Obama's reported pick for the powerful position of chairman of the National Intelligence Council, there is a yet unmentioned problem that is likely cause even bigger troubles: He had business ties to the bin Laden family after 9/11.

Charles “Chas” Freeman, a former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, had business connections with the bin Laden family and their Saudi Binladin Group, a multi-billion dollar construction conglomerate founded by the father of Osama bin Laden. As chairman of Projects International, Inc., a company that develops international business deals, Mr. Freeman asserted in an interview with the Associated Press less than a month after September 11 that he was still “discussing proposals with the Bin Laden Group—and that won't change.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:39 PM


House Passes Bill Barring Interstate Transport of Pet Primates (Avery Palmer, 2/24/09, CQ)

The House passed legislation Tuesday that would prohibit the interstate shipment of pet monkeys and other primates, over Republican complaints that the bill is a waste of time.

The vote on the bill (HR 80) was 323-95.

You think it's awful to take a flippin' monkey over a state line but have no problem with transporting a minor over that line to abort her baby. Which raises the question of whether there's an exception for pregnant chimps....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:33 PM


Great news! Just drive by the local Mickey D's--Shamrock Shakes are back!

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:22 PM


Rahm Emanuel's basement room lights up the blogosphere: Is the Obama chief of staff's rent-free lodging in the home of a pollster friend and his congresswoman wife a gift or income or neither? What of the tax liability? Republicans and tax experts debate. (Andrew Zajac, February 24, 2009, LA Times)

White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel's Washington lodging arrangements, a rent-free basement room in a Capitol Hill home owned by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn) and her pollster husband, have inspired debate among tax experts and in Republic