April 30, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:39 AM


The Bible's Literary Merits (TOD LINAFELT, 410/09, The Chronicle Review)

[James] Wood's description of the workings of biblical narrative strikes me as not only wrong, but as almost precisely the opposite of its real nature. Far from presenting characters who exist solely in the public realm and who are solely concerned with God, the Bible exploits to good effect a genuinely private self in its characters, one that is largely unavailable to readers and to other characters. Biblical narrative consistently, though not slavishly, avoids giving access to the inner lives of its characters, to what they might be thinking or feeling in any given situation, even though that inner life is often vitally important to character motivation and to plot development and cannot always be filled in with reference to God.

The classic modern articulation of this aspect of biblical narrative is Erich Auerbach's essay "Odysseus' Scar" (the opening chapter of his book Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature), first published in German in 1946 and in English in 1953. Auerbach compares biblical narrative with Homer, describing Homeric style as being "of the foreground," whereas biblical narratives are by contrast "fraught with background." In other words, in The Iliad and The Odyssey both objects and people tend to be fully described and illuminated, with essential attributes and aspects — from physical descriptions to the thoughts and motivations of characters — in the foreground for the reader to apprehend. But with biblical narrative such details are, for the most part, kept in the background and are not directly available to the reader. On the question of the relationship between dialogue and characters' interiority, for example, Auerbach writes that the speech of biblical personages "does not serve, as does speech in Homer, to manifest, to externalize thoughts — on the contrary, it serves to indicate thoughts that remain unexpressed." Wood, like many readers, has mistaken lack of access to characters' inner lives for a denial of the existence of those inner lives. But the literary convention is for the narrator to report action and dialogue (what the characters do and what they say), and not, for the most part, what they think or feel.

So when Wood writes about David's sexual taking of Bathsheba that "he sees and acts" but that "as far as the narrative is concerned, he does not think," he is at best only half right. David is indeed reported as seeing Bathsheba bathing and then acting to bring her into his bed. David's thinking isn't reported, but the reader is nonetheless encouraged to imagine what David is thinking. After seeing Bathsheba, David pauses and considers his next action: He sends to "inquire about the woman" and learns that she is "the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite." Only after learning those things does David carry out his act of adultery.

Why? Well, he learns that the woman's husband is a Hittite, and so perhaps we are to understand David as having fewer scruples about taking the wife of a non-Israelite. (There is irony in the fact that, as the story unfolds, Uriah in fact proves a much better keeper than David of Israelite law.) David learns too that Bathsheba is the daughter of Eliam, who in turn, the attentive reader will notice, is the son of Ahithophel, one of the court counselors who will soon betray David by siding with David's son Absalom in his attempted coup.

What, then, motivates David's taking of Bathsheba? Wood assumes that David is "instantly struck with lust" upon seeing her. Perhaps, but in fact the narrator never reveals whether David lusts after Bathsheba or not. And it is possible to imagine his taking of Bathsheba as a calculated political act against a rival faction within the court. Besides, lust and political ambition are far from being mutually exclusive. The point, in any case, is that though we are not told David's motivations, he clearly has some.

In biblical narrative, such examples of unstated but important character motivation abound. What are Eve and Adam thinking when they reach for the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? What is God thinking in forbidding that fruit? (Despite Christianity's long tradition of original sin, the answer to neither of those questions is immediately clear, and both prove quite interestingly complex if taken seriously.) Why does Moses kill the Egyptian who is beating a Hebrew slave in Exodus 2? (It is not clear whether Moses, raised an Egyptian, knows that he was born a Hebrew; and so his motivation might range from an elemental sense of justice, unrelated to ethnicity, to a specifically ethnic identification with the victim.) What is going through Aaron's mind when his two sons are burned alive with fire from God in Leviticus 10? (The narrator reports only that "Aaron was silent." Does that indicate mute acceptance? Crippling grief? A barely controlled anger? Pure shock?) Why does Naomi try to send Ruth back to her Moabite family in the first chapter of the Book of Ruth? (Is she genuinely concerned for Ruth's welfare, or does she simply want to be rid of the burden of a non-Israelite woman as she returns from Moab to Bethlehem?)

As those examples show — and there are many, many more that could be adduced — biblical narrative counts on and exploits exactly that which Wood claims not to find: a genuine inner life and a private, complex subjectivity. Again, Auerbach is much closer to the mark when he describes biblical writers' expressing "the simultaneous existence of various layers of consciousness and the conflict between them." King Saul, for example, loves the charismatic David who soothes Saul's demons with his lyre playing, even while he hates and fears the David who is clearly destined to take Saul's throne. And David, many years later, will in turn be torn between his love for his son Absalom and the need to put down Absalom's rebellion, leading to one of his most famous (and rare) expressions of feeling, upon hearing of Absalom's death in battle: "O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!"

What makes Wood's mischaracterization of biblical narrative so disappointing is the opportunity that is lost, the opportunity to have one of our best and most subtle analysts of fictional narrative go to work on our most ancient example of fictional narrative. For whatever else the Bible is or contains — scripture, ethics, history, lyric poetry — it also represents a genuine precursor to the modern novel.

...if the Bible were individualist rather than universal. We are all Adam. No one is Leopold Bloom.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:24 AM


Stone-Age thinking: Evolutionary psychology applies the tenets of Darwinism to human thought and action, with major implications for public policy. But critics say it presents untestable, headline-grabbing myths as fact (Melanie Newman, 12 March 2009, Times Higher Education Supplement)

Why women have better sex with rich men," said a recent headline in The Sunday Times announcing the latest research from Daniel Nettle, reader at Newcastle University's Centre for Behaviour and Evolution.

Nettle investigated the relationship between the frequency of Chinese women's self-reported orgasms and their partners' characteristics, using data from 1,534 women recorded in the Chinese Health and Family Life Survey.

He found that 121 women said they always had orgasms during sex, 408 had them "often", 762 "sometimes" and 243 rarely or never. Once other variables were controlled for, including women's age, health, education and happiness, the frequency of orgasms increased with the income of their partners.

Nettle acknowledged that the result could be "an artefact of reporting bias", but he said the findings could be interpreted to mean "more desirable mates cause women to experience more orgasms ... consistent with the view that female orgasm has an evolved, adaptive function".

"Many will object to the idea that women are hardwired to be gold-diggers," The Sunday Times article said. Steven Rose, professor of biology at The Open University, is among them. He describes the study as "frankly, an intellectual embarrassment that does no credit to the authors, referees or journal". [...]

As one of the discipline's founders, Leda Cosmides, professor of psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, put it: "(It) is an approach to psychology in which knowledge and principles of evolutionary biology are put to use in research on the structure of the human mind."

But Rose argues that the theory's hypotheses are similar to Rudyard Kipling's Just So Stories and are incapable of being tested. Therefore, evolutionary psychology can be used - or exploited - to explain any response to a given situation and to argue that modern ideals and historical inequalities have adaptive origins.

Mr. Rose has such an easy time seeing how the critique of his own cult applies to another. Self-criticism is too much to ask of a true believer.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:46 AM


Bluesy and Achingly Beautiful: Coleman's 'The Shape of Jazz to Come' lived up to its title (MARTIN JOHNSON, 4/18/09, WSJ)

As years go, 1959 was a landmark for jazz recordings. Miles Davis created his "Kind of Blue" and John Coltrane made his "Giant Steps." But the most influential jazz album made in 1959 came from Ornette Coleman, then an outcast in that musical community. It was called "The Shape of Jazz to Come."

The record lived up to its title. Mr. Coleman's innovations are often called "free jazz," but that's an oversimplification. While he did loosen the existing rules in an attempt to bring harmony, melody and rhythm into a more equal relationship within the music, Mr. Coleman was no finger-wagging modernist. Nor did he advocate musical anarchy (though to some ears his music still sounds like noise). He wanted to give musicians the freedom to play in accordance with the emotion of the tune, rather than limiting them to the notes and sequences dictated by chord changes, the progression of notes that create the harmonic structure of a song.

The problem is that the subjective is not, by definition art. Your feelings aren't of interest to anyone but you. This sort of freedom is really just monstrous self-absorption. It is inviting to artists because it absolves them of the obligation to strive to create universal beauty, liberates them from being actual artists.

-Ornette Coleman: Decades of Jazz on the Edge (Ashley Kahn, 11/13/06, All Things Considered)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:02 AM


Evolving democracy in Kurdistan (Bashdar Ismaeel, 30 April 2009, Online Opinion)

Although a grainier form of democracy was still practiced with relative civil liberties and municipal elections in opposing administrations, it was hardly in commendable shape prior to 2003. The fall of Saddam Hussein and the second Gulf War not only brought unprecedented elections to Iraq, but also kick started democracy in Kurdistan.

With the removal of Saddam Hussein and with prospects of a new Iraq, Kurdish leaders were at a unique juncture. Under full international view there was a growing threat from the Turkish government over Kurdish ambitions at the dawn of their new era, Kurds could ill-afford not to present a united front. A united front was encouraged by the US, with strong ties and a reliance on Iraqi Kurds, as their Iraqi adventure was soon derailed.

Elections to the KNA were held on January 30, 2005, to coincide with the Iraqi elections and elections to the provincial elections. The turnout was high with more than 1.7 million people voting. There were 111 seats contested in the elections via a system of proportional representation. This time the PDK and PUK united under one list, the Democratic Patriotic Alliance of Kurdistan, attaining 104 seats or just more than 89 per cent of the votes.

The alliance, at least on paper, forged a strong unity across a number of parties, including the Kurdistan Islamic Union, Turkmen Party and other minority parties.

Although the democratic system in Kurdistan is far from perfect, achievements in less than two decades and particularly in the last six years have been historic. No democracy has ever flourished without its pains and conflicts, and Kurdistan is no different.

In the time since its inception, the parliament has passed a number of important laws, covering press, economy, administration, general society and culture. The improvements in freedoms and laws since 2003 have been noticeable, for example with increasing rights for woman and increased government tolerance to opposition.

Elections for the KNA are to be held every four years as stipulated in article 8 of the Kurdistan Electoral Law. Elections for the KNA are based on a closed party-list representation system, meaning that the electorate votes for the list of candidates of a party rather than individual candidates. Seats are allocated to each party in proportion to the number of votes it receives, and the party is then free to choose someone from its candidate list.

Among the main highlights of the Kurdish democratic experience is that the system of government is secular, freedom and practice of faith are high and there is a strong encouragement for wide representation across ethnicities in the region. As an example, there is a liberal attitude to alcohol consumption, wearing of head-scarves and public expressions of love.

The current system ensures that if no party representing a minority wins a seat, one seat is automatically awarded to that minority (for example, Assyrians, Chaldeans or Turkmen). There is currently one independent and 14 political parties represented in the KNA.

Another fundamental benefit in the current system is the strong representation for women with the legal requirement that at least 25 per cent of parliamentarians must be women.

The passing of several laws has heavily contributed to the regions relative economic progress and social progression in recent years. Politicians have been generally quick to adapt laws to accommodate the present socioeconomic environment and modernise the legislative aspects of the region in line with modern-day demands: for example there is now a European standard investment law; there has been the outlawing of polygamous marriages; and there is increasing intolerance of honour killings.

Although, the KRG has evolved a great deal of the past few years, high expectations of the people, means that the government will need to continuously adapt to meet the growing pressure from the public.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:22 AM


Following Bush's Playbook: Despite what Obama told liberals, he is embracing some once-hated policies (Rick Santorum, April 23, 2009, Philadelphia Inquirer)

As a candidate, Obama attacked President George W. Bush's invocation of the "state secrets privilege," which allows an administration to refuse to disclose information in court on national-security grounds. Obama's campaign Web site claimed the Bush administration "ignored public disclosure rules and has invoked a legal tool known as the 'state secrets' privilege more than any other previous administration. ..."

But less than a month into the new administration, Obama's Justice Department relied on the state secrets doctrine to argue for dismissal of an ACLU suit over Boeing's transportation of prisoners to countries where they were allegedly tortured.

Obama's erstwhile supporters threw a fit. Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, complained that "candidate Obama ran on a platform that would reform the abuse of state secrets, but President Obama's Justice Department has disappointingly reneged on that important civil-liberties issue."

Not to be deterred, the Justice Department has invoked the state secrets doctrine once again in Jewel v. NSA. The Electronic Frontier Foundation said it's suing the National Security Agency and other agencies "on behalf of AT&T customers to stop the illegal, unconstitutional, and ongoing dragnet surveillance of their communications and communications records." A recent foundation press release was headlined, "Obama administration embraces Bush position on warrantless wiretapping and secrecy."

But why did such a liberal president turn against the left on this? Here's the answer from his Justice Department: "An examination ... determined that attempting to address the allegations in this case could require the disclosure of intelligence sources and methods that are used in a lawful manner to protect national security. The administration cannot risk the disclosure of information that could cause such exceptional harm to national security."

Allow me to translate the Beltway-speak: Obama's new intelligence team told him he would have to be out of his mind to turn over the nation's most sensitive secrets to his friends at the ACLU and other radical, left-wing lawyers.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:08 AM


A Tax Even Libertarians Can Love.: It's time we replaced the income tax with a tax that favors thrift. (Robert H. Frank, 04.16.09, Forbes Magazine)

[T]he income tax...discourages domestic savings, low levels of which helped precipitate the current economic downturn. That's harm.

This harm could be avoided by replacing the income tax with a progressive tax on spending. Taxpayers would report their income to the Internal Revenue Service as before, and also their savings, much as we now document contributions to 401(k) accounts. A family's income minus its savings is its consumption, and that amount minus a large standard deduction--say, $30,000 a year for a family of four--would be its taxable consumption.

Rates would start low, perhaps 20%, then rise gradually with total consumption. A family that earned $60,000 and saved $10,000 would have consumption of $50,000. After subtracting the standard deduction, its taxable consumption would be $20,000, for a tax bill of $4,000, about the same as under the current income tax.

With savings tax-exempt, top marginal tax rates on consumption would have to be significantly higher than current top rates on income. But unlike high marginal tax rates on income, which discourage thrift, high rates on consumption would encourage it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:07 AM

Lamb shoulder is succulent, forgiving and inexpensive (JANET FLETCHER, 4/21/09, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE)

Some of us are leg people and others are shoulder people. Unfortunately, this truth was revealed to me slowly. Over three decades of dinner parties, mistakes were made.

Today, I cook leg of lamb only for dinner guests with suspected lean tendencies, the sort of folks who eat dry toast and drink nonfat milk. Lamb shoulder I reserve for trencherpeople like me, diners convinced that the most succulent meat comes from the hardest-working parts, the cuts with collagen and more than a little intramuscular fat.

If you're planning a few spring dinner parties, remember the shoulder people. We are cheaper to cook for, a point worth noting in these belt-tightening times. Although the price difference is minimal at some Bay Area markets, you can pay as much as $4 a pound more for bone-in leg of lamb than for boneless lamb shoulder. And shoulder makes you look like a hero, because it's so hard to overcook.

"You don't have to worry about temperatures too much," says Marsha McBride, chef-owner of Cafe Rouge in Berkeley and a fan of lamb shoulder. "It's pretty forgiving, unlike a leg or a chop."

Roast Lamb Shoulder (Diana Rattray, About.com)
* 1 large clove garlic, minced
* 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
* 2 teaspoons salt
* dash pepper
* 1 tablespoon lemon juice
* 1 lamb shoulder roast, boneless, about 3 to 4 pounds
* .
* Gravy:
* reserved meat juices
* water
* 3 tablespoons flour
* 1/2 cup cold water


Combine minced garlic, flour, salt, pepper, and lemon juice, rub all over roast. Place lamb on a large sheet of heavy duty foil; wrap and secure edges of foil. Place wrapped roast in a shallow roasting pan. Roast at 425° for 3 hours, or until a meat thermometer registers about 170°. Open foil the last 30 minutes or roasting. Remove meat to a platter. Pour pan juices into a 2-cup measuring cup and add water to make 1 3/4 cups. Transfer meat juices to a saucepan and place over medium heat. Put 3 tablespoons flour in a small cup or bowl; stir in 1/2 cup cold water. Pour into the meat juice mixture; cook, stirring constantly, until thickened.

April 29, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:13 PM


Holder Tells Europe 30 Gitmo Inmates Approved for Release (Devlin Barrett, 4/29/09, The Associated Press)

Meeting with reporters in Germany, Holder also signaled the Obama administration might cooperate with a Spanish investigation of former Bush administration officials over the treatment of terror suspects.

...to arrest American political leaders, load them on a plane and send them to Europe for trial?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:45 PM


Who would Jesus torture? (Glenn Melancon, 4/29/09, HNN)

My oldest son will enter the US Army in June. In all likelihood he will go overseas with thousands of our brave men and women. If captured by the enemy, do I want him water boarded? Do I want his captors to strip him naked, to throw freezing water on him, to slap his face or to slam him repeatedly against a wall?

When I think about torture, I’m reminded of the story told in almost every Roman Catholic Church. Hanging on the walls are the Stations of the Cross. They tell how the Romans tortured and then murdered Jesus.

Who would Jesus torture?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:13 PM


Will Obama Stumble Like Ford? (Julian Zelizer, 4/29/09, Daily Beast)

President Ford confronted an outbreak of the swine flu in January and February of 1976. Cases of the flu were reported at the Fort Dix Army Base in New Jersey. Although there was no evidence the flu was spreading, the Centers for Disease Control warned of an outbreak on February 14. Congress allocated funds for a vaccine one month later. Democrats were suspicious of political motivations behind the policy in an election year. Sen. Warren Magnuson (D-WA) quipped that when Americans went for their shots in the fall, “they might have ‘em vote at the same time.”

President Ford and his advisers mistakenly viewed the crisis through the comparison to the influenza outbreak of 1918 and 1919, which killed millions of people around the globe, as Ernest May and Richard Neustadt recounted in their classic book on the importance of history in policymaking, Thinking in Time. Ford, who was also gearing up for a tough primary battle against Ronald Reagan and a tough general election in the fall, did not want to give opponents fodder that would enable them to accuse him of being an ineffective leader. The president requested that Congress allocate funds to develop a vaccine. Congress passed the legislation, with $135 million for the program, and Ford signed it into law in April.

Although there was still no strong evidence of an outbreak, in the summer of 1976 Congress agreed to grant the drug companies legal immunity as they distributed a vaccine. The policy had already been riddled with problems. One of the major pharmaceutical companies working on a vaccine produced the wrong kind, creating a four- to six-week delay. When Congress changed its mind about granting legal immunity, Ford publicly warned that Americans would blame Congress if an outbreak occurred. Congress then passed the National Influenza Immunization Program in August.

The problem was that when the vaccines started being given in October, there were reports that a few senior citizens had died as a result and others suffered a form of paralysis. More news stories emerged about the dangers of the vaccine as well as how the news of an outbreak had been exaggerated. Later, however, reports said the vaccines had not caused the deaths. The White House released a picture for Ford receiving the vaccine to boost public confidence.

The problems with the response to the flu reports compounded the negative image that many had of Ford as an ineffective and often stumbling president—exactly the image he hoped to counteract when he first responded to the possible threat. In the swine-flu crisis, Ford’s attempt to appear a strong leader only made him seem more ineffective than ever.

This is a pretty easy situation to milk for political gain: pretend to be moving Heaven and Earth to fight what is really just a hysteria and then claim victory when it, once again, passes quickly. The only real danger lies in actually taking concrete steps.

Be afraid, but not of the flu (The Ottawa Citizen, April 28, 2009)

A vaccine against a version of swine flu in the 1970s ended up killing more people than the virus did. Every preventive measure can have unintended consequences. If Canadians were to start running to the emergency room every time they got the sniffles, the health-care system will be unable to function properly.

If other countries slap travel advisories on Canada because a few cases have turned up here, or if international trade slows because of unnecessary barriers at the borders, the consequences to the economy could be severe, even if swine flu itself turns out to be a mere blip on the radar of the epidemiologists.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:10 PM


Carter says US-Syria ties could return this year (FRANK BAJAK, 4/29/09, AP)

Former President Jimmy Carter said Tuesday that the United States and Syria are close to restoring full diplomatic ties, but he doubted Cuba's new openness means its leaders are ready to grant free speech or change their political system.

Syrian President Bashar Assad is "very eager" to restore full ties with Washington, Carter said. [...]

The United States withdrew its ambassador to Syria in 2005 after a political assassination widely blamed on Syria — a claim Damascus denies. Washington has long objected to Syria's support for the Hezbollah and Hamas militant groups as well as its alliance with Iran.

...besides giving your enemies what they want as a sign of your good faith.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:02 PM


Shock defeat for Government in Commons over Gurkhas (Philip Webster and Richard Ford, 4/29/09, Times of London)

The decision is a massive embarrassment for Gordon Brown and the first defeat of his premiership. MPs gasped when it was announced, believing that the concessions by the Home Secretary would be enough.

Jacqui Smith promised to start a review of criteria by the summer, and said it was highly unlikely that any veterans whose cases were under review would be deported.

But the moves were not enough and, amid delighted cheers from Liberal Democrat and Conservative MPs, the Government went down to defeat.

Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, said outside the House of Commons. "It's victory for decency, it's the kind of thing I think people want this country to do, that we pay back our obligation our debt of gratitude," he said. "It was great, great day for everyone who believes in fairness and decency in this country".

Sometime being reactionary forces conservatives onto the right side of an Issue rather than the Right side.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:58 AM


from Goolsbeeism is a mistake.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:52 AM


Officials admit they ordered secrecy on Air Force One's New York flyover (Ed Pilkington, 4/29/09, guardian.co.uk)

The flyover of a member of the president's Air Force One fleet, accompanied by two fighter jets, prompted mass panic on the streets among hundreds of New Yorkers who feared a repeat of 9/11. Many downtown offices were vacated, and the emergency services flooded with distress calls.

The stunt, costing $328,835 of taxpayers' money, was designed as a publicity photo shoot to get a picture of the presidential plane with the Statue of Liberty in the background. But it backfired, forcing President Obama to apologise.

Having film of Air Force One buzzing NYC doesn't seem terribly useful for a campaign ad unless it's along the lines of: "Re-elect me or I 9-11 you."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:53 AM


'How to Win a Cosmic War' by Reza Aslan: The author contends that the conflict between the Arabic world and the West can be solved only by addressing finite, rather than rhetorical, issues.: a review of How to Win a Cosmic War: God, Globalization, and the End of the War on Terror by Reza Aslan (Gideon Lewis-Kraus, April 26, 2009, LA Times)

In the essay "Movements and Campaigns," a tribute to the literary critic Irving Howe, the late philosopher Richard Rorty wrote that Howe's take on literary and artistic modernism was true of any political movement: "namely, that it 'must always struggle but never quite triumph, and then, after a time, must struggle in order not to triumph.' If the passion of the infinite were to triumph," Rorty explains, "it would betray itself by revealing itself to have been merely a passion for something finite." A "campaign," in contrast to a movement, makes explicit its limited aspirations. It is "something finite, something that can be recognized to have succeeded or to have, so far, failed."

Reza Aslan's "How to Win a Cosmic War" recognizes the struggle between Global Jihadism and the war on terror as an insolubly infinite one. He proposes, instead, that we'd be better off if we replaced the rhetoric of the absolute obligation, which characterizes movements, with the campaign's rhetoric of the finite aim.

"It is time," Aslan writes in his introduction, "to strip this ideological conflict of its religious connotations, to reject the religiously polarizing rhetoric of our leaders and theirs, to focus on the material matters at stake, and to address the earthly issues that always lie behind the cosmic impulse."

Aslan goes on to devote much of his book to distinguishing the earthly grievances of Islamists from the cosmic grievances of Global Jihadists, and to detailing how the former are pressed into service of the latter. Islamists, like Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, are "religious nationalists"; they seek specific domestic redress, through Islamic political parties, of political and economic deprivation. Global Jihadists, like Al Qaeda, are "religious trans-nationalists." They plait together stories of specific injustice -- Israeli oppression of the Palestinians, the corruption of decades of secular Egyptian and Saudi leaders, the dispossession of Muslim minorities in Europe -- into a "master narrative" of universal Muslim humiliation. They are purists; they prefer the unspecific glory of the struggle to the disheveling imperatives of regency. For nationalists who despise some foreign patriotism, war is the health of the state. For religious trans-nationalists who despise all infidels, jihad is the bloom of the believers.

Actually, the key to the Cosmic War is the recognition that whereas the Christian West (and to some degree Judaism and Shi'ism) is founded upon the understanding that Man can not triumph because so fundamentally flawed, the Sunni Islamic world believes that perfection can be achieved by humanity in the here and now. In this sense, as well as in its disregard for theology generally, it resembles the many failed secular movements. Likewise, the inevitable defeat in the temporal world causes extreme psychoses because the failure indicts the entirety of their beliefs. Every ism is discombobulated by reality, where perfection proves unattainable, while the Messianic faiths are confirmed by that same reality.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:44 AM


Senator Defects to Democrats: Specter's Switch Puts Obama on Verge of Filibuster-Proof Majority Over GOP (JONATHAN WEISMAN and GREG HITT, 4/28/09, WSJ)

Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter said Tuesday he is switching parties, almost certainly giving President Barack Obama and the Democrats the ability to build a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. [...]

Mr. Specter's decision came as he was increasingly isolated from his Republican Party and wooed by the Democrats, a direct result of the battle over the president's $787 billion stimulus bill in February. Mr. Specter provided the decisive vote that won the bill's passage. That infuriated Republicans in his state who called the stimulus program wasteful spending, and prompted former Rep. Pat Toomey, a conservative, to announce he would challenge the five-term senator in the Republican primary for 2010.

And so does the true believers' demand for ideological purity serve only the opponents.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:26 AM


Fem. Fatale: An interview with post-feminist author Carrie Lukas (Bernard Chapin, Salvo)

Carrie Lukas is not your typical feminist. For one thing, she believes that the original goals of feminism—equal rights and equal pay—have already been realized. And now, as evidenced by her most recent book, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Women, Sex, and Feminism, Lukas is departing even further from feminist orthodoxy, arguing that feminism itself is often a woman's worst enemy when it comes to achieving autonomy. Here we talk briefly with the author and Vice President of Policy at the Independent Women's Forum about what true female empowerment really entails.

Early in your book you make the argument that women were the losers of the sexual revolution. How so?

During the sexual revolution, many feminists pushed the idea that women and men are the same when it comes to sexuality. Basically, they argued that the social conventions that had made women's chastity more prized than men's were tools of the patriarchy meant to keep women from having fun. But the truth is that women are very different from men when it comes to sex. First of all, women are more vulnerable physically to the consequences of sex: Not only do we get pregnant, but women are more likely to contract STDs, and many STDs have more serious consequences for women. Women are also more vulnerable emotionally. Women release different hormones than men during sex, which makes it harder for women to keep it casual.

...men wouldn't have allowed it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:08 AM


G.E.’s Breakthrough Can Put 100 DVDs on a Disc (STEVE LOHR, 4/27/09, NY Times)

General Electric says it has achieved a breakthrough in digital storage technology that will allow standard-size discs to hold the equivalent of 100 DVDs. [...]

[O]ptical storage experts and industry analysts who were told of the development said it held the promise of being a big step forward in digital storage with a wide range of potential uses in commercial, scientific and consumer markets.

“This could be the next generation of low-cost storage,” said Richard Doherty, an analyst at Envisioneering, a technology research firm.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:55 AM


What Happened to the Ban on Assault Weapons? (JIMMY CARTER, 4/27/09, NY Times)

THE evolution in public policy concerning the manufacture, sale and possession of semiautomatic assault weapons like AK-47s, AR-15s and Uzis has been very disturbing. Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and I all supported a ban on these formidable firearms, and one was finally passed in 1994.

When the 10-year ban was set to expire, many police organizations — including 1,100 police chiefs and sheriffs from around the nation — called on Congress and President George W. Bush to renew and strengthen it. But with a wink from the White House, the gun lobby prevailed and the ban expired.

[T]he White House and Congress must not give up on trying to reinstate a ban on assault weapons, even if it may be politically difficult.

Odd the way the word "Democrats" never passes his lips, eh?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:40 AM

NO KMIEC SHE (via Qiao Yang):

Mary Ann Glendon has declined the Laetare Medal, the annual award from Notre Dame, which she was to receive this spring at the university's graduation ceremonies.

At 9:30 this morning, April 27, 2009, Mary Ann Glendon faxed to the university's president, the Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., and published online at First Things (http://www.firstthings.com/blog/2009/04/27/declining-notre-dame-a-letter-from-mary-ann-glendon/) a letter explaining her decision to refuse the medal.

Mary Ann Glendon is Learned Hand Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. A member of the editorial and advisory board of First Things, she served as the U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican from 2007 to 2009.

Joe Carter
Web Editor
First Things

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:20 AM


REVIEW: of Malcolm Muggeridge: A Biography By Gregory Wolfe (Peter-Christian Aigner, Townhall)

Personalities, or stories about great personalities, rise and fall in the popular imagination, according to the intellectual temperament or cultural taste of the time. Malcolm Muggeridge would have turned 100 in 2004. Only a few people made note of this occasion, but the measure of a man is not in fame alone. “St. Mugg,” as he was nicknamed, lived a full and honorable life, surrounded by giant personalities and engaged in the biggest debates of modern times. Though his grave might go neglected for a time, it is hard to imagine that he will forever remain a forgotten figure.

For one thing, as Gregory Wolfe reminds us in this newly reissued biography, Muggeridge was a dissident ahead of his time. His experiences in the Soviet Union as a diehard young socialist, married to the daughter of England’s leading Fabians, the Webbs, pushed him to become one of the first major anti-Communists—at a time when most left-wing intellectuals on both sides of the Atlantic worshiped at the altar of Stalin. Muggeridge, a reporter at the Manchester Guardian, put his career on the line, fearlessly exposing in moving prose the truth about the Great Famine in the Ukraine and the “useful idiots” that covered it up. His punishment for speaking out against this manmade catastrophe, responsible for seven million deaths, was ostracism. Yet Muggeridge refused to yield an inch. It would become a recurrent theme throughout his life.

Muggeridge’s “single-minded pursuit of truth” was surely his “greatest virtue,” as Wolfe concludes, but insofar as the truth can be ugly, hard to swallow, and isolating, it was also the lifelong cross Muggeridge had to bear. He had been drawn to the Soviet Union because he could no longer stomach the hypocrisy of England’s bourgeois, aristocratic, radical, socialist elite. But the move broke his father’s heart and left him many enemies where his friends had once stood. Wolfe convincingly argues that it was Muggeridge’s pessimistic view of human nature that enabled him to avoid his father’s blind, optimistic, utopian faith. The central reward of Wolfe’s pointed, insightful, well-researched, absorbing, high-minded biography, which Publisher’s Weekly hailed as “definitive,” is that it brings out a consistent moral-philosophical worldview, one which most others have failed to find in Muggeridge’s life and work.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:55 AM


The Coming of the Fourth American Republic: The Special Interest State that has shaped American life for 70 years is dying. What comes next is uncertain, but there are grounds for optimism. (James V. DeLong, April 21, 2009, American)

Understanding the current upheaval is aided by a brief description of the earlier ones.

The first was the Civil War and its aftermath, which established that sovereignty belongs to the nation first and the state second, and that the nation rather than the state claims a citizen’s primary loyalty. When the United States was founded, this ordering was not so clear. James Madison assumed the opposite in Federalist 46 and a generation of southern West Point graduates followed their states into secession in 1861. The shift was traumatic and took decades to complete, but eventually the states became largely instruments of federal policy, except for a few areas in which conformity is unnecessary or special interests have managed to preserve state autonomy for their own purposes.

The upheaval of the Civil War era resolved a second issue, the relationship between the government and the onrushing technological and industrial revolution. The newly dominant federal government would not cripple private action in pursuit of national markets and industrialization, and would not allow the states to do so. Much of this agenda was administered by the Supreme Court—as the American Enterprise Institute’s Michael Greve documents in a superb recent lecture, “Commerce, Competition, and the Court: An Agenda for a Constitutional Revival”—but it represented a clear political agenda supported by the dominant forces of the time.

The later historians of the New Deal and the Great Society sneered that the idea of “laissez faire” was an abdication of governmental responsibility, but this was propaganda. The best translation of the term is the activist “let us do,” not the passive “let us be,” and the societal quid pro quo was dynamic economic expansion, not the easy life of the rentier. To a large degree, the ideology of laissez faire was designed to protect interstate commerce from rentiers in the form of government officials extorting payments.

The Special Interest State

The next great institutional upheaval was the New Deal, which radically revised the role of government. The process of economic growth was tumultuous, and the losers and dislocated were constantly appealing against the national political commitment to “let us do.” The crisis of the Great Depression provided a great opportunity, and it was seized. Starting in the 1930s, the theoretical limitations on the authority of governments—national or state—to deal with economic or welfare issues were dissolved, and in the course of fighting for this untrammeled power governments eagerly accepted responsibility for the functioning of the economy and the popular welfare.

Like the primacy of federal over state sovereignty, the shift continued even after the watershed event. Remaining limits on governmental authority were eliminated by the dialectic of the civil rights revolution, in which the federal power over commerce was expanded to meet moral imperatives, and the new standards were then fed back into regulation of commerce.

Inherent in the expansion of governmental power was the complicated question of how this unbridled power would be exercised. As the reach of any institution expands, especially anything as cumbersome as a government, it becomes impossible for the institution as a whole to exercise its power. Delegation to sub-units is necessary: to agencies, legislative committees and subcommittees, even private groups.

The obvious issue is how these subunits are controlled and directed. The theoretical answer had been provided by the Progressive movement (the real one of the early 20th century, not the current faux version). Much of the Progressive movement’s complaint was that special interests, often corporate, captured the governmental process, and its prescriptions were appeals to direct democracy or to administrative independence and expertise on the theory that delegation to technocrats could achieve the ideal of “the public interest.”

The real-world answer imposed by the New Deal and its progeny turned out to be special interest capture on steroids. Control comes to rest with those with the greatest interest or the most money at stake, and the result was the creation of a polity called “the Special Interest State” or, in Cornell University Professor Theodore Lowi’s terms, “Interest Group Liberalism.” Its essence is that various interest groups seize control over particular power centers of government and use them for their own ends.

It is this combination of plenary government power combined with the seizure of its levers by special interests that constitutes the polity of the current Third American Republic. The influence of “faction” and its control had been a concern since the founding of the nation, but it took the New Deal and its acolytes to decide that control of governmental turf by special interests was a feature, not a bug, a supposedly healthy part of democratic pluralism.

And so the Special Interest State expanded, blessed by the intelligentsia. And it feeds on itself; the larger and more complex the government becomes, the higher the costs of monitoring it. This means that no one without a strong interest in a particular area can afford to keep track, which leaves the turf to the beneficiaries. And as existing interests dig in to defend their turf, new interests require continuing expansions of governmental activity to stake a claim on. [...]

This Third Republic has had a good run. It was wobbling in the late 1970s, but got bailed out by a run of good luck—Reagan; the fall of the USSR; the computer and information revolution; the rise of the Asian Tigers and the “BRICs”; the basic dynamism and talent of the American people—that kept the bicycle moving and thus upright.

It could continue. It is characteristic of political arrangements that they go on long after an observer from Mars might think that surely their defects are so patent that they have exhausted their capacity for survival. Besides, as the Declaration of Independence counsels, “Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.” The culture, the people, are astonishingly creative and productive, and may demonstrate a capacity to keep the bicycle moving faster than the demands of the Special Interest State can throw sand in the gears.

But it is more likely that the Special Interest State has reached a limit. [...]

A catalogue of its insoluble problems includes:

Sheer size. The usual numbers concerning the size of government in the United States are that the Feds spend about 20 percent of GNP and other levels of government at least another 16 percent. These do not reflect the impact of tax provisions, regulations, or laws, however, so an accurate estimate of how much of the national economy is actually disposed of by the government is impossible. Whatever it is, it is growing apace, and the current administration is determined to increase it considerably.

Responsibility. As the government has grown in size and reach, it has justified its claims to power by accepting ever more responsibility for the economy and society. Failure will result in rapid loss of legitimacy and great anger. It is amusing to read pundits’ pronouncements that the Chinese government must deliver economic stability and growth or suffer social unrest; what do these pundits think will be the fate of an American government that fails in these tasks? And as the government’s reach extends, any chance that it will meet its self-proclaimed responsibilities declines.

Lack of any limiting principles. There is no limit on the areas in which special interests will now press for action, nothing that is regarded as beyond the scope of governmental responsibility and power. Furthermore, special interests are not limited, cynically trying to get an undeserved economic edge or subsidy. Would that they were! Inevitably, special interests try to convert themselves into moral entitlements to convince others to agree to their claims. The problem is that many have convinced themselves, which means that no half loaf satisfies. The grievance remains sharp, and compromise immoral. [...]

Conflicts. The Special Interest State could get along quite well when it simply nibbled at the edges of the society and economy, snipping off a benefit here and there, and when the number of victorious interests was limited. But the combination of moral entitlement, multiplication of claimants, and lack of limits on each and every claim is throwing them into conflict, and rendering unsustainable the ethic of the logrolling alliances that control it.

The guiding principle is that no member of the alliance will challenge the claims of any fellow member. But this principle has a limit, in that unlimited claims cannot help but impinge eventually on each other.

The shift to the "Fourth Republic" is already well underway and its outlines known to all, though it goes by a variety of names: Thatcherism, the Third Way, the Ownership Society, etc. Essentially, power will be shifted away from the state and its bureaucracies via mandated personal accounts that will provide health, education, housing, unemployment, and retirement benefits. Although the Right opposes the government mandates involved and the Left opposes the shift of power, it seems unlikely that a third party will be required. Parties of both Left and Right are pushing these ideas throughout the Anglosphere and whichever party is most closely identified with them tends to win elections. One caveat though regards that problem of "sheer size." Given what we know about the correlation between smaller size and successful liberal democratic states it seems likely that there will be a number of Fourth Republics rather than one giant one.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:36 AM


The trouble with liberalism (Peter Sellick, 30 March 2009, Online Opinion)
Liberalism is marked by humanistic optimism. It sees life as essentially unproblematic, a matter of making of it what you will. It is opposed to the idea that life is a narrow way set about with dangers. Rather, life is under our control and we will decide what to do with it. When we have decided, no matter how hollow the decision, how hedonistic, or narcissistic, those decisions may not be criticised. This is because the centre of the ethics of liberalism is individual choice. No value judgments are allowed with the only proviso that no one gets hurt. In liberalism the individual is king and his choices inviolate. We are all free to go to heaven or hell in our own way. The hymn of liberalism is Frank Sinatra singing “My way”. Liberalism is the politics of self assertion.

The optimism of liberalism produces a pragmatic ethics characterised by the negative “why not?” Coupled with a sense of entitlement, this produces an ethics in which desire is central. If you can afford to indulge yourself, then “why not?” Life is reduced to desire and gratification. It is no wonder that liberalism is closely aligned to the market.

Positive ethics, suggested from outside of ourselves, that are predicated on an idea of what we should be are easily dismissed as redundant. Why would we want to make it hard for ourselves? The ethics of liberalism is the line of least resistance. This is why harm reduction is the favoured excuse of governments who legalise abortion to reduce the deaths from backyard operators, prostitution to reduce disease, drugs to reduce the criminality of the drug culture. Harm reduction takes the place of morality and the evils that we seek to control quickly become industries that are to be respected.

Liberalism is optimistic about the human condition because it has learnt from John Locke that we are clean slates, we are free of the past. He argued that it was simply unfair to impute the sins of Adam onto a new born. While this appears rational and right it ignores our experience of deep seated evil in our own breasts and in the actions of others.

This simplistic view of the human leaves perpetrated evil a mystery. History becomes a puzzle because we have no insight into human motivation. Dwelling on past evil is liable to be viewed as a “black arm band view of history”. One does not dwell on human evil because there is no reason for its existence. This produces a naïve confidence in our ability to solve the problems of the world from obesity to armed conflict by means of our good intentions. Devoid of any religious or ethnic orientation ourselves we cannot understand why these may lead to conflict. For liberalism, good intentions are enough. We believe that world peace may simply be announced and we don’t understand why anyone would hate us. The recent celebration of “Harmony day” is a prime example. Liberalism quarantines serious discussion and suggests that the evils we witness in the world are easily solved by a resort to tolerance.

The same shallow understanding of human motivation that leaves history a mystery also produces de-culturation. Hamlet or Macbeth are simply deranged and their plight bears no relationship to ours. The passion of Christ is morbid and unnecessary. You can see how the “power of positive thinking” begins to make sense along with that other liberal shibboleth “self esteem”. The mystery of human suffering cannot be a subject of art because suffering finds no place in our view of things. Yes, we know that other people’s children die but we choose not to “go there”. We want our lives happily preserved in our little bubble of contentment. The reality of death is vanquished and our treatment of it has become formulaic. One cannot succumb to cancer unless it is after a “courageous battle”. This means that death becomes a kind of secret that may not be discussed because it is the final word to the self directed person.

Liberalism celebrates radical individual freedom and is threatened by a freedom that is defined in terms of discipleship. The two kinds of freedom are quite different, the former opening onto a vacuum and the latter on to a positive “freedom for” a personal history that sees the self transformed into the type of Christ. While liberal freedom leaves the person with a thousand choices it allows no direction. Children are not to be formed in a religious tradition but are trained in the disciplines of cynicism. Religious studies displace catechesis. The freedom of the Christian is won with blood; that of liberalism is simply announced. It is fragile because nature abhors a vacuum and the human heart, desperate to hang on to some solid thing, will choose the most obvious.

This kind of freedom easily becomes a form of slavery because it is based on nothing other than an idea of itself. Having no ground in reality it quickly implodes on itself and generates political correctness, the attempt at improvement through the policing of language.

No one makes less sense than a thinking person who recognizes what an awful world he's created to live in and wants to salvage something from it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:35 AM


How to Understand the Disaster: A Failure of Capitalism: The Crisis of '08 and the Descent into Depression
by Richard A. Posner (Robert M. Solow, NY Review of Books)

There is no doubt that Posner has been an independent thinker, never a passive follower of a party line. Neither is there any doubt that his independent thoughts have usually led him to a position well to the right of the political economy spectrum. The Seventh Circuit is based in Chicago, and Posner has taught at the University of Chicago. Much of his thought exhibits an affinity to Chicago school economics: libertarian, monetarist, sensitive to even small matters of economic efficiency, dismissive of large matters of equity, and therefore protective of property rights even at the expense of larger and softer "human" rights.

But not this time, at least not at one central point, the main point of this book. Here is one of several statements he makes:

Some conservatives believe that the depression is the result of unwise government policies. I believe it is a market failure. The government's myopia, passivity, and blunders played a critical role in allowing the recession to balloon into a depression, and so have several fortuitous factors. But without any government regulation of the financial industry, the economy would still, in all likelihood, be in a depression; what we have learned from the depression has shown that we need a more active and intelligent government to keep our model of a capitalist economy from running off the rails. The movement to deregulate the financial industry went too far by exaggerating the resilience—the self-healing powers—of laissez-faire capitalism.

If I had written that, it would not be news. From Richard Posner, it is. The underlying argument—it is not novel but it is sound—goes something like this. A modern capitalist economy with a modern financial system can probably adapt to minor shocks—positive or negative—with just a little help from monetary policy and mostly automatic fiscal stabilizers: for example, the lower tax revenues and higher spending on unemployment insurance and social assistance that occur in a weakening economy without any need for deliberate action. It is easy to be lulled into the comfortable belief that the system can take care of itself if only do-gooders will leave it alone. But that same financial system has intrinsic characteristics that can make it self-destructively unstable when it meets a large shock. One such characteristic is asymmetric information: some market participants know things that others don't, and can turn that knowledge into profit. Another is the capacity of financial engineering to produce securities so complicated and opaque—for example, collateralized debt obligations and other exotic derivatives—that almost no one in the market can understand their implications. (Insiders still have an exploitable advantage.)

Yet another characteristic is the inevitability of market imperfections, so that what is essentially the same object can sell for two or more different prices; or so that some market prices can be manipulated by large, informed operators; or so that some markets take a long time to match supply and demand. And yet another is the possibility that large financial institutions can raise large sums of credit, in amounts and ways that can affect the whole system, without anyone taking account of, or feeling responsible for, the systemwide effects.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:04 AM


Paul Elmer More: American Reactionary (Brian Domitrovic, Fall 2003, Modern Age)

More attended Harvard, and his brief experience there only convinced him to establish himself as a scholar on his own distinct terms. On the positive side, More met Irving Babbitt at Harvard. Babbitt mentored More, weaning him off sentimental novels and philosophy by directing his reading in the classics. Babbitt, More said, “was born in Horace’s cradle.” Babbitt also imparted his notorious intransigence to More. Babbitt’s withering contempt for modern languages, his disdain for “pertinence,” his insistence on the idea of decline—these all became More’s own hallmarks. In time, this intransigence would gain More, as it had Babbitt, many young disciples. But mentoring such young persons proved to be more in line with Babbitt’s talents—who was a lifelong professor—than More’s. [...]

Literature is a work of imagination, not, strictly speaking, reason. Literature can communicate great truth by stirring the imagination, but its very form runs the risk of encouraging sentimentality. Philosophy, on the other hand, by making use of the harder faculty of reason, is more adept at getting at truths that are more difficult to understand. And difficult truths may be the most important ones.

More came to these conclusions as he set aside literary criticism for a series of meditations on the western philosophical tradition that would become the crown jewels of his oeuvre. It is important to note that More’s decision to delve into the “harder” discipline of philosophy did not derive from the fashionable intellectual trend at the time that lionized “hardness” and “tough-mindedness.” At the turn of the century, William James and others had been warning scholars that they were not sufficiently acclimated to the emerging world around them. The habits of thought that underlay the bourgeoning United States, the argument ran, were evolutionist and progressive. Scholars could continue to confine themselves to ethereal speculation on the classics and other traditional subjects only at their peril. They risked losing pertinence in a fast-changing world if they did not adopt the “tough” and “hard” dispensation of the scientist, if not the street-fighter. This indeed was the Zeitgeist that Charles Eliot endeavored to enforce at Harvard during More’s years there.

More turned to the rigors of philosophy after 1914 for much the opposite reason. He was wholly unimpressed with the results of importing the scientific habit of mind into humanistic pursuits. In “Academic Leadership,” which may be seen as his statement of intention to get serious about classical philosophy, More wrote:

. . . I must say frankly that, after dealing . . . with manuscripts prepared for publication by college professors of the various faculties, I have been forced to the conclusion that science, in itself, is likely to leave the mind in a state of relative imbecility. . . . [S]uch men in the majority of cases, even when treating subjects within their own field, show a singular inability to think clearly and consecutively, so soon as they are freed from the restraint of merely describing the process of an experiment.

More preferred his humanists as classicists. The very difficulty of mastering classical languages and arguments had the effect of “lifting one’s self out of the familiar rut of ideas into so foreign a world.”

Here, More was not slipping into romantic excitement. To the contrary, he was on the verge of elaborating a vast philosophical history that took the West to task for forgetting the lessons of Plato. In a series of books on Plato and the Greeks from the late 1910s and 1920s, More developed his contention that any form of philosophical monism amounts to error. By monism, More meant those habits of thought—such as Rousseau-ianism and Darwinism in the modern period—that offered comprehensive explanations of the workings of life and the world. More conceded that monistic explanations have a certain allure (indeed, the allure of certainty), but insisted that monism be resisted in the interest of realism. The hard state of affairs is that related in so laborious a fashion (via dialogue) by Socrates: that the truth resides in a One above us all; that approximation to, but not unity with, that One is all that is available to us—and that, through a difficult process. This is a far cry from the tough-mindedness of the “educationists” (More’s sneer) of the progressive American university.

In More’s account of the West’s philosophical history, Plato’s lessons were forgotten almost immediately. Even Plotinus, the most influential of Plato’s admirers, was guilty of thoroughgoing monism. He made the One explicitly connected to the realm of creation via a chain of causes. Plotinus left an impress on early Christianity, which in its Western version became distracted by notions of sin, repentance, and works-righteousness—implying, once again in monistic fashion, that reconciliation of the entire order of creation is conceivable if only one figures out how to act properly. Even evidently spiritualistic developments in Christian history, such as scholastic theology, betrayed the rationalist’s optimism, a sure indicator of monism.

Not that More found Greek philosophy, even in its pristine Platonic form, wholly satisfactory. He considered the philosophical anthropology implied in Plato too pat, for in Plato, man’s faculty of reason enables him to ascertain aspects of the divine logos. As More wrote in the final volume of The Greek Tradition:

Man is logical not only by possession of the faculty of thought . . . but he is endowed also with the faculty of language, by which he embodies his ideas in symbolic sounds and signs and sends them forth to live a kind of life of their own. Thus it is that logos communes with logos, and a man knows himself not to be solitary in a friendless world, but member of a great society of kindred souls.

But this offended More’s sense of realism. Human beings do not commune in thoughtful recognition of each other, except in the rarest of circumstances: witness the example of Socrates himself. More knew that he needed a philosophical account of evil. He also needed instruction, on rejecting Plotinus, concerning the divine’s purposes in replicating itself in an inferior order of creation. These problems were leading More to Christianity, specifically to meditation on Christian ideas of divine incarnation. As T. S. Eliot said of More’s writings—and Eliot was most impressed with The Greek Tradition: “More’s works are, in the deepest sense, his autobiography.”

-Writings of Paul Elmer More (Jim Kalb)
-Paul Elmer More (Internet Archives)
-GOOGLE BOOK: Paul Elmer More: Literary Criticism as the History of Ideas by Stephen L. Tanner

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April 28, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:59 AM


The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness: A Vindication of Democracy and a Critique of its Traditional Defense: Chapter 2: The Individual and the Community (Reinhold Niebuhr, 1944, Charles Scribner’s Sons)

A free society is justified by the fact that the indeterminate possibilities of human vitality may be creative. Every definition of the restraints which must be placed upon these vitalities must be tentative; because all such definitions, which are themselves the products of specific historical insights, may prematurely arrest or suppress a legitimate vitality, if they are made absolute and fixed. The community must constantly re-examine the presuppositions upon which it orders its life, because no age can fully anticipate or predict the legitimate and creative vitalities which may arise in subsequent ages.

The limitations upon freedom in a society are justified, on the other hand, by the fact that the vitalities may be destructive. We have already noted that the justification of classical laissez-faire theories was the mistaken belief that human passions were naturally ordinate and limited. It must be added that there are also some types of social theory, which understand the boundless character of man’s vitalities and yet advocate unlimited freedom. In the nineteenth century Darwinian, rather than physiocratic, presuppositions frequently furnished the rationale of laissez-faire social theory.4 The physiocrats trusted the pre-established harmony of nature. The Darwinians attributed a moral historical significance to the struggles of nature. They failed to understand that human society is a vast moral and historical artifact, which would be destroyed if natural conflicts and contests between various vitalities were not mitigated, managed and arbitrated. Both the intensity and the breadth of social cohesion have been historically created. A conflict against the background of this historical cohesion is never, as in the natural world, a limited conflict between two simple or individual units of vitality. A contest between monopolistic and smaller units of economic power, for instance, is not a "natural" contest. The unequal power of one contestant is the product of the tendency toward centralization of power in the processes of a technical civilization. The power is a social and historical accretion; and the community must decide whether it is in the interest of justice to reduce monopolistic control artificially for the sake of reestablishing the old pattern of "fair competition," or whether it is wiser to allow the process of centralization of economic power to continue until the monopolistic centers have destroyed all competition. But, if the second alternative is chosen, the community faces the new problem of bringing the centralized economic power under communal control. These historical contests of power must be managed, supervised, and suppressed by the community, precisely because they do not move within the limits of "nature." The battleground is the human community and not the animal herd; and the contestants are armed with powers which have been drawn from the historical and communal process.

Modern libertarian doctrines, all of which implicitly or explicitly look forward to an anarchistic culmination of the historical process, are not limited to those theories which reduce the community to the dimensions of nature and which regard either the conflicts or the harmonies of nature as normative. Many of them place their trust in a developing reason, as the force which will progressively eliminate social tension and conflict and obviate the use of coercion in maintaining order. Reason is provisionally an organ of the universal, as against the particular, interest; and growing rationality has thus undoubtedly contributed to the extension of human communities. Even practical reason has contributed to this end; for it has furnished the technical and political instruments which bind larger communities together in one unit of mutual dependence.

Yet there is no evidence that reason is becoming progressively disembodied. It always remains organically related to a particular center of vitality, individual and collective; and it is therefore always a weapon of defense and attack for this vitality against competing vitalities, as well as a transcendent force which arbitrates between conflicting vitalities. A high perspective of reason may as easily enlarge the realm of dominion of an imperial self as mitigate expansive desires in the interest of the harmony of the whole. No community, whether national or international, can maintain its order if it cannot finally limit expansive impulses by coercion.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:37 AM


The Bipolar Bamboozle: With the broadening and softening of the criteria needed to label someone with bipolar disorder and aggressive marketing campaigns by pharmaceutical companies, millions of people are being told they have a severe psychiatric disorder and are being prescribed powerful antipsychotic medications. In fact, most are normal people dealing normally with everyday life issues. (STEPHEN RAY FLORA and SARAH ELIZABETH BOBBY, September/October 2008, Skeptical Inquirer)

“Bipolar disorder,” originally known as manic-depression, has been acknowledged as a problem for centuries. However, until very recently, it was considered a very rare and severe condition. Now diagnoses of “bipolar spectrum” disorders are reaching epidemic proportions. Nothing has changed in humans’ biology or natural environment to account for this rise in diagnoses. What does account for the increase is a “softening” of the criteria needed to diagnose a person with bipolar, an increase in aggressive marketing of new profitable prescription drugs for bipolar, and psychiatrists “upcoding” problems to get higher insurance reimbursement rates. A likely outcome of this increase in labeling people “bipolar” is not that more people in need of help are getting it but instead that millions of people are unnecessarily being put on powerful antipsychotic medications.

As the name suggests, people labeled bipolar are believed to alternate between the emotional extremes, or poles, of mania and depression. Prior to the publication of the third edition of psychiatry’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-III) in 1980, a patient would have to be hospitalized with a manic episode before a diagnosis of manic-depression was made. At that time rates of mania were estimated to be 0.4 to 1.2 percent of the population; prior to that, rates were estimated to be even lower. Currently some estimates of bipolar are as high as 10 percent of the population (Angst, et al. 2003), but rates of hospitalization for mania have not increased. What happened?

Just as a child with a hammer discovers new things that “need” to be hammered, when psychiatry finds new drugs it discovers new people who “need” to be treated with them.

Our current health care system has given us the worst of both worlds--you don't have to pay for quackery but neither does some bureaucrat have to sign off on it. Rationing of health care would be preferable.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:43 AM



He entered the Arena with his wife on his arm and a container of holy
water from Lourdes in his black leather bag. His back and hips and
knees ached. That was the disease, they told him. His ears rang and
his stomach turned and his hands and feet were dead. That, they said,
was the cure. Each step he took brought a rattle from his bag.
Twenty-four tablets of Advil were usually enough to get him through
the day.

He braced himself. No doubt someone would approach him this evening,
pump his hand and say it. Strangers were always writing it or saying
it to him: "We're pulling for you, Vee. You can do it. Nobody thought
you had a prayer against Houston in that national championship game in
'83, and you pulled that off, right? Keep fighting, Vee. You can do it

No. Not in the same breath. Not in the same sentence, not in the same
paragraph, not in the same magazine or book could the two be uttered:
a basketball opponent and a cancer eating its way through the marrow
and bone of his spine. A basketball opponent and death. No. In their
fear of dying, people didn't make it larger than it was. They shrank
it, they trivialized it. Vee versus metastatic adenocarcinoma. Vee
versus Phi Slamma Jamma. Go get 'em, baby. Shock the world, Vee.

No. No correlation, baby, he longed to tell them sometimes. None.

The cameras, the reporters, the microphones awaited him inside the
Civic Center in Tallahassee. A brand-new season. Iowa State at Florida
State, 46-year-old Jimmy Valvano's first game back as an ESPN college
basketball analyst since he had learned last summer that he most
likely had a year to live.

He tried to quicken his pace. His left leg wouldn't let him. Four or
five times each day he dabbed his finger in the holy water and made
the sign of the cross on his forehead, his chest, his back, his hips
and his knees. Then he poured a little more into his palm and rubbed
the water deep into his hands and feet.

When he was coach at North Carolina State, Vee used to pause at this
point, just as he entered the arena. Having delivered his pregame
talk, he would leave the locker room on the lower level of Reynolds
Coliseum in Raleigh, mount the steps that led to the court, and stand
on the top one, still unseen by the crowd. For a moment he would not
be an actor at the heart of the drama. He would be a spectator
absorbing the immensity, the feeling of it all—the band blaring fight
songs, the crowd roaring, the cheerleaders tumbling through the air,
the players taking turns gliding to the glass for layups. And he would
think, God, I am lucky. What do other people do when they go to work?
Go to an office, sit at a desk? I get this!

Yes, here was Vee's gift, the gift of the select, to be in the swirl
and at the very same moment above it, gazing down, assessing it,
drinking in all of its absurdity and wonder. It enabled him to be the
funniest man and most fascinating postgame lounge act in sports; it
enabled him to survive the scandal at North Carolina State that
stripped him of his reputation and his job. Even during his most
harrowing moments, part of Vee was always saying, "God, in a year this
is going to make a great story." Exaggerate this detail just a little,
repeat that one phrase four or five times, and it's going to have 'em
howling. Even in the darkness after he had been forced to resign, he
looked down at himself lying in bed and thought, Boy, that poor son of
a bitch, he's really taking a pounding. But he'll be back. Give him
time. He'll be fine.

That was what cancer had stolen. The fear and the pain and the grief
swallowed a man, robbed him of detachment, riveted him to himself. "I
can't do it," he said. "I can't separate from myself anymore."

He tightened his grip on the black leather bag and walked under the lights.

It flooded through him when he walked onto a basketball court—the jump
shots with crumpled paper cups he took as a little boy after every
high school game his dad coached, the million three-man weaves, all
the sweat and the squeaks and the passion so white-hot that twice
during his career he had rocketed off the bench to scream...and
blacked out...and five or six times every season the backside of his
suit pants had gone rrr-iii-p! He wore Wolfpack red underwear just in
case, but it didn't really matter. A guy could walk around in his
underwear at home; Vee was at home. Maybe here, for two hours tonight,
he could forget.

He looked up and saw a man striding toward him. It was the Florida
State coach, Pat Kennedy, who had been Valvano's assistant at Iona
. Kennedy leaned toward Vee's ear and opened his mouth to
speak. Those who had been in a bar at 1 a.m. when Vee was making
people laugh so hard that they cried, those who had seen him grab the
deejay's microphone at 2 a.m. and climb on a chair to sing Sinatra,
those whose hotel doors he had rapped on at 3:30 a.m. to talk about
life and whose lampshades he had dented with his head when their
eyelids sagged ("Had to do something to wake you up! You weren't
listening!")...they could not fathom that this was happening to him.
Vee was a man with an electric cable crackling through his body; he
might walk a couple of dozen laps around an arena after a big win to
let off a little hiss, or wander the streets of a city until dawn
after a loss. He was the kind of guy you wanted to cook dinner for or
show your new house to, because that would make it the alltime
greatest dinner, the alltime best house, terrific, absolutely
terrific—and Vee meant it. And now Kennedy's mouth was opening just a
few inches from Vee's ear, and there were a thousand thoughts and
feelings scratching at each other to get out—"Every day with you was
an exciting day. Every day you had 10 new ideas. Every day you left me
with a smile on my face, saying, 'Boy, that Valvano's something else.'
And you left me thinking I could do more with my life than I'd ever
thought before. Certain people give life to other people. You did that
for me"—but no words would come out of Kennedy's mouth. Instead he
just kissed Vee.

This was what Valvano missed most after his coaching career ended in
April 1990. Nobody kissed a TV analyst, nobody hugged him, nobody
cried on his shoulder. Vee used to astonish the directors who hired
him to give those dime-a-dozen, $50-a-pop guest speeches at their
summer basketball camps in the Poconos back in the '70s. The directors
would look back as they strolled to their offices after introducing
him, and they would see a guy in a floppy Beatle haircut pulling a
white rat—a real white rat, gutted and stuffed by a taxidermist and
mounted on a skateboard—toward the microphone and roaring to the kids,
"What kind of a greeting is that'? Look how you're sitting! I come all
the way here and what do I get? A coupla hundred crotch shots? I'm
supposed to stand up here and give a good speech staring at a coupla
hundred sets of jewels? Whadda we have here, a bunch of big-timers'? I
want rats! Let's try it again. You only get out of life what you
demand! I'm gonna come to the microphone all over again, and this time
I want a standing O, and once I get it you can bet I'm going to give
you the best damn speech I possibly can!" The camp directors would
look back again and see a couple of hundred kids on their feet,
cheering wildly. Look back a few minutes later and see them crying.
Look again and see them carrying Valvano from basket to basket to cut
down the nets and chanting, "VEE! VEE! VEE!" And for the rest of those
camps, the directors and counselors would have to peer in every
direction each time they opened a door or walked down a path, because
Vee had convinced a few hundred kids to leap from behind walls and
bushes in front of them, to sacrifice their bodies like True Rats, to
shuffle in front of the big-timers and take the charge!.

He didn't recruit kids to his college program; he swept them there. He
walked into a prospect's home, and 15 minutes later he had rearranged
the living-room furniture to demonstrate a defense, had Mom
overplaying the easy chair, Dad on the lamp, Junior and his sister
trapping the coffee table. Where the hell else was the kid going to go
to school? In the 30 games Vee coached each season, the 100 speeches
he eventually gave each year, the objective was the same: to make
people leap, make them laugh, make them cry, make them dream, to move
people. "Alive!" he would say. "That's what makes me feel alive!"

And then one day last spring he was playing golf on a course in the
hills overlooking the Mediterranean in the north of Spain. He had
weathered the scandal at N.C. State. He had won an ACE for excellence
in cable-television sports analysis. He had turned down an offer to
coach at Wichita State and signed contract extensions with ABC and
ESPN. He had time, finally, for long dinners with his wife, for poetry
readings and movies with his 12-, 20- and 23-year-old daughters. He
had an assignment to do sideline commentary on a World League football
game in Barcelona; he had a tee time on the course just north of the
city. "How beautiful it was that day," he would remember. "How happy I
was...." And then he felt an ache in his testicles. That's how death
comes. A pang in the crotch when a man's standing in the sun gazing
across the green hills and the bluest goddam sea in the world,
deciding between a three-wood and an iron.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:41 AM


I.F. Stone, Soviet Agent—Case Closed (Harvey Klehr, John E. Haynes and Alexander Vassiliev, Commentary)

One might ask why the KGB would recruit a journalist like Stone, then an editorial writer for the New York Post, with no access to government or industrial secrets. In fact, the KGB recruited a great many journalists. A 1941 internal KGB summary report broke down the occupations of Americans working for the spy agency in the prior decade. Twenty-two were journalists, a profession outnumbered only by engineers (forty-nine) and dwarfing economists (four) and professors (eight). While journalists rarely had direct access to technical secrets or classified documents in the way engineers, scientists, or government officials did, the espionage enterprise encompasses more than the classic spy who physically steals a document.

The KGB recruited journalists in part for their access to inside information and sources on politics and policy, insights into personalities, and confidential and non-public information that never made it into published stories. Certain journalistic working habits also lent themselves to intelligence tasks. By profession, journalists ask questions and probe; what might seem intrusive or suspect if done by anyone else is their normal modus operandi. Consequently, the KGB often used journalists as talent spotters for persons who did have access to sensitive information, and made use of them to gather background information that would help in evaluating candidates for recruitment.

The flexibility of their work also made journalists desirable as couriers and agent handlers (the liaisons between KGB officers and their American sources). There was also much less risk that a journalist having contact with a government official or engineer would attract the attention of security officials than would a KGB officer under Soviet diplomatic cover. And even if security officials did notice such a meeting, it would be much easier to provide a benign explanation for contact with a pesky American journalist than with a Soviet diplomat. Additionally, the KGB could use journalists for “active measures”—the planting of a story in the press or giving a slant to a story that served KGB goals.

Stone assisted Soviet intelligence on a number of such tasks: talent spotting, acting as a courier by relaying information to other agents, and providing private journalistic tidbits and data the KGB found interesting. In May 1936, for example, the KGB New York station told Moscow:

Pancake reported that Karl Von Wiegand works in Berlin as a correspondent for the Hearst agency “Universal Service.” He had been ordered to maintain friendly relations with Hitler, which was supposedly dictated by the fact that the German press was buying the agency’s information. Hearst is in a deal with German industry to supply the latter with a large consignment of copper. Wiegand does not agree with Hearst’s policy. He turned to Pancake’s boss for advice.

Commenting on Stone’s work as a KGB talent spotter and recruiter, the KGB New York station reported, “Pancake established contact with Dodd. We wanted to recruit him [Dodd] and put him to work on the State Dep. line. Pancake should tell Dodd that he has the means to connect him with an anti-Fascist organization in Berlin.” William A. Dodd, Jr., was the son of the U.S. ambassador to Germany and an aspiring Popular Front activist with political ambitions. The KGB did recruit him, and Stone briefly functioned as Dodd’s intermediary with the KGB, providing him with a contact in Berlin when he went to join his father at the embassy. Stone also passed on to the KGB some information Dodd picked up from the American military attaché in Berlin about possible German military moves against the USSR and the name of a suspected pro-Nazi embassy employee.

There is only one other reference to I.F. Stone’s cooperation with the KGB in the 1930s, a note listing him as one of the New York station’s agents in late 1938.

Stone next pops up in a 1944 KGB report on Victor Perlo (cover name “Raid”), head of a network of Soviet sources in Washington during World War II. “In 1942–43,” the report said, “R. [Raid/Perlo] secretly helped Pancake compile materials for various exposés by the latter.” (Perlo was at that time a mid-level economist at the advisory Council of National Defense.) Similarly, a 1945 report about Stanley Graze, a secret Communist and a valued KGB source, noted that in 1943 Graze’s wife had been “Pancake’s personal secretary, maintaining ties with the latter’s informants in government agencies.”

These 1944 and 1945 notes do not indicate that Stone was an active KGB agent or even in direct contact with it after 1938, and given Stone’s initial anger over the Nazi-Soviet Pact, it is likely that he broke relations with the KGB in late 1939.

Still, Stone had quickly reverted to a pro-Soviet position and, as his links to Victor Perlo and Mrs. Stanley Graze demonstrate, he remained in intimate touch with the Communist underground in Washington in World War II and continued to be viewed by the KGB in a benign light.

In this context, it is evident that Vladimir Pravdin’s October 1944 approach to Stone—which came to light in the Venona documents—was not an initial recruitment attempt but an effort to reestablish the agent relationship that the KGB had had with Stone in 1936-38.

Only one other document in Vassiliev’s notebooks bears on this question, and it has to do with Harry Truman. The Soviets knew little about Truman when he succeeded to the presidency, and in June 1945 Moscow Center told Pravdin, then chief of the New York KGB station:

Right now the cultivation of Truman’s inner circle becomes exceptionally important. This is one of the Station’s main tasks. To fulfill this task, the following agent capabilities need to be put to the most effective use: 1. In journalistic circles—Ide, Grin, Pancake . . . Bumblebee. Through these people focus on covering the principal newspaper syndicates and the financial-political groups that are behind them; their relationships with Truman, the pressure exerted on him, etc.

Of the four journalists listed, “Ide”/Samuel Krafsur and “Grin”/John Spivak were unambiguously KGB agents. However, “Bumblebee” was not. He was none other than Walter Lippmann, the most prominent opinion columnist of the day. Lippmann knew Pravdin only as a Soviet journalist with whom he traded insights and information.

As for Stone, given Pravdin’s effort to rerecruit him in 1944, he could not have been under the illusion that the Soviet was a mere working journalist. Still, because of Lippmann’s inclusion in the list, this message makes it impossible to determine the nature of Stone’s relationship to the KGB in 1945.

The documentary record shows that I.F. Stone consciously cooperated with Soviet intelligence from 1936 through 1938. An effort was made by Soviet intelligence to reestablish that relationship in 1944-45; we do not know whether that effort succeeded.

To put it plainly, from 1936 to 1939 I.F. Stone was a Soviet spy.

That Stone chose never to reveal this part of his life strongly suggests that he knew just how incompatible it would be with his public image as a courageous and independent journalist. His admirers, who have so strenuously denied even the possibility of such an alliance, have no choice now but to reevaluate his legacy.

...doesn't mean there are no witches.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:34 AM


Worldmaker: Remembering Thomas Disch (John Crowley, Jan/Feb 2009, Boston Review)

334 is set in New York in 2021. The great issue is overpopulation, the bugbear of the 1970s (see, e.g., the 1973 film Soylent Green). Huge buildings house teeming populations in tiny apartments supported by MODICUM, acronym of the national social control and distribution agency. Only those testing at sufficiently high levels of achievement in various fields (military service, physical strength, intelligence) can get permits to have children. The book’s many characters largely inhabit tiny spaces at 334 E. 11th St., built in “the pre-Squeeze affluent ’80’s” and adapted by MODICUM to hold 3,00 tenants. By 2021, 334 is architecturally “on a par with the pyramids—it had dated very little and it hadn’t changed at all.”

As in many futurist novels of that time, there is a great deal of television (“teevee”) and drugs, much gender bending avant la lettre, moral vacuity, a distant endless war fought by “gorillas” (ours). What there is not is a revolution in information. A dozen years from now society will be managed by huge government computers but there will be no personal computers, no ATMs, no cell phones, no email, no printouts, no DVDs, no PINs, no MP3s, and no Internet. Young Birdie Ludd, a lumpen-citizen, attempts to get himself a higher social score by researching and writing an essay, and heads for the library:

The place was a honeycomb of research booths, except for the top floor, 28, which was given over to the cables connecting Nassau to the uptown branch and then, by relays, to every other major library outside of France, Japan, and South America. A page who couldn’t have been much older than Birdie showed him how to use the dial-and-punch system. When the page was gone Birdie stared glumly at the blank viewing screen.

Of course, Disch was not the only writer to miss this turn of events just around the corner; the whole field of SF missed it, and went on brooding about the bomb and overpopulation until William Gibson and cyberpunk came along to reflect, not to imagine, that new world. The future cannot be described in advance, and because it cannot, every greatly successful science-fiction vision of the future has to pass through a period of failure, when it becomes obvious that no, things are not going to be like that after all. Critics and readers who take science fiction seriously will thereupon state that SF projections are not really about the future at all; they are allegories of the times in which they are written, which is fine but somewhat deflating for readers who hoped for compelling predictions. Most such visions simply evaporate at this juncture into fantasy or “alternative reality,” perhaps remaining gripping or delightful to some degree.

But if the author is both good and lucky, a futurist novel can later regain status, revealing itself to be neither a book about our shared future nor about the present it was written in, but a vivid personal vision. In differing ways, this happened to Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We, which gained power as fiction while losing it as prediction, and the book derived from it, George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, which remained powerful as critique though wrong in its particulars. The problem for such books is whether readers who were uninterested in them as science fiction will ever rediscover them on the far side of this process. Orwell and Huxley were at an advantage here, having a claim on a general readership beforehand. A writer beginning in SF, like Disch, takes his chances.

Certainly, 334 is, among other things, a heightened portrait of Tom’s and my New York as it was in 1974, where pay phones take dimes and Negroes are scary to whites, where violence and an ugly stupidity are pervasive and everything is worse than it was before. The streets are squalid, the popular entertainments vapid, the population hopeless. Birdie goes off to fight the endless wars in Southeast Asia; his girlfriend Milly works as a stewardess for Pan Am.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:34 AM


Wish you weren’t here: Some top environmentalists say the way to a greener planet is to have fewer people. Is an environmentalism without humanity the answer? (Brian Lilley, 18 April 2009, MercatorNet)

I would have thought that Jonathon Porritt might not be invited to many parties, what with calling for half of Britain’s population to be done away with in the name of sustainability. Instead, Porritt, an English environmental activist and population control champion, is asked to give advice to Prince Charles, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and the executives at Marks and Spencers. Perhaps they all want to keep Porritt close to ensure they don’t become targets of the great human cull? [...]

On his blog, Porritt lays out a 12-step program to get the human population to kick the reproductive habit, or at least his 12 arguments of why they should. On his personal website he argues the UK could reduce its population to 55 million by 2050 instead of the projected population of 77 million by convincing all women to have no more than two children and to cap immigration at the same level as emigration.

Yet Mr. Porritt, along with such luminaries as Paul Ehrlich, is a patron on the Manchester based Optimum Population Trust, which claims the UK, should have a population of between 17 and 27 million people depending on the global hectare per person. As for the rest of the globe, “the world population needs to contract to a maximum of 5.1 billion” but “the sustainable population is 2.7 billion.”

Well if some of us have to go, I nominate the board of the Optimum Population Trust to go first.

But that's the point, isn't it? Such folk never mean that there are too many affluent white people. It is the subspecies that will have to go.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:27 AM


Don't remake Reginald Perrin – just show it again: Television in the 1970s was wonderful so please don't remake old favourites (Gill Hornby, 20 Apr 2009, Daily Standard)

It could be all right, I suppose, this remake of The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin coming on to the BBC this week. Martin Clunes might be entertaining, even though Leonard Rossiter is one of the harder acts to follow. The writers have made various updates to bring the story, about a middle-aged man who fakes his own death, into the 21st century: his mother-in-law will no longer be represented by an image of a hippo, because we are apparently no longer the sexist society we were back in the 1970s (apart from in the backrooms of Number 10, obviously). So it might be just about OK. But, still, why do they bother? [...]

Now, art galleries – they've got the right idea. They don't say, "Hmmm, portrait of a woman, half-smile, long gaze, punters love her… Damian, why don't you have a go?" Or "Poppies, a whole field full… Tracey, what's your take on that?" No. They just put up the Mona Lisa or the Monet, and people seem to like them.

Why should TV be any different? We don't need these remakes – or "reimaginings", as they try to dignify them. We don't want Shane Richie – I know, sacrilege – being Arthur Daley's nephew. Just put out the old Minder, The Sweeney and Perrin, think of another word for "repeat" – perhaps "tribute" or "revisit" – and we'll all be better off.

...why didn't ABC just show the original Life on Mars instead of trying to make their own and, almost inevitably, screwing it up?

April 27, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:31 AM



I'm a PhD candidate in journalism and mass comm at the University of
Wisconsin-Madison. My primary research interest is political blogs
and I am conducting a experiment with blog readers that I would
greatly appreciate your readers' participation in:


As an on-and-off music blogger, I'm aware that you probably get
requests like this frequently, but I would love it if you would post
the link on your blog. This study will hopefully shed some light on
some understudied areas of news effects by letting me focus on a group of heavy news consumers who are highly interested in politics and current events.

Completing this survey will take about 15-20 minutes and will require
a high-speed Internet connection (a connection that's fast enough for
YouTube will work fine). As thanks for participating, 10 respondents
will be randomly selected at the conclusion of the study to receive
$25 gift cards to Amazon.com. If you have questions about the study,
feel free to let me know. Thanks for your help!


Aaron S. Veenstra
PhD. Candidate, University of Wisconsin-Madison
School of Journalism & Mass Communication
asveenstra@wisc.edu | 5161 Vilas Hall

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:32 AM


Are wars ever just?: The invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan raise complex questions about the moral and legal use of force (Costas Douzinas, 4/21/09, guardian.co.uk)

The apologists of the emerging cosmopolitan order claim that it is genuinely democratic, founded on judicial equality, the constitutional protection of individual rights, representative government and market economics. "Humanitarian" law, the old law of war, combined with human rights law, has created a new "humanity's law", which restricts government brutality both during war and at peacetime. Its indicators are everywhere. Sanctions are imposed on states to protect their citizens from their evil rulers. Human rights, democracy and good governance conditions are routinely inserted into trade and aid agreements with developing countries. Last but not least, in humanitarian wars, we kill humans in order to save humanity.

The concept of a just war

Throughout history, kings and rulers have added a veneer of high principle to murderous campaigns. In the west, the quest for moral justification has taken the form of the "just war" theory. However the lack of an arbiter who could sift through the conflicting rationalisations of the warring parties has made the just war one of the hardest moral mazes. As the poet Wyndam Lewis put it: "but what war that was ever fought, was an unjust war, except of course that waged by the enemy."

The "just war" theory was developed by the medieval church, in an attempt to serve Caesar without totally abandoning its pledges to God. A just war restores a violated moral order. Theologians concentrated therefore on defining criteria for determining the goodness of a war (the jus ad bellum). [...]

Human rights were conceived in the 18th century and still remain a defence against the domination and oppression of individuals by public and private power. But when they become tools of western universalism or communitarian localism their purpose is undermined. The universalists believe that cultural values and moral norms should pass a test of universal applicability and logical consistency. They often conclude that if there is one moral truth and many errors, its holders have a duty to impose the truth on others. Communitarians start from the opposite observation: they believe values are context-bound and often impose them on those who disagree with the oppressiveness of tradition or culture.

The individualism of universalists forgets that we all come into existence in common with others. Being in common is an integral part of self: the self is exposed to the other, the other is part of the intimacy of self.

But being in a community with others is the opposite of common being or of belonging to an essential community. Most communitarians, on the other hand, define community through the commonality of tradition, history and culture; the various past crystallisations whose inescapable weight determines present possibilities. In Kosovo, Serbs massacred in the name of threatened community, while the allies bombed in the name of threatened humanity. Both principles, when they define the meaning of humanity without remainder, find everything that resists them expendable.

One can hardly hope to untangle the moral confusions of someone who treats as equal principles the assertion of particular racial superiority and that of universal God-given rights. But the author raises one good point directly: the idea of basing intervention on secular "humanitarianism" instead of divine justice attempts to replace the Judeo-Christian foundation of just war but is incapable of doing so. If an objective moral standard exists--which can only have come from God--then it is always just to enforce it, regardless of whether we choose to do so or not. If the standard for rights is nothing more than a human construct it is subjective and there is no rational basis for preferring your own to the next guy's. If such is the situation that obtains, then the very concept of justice is rendered nugatory. War, or any enforcement of standards, is naught but an exercise in force and the imposition of one's own selfish will.

Of course, Americans, with rather few exceptions, reject this latter sort of multiculti secular rationalist nonsense and happily embrace the self-evident truths upon which our very Republic is founded: "that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." For us, to deny what the author calls "the
cosmopolitan order" would be to deny America and deny God, Hisownself.

So where Mr. Douzinas's intended audience, Europeans, have to answer his ridiculously easy question in the negative--wars can never be just, by definition, because their atheism excludes justice--we face a quite different question here in America. Particularly given the ease with which we can effect change once we turn our attention to states where unjust regimes prevail--Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Libya, Southern Sudan, etc.--the genuinely difficult moral question becomes: is it ever just for us not to war against such regimes? Do we implicate ourselves in the injustice when we fail to remove the dictatorships in Syria, Cuba, North Korea, Burma, the PRC, etc? Does the universal applicability of our Founding impose some moral obligation upon us to advance the march of Liberty wherever and whenever we can?

That's a pretty awesome burden and it's easy to see why the massively self-absorbed seculars want no part of it. But it isn't one that the residents of the City on the Hill can ever dodge more than briefly.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:21 AM


Ayatollah Khomeini's funeral (James Buchan, 12 March 2009, New Statesman)

The plan was to travel 25 miles south through town in an orderly procession, but the crowds had swelled overnight to several million. “From the north of Tehran to Behesht-e Zahra,” wrote Khomeini’s biographer Baqer Moin, “nothing could be seen but a black sea of mourners dotted only by the white turbans of some mollahs.”

The air-conditioned truck acting as a hearse could make no headway through the crowd, and neither water cannon nor warning shots from the Revolutionary Guard could clear a path. In the end, the body was transferred to a helicopter - another echo of 1979 – and brought by air to the grave that had been hacked with mattocks out of the stony desert.

Yet even here, the crowd surged past the makeshift barriers. John Kifner wrote in the New York Times that the “body of the ayatollah, wrapped in a white burial shroud, fell out of the flimsy wooden coffin, and in a mad scene people in the crowd reached to touch the shroud”. A frail white leg was uncovered. The shroud was torn to pieces for relics and Khomeini’s son Ahmad was knocked from his feet. Men jumped into the grave. At one point, the guards lost hold of the body. Firing in the air, the soldiers drove the crowd back, retrieved the body and brought it to the helicopter, but mourners clung on to the landing gear before they could be shaken off. The body was taken back to north Tehran to go through the ritual of preparation a second time. [...]

For the outside world, especially for non-Shia Muslims and Iranian émigrés, the funeral was, as Time put it, “bizarre, frightening – and ultimately incomprehensible”. Here was not tragedy but gruesome farce – idolatrous, makeshift, deadly and utterly lacking in self-control. According to Radio Tehran, 10,800 people were treated that day for self-inflicted wounds, heat exhaustion or crush injuries.

For the Iranians, by contrast, these astonishing events were evidence of what they prized above all things: unaffected sympathy, or what is known as del – “heart”.

After the funeral, Iranian society resumed its habitual good order, held together by piety, pride, a certain amount of government repression, opium, cheap bread and petrol, a ban on alcohol and segregation of the sexes. And it still holds together today. The revolutionary constitution, with its novel mixture of clerical dictatorship and liberal democracy, has proved more resilient than anyone could have imagined in 1979.

What remains in the memory of those June days 20 years ago is that same power of men and women en masse that haunted Alexis de Tocqueville in his study of the French Revolution of 1789 – something “violent, radical, desperate, audacious, almost mad, and nonetheless powerful and effective”, which will certainly return to Iran one day, either to renew the Islamic Republic or to demolish it.

Our reactions to Iran are still shaped by such fright, but, in his book, Baghdad Without a Map, Tony Horwitz relates the following comical exchange:
One of the demonstrators peeled off to rest by the curb, and I edged over to ask him what the mourners were shouting.

'Death to America,' he said.

'Oh.' I reached for my notebook as self-protection and scribbled the Farsi transliteration : Margbar Omrika.

'You are American?' he asked.

'Yes. A journalist.' I braced myself for a diatribe against the West and its arrogant trumpets.

'I must ask you something,' the man said. 'Have you ever been to Disneyland?'

'As a kid, yes.'

The man nodded, thoughtfully stroking his beard. 'My brother lives in California and has written me about Disneyland,' he continued. 'It has always been my dream to go there and take my children on the tea-cup ride.'

With that, he rejoined the marchers, raised his fist and yelled 'Death to America!' again.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:42 AM


Nations, Liberalism, and Science (Peter Augustine Lawler, Winter 2009, The New Atlantis)

Leading European thinkers now believe they have learned the lesson of the world wars and the Cold War: The nation should have no future. Human rights and the dignity of the person both require our gradual surrender of territorial democracy and political loyalty. There should no longer be any attachment to a particular people in a particular place. Nobody should understand himself as a dutiful citizen of a specific political entity, but we should all be cosmopolitan—that is, citizens of the world. Power should devolve from the state in the direction of larger unions—toward an amorphous and rather apolitical European Union (which, having no clear territorial identity, is potentially a global union) or to the United Nations. These larger unions might be criticized as diminishing personal significance in the direction of impersonal, meddlesome, bureaucratic despotism. The most urgent thing, however, is not to empower people to act as citizens but to save them from the destructive consequences of doing so.

Today’s sophisticated devotion is the post-national, humanitarian protection of human rights. Every human being, we still say, is unique and irreplaceable. Nobody may be sacrificed for another, or to some cause or ideal, but only because we know of nothing higher than each of our bare existences. We do what we can to protect each person from not being and nothing more, because each person is nothing more than the opposite of not being. We must stop sacrificing present persons to some imaginary future—as the Christians did with their vision of personal immortality or the Marxists did with their vision of perfect historical liberation. It would seem that the contemporary enlightened European has reconciled us to the truth that our bodily existence is all there is.

But this enlightened view is full of contradictions and paradoxes. If bodily existence is all there is, why do we privilege human beings over other sorts of bodies? Why is it that we alone among the animals have rights? Perhaps it is because we alone among the animals are aware of the limits of our natural existence, are disgusted by them, and strive to overcome them. Each human person does not really think of himself as just a part of nature, and even today he cannot help but hate the nature bound to ultimately kill him. When he dies, as nature intends for him soon enough, he’s gone; the fact that the matter that was an indispensable condition of him—but not simply him—becomes a tree or a dolphin is no consolation. He cannot lose himself in some vision of an impersonal natural process. There is little reason to devote himself to human rights if he is just one part of nature among infinitely many.

Contemporary Europeans seem to recognize that they are more than their mere bodies, although they do not seem to know who or what. The attempt—in the service of personal wholeness or self-sufficiency—not to be a part of anything at all leads to emptiness and solitary fantasies. The lack of compensation for one’s bodily limitations may also lead to an extreme hatred of that body. The contemporary European cannot be a pantheist or even a consistent naturalist; he does not really find himself at home in nature, nor can he find himself at home in his country, his church, or his family. He tends to live, instead, in a sort of postpolitical, postreligious, postfamilial fantasy. He thinks that, and acts like, he can live without the institutions that are reflections of his embodiment—institutions that human beings form as a result of having and coming to terms with their bodies.

The postpolitical fantasy is that the nation can wither away. The wars fought by nations can be replaced by humanitarian police actions aimed at deviant evildoers, often those who haven’t yet bought into modern liberalism; the need for militaries and militancy will evaporate; the draft becomes an affront against human dignity and personal freedom. The truth, of course, is that liberalism cannot altogether free human beings from their political needs. New national, despotic, and imperial challenges will inevitably arise; the world will remain dangerous; war will always be a possibility. Witness Europe’s incomprehension in the face of the illiberal challenge it is now facing from yet-national Russia.

The protection of human rights may once have seemed to require the enlightened dismissal of the nation. But the Russians, Chinese, and Iranians are serving up a reminder that the nation or some polis is a necessary defense against despotism and empire. Being part of a nation or polis has to be a part—but not the whole—of any free person with a future; rights are effectively exercised only within a political context. Even if the perfected liberation of the cosmopolitan, humanitarian world dreamed up by Marx and many theorists today were a possibility, the price for the absence of alienation would be a chilling human emptiness.

The postfamilial fantasy is reflected most strikingly in birth rates below the rate of replacement, but also in low rates of marriage and the detachment of parenthood from marriage. A free person, conscious that his death ends all, does not think beyond his personal existence; he refuses to subordinate himself to a community of family members who came before or after him, rejecting the illusion that he can live on through his children. But of course, the natural future of our species and the political future of a people depends upon replacements being born and raised. It is a perverse mark of our freedom that we are able to suppress the natural instinct meant to keep life going. People are refusing, more than ever, to be the social, species-serving animals of the evolutionary account, to take their place as part of nature. The demographic crisis caused by so many failing to think of themselves as belonging to a family may be the main reason to wonder whether Europe—or excessively consistent, lonely liberalism—could possibly have a future.

For related reasons, Europeans seem also to be living in a postreligious fantasy. Very few go to church or think of themselves as members of a church. Hostile to the various forms of repression caused by their nations’ religious past, Europeans generally see religion as little more than a source of injustice and repression, a multifaceted affront to the person and his rights. Just a few decades ago, European intellectuals prided themselves on being full of existentialist anxiety in the absence of God—but the contemporary European claims to be too enlightened to be moved, as a person, toward any kind of illusory transcendence. He refuses either to believe in God or to be haunted by His absence. But the longings that make a person more than a merely biological being remain just beneath the surface. The person remains miserably disoriented in the perceived absence of the personal God.

The preponderance of evidence we have from Europe is that the liberalism of personal liberation has become toxic—if not yet decisively fatal—for human imaginations that have room for nations or political life. The modern oscillation between expecting too much and too little of citizenship can only be brought to an end, it is now thought, by bringing citizenship to an end. Today’s modern liberalism—in the absence of the personal significance born of truly belonging to a family, country, or church—might prove so empty that it is incapable of perpetuation.

The American Nation and the American Person

The American nation, we can also see, has a more promising future. There are many reasons for the American difference. The two world wars and the Cold War were not as traumatic for us; in fact, they reinforced our national self-confidence. The human cost of the monstrous twentieth century was not exacted on our continent. In each of these wars we also rightly think of ourselves as having been a force for good, defending personal freedom and human rights against terrible evildoers.

We can also see that America has not really engaged in the effort to stabilize free, personal life in the absence of a personal God. The American view has tended neither toward the death of God nor His reconfiguration as the foundation of some American civil religion. Writers often discuss the American civil religion, but generally describe it as some variant of Biblical religion with an active God.

From the beginning, Americans have not grappled in the same way with the contradiction between intense personal longings and impersonal science or theology. Consider our Declaration of Independence. The theoretical core of the Declaration—on self-evident truths, unalienable rights, and instituting government—speaks of “Nature’s God,” a Deist creator, the source of the impersonal laws of nature. Christian members of the Continental Congress insisted that two other references to God be added to the eminently modern Jefferson and Franklin’s draft, and so the rousing conclusion, ending with “sacred Honor,” speaks of a Creator-God as the “Supreme Judge” of us all and as the source of “divine Providence.” Thanks to this legislative compromise, the Declaration offers up a “Nature’s God” Who also knows and cares about each of us. Through most of our history, such compromises between modern and Christian Americans have considerably reduced the distance between Christian and modern views of the person’s natural and theological environment.

So Americans view political life, in part, as the free construction of self-interested individuals securing their material being in a hostile natural world. But they also, in part, regard it as limited by the conscientious duties persons have to their personal Creator. Political life is both dignified and limited by the real existence of dignified creatures. The most admirable and powerful American efforts at egalitarian reform have had religious origins, but religion has also acted (as Tocqueville explained) as a limit on the American spirit of social and political reform. Americans have plenty of confidence in progress, but present persons are not to be sacrificed to some vague historical future. Because Americans don’t really believe people are radically, miserably alienated from God and nature now, they don’t think it is their job to transform existence itself to save people from their misery.

The poor Euros never got past the confusions of Descartes

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:41 AM


(Carnegie Hall, 1972)

What's not to love about a world in which Groucho and TS Eliot were friends?

-TRANSCRIPT: of An Evening with Groucho

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:39 AM


Donkey Ball Stubbornly Holds On Despite Criticism (KATIE THOMAS, 4/18/09, NY Times)

GOFFSTOWN, N.H. — With her fearsome nickname, unpredictable style of play and two pairs of custom-fit, rubber-soled shoes, the athlete known as Timebomb thundered onto the court at Mountain View Middle School.

But even as the crowd whooped and the loudspeakers shook to the strains of “Who Let the Dogs Out?” before a recent game, other details made it clear that Timebomb — along with her teammates Reckless, Ginger and April Surprise — was no ordinary athlete. She plays for carrots. She has hairy ears. She is not potty-trained.

Timebomb is a donkey, and she and the others arrived at this gym to play a quirky twist on basketball in which humans ride donkeys. Called donkey ball, the pastime has been around since at least the 1930s, kept alive by fewer than a dozen family businesses that truck the donkeys to school gyms across the country in exchange for a cut of ticket revenue.

Company owners say that their donkeys are beloved, spoiled pets, and that their work helps local charities that host the events to raise money. But the practice has drawn criticism from animal-welfare groups that say the donkeys are mistreated, leading some schools to cancel the events. That, along with a handful of lawsuits, has left some operators to wonder how long this peculiar slice of Americana will survive.

“I would ask people to actually go see a donkey basketball game before they jump on the bandwagon of trying to put it down,” said Brenda Amburgey, who owns Circle A Donkey Ball in Henry, Tenn.

Once you go jack, you never turn back.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:28 AM


Bloggers at the Gate: The Internet hasn't perfected democracy. But it might.: a review of The Myth of Digital Democracy by Matthew Hindman (Matt Bai, Spring 2009, Democracy)

In The Myth of Digital Democracy, Matthew Hindman, a political science professor at Arizona State University, argues that the Internet hasn’t really broadened or decentralized the structure of politics at all; it’s just sort of rearranged the furniture. According to Hindman, American politics and media, far from being democratized in any way, are still controlled by a relative handful of activists and gatekeepers. Some of the names and faces may have changed, but the small club of people engaged and empowered is just as exclusive as ever–wealthier, whiter, more educated, and far more liberal than your average American. Sure, Hindman says, political activism and journalism are moving predominately online, but that doesn’t mean that hierarchies are being flattened and influence splintered. In fact, he says, there’s really no numerical evidence to suggest that the average American is any more involved politically than he was during the apex of the broadcast age–which is to say, not very involved at all.

In other words, Hindman is saying that the Gina Coopers of the world make for nice, inspiring stories, but they don’t represent any significant departure from the people who hung out in the last era’s smoke-filled political clubs, and they haven’t begun to redistribute the essential balance of power in the democracy from large institutions to individual voters. Meet the new elites, same as the old, except maybe for the laptops.

At this point, it’s only fair for me to say a word about political scientists and political journalists, who generally regard one another with the same low-grade disdain that probably characterizes the relationship between, say, legal scholars and urban prosecutors. Academics who study politics often consider those of us who write about the field to be superficial, simple-minded and–the greatest indictment of all– unscientific . We interview three people in an Iowa diner and act as if we have penetrated the very soul of America. (Such allegations are, sadly, true enough.) Hindman’s book is permeated by just this kind of mild contempt for political journalists, who, in his view, have mindlessly extolled the democratizing virtues of the Internet while not possessing the basic intellectual skills necessary to quantify their assertions. The Myth of Digital Democracy features no less than eight visual figures and 21 tables, along with detailed dissections of such metrics as the "Herfindahl-Hirschman Index," which I can’t really explain to you beyond the fact that it seems to involve Greek symbols and some algebra.

Generally speaking, political writers don’t think so much of political scientists, either, mostly because anyone who has ever actually worked in or covered politics can tell you that, whatever else it may be, a science isn’t one of them. Politics is, after all, the business of humans attempting to triumph over their own disorder, insecurity, competitiveness, arrogance, and infidelity; make all the equations you want, but a lot of politics is simply tactile and visual, rather than empirical. My dinnertime conversation with three Iowans may not add up to a reliable portrait of the national consensus, but it’s often more illuminating than the dissertations of academics whose idea of seeing America is a trip to the local Bed, Bath & Beyond.

Now, having put that bias on the table, there is much in Hindman’s book that is persuasive, counterintuitive, and important to understanding the moment. Hindman’s data backs up what should be obvious about the political blogs, for instance–that they are populated by a small and fairly homogenous group of people who constitute their own kind of political elite. The founder of Daily Kos, Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, is a law school graduate who lives in Berkeley; the lead blogger on FireDogLake, Jane Hamsher, used to be the Hollywood producer of such family films as "Natural Born Killers"; Chris Bowers, the signature voice of Open Left, is (or at least was when I first met him) a graduate student in sociology. To suggest that the voices of 100 or so prominent bloggers of similar pedigree represent some new, more inclusive voice of the American everyman–which is what the bloggers themselves like to profess–is just fantasy.

It’s true, too, as Hindman puts it, that "there is a difference between speaking and being heard." Just because the Web is bursting with new media sites doesn’t necessarily mean that outsiders are exercising more influence over the process than they used to. "Most online content," Hindman notes, "receives no links, attracts no eyeballs, and has minimal political relevance." As Hindman writes, most of the traffic and influence online still belong to a few mammoth sites: MSN, Google, and AOL; the New York Times; and CNN. The formats have changed, but the relative market shares of large and alternative media have remained fairly stable. Despite the anti-corporate impulses of the Web, consumers still want to get their news and opinion from the familiar brands they know and at least partly trust.

Meanwhile, there's a threshold question: what value could there be to further decentralizing and democratizing our politics? The republic would be better served by re-centralization instead, a strengthening of the two parties, which suffice to represent the two political impulses--towards freedom, on the one hand, towards security on the other.

-Matthew Hindman, Assistant Professor (Arizona State University)
-GOOGLE BOOK: Myth of Digital Democracy
-EXCERPT: Chapter One: The Internet and the ‘‘Democratization’’ of Politics: from Myth of Digital Democracy (Princeton University Press)
-ESSAY: Not the Digital Democracy We Ordered (Matthew Hindman, December 10, 2008, Publius Project)
-INTERVIEW: Politics in the digital age (Counterpoint, 3/02/09)
-REVIEW: of Myth of Digital Democracy (Mark Bahnisch, Inside Story)

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:26 AM


Toppling the last taboo: Is incest merely a relic of a decrepit moral system? (Margaret Somerville | Tuesday, 21 April 2009)

The words of Pierre-Elliot Trudeau, former prime minister of Canada, that “the state has no place in the bedrooms of the nation”, are frequently being trotted out lately. They’ve been used to argue for legalizing same-sex marriage and polygamy; to argue against any restrictions on new reproductive technologies; and to argue that the criminal law should not be employed to prosecute knowingly placing a sexual partner at risk of the transmission of HIV. Most recently, they were used in a discussion, on "The Current", a show on the CBC network, about decriminalizing incest. [...]

Some people are proposing that just as laws criminalizing homosexual acts or limiting marriage to monogamous heterosexual unions have been changed, the law against incest should be repealed. They argue this law is outdated, does not reflect current social mores regarding sexual activity, and is nothing more than imposing some people’s view of morality on others in a context where personal privacy should take priority.

Underlying their approach is the belief that personal preference is the guiding principle regarding one’s sexual activity and that what one does, as long as it’s among consenting adults, causes no harm to anyone else.

Of course, the "adult" and the "consenting" and the "harm" are completely arbitrary by their reasoning as well. There is no slippery slope--once you untether yourself from reality you're already at the bottom of the abyss, whether you recognize it immediately or not.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:04 AM

April 26, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:48 AM


Knock on Wood: a review of The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi (Tim Parks, New York Review Books)

Himself a creative spirit in hard times, the satirical journalist, playwright, and novelist Carlo Collodi began writing Pinocchio in 1881. He was fifty-five, disillusioned, pessimistic, combative. A Florentine through and through, in 1848 and 1859 he had volunteered to fight in two unsuccessful revolutionary wars that sought to replace a fragmented Italy dominated by foreign powers with a unified, self-governing state. In the 1860s that goal was chaotically and unexpectedly achieved, albeit under the austere Piedmontese monarchy. Like many who had supported the cause, Collodi was dissatisfied with the consequences. Politically united, Italy remained culturally divided and backward, a country in need, as the poet Leopardi had once said, of some collective "illusion" that might give its people a sense of identity. "Now we have made Italy, we must make the Italians," the patriot Massimo D'Azeglio famously declared. Unfortunately, government policies based on national pride led to tariff wars and further impoverishment, provoking regional resentment and unrest. Some went hungry. Many predicted the imminent breakup of the country.

In this uncertain environment one crucial instrument of unity and stability was the newly introduced, compulsory education system. In 1868 Collodi was invited by the Ministry of Education to contribute to a national dictionary: Italians must speak and spell in the same way. In 1875 a Florentine publisher specializing in children's literature gave him the job of translating Perrault's fables from the French; the best works of foreign literature were to be published in a modern, standardized Italian. After completing this translation, Collodi was encouraged to write for children himself: first the stories of a boy, Giannettino, who travels through Italy from north to south ("to give kids half an idea of their new and glorious country, about which they know absolutely nothing"), then the tale of Minuzzolo, a boy who makes fun of all attempts to teach him to be good. Later, Collodi would go on to write some highly successful math, grammar, and geography textbooks.

In short, the rebel and satirist had been drawn into the huge task of educating modern Italians. He was aware that it was not a project children would rejoice in. Nor was his approach conventional. In 1883 the Ministry of Education would reject the tales of Giannettino and Minuzzolo as standard texts for elementary schools because they were "so humorously frivolous as to detract from the seriousness of teaching." In general, Collodi's writing is galvanized by the contradiction that while education is understood to be essential, it is presented as generally dull and often futile, if only because human nature is so intractable. Despite being educated in a seminary, Collodi himself was a drinker, smoker, gambler, and womanizer.

The success of his children's books was welcome but Collodi's ambition had been to write adult literature. Here, however, his work was criticized for failing to deliver realistic character and incident, and for its underlying pessimism about both the new Italy and human nature in general. Following Zola's lead in France, the fashion of the day was verismo, a dour realism justified by its commitment to social progress. Out of step with the times, Collodi had a flair for the surreal and absurd that looked back to Sterne and forward to Pirandello; in the 1880s such an approach was considered appropriate only in children's literature. Thus Collodi frequently found himself invited to work in a genre he sometimes felt was below him. When his publisher insisted he contribute to a new children's weekly, Giornale per i bambini, he reluctantly delivered the first installment of "The Story of a Puppet," with a letter remarking: "Here's some childish twaddle, do what you want with it; but assuming you print, you'd better pay me well if you want to see any more."

The story would later be retitled The Adventures of Pinocchio. Collodi did not grow more fond of it. A third of the way into the book we now have, he left Pinocchio hanging by the neck from a tree, having apparently put a gruesome end to both the puppet and his tale. It took the magazine four months to convince him to press on. Later, he was so weary with the project that he took another six-month break. Very likely it was this irritation at writing in a genre he thought secondary that accounts for the story's extraordinary mood swings and unusually cavalier approach to such matters as narrative consistency. Ironically, these are the very qualities that give Pinocchio its extraordinary vitality, qualities that come across in the new translation by Geoffrey Brock. Like Geppetto, Collodi had casually started something that took on a life of its own.

...art is to be judged objectively, not subjectively.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:57 AM


Our Depression Obsession: a review of Liaquat Ahamed's Lords of Finance (Robert J. Samuelson, April 20, 2009, Washington Post)

[A]hamed excels in evoking the political and personal forces that led to disaster. His title refers to four men deeply implicated in the era's perverse policies: Montagu Norman, governor of the Bank of England; Benjamin Strong, head of the New York Federal Reserve Bank; Émile Moreau, head of the Banque de France; and Hjalmar Schacht, head of Germany's Reichsbank. Their determination to reinstate the gold standard -- seen as necessary for global prosperity -- brought ruin.

Under the gold standard, paper money was backed by gold reserves. If gold flowed into a country (normally from a trade surplus or a foreign loan), its money and credit supply were supposed to expand. If gold flowed out, money and credit were supposed to contract. During World War I, Europe's governments suspended the gold standard. They financed the war with paper money and loans from America. The appeal of restoring the gold standard was that it would instill confidence by making paper money trustworthy.

Unfortunately, the war damaged the system beyond repair. Britain, the key country, was left with only 7.5 percent of the world's gold reserves in 1925. Together, the United States and France held more than half the world's gold. The war had expanded U.S. reserves, and when France returned to gold, it did so with an undervalued exchange rate that boosted exports and gold reserves. Meanwhile, German reparations to Britain and France were massive, while those countries owed huge amounts to the United States. The global financial system was so debt-laden that it "cracked at the first pressure," writes Ahamed.

That came after a rise in American interest rates in 1928 forced other countries to follow (no one wanted to lose gold by having investors shift funds elsewhere) and ultimately led to the 1929 stock market crash. [...]

[S]triking differences separate now from then. The biggest is that governments -- unencumbered by the gold standard -- have eased credit, propped up financial institutions and increased spending to arrest an economic free fall.

The Fed biffed badly by hiking interest rates into the teeth of global deflation--again--because it was confused by the dysfunctional oil markets. But they've corrected the mistake, even if a tad late.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:45 AM


The Achievement of Francis Canavan: Excerpt from A Moral Enterprise: Politics, Reason, and the Human Good, Essays in Honor of Francis Canavan (Kenneth Grasso and Robert Hunt, 03/02/09, First Principles)

While at Fordham and at Duke, Canavan studied with two men who would have a great impact on his academic interests and development as a political theorist, Moorhouse I. X. Millar, S.J. and John H. Hallowell. It was Millar who first encouraged Canavan to read Edmund Burke, and it was Hallowell who guided Canavan in the writing of his doctoral dissertation on Burke’s conception of political reason. One of the nation’s leading political philosophers, Hallowell, an Episcopalian, wrote from an unapologetically Christian perspective and sought to articulate a theory of politics—and more particularly, of constitutional democracy—that was rooted in the Christian vision of man and society.

Much of Canavan’s subsequent work, including his groundbreaking studies of Burke’s political thought, has elaborated upon a central presupposition that he shared with Hallowell, namely, that “underlying every system of government there is some predominant conception of the nature of man and the meaning of human existence. More often than not, this idea of man is implicit rather than explicit. But if not always explicit, it is always fundamental.” In other words, every society defines itself by how it answers certain basic questions about human nature and the goods that make for human flourishing. The decision not to answer these questions at all is, paradoxically, just as much an answer as any other, and the practical consequences for any constitutional order are profound. In short, politics is an inescapably moral enterprise. [...]

At the risk of oversimplifying matters, Canavan’s writings on Burke might be said to focus on the restoration of Burke to his rightful place in the pantheon of Christian political thinkers. This restoration, Canavan believes, is particularly important in light of the effort of some scholars to portray Burke as a Humean skeptic or historicist precursor to Hegel. For example, some Burke scholars have portrayed Burke as a man skeptical not only of Enlightenment enthusiasms and abstract metaphysical systems but as a principled opponent of any effort to ground political life within a larger metaphysical framework. Others have interpreted Burke’s defense of tradition, convention, and “prejudice” to mean that he was a follower of the historical Zeitgeist in whatever direction it might happen to be moving at the moment. Canavan has argued that each of these interpretations of Burke’s thought is mistaken.

On the contrary, according to Canavan, “Burke did his political thinking within the framework of a ‘realistic’ metaphysics derived from the biblical and Christian doctrine of creation.” At the heart of Burke’s thought is the vision of a divinely created and “teleologically” ordered universe, “composed of creatures with distinct natures serving natural ends, subject to natural laws, and all directed to the ultimate purpose of the Creator,” and whose “intelligible order [was] accessible to human reason.” Or, as Canavan argues elsewhere,

Burke believed in a common human nature created by God as the supreme norm of politics. But he knew that human nature realizes itself in history through conventional forms, customs, and traditions, which constitute what he called the second nature of a particular people. Convention can and often enough does distort our nature, but it is not opposed to it. . . . Convention, made as it should be to satisfy the needs of nature, is not its enemy, but its necessary clothing. The statesman must therefore frame his policies with a practical wisdom that understands his people, their history, their traditions, their inherited rights and liberties, and their present circumstances. To do otherwise is to court disaster.

The focus of Canavan’s work has been the recovery of the authentic Burke. At the same time, it is obvious that his interest in Burke is not purely historical in nature. He shares Alfred Cobban’s view that “as a school of statesmanship,” Burke’s work possesses “permanent value.” Burke’s writings, he contends, offer us “a richer and fuller way of understanding” political life “than one founded on the sovereign individual and his rights.” Burke’s “profound and luminous mind” offers us “a way of thinking about politics . . . and its problems which makes it possible to approach them rationally, while avoiding both unprincipled expediency and doctrinaire idealism.” Thus, even though “Burke is not a major figure in the history of political philosophy” (and even though he is most certainly not a defender of constitutional democracy in the modern sense), his work nevertheless teaches many lessons that contemporary America needs badly to learn if it is to sustain its experiment in democratic self-government.

-Francis Canavan, S.J. (1917–2009) (Kenneth L. Grasso, 02/27/09, First Principles)
-ARCHIVES: Francis Canavan (Liberty Fund)
-ESSAY: ON MERELY BEING INTELLIGENT: CANAVAN’S VIEWS AND REVIEWS (James V. Schall, S. J., from A Moral Enterprise: Politics, Reason, and the Human Good – Essays in Honor of Francis Canavan)

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:44 AM


The Revenge of Geography: People and ideas influence events, but geography largely determines them, now more than ever. To understand the coming struggles, it’s time to dust off the Victorian thinkers who knew the physical world best. A journalist who has covered the ends of the Earth offers a guide to the relief map—and a primer on the next phase of conflict. (Robert D. Kaplan, May/June 2009, Foreign Policy)

[N]ow, chastened, we have all become realists. Or so we believe. But realism is about more than merely opposing a war in Iraq that we know from hindsight turned out badly. Realism means recognizing that international relations are ruled by a sadder, more limited reality than the one governing domestic affairs. It means valuing order above freedom, for the latter becomes important only after the former has been established. It means focusing on what divides humanity rather than on what unites it, as the high priests of globalization would have it. In short, realism is about recognizing and embracing those forces beyond our control that constrain human action—culture, tradition, history, the bleaker tides of passion that lie just beneath the veneer of civilization. This poses what, for realists, is the central question in foreign affairs: Who can do what to whom? And of all the unsavory truths in which realism is rooted, the bluntest, most uncomfortable, and most deterministic of all is geography.

Indeed, what is at work in the recent return of realism is the revenge of geography in the most old-fashioned sense. In the 18th and 19th centuries, before the arrival of political science as an academic specialty, geography was an honored, if not always formalized, discipline in which politics, culture, and economics were often conceived of in reference to the relief map. Thus, in the Victorian and Edwardian eras, mountains and the men who grow out of them were the first order of reality; ideas, however uplifting, were only the second.

And yet, to embrace geography is not to accept it as an implacable force against which humankind is powerless. Rather, it serves to qualify human freedom and choice with a modest acceptance of fate. This is all the more important today, because rather than eliminating the relevance of geography, globalization is reinforcing it. Mass communications and economic integration are weakening many states, exposing a Hobbesian world of small, fractious regions. Within them, local, ethnic, and religious sources of identity are reasserting themselves, and because they are anchored to specific terrains, they are best explained by reference to geography. Like the faults that determine earthquakes, the political future will be defined by conflict and instability with a similar geographic logic. The upheaval spawned by the ongoing economic crisis is increasing the relevance of geography even further, by weakening social orders and other creations of humankind, leaving the natural frontiers of the globe as the only restraint.

So we, too, need to return to the map, and particularly to what I call the “shatter zones” of Eurasia. We need to reclaim those thinkers who knew the landscape best. And we need to update their theories for the revenge of geography in our time. [...]

[P]erhaps the most significant guide to the revenge of geography is the father of modern geopolitics himself—Sir Halford J. Mackinder—who is famous not for a book but a single article, “The Geographical Pivot of History,” which began as a 1904 lecture to the Royal Geographical Society in London. Mackinder’s work is the archetype of the geographical discipline, and he summarizes its theme nicely: “Man and not nature initiates, but nature in large measure controls.”

His thesis is that Russia, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia are the “pivot” around which the fate of world empire revolves. He would refer to this area of Eurasia as the “heartland” in a later book. Surrounding it are four “marginal” regions of the Eurasian landmass that correspond, not coincidentally, to the four great religions, because faith, too, is merely a function of geography for Mackinder. There are two “monsoon lands”: one in the east generally facing the Pacific Ocean, the home of Buddhism; the other in the south facing the Indian Ocean, the home of Hinduism. The third marginal region is Europe, watered by the Atlantic to the west and the home of Christianity. But the most fragile of the four marginal regions is the Middle East, home of Islam, “deprived of moisture by the proximity of Africa” and for the most part “thinly peopled” (in 1904, that is). [...]

To discern where the battle of ideas will lead, we must revise Mackinder for our time. After all, Mackinder could not foresee how a century’s worth of change would redefine—and enhance—the importance of geography in today’s world. One author who did is Yale University professor Paul Bracken, who in 1999 published Fire in the East. Bracken draws a conceptual map of Eurasia defined by the collapse of time and distance and the filling of empty spaces. This idea leads him to declare a “crisis of room.” In the past, sparsely populated geography acted as a safety mechanism. Yet this is no longer the case, Bracken argues, for as empty space increasingly disappears, the very “finite size of the earth” becomes a force for instability. And as I learned at the U.S. Army’s Command and General Staff College, “attrition of the same adds up to big change.”

One force that is shrinking the map of Eurasia is technology, particularly the military applications of it and the rising power it confers on states. In the early Cold War, Asian militaries were mostly lumbering, heavy forces whose primary purpose was national consolidation. They focused inward. But as national wealth accumulated and the computer revolution took hold, Asian militaries from the oil-rich Middle East to the tiger economies of the Pacific developed full-fledged, military-civilian postindustrial complexes, with missiles and fiber optics and satellite phones. These states also became bureaucratically more cohesive, allowing their militaries to focus outward, toward other states. Geography in Eurasia, rather than a cushion, was becoming a prison from which there was no escape.

Now there is an “unbroken belt of countries,” in Bracken’s words, from Israel to North Korea, which are developing ballistic missiles and destructive arsenals. A map of these countries’ missile ranges shows a series of overlapping circles: Not only is no one safe, but a 1914-style chain reaction leading to wider war is easily conceivable. “The spread of missiles and weapons of mass destruction in Asia is like the spread of the six-shooter in the American Old West,” Bracken writes—a cheap, deadly equalizer of states.

The other force driving the revenge of geography is population growth, which makes the map of Eurasia more claustrophobic still. In the 1990s, many intellectuals viewed the 18th-century English philosopher Thomas Malthus as an overly deterministic thinker because he treated humankind as a species reacting to its physical environment, not a body of autonomous individuals. But as the years pass, and world food and energy prices fluctuate, Malthus is getting more respect. If you wander through the slums of Karachi or Gaza, which wall off multitudes of angry lumpen faithful—young men mostly—one can easily see the conflicts over scarce resources that Malthus predicted coming to pass. In three decades covering the Middle East, I have watched it evolve from a largely rural society to a realm of teeming megacities. In the next 20 years, the Arab world’s population will nearly double while supplies of groundwater will diminish.

A Eurasia of vast urban areas, overlapping missile ranges, and sensational media will be one of constantly enraged crowds, fed by rumors transported at the speed of light from one Third World megalopolis to another. So in addition to Malthus, we will also hear much about Elias Canetti, the 20th-century philosopher of crowd psychology: the phenomenon of a mass of people abandoning their individuality for an intoxicating collective symbol. It is in the cities of Eurasia principally where crowd psychology will have its greatest geopolitical impact. Alas, ideas do matter. And it is the very compression of geography that will provide optimum breeding grounds for dangerous ideologies and channels for them to spread.

All of this requires major revisions to Mackinder’s theories of geopolitics. For as the map of Eurasia shrinks and fills up with people, it not only obliterates the artificial regions of area studies; it also erases Mackinder’s division of Eurasia into a specific “pivot” and adjacent “marginal” zones. Military assistance from China and North Korea to Iran can cause Israel to take military actions. The U.S. Air Force can attack landlocked Afghanistan from Diego Garcia, an island in the middle of the Indian Ocean. The Chinese and Indian navies can project power from the Gulf of Aden to the South China Sea—out of their own regions and along the whole rimland. In short, contra Mackinder, Eurasia has been reconfigured into an organic whole.

As with most Realists, Mackinder is memorable mostly for the fact that he got his theory exactly backwards. He imagined a coming shift away from the great sea powers and towards the heartland of Eurasia, and that, from this "greatest natural fortress on earth," "You will be able to fling power from side to side of this area." Instead, of course, the Anglosphere became even more dominant through airpower, which rendered the notion of any fortress upon land ludicrous and made "the heartland" nothing but an area into which we fling power with impunity.

Here's a description of Central EurAsia that makes clear its problem:

Central Eurasia remains an open-ended and contested territorial categorization. Central Eurasia as a macro-region consists of the five Central Asian states (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan), the three Transcaucasian states (Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia) plus their cultural and economic connections with such neighboring regions as southern Russia (including southern Siberia), western China (Xinjiang). non-Pashtun northern Afghanistan, and north-eastern Iran. This inner circle is complemented by an outer circle of major geopolitical players including Russia, Iran proper, and Turkey. Another outer ring, but one which overlaps with the second one, contains China and India, followed by yet another outer ring containing the two major geostrategic players in the region; the US and the European Union.

Would you rather be the sheep, the anaconda or the herpetologist?

-ESSAY: Mackinder's World (Francis P. Sempa, American Diplomacy)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:44 AM


Orestes Brownson on Catholicism and Republicanism (Jude P. Dougherty, 03/12/09, First Principles)

Brownson’s works have been unduly neglected, Kirk rightly laments. In the late nineteenth century his collected essays were published in twenty volumes by his son, Henry F. Brownson, but Kirk notes that as of the mid-1950s “nothing of Brownson’s had been in print for many years.” That omission was corrected in part by Kirk’s own collection of essays, noted above, and in the same year, by the publication of The Brownson Reader by Alvan S. Ryan of Notre Dame. A mini-revival of interest in Brownson followed, and there have been occasional longer biographical treatments since, but still, precious few have been the sustained analyses of his thought and its contribution to American politics and Catholic American intellectual development. The recent publication by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute of Brownson’s 1865 magnum opus, The American Republic: Its Constitution, Tendencies, and Destiny, part of a larger series of his works, will, one hopes, help to remedy this situation for a new generation of readers.

Kirk’s treatment of Brownson in The Conservative Mind is found in a chapter titled “Transitional Conservatism: New England Sketches,” where he also discusses John Quincy Adams, Emerson, and Hawthorne. Brownson clearly fits here, given his intimate knowledge of the Transcendentalists and the New England mindset. As Kirk observes, contrary to the common nativist denunciation of Brownson and his followers as foreigners, or agents of alien interests, Brownson in fact appears in many ways as a quintessential New Englander.

One Yankee trait evident in Brownson is his wariness of the excesses of democracy: “Our great danger lies in the radical tendency which has become so wide, deep, and active in the American people.” This tendency, which Brownson routinely connects with the rise of Jacksonianism, rejects the order and stability of organically developed societies in favor of human constructions, and is animated by hostility to the notion of authority, especially the authority of God—a principle that can be apprehended only by acknowledging the fundamental social significance of the Church.

One Brownsonian characteristic that could not have sprung so easily from his New England roots, though, was his wholesale embrace of Catholicism as the only religious body that could sustain the religious spirit while at the same time also serving as the means for sustaining republican government. As Kirk describes Brownson’s view, the Protestant principle descends through three states:

first, the subjection of religion to the charge of civil government; second, the rejection of the authority of temporal government, and submission of religion to the control of the faithful; third, individualism, which “leaves religion entirely to the control of the individual, who selects his own creed, or makes a creed to suit himself, devises his own worship and discipline, and submits to no restraints but such as are self-imposed.”

The result of the Protestant temper, in Brownson’s view, is a distrust of authority and a neglect of the necessity of God’s assistance in human affairs, thus undermining the “moral solidarity” that must serve as the basis of any democratic order.

The ultimate necessity of Catholicism for democracy is a constant for Brownson, and a principle he shared with that other profound nineteenth-century commentator on American politics, Alexis de Tocqueville. Both thinkers certainly considered the danger that individualism would undermine the bonds of community, and both also feared an apparently opposite danger, the growth of “tyrannical democracy,” or what Tocqueville called the “soft despotism” of concentrated bureaucratic power. As Tocqueville puts it, “I think that in the democratic centuries that are going to open up, individual independence and local liberties will always be the product of art. Centralization will be the natural government.” This sentiment is one Brownson would seem to endorse whole-heartily, but he differs slightly from Tocqueville in his insistence on connecting his fear of an unfettered civil authority with his religious principles. As he notes in his reflections on the publication of the Syllabus of Pius IX: “The civil power is bound to obey the law of God, and forfeits its authority in going contrary to it. We shall not suffer those who refuse to believe the infallibility of the Pope, [only] to assert the infallibility of Caesar or the state.”16

Kirk’s assessment of Brownson as primarily a religious thinker leads us to consider further Brownson’s positions on the Church and on America. With Brownson, one can hardly treat one topic without the other, but we will focus here on his understanding of the religious character of America.

Brownson seems to have taken his bearings with reference to two fixed principles, the first being that America was not constitutionally hostile to Catholicism, that its original republicanism may even have been open to the vigorous claims of the natural law tradition. Whether or not that is the case, it is clear that for Brownson democracy will only be rescued by the presence of a vibrant Catholicism. This fact is what gives him such confidence that the efforts of the Nativists and Know-Nothings would in the end prove self-defeating.

The second critical element of Brownson’s thought on this question seems to be his comprehension of Catholic Christianity’s robust self-assurance, its willingness to defend itself in the face of a vast array of adversaries. The following analysis will focus on these two principles in Brownson’s thought, and then assess our contemporary circumstances in light of Brownson’s presumptions and concerns.

Peter Augustine Lawler, naturally, has written an excellent essay on Brownson and while your shelp should certainly contain a hard copy of The American Republic, it's also available on-line.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:32 AM


How Science Fiction Found Religion: Once overtly political, the genre increasingly employs Christian allegory (Benjamin A. Plotinsky, Winter 2009, City Journal)

The best illustration of the science-fiction and fantasy world’s recent shift toward Christian themes, though, is the most successful sci-fi franchise in history. George Lucas’s Star Wars appeared in 1977 and instantly became a huge hit. It told the story of Luke Skywalker, a gifted youth raised by his uncle and aunt on the planet Tatooine, who soon finds himself caught up in the struggle between a group of noble rebels and an “evil Galactic Empire”—in the words of the movie’s famous opening scene, in which a few prefatory sentences of exposition crawl slowly into a distant field of stars. An old man named Obi-Wan Kenobi, one of the last remaining members of the virtuous “Jedi knights,” takes Luke under his wing, but he must sacrifice himself to the Empire’s dreaded Darth Vader to save the young man from capture. In the end, Luke joins the rebels and helps win an important battle against the Empire. To date, Star Wars has grossed nearly $461 million in the United States, making it the third-biggest film in American history.

It doubtless owes much of that success to mythologist Joseph Campbell, whose book The Hero with a Thousand Faces described certain features of the “standard path of the mythological adventure of the hero.” The adventure’s outline was simple: “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.” Many myths shared even more than this, explained Campbell; for example, “the first encounter of the hero-journey is with a protective figure (often a little old crone or an old man) who provides the adventurer with amulets against the dragon forces he is about to pass.” Think of Arthur, Merlin, and Excalibur.

Such scholars as Otto Rank and Lord Raglan had earlier written comparative studies of hero-myths. In 1936, for instance, Raglan compiled a list of characteristics common to many mythological heroes: “The hero’s mother is a royal virgin”; “the circumstances of his conception are unusual”; “he is also reputed to be the son of a god”; and 19 others. But it was Campbell’s book that Lucas stumbled upon as he wrote his screenplay. “It’s possible that if I had not run across him I would still be writing Star Wars today,” Lucas acknowledged later. Presumably, too, he would never have invented the “protective figure” Obi-Wan, who gives Luke a “lightsaber” not long after meeting him.

Scholars have noted the correspondence of parts of the Christian narrative to the hero-myths, and perhaps this affinity accounts for what little Christian imagery does show up in Star Wars. “If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine,” Obi-Wan warns Darth Vader. But it’s largely an empty boast: after his death, Obi-Wan does nothing more than appear as a sort of ghost from time to time. The movie’s main plot spends far more time on outer-space dogfights. Two sequels swiftly followed: The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and The Return of the Jedi (1983). Both were entertaining, but neither drew on Christianity.

As the world knows to its sorrow, Lucas revived the franchise in 1999 with The Phantom Menace, the first movie in another Star Wars trilogy that chronicled events prior to those in the original three movies. Episode I, as The Phantom Menace is also confusingly known, differed from the first Star Wars movie in many respects, among them a plot that no suspension of disbelief could render convincing and dialogue that sounded even more mechanical coming from the people than from the robots. In one respect, however, The Phantom Menace consciously mirrored its predecessor, portraying a Jedi knight—Qui-Gon Jinn, played by Liam Neeson—who meets a talented Skywalker boy, this one named Anakin (Jake Lloyd), on the Tatooine sands.

But where the original movie never deified Luke, The Phantom Menace describes Anakin—the future Darth Vader, Luke’s father—in terms so messianic as to make Neo blush, repeatedly calling him “the Chosen One.” The source of the term is in Luke—the Evangelist, that is—where Jewish leaders say of the soon-to-be-crucified Jesus: “Let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” The movie is fuzzy about who exactly has done the choosing, however—a failure doubtless rooted in Lucas’s carelessness with plots.

The Phantom Menace proves equally vague when prophecy enters the story. When Qui-Gon first intimates that Anakin may be the Chosen One, another Jedi knight says, “You refer to the prophecy of the One who will bring balance to the Force,” but we never learn who prophesied and when. The prophecy echoes the Gospels’ repeatedly stated thesis that certain passages in the Hebrew Bible foretell Jesus’s coming.

“The Force” is one detail in which the new films are actually less spiritual than the old. In the 1977 movie, Obi-Wan described this mysterious entity as “what gives a Jedi his power. It’s an energy field created by all living things; it surrounds us, penetrates us; it binds the galaxy together.” In the 1980 sequel, Yoda—a character, created by Jim Henson, who looked suspiciously like Kermit the Frog and sounded suspiciously like Fozzie Bear—instructed Luke to “feel the Force around you: here, between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere!” Such language, smacking of the period’s flirtation with natural mysticism, gave way in the new movies to an explanation more in keeping with our current fascination with molecular biology: the Force, we learned in The Phantom Menace, was actually the product of microorganisms in the blood. It’s as though Lucas, instinctively realizing the intellectual poverty of the New Age, gave it up, exchanged it for something resembling science, and then turned, elsewhere in the script, to a far older, more powerful story.

That story, though, he inverted. Anakin will be not the world’s savior but its destroyer, more Antichrist than Christ. He will slaughter nearly all the Jedi knights and—after almost dying at Obi-Wan’s hands and enduring a sort of rebirth as the masked Darth Vader—help remake a galactic republic into a dictatorship. Still, in one respect he is explicitly a Christ figure. A bit of early dialogue between Qui-Gon and Anakin’s mother, one Shmi—names aren’t Lucas’s strong suit, either—reveals that Anakin is the product of a virgin birth:

Qui-Gon: You should be very proud of your son. He gives without any thought of reward.

Shmi: Well, he knows nothing of greed. He has a—

Qui-Gon: He has special powers.

Shmi: Yes.

Qui-Gon: He can see things before they happen. . . . The Force is unusually strong with him, that much is clear. Who was his father?

Shmi: There was no father. I carried him, I gave birth, I raised him. I can’t explain what happened.

What did happen? Not to Shmi, whose curious reproductive history the Star Wars movies also never bothered to explain, but to the Star Wars movies themselves—whose earlier trilogy mostly avoided biblical inspiration but whose more recent installments shifted so sharply toward Christianity? More generally, why has mainstream sci-fi and fantasy as a whole become so religious? One reason may be the religious revival that the United States and much of the world have been undergoing since the 1970s. This “revenge of God,” in French scholar Gilles Kepel’s phrase, has seemingly begun to be felt even in secular Hollywood.

But another reason surely lies in geopolitics. During the sixties and seventies, popular American science fiction looked to the stars and saw a Cold War there. Consider Star Trek, the franchise that, as a TV show from 1966 to 1969 and later as a series of movies, chronicled the adventures of Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, and the crew of the USS—“United Starship”—Enterprise, representatives of a democratic United Federation of Planets that held an uneasy truce with the warlike, autocratic Klingon Empire. The real-world parallels were unmistakable. “Of course Star Trek was about the Cold War,” critic Paul Cantor recently observed. “The United Federation of Planets was the United States and its free-world allies, the Klingons were the Soviet Union and the Communist bloc.”

The original Star Wars films were similarly political at heart. Like Star Trek, they portrayed a universe caught between two great rivals, one free and democratic, the other hierarchical and autocratic. Not for nothing did the first film use “evil Galactic Empire” to describe Darth Vader’s dominion. (One wonders whether Ronald Reagan drew his famous excoriation from Lucas’s hit.)

When the Soviet Union began to thaw in the mid-eighties and collapsed entirely in 1991, however, that neat good-versus-evil scheme resonated less, and mainstream science fiction started to cast about for alternative inspirations. Often it failed. Star Trek, for example, continued to imitate geopolitics as it launched a phenomenally boring new TV series, Star Trek: The Next Generation, in 1987 (it would end its run in 1994). The Federation and the Klingons were now at peace, and the Enterprise resembled a spaceborne United Nations, a bustling enclave safe enough for the crew to bring children with them. So yawn-inducing was the galaxy that the show frequently sought to introduce drama with a device called the “holodeck,” a virtual-reality entertainment area where the characters could cavort in more exciting locales—the Wild West, say, or 221B Baker Street. Two more Trek series, Deep Space Nine and Voyager, tried to restore excitement—the first was set on a frontier space station, the second in a galaxy far from our own tedious one—but with little effect. Too often, the Star Trek franchise called to mind the end of history on an intergalactic scale.

But while Star Trek floundered, other sci-fi, less committed to explicit Political Relevance, seized on a ready-to-hand story that exerted enormous power on American audiences—and not only because of its biblical source. The story has roots deep in humanity’s ancient past, as Campbell, Raglan, and Rank understood. It is a story that, in one variant or another, our ancestors told one another so long ago that its sources are as mysterious as the story itself.

Messianic sci-fi movies and TV programs, despite their own interest in parthenogenesis, did not spring forth fully formed from the New Testament. Science fiction of the written kind has long taken advantage of the cultural power of the Christ story. In fact, two of the twentieth century’s most popular sci-fi novels, Frank Herbert’s Dune and Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, were overtly messianic, a fact noted by the sizable critical literature that exists on the books.

Christian themes aren’t an entirely new development in filmed science fiction, either. In the Terminator franchise—which produced three fine films as far apart as 1984, 1991, and 2003—robots from the future repeatedly attempt to kill the suggestively initialed John Connor, a man destined to lead humanity in a war against the robots. Connor’s birth is positively paradoxical, if not miraculous: a warrior sent back in time by Connor himself to fight the first movie’s robot killer sleeps with Connor’s mother . . . conceiving Connor. Richard Matheson’s 1954 novel I Am Legend, in which the world’s last surviving human being battles vampire-like creatures, has inspired three Hollywood versions, but The Omega Man (1971)—in which Charlton Heston is first nearly crucified, then saves the world with his (antibody-carrying) blood, and winds up speared through the side and dead in, once more, a T shape—is more suggestively Christian than either The Last Man on Earth (1964) or last year’s Will Smith vehicle I Am Legend. Even in that most political of Cold War sci-fi movies, The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), we meet an alien who adopts the name “Carpenter” and, after being killed by the earthlings among whom he has landed, returns to life to offer them peace or a sword. Steven Spielberg’s E.T. (1982) similarly gave us a being who descended from heaven, cured disease miraculously, and then returned from death.

Yet despite the evocative power of the Christian narrative, it seems likely that geopolitics will return to mainstream science fiction, now that we realize how terribly exciting—I use the adverb carefully—our world still is.

...is that, as you read, so much "history" stands behind all the characters that you know he could diverge off into their stories without skipping a beat. By contrast, Lucas's mythos is a mess because it isn't tethered to such backstory. Most of the characters are like old Hollywood sets--they give off the feeling that if you looked behind them there'd just be a few boards bracing a facade.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:30 AM


Regrettably, TMQ was Right About Something (Gregg Easterbrook, 4/22/09, ESPN: TMQ)

Reader Dan Krueger of Pontiac, Ill., notes that in February, after Barack Obama said he would act decisively to stop executives of bailed-out firms from receiving bonuses, TMQ cautioned, "If the new president stakes some of his prestige on what seems like a dramatic decision and it turns out a year later that CEOs easily evaded the seeming 'limits' and stuffed their pockets with tax money anyway, Obama will seem an ineffectual leader." It didn't take a year -- only a month! In mid-March, the No. 1 news item was tax-subsidized bonuses to the very executives who screwed up AIG. Obama said from the White House he was "deeply outraged." Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said she was taken by surprise and called for an investigation. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner declared he had just absolutely no way on Earth of knowing the bonuses were coming. Wait -- they could all have read about the planned AIG bonuses in November in a football column. Anyone paying attention to the business pages knew in November 2008 that tax-subsidized bonuses for AIG were coming. Yet no national leader paused from the Washington ritual of round-the-clock self-promotion to do anything. When in March the AIG payouts were announced, Federal Reserve chair Ben Bernanke told "60 Minutes" he was "full of anger" about the bonuses. Bernanke was the one who, in the fall of 2008, decided to hand AIG up to $172 billion in taxpayers' money without imposing any accountability or conditions. This was a much worse business decision than anything any AIG executive did.

Beyond the irresponsibility with which Washington's Democrats and Republicans alike are mishandling taxpayers' money, my worry about Obama continues -- if he keeps theatrically denouncing tax-subsidized bonuses, yet does not actually do anything, he's going to make himself into an ineffectual leader.

The normally perceptive M

April 25, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:24 AM


Series Finale of "Battlestar Galactica" Complaints (Gregg Easterbrook, 4/22/09, ESPN: TMQ)

In the final episode of this six-year television project, the survivors of a nuclear attack against a distant star system destroy the stronghold of the evil cyborgs, thus winning the war, then fly their fleet to Earth, arriving 150,000 years ago. Finally we know when the events of the series were taking place. Landing on the African veldt at a time when Homo sapiens idaltu was learning to use tools -- we see a hunter-gatherer party in the distance -- the 38,000 remaining members of the Kobol society vote to scuttle their super-advanced starships into the sun and forsake technology. They vow to stop building factories and cities, and live as simple farmers: One character declares that science always leads to war, and they must not infect Earth with that dark impulse.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:50 AM


The Thirty Days of Barack Obama (Elizabeth Drew, 3/26/09, NY Review of Books)

As carefully as Barack Obama prepared for it, the presidency has held some surprises for him—some foreseeable, some not, and some of his own making. Seeking to avoid the mistakes of the early Clinton era, Obama concluded that, unlike Clinton, he didn't want to hold the numerous meetings that can chew up so much of the president's time. Instead, according to his press secretary, Robert Gibbs, Obama's style is to drop by an aide's office—a restless man, he roams the White House corridors—or stop an aide in a hallway and ask, "How are you coming on that thing we were talking about?" Gibbs says, "The worst thing is not have an answer." Asked what happens then, Gibbs replied, "He gets that disappointed parent look, and then you better go find an answer."

Obama's publicly announced schedules have large gaps; he makes it a point to set aside time to step back and think—sometimes going for a long, solitary walk around the White House grounds—or make calls, or read. A night owl, he usually takes work home, to be studied after he's tucked his daughters into bed. Aides say he turns around paperwork fairly quickly, responding to and signing off on their memoranda. As for Obama's admission during the campaign that he can misplace papers, Gibbs told me, "It's easier now that he lives over the store."

Of Obama's approach to governing, Gibbs says, "He's not by any stretch a micromanager." According to another close observer, "The boys are running the White House"—by which he meant chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, chief campaign strategist and now senior adviser David Axelrod, and deputy chief of staff Jim Messina, who was also chief of staff of the campaign.

Rather, he was haphazardly unprepared for the office.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:46 AM


Next Choler, Please (Dana Milbank, April 19, 2009, Washington Post)

[W]hy is the left so angry? I don't know (I'm an idiot), so I put the question to the readers in my weekly online chat on Friday.

A reader from Rockville described it as a "sore winner" phenomenon. "People get used to being angry and when things change, they don't. So they find stuff to be mad about." Another said that some on the left "feel obligated to stay in the fight" because of the harsh treatment of Obama by the right.

But many focused on a frustration on the left caused by Obama's centrism -- his opposition to prosecuting those involved with torture, for example. "I am angry because the whole Republican party has not been rounded up and thrown into a black site," one wrote. A reader in Evanston, Ill., took a similar view, that true believers on the left don't want "b.s. rhetoric about looking forward." Okay, but why wouldn't this be directed at Obama? Readers explained that some of it is. But, "if we yell obscenities at Obama," replied a reader in Dunnellon, Fla., "we get a visit from the Secret Service. Yelling them at you is worry-free."

So the angry left should thank me: I'm taking one for the team.

It's just hard for the humorless to take pleasure in any reality.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:42 AM


Catholic Bishops Condemn Obama Admin's Embryonic Stem Cell Research Rules (Steven Ertelt, 4/21/09, LifeNews.com)

Cardinal Rigali says the NIH guidelines "mark a new chapter in divorcing biomedical research from its necessary ethical foundation."

"Without unconditional respect for the life of each and every member of the human race, research involving human subjects does not represent true progress. It becomes another way for some human beings to use and mistreat others for their own goals," he told LifeNews.com in a statement. "Suffering patients and their families deserve better, through increased support for promising and ethically sound stem cell research and treatments that harm no one."

Looking to practical concerns, Rigali is worried that the new guidelines are too broad in that they allow destruction of newly created embryos who were never frozen, thus increasing the prospects for a rushed and biased consent process.

Also, despite the claims of backers of the Obama decision that it would only involve human embryos who would otherwise be destroyed, Rigali says that, for the first time, "federal tax dollars will be used to encourage destruction of living embryonic human beings for stem cell research – including human beings who otherwise would have survived and been born."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:41 AM


Big-Spending Conservative (DAVID BROOKS, 4/21/09, NY Times)

[W]hen President Obama summarized his economic policies in a speech at Georgetown last week, he departed from this story line and worldview. Obama’s chief concern was not inequality. It was irresponsibility. Obama didn’t sound like an economic liberal at Georgetown. He sounded like a cultural conservative.

America once had a responsible economic culture, Obama argued. People used to save their pennies to buy their dream houses. Banks used to lend by “traditional standards.” Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac used to stick to their “traditional mandate.” Companies like A.I.G. used to limit themselves to the “traditional insurance business.”

But these traditions broke down, Obama continued. They were swamped by irresponsibility. Businesspeople chased “short-term profits” over long-term investments. Smart people spent more time manipulating numbers and symbols than actually making things. Americans consumed too much and saved too little. America became corrupted by “excessive debt,” “reckless speculation” and “fleeting profits.”

Obama vowed to end this irresponsibility and the cycle of boom and bust. It’s time to get back to basics, he said. He embraced tradition, order and authority. He quoted the New Testament and argued that it is time that the U.S. built its economic house on rock and not sand.

If Republicans aren’t nervous, they should be. Obama is arguing for his activist agenda not on the basis of class-consciousness, which is alien to America, but as a defense of middle-class morality, which is central to it. Obama is positioning the Democrats as the party of order, responsibility and small-town values. If he pulls this mantle away from the Republicans, it would be the greatest train robbery in American politics.

...was both a radical Leftist and just stealing their ideas?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:36 AM


Cheney vs. Obama: The CIA interrogation debate is joined. (Stephen F. Hayes, 05/04/2009, Weekly Standard)

The Obama administration is confused.

The president says harsh interrogation techniques "do not make us safer," but his top intelligence adviser says the same techniques produced "high-value information" that gave the U.S. government "a deeper understanding of the al Qaeda organization that was attacking this country."

Obama White House officials routinely boast that theirs is "the most transparent administration in history," but then they release Justice Department memos about the interrogations in which the assessments confirming the value of those techniques are blacked out.

Attorney General Eric Holder tells a congressional committee that he is unaware of memos about the information gleaned in harsh interrogations that have been requested by former Vice President Dick Cheney, but his boss, the president, not only knows about those memos but also describes their contents to members of Congress.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs says the administration could support an independent investigation of interrogation techniques based on the 9/11 Commission. Then he says that Obama decided long ago that such an investigation would be too political.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:29 AM


Who will lead the 'post-American era'?: Obama crew sees U.S. as just the same as 190 other countries. (Mark Steyn, 4/25/09, OC Register)

The creation of Pakistan was the worst mistake of postwar British imperial policy, and all that's happened in the six decades since is that its pathologies have burst free of its borders and gone regional, global and, soon, perhaps nuclear. Does the Obama administration have even a limited contingency plan for the nukes if – when – the Pakistani state collapses?

It would be reassuring to think so. But I wonder.

What's the greater likelihood? That in 10 years' time things in Pakistan will be better? Or much worse? That nuclearization by basket-case dictatorships from Pyongyang to Tehran will have advanced, or been contained? That the bleak demographic arithmetic at the heart of Europe and Japan's economic woes will have accelerated, or been reversed? That a resurgent Islam's assaults on free speech and other rights (symbolized by the recent U.N. support for a global Islamic blasphemy law) will have taken hold in the Western world, or been forced to retreat?

A betting man would check the "worse" box. Because resisting the present careless drift would require global leadership. And 100 days into a new presidency Barack Obama is giving strong signals to the world that we have entered what Caroline Glick of The Jerusalem Post calls "the post-American era." At the time of Gordon Brown's visit to Washington, London took umbrage at an Obama official's off-the-record sneer to a Fleet Street reporter that "there's nothing special about Britain. You're just the same as the other 190 countries in the world. You shouldn't expect special treatment." Andy McCarthy of National Review made the sharp observation that, never mind the British, this was how the administration felt about its own country, too: America is just the same as the other 190 countries in the world. In Europe, the president was asked if he believed in "American exceptionalism," and he replied: "I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism."

Gee, thanks. A simple "no" would have sufficed. The president of the United States is telling us that American exceptionalism is no more than national chauvinism, a bit of flag-waving, of no more import than the Slovenes supporting the Slovene soccer team and the Papuans the Papuan soccer team. This means something. The world has had two millennia to learn to live without "Greek exceptionalism." It's having to get used to post-exceptional America rather more hurriedly.

...are doomed to repeat it. The only question is which hot spot will force the UR to abandon the notion that we're just one nation among many and intervene because we, and our Anglospheric allies, are the only ones who will.

April 24, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:03 PM


Obama's sins of omission (Andrew J. Bacevich, April 25, 2009, Boston Globe)

[H]owever much Obama may differ from Bush on particulars, he appears intent on sustaining the essentials on which the Bush policies were grounded. Put simply, Obama's pragmatism poses no threat to the reigning national security consensus. Consistent with the tradition of American liberalism, he appears intent on salvaging that consensus.

For decades now, that consensus has centered on what we might call the Sacred Trinity of global power projection, global military presence, and global activism - the concrete expression of what politicians commonly refer to as "American global leadership." The United States configures its armed forces not for defense but for overseas "contingencies." To facilitate the deployment of these forces it maintains a vast network of foreign bases, complemented by various access and overflight agreements. Capabilities and bases mesh with and foster a penchant for meddling in the affairs of others, sometimes revealed to the public, but often concealed.

Bush did not invent the Sacred Trinity. He merely inherited it and then abused it, thereby reviving the conviction entertained by critics of American globalism, progressives and conservatives alike, that the principles underlying this trinity are pernicious and should be scrapped. Most of these progressives and at least some conservatives voted for Obama with expectations that, if elected, he would do just that. Based on what he has said and done over the past three months, however, the president appears intent instead on shielding the Sacred Trinity from serious scrutiny.

...and yet they believed the UR was an agent of change? No wonder we don't trust them with our national security.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:43 AM


Yanks in Crisis (DAVID BROOKS, 4/24/09, NY Times)

The crisis has not sent Americans running to government for relief. Nor has it led to a populist surge in anti-business sentiment. In a recent Gallup poll, 55 percent of Americans said that big government is the biggest threat to the country. Only 32 percent said big business. Those answers are near historical norms.

Americans have always been skeptical of activist government, and that skepticism remains. When Gallup asked specifically about the current crisis, 44 percent of Americans said they disapprove of an expanded role for government during the crisis; 39 percent said they approve of an expanded role but want it reduced when the crisis is over; and only 13 percent want to see a permanently expanded role for government.

When asked by the National Journal group more specifically where good ideas and financial solutions come from, 40 percent said corporate America and 40 percent said government. When asked what could best enhance income security, half of all Americans said it was a matter of individual responsibility, 19 percent said government regulations like increasing the minimum wage were most effective and 15 percent said government programs.

The area where the National Journal poll found the most desire for government activism is health care. A recent Pew Research Center survey found that while there is less support for a health care overhaul than there was in 1993, the public still wants reform that at least improves the current system.

My friend Ron Brownstein of The National Journal looks at the data and concludes that while Americans are still skeptical of government, they are open to rethinking what the social safety net should look like in the 21st century.

The Right is stuck under the delusion that it will look like the 19th Century version and the Left that it will look like the 20th.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:40 AM


As Other Death Rates Fall, Cancer’s Scarcely Moves (GINA KOLATA, 4/24/09, NY Times)

Data from the National Center for Health Statistics show that death rates over the past 60 years — the number of deaths adjusted for the age and size of the population — plummeted for heart disease, stroke, and influenza and pneumonia. But for cancer, they barely budged.

The cancer death rate, now about 200 deaths a year per 100,000 people of all ages and 1,000 deaths per 100,000 people over age 65 — is nearly the same now as it was in 1950, dropping only 5 percent. But the death rate from heart disease is only a third of what it was in 1950. Even though more people die of heart disease than from cancer, cancer deaths have been edging closer to heart disease deaths each year.

Are the statistics lying, hiding major advances because of the way the data are analyzed?

No, researchers say.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:23 AM

WHAT'S REVEALING HERE... (via Jay Ostrander):

Live Tea or Die!: Are Americans subjects or citizens? (Mark Steyn, 4/23/09, National Review)

Asked about the tea parties, President Obama responded that he was not aware of them. As Marie Antoinette said, “Let them drink Lapsang Souchong.” His Imperial Majesty at Barackingham Palace having declined to acknowledge the tea parties, his courtiers at the Globe and elsewhere fell into line. Talk-show host Michael Graham spoke to one attendee at the 2009 Boston Tea Party who remarked of the press embargo: “If Obama had been the King of England, the Globe wouldn’t have covered the American revolution.”

...is just how dependent he is on staff work. Obviously Mike Kelleher has decided the UR doesn't need to know about this.

April 23, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:17 PM


The Bailout Is a Bargain: Despite tea party protests to the contrary, the Wall Street bailout is costing taxpayers much less than feared – so far. (David Weidner, 4/23/09, WSJ)

Their argument -- that huge tax hikes are coming or have been implemented to pay off bailouts for banking fat cats -- betrays a lack of understanding of the government's approach to solving the financial crisis. When protesters or critics complain about the $10 trillion-plus spent on the Wall Street bailout, you can understand how their estimates of the number of protesters in the streets last week were slightly, well, inflated.

The truth: No one's paying new taxes directly related to the bailout. And most of the government rescue packages offered to the banks have gone untapped or are being repaid. [...]

* Banks have tapped the FDIC's Temporary Liquidity Guarantee Program for $297 billion so far. That's about 20% of the total $1.5 trillion allocated. This is the biggest of the government programs, and banks pay 0.5% to 1% interest for the right to borrow the money depending on how long they keep it.

* During its first month, the Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility, or TALF, has only financed $4.7 billion in consumer debt, far below the $1 trillion allocated. In addition, participation is declining with each new funding cycle.

* The Money Market Guarantee Program, aimed at insuring money-market funds against losses, hasn't spent a dime. It covers up to $3.8 trillion in money-market debt. This program is actually making a small profit, because participating funds are required to pay a fee.

* Other than the stimulus bill, the program with the biggest outlay so far is the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP. More than $570 billion has been committed, but less than $400 billion has actually left the Treasury Department. Like most of these programs, it's unclear how much of this money will be repaid, but most banks say they're either ready or capable of giving it back. If not, they have to pay a 5% annual dividend to the government. In just the first three months of this year, the government has collected $2.52 billion in TARP interest.

...they're on a roll....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:46 AM


Jennings Off To Flying Start (Ben Badler, 4/23/09, Baseball America)

Desmond Jennings’ potential is tantalizing.

The Rays’ Double-A Montgomery center fielder has a combination of elite athleticism, speed, strike-zone discipline and feel for hitting that few prospects in the minor leagues can match.

The 22-year-old’s early-season performance isn’t too shabby, either. Through 13 games, Jennings is batting .377/.431/.679, including four doubles, three triples, two homers and six steals in six attempts. Jennings went 5-for-6 with a triple on Saturday, then followed up the next day by going 3-for-3 with a triple and a home run. That makes yesterday’s 1-for-3 with a home run, a stolen base and a hit-by-pitch look modest by comparison. [...]

With all that Jennings has done early in the season, perhaps his most exciting play came at Chattanooga on April 15. With Dodgers lefthander Scott Elbert on the mound, Jennings took off and used his explosive speed to steal home.

“He stole home plate, and I didn’t realize until I read some blogs the next day that it was Jackie Robinson Day,” Gardner said.

Nor did they even bother to open the season with David Price in the majors. They may take a step back this year--as many young teams who find sudden success do--but they're going to be very good for a while.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:16 AM


The NFL draft must be mocked (Gregg Easterbrook, 4/22/09, ESPN)

With the NFL draft approaching -- oh, you hadn't heard? -- it's trendy for sports pundits to say the teams at the top wish they had lower selections, owing to the outrageous bonus demands of top choices and the media pressure that comes with choosing high. This isn't a new problem! Eight years ago, TMQ made this very point. The free market must not be entirely rational if Wall Street executives and high NFL draft choices are so overpaid compared to how they perform. Including this year, it's usually not even clear whom the team holding the first selection should choose -- the last consensus No. 1 choice was Carson Palmer in 2003. Two college professors have gotten ink for proposing that teams with high selections should trade them straight-up for lower selections. This year the buzz question has been whether the Lions, holding the first choice, should simply refuse to pick -- putting the Rams on the clock and allowing the Lions to go second, thus saving maybe $5 million in bonus money.

Perhaps if the Lions refused to pick, then the Rams would refuse to pick and the Chiefs would refuse to pick and the Seahawks would refuse to pick. In an everyone-passes scenario, how far down would you have to drop to find a team willing to choose first? My guess is you'd get all the way to choice No. 17, the Jets, to find a team that would volunteer to choose first and pay first-selection money. Then again, the way PSL sales are going for the new New Jersey stadium, even the Jets might pass.

But no team holding a top choice will ever pass or trade down straight-up, for a reason college professors and sports pundits overlook: public relations. Public image has monetary value for businesses -- the money a team would save by deliberately surrendering a high draft choice would be lost in negative public relations.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:04 AM


Regift, Please!: What to make of the book that Chavez gave Obama? (Alvaro Vargas Llosa, 4/22/09, The New Republic)

A decade ago, I and the other two co-authors of the "Guide to the Perfect Latin American Idiot" devoted a chapter to refuting the historical and ideological fallacies contained in Galeano's tract, which we called the "idiot's bible." Everything that has happened in the Western Hemisphere since the book appeared in 1971 has belied Galeano's arguments and predictions. But I guess Chavez has given it the kiss of life and, since people are asking, here I go again.

The author claims that relations between Latin America and rich countries have been so pernicious that "everything ... has always been transmuted into European--and later United States--capital." Actually, for years that relationship has transmuted into the exact opposite: Latin American capital. In the last seven years alone, Latin America has benefited from $300 billion in net capital flows. In other words, a lot more capital came in than went out.

The book rails against the international division of labor, in which "some countries specialize in winning and others in losing." That division of labor in the Western Hemisphere has not changed--Latin American countries still export commodities--and yet in the last six years, poverty in the region has been reduced to about one-third of the population, from just under half. This means that 40 million were lifted out of that hideous condition. Not to mention the 400 million pulled out of poverty in other "losing" nations worldwide in the last couple of decades.

The author pontificates that "raw materials and food are destined for rich countries that benefit more from consuming them more than Latin America does from producing them." Sorry, amigo, but the story of this decade is that Latin America has made a killing sending exports abroad--the region has had a current account surplus for many years. Rich countries are so annoyed with all the things poor countries are exporting to them that they are asking their governments to "protect" them in the name of fair trade. The "buy American" clause in the fiscal stimulus package approved by Congress a few weeks ago is a case in point. The U.S. had a trade deficit of more than $800 billion last year. The poor, if I may echo Galeano's hemophilic language, are sucking the veins of the rich.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:02 AM


Flight of the Conchords: fasten your seatbelts: Two years ago Flight of the Conchords was a tiny blip on the world comedy radar. Now the cult series about two New Zealand musicians trying to crack the big time in New York is going supersonic. (Andrew Pettie, 23 Apr 2009, Daily Telegraph)

Clement, 35, usually plays bass guitar; McKenzie, 32, acoustic guitar. Both sing. And despite describing themselves as New Zealand's 'fourth most popular guitar-based digi-bongo a cappella-rap-funk comedy folk duo' they are the hottest ticket in musical comedy. In 2007 their EP The Distant Future won a Grammy. Last year they entered the US charts at No 3 with an eponymous album, thereby making them the highest-charting New Zealand act ever in the US (Crowded House reached No 12 in 1986). The album has since gone platinum. On television, the first series of the Conchords' HBO sitcom, co-written and directed by Bobin, and which follows the duo's doomed attempts to crack the big time in New York, won four Emmy nominations. The second series has just aired in America to critical acclaim; it transfers to BBC Four in May.

Clement and McKenzie met in 1998 while studying film and theatre at Victoria University in Wellington. McKenzie grew up there; his father was a horse breeder, his mother a dance teacher. Clement, who describes himself as 'part Maori, part European', grew up in Wairarapa, an hour north of the capital. His father worked in a slaughterhouse, his mother in a cheese factory. The pair simultaneously dropped out of university to pursue careers in music, or comedy, or both. Briefly, and unsuccessfully, they took themselves seriously as musicians. But their audiences found it impossible to do the same and their comedy folk crossover act was born.

For several years, the Conchords went nowhere, slowly. Both did other jobs: Clement wrote radio ads and sketches for a 'terrible' New Zealand comedy series called Skits; McKenzie worked on solo comedy projects and toured with bona fide (non-comedy) bands. The pair were barely scraping a living as they hopped between continents and comedy festivals, sleeping on sofas, gigging where they could and honing their act.

The Conchords' oeuvre is difficult to define, bar the fact that their songs are usually a pastiche of one or more musical genres, from gangsta rap to children's television tunes, from David Bowie to Barry White. Although both Clement and McKenzie are accomplished musicians, it is their lyrics that set them apart. During Issues (Think About It), a parody of Marvin Gaye's What's Going On?, they sing: 'They're turning kids into slaves / Just to make cheaper sneakers / What's the real cost? / Cause the sneakers don't seem that much cheaper. / Ooh, why are we paying so much for sneakers when you get them made by little slave kids? / What are your overheads?' '

The Wife is permanently banned from listening to the BBC show when driving.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:35 AM


...it needs a defense in opposition. How about while you're stacking there's another guy with a bean bag gun who can shoot either the stack or you or both?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:21 AM


In Singapore, a More Progressive Islamic Education (NORIMITSU ONISHI, 4/23/09, NY Times)

After starting the day with prayers and songs in honor of the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday, the students at the Madrasa Al Irsyad Al Islamiah here in Singapore turned to the secular. An all-girls chemistry class grappled with compounds and acids while other students focused on English, math and other subjects from the national curriculum.

Teachers exhorted their students to ask questions. Some, true to the school’s embrace of new technology, gauged their students’ comprehension with individual polling devices.

“It’s like ‘American Idol,’ ” said Razak Mohamed Lazim, the head of Al Irsyad, which means “rightly guided.”

A reference to the reality television program in relation to an Islamic school may come as a surprise. But Singapore’s Muslim leaders see Al Irsyad, with its strict balance between religious and secular studies, as the future of Islamic education, not only in this city-state but elsewhere in Southeast Asia.

Two madrasas in Indonesia have already adopted Al Irsyad’s curriculum and management, attracted to what they say is a progressive model of Islamic education in tune with the modern world. For them, Al Irsyad is the counterpoint to many traditional madrasas that emphasize religious studies at the expense of everything else. Instead of preaching radicalism, the school’s in-house textbooks praise globalization and international organizations like the United Nations.

Yeesh, stick to fundamentalism....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:18 AM


A young Leyland pops up in an old Fidrych photo (Mari delaGarza, 4/16/09, Detroit FREE PRESS )

The main photo on the front page of our Tuesday sports section showed Fidrych celebrating the final complete game of his career, an 11-2 victory over the Chicago White Sox on Sept. 2, 1980.

One fan in the background stands out. He's wearing a light-colored sports jacket, with a fist extended into the air. He has dark hair and looks to be in his mid-30s.

It's Jim Leyland.

"I'm a little disappointed," he told reporters in his office on Wednesday morning as he reached for the newspaper. "You guys didn't see me in the paper yesterday."

How did that photo come to be? Leyland was managing the Tigers' Triple-A affiliate in Evansville, Ind., that year. Fidrych completed a rehabilitation assignment there.

Leyland was able to attend the game because the minor league season was over. He brought his mother, Veronica, to Tiger Stadium with him. She's also visible in the photo, to the front and left of her son.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:49 AM


Demographics & Depression (David P. Goldman, May 2009, First Things)

If capital markets derive from the cycle of human life, what happens if the cycle goes wrong? Investors may be unreasonably panicked about the future, and governments can allay this panic by guaranteeing bank deposits, increasing incentives to invest, and so forth. But something different is in play when investors are reasonably panicked. What if there really is something wrong with our future—if the next generation fails to appear in sufficient numbers? The answer is that we get poorer.

The declining demographics of the traditional American family raise a dismal possibility: Perhaps the world is poorer now because the present generation did not bother to rear a new generation. All else is bookkeeping and ultimately trivial. This unwelcome and unprecedented change underlies the present global economic crisis. We are grayer, and less fecund, and as a result we are poorer, and will get poorer still—no matter what economic policies we put in place.

We could put this another way: America’s housing market collapsed because conservatives lost the culture wars even back while they were prevailing in electoral politics. During the past half century America has changed from a nation in which most households had two parents with young children. We are now a mélange of alternative arrangements in which the nuclear family is merely a niche phenomenon. By 2025, single-person households may outnumber families with children.

The collapse of home prices and the knock-on effects on the banking system stem from the shrinking count of families that require houses. It is no accident that the housing market—the economic sector most sensitive to demographics—was the epicenter of the economic crisis. In fact, demographers have been predicting a housing crash for years due to the demographics of diminishing demand. Wall Street and Washington merely succeeded in prolonging the housing bubble for a few additional years. The adverse demographics arising from cultural decay, though, portend far graver consequences for the funding of health and retirement systems.

Conservatives have indulged in self-congratulation over the quarter-century run of growth that began in 1984 with the Reagan administration’s tax reforms. A prosperity that fails to rear a new generation in sufficient number is hollow, as we have learned to our detriment during the past year. Compared to Japan and most European countries, which face demographic catastrophe, America’s position seems relatively strong, but that strength is only postponing the reckoning by keeping the world’s capital flowing into the U.S. mortgage market right up until the crash at the end of 2007.

As long as conservative leaders delivered economic growth, family issues were relegated to Sunday rhetoric. Of course, conservative thinkers never actually proposed to measure the movement’s success solely in units of gross domestic product, or square feet per home, or cubic displacement of the average automobile engine. But delivering consumer goods was what conservatives seemed to do well, and they rode the momentum of the Reagan boom.

Until now. Our children are our wealth. Too few of them are seated around America’s common table, and it is their absence that makes us poor. Not only the absolute count of children, to be sure, but also the shrinking proportion of children raised with the moral material advantages of two-parent families diminishes our prospects. [...]

Unless we restore the traditional family to a central position in American life, we cannot expect to return to the kind of wealth accumulation that characterized the 1980s and 1990s. Theoretically, we might recruit immigrants to replace the children we did not rear, or we might invest capital overseas with the children of other countries. From the standpoint of economic policy, neither of those possibilities can be dismissed. But the contributions of immigration or capital export will be marginal at best compared to the central issue of whether the demographics of America reverts to health.

Life is sacred for its own sake. It is not an instrument to provide us with fatter IRAs or better real-estate values. But it is fair to point out that wealth depends ultimately on the natural order of human life. Failing to rear a new generation in sufficient numbers to replace the present one violates that order, and it has consequences for wealth, among many other things. Americans who rejected the mild yoke of family responsibility in pursuit of atavistic enjoyment will find at last that this is not to be theirs, either.

It will be painful for conservatives to admit that things were not well with America under the Republican watch, at least not at the family level. From 1954 to 1970, for example, half or more of households contained two parents and one or more children under the age of eighteen. In fact as well as in popular culture, the two-parent nuclear family formed the normative American household. By 1981, when Ronald Reagan took office, two-parent households had fallen to just over two-fifths of the total. Today, less than a third of American households constitute a two-parent nuclear family with children. [...]

Numerous proposals for family-friendly tax policy are in circulation, including recent suggestions by Ramesh Ponnuru, Ross Douthat, and Reihan Salam. The core of a family-oriented economic program might include the following measures:

• Cut taxes on families. The personal exemption introduced with the Second World War’s Victory Tax was $624, reflecting the cost of “food and a little more.” In today’s dollars that would be about $7,600, while the current personal exemption stands at only $3,650. The personal exemption should be raised to $8,000 simply to restore the real value of the deduction, and the full personal exemption should apply to children.

• Shift part of the burden of social insurance to the childless. For most taxpayers, social-insurance deductions are almost as great a burden as income tax. Families that bring up children contribute to the future tax base; families that do not get a free ride. The base rate for social security and Medicare deductions should rise, with a significant exemption for families with children, so that a disproportionate share of the burden falls on the childless.

• Make child-related expenses tax deductible. Tuition and health care are the key expenses here with which parents need help.

• Change the immigration laws. The United States needs highly skilled, productive individuals in their prime years for earning and family formation.

We delude ourselves when we imagine that a few hundred dollars of tax incentives will persuade individuals to form families or keep them together. A generation of Americans has grown up with the belief that the traditional family is merely one lifestyle choice among many.

But it is among the young that such a conservative message could reverberate the loudest. The young know that the promise of sexual freedom has brought them nothing but emptiness and anomie. They suffer more than anyone from the breakup of families. They know that abortion has wrought psychic damage that never can be repaired. And they see that their own future was compromised by the poor choices of their parents.

It was always morally wrong for conservatives to attempt to segregate the emotionally charged issues of public morals from the conservative growth agenda. We know now that it was also incompetent from a purely economic point of view. Without life, there is no wealth; without families, there is no economic future.

Tax diddles are well and good but we also need to roll back divorce laws so that they are much more difficult to obtain, especially once you have kids, and require that the tax breaks obtained during marriage be repaid. Similarly, as we move towards them, private accounts--SS, HSAs, etc.--should be heritable, but forfeit for those who die childless. And, obviously, given that immigration generally imports exactly the kinds of nuclear families (or men intent on forming them) that we cherish and require, amnesty and elimination of quotas are a priority. All of which is why oogedy-boogedyism is the only true progressivism/conservatism.

Survey defies illegal immigrant stereotypes (Linda Chavez, April 20, 2009, Dallas Morning News)

A new report out last week from the Pew Hispanic Center confirms what many observers already suspected about the illegal immigrant population in the United States: It is made up increasingly of intact families and their American-born children. Nearly half of illegal immigrant households consist of two-parent families with children, and 73 percent of these children were born here and are therefore U.S. citizens. [...]

And although earnings among illegal immigrants are lower than among either the native population or legal immigrants, they are far from destitute. The median household income for illegal immigrants was $36,000 in 2007 compared with $50,000 for native-born households. And illegal immigrant males have much higher labor force participation rates than the native born, 94 percent compared with 83 percent for U.S.-born males.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:46 AM


Vatican planned to move to Portugal if Nazis captured wartime Pope (Nick Squires in Rome and Simon Caldwell, 22 Apr 2009, Daily Telegraph)

Pope Pius XII told senior bishops that should he be arrested by the Nazis, his resignation would become effective immediately, paving the way for a successor, according to documents in the Vatican's Secret Archives.

The bishops would then be expected to flee to a safe country – probably neutral Portugal – where they would re-establish the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church and appoint a new Pontiff.

April 22, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:41 PM


Torture works sometimes -- but it's always wrong (Gary Kamiya, 4/22/09, Salon)

Torture is wrong. It is condemned by every civilized nation and by international law. There is, however, one situation in which torture might theoretically be morally justified. This is the so-called "ticking bomb" scenario, which in one form or another has been debated by philosophers and ethicists for hundreds of years. Suppose we know that a captive has planted a bomb in a school, which is due to explode in a few hours. The captive refuses to say in what school he planted the bomb. Are we justified in torturing one depraved individual to save the lives of hundreds of innocent children?

In their response, philosophers divide into two camps. The Kantians, those who believe that human beings have a categorical imperative to treat other humans as ends, not as means, say we are never justified in torturing, no matter how legitimate the goal. The Benthamites or utilitarians say that we are justified, because in this case torture is the lesser of two evils.

Defenders of the Bush administration's use of torture, most notably former Vice President Dick Cheney, would like to pose as high-minded Benthamites. [...]

The argument that torture works cannot simply be dismissed. During World War II, for example, the Gestapo used torture with considerable effectiveness on captured agents working for Britain's Special Operations Executive, the top-secret organization dedicated to sabotage and subversion behind Axis lines. A number of agents, unable to withstand the pain or, in some cases, even the prospect of pain, told their captors everything they knew, including the identity of other agents, the arrival time of flights, and the location of safe houses. During France's brutal war in Algeria, the colonial power used torture effectively. As historian Alistair Horne, the author of the classic analysis of the French-Algerian war, "A Savage War of Peace," told me in a 2007 interview, "In Algeria, the French used torture -- as opposed to abuse -- very effectively as an instrument of war. They had some success with it; they did undoubtedly get some intelligence from the use of torture." That intelligence included information about future terrorist strikes and the infrastructure of terror networks in Algiers.

So the easy argument against torture, that it is ineffective, is wrong. Torture can work.

There isn't much there that will withstand even cursory scrutiny. To begin with, torture as a method of punishment is condemned and confessions extracted via torture are rightly considered worthless, precisely because torture is so effective, but liberal democracies routinely torture "the bomber" (the person with intelligence that we need to extract for security reasons), which even as extreme a pundit as Mr. Kamiya concedes may be morally justified.

More than that though, consider the "Kantian" standard he's proposing and were one to adopt it you couldn't justify either war itself or any form of criminal punishment either. If your ideology requires that because Khalid Sheikh Mohammed must be treated as an end in himself you may not waterboard him then obviously you can neither shoot at him nor imprison him either. Mr. Kamiya here proposes a standard of action that he doesn't really mean because he hasn't thought about it very deeply. Let Mohammed walk into the Salon offices wearing a dynamite vest and we'll see just how much Kantian deference Mr. Kamiya truly thinks he should be paid.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:45 AM


The Ways of Syria: Stasis in Damascus: a review of The View From Damascus: State, Political Community, and Foreign Relations in the Twentieth-Century Syria by Itamar Rabinovich (Fouad Ajami, May/June 2009, Foreign Affairs)

The rogues and coup makers whose conspiracies have wrecked Syria's history walk out of Rabinovich's pages. Rabinovich provides a full and vivid chronicle of the way the French mandate in the interwar period tried -- and failed -- to shape and order the Syrian state. Other writers may tell in the most general of ways how the Alawis, a community of heterodox, historically marginal mountaineers, emerged as the masters of this fragmented land. But Rabinovich carefully reconstructs their odyssey, as they rode on the coattails of France through service in its colonial troops, then made their way through the Baath Party and the military to the commanding heights of the political order.

In 1970, an Alawi peasant-soldier, Hafez al-Assad, emerged from a rapid succession of coups d'état. On the face of it, there was nothing to suggest that this coup maker would succeed where others before him had failed. But he was to rule for three decades and bequeath to his son Bashar a political kingdom. Rabinovich provides a subtle portrait of Assad senior, no doubt the last century's most consequential Syrian leader.

To most of Syria's proud urban Sunni community, the Alawis are a people of dissimulation and concealment, and Hafez al-Assad was thought to be an embodiment of his community's ways. He was "deliberate, patient, and cool-headed," Rabinovich observes. As a "grey, slow, somewhat awkward politician," he would tame his once-turbulent and difficult country -- and put in a serious bid for hegemony over the Lebanese and the Palestinians as well. He built his authority "stone by stone," getting what he wanted "by stealth." Rivals were struck down, and many perished in Syria's notorious prisons.

Assad died in 2000, at a ripe old age, and was laid to rest in his ancestral village. The vast majority of his people had known no other ruler. They wept for him, and no doubt for themselves as well: he had given them stability.

But that stability was bought at a terrible price. A country of deep and rich traditions -- Greco-Roman, Islamic, Mediterranean -- had become a cultural and intellectual backwater. To rule Syria, Assad had broken its spirit, denied it the culture and possibilities of modernity. The Baathists had once been dreamers at war with the economic and political hierarchies of the Fertile Crescent. Yet the world that Assad left to his son Bashar was mired in sectarianism: a minority of Alawis ruling a resentful Sunni majority. [...]

Nowadays, those who know Syria (and often those who do not) are full of certitude and suggestions about the kind of diplomacy that would "peel off" Syria from the Iranian theocracy and turn it into a normal nation at ease with the world. The new U.S. administration is full of optimism about remaking the world. The regime in Damascus has been identified as a target of opportunity, a brigand regime that was cast aside and needlessly thrown into Iran's orbit by the policies of George W. Bush. American liberals are invested in this view, and the French, with a sense of their special knowledge of Syria and Lebanon, have subscribed to the idea of the urgency of courting and "engaging" the Syrian regime. Rabinovich's inquiry is, on the whole, skeptical of major changes in the conduct of Syria.

To be sure, Rabinovich has a healthy regard for the ability of the Syrian regime to pull off sudden reversals of policy and yet still survive. After all, it is a cold-blooded dictatorship, indifferent to zeal and ideology. Thus it was able to back both the Shiite movement Hezbollah in Lebanon and a Sunni insurgency in Iraq. This is the quintessential "swing state," a regime of Alawi schismatics, secular to the core, yet allied for the last three decades with the Iranian theocrats. In the standoff between the conservative coalition of Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia on the one side and the Iranian state and its tributary movements on the other, Syria rides with Iran but always hints that it is open to a deal. Rabinovich provides an important insight into Syria's ride with Iran: whereas Assad senior was able to cultivate a relationship of great convenience to Damascus, the "less dexterous" son has not fared as well. Over the last decade, the alliance has begun to "resemble a patron-client relationship."

Sectarianism and the passions of the Sunni-Shiite struggle have not been the sole (or principal) drivers of this regional standoff. The Iranian-Syrian coalition has made ample room for Hamas and has winked, when necessary, at the most bigoted of Sunni jihadists. The men in control in Damascus know that the Sunni jihadists from Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen who land in Syria and then are "escorted" to the Iraqi border are sworn enemies of theirs who see the Alawis as godless heretics. But this kind of doctrinal purity does not detain the Syrian rulers. These are men without illusions: they know that Sunni urban society (both inside and outside Syria) disdains them, but they rule by guile and the sword. Brute military force, papered over by Baathist pretensions, brought them from crushing poverty to supreme political power in their land. The late Assad barely bothered to travel outside his country; he never journeyed to the United States, and successive U.S. presidents, from Richard Nixon to Bill Clinton, called on him in his capital city or met him halfway, in Geneva. He had no use for the world beyond. For the Alawi peasant-soldier, it had been enough to claim and subdue Damascus.

With all the internal and external enemies arrayed against it, guaranteeing the success of regime change, it's a major blotch on W's record that the Ba'Ath are still in power there.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:27 AM


Kerry: Administration lacks 'real strategy' for handling Pakistan (Ken Dilanian, 4/22/09, USA TODAY)

Just back from a visit to Pakistan, Sen. John Kerry says the Obama administration's plan for that volatile country, rolled out last month with great fanfare, "is not a real strategy."

"Pakistan is in a moment of peril," Kerry, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said during a session with USA TODAY reporters and editors. "And I believe there is not in place yet an adequate policy or plan to deal with it."

In an interview after the session, Kerry advised the Obama administration to stop using the term "Af-Pak," to describe a unified strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, because "I think it does a disservice to both countries and to the policy. The two governments, he said, are "very sensitive to it" and "don't see the linkage." [...]

Richard Holbrooke, President Obama's special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, has said the United States must have a unified strategy for both countries, which share a mountainous border region that is a hotbed of Taliban and al-Qaeda activity.

Painful as it is to say, Mr. Holbrooke is obviously right on that bit and the idea that you wouldn't pursue a strategy in the region because Pakistan and Afghanistan, which have failed to deal with the problem, don't like your terminology is just silly.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:10 AM


Slow Roll Time At Langley (David Ignatius, April 22, 2009, Washington Post)

President Obama promised CIA officers that they won't be prosecuted for carrying out lawful orders, but the people on the firing line don't believe him. They think the memos have opened a new season of investigation and retribution.

The lesson for younger officers is obvious: Keep your head down. Duck the assignments that carry political risk. Stay away from a counterterrorism program that has become a career hazard.

Obama tried personally to reassure the CIA workforce during a visit to Langley on Monday. He said all the right things about the agency's clandestine role. But it had the look of a campaign event, with employees hooting and hollering and the president reading from his teleprompter with a backdrop of stars that commemorate the CIA's fallen warriors. By yesterday, Obama was deferring to the attorney general whether to prosecute "those who formulated those legal decisions," whatever that means.

Obama seems to think he can have it both ways -- authorizing an unprecedented disclosure of CIA operational methods and at the same time galvanizing a clandestine service whose best days, he told them Monday, are "yet to come." Life doesn't work that way -- even for charismatic politicians.

Obama Won’t Bar Inquiry, or Penalty, on Interrogations (SHERYL GAY STOLBERG, 4/22/09, NY Times)
[U]nder intense pressure from Democrats on Capitol Hill and human rights organizations to investigate, the president suggested Tuesday that he would not stand in the way of a full inquiry into what he has called “a dark and painful chapter” in the nation’s history.

Mr. Obama said he was “not suggesting” that a commission be established. But he also sketched out the parameters for a panel that would look much like the one that investigated the Sept. 11 attacks, saying that “if and when there needs to be a further accounting,” he hoped Congress would examine ways for it to be conducted in a bipartisan fashion. Some Democrats are pushing similar proposals on Capitol Hill.

The president restated his opposition to prosecuting C.I.A. operatives who followed the Bush administration’s legal guidelines in conducting interrogations. But as for lawyers or others who drew up the policies allowing techniques he has banned, Mr. Obama said it would be up to his attorney general, Eric H. Holder Jr., to decide what to do.

“I don’t want to prejudge that,” Mr. Obama said.

The comments knocked the ordinarily smooth White House press operation back on its heels. Mr. Obama’s press secretary, Robert Gibbs, spent much of his daily briefing on Tuesday being peppered with questions about precisely what Mr. Obama had meant, declaring at one point, “To clear up any confusion on anything that might have been said, I would point you to what the president said.”

The ease with which the Hill repeatedly rolls him is just embarrassing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:07 AM


Squash and bacon make a match (Chicago Tribune, April 15, 2009)

2 large butternut squash, peeled, halved lengthwise, seeded, sliced into 1/4-inch slices
2 large shallots, halved, thinly sliced
1/2 cup each: red wine, maple syrup
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces
8 slices pancetta or bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
Freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt

1Heat oven to 375 degrees. Layer squash and shallots in a lightly oiled gratin or other baking dish. Mix together wine, maple syrup and vinegar in a medium bowl; drizzle over squash. Dot squash with butter. Sprinkle with pancetta, thyme and pepper to taste. Cover with foil.

2Roast 30 minutes. Remove foil; sprinkle squash with salt. Raise heat to 450 degrees. Roast until squash browns slightly and pancetta becomes crisp, about 10 minutes.

...except "the Orthodox Rabbi"

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:47 AM

Master Recipe for Quiche (Elise Cooke, 04/22/2009, Contra Costa Times)

3 cups leftovers of any kind, including vegetables, meats, casseroles, cheeses

4 eggs

1½ cups milk, half-and-half, cream or other liquids

1 pastry shell

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Chop the food into small pieces and season to taste. Put the food into the bottom of the pastry shell.

2. In a medium bowl, beat eggs and add the liquid. Whisk well and add any herbs or seasonings you like. Pour over the food in the crust and bake for 30-45 minutes.

Variation: To make calzones or turnovers, divide biscuit, bread or pastry dough into separate pieces. Roll out into circles. Place seasoned food inside and seal. Cut a small vent in each and bake at 400 degrees for 10-12 minutes or until cooked through and golden brown.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:32 AM


Watch PBS online? You can if you visit its new video portal: In allowing viewers to stream an array of its best-known shows, PBS is joining on-demand video sites like Hulu.com and YouTube -- places for younger consumers who aren't wedded to watching TV on a TV. (David Sarno, April 22, 2009, LA Times)

The Public Broadcasting Service turns 40 this year, and on Tuesday it gave itself a gift that just might make it feel young again.

PBS' new video portal allows online viewers to stream an array of its best-known shows over the Web. The new site gathers more than 130 episodes of nearly 20 programs, including marquee fare such as "Frontline," "Nova" and "Masterpiece Theater." PBS says thousands of hours of programming should be available to users by the summer. [...]

PBS' initial selection of about 20 programs is small compared with the pulpy catalogs maintained by the other sites, but full-length episodes of nearly every show in PBS' prime-time lineup have been put online.

In addition to acting as a clearinghouse for PBS content, the portal will function as the hub of a nationwide network of online affiliates, all of which can share programming through a single Web infrastructure, whose cost PBS would specify only as "in the seven figures."

Give us the old Mystery! episodes, old operas, and old Masterpiece Theatre and we'll be happy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:26 AM


Caramel Corn (Recipe from "The Amish Cook At Home," by Lovina Eicher and Kevin Williams, 04/22/2009, Contra Costa Times)

1 cup butter or margarine

2 cups packed brown sugar

½ cup light corn syrup

½ teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon baking soda

8 quarts popped popcorn (about 2 cups popcorn kernels)

1. Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Combine the butter, brown sugar, corn syrup and salt in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat and cook for 5 minutes.

2. Add the baking soda and stir hard. Put the popcorn in a roasting pan. Pour the hot sugar mixture over the popcorn and stir well. Bake, stirring every 10 minutes, until corn is completely coated and turns golden brown, about 30-40 minutes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:02 AM


Homo Sapiens, Get Lost: Anti-humanism comes to Hollywood. (Wesley J. Smith, 4/22/09, National Review)

Over the last few hundred years in the West, the moral foundations of society were profoundly pro-human. Judeo-Christian moral philosophy and secular humanism both promoted human flourishing and the protection of individual rights as primary purposes of society. But in recent years we have witnessed a rebellion against “human exceptionalism” — the view that ultimate moral value comes with being a member of the human species. Spain, for example, has passed the Great Ape Project into law, declaring that chimpanzees and gorillas are part of the “community of equals” with people. Switzerland has declared that individual plants have “intrinsic dignity” and that “decapitating” wildflowers is a great moral wrong. Ecuador’s new constitution provides for “rights of nature” that are equal to those of Homo sapiens. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation has a website called “Planet Slayer” aimed at children. It features “Dr. Schpinkee’s Greenhouse Calculator,” which helps kids add up their carbon score, a game that ends with a “carbon hog” bloodily exploding. Above its remains a legend appears, telling the respondent how much longer he can live before he will have used up his “share of the planet.”

Here and abroad, environmentalism itself seems to be evolving from a movement dedicated to conserving resources, preserving pristine areas, and protecting endangered species into an anti-humanistic ideology that increasingly disdains humankind as a scourge that literally threatens the existence of “the planet.” This subversion of environmentalism was conceived and gestated in the Deep Ecology movement, inspired by Norwegian philosopher Arne Næss in the 1970s. Næss promoted an “environmental egalitarianism” based on the belief that nature and its constituent parts should be given equal consideration with human beings.

Once flora and fauna were elevated to the level of human importance, it didn’t take long to brand human exceptionalism as arrogant and harmful to nature. Identifying ourselves as the villains, in turn, opened the door to a demoralizing nihilism that likens humanity to a vermin infestation or a viral infection afflicting the planet.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:27 AM


Hands Off the CIA: We're seeing a kabuki dance of outrage, writes spy novelist Joseph Finder. We want the CIA to do our dirty work until we don't, and then we want them to take the fall. (Joseph Finder, 4/22/09, Daily Beast)

They’re shocked, shocked to find that the torture’s going on. All those Democrats in Congress who now profess indignation over President Obama’s refusal to prosecute CIA officials for practicing “enhanced interrogation techniques” on al Qaeda prisoners: It would be the very definition of chutzpah if only it weren’t so laughable.

Because they knew, of course. Back in 2002, the CIA gave dozens of briefings on Capitol Hill, including a super-secret “virtual tour” of their agency’s “black sites” with all the grisly details of the interrogation techniques they were planning to use on the bad guys, including waterboarding. Among those Democrats briefed were now-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Jane Harman. And no one said a word. [...]

What we’re seeing is little more than that kabuki dance of outrage, a hallowed Washington tradition as old as the Gridiron Dinner. It’s the way our politicians balance the books, make up for all the times they looked the other way. We want the CIA to do our dirty work until we don’t, and then we want them to take the fall.

...the CIA should be blown up because it gets every important question wrong. Secret intelligence agencies are a failure. Open source intelligence gathering.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:09 AM


Nudge-ocracy: Barack Obama's new theory of the state (Franklin Foer and Noam Scheiber, 5/06/09, The New Republic)

[W]hen you look at the sum of Obama's early policies, you begin to see the contours of a distinctive philosophy. Unlike the Progressives or the early New Dealers, Obama has no intention of changing the nature of American capitalism. Not through old-fashioned Jeffersonian means (antitrust) or newer-fangled Hamiltonian techniques (industrial planning). His program doesn't set out to reinvent whole sectors of the economy, not even our broken banking system. And, unlike postwar liberals, he has no zeal for ramping up the regulatory state, aside from tightening the screws on financial services. But, even then, he's resisted key parts of Europe's proposal for greater controls on hedge funds.

Like the New Democrats who ultimately shaped the Clinton administration's agenda, Obama has a deep respect for the market and wants to minimize the state's footprint on it. He has little interest in fixing prices or rationing goods or reversing free-trade agreements. But, while he basically shares the New Democrats' instincts, he rejects their conclusions. Reacting against the overweening statism of their liberal ancestors, many New Democrats came to believe that if government largely got out of the way and let markets work properly, the natural result would be widely shared prosperity. You only need to view the extent of Obama's domestic agenda to know he doesn't agree.

Instead, Obama has set out to synthesize the New Democratic faith in the utility of markets with the Old Democratic emphasis on reducing inequality. In Obama's state, government never supplants the market or stifles its inner workings--the old forms of statism that didn't wash economically, and certainly not politically. But government does aggressively prod markets--by planting incentives, by stirring new competition--to achieve the results he prefers. With health care, for instance, he would make it easier for employees to tote their insurance from job to job, eliminating the disincentive for insurers to invest in preventive care. Or take his bank plan, which helps banks dispose of their toxic assets, reducing uncertainty and making the banks more attractive to private investors--a far less drastic step than nationalization. Rather than force markets to conform to his wishes, he shapes their calculus so they conclude (on their own) that their interests coincide with his wishes.

Obama is hardly the first president to grasp the appeal of manipulating incentives and altering the context in which we make decisions. In the mid-'70s, Charles Schultze, Jimmy Carter's top White House economic adviser, sketched out a version of the conceit in a book called The Public Use of Private Interest. Schultze favored "harnessing the 'base' motive of material self-interest to promote the common good"--say, by taxing rather than outlawing harmful activities. A generation later, the behavioral theorists Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, both informal advisers to the Obama campaign, hatched a descendant of this approach. In their own book, Thaler and Sunstein suggested that the government inculcate desirable habits like saving and philanthropy through a series of gentle "nudges."

Given the alternatives--even greater federal involvement, even more federal dollars--such "harnessing" and "nudging" makes enormous political sense. But Obama's version also represents a huge gamble. Many countries have nationalized banks and run health care systems--and we have, at least, a good sense of how those programs would turn out. The Obama approach is largely untested on the scale he proposes, which is far greater than anything Schultze or Thaler and Sunstein imagined. His plans can be dismayingly complex; they often involve heroic assumptions about how people respond to new incentives. There's more than a hint of Ira Magaziner--the much-derided architect of Bill Clinton's 1993 health care plan. But, if it works, Obama will have truly found the Third Way Clinton grasped for a decade ago.

He's just a variant on Clinton/Bush. The correct line of attack to take is that he just isn't competent at his job. And given the complexity of the legislation his plans require and his lack of any demonstrated ability to legislate effectively you don't have to worry about being ahead of the curve. His own party isn't going to give him what he wants. The post-midterm GOP majority would.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:03 AM


The Long Arm of the Law: A looming battle over the role foreign judges should play in U.S. courts. (Stuart Taylor Jr. and Evan Thomas, 4/18/09, NEWSWEEK)

In 2002, Koh asserted that the planned invasion of Iraq—which then-senator, now–Secretary of State Hillary Clinton supported—"would violate international law." That raises the interesting question of whether Koh, as the State Department's lawyer, would try to stop the unilateral use of force by the Obama administration—an armed intervention in, say, Pakistan that lacked U.N. backing. In 2004, Koh asserted that President Bush (by invading Iraq and flouting the Geneva accords) had put the United States into an "axis of disobedience" to international law along with North Korea and Saddam Hussein's Iraq—thereby forfeiting the credibility needed to persuade other nations to obey the law. Adoption of his ideas could expose U.S. companies to multibillion-dollar liabilities merely for doing business in countries run by human-rights violators. Would Koh argue that the United States should submit to the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, even if it means extraditing American officials to be tried as war criminals? Would he argue that a global-warming treaty not ratified by the United States was nonetheless legally binding? At his confirmation hearings (probably later this month), Congress will want to know. (A member of the Obama team who has studied Koh's work, but declined to be identified in advance of the hearings, insists that his ideas are more nuanced than isolated quotes might suggest, and that Koh knows how to make tough trade-offs between academic theories and national interest.)

Koh argues that American law should reflect "transnational" legal values—and that in an interconnected world it inevitably does to some extent already. In his writings, Koh has campaigned to expand some rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution—and perhaps shrink some others, including the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech—to better conform to the laws of other nations. He has, for instance, pushed for a more expansive view of what constitutes "cruel and unusual punishment" under the Eighth Amendment. Koh's views are in tune with—if bolder than—those of a majority of the Supreme Court on some issues. Indeed, the justices cited foreign and international laws as support for their 2003 decision in Lawrence v. Texas striking down a Texas law against gay sex, and their 2005 decision, Roper v. Simmons, overturning the death penalty for juveniles in murder cases. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg recently defended the practice of citing international and foreign judicial precedents in Supreme Court decisions, implying that they never make a difference in the outcome. "Why shouldn't we look at the wisdom of a judge from abroad with at least as much ease as we would read a law-review article written by a professor?" she asked.

But Koh would go much further. To show regard for "the opinions of mankind," he asserted in a 2002 law review article, the death penalty "should, in time, be declared unconstitutional." Were his writings to become policy, judges might have the power to use debatable interpretations of treaties and "customary international law" to override a wide array of federal and state laws affecting matters as disparate as the redistribution of wealth and prostitution. He has campaigned to write into U.S. law the United Nations "Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women," signed by President Carter in 1980 but never ratified by Congress. A U.N. committee supervising the treaty's implementation has called for the "decriminalizing of prostitution" in China, the legalization of abortion in Colombia, and the abolition of Mother's Day in Belarus (for "encouraging woman's traditional roles"). In 2002 Senate testimony, Koh stressed that these reports are not binding law, and he dismissed as "preposterous" the notion that the treaty would "somehow require the United States to abolish Mother's Day." Still, the reports are very much part of the "transnational" legal process that Koh celebrates.

You can't both fulfill a vow to defend the Constitution and seek to overturn it via the elevation of foreign laws over those Americans consent to.

April 21, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:36 PM


Torture planning began in 2001, Senate report reveals: Bush officials said they only tortured terrorists after they wouldn't talk. New evidence shows they planned torture soon after 9/11 -- and used it to find links between al-Qaida and Saddam. (Mark Benjamin, 4/21/09, Salon)

The report details how abusive interrogations began. "In December 2001," the report says, "the DOD General Counsel's office contacted the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA) headquartered at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, for information about detainee 'exploitation.'"

To set up the torture program, the Department of Defense and the CIA reverse engineered something called SERE training, which was conducted by the JPRA. Based on Cold War communist techniques used to force false confessions, in SERE school elite U.S. troops undergo stress positions, isolation, hooding, slapping, sleep deprivation and, until recently, waterboarding to simulate illegal tactics they might face if captured by an enemy who violated the Geneva Conventions.

Are we really supposed to be horrified that the terrorists were submitted to standard training measures for American soldiers?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:01 PM


Another Documentary, Another Riff on the History and Mystery of Jazz (BEN RATLIFF, 4/20/09, NY Times)

“Icons Among Us,” a four-part series beginning Monday on the Documentary Channel, serves as a retort to Ken Burns’s 2001 television documentary “Jazz.” [...]

The first onscreen opinion comes from the trumpeter Nicholas Payton. “You have to let go of everything you’ve seen and heard to experience the truth,” he says. “A lie is anything that has nothing to do with now. Truth is now.”

He’s talking about improvising, but he’s also supplying this undogmatic film — the first two episodes of it, anyway — with a thesis. If you want to understand jazz, it seems to suggest, start with the present, or maybe the last 15 years, and then go backward. Listen to the old masters, but only up to a point. Never lose track of yourself, your time, your world; otherwise you’ll be an anxious blob, mainlining Blue Note records from 1959 and making irrelevant music. [...]

In Episode 2 Ravi Coltrane breaks the pattern. During a pause in a recording session he explains the method of his latest work. “I’ve been improvising a lot of compositions lately, then using those parts and organizing those elements in a way that’s closer to traditional styles of writing,” he says. “What I’m left with is something that I wouldn’t have naturally written down.”

I bet he didn’t know how fresh he sounded. After more than an hour of theoretical, a minute of practical sounds brilliant. It also helps you understand, when you subsequently hear Mr. Coltrane’s music, the immediate challenges and concerns and ambitions of that music.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:57 PM


High schooler throws fourth straight no-no (Doug Miller, 4/20/09, MLB.com)

[Patrick] Schuster, a high school senior in a suburb of Tampa, Fla., pitched his fourth straight no-hitter Monday night, leading his Mitchell High team to a 5-0 win over rival Pasco with 17 strikeouts, according to The Associated Press.

"I never thought this would happen," Schuster told the AP. "I'm just having so much fun right now."

Schuster has thrown no-hitters in each of his four starts since April 3 and has struck out 60 batters in the games. He has improved his record to 7-0, and his team is 19-3.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:55 PM


FBI's newest 'Most Wanted' terrorist is American (Associated Press, April 21, 2009)

For the first time, an accused domestic terrorist is being added to the FBI's list of "Most Wanted" terror suspects.

Daniel Andreas San Diego, a 31-year-old computer specialist from Berkeley, Calif., is wanted for the 2003 bombings of two corporate offices in California.

Authorities describe San Diego as an animal rights activist who turned to bomb attacks and say he has tattoo that proclaims, "It only takes a spark."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:51 PM


John Madden Made Us Smarter (LEONARD CASSUTO, 4/20/09, WSJ)

Mr. Madden is a transformational figure in the history of entertainment. He changed the way that we watch television and the way we think about sports.

From an unlikely perch in the broadcast booth, Mr. Madden has been serving as America's teacher. Using complex diagrams and -- dare I say it? -- intellectual explanations, Mr. Madden gave the average fan credit for wanting to know more than just who caught the ball. His memorable turns of phrase ("boom!") have given whimsical cover to the real work he's done making his students -- anyone who watches sports -- better, more alert, more knowledgeable viewers. [...]

[I]t was Mr. Madden as cerebral coach who made his most lasting mark. What did the key block look like that sprung the runner for a touchdown run? Where was the seam in the zone defense that allowed the receiver to catch the pass? Mr. Madden was a fount of deep and complex instruction, using state-of-the-art computer graphics, scribbling circles and arrows into a freeze frame, to illustrate his lengthy explanations.

This kind of analysis had been thought too complicated for the average fan, but Mr. Madden showed that fans not only tolerated that level of depth, but actively wanted it. His example quickly spread across televised sports during the 1980s.

Mike Fratello, the NBA's first "Czar of the Telestrator," simply borrowed Mr. Madden's diagramming techniques and applied them to basketball, where they remain a staple of coach-centric analysis. Baseball announcing on television once relied almost solely on chatter about the batter's hometown of little old Altoona, Pa., and other such remarks. After Mr. Madden, baseball announcers embraced the technical and statistical aspects of the play on the field. Tim McCarver was the first to employ in-depth explanations of fielder positioning, pitch sequences, and other strategies. Now all serious baseball announcers do those things.

They do them because Mr. Madden raised the intelligence level of sports announcing. A whole generation of TV viewers has grown up on the most rigorously analytical play-by-play announcing in the long history of sports. It's not too much to believe that for once, television is making them smarter.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:28 AM


Over It: America's quick recovery from its torture program suggests it wasn't a torture program in the first place. (Dahlia Lithwick, April 17, 2009, Slate)

Laced like cynical poison through the four newly released Justice Department torture memos is the logic of quick healing: Eleven days of sleep deprivation is not illegal torture so long as the prisoner gets to sleep it off later. Writes then-Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee: "The effect of such sleep deprivation will generally remit after one or two nights of uninterrupted sleep." In that same memo we learn that water-boarding is also not illegal torture because the simulated drowning lasts only 20 to 40 seconds, and thus, "the waterboard is simply a controlled acute episode, lacking the connotation of a protracted period of time generally given to suffering." By the same token, "walling" (i.e., slamming someone into a wall) isn't torture either because "the head and neck are supported with a rolled hood or towel that provides a c-collar effect to help prevent whiplash."

In sum, argue the memos, it isn't torture if you can get over it.

Indeed, liberal democracies have a long history of innovating humane means of torture that minimize lasting harm. If we succeed and if the end is to obtain otherwise inaccessible information about immediate threats then there really isn't any more coherent an argument against such torture than there would be against imprisonment and interrogation itself.

The Case for the ‘Torture Memos’: Rightly considered, the memos should be a source of pride. (Rich Lowry, 4/21/09, National Review)

Rightly considered, the memos should be a source of pride. They represent a nation of laws struggling to defend itself against a savage, lawless enemy while adhering to its legal commitments and norms. Most societies throughout human history wouldn’t have bothered.

The memos cite conduct that is indisputably torture from a court case involving Serbs abusing Muslims in Bosnia: “severe beatings to the genitals, head, and other parts of the body with metal pipes and various other items; removal of teeth with pliers; kicking in the face and ribs; breaking of bones and ribs and dislocation of fingers; cutting a figure into the victim’s forehead; hanging the victim and beating him; extreme limitations of food and water; and subjection to games of ‘Russian roulette.’ ”

In contrast, we carefully parsed each of our techniques to ensure it wouldn’t cause “severe physical or mental pain or suffering.” This touchingly legalistic exercise at times took on a comic aspect. We could put a caterpillar in a box with a detainee afraid of stinging insects, Abu Zubaydah, so long as we didn’t falsely tell him the caterpillar was a threat to sting. We could put detainees in diapers so long as “the diaper is checked regularly and changed as needed to prevent skin irritation.”

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:26 AM


Free Trade Returns to the Table (Joseph J. Schatz, 4/21/09, CQ)

On the heels of the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said Monday that a delegation from Panama will visit Washington this week to try to resolve disputes over the U.S.-Panama trade deal. Kirk added that President Obama hopes to clear remaining obstacles to a separate pact with Colombia.

Ultimately, Obama — who met with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe during the summit — believes that “a resolution of the Colombia trade agreement would be a good thing for both economies,” Kirk said.

Meanwhile, the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee — Max Baucus , D-Mont., and Charles E. Grassley , R-Iowa — wrote Obama on Monday asking him to “begin the hard work of winning broad approval” of a trade pact with South Korea, which is stalled due to resistance from U.S. automakers and concerns over restrictions on the Asian nation’s beef imports.

All three trade deals were negotiated by George W. Bush ’s administration but have faced opposition in the Democratic-controlled House and Senate over the past two years.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:27 AM


'Ahmadinejad Should Not Be Given a Platform': Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad predictably lambasted Israel at the UN anti-racism conference, prompting a mass walk-out by Western diplomats. German newspapers on Tuesday praise Berlin for deciding to boycott the meeting. (Der Spiegel, 4/21/09)

Germany, on the other hand, had opted to boycott the UN meeting, sharing Washington's concerns that it could descend into a platform to criticize Israel.

German newspapers on Tuesday are united in their praise of the Berlin government's decision. Many lash out at the UN for giving Ahmadinejad a platform to air his anti-Israeli views.

The center-right Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"On the very first day, the conference offered Holocaust denier Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a stage from which he predictably attacked Israel. Those who provide the Iranian president with an audience do not automatically agree with him. However they do risk allowing the tirades to be perceived as just one legitimate opinion among many. Many delegations therefore felt compelled to leave the hall."

...is that an Iran or a Venezuela is indeed just one more nation among many.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:37 AM


The two Obamas: Obama is a better foreign-policy president than domestic-policy president. Unfortunately, so was Jimmy Carter. Time to be bold. (Michael Lind, Apr. 21, 2009, Salon)

There are two Obamas. One is the foreign policy president whom America needs at this moment in history. The other is a domestic policy president who has yet to find his way.

In foreign policy, Obama is just the president the U.S. required after eight disastrous years of George W. Bush. In a remarkably short period of time, the president has done much to revive the reputation of the U.S. among its allies and enemies alike. [...]

The Obama administration is modest and multilateral. The new president has signaled a willingness to engage Iran, partly lifted the ban on the travel of Americans to Cuba and, to the horror of the American right, has shaken hands with Hugo Chavez.[...]

The assertion that domestic Obama is too cautious, incrementalist and deferential to experts like Summers and Geithner may seem strange, in light of Republican claims that the president is a revolutionary trying to impose European-style socialism on America. Isn't his budget full of bold, sweeping initiatives with respect to energy, healthcare and education? As Talullah Bankhead said on leaving an avant-garde play, "There is less in this than meets the eye." Many of the president's initiatives combine grand visions with proposed changes or appropriations that are best described by the technical social science terms "piddly" and "dinky."

According to progressive economists as diverse as James K. Galbraith and Paul Krugman, the stimulus itself may have been much too small. Obama's grand vision of high-speed rail, on close examination, turned out to be a combination of an old, familiar map of proposed routes with relatively small-scale funding. Other, genuinely big initiatives like a comprehensive cap-and-trade scheme are likely to die in Congress. A cynic might wonder whether the smart people in the administration know this and are treating mere official proposals that fail to go anywhere as sufficient payoffs to important Democratic constituencies like environmentalists.

...when he favorably compares the UR to Jimmy Carter.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:23 AM


Ben & Jerry’s annual free cone day (Nancy Luna, OC REgister)

Ben & Jerry’s is hosting its annual Free Cone Day from noon to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, April 21. The freebie event coincides with the debut of the chain’s newest flavor: Chocolate Macadamia.

April 20, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:00 PM


US Calls Iranian Speech Vile, But Open To Dialogue (Javno, 4/20/09)

"The comments that he made ... frankly feed racial hatred," State Department spokesman Robert Wood told reporters in Washington. "If Iran ... wants a different relationship with the international community, it's got to change its behavior and stop this horrible rhetoric."

Despite the criticism, the State Department said it was still looking to open diplomatic talks with Iran in keeping with U.S. President Barack Obama's policy of engagement.

If they want improved relations they can't talk that way but talking that way is no bar to improved relations. Got it?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:01 PM


Ahmadinejad at Durban II: Holocaust was pretext for Israel's creation (Haaretz, 4/20/09)

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Sunday branded Israel a "racist government," charging the West with dispossessing the Palestinians "on the pretext of Jewish suffering from World War II."

The remarks seemingly living up to concerns that the United Nations conference on racism which he was addressing would turn into a forum to vilify the Jewish state.

The comments sparked a mass walk-out of the conference hall by dozens of Western delegates to the summit.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:56 AM


Oracle Agrees to Acquire Sun (DON CLARK and BEN WORTHEN, 4/20/09, WSJ)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:55 AM


Coolest Brown Dwarf Spotted (Anna Salleh, ABC Science Online)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:35 AM


Organ Donor (Ben Greenman, April 27, 2009, The New Yorker)

The organist, songwriter, and arranger extraordinaire Booker T. Jones is one of the legends of soul music. A multi-instrumentalist as a child and later a student in music composition at Indiana University, he went on to head up the Stax house band, Booker T. & the MG’s, which backed everyone from Otis Redding to Rufus Thomas, and to co-write hits like “I’ve Never Found a Girl (To Love Me Like You Do)” and “I Love You More Than Words Can Say.” Jones also released a number of acclaimed records of his own material—his catalogue goes much deeper than the immortal “Green Onions,” and even includes an album-length tribute to “Abbey Road,” called “McLemore Avenue”—and, after leaving the group in the early seventies, became a top-drawer session player and producer, responsible for Bill Withers’s “Ain’t No Sunshine” and Willie Nelson’s “Stardust,” among other records.

Jones’s new solo album, “Potato Hole” (Anti-), is his first in two decades, and throughout he is backed not only by the Southern-rock stalwarts Drive-By Truckers but also by Neil Young. If this sounds more like rock-and-roll than Southern soul, that’s because it is.

CD Review: 'Potato Hole' by Booker T. (Eric R. Danton, April 20, 2009, Hartford Courant)
Now, 31 years after his last solo effort, Booker T. returns with "Potato Hole" (Anti). The MGs have long since scattered, and Jones is backed here by the Drive-By Truckers, who are becoming the new house band for re-emerging old-school artists. (The group also played with Bettye LaVette on her 2007 album, "Scene of the Crime.")
With Neil Young adding lead guitar, Booker T. and the DBTs blaze through a collection of instrumental tunes, three covers augmenting seven original numbers. Organ is the obvious focal point, but there's plenty of guitar, too, on songs that most often come across as careful, joyous exercises in teamwork.

His blaring Hammond organ and growling electrics guitars from Young and the Truckers are a heady combination on the raucous opening track "Pound It Out," while Young's caustic fuzz-tone guitar anchors "Native New Yorker." The whole crew lays back into a deep, soulful pocket on "Nan," Jones' organ gleaming at the front of tune.

The covers show his range, as a musician and a music fan: He unpacks a rootsy funk part for a version of OutKast's 2003 hit "Hey Ya!" which the Truckers have been known to play in their own sets, and his burbling Hammond adds vibrant color to a juicier take on Tom Waits' spooky, spare "Get Behind the Mule."

A noodling version of the Truckers' own "Space City" wanders a little too aimlessly to close, but "Potato Hole" overall is a subtle album with enough fire to prove that Jones can still bring the heat.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:25 AM


A Real Problem, Here (NY Times, 4/20/09)

The AIDS epidemic is spreading faster than previously thought, even as the American public’s concern about it declines. That dangerous disconnect underscores the urgency of a new campaign announced by the Obama administration to combat complacency about the disease and its potential to strike the unwary.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that in 2006, 56,000 people around the country were newly infected with H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS, a hefty boost from previous estimates of 40,000.

Meanwhile, surveys by the Kaiser Family Foundation show a sharp drop in public interest or concern.

If you're serious about attacking an infectious disease you discourage people from contact with the disease vector and risky behavior, rather than encourage them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:06 AM


Patriots Day game on tap for Red Sox (Ian Browne, 4/20/09, MLB.com)

Patriots Day has long meant two things to Bostonians: a Red Sox game and the Boston Marathon.

Monday is that day, with the Red Sox and Orioles commencing the finale of this four-game series in the late morning. Yes, an 11:05 a.m. ET first pitch is not typically in the vocabulary of a Major League baseball player. [...]

"I played a 10 o'clock game in 'A' ball about seven years ago or something. There were like 3,000 elementary students. They bussed in for it. It will be a lot like that, I guess," said left fielder Jason Bay.

More games should start earlier, but one does sometimes wonder if everyone on the field is awake for these tilts. One memorably awful performance from back in law school days, Brewers Get 20 Hits in 18-0 Rout Of Red Sox (AP, April 17, 1990)
The Milwaukee Brewers recorded the largest shutout in the club's history today, pounding out 20 hits and beating the Boston Red Sox, 18-0, before a Patriots' Day crowd of 35,478 in Fenway Park.

Dave Parker and Greg Brock had four hits each, and Gary Sheffield, Edgar Diaz and Brock drove in three runs apiece. Milwaukee had nine doubles, one triple but no home runs.

At least at that time it was the largest margin of victory ever in a shut-out with no homeruns.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:49 AM


A World Of Trouble For Obama (Jackson Diehl, April 20, 2009, Washington Post)

New American presidents typically begin by behaving as if most of the world's problems are the fault of their predecessors -- and Barack Obama has been no exception. In his first three months he has quickly taken steps to correct the errors in George W. Bush's foreign policy, as seen by Democrats. He has collected easy dividends from his base, U.S. allies in Europe and a global following for not being "unilateralist" or war-mongering or scornful of dialogue with enemies.

Now comes the interesting part: when it starts to become evident that Bush did not create rogue states, terrorist movements, Middle Eastern blood feuds or Russian belligerence -- and that shake-ups in U.S. diplomacy, however enlightened, might not have much impact on them.

Except he got nothing from Europe. Even the French are making fun of him. Of course, it doesn't several of those states tossed their anti-American leaders in favor of Bush-clones.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:29 AM


-New music Canada: The Perms, Winnipeg, MB (CBC Radio 3)

The Perms are a Winnipeg-based alternative rock group. Their combination of well-crafted, melody driven songs and upbeat, energetic live shows have become a staple of the band's repertoire. [...]

"The Perms are a timeless pop band, employing catchy melodies and tight songwriting above all else, and it's something proven by the classic pop sounds of "Better Days" - an upbeat and joyful treat for the senses." - UK Music Search

-INTERVIEW: The Perms: Without their instruments, they would be singing karaoke (DARRYL STERDAN, 2nd April 2009, Winnipeg Sun)
- Who's in the band and what do they play?

Shane Smith is on bass & vocals, Chad Smith is on guitar & vocals, and Jaime Carrasco is on the drums.

- Give us the history of the band in 20 words or less.

The Perms started in 1998. They've recorded four albums, completed 10 cross-Canada tours and a few U.S. dates. The Perms have showcased at CMW, NXNE, Western Canadian Music Awards, etc.

- Describe your music and/or sound in 20 words or less.

Guitar, bass, drums. Place in giant blender and shake well. Serve awesome.

- Describe your look and/or image in 20 words or less.

Oddly enough, we're all skinny, have facial stubble, and wear glasses. Coincidence, we swear.

- Tell us about your latest CD.

Our fourth CD, Keeps You Up When You're Down, was released at the end of January. The first single is called Give Me All Your Lovin' and it's currently getting radio play. [...]

- Now, name your favourite musical acts of all time.

Weezer, Phantom Planet, The Pink Spiders, Inoke Errati.

- Tell us about your best gig to date.

We played X-Fest 2 in Brandon over the summer. It's nice to have a backstage area with all-you-can-drink beer and food. Oh, and the gig was awesome, too.

- Now tell us about your worst gig.

Played the Brickyard in Vancouver for the bartender and one drunk lady. Still had fun though.

- OK, now describe your ultimate fantasy gig. Don't hold anything back.

Playing in the middle of a laser-tag arena, while everybody runs around zapping each other and falling into ball pits. [...]

- What are your pre-show rituals, superstitions and good luck charms?

Tim Hortons.

-PROFILE: Poppy Perms prepared to make waves with new album (Melissa Martin, 2/04/2009, Winnipeg Free Press)
"It's way too long between records, I think," says Perms bassist Shane Smith. "If it was up to us and we had enough money, I'd want to release something every year."

Self-pressure, much? After all, the band's got other things going on. After unleashing Better Days in 2005, a busy tour schedule slowed the Perms' normally prolific writing pace. And then more mundane hang-ups got in the way -- jobs, family, bills.

As a result, for Keeps You Up, "we had to book time off work to write, which we've never done before," Smith says of the process, which included some input from producer Phil Deschambault, who recently signed a songwriting deal with EMI.

"We wanted to write the 12 best songs we've ever done. When we recorded our first album, it was like, 'We have 10 songs! Let's release them.' Back then we were 19; we weren't really thinking.

"This time we actually cut a few tracks that we didn't feel fit the album. We've never done that before, either."

Hey, it's a fresh experience all around. For the new record, the Perms let their two-man horn section go, which pared their lineup from five to three and brought the band back to its trio roots.

They aren't actually alternative, more straight-ahead hooky power-pop, but they must be doing something right because their latest is sold out at Amazon.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:46 AM


JG Ballard dies after battle with prostate cancer: Tributes have been paid to JG Ballard, the acclaimed author, who died after a lengthy battle with prostate cancer. (Murray Wardrop, 20 Apr 2009, Daily Telegraph)

The son of a managing director of a Manchester textile firm, James Graham Ballard was born on November 15, 1930 in Shanghai, China.

He was educated at the Cathedral school in Shanghai but his comfortable colonial lifestyle came to an abrupt end in 1942 when, in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, Ballard was interned with his parents and his younger sister by the Japanese in Lunghua Civilian Assembly Centre.

The three subsequent years which he spent in captivity form the basis of his semi-autobiographical 1984 novel Empire of the Sun, which was adapted into a British Academy Award-winning film starring Christian Bale.

After returning to Britain in 1946, Ballard attended the Leys School in Cambridge, before going on to read medicine at King's College, Cambridge with the view to becoming a psychiatrist.

During this time he immersed himself in experimental and German Expressionist films of the 1920s, French films of the 1940s, and Hollywood Noir thrillers.

At the same time, he developed an early interest in psychoanalysis, devouring the works of Sigmund Freud and Karl Jung.

He also began writing avant-garde fiction which was heavily influenced by surrealist painters such as Max Ernst, Salvador Dali and Paul Delvaux.

In 1952, Ballard abandoned his medical studies and after brief stints reading English Literature at the University of London and then joining the RAF, he began writing full-time. In 1954 he married Helen Mary Matthews, with whom he had three children.

His first novel, The Drowned World, was published in 1962, followed by The Drought, The Wind from Nowhere and The Crystal World, which strengthened his reputation for bleak but beautiful chronicles of a post-Hiroshima age and as a notable figure in the fledgling New Wave movement.

After the death of his wife, in 1964, Ballard retreated to Shepperton by the River Thames to raise his three children – James, Fay and Bea – but continued to write prolifically, with a seeming obsession with disaster, depravity and dystopia.

He once called himself "an architect of dreams, sometimes nightmares".

-OBIT: Literary giant JG Ballard dies of cancer aged 78 (Robert Mendick, 20.04.09, Evening Standard)
Close friend and fellow author Iain Sinclair said today: "He was a charming, classic English gentleman with a generous heart, a cynical take on the world and a huge sense of humour."

Science fiction writer Michael Moorcock said: "Together with Barry Bayley, who died last year, we 'plotted' the revolution in science fiction which led to the so-called New Wave."

Author Toby Litt said: "He opened up subjects that seemed peripheral or uninteresting - urban spaces, motorways, airports, high rises. He showed what can happen there."

His insight that the only reason people are attracted to cars is because they've eroticized death and destruction is obviously right, and Empire of the Sun is a great novel, but he's not otherwise readable. Of course, he's hardly the only author who's only good book is his own coming-of-age roman a clef.

-OBIT: Author J.G. Ballard Dies at 78 (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, April 20, 2009)
-REVIEW: of J. G. BALLARD Quotes, Edited by V. Vale and Mike Ryan (JOHN STRAUSBAUGH, NY Times Book Review)
-REVIEW: COCAINE NIGHTS by J. G. Ballard (A.O. Scott, NY Times)

THE British writer J. G. Ballard is one of the leading purveyors of what Leslie Fiedler, writing about Paul Bowles, once called ''highbrow terror-fiction.'' Over the years, Ballard has attracted a devoted cult of readers who prefer their sex and violence with a thesis. Perhaps the best known of his efforts is a novel called ''Crash,'' which argued that car accidents are irreducibly erotic and, conversely, that good sex is like a car wreck. The book spawned an interesting movie of the same name (directed by David Cronenberg) and a rather shocking interpretation of the death of the Princess of Wales (offered in the pages of The New Yorker by, of all people, Salman Rushdie). But Ballard is most famous for the anomalous ''Empire of the Sun,'' a luminous and heartbreaking novelistic memoir of his boyhood in a World War II Japanese prison camp, which was made into the only Steven Spielberg movie other than ''Jaws'' that's worth watching twice.

-REVIEW: of SUPER-CANNES by J. G. Ballard (Geoff Nicholson, NY Times Book Review)
-ARCHIVES: J.G. Ballard (NY Times)
-ARCHIVES: Ballard (NY Review of Books)
-OBIT: JG Ballard (1930-2009) (New Statesman, 20 April 2009)
-PROFILE: JG Ballard (Jason Cowley, August 1998, Prospect)
The near future, JG Ballard once wrote, provides a better key to the present than does the past. For much of his career, certainly until the publication, in 1984, of Empire of the Sun, a fictionalised account of his childhood in a Japanese internment camp in Shanghai, Ballard was marginalised as a maverick science fiction specialist. He was seen as a writer trapped in a circle of generic obsession, a futurologist whose exotic preoccupations were out of step with the bland realism of the postwar period. He contributed to the hard-edged science fiction magazine New Worlds and organised exhibitions of crashed cars at the Arts Laboratory. He was, in short, not one of us; not strictly a literary writer; not someone really worth taking seriously. Yet he was not strictly a science fiction writer, either. He wasn't interested in space travel or in the far future; rather, he explored inner space, a huge subterranean realm of unconscious motivation and psychic disturbance.

-PROFILE: Partner tells of unconvential life with literary giant JG Ballard (Robert Mendick, 20.04.09, Evening Standard)
FOR 40 years, author J G Ballard and his partner Claire Walsh enjoyed an unconventional relationship, living in separate homes several miles apart.

But in the last months of his life as he lay dying of cancer, the novelist finally moved in with Ms Walsh, swapping his suburban home in Shepperton for her flat above a boarded-up shop in Goldhawk Road in west London.

Today Ms Walsh told the Evening Standard of her devotion to Ballard, author of the bestseller Empire of the Sun, and how she cared for him in the weeks and months before his death yesterday at the age of 78.

-OBIT: J.G. Ballard: Chronicler of all our dystopias (The Australian, April 21, 2009)
THE young J.G. Ballard revealed in his most popular novel, Empire of the Sun, was far more in awe of Japanese kamikaze pilots than he was interested in being liberated from his internment camp.

Similarly, the adult Ballard found the enslavement of man to his own devices - concrete, technology, cameras and crashing cars - monstrous and terrifying, yet fascinating and ceaselessly inspiring. There was little that Ballard would dismiss out of hand as horrible or uninteresting. Drawn to the dark and the lurid, he once set up a 75-hour installation project at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London called The Assassination Weapon (1969), which narrated in film the journey of a deranged hydrogen-bomb pilot accompanied by the sound of a car crash.

His dispassionate visions of modernity and apocalyptic imagery earned him the rare honour of seeing his name adjectivised: the Collins English Dictionary describes "Ballardian" as resembling or suggestive of the conditions described in Ballard's novels and stories, especially dystopian modernity, bleak man-made landscapes and the psychological effects of technological, social or environmental developments.

-What pop music tells us about JG Ballard (Stephen Dowling, 4/20/09, BBC News Magazine)

Producer Trevor Horn's 1979 single Video Killed the Radio Star ushered in the MTV age - it was the first song played on MTV when it launched in 1981. Horn admits the song - about a radio star whose career is cut short by TV - is based on a Ballard short story The Sound Sweep, in which a mute boy obsessed with collecting music discovers an opera singer hiding in a sewer. It taps into Ballard's interest in the hold of mass media on people's lives, especially the influence of television, beamed into the same suburban homes that used to listen in their millions to radio.

-ESSAY: A fascist's guide to the Premiership: The notion of being British has never been so devalued. Sport alone seems able to be the catalyst of significant social change. Could consumerism evolve into fascism? (J G Ballard, 04 September 2006, New Statesman
The notion of being British has never been so devalued. Sport alone seems able to be the catalyst of significant social change. Football crowds rocking stadiums and bellowing anthems are taking part in political rallies without realising it, as would-be fascist leaders will have noted.

-REVIEW: The ultimate sacrifice.: At a certain intensity, the will to suicide becomes a deranged affirmation of life. J G Ballard sees similarities between the Japanese soldiers he met as a boy and the terrorists of al-Qaeda: a review of Kamikaze: Japan's suicide gods by Albert Axell and Hideaki Kase (J G Ballard, 09 September 2002, New Statesman
If the future is a marriage between Microsoft and the Disney Corporation, what can the rest of us do about it? Reading this strangely moving account of the kamikaze pilots, one dimly senses that the fightback may have already begun, launched more than 60 years ago when Japanese carrier planes bombed Pearl Harbor. The wartime newsreels that show waves of suicide pilots ("hashi-crashies" and "screwy-siders", to the American servicemen I met soon after) diving into aircraft carriers near Okinawa uncannily evoke the images of al-Qaeda terrorists flying their hijacked Boeings into the World Trade Center. There are the same horrific fireballs, and the same mystery of how human beings - so intelligent, gifted and far-sighted - could lock themselves into such insane confrontations.

Anyone, civilian or combatant, who saw Japanese soldiers in action during the Second World War, knew that life and death existed for them in a very different realm. The horrendous atrocities carried out by the Japanese armies were sanctioned by an officer corps inured to violence and death by centuries of civil strife, and who almost welcomed the prospect of death - their own or their captives' - as a means of testing their own integrity and will.

-TRIBUTE: Generous spirit behind visions of a bleak future (David Sexton, 20.04.09, Evening Standard)
At the time, Ballard's readers could have had little idea of the source of Ballard's peculiar imagination. That all changed when, in 1984, he published his marvellous, wholly realistic novel, Empire of the Sun, describing his three-year internment as a boy in 1943-45, thriving in a brutal and illogical world, during the Japanese occupation of Shanghai.

At once it was obvious that this was the experience that had shaped all his fiction. Why had he waited so long to tackle it directly? Ballard himself said it had taken him 20 years to forget Shanghai and then 20 years to remember it - and, interestingly, that he felt he had had to wait for his own children to become grown-ups first, being "too protective of them to expose them in my mind to the dangers I had known at their age".

Some of Ballard's fans, such as Martin Amis, actually felt betrayed by the disclosure - "the shaman had revealed the source of all his fever and magic".

-TRIBUTE: How JG Ballard cast his shadow right across the arts: JG Ballard's influence on culture went far beyond literature. We look at his lasting impact on film, pop, architecture, TV and visual art (Peter Bradshaw, Deyan Sudjic, Dave Simpson, Iain Sinclair and Mark Lawson, 20 April 2009, The Guardian)
-AN APPRECIATION: Visionary with a sharp edge: J.G. Ballard didn¡¦t settle for challenging his readers. He sought to provoke them ¡X usually with success. (David L. Ulin, 4/20/09, Los Angeles Times)
If J.G. Ballard -- the visionary British novelist who died Sunday of prostate cancer at age 78 -- ends up being remembered, it will likely be as a science fiction writer who aspired to use genre as a vehicle for art. That's true enough, in a certain small-bore manner, but it's ultimately reductive, a way of categorizing Ballard that his entire career stood against.

-TRIBUTE: J G Ballard: the prophet who stayed one step ahead (Tim Martin, 4/21/09, Daily Telegraph)
-TRIBUTE: J.G. Ballard was a man of the Right — not that the Right really wanted him: [T]he great writer, who died this week, always espoused the pessimism about the human condition that is the mark of a true conservative. He even wanted American missiles stationed in his garden (Rod Liddle, 22nd April 2009, Spectator)
-TRIBUTE: Appreciation: J G Ballard: His writings were a lifelong experiment in imaginative alchemy, the transmutation of senseless dross into visions of beauty (John Gray, 23 April 2009, New Statesman)
-TRIBUTE: Ballard: explorer of catastrophe: The author of Empire of the Sun and Crash was no dystopian prophet; he used disaster to reimagine the world. (James Heartfield, 4/21/09, spiked)

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:39 AM


Juve President Slams Own Fans For Racist Chants: Inter Milan goalscorer Mario Balotelli was racially abused by some home fans during Saturday`s 1-1 draw at Juve. (Javno, 4/20/09)

Action must be taken to end Italian soccer's culture of racism, Juventus president Giovanni Cobolli Gigli said on Sunday.

Inter Milan goalscorer Mario Balotelli was racially abused by some home fans during Saturday's 1-1 draw at Juve.

Racial chanting is not uncommon in Serie A with the league usually handing out small fines to clubs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:36 AM


Interview: Keeley Hawes on Ashes to Ashes: Last year Life on Mars 80s spin-off Ashes to Ashes arrived on our screens to some less-than-favourable reviews of its new star Keeley Hawes. She tells us how she overcame a critical lashing. (Benji Wilson, 17 Apr 2009, Daily Telegraph)

Hawes’s arrival as Gene Hunt’s new sparring partner, following John Simm’s Seventies sojourn in Life on Mars, displeased a lot of people from the outset. Reviews of Ashes to Ashes when it began last year fêted the gloriously unreconstructed Hunt once again, but criticised both the character of Drake and Hawes’s performance, often blurring the line between the two.

‘I don’t think I’d ever had a bad word said before, so it was very unpleasant,’ says Hawes. ‘At one point somebody had written, “It’s clear that the other cast members do not like this actress.” But their characters are supposed to not like Alex Drake when she arrives. We’re acting! The cast were all coming over to my house for lunch and I had to say, “I have got a bit upset by all of this – you do like me, don’t you?”’

While she received encouraging letters from many women, as well as public support from Philip Glenister, who plays Hunt, most of the criticism came from men.

‘They didn’t like that Alex was coming in and shouting at Gene Hunt in a way they didn’t think was acceptable,’ she says. ‘I didn’t realise how tabloidy the show was either.

In the Mirror they have pictures of him [Hunt] with his head on the Prime Minister’s body – he can do no wrong. I wasn’t aware of that. Foolishly. Otherwise I never would have gone.’

If by ‘gone’ she means she never would have joined the show because of all the tabloid scrutiny, it has at least, she says, helped her to grow a thick skin. ‘Now I think it was probably one of the best things that can happen to me because nothing can ever get to me again,’ she says. ‘The worst thing that can happen, happened.’

And it’s Hawes who has had the last laugh: a third series of Ashes to Ashes has already been commissioned. Then, just as with Life on Mars, that will be that.

‘Matthew Graham and Ashley Pharoah [the creators of Ashes to Ashes] have always said it was a story that would last three series and then be wrapped up,’ she says.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:34 AM


India launches key spy satellite (BBC, 4/20/09)

India says it has successfully launched a spy satellite that will be able to track movement on its borders.

The Israeli-built Radar Imaging Satellite was launched from the space centre at Sriharikota in southern Andhra Pradesh state.

The satellite was carried on the Indian Space Research Organisation's PSLV-C12 rocket.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 AM


Obama to order $100 million in cuts (MIKE ALLEN, 4/20/09, Politico)

At the first Cabinet meeting of his presidency, President Obama on Monday will challenge the departments to collectively cut $100 million over the next three months, a senior administration official said.

The official said the exercise is “part of his commitment to go line by line through the budget to cut spending and reform government.”

My math is notoriously bad, but isn't that less than .3% of the federal budget? Is he intentionally mocking himself, or accidentally?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:24 AM


Redefining Capitalism After the Fall (RICHARD W. STEVENSON, 4/20/09, NY Times)

The economic philosophy that Mr. Obama developed during the presidential campaign drew from across the ideological spectrum even as it remained rooted on the center-left. As that philosophy has been tested in practice through his early months in office, the president has if anything become more comfortable with an occasionally intrusive government as a counterweight to market forces that are now so powerful and fast-moving that they cannot be counted on to be self-correcting when things go wrong. He regularly rebuts conservative criticism on that score by pointing out that it was George W. Bush, just before he left the White House, who put the government in the business of deciding which financial institutions would fail and which would be allowed to survive.

Yet if Mr. Obama’s position brings the United States full circle from Ronald Reagan’s nostrum that government is the problem, it also stresses continuity and a commitment to the most basic conservative tenets: the power of markets as an engine of innovation and prosperity, and the necessity of economic growth for improving incomes and living standards.

“There is a vibrancy to our economic model, a durability to our political model and a set of ideals that has sustained us through even the most difficult times,” Mr. Obama said on his recent trip to Europe when asked about the decline of the American version of capitalism.

The Right's ravings about how he's a "Socialist!" can't help but ring hollow given the UR's burning need to fit the institutions within which he finds himself.

April 19, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:05 PM


Egypt's Gamal Mubarak Aims to Underpin Growth (YAROSLAV TROFIMOV, 4/20/09, WSJ)

Egypt won't let the global downturn derail its free-market revisions, the ruling party's top policy maker, Gamal Mubarak, said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal.

"There is no way we can achieve our objectives without an economic-reform program that generates high levels of growth," said Mr. Mubarak, who is widely seen as a likely successor to his 80-year-old father, President Hosni Mubarak. [...]

"The crisis will be a reason to move faster on the reform, not to slow down," said Trade and Industry Minister Rachid Mohamed Rachid. This free-market spirit dates to 2002, when Gamal Mubarak became head of the policies committee of the ruling National Democratic Party. The graduate of the American University in Cairo quickly assembled a team of leading businesspeople and academics. They drafted an ambitious plan to lift Egypt's numerous restrictions on business. For the first time since Egypt's monarchy was overthrown by leftist officers in 1952, the country's cabinet included former businesspeople -- such as Mr. Rachid, a former senior executive at Unilever.

Since then, new legislation slashed import duties and cut the corporate tax rate from about 40% to 20% -- leading to a surge in overall tax revenues as the new tax code eliminated loopholes and opportunities for corruption. Large state companies, such as the Bank of Alexandria, were sold to private investors.

Braving sentiment against cooperation with Israel, the government established so-called Qualifying Industrial Zones -- areas where factories whose products use at least 10.5% of Israeli materials enjoy duty-free access to the U.S. These zones now export some $745 million in goods a year.

"What has changed is that we're moving from an economy which by all measures has been very much centrally driven, government-dominated in a big way -- to an economy which, while still in transition, is much more business friendly and more competitive," Mr. Mubarak said in the interview.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:00 PM


The Phone Call that Kept the Castro Brothers in Power for Decades (Don Bohning, 4/20/09, HNN)

A single 9:30 p.m. telephone call on April 16, 1961, forty-eight years ago this month, could well have assured what was to become a half-century rule of Cuba by Fidel and Raul Castro.

The call from McGeorge Bundy, special assistant to President John F. Kennedy, went to General Charles Cabell, deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency, who at the time was at CIA headquarters for Operation Zapata, more commonly known today as the Bay of Pigs.

The CIA organized and trained Cuban exile Brigade 2506 was to land on a Cuban beach at dawn the next morning, April 17, 1961, to begin the assault it was hoped would free Cuba from more than two years of Castro’s increasingly dictatorial and Communist-oriented rule.

As Cabell was to testify later, Bundy “notified me that we would not be permitted to launch air strikes the next morning until they could be conducted from a strip within the beachhead. Any further consultation regarding the matter should be with the Secretary of State.” (1) It was a decision that by many accounts - including members of the CIA task force who planned the operation - doomed it to failure. [...]

After hanging up with Bundy, Cabell said he quickly called Secretary of State Dean Rusk and asked if he could come to the State Department immediately to discuss the decision to revoke the D-Day air strikes. Rusk said yes. Cabell and Richard Bissell, the CIA’s head of clandestine operations, rushed to the State Department, arriving about 10:15 p.m., the night before the dawn assault at the Bay of Pigs on Cuba’s south coast, was to begin.

Their effort, according to Cabell, was to no avail. Rusk informed them “that political requirements at the present time were overriding. The main consideration involved the situation at the United Nations.”

There U.N. Ambassador Adlai Stevenson “insisted…that the air strikes would make it absolutely impossible for the U.S. position to be sustained. The Secretary stated that such a result was unacceptable.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:00 PM


Everton end United's quintuple bid (ESPN SoccerNet, April 19, 2009)

Tim Howard emerged an FA Cup spot-kick hero to wreck his old club's quintuple bid and send Everton to their first final since 1995 following a 4-2 penalty shootout win.

After a goalless and frankly rather tepid two hours, Howard saved a woeful penalty from Manchester United record signing Dimitar Berbatov and another from Rio Ferdinand to send the Toffeemen into ecstasy

...but with an American in goal Man U was doomeded.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:46 PM


'You've Got to Execute' (David Ignatius, April 19, 2009, Washington Post)

When President Obama finished announcing his Afghanistan-Pakistan policy on March 27, he turned to the advisers gathered behind him and said: "Okay, now you've got to execute."

That's a good rubric for the Obama administration as a whole, as it contemplates the whirlwind progress of the First Hundred Days. The president has launched a panoply of initiatives, domestic and foreign, and proposed trillions in new spending and financial rescue measures. If he were a juggler, you'd be applauding the dazzling display of energy -- and wondering if he can keep all the balls in the air.

...that jugglers are trained for what they do and use bowling pins. not babies, the Iranian people, the world economy, etc....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:42 PM


The Other Side of RemDawg: Jerry Remy comes into your living room all summer long with his wisecracks, smoker's laugh, and sharp baseball analysis. And you think you know this guy who rose from ordinary second baseman to Red Sox cult hero. You don't. (Neil Swidey | April 19, 2009, Boston Globe)

Remy grew up the son of a furniture-salesman father and a dance-teacher mother. His favorite haunts were the baseball field by the giant water tank near his house and the duckpin bowling alley in town. His bad grades got him kicked off the basketball team the one year he played, but his fire for baseball kept him from flunking out. When he wasn't on the field, he could usually be found with his buddies, sitting in a car parked under the sign outside the bowling alley on Route 138, smoking Marlboros and drinking cans of Bud. He was comfortable there, so his friends got to see the Remy who could crack everybody up. They'd laugh about their exploits, like the time Remy and his pal Henry Velozo took their girlfriends to a local amusement park. When they got back to the parking lot, they found Henry's Pontiac had a flat tire, which neither Jerry nor Henry knew how to fix. So the two of them headed back into the park, figuring a stranger would be more willing to change a tire for a couple of girls traveling alone. From the top of the giant slide, they watched as a random guy dutifully jacked up the car, and they chuckled at how perfectly their plan was working -- until the random guy got in the back seat and their girlfriends drove off with him.

He was the best player on his high school team -- speedy, acrobatic (the early dance lessons from his mom helped), and a strong hitter -- but at 5-foot-9, he wasn't exactly a top prospect for college scouts. After graduating from Somerset High in 1970, he went to Saint Leo College in Florida -- a world away for a kid who'd never been farther than Connecticut. After two weeks, he was told he didn't qualify academically and that he should spend two years at a Florida junior college. "No way," Remy said. "I'm going home." He'd been drafted by the Washington Senators, but just as a 19th-round afterthought, so that went nowhere. But he got another shot in January 1971, when the California Angels took him in the eighth round of the winter draft and offered him 500 bucks a month to play in the farm system. He quickly found himself overmatched. The Angels were going to release him until one coach intervened, saying, "The kid can run. Let's keep him around and teach him how to play." Still, it wasn't long before the Angels optioned him to a co-op team in Idaho. Everyone back in Somerset thought he had made it, but here he was, playing in oblivion. (In one of the league's run-down parks, they had to regularly interrupt games so a train could pass through the outfield.) He called his dad and told him he was homesick and embarrassed and coming back to Somerset.

"Just give it a couple of weeks," his father said.

So he did. And things improved. In 1975 he got called up to the bigs and hit .258, stole 34 bases, and even smacked his first career homer. A chastened Jim Perry, the aging Cy Young winner who surrendered the long ball to Remy, was traded the next day.

Still, that early experience forged in Remy an outlook that stayed with him his entire career: Work harder, because there will always be more talented people waiting to take your job. "I can never say I relaxed playing baseball in my whole career," he says. "If I had a bad day, I was miserable. If I had a good day, I felt like it wasn't going to last very long."

No one has seen this more up close than his wife, Phoebe. They met back in 1972, when he was selling men's clothing in Fall River during the off-season. Phoebe came on as Christmas help, as bubbly and outgoing as Jerry was reserved and introverted. Together, they represented the dominant demographics of the Fall River area: She was full-blooded Portuguese, he was three-quarters French Canadian, one-quarter Irish. He must have been smitten, because for their first date, they went Christmas shopping. Remy loathes shopping almost as much as public speaking. They married in 1974, when he was 22 and she was 20.

Over the years, Phoebe, who has straight light hair and a gym-toned build, learned to adjust to Jerry's mood swings. She stresses that he was never loud or abusive, but says that he was dour at home when things weren't going well on the field.

Remy is exceedingly private, but there's no pretense to him. When I ask Phoebe how it was living with him during his slumps, she laughs and hesitates. "Tell the truth," he says.

She recounts a story from when their oldest son was about 7 months old. Remy, who was struggling mightily at the plate, barked about the baby's crying. Phoebe erupted: "It's not our fault that you suck!" From then on, she says, "he learned to control it more."

Remy nods. "It goes back to the point that I was never at ease as a player," he says. "It goes back to being a kid from Somerset, being a low pick, being nothing really, then making it but having to fight every single day to stay there."

What's remarkable is how this guy who was as stiff as line-dried denim when he began in broadcasting has become so comfortable on the air. During games, he sounds like he's back with his buddies outside the bowling alley, swapping stories and downing Buds.

Phoebe says when people at a cash register or behind a deli counter find out who she's married to, they always say the same thing: "He's so funny! You must laugh all the time." She just smiles. If they only knew.

"They really think that silliness on the air translates to home," she says. "Not that he's miserable, but it's not that."

IN THE BROADCAST BOOTH at Fort Myers, Remy begins his methodical pregame routine of highlighting player stats and using the roll of tape he brings from home to post lineups on the glass wall beside his chair. His on-air perceptiveness is built on off-air preparation. Mike Narracci, his director, pops his head in. Every time a spring-training tour group had come by the booth, he tells Remy, the guide excitedly announced, "That's where Jerry Remy sits!" Narracci turns to play-by-play man Orsillo, whose crisp new NESN polo is the same shade of cobalt as his eyes. "I felt bad for you, Don, because they never mentioned your name." Orsillo, who had been calling the pre-season games with a parade of fill-in commentators, offers up a mock frown.

Leading up to that night's 7:05 start against the Yankees, a steady stream of autograph seekers appears before Remy. Through the booth's open window, they toss baseballs, T-shirts, sweat shirts, programs, and stuffed Wally dolls, which Remy quickly signs and tosses back. The fans range from white-haired retirees ("Maine loves you, Jerry!") to cap-wearing 9-year-old boys ("Thanks, RemDawg!") to heavyset middle-aged moms ("You always crack us up!").

During the game, Sox CEO Larry Lucchino stops by the booth. "Now that you're back," he tells Remy, "all's right in the universe."

Although this is the first time Remy and Orsillo have broadcasted a game together in more than five months, their camaraderie is on display all evening, whether or not the cameras are rolling. They genuinely like each other. Late in the game, when Remy spots Yankees pitcher Kei Igawa doing his warm-down jog in the outfield at a comically slow pace, that sparks a funny riff. Orsillo starts to crack up, but contains himself.

Part of the fun of the old Carol Burnett Show was watching Tim Conway deadpan something, and then waiting to see how long Harvey Korman could hold it together before dissolving into shoulder-shaking laughter. It's the same way with Remy and Orsillo. They're both pros who are careful to stay serious during tight games. But it's a long season of long games, many of them stinkers. The booth antics often begin during the late innings of games decided early.

Usually a Remy quip is the spark. Soon the camera will be trained on the booth, so everyone can watch as the pair struggle to regain their composure with the combined joy and shame of churchgoers suffering a giggling fit in the pews. What viewers don't hear are the comments the crew makes into the announcers' headsets, egging them on.

Remy credits his former play-by-play partner Sean McDonough with drawing out his personality on the air. McDonough even coined the RemDawg moniker, after Remy had repeatedly commended the "dirt dog" style of Sox players who weren't afraid to get their uniforms filthy. But McDonough's style leaned more on dry wit, and he seldom lost it on the air. Remy's laughing fits became more of a staple after Orsillo entered the booth.

Every regular viewer has a favorite example, like the time Remy mentioned an eclipse was coming, and Orsillo replied, "A lunar eclipse is when the sun crosses in front of the moon, right?" Remy waited a few beats before saying no. "We wouldn't be around here very long if that happened." As Orsillo began to convulse, Remy said, "I don't have a lot of schooling, but I'll tell you what -- oh my God -- even I knew [that]."

My favorite exchange happened in 2007, when the Sox were up 4-1 against the Royals in the top of the seventh. The camera zoomed in on a row of six college guys in the stands, who had all taken off their shirts on this cold night in Kansas City. The last guy was a bit doughier than the rest and had a chest and shoulders sheathed in hair.

Remy: "Now this guy over to the right here. He gotta do a little grooming."

Orsillo: "Manscaping?"

Remy: "That's kind of gross. My goodness. Get a razor out!"

Orsillo: "Some Carpet Fresh!"

Remy: "Acourse, he's warm tonight, though."

Viewers didn't know that the riff sprang from an earlier off-air exchange between them and Narracci. After the director had showed up with a shirt opened one too many buttons, exposing his own ample chest hair, Remy told him he needed to trim it. During the game, one of the cameramen knew he had struck gold when he spotted the swarthy, shirtless guy in the stands. Across the seventh inning, there was a rising soundtrack of Remy's smoker's laugh and Orsillo's muffled snorting that finally peaked when Remy, like a plastic surgeon giving patients a glimpse of their post-surgery look, used his white-pen "telestrator" to diagram where the kid needed to trim.

...when fans look forward to the blowouts as much as the nail-biters...:

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:34 PM


F.B.I. and States Vastly Expand DNA Databases (SOLOMON MOORE, 4/19/09, NY Times)

Until now, the federal government genetically tracked only convicts. But starting this month, the Federal Bureau of Investigation will join 15 states that collect DNA samples from those awaiting trial and will collect DNA from detained immigrants — the vanguard of a growing class of genetic registrants.

The F.B.I., with a DNA database of 6.7 million profiles, expects to accelerate its growth rate from 80,000 new entries a year to 1.2 million by 2012 — a 17-fold increase. F.B.I. officials say they expect DNA processing backlogs — which now stand at more than 500,000 cases — to increase.

Law enforcement officials say that expanding the DNA databanks to include legally innocent people will help solve more violent crimes. They point out that DNA has helped convict thousands of criminals and has exonerated more than 200 wrongfully convicted people.

But criminal justice experts cite Fourth Amendment privacy concerns and worry that the nation is becoming a genetic surveillance society.

And? Keep your DNA off of crime victims and there's no problem.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:12 AM


The Lawyer and The Caterpillar: Torture is a complicated business, and the real world is never as neat as the imagined one. (Michael Isikoff and Evan Thomas, 4/18/09, NEWSWEEK)

In "1984," George Orwell's classic novel on the evils of totalitarianism, the agents of Big Brother break down the will of resisters by throwing them in a dreaded torture chamber known as Room 101. The idea behind Room 101 is to expose interrogation subjects to whatever they fear most. The protagonist in the novel, Winston Smith, fears rats. Confronted with a cage full of rats when he enters Room 101, Smith breaks down and betrays his lover, Julia, as an enemy of the state.

In the real world of a democracy struggling to deal with the threat of terrorism, torture is a much more complicated business. After 9/11 the CIA was under relentless pressure to break terror suspects in time to head off a second attack. In March 2002, the CIA captured Abu Zubaydah, believed then to be a high-level Qaeda mastermind. Abu Zubaydah apparently feared insects. Someone at the CIA came up with the idea—right out of "1984," it would seem—of putting him in a small, dark box and letting an insect crawl on him. But since this was America, and not Orwell's fantasy police state, the CIA first had to get permission from a lawyer at the Department of Justice. Parsing statutes against torture, the lawyer (Jay Bybee, then chief of Justice's Office of Legal Counsel) ruled that Abu Zubaydah's interrogators could not tell the suspect that the insect was venomous because, under the law, prisoners could not be threatened with imminent death. However, Abu Zubaydah could be placed in a "confinement box" with a harmless insect as long as he was told nothing about it. The CIA had proposed using a caterpillar.

...is how fastidious the whole process was, in keeping with the liberal democratic tradition of finding ever more humane means of torture.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:59 AM


Generation Me: A new book says we're in a narcissism epidemic. Why you're not so special. (Raina Kelley, 4/18/09, NEWSWEEK)

Growing up, my literary heroines were those who, like me, struggled to be good: Jo from "Little Women," Harriet the spy, Laura Ingalls and Pippi Longstocking. A strong-willed (and loud) child, I craved examples of unruly knuckleheads tethered to a loving family that encouraged us to be our best selves despite our natural inclinations. Precocious but naive, I thought of myself as an ugly duckling—misunderstood in my youth but destined for a beauty and stature completely impossible for my loved ones to comprehend. I shudder to think what a monster I would have become in the modern child-rearing era. Gorged on a diet of grade inflation, constant praise and materialistic entitlement, I probably would have succumbed to a life of heedless self- indulgence. [...]

But no matter how you were raised, the handiest cure for narcissism used to be life. Whether through fate, circumstances or moral imperative, our culture kept hubris in check. Now, we encourage it. Pastors preach of a Jesus that wants us to be rich. The famously egocentric wide receiver Terrell Owens declares at a press conference that being labeled selfish is fine with him. Donald Trump names everything he owns after himself and calls his detractors "losers." We live in a world where everyone can be a star—if only on YouTube.

Were we not so narcissistic we'd recognize that life is too easy nowadays to teach many tough lessons. Just consider how comfortable the current "Second Great Depression" is. If you transported your great grandparents to today and showed them that you have it tough too they'd dope-slap you into next Wednesday.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:44 AM


Superman Santana is carrying the Mets (Ken Davidoff, April 18, 2009 , Newsday)

"That's what I'm here for," Santana said after the Mets edged Milwaukee, 1-0, in the ace's Citi Field debut. "I know every time I go out there, it's going to be very important. Every time, I'm out there trying to make something special. I know we have a long season to go, but somehow you have to set the table or get everything going."

Santana has a 2-1 record in his three 2009 starts. He won a 2-1 decision over the Reds, dropped a 2-1 game to the Marlins (after allowing two unearned runs and striking out 13), and won this one, despite minimal offensive support, by allowing five hits and no walks in seven innings. He struck out seven, and no Brewer advanced beyond first base.

If you attend a Santana start in a day game, you can be pretty confident you'll make your dinner reservation.

So during their brief spasm of "we can build from within, like the Sox"ism, the Yankees decided that Melky Cabrera and Ian Kennedy were too much to give up for him?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:03 AM


U.S. Weighs Changes in Strategy to Fight Pirates (JOHN W. MILLER and PETER SPIEGEL, 4/18/09, WSJ)

Some Pentagon officials now want to formulate policy to encourage more daring commando raids, according to U.S. military officials. They say a mix of special operations forces and conventional Navy assets at sea would be able to pinpoint pirate gangs on land and attack them once they move into water.

"Whatever happened to punitive expeditions?" says a senior military official, who is involved in discussions about Somali strategy. "That used to be part of what we did." The official contended there once was more of an appetite for such missions. President Bill Clinton in 1993 ordered the bombing of Iraq's intelligence headquarters in retaliation for an attempted assassination of former President George H.W. Bush, for example, and President Ronald Reagan attacked Libya in 1986 for its alleged involvement in the terrorist bombing of a West Berlin disco.

Except that they don't have a sovereign to attack, so the comparison is pointless. The change ought to be to treat them like al Qaeda in Western Pakistan and just use Predators wherever they're clustered.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:45 AM


A question for Democrats (Jeff Jacoby, April 19, 2009, Boston Globe)

ARE HUMAN RIGHTS still a Democratic priority?

To Democrats of a certain age, such a question might seem incomprehensible. After all, it was a Democrat, John F. Kennedy, whose inaugural address proclaimed "to friend and foe alike" that Americans would resist "the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed." It was another Democrat, Jimmy Carter, who made support for human rights an explicit foreign-policy concern, declaring at his inauguration: "Because we are free we can never be indifferent to the fate of freedom elsewhere." It was Senator Henry Jackson and Representative Charles Vanik - Democrats both - whose landmark Jackson-Vanik amendment helped win freedom for tens of thousands of Soviet dissidents and refuseniks.

But somewhere along the way, Democratic priorities seem to have changed.

...possibly care about the rights of colored peoples abroad?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:38 AM


Obama Endures Ortega Diatribe: Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega lashes out at a century of what he called terroristic U.S. aggression in Central America. (Major Garrett, 4/18/09, FOXNews.com)

President Obama endured a 50-minute diatribe from socialist Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega that lashed out at a century of what he called terroristic U.S. aggression in Central America and included a rambling denunciation of the U.S.-imposed isolation of Cuba's Communist government.

Obama sat mostly unmoved during the speech but at times jotted notes.

Did one of the notes say, "I'm not worthy of my office?"

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:27 AM


What police learned from Columbine (P. Solomon Banda, 4/19/09, ASSOCIATED PRESS )

After the tragedy, police across the country developed "active-shooter" training. It calls for responding officers to rush toward gunfire and step over bodies and bleeding victims, if necessary, to stop the gunman -- the active shooter -- first.

Sgt. A.J. DeAndrea, a patrol officer in the Denver suburb of Arvada, and now-retired sheriff's Sgt. Grant Whitus, two of the SWAT team members who searched Columbine High that day, now train police with the idea that a gunman, in a mass shooting, kills a person every 15 seconds.

"Based on what we had been through, we had decided that day that we would prepare, and that the lives lost at Columbine were not going to be in vain," said DeAndrea, team leader of the Jefferson County Regional SWAT.

Around the country, police say the strategy has saved lives time and again.

In North Carolina, active-shooter training became part of the state's law enforcement academy curriculum in 2001. Last month, a rampage at a Carthage, N.C., nursing home that killed a nurse and seven helpless patients was cut short when 25-year-old Officer Justin Garner entered the place alone and wounded the gunman with a single shot. Garner had undergone active-shooter training.

"Fifteen years ago, if I heard about what that officer in North Carolina did, I would have said 'What a fool, he violated every procedure that we knew about,'" said Steve Mitchell, program manager with the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies in Fairfax, Va. "It's been a complete turnaround."

April 18, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:06 PM


It May Be Time for the Fed to Go Negative (N. GREGORY MANKIW, 4/19/09, NY Times)

So why shouldn’t the Fed just keep cutting interest rates? Why not lower the target interest rate to, say, negative 3 percent?

At that interest rate, you could borrow and spend $100 and repay $97 next year. This opportunity would surely generate more borrowing and aggregate demand.

The problem with negative interest rates, however, is quickly apparent: nobody would lend on those terms. Rather than giving your money to a borrower who promises a negative return, it would be better to stick the cash in your mattress. Because holding money promises a return of exactly zero, lenders cannot offer less.

Unless, that is, we figure out a way to make holding money less attractive.

At one of my recent Harvard seminars, a graduate student proposed a clever scheme to do exactly that. (I will let the student remain anonymous. In case he ever wants to pursue a career as a central banker, having his name associated with this idea probably won’t help.)

Imagine that the Fed were to announce that, a year from today, it would pick a digit from zero to 9 out of a hat. All currency with a serial number ending in that digit would no longer be legal tender. Suddenly, the expected return to holding currency would become negative 10 percent.

That move would free the Fed to cut interest rates below zero. People would be delighted to lend money at negative 3 percent, since losing 3 percent is better than losing 10.

Of course, some people might decide that at those rates, they would rather spend the money — for example, by buying a new car. But because expanding aggregate demand is precisely the goal of the interest rate cut, such an incentive isn’t a flaw — it’s a benefit.

The idea of making money earn a negative return is not entirely new. In the late 19th century, the German economist Silvio Gesell argued for a tax on holding money. He was concerned that during times of financial stress, people hoard money rather than lend it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:03 PM


Visit msnbc.com for Breaking News, World News, and News about the Economy

Sure, he was humiliated, but at least he resisted the urge to bow...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:52 PM


Despite Major Plans, Obama Taking Softer Stands (DAVID M. HERSZENHORN and JACKIE CALMES, 4/19/09, NY Times)

President Obama is well known for bold proposals that have raised expectations, but his young administration has shown a tendency for compromise and caution, and even a willingness to capitulate on some of his early initiatives. [...]

“The thing we still don’t know about him is what he is willing to fight for,” said Leonard Burman, an economist at the Urban Institute and a former Treasury Department official in the Clinton administration. “The thing I worry about is that he likes giving good speeches, he likes the adulation and he likes to make people happy.”

But so far, he said, “It’s hard to think of a place where he’s taken a really hard position.”

...but that seems to be about it. And because everyone realizes this it renders him powerless.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:42 PM


Bacon Cinnamon Rolls (Mr. B, 09 September 2008, Bacon Today)

While grocery shopping the other day I picked up a tube of ready-to-cook cinnamon rolls and thought hey, I wonder how these would taste with bacon. As I read the back of the package I was reminded that the rolls are actually un-rolled when you remove them.

I unrolled the first pastry and the length of the dough reminded me of something. Could it be? Yes indeed. Serendipity. The unrolled pastry was nearly identical in size to a strip of bacon. This was going to be interesting.

After assembling all the bacon cinnamon rolls I popped them in the pre-heated oven at 425 degrees for about 15 minutes. I then pulled the rolls out of the oven and drizzled the icing upon them as directed.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:29 PM


Irrational Exuberance: a review of ANIMAL SPIRITS: How Human Psychology Drives the Economy, and Why It Matters for Global Capitalism by George A. Akerlof and Robert J. Shiller (LOUIS UCHITELLE, 4/19/09, NY Times Book Review))

Look around you, George A. Akerlof and Robert J. Shiller say. The second coming of the Great Depression is, like the original, a direct result of animal spirits. If only we had factored those turbulent emotions into economic theory, we might not be repeating the earlier tragedy.

Akerlof, a Nobel laureate, and Shiller, a good bet to become one, are prominent mainstream economists. They don’t deviate easily from orthodox theory, with its allegiance to the proposition that people are essentially rational, well informed and unemotional in the numerous transactions that shape the economy. But in “Animal Spirits,” they have deviated — and they have done so just as mainstream theory self-destructs.

There was nothing rational, well ­informed or unemotional about the behavior that has all but collapsed the economy. That leaves most of America’s economists without a believable framework for explaining how we got into this mess. Akerlof and Shiller are the first to try to rework economic theory for our times. The effort itself makes their book a milestone.

The recovery will come far too soon to break the faith in Homo Economicus.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:02 AM


Brian Cashman: The Bad Lieutenant: The GM of the New York Yankees may be the worst ever at the best job in the world. Which is why he’ll inevitably fail this year in his shameless attempt to buy a World Series. (Matt Taibbi, 4/16/09, Men's Journal)

Cashman managed to discover the one avenue through which limitless money and power under the current Major League Baseball rules can be a competitive disadvantage. He found that if you pack your roster from top to bottom with pathologically needy, egomaniacal, paranoid megamillionaires aged 30 and up, you can more or less permanently block the development of the choice, hungry, 25- to 30-year-old talent group that serves as the core of virtually all winning baseball teams.

What’s even more interesting is that after implementing this formula so successfully that the Yankees fell behind a Cape Cod League team called the Tampa Bay Rays last year, Cashman decided to double down on his strategy — opting to plug his team’s now-gaping holes by signing another $441 million in new megamillionaire free agents, with the bulk of that money going to the superstar trio of C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Mark Teixeira. With his shameless, blatant attempt to buy a World Series with a half-billion-dollar shopping spree at a time when the rest of the country is scrounging under the couch cushions for ramen money, Cashman has laid the foundation for 2009 to be maybe the most entertaining year for non–Yankees fans in the history of baseball. We are all trailing six car lengths behind, waiting for the pinstriped truck to jackknife and explode in a giant conflagration of scandals and finger-pointing. In an age when huge, irresponsible financial bets have brought Western civilization to the edge of collapse, Cashman’s Yankees are perfectly positioned to become an object lesson in everything that has gone wrong with American society in the past eight years or so.

Brian Cashman has kept his job in baseball over the years because he is masterfully good at just one particular thing: choosing sides in exploding Yankee scandals. Back in 1998, when he was elevated to general manager at age 30 (he joined the organization as an intern at 19), the assumption was that he would be there in title and that George Steinbrenner would be the guy making all the major decisions. Which sounds like a shitty deal for Cashman, except that, for the next 10 years or so, he could safely whisper to his buddies in the media that all the Yankees’ bad decisions were really made by the loony man above him. (Cashman has probably shoplifted a good two or three years of extra job security just by being one of the few people in the Insane Yankee Clown Posse to always feed the ravenous New York sports press.) He’s sort of like the Democratic Party in that he has managed to convince his fans that he was actually against deals he voted for/was in on from the beginning, and vice versa. Most Yankee fans believe Cashman didn’t really want to fire the revered Joe Torre and didn’t really want to sign Japanese special-needs student Kei Igawa and didn’t really want to acquire wall-puncher Kevin Brown or anger addict Randy Johnson or Jaret Wright or José Contreras or Jason Giambi or any of the other overpriced, underperforming free agents who soiled the hallowed grounds of Yankee Stadium over Cashman’s tenure.

The story we’re supposed to buy is that Cashman deep down inside is really a Theo Epstein–style GM who values internal player development and homegrown pitching (just like the Democrats deep down inside were against the war in Iraq) but just hasn’t been allowed to do his thing because Steinbrenner or his equally loony sons are always overreacting to losing spring training games and forcing Cash’s otherwise steady hand.

Cashman apologists would have the world believe that every time Yankee ownership sees David Ortiz hit a home run or James Shields pitch a complete game, this poor, unassuming, numbers-crunching GM gets an angry phone call from Steinbrenner’s Florida palace (in the public imagination, a massive palm-lined subtropical resort not unlike Pablo Escobar’s lavish Medellín spread) and is ordered to immediately go forth and buy a 10-figure free agent from Scott Boras to quiet the doddering Boss’s temporary attack of Player Envy. And right then and there Cashman’s sound, fiscally conservative 10-year plan to build around Austin Jackson, Phil Hughes, and Andrew Brackman (it was Ben Ford, Ryan Bradley, and Craig Dingman once upon a time) goes up in smoke.

His greater crime is revealed by the non-entity status of the once upon a timers. In the surprisingly fine Joe Torre book--actually a Tom Verducci book which is why it's so good--it is mentioned that the Yankees haven't developed a pitcher who contributed meaningful innings to the big league club for more than a stretch or two since Pettite and Rivera. And there are some staggering numbers on the total of pitchers they've drafted over that time and how few ever even made it to the majors. Cashman the money man can almost be forgiven his free-spending because he's trying to cover for the serial blunders of Cashman the talent evaluator.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:40 AM


Why Isn’t the Brain Green? (JON GERTNER, 4/19/09, NY Times Magazine)

Debates over why climate change isn’t higher on Americans’ list of priorities tend to center on the same culprits: the doubt-sowing remarks of climate-change skeptics, the poor communications skills of good scientists, the political system’s inability to address long-term challenges without a thunderous precipitating event, the tendency of science journalism to focus more on what is unknown (will oceans rise by two feet or by five?) than what is known and is durably frightening (the oceans are rising). By the time Weber was midway into her presentation, though, it occurred to me that some of these factors might not matter as much as I had thought. I began to wonder if we are just built to fail.

Columbia’s behavioral labs are located underground and consist of a windowless suite of bright, sparsely furnished rooms with whitewashed cinder-block walls and gray industrial carpet. Each lab has a common area with a small rectangular table; adjacent to the common area are several tiny offices equipped with Dell computers. Depending on the experiment, test subjects, who are usually paid around $15 to participate and who are culled largely from Columbia’s student body, can work on tests collaboratively at the table or individually in the private offices.

Each lab room is also equipped with a hidden camera and microphone. One afternoon in February, I sat in a small viewing room and watched, on a closed-circuit television monitor, a CRED experiment being conducted down the hall by Juliana Smith, a graduate student at Columbia. Three subjects were dealing with several quandaries. The first involved reaching a consensus on how to apply $5 billion worth of federal funds to wind-energy technologies. Should they spend it all on conventional wind turbines? Should they invest some (or all) of the money on an as-yet-unproven technology that would employ magnetic levitation to create a huge, long-lasting, superefficient wind-powered generator? After the group came to a consensus in each of the test segments, its members were asked to go into the offices and figure out their own individual decisions.

When I first heard about these particular experiments at CRED, I assumed they were meant to provide insight into our opinions about wind power. It turned out the researchers had little curiosity about what we think of wind power. Because CRED’s primary goal is to understand decision-making in situations of uncertainty, the wind-turbine question — should we spend money on building turbines now with a proven technology or should we finance technologies that might be more efficient someday? — was intriguing not for its content but for the way it revealed how our minds work. The familiar variables were all there: uncertainty, time, potential gains, potential losses.

For the researchers, it was crucial to understand precisely how group dynamics shaped decisions during the experiment. In Weber’s view, many important environmental choices (building codes, for instance, or vehicle purchases) are made by groups — households, companies, community boards and the like. And various experiments at CRED have established the ease of getting random individuals to cooperate; in one test, simply giving some subjects a colored sticker, a blue star, say, and telling them they were on the “blue-star team” increased group participation from 35 percent to 50 percent. (Just seating them together at a table increased participation rates to 75 percent.) “So cooperation is a goal that can be activated,” Weber told me one morning. Her point was that climate change can be easily viewed as a very large “commons dilemma” — a version, that is, of the textbook situation in which sheepherders have little incentive to act alone to preserve the grassy commons and as a result suffer collectively from overgrazing. The best way to avoid such failure is by collaborating more, not less. “We enjoy congregating; we need to know we are part of groups,” Weber said. “It gives us inherent pleasure to do this. And when we are reminded of the fact that we’re part of communities, then the community becomes sort of the decision-making unit. That’s how we make huge sacrifices, like in World War II.”

Which is why it was a mistake for W not to ask for a gas tax and similar reforms after 9-11, which would have incorporated us all into the WoT.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:37 AM


Refurbishing Normal (ROB WALKER, 4/19/09, NY Times)

Last year, The Journal of Industrial Ecology published a comprehensive analysis of the “consumption drivers of the Danish bathroom boom.” O.K., that sounds pretty esoteric. But the study’s authors, Maj-Britt Quitzau and Inge Ropke, were getting at a bigger idea that’s easy to relate to: How do consumers decide, in our relationship with material culture, what is “normal”? The authors documented how the ways in which some Western homeowners answered that question between the mid-1990s and mid-2000s had some negative ecological consequences.

Clearly our notions of “normal” change as a result of innovations or economic circumstances or even the vagaries of fashion. Quitzau and Ropke were looking at the way people in one country think about one room, but the pattern is familiar. A century ago, having a bathroom at all was “a sign of status,” they wrote. Gradually the bathroom became normal, as did more frequent showering and so on. And around the mid-1990s, a new wave of bathroom remodeling transformed a previously function-oriented and hygienic aesthetic into one of “identity formation.”

Consumers spent more and more time in the bathroom with a new array of personal-care products needing more space. Double sinks offered togetherness; elaborate spa tubs offered escape. Now a showroom of sorts, the bathroom required high-end materials. Additional bathrooms eliminated wait time; even television sets and radios popped up in what was becoming, for some, a “retreat.” Not surprisingly, the cumulative effect included using a lot more water and energy. Observers of the American remodeling business have seen similar trends. [...]

A tougher barrier may be that consumers simply dislike anything that feels like a step backward. “No one has ever said, ‘My water pressure is too high’ or ‘I want one sink instead of two,’ ” says Michael Strong of Brothers Strong, contractors in Houston.

...but the near incomparability of those two houses.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:34 AM


The Enemies Within (CHARLES M. BLOW, 4/18/09, NY Times)

A report issued last summer by former President Bush’s F.B.I. entitled “White Supremacist Recruitment of Military Personnel since 9/11” said that “military experience is found throughout the white supremacist extremist movement” and that these groups “have attempted to increase their recruitment of current and former U.S. military personnel.”

So, which soldiers are most vulnerable? According to the Homeland Security report, it would probably be those “facing significant challenges reintegrating into their communities.” This could be a large group because far too many soldiers come back from war broken men. According to a RAND study released on Friday, 300,000 veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan reported some sign of post-traumatic stress disorder or major depression. It said that only about half of those will seek help and only half of those seeking it will receive “minimally adequate” treatment.

These soldiers could prove fertile ground for men hoping to prey on their fear, loneliness and dispossession.

And those extremist leaders may be able to connect more easily with some of these soldiers because many were soldiers themselves. According to the F.B.I. report, “although individuals with military backgrounds constitute a small percentage of white supremacist extremists, they frequently occupy leadership roles.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:29 AM


Unlikely Singer Is YouTube Sensation (SARAH LYALL, 4/18/09, NY Times)

She has been watched by more than 20.2 million people (and counting) on YouTube, Twittered about by Demi and Ashton, praised by Patti LuPone, admired by the bloggerati, snapped by the paparazzi, swarmed by camera crews, interrogated by reporters and restyled, sort of, for American television.

But now Susan Boyle, the middle-aged church volunteer whose soaring performance of “I Dreamed a Dream” on a British talent show last week turned her into the world’s newest instant celebrity, at youtube.com/watch?v=9lp0IWv8QZY, is trying to catch her breath.

“All the attention has been quite an upheaval, and she is quite tired,” Miss Boyle’s brother, John, told reporters on Thursday outside her tiny pebbledash cottage in tiny, previously unexciting Blackburn, Scotland. “I have taken her away to let her have some peace and quiet before the next round.” [...]

Miss Boyle’s performance has been significant, too, in that it has unexpectedly provoked a debate about prejudice against the not so young and not so beautiful. The contradictions in the situation seem encapsulated by the fact that the third “Britain’s Got Talent” judge, Amanda Holden — who is lovely, 38, artfully put together and seemingly unable to move her face to register surprise — said that Miss Boyle should resist submitting to a Hollywood-style makeover.

“I won’t let Simon Cowell take her to his dentist, and I certainly won’t let her near his hairdresser,” she told The Daily Mirror. “The minute we turn her into a glamourpuss is when it’s spoilt.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:15 AM


Forgiveness and Irony: What makes the West strong (Roger Scruton, Winter 2009, City Journal)

[W]hat makes secular government legitimate?

That question is the starting point of Western political philosophy, the consensus among modern thinkers being that sovereignty and law are made legitimate by the consent of those who must obey them. They show this consent in two ways: by a real or implied “social contract,” whereby each person agrees with every other to the principles of government; and by a political process through which each person participates in the making and enacting of the law. The right and duty of participation is what we mean, or ought to mean, by “citizenship,” and the distinction between political and religious communities can be summed up in the view that political communities are composed of citizens and religious communities of subjects—of those who have “submitted.” If we want a simple definition of the West as it is today, the concept of citizenship is a good starting point. That is what millions of migrants are roaming the world in search of: an order that confers security and freedom in exchange for consent.

That is what people want; it does not, however, make them happy. Something is missing from a life based purely on consent and polite accommodation with your neighbors—something of which Muslims retain a powerful image through the words of the Koran. This missing thing goes by many names: sense, meaning, purpose, faith, brotherhood, submission. People need freedom; but they also need the goal for which they can renounce it. That is the thought contained in the word “Islam”: the willing submission, from which there is no return.

It goes without saying that the word’s connotations are different for Arabic speakers and for speakers of Turkish, Malay, or Bengali. Turks, who live under a secular law derived from the legal systems of post-Napoleonic Europe, are seldom disposed to think that, as Muslims, they must live in a state of continual submission to a divine law that governs all of social and political life. The 20 percent of Muslims who are Arabs, however, feel the mesmerizing rhythms of the Koran as an unbrookable current of compulsion and are apt to take “Islam” literally. For them, this particular act of submission may mean renouncing not only freedom but also the very idea of citizenship. It may involve retreating from the open dialogue on which the secular order depends into the “shade of the Koran,” as Sayyid Qutb put it, in a disturbing book that has inspired the Muslim Brotherhood ever since. Citizenship is precisely not a form of brotherhood, of the kind that follows from a shared act of heartfelt submission: it is a relation among strangers, a collective apartness, in which fulfillment and meaning are confined to the private sphere. To have created this form of renewable loneliness is the great achievement of Western civilization, and my way of describing it raises the question of whether it is worth defending and, if so, how.

My answer is yes, it is worth defending, but only if we recognize the truth that the present conflict with Islamism makes vivid to us: citizenship is not enough, and it will endure only if associated with meanings to which the rising generation can attach its hopes and its search for identity. There is no doubt that the secular order and the search for meaning coexisted quite happily when Christianity provided its benign support to both. But (especially in Europe) Christianity has retreated from public life and is now being driven from private life as well. For people of my generation, it seemed, for a while, as though we could rediscover meaning through culture. The artistic, musical, literary, and philosophical traditions of our civilization bore so many traces of a world-transforming significance that it would be enough—we thought—to pass those things on. Each new generation could then inherit by means of them the spiritual resources that it needed. But we reckoned without two all-important facts: first, the second law of thermodynamics, which tells us that without an injection of energy, all order decays; and second, the rise of what I call the “culture of repudiation,” as those appointed to inject that energy have become increasingly fatigued with the task and have eventually jettisoned the cultural baggage under whose weight they staggered.

This culture of repudiation has transmitted itself, through the media and the schools, across the spiritual terrain of Western civilization, leaving behind it a sense of emptiness and defeat, a sense that nothing is left to believe in or endorse, save only the freedom to believe. And a belief in the freedom to believe is neither a belief nor a freedom. It encourages hesitation in the place of conviction and timidity in the place of choice. It is hardly surprising that so many Muslims in our cities today regard the civilization surrounding them as doomed, even if it is a civilization that has granted them something that they may be unable to find where their own religion triumphs, which is a free, tolerant, and secular rule of law. For they were brought up in a world of certainties; around them, they encounter only doubts.

If repudiation of its past and its identity is all that Western civilization can offer, it cannot survive: it will give way to whatever future civilization can offer hope and consolation to the young and fulfill their deep-rooted human need for social membership. Citizenship, as I have described it, does not fulfill that need: and that is why so many Muslims reject it, seeking instead that consoling “brotherhood” (ikhwan) that has so often been the goal of Islamic revivals. But citizenship is an achievement that we cannot forgo if the modern world is to survive: we have built our prosperity on it, our peace and our stability, and—even if it does not provide happiness—it defines us. We cannot renounce it without ceasing to be.

What is needed is not to reject citizenship as the foundation of social order but to provide it with a heart. And in seeking that heart, we should turn away from the apologetic multiculturalism that has had such a ruinous effect on Western self-confidence and return to the gifts that we have received from our Judeo-Christian tradition.

What use to get the form right if you biff the substance?

April 17, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:24 AM


They Don't Make Populism in the U.S. Like They Used To (NAFTALI BENDAVID, 4/16/09, WSJ)

Since the financial crisis began, commentators have been tossing around the term "populism," saying it is responsible for anger about corporate bonuses, that politicians are caving in to it, that it endangers President Barack Obama's agenda.

A word that until recently was used for half-remembered political movements against the elite, like the campaigns of William Jennings Bryan, has been hauled out of storage, often paired with the word "rage." A recent Newsweek story was titled "The Thinking Man's Guide to Populist Rage" and featured a photo of a torch-wielding mob.

Yet, unlike the populism in the U.S. through the 1960s, this new brand has had remarkably few consequences in the political arena. Today's populism has prompted no large-scale protests in the U.S.

That isn't the case overseas. Close to one million French demonstrators on March 19 protested the government's handling of the economic crisis, and thousands blocked London streets on April 1 during a G-20 meeting, events that dwarfed any protests in the U.S.

All you have to do is consider how comfortable this putative recession has been to understand why no one's angry. It's got to be history's first full-employment Depression:

Series Id: LNS12300000
Seasonal Adjusted
Series title: (Seas) Employment-Population Ratio
Labor force status: Employment-population ratio
Type of data: Percent
Age: 16 years and over

In Surprise Move, Consumer Sentiment Shows Improvement (MICHAEL S. DERBY, 4/17/09, WSJ)

Consumer sentiment levels took an unexpected jump higher as of the middle of April.

The Reuters/University of Michigan preliminary consumer sentiment index for April came in at 61.9, after standing at 57.3 in March. It had been expected to come in at 57.5.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:21 AM


The Last Action Hero: How Jason Statham became the world's biggest B-movie star. (Jody Rosen, April 16, 2009, Slate)

Jason Statham's greatness announced itself early in his acting career—88 seconds into his motion picture debut, to be precise, in the opening sequence of Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels (1998). Statham plays Bacon, a small-time criminal peddling stolen merchandise ("Handmade in Italy, hand-stolen in Stepney") on a London street corner. Suddenly, the police show up; Bacon and his accomplice take flight; and then, rounding a rain-slickened corner with a suitcase under his arm, he nearly tips over, performing a ridiculous little shuffle-step at an almost-45-degree-angle to the pavement, his feet moving furiously but his forward motion momentarily stalled, like Wile E. Coyote in the instant before he realizes he has run out of clifftop road and is about to plummet 5,000 feet into a canyon. Whereupon Bacon regains his footing, vaults a barrier, and spills the entire contents of his suitcase as he races down a flight of stairs.

This is the essence of Statham-ism, a mix of bionic brute force and slapstick—Robocop meets Keystone Cops. It's a formula that has made Statham the biggest action hero going: Since 2001, Statham star vehicles have grossed $500 million worldwide.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:18 AM


There He Goes Again! Kmiec’s Latest Obamapology (Matthew Franck, 4/16/09, Moral Accountability)

In January, on the website of Commonweal, Kmiec could still write that, in light of the “forthright and objective” scientific basis for the Catholic church’s position on abortion, “is it not proper for the burden of evidence now to shift to those who, for religious or nonreligious reasons, believe unfettered abortion ought to be permitted?” Surely among “those who” believe such a thing was the new president whom Kmiec had supported in the campaign last year. But in January Kmiec could still hint that President Obama was a work in progress–that none of the attacks on him had “closed the mind of the new president.” Perhaps no one but Douglas Kmiec believed any such thing even then.

If he himself ever believed it, now it looks like even Kmiec has given that up as a forlorn hope. At Politico, he now writes, without a hint of criticism–indeed, in what can only be taken as praise–that “Obama’s views supporting abortion rights and embryonic stem cell research are pragmatic.” What’s that again? Was it “pragmatic” for state senator Obama to do everything in his power to kill the Illinois bill intended to protect the infants born alive during attempted late-term abortions? Was it “pragmatic” for presidential candidate Obama to promise a Planned Parenthood audience in 2007 that he would make it a top legislative priority in his administration–the first bill he wanted on his desk–to sign the Freedom of Choice Act, the most radically pro-abortion legislation ever introduced in the U.S. Congress? Was it “pragmatic” for President Obama to issue an executive order providing federal funds for embryo-destructive stem cell research, including funds that support human cloning so long as the cloned embryos are destroyed for research?

Pragmatists seek compromise, search for common ground with others, and regard few issues to be so freighted with principle as to present no splittable differences. True pragmatists are notoriously disinclined to see principles anywhere in politics. On the life issues, Barack Obama shows no signs of being a “pragmatist.” He’s got a principle, all right. But it is diametrically opposed to the inherent and equal dignity of every human being at every stage of life and in every condition. Obama’s principle appears to be that of Thrasymachus, the sophist in Plato’s Republic: justice is the interest of the stronger. The weak need not apply to him for succor–at least not if they are in utero or in vitro, and probably not if they are in any medical condition of radical dependence on others at later stages of life.

Immediately after this praise of Obama’s pragmatism, Kmiec writes that the president “knows [his position] is less than the absolute legal prohibition demanded by the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in America.” That is a marvel of understatement. Yes, inasmuch as zero percent prohibition is less than one hundred percent. But Kmiec’s transparent objective is to contrast the nice “pragmatist” with the extreme and hardhearted “absolutists” among the nation’s bishops.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:15 AM


Citigroup's first profit since 2007 makes it three in a row for US banks (Julia Kollewe, 17 April 2009, Guardian)

Citigroup today became the third US bank to report better-than-expected quarterly results, adding to hopes that the worst could be over in the global financial crisis. [...]

Earlier this week, JP Morgan Chase and Goldman Sachs also reported better-than-expected profits, which showed them in ruder financial health than many rivals. JP Morgan made a profit of $2.1bn in the first quarter, while Goldman Sachs enjoyed a 13% surge in quarterly profits to $1.66bn.

Both banks said they were ready to repay the emergency bailout money they received from the government last year.

Michael Holland of the eponymous firm in New York said about Citi's results: "It was slightly better than anticipated, but we probably underestimated how much government support would be a wind at their back."

While the House GOP tried to be the sea anchor that dragged them down.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:07 AM


'I used icepick to take Somali pirate hostage' says sailor (James Bone, 4/17/09, Times of London)

A crew member gave his first account yesterday of stabbing and capturing a Somali pirate leader on board the US-flagged Maersk Alabama during last week’s battle in the Indian Ocean.

A.T.M. “Zahid” Reza told reporters on his return to America that he had captured the pirate, “Abdul”, with Mike Perry, the ship’s chief engineer. [...]

Mr Reza, a slight man, said the chief engineer jumped the teenage pirate, and he piled on to help, stabbing the pirate in the hand with an icepick. “I saw the pirate lying on the floor and chief engineer on his back with the knife. He was having \ hard time to control him. I jumped over the pirate and stabbed him and the chief engineer also stabbed him in the back.”

Mr Reza added: “I hold him because chief engineer not strong enough to hold him. I tied his hands. Me and chief engineer Mike Perry tied his hands and tied his legs, then took him our hostage.” The crew negotiated the return of the pirate leader in return for the gang releasing Captain Phillips and leaving the ship in a lifeboat.

They ain't makin' pirates like they used to.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:16 AM


The Revolt That Ravaged An Empire: a review of THE SPARTACUS WAR by Barry Strauss (Tom Holland, April 5, 2009, Washington Post)

The few, fragmentary accounts of his life that do survive were composed by authors in whom the very thought of a slave rebellion inspired horror and contempt. From them we know the basic details of Spartacus's career: how he was brought from Thrace to fight in an arena in the shadow of Mt. Vesuvius; how he and about 70 other gladiators, armed only with kitchen utensils, broke out of their barracks; how for two years, from 73 to 71 B.C., his growing band of runaway slaves ravaged Italy; how at one point he led more than 100,000 men. And yet, despite the terror he inspired, there was a quality to Spartacus that even the Romans seem sneakingly to have admired. Whether it was overpowering his guards or putting consuls to flight or killing his horse to deprive himself of any means of flight when he finally faced defeat, he lived "fortissime" -- as a man of exceptional courage.

The very features that so appealed to Hollywood, however, make Spartacus a potentially treacherous subject for any classicist. Historians, no matter how seduced by the drama of his revolt, are more circumscribed than their script-writing counterparts by the moth-eaten character of our sources. The balance between accessibility and scholarship, imagination and responsibility, is not always an easy one to strike. In his previous book on the Trojan war, Barry Strauss, a professor of classics at Cornell, seemed so desperate not to bore readers that he occasionally floated free of scholarly moorings. "The Spartacus War," however, has all the excitement of a thriller but none of the poetic license. Whether it is the remains of a trench system in the toe of Italy or an abandoned silver ladle or the mention of one of Spartacus's guides in "one line in a lost history book," Strauss makes every last scrap of information count. This is particularly the case when it comes to descriptions of fighting. The account of what it meant to be a gladiator, of the tactics required to be victorious and of the agony of defeat is particularly adrenaline-fueled. Spartacus's death -- not on a cross, as in Stanley Kubrick's 1960 movie, but charging the Roman general who led the campaign against him -- comes as a worthy climax to an epic that never once relaxes its tension.

As to the broader question of what Spartacus was fighting for, whether a principled love of freedom or a bandit's love of plunder, Strauss hedges his bets. The goals of the rebellion, he concludes, were both noble and coarsely pragmatic: "honor, prowess, vengeance, loot, and even the favor of the gods." If so, then one of the reasons why Spartacus endured so long in the memories of the Romans must surely have been that he reminded them of themselves.

-REVIEW: Insurgency and Counterinsurgency in the First Century BC: A superb chronicle of the slave rebellion led by Spartacus. (John Wilson, 3/23/2009, Books & Culture)
It is conventional, when writing about novels or movies, to avoid giving away too many details of the plot, lest the special pleasure of surprise that comes with a first reading or viewing be lost. History is typically a different affair, but in some cases—The Spartacus War is one—the same considerations apply. Since I'm writing in part simply to urge you to read this book, I don't want to spoil the pleasure you'll take in following the narrative the first time through. From the outset, yes, you'll have a pretty good idea what the final outcome will be, but that plays out as a sense of tragic inevitability to be held in tension with the unfolding particulars, the twists and turns of contingency. Once you have finished that first reading, I expect that many of you will do as I did: start over at the beginning and read through again with the whole arc of the narrative in your head, pausing here and there to consider scenes you raced through the first time.

What will particularly strike you? We have a sense, built from countless impressions since childhood, of a certain implacability to life in the Roman world, whether—as here—in the waning days of the Republic or in the imperial era. So this isn't new, but it is still striking, and it's epitomized in the fate of the gladiators: men who are enslaved in order to provide entertainment for others, to wound and kill or be wounded and killed. Rebelling against this fate, Spartacus magnificently embodied a human impulse that can't be limited to any one place and time. [...]

Christian readers may be struck by the contrast between the charismatic figure of Spartacus the holy warrior and the charismatic rabbi, Jesus. Think too of those New Testament passages about slaves obeying their masters. And yet in America we honor the memory of the revolutionaries who rebelled against Great Britain (in circumstances far less burdensome than slaves had to contend with) and we revere as our greatest president the man who led the nation in a bloody war that was in part fought over the issue of slavery.

Here and at many other points, The Spartacus War pushes us to wrestle with moral complexity. It's a great triumph that Strauss does this in a book the style of which owes as much to the "democratic prose" of the hard-boiled detective novel (as Ross Macdonald put it) and its heirs as to any school of history-writing. The sentences in The Spartacus War are lean. The narrative moves fast. Strauss neither condescends to his readers nor panders to them with the desperation of many pop historians. He writes history for adults. The result—Macdonald would approve—is profoundly democratic.

The Spartacus War follows a rebel with a cause (JOHN STOEHR, 3/24/09, Creative Loafing)
The Spartacus-led insurgency significantly threatened Roman social and political order. Before Spartacus, Rome took comfort in assuming its slaves were too ethnically diverse to coalesce and mount a serious rebellion. After Spartacus, that assumption was abandoned, and gladiators were closely watched for the smallest signs of insubordination.

But something else nagged Romans long after Spartacus’ defeat. Not only did he unravel long-held assumptions about the character of slaves, but he also represented a failing of the state. Roman authors, Strauss says, later glorified Spartacus' legacy.

“Enemies were usually portrayed as monsters,” Strauss explains. “Take Hannibal. He was called untrustworthy, obsessed and bloodthirsty. But Spartacus was called patriotic.”

In other words, it was fine to enslave a German, but not a Roman, and certainly not a man like Spartacus who exemplified Roman ideals. That Spartacus was able to destablize the social and political order while undermining basic Roman tenets was among the most interesting discoveries Strauss made during his three years writing the book.

“I was personally struck by the degree to which later Roman writers presented him as a good guy,” Strauss says. “They respected him and blamed themselves for the war.”

The Spartacus War by Barry Strauss (The Sunday Times review by Mary Beard)
When Ronald Reagan addressed the British parliament in 1982, he used Spartacus, the Roman rebel slave, as a symbol of the fight against tyranny and totalitarianism. For Reagan, Spartacus stood for the struggle of western democracy against Soviet oppression and — a rather more unlikely comparison — the struggle of British freedom against Argentine control of the Falkland Islands (he was, to be fair, speaking just a few days after the battle of Goose Green).

This admiration for the runaway gladiator who, in his bid for freedom, managed to score a series of victories over the Roman legions before succumbing to their vastly superior firepower, is about the only thing Reagan ever shared with Karl Marx.

Especially delicious is that the novel and screenplay of the Kubrick version had been written by communists who'd, typically, failed to understand their own narrative. The amiable dunce understood it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:10 AM


A Military Solution to Piracy (E. Ralph Hostetter, 4/17/09, FrontPageMagazine.com)

Most of the Somali pirates range in age from 20 to 35 years and are principally from an area on the northeastern Horn of Africa known as Puntland. They are organized into at least five pirate gangs totaling about 1,000 men, according to the East African Seafarers Association.

Local fishermen, because of their expert sea experience, are considered the leaders. Other members are ex-militiamen, a spin-off from warriors of the local clan warlords who are used as muscle men, and a few are technical experts used as hi-tech GPS device operators. Recruiting volunteers for piracy is made easy inasmuch as 73% of the population has an income below $2 a day. [...]

With America's satellite capability of imaging areas of the world down to the size of a first-base plate, pirates could be tracked to their lairs. With the use of UAVs (Unmanned Air Vehicles) or drones, the pirate lairs could be attacked, dealing a major blow to the pirates’ operations. The Global Hawk UAV has the capability to hover in the area of the target at altitudes greater than 60,000 feet for periods of up to 24 hours.

With the skillful use of the UAV drone, guided by satellite imaging, the United States would have the capability surgically to remove the pirates' lairs around the Gulf of Aden and restore security to international shipping in that area.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:04 AM


Sarkozy pours scorn on Obama's 'inexperience' (Danny Brierley, 17.04.09, Evening Standard)

FRENCH president Nicolas Sarkozy has labelled his US counterpart Barack Obama "inexperienced and indecisive".

The unflattering assessment of Mr Obama's political abilities came during a sweeping broadside against a host of world leaders. Mr Sarkozy has also reportedly labelled the Spanish leader as dim, the German Chancellor as clinging on to France's coat tails and the head of the European Commission as irrelevant.

In the latest candid communiqués from the Elysée Palace, Mr Sarkozy was quoted as telling an all-party group of MPs that Mr Obama "was elected two months ago and had never run a ministry. There are a certain number of things on which he has no position. And he is not always up to standard on decision making and efficiency".

...given that he's never run anything but thought he could govern America effectively.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:58 AM


Brave New Barbarism (George Neumayr, 4.17.09, American Spectator)

Modern liberals measure "progress" not by the unfolding fulfillment of the natural moral law but by its elimination. Consequently, most of what is labeled "progress" is basically just regress, a return, under a glossier guise, to the practices of antiquity and pre-Christian paganism.

Pagans stuck the inconvenient elderly on snow drifts; moderns dehydrate them to death in hospitals. Pagans left unwanted babies to die on hilltops; moderns bury them in bins behind Planned Parenthood clinics. Pagans attended orgies, moderns attend "gay weddings."

In its deepening moral squalor, in its raw defiance of reality as God made it, the Brave New World is as barbaric as the old one.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:43 AM


Britain's Got Talent: profile of 'singing sensation' Susan Boyle (Daily Telegraph, 4/17/09)

Ms Boyle, 47, is unemployed and as a devout Catholic, spends much of her time as a church volunteer.

She shares her pebbled-dashed semi with her cat and admits she has never been kissed.

After spending years caring for her widowed mother Bridget, she said she found the courage to appear on the show as a tribute to her mother who died two years ago.

On last weekend's show the audience sniggered and judges raised eyebrows as she told them she dreamt of becoming a singer as successful as Elaine Paige.

But when she started to sing the crowd rose to their feet and the judges were stunned.

She is now the bookies' favourite to win top prize on the show to beat 75,000 other hopefuls.

Millions of people have since viewed the clip of her performance on YouTube, making her an overnight internet phenomenon.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:29 AM


And That Happened... has quickly become the most enjoyable read of most days. Although, Mr. Calcaterra has, obviously, forgotten the polish on Cleon Jones's shoes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:24 AM


And Spengler is ... (Spengler , 4/18/09, Asia Times)

As in the great extinction of the tribes in late antiquity, individuals might save themselves from the incurable necrosis of their own ethnicity through adoption into the eternal people, that is, Israel. The great German-Jewish theologian and student of the existential angst of dying nations, Franz Rosenzweig, had commanded undivided attention during the 1990s, and I had a pair of essays about him for the Jewish-Christian Relations website. Rosenzweig's theology, it occurred to me, had broader applications.

The end of the old ethnicities, I believed, would dominate the cultural and strategic agenda of the next several decades. Great countries were failing of their will to live, and it was easy to imagine a world in which Japanese, German, Italian and Russian would turn into dying languages only a century hence. Modernity taxed the Muslim world even more severely, although the results sometimes were less obvious.

The 300 or so essays that I have published in this space since 1999 all proceeded from the theme formulated by Rosenzweig: the mortality of nations and its causes, Western secularism, Asian anomie, and unadaptable Islam.

Why raise these issues under a pseudonym? There is a simple answer, and a less simple one. To inform a culture that it is going to die does not necessarily win friends, and what I needed to say would be hurtful to many readers. I needed to tell the Europeans that their post-national, secular dystopia was a death-trap whence no-one would get out alive.

I needed to tell the Muslims that nothing would alleviate the unbearable sense of humiliation and loss that globalization inflicted on a civilization that once had pretensions to world dominance. I needed to tell Asians that materialism leads only to despair. And I needed to tell the Americans that their smugness would be their undoing.

In this world of accelerated mortality, in which the prospect of national extinction hung visibly over most of the peoples of the world, Jew-hatred was stripped of its mask, and revealed as the jealousy of the merely undead toward living Israel. And it was not hard to show that the remnants of the tribal world lurking under the cover of Islam were not living, but only undead, incapable of withstanding the onslaught of modernity, throwing a tantrum against their inevitable end.

I have been an equal-opportunity offender, with no natural constituency. My academic training, strewn over two doctoral programs, was in music theory and German, as well as economics. I have have published a number of peer-reviewed papers on philosophy, music and mathematics in the Renaissance. But I came to believe that there are things even more important than the high art of the West and its most characteristic endeavor, classical music, the passion and consolation of my youth. Western classical music expresses goal-oriented motion, a teleology, as it were - but where did humankind learn of teleology? I no longer quite belonged with my friends and colleagues, the artists.

G K Chesterton said that if you don't believe in God, you'll believe in anything, and I was living proof of that as a young man, wandering in the fever-swamps of left-wing politics. I found my way thanks to the first Ronald Reagan administration. The righting of America after it nearly capsized during the dark years of Jimmy Carter was a defining experience for me. I owe much to several mentors, starting with Dr Norman A. Bailey, special assistant to President Reagan and director of plans at the National Security Council from 1981-1984. My political education began in his lair at the old Executive Office Building in 1981, when he explained to me that the US would destroy the Soviet Empire by the end of the 1980s. I thought him a dangerous lunatic, and immediately signed on.

I worked for Bailey's consulting firm after he left government, simultaneously pursuing a doctorate (never quite finished) in music theory. I owe most of all to the music theorists in the school of Heinrich Schenker with whom I studied in the doctoral program at City University.

Another mentor was Professor Robert Mundell, the creator of supply-side economics, among his other contributions. As an economist for the supply-side consulting firm Polyconomics in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I had dozens of conversations with Mundell, who won the Nobel Prize in 1999. I can't claim to be a Mundell student, but he graciously allowed me to acknowledge his help in a 1994 article I published in Journal of Applied Corporate Finance. What I gleaned from Mundell allowed me to begin a successful career on Wall Street at an age when most of its denizens already are over the hill.

By the late 1990s, I no longer believed that solving problems of economic stability and growth was sufficient to resolve problems that manifested themselves in economic form. Working in the inside of the financial world, ultimately as a member of the executive committee for fixed income of America's largest bank, I saw how easy it was to prejudice the efficiency of markets and to introduce distortions that eventually would have awful consequences.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:53 AM


Georgetown Says It Covered Over Name of Jesus to Comply With White House Request (Edwin Mora, 4/15/09, CNSNews.com)

Georgetown University says it covered over the monogram “IHS”--symbolizing the name of Jesus Christ—because it was inscribed on a pediment on the stage where President Obama spoke at the university on Tuesday and the White House had asked Georgetown to cover up all signs and symbols there.

April 16, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:04 PM


Madden's legend in NFL unmatched (Peter King, 4/16/09, Sports Illustrated)

Madden's legacy is enormous. When the Hall of Fame voters (I am one) selected him to enshrinement two years ago, I remember thinking how hard it was to pigeonhole Madden's impact on the game. He could go in on his coaching career alone; his 10-year record, with a Super Bowl victory, will survive as one of the best of all-time. Who wins 76 percent of the games he coaches during the regular season? No one. Not Lombardi, not Walsh, not Belichick, not Noll.

Madden's a Hall of Famer on his post-career impact alone, I believe. He'll not only go down as the best colorman of all time, but I think his video game is responsible for making kids who might have turned to soccer or skateboarding turn into football fans. Madden didn't invent the game, but his shtick and his persona helped make it the most popular game in America.

In our lifetime, who has done three things at an iconic level? I can't think of another person alive, other than Madden, who has.

Madden’s Still In The Game (Burt Helm, April 16, 2009, Business Week)
In a statement, EA Sports head Peter Moore says: “John’s a true sports icon who has made an indelible impact on the sport of football which will be felt forever. His prolific coaching and broadcasting careers, as well as his distinct role in shaping the EA SPORTS football experience have redefined how multiple generations have come to know and love the sport with unrivaled passion. We’re excited to see his legacy live on in the 21st year of Madden NFL football, and well beyond. It’s been a privilege for EA SPORTS to have had the strong relationship we’ve had with John for more than two decades and one that will continue into the future.”

In twenty years, the Madden franchise has sold more than 70 million copies, making it the all-time best selling video game franchise in North America.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:29 AM


John Madden retires from broadcasting:
Hall of Fame coach and most honored broadcaster in history says it's time (NBC Sports, 4/16/09)

Madden issued the following statement today:

"It’s time. I’m 73 years old. My 50th wedding anniversary is this fall. I have two great sons and their families and my five grandchildren are at an age now when they know when I’m home and, more importantly, when I’m not…

It’s been such a great ride… the NFL has been my life for more than 40 years, it has been my passion – it still is. I appreciate all of the people who are and were such an important part of the most enjoyable, most fun anyone could have… that great life with the teams, the players, the coaches, the owners, the League… my broadcasting partners Pat and Al… the production people and the fans …is still great… it’s still fun and that’s what it makes it hard and that’s why it took me a few months to make a decision.

I still love every part of it – the travel, the practices, the game film, the games, seeing old friends and meeting new people… but I know this is the right time."

...is a function of just two men: John Madden and Hank Stram. Baseball has had so many great announcers you can hardly settle on a top 10. Football has only ever had two that mattered.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:11 AM


Gorging the Beast (GAIL COLLINS, 4/16/09, NY Times)

[T]here’s one strain to the well-orchestrated chorus of tea party complaints that does seem to have hit a chord. It’s the worry that President Obama is trying to do too much at once, spending too much money without making the tough decisions about how to pay for it all.

Some conservatives, including my soon-to-be-colleague, Ross Douthat, have suggested that the president is doing a reverse version of Starve the Beast. That was, you will remember, the Republican theory — brilliant except for its utter wrongness — that if you cut taxes enough, the lack of revenue would force Congress to reduce the size of government.

So is the White House trying to spend Congress into a tax-hike corner? Gorge the Beast? Leave it so stuffed with new programs that it just sits in front of the television munching on entitlements? Taxes, in this metaphor, would have to be the equivalent of a good fitness regimen, and we all know how much the Obamaites love their ellipticals.

...just before voters rode them out of town on a rail.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:08 AM


Finding New Facets in a Treasury of Old Diamonds (NATE CHINEN, 4/16/09, NY Times)

The Blue Note 7, appearing through Sunday night at Birdland, upholds an extremely clear agenda with crisp results. Assembled as a tie-in to the 70th anniversary of Blue Note Records, the group has an album, “Mosaic,” featuring new versions of classic tunes from the label’s catalog. And this week’s run concludes a tour that began at the start of this year, hitting 50 cities across the country. There’s reason to trust that the ensemble — a coalition of bandleaders, almost to a man — has established its own sound and footing.

That’s largely true, judging by its animated late set on Tuesday. Beginning and ending strong, with just a momentary lull in between, the Blue Note 7 fulfilled its mandate with precision and more than a whiff of style. There were good, bracing solos all around, especially by the trumpeter Nicholas Payton and the tenor saxophonist Ravi Coltrane. The rhythm section, led by the pianist Bill Charlap, worked impeccably.

Still, there was a hint of creative constraint to the band’s output, which may have had little to do with the musicians themselves.

...respect for the material.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:05 AM


Recipe: Baked Eggs in Ham Cups (Piitsburgh Post-Gazette, April 16, 2009)

...that bars ought to serve beer in ham cups.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:02 AM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:35 AM


Thank you for sending me an angel (Rachel Cooke, 16 April 2009, New Statesman)

When you’re a child, you can creep into books and hide there. When you’re an adult, your shopping list keeps inviting itself in – or the row you had with that woman on the bus. This is why I loved Skellig (19 April, 3.55pm), adapted from the children’s novel by David Almond. It wasn’t exactly that I got wholly lost in it, but it did remind me very strongly of what it feels like when that happens. So, I can only assume that, for any child, it must have been bliss.

It was so beautifully done. Skellig, a strange, ossified man with wings whom a little boy called Michael finds in a derelict shed, is an angel, although this is never actually spelled out. He can fly and perform miracles. Making this kind of stuff work in a child’s head is relatively easy if you are a good writer, and Almond is a very good writer. But making it work on screen is bloody difficult unless you’ve an awful lot of cash to splash: creaky CGI, and your audience will just titter (the awfulness of a distant BBC production of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe haunts me still; Aslan looked like he’d walked straight out of the Hamleys soft toy department).

Happily, Sky is investing heavily in original drama for its high-definition channel, so Skellig’s wings were a marvel – not attached, so much as grown. The scene in which Michael and his friend Mina washed his mangy old feathers with soapy water was so vividly real, that when he finally flew, something good happened to the pit of your stomach: mine flipped over.

It's up at The Box

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:17 AM


Clinton at home, Bush abroad (Reihan Salam, 15th April 2009, The Spectator)

On foreign policy, Obama came to office with another clever idea, which was strikingly similar to one of Bush’s pre-presidential mantras: he would bring humility back. One of his first gambits was a reorientation of American priorities in Afghanistan and Pakistan — a ‘lowering of sights’, a step away from serious state-building efforts in favour of a minimalist focus on destroying al-Qa’eda. As Steve Coll, author of Ghost Wars and The Bin Ladens, has argued, this rather abstract notion ran into a straightforward problem, namely that a stable Afghanistan and a stable Pakistan are essential to achieving even the most minimal objectives in the region. As President Bush discovered, and as President Clinton discovered before him, state-building was not in fact optional. Fortunately, the White House seems to have realised this quickly, and Obama’s foreign policy performance has been fairly encouraging. But it is only encouraging insofar as it represents a sensible continuation of President Bush’s post-surge shift in approach to the war on terrorism, a term that has, of course, been abandoned in favour of something more palatable.

Two months in, the Obama presidency looks like a marriage of President Clinton’s domestic policy gimmickry with President Bush’s foreign policy, wrapped together with a rhetorical flourish. This is hardly the worst imaginable outcome. Indeed, it might well be better than the available alternatives. But somehow Obama’s America doesn’t feel like a New Jerusalem.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:23 AM


Napolitano defends report on right-wing extremist groups (CNN, 4/15/09)

Though the nine-page report said it had "no specific information that domestic right-wing terrorists are currently planning acts of violence," it said real-estate foreclosures, unemployment and tight credit "could create a fertile recruiting environment for right-wing extremists and even result in confrontations between such groups and government authorities similar to those in the past."

The report compared the current climate with that of the 1990s, saying a recession, criticism over outsourcing of jobs and a perceived threat to U.S. power at that time fueled a resurgence of right-wing extremism.

However, it said, "Despite similarities to the climate of the 1990s, the threat posed by lone wolves and small terrorist cells is more pronounced than in past years."

It warned that the groups may use proposed restrictions on firearms and the debate on immigration as recruiting tools, and said the groups may try to reach out to veterans returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"The willingness of a small percentage of military personnel to join extremist groups during the 1990s because they were disgruntled, disillusioned or suffering from the psychological effects of war is being replicated today," the report said. It noted that Timothy McVeigh, the bomber of the Oklahoma City federal building in 1995, was a military veteran.

Fun to hear the whining come from exactly the same folks who, quite correctly, consider such profiling a useful tool against Islamic terrorists.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:08 AM


US retreats from yuan manipulation claims (Krishna Guha and Alan Beattie, April 16 2009, Financial Times)

The Obama administration on Wednesday rowed back from claims that China is manipulating its currency, declining to cite Beijing in a closely watched report to Congress.

The move avoids a confrontation with Beijing at a moment when world leaders are trying to present a united front against the economic crisis. [...]

Analysts said the decision not to cite China...represented a retreat by President Barack Obama – who suggested China was a currency manipulator on the campaign trail – and by Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, who reiterated the charge on January 22 during his confirmation process.

April 15, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:42 PM


Bacon: the Other White Heat (You know bacon is delicious, but did you know it contains enough energy to melt metal? (Theodore Gray, 04.15.2009, Popular Science)

I recently committed myself to the goal, before the weekend was out, of creating a device entirely from bacon and using it to cut a steel pan in half. My initial attempts were failures, but I knew success was within reach when I was able to ignite and melt the pan using seven beef sticks and a cucumber.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:41 PM


The scent of pork is a sign of spring (Anna Olson, 4/15/09, National Post)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:38 PM


A Devastating Quiet (DOUG GLANVILLE, 4/15/09, NY Times)

To know Harry was to know baseball in all its wonder, grace and frailty. Our plane rides traversing the United States were anchored by Harry’s seat in the back section, where he could always be found weaving a story or two about the 1977 season or Mike Schmidt’s race to home run number 500. His voice mesmerized you behind the lingering smoke from his cigar.

An airplane chartered to a major league baseball team often has a specific seating chart. People cannot just sit anywhere. It depends on seniority, rank, job description, sobriety and maybe even a twist of good luck. The back of the team plane was invariably the den of experience, each seat holding years of wisdom. But it was for the players only, a safe haven where censorship had no place.

Nevertheless, Harry’s seating assignment was no mistake. In a sense, he was one of the players. He was our expression; he conveyed everything we wished we could show about those moments on the field, but that our bravado wouldn’t allow us to show. He intuitively translated every emotion, making it real and accessible to those who were not the ones rounding third on the way to an inside-the-park home run, or spraying champagne after clinching a division title.

But then again, Harry was the people’s voice, connecting everyone to everything in a game he loved unabashedly. For rookies and veterans, for bat boys and the PR department, he always had time — he always had a story to tell to make sure you didn’t forget what a gift it is to live around the game of baseball.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:26 PM


GOP back to wooing Hispanics (JOAN VENNOCHI, 4/15/09, globe.com)

According to TheHill.com, a congressional newspaper that publishes when Congress is in session, ''Romney believes that one way to attract more minorities to the GOP is to pass immigration reform before the next election, saying the issue becomes demagogued by both parties on the campaign trail.'' The article also quotes Romney as saying, ``We have a natural affinity with Hispanic-American voters, Asian-American voters.''

This could be extreme political repositioning, even for Romney.

As governor of a blue state, he once said he favored a sensible path to citizenship. Then came the 2008 presidential campaign. During primary season, Romney hammered rivals like John McCain, Rudy Giuliani and Mike Huckabee for being soft on illegal immigrants. As a national candidate, he embraced a ship-them-back-home, tough-guy approach, even after it was reported that he employed a landscaping company that relied on illegal Guatemalan immigrants to care for his own lawn. When U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado -- who made a tough stand on illegal immigrants the centerpiece of his presidential campaign -- dropped out of the race, he endorsed Romney.

And both were non-starters.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:27 AM


'Spengler' unwittingly outs himself as David P. Goldman (Philip Weiss, 3/04/09, Mondoweiss)

Yesterday Goldman self-identified as Spengler. Mark sent me the following link to a smart article by Goldman (he's smart about economics). First click on the main link, "First Things..." The byline is David Goldman. And then click on the "Cached" button. When you click on "Cached," the byline is Spengler.

First Things » Blog Archive » What should conservatives do about ...

What should conservatives do about Obamanomics? Posted by Spengler on March 3, 2009, 11:37 AM ... First Things 2006-2007. All Rights Reserved. (x)


Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:17 AM


Sex Reversal (William Saletan, April 15, 2009, Slate)

Sixteen million girls are missing in China. And now we know what happened to them: They were aborted because they weren't boys.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:14 AM


Zionism for Christians (David Shushon, June/July 2008, First Things)

Think of it this way: Ultimately, Jews and Christians must remain a mystery to each other. Christians cannot help but ­recognize that Providence has sustained the Jews through their long exile, yet they cannot explain why Jews do not recognize Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of their prophecy. Jews cannot help but recognize that Christians are inspired by the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, yet they cannot explain Christian belief in the divinity of Jesus, except to dismiss it as a “world-historical fiction” (in Franz Rosenzweig’s words).

Nonetheless, their respective concepts of what it means to be the People of God are mutually supportive. For Christians, the Jewish nation stands as a living reproach to Gentile nations: They reject Christian universality by desiring election in their own flesh. For the Jews, Christianity signifies that only as individuals can Gentiles enter the people of God, and that no other ethnicity may covet their election in the flesh. Jews ­cannot affirm salvation through Christ, and Christians cannot affirm salvation without Christ. But the ­mystery of enduring Jewish election negates the ethnocentrism that poses an existential threat to both Judaism and Christianity. Jews have little to fear from Christian universality; the mortal danger to their existence stems rather from the jealousy of Gentile nations who covet election.

This reading of Israel differs from the secular Zionism of Theodor Herzl, who believed that the need for a Jewish state arose from the hostility of Christian nations to Jewish communities. Just the opposite is true today: Israel’s prospects for survival against neighbors committed to her destruction depends in part on the Christian sympathy for the ­Jewish people, whether they live in Israel or in the Diaspora. The most Christian among the industrial nations, the United States, evinces the greatest sympathy for Israel as well as the greatest security for its own Jewish population.

Moreover, this reading differs just as strongly from Franz Rosenzweig’s vision of an encysted, quietist Jewish community existing as an inspiration to the Gentile world. As it happens, the Catholic Church has sometimes drawn close to Rosenzweig’s view. No Catholic leader today doubts that the continued ­existence of the Jewish people and the observance of the Jewish religion is a blessing for Christians. But the foundation of the State of Israel—a state with a ­specifically Jewish and to some extent theocratic ­character—presents a problem of a different order.

Officially, the Catholic Church instructs, “The ­existence of the State of Israel and its political options should be envisaged not in a perspective which is in itself religious, but in their reference to the common principles of international law,” in the formula given in “Notes on the Correct Way to Present the Jews and Judaism in Preaching and Catechesis in the Roman Catholic Church” (1985). Yet the next ­sentence of the 1985 document quotes John Paul II: “The permanence of Israel (while so many ancient peoples have disappeared without trace) is a historic fact and a sign to be interpreted within God’s design. . . . It remains a chosen people, ‘the pure olive on which were grafted the branches of the wild olive which are the gentiles.’”

The problem from the vantage point of the Church can be put this way: Jewish life is not necessarily identical with the existence of the State of Israel. Catholics do not have to live under a Catholic state in order to sustain their life as a People of God. At the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church renounced the exercise of secular power. Why should Jewish religious life require the existence of a Jewish state when Christian life does not? Many practical concerns, including the safety of Middle Eastern Christians, the interest of the Church in the holy places of Jerusalem, and the issue of war and peace in the region, have colored the Catholic attitude toward the State of Israel, but the theological concern ultimately overrides the temporal issues.

The State of Israel was founded with at least some theocratic elements—at exactly a point in history when the Catholic Church was renouncing theocracy and withdrawing from secular governance. Catholics, along with many Protestant and Orthodox Christians, view with disquiet the revival of a religiously defined political state just when religiously defined states were disappearing as a factor in Christian life. Although the theocratic elements in Israeli law are ad hoc rather than systemic, they are nonetheless integral to Israel’s character (the Right of Return for Jews, for example).

So why should Christians renounce a Christian theocracy while embracing a Jewish theocracy? The answer flows from the distinction between the People of God of the flesh and the People of God in the Spirit.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:02 AM


The Rosenbergs, Always (Theodore Dalrymple, 4/15/09, City Journal)

A recent story in the Guardian confirmed my suspicion of a lingering liberal indulgence toward the former Soviet Union. Headlined ORPHANED BY THE STATE, it consisted of an interview with Robert Rosenberg, the younger son of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, executed by electric chair in 1953 for spying on behalf of the Soviet Union.

Robert was then six, and surely anyone with the most minimal human feeling must sympathize deeply with his account of his bewilderment at the time. The interviewer, Joanna Moorhead, tells us that she had tears in her eyes as he related the story, thereby imparting an element of kitsch to the proceedings. [...]

At the end of the interview he says that his parents gave him and his brother Michael “a life in which we can stand up and be ourselves and do the things we believe in.” Earlier, he had drawn a parallel between what his parents did and other people who, even today, commit acts of civil disobedience to further a cause they believe in.

It’s Moorhead’s neglecting to ask Meeropol what he thought of his parents’ cause that makes me suspect her of secret sympathy with the Soviet Union. For suppose that the subject of the interview had been the orphan of a couple executed for spying for the Nazis: would the interviewer then have let the question of what they believed in go without comment?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:57 AM


How to Solve the Pirate Problem: Shoot them (Jonah Goldberg, 4/15/09, National Review)

Well, that was simple. Shoot the pirates, problem solved.

Okay, not the problem of piracy per se. But the problem of these specific pirates off the coast of Somalia: taken care of. And, if more pirates were shot, there would be fewer pirates. Unlike, say, jihadist terrorists, pirates are in it for the money. Raise the cost of being a pirate — in denominations of pirate blood — and you’ll lower the supply of pirates. That’s how governments — good and bad — have dealt with piracy for thousands of years.

...that opportunity has arisen because there have been pirates for thousands of years. It doesn't solve the problem, just deals with it without all this hysterical fuss.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:55 AM

Bacon and Avocado Sandwiches (Gourmet, April 2004)

* 6 bacon slices
* 5 tablespoons mayonnaise
* 3 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
* 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
* 1 firm-ripe California avocado (8 to 10 ounces)
* 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
* 4 slices whole-grain bread, toasted
* 1/2 cup radish sprouts


Cook bacon in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat, turning occasionally, until crisp, then transfer with tongs to paper towels to drain.

Stir together mayonnaise, chives, dill, and salt and pepper to taste in a small bowl.

Halve, pit, and peel avocado, then slice lengthwise. Gently toss slices with lemon juice.

Make sandwiches with toast, herb mayonnaise, avocado, bacon, and sprouts, seasoning with salt and pepper.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:51 AM


Black-owned bank has few urban loans: OneUnited sought aid as community 'beacon' (Beth Healy, April 15, 2009, Boston Globe)

Calling itself and other minority-owned banks a "rare beacon of hope" in their neighborhoods, OneUnited Bank of Boston last fall made an emotional plea to the US Treasury for help with millions of dollars in soured investments.

Without assistance, bank officials said, OneUnited and other institutions might fail. The money did not come right away. But with the aid of US Representatives Barney Frank and Maxine Waters, OneUnited secured meetings with the Treasury, and by December received $12 million from the government's bank bailout fund. [...]

Among the handful of home loans OneUnited has made in the past few years were several to wealthy businessmen for upscale properties in the South End, Brookline, and even on Martha's Vineyard.

In 2005 and 2006, OneUnited made only nine home mortgages in Massachusetts, according to a regulatory report, and in 2007 just three mortgages across its markets in Boston, Los Angeles, and Miami - two of those loans on multifamily properties - according to a banking consultant who reviewed the loan portfolio.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:47 AM


Pancetta-wrapped pork loin (Lisa Falso, April 15, 2009, Boston Globe)

Olive oil (for the pan)
8 slices pancetta (each 1/8 inches thick)
2 sprigs flat-leaf parsley
4 sprigs fresh thyme
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
1 boneless pork loin (about 2 pounds)
1 large bulb fresh fennel, trimmed, cored, and quartered
1 pound fingerling potatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
1. Set the oven at 450 degrees. Brush a roasting pan with olive oil; set aside. Cut 3 pieces of twine (about 16 inches each). Lay them on a cutting board, spaced about 1 1/2 inches apart.

2. Set 4 pieces of the pancetta, slightly overlapping, on the string to form a square. Set 1 sprig of parsley, 2 sprigs of thyme, and 1 sprig rosemary on the pancetta.

3. Lightly season the pork with pepper. Place it fat side up on the herbs. Place remaining herbs on the loin. Add the remaining 4 slices pancetta, slightly overlapping, so they cover the loin.

4. Tie the twine around the pork loin to hold the pancetta and herbs in place. Transfer the loin to the roasting pan.

5. In a bowl toss the fennel and fingerlings with olive oil, salt and pepper. Set them around the pork.

6. Roast the pork for 40 minutes or until a meat thermometer inserted into the pork registers 140 degrees (the pork will be slightly rosy; cook 10 minutes longer for well-done meat).

7. Tent the pork with foil and set aside in a warm place for 10 minutes. Use scissors to snip the twine. Carve the pork into thick slices and serve with the fennel and potatoes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:06 AM



Asia Times Online's essayist Spengler is the subject of one of the Internet's favorite guessing games: who is this acerbic writer whose interests range from the banking crisis to Biblical exegesis? For the past 10 years, ATol has guarded this secret zealously. In our Friday edition, Spengler will step out of the shadows with an autobiographical essay revealing who he is, why he writes, and why he chose his pseudonym.

April 14, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:51 PM


The Radical Minimalist: Obama's regulatory czar, Cass Sunstein, has a complex faith in market initiatives. But sometimes a "nudge" is not enough. (Robert Kuttner | April 14, 2009, American Prospect)

In good University of Chicago fashion, Sunstein prefers market-like incentives to get businesses to behave themselves and consumers to optimize their well-being. This process is described as "libertarian paternalism," another characteristically Sunstein oxymoron meaning subtle government interventions that prompt consumers to make the decisions they would voluntarily choose if they were as smart as he is.

Sunstein's latest book, Nudge, co-authored with University of Chicago economist Richard Thaler, observes that ordinary people make ill-informed financial choices because they lack adequate time or knowledge or because the deck has often been stacked in favor of bad consumer decisions by self-serving merchants. There are really two kinds of people, Sunstein and Thaler puckishly write, "Econs" and "Humans." Econs are the hyper-rational creatures imagined by University of Chicago economists. Humans are the rest of us. Econs, somehow with infinite time, carefully weigh every economic decision. Humans decide on the fly and make systematic mistakes. By using public regulation not to dictate outcomes but to alter "choice architectures," enlightened government can help consumers to make better decisions, both for their own well-being and to discipline producers. Thus does libertarian paternalism make markets work better.

A favorite Sunstein example is the 2006 Pension Protection Act, which changed the default option for workers whose employers offered tax-deferred savings plans. Under the law, workers now must choose to opt out, rather than opt in, which was the previous rule. This simple constructive "nudge" has dramatically increased both employee participation and savings rates.

A little bit of choice goes a long way.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:49 PM


Labor Set to Fight Over Guest Workers (KRIS MAHER and MIRIAM JORDAN, 4/14/09, WSJ)

Union officials are embarking on what is likely to be a protracted fight with business over the programs that enable immigrants to enter the country for temporary work.

On Tuesday, leaders of two rival labor federations announced a framework for overhauling the U.S. immigration system that includes setting up an independent commission to assess how many immigrants should be admitted to fill temporary and permanent jobs without displacing U.S. workers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:27 PM


Ding: The Greatest Lawn Game Since Jarts (Clint Bierman and Ryan D'Agostino, 4/14/09, Esquire)

Plant two five-foot posts in the ground, separated by the width of a Frisbee plus two fists. On top of each post, rest a plastic cup upside down. Make an identical goal twenty-five feet away. The game is played in teams of two. The goal is to throw a Frisbee through the posts without hitting either post, with the members of each team taking turns throwing.

Each clean toss through the posts earns the throwing team two points — unless the other team can respond with a clean toss on its next turn, in which case no one gets any points. If one thrower hits a post, thus sending the cup flying, the receiving team must catch the cup before it hits the ground. If it doesn't, the throwing team gets one point. If the receiving team does catch the cup, no points are awarded. It never really matters whether you catch the Frisbee or not.

It's not Human Frisbee Golf, but it's easier to set up.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:24 PM


Sebelius revises donations filing (CARRIE BUDOFF BROWN, 4/14/09, Politico)

Calling it an “inadvertent omission,” Health and Human Services nominee Kathleen Sebelius told senators Tuesday that her campaign and political action committee received almost $40,000 connected to a late-term abortion doctor – not $12,450 as she originally disclosed.

Beats the heck out of thirty pieces of silver.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:19 PM


Number of U.S. Born Children Grows (Pew Research, 4/14/09)

The report finds that unauthorized immigrants are more geographically dispersed than in the past. A group of 28 high-growth states in the mid-Atlantic, Midwest, Mountain and Southeast regions are now home to 32% of the unauthorized population, more than double their 14% share in 1990. California's share declined to 22% from 42% during this same period.

Unauthorized immigrants are more likely than either U.S.-born residents or legal immigrants to live in a household with a spouse and children, according to the report. A growing share of the children of unauthorized immigrants (73%) are U.S. citizens by birth. The U.S.-born and foreign-born children of unauthorized immigrants make up an estimated 6.8% of the nation's students enrolled in kindergarten through grade 12.

Looking at undocumented workers, the report finds that the rapid growth of the unauthorized immigrant labor force from 1990 to 2006 has halted.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:15 PM


Education, By Any Means (Anthony A. Williams and Kevin P. Chavous, April 14, 2009, Washington Post)

The reality of our children's deficits demands much more than we have given them. Platitudes, well-crafted speeches and the latest three-to-five-year reform plan aren't good enough. We must find ways to educate every child now, by any means necessary.

It was that spirit that led us, as elected officials of the District in 2003, to promote the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. The program, which provides scholarships for low-income children to attend private schools, is part of the three-sector initiative that annually provides $50 million in federal funding to the District for education purposes. That money has been equally divided among D.C. Public Schools, D.C. Public Charter Schools and the scholarship program.

Preliminary data suggest that the program has been an overwhelming success. An Education Department study released this month shows that students in the program have higher overall math and reading scores than when they entered the program. The study also points to high satisfaction with their children's schools among parents with children in the program. In short, those in this program have clearly benefited from being in a new school environment.

Despite these obvious signs of success, though, some in Congress want to end the program. Its funding is set to expire after the next school year ends, but some have even suggested curtailing it immediately so that these students can be placed in D.C. public schools as soon as possible. Already, no more students are being enrolled. These naysayers -- many of whom are fellow Democrats -- see vouchers as a tool to destroy the public education system. Their rhetoric and ire are largely fueled by those special-interest groups that are more dedicated to the adults working in the education system than to making certain every child is properly educated.

To us, that narrow perspective is wrongheaded and impractical, especially during these perilous economic times. Rather than talking about ending this scholarship program, federal lawmakers should allow more children to benefit from it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:13 PM


Wholesale prices fall unexpectedly in March (CHRISTOPHER S. RUGABER, 4/14/09, AP)

Wholesale prices dropped sharply last month as the cost of food, gasoline and home heating oil plummeted, fresh evidence that inflation appears to pose little immediate threat to the economy.

Some teachable moments just aren't.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:09 PM


Pirates attack U.S. cargo ship but fail to get aboard (Mike Mount, 4/14/09, CNN)

The Liberty Sun, a U.S.-flagged cargo ship bound for Mombasa, Kenya, was attacked Tuesday by Somali pirates, according to a NATO source with direct knowledge of the matter.

It was an unsuccessful attack, and the pirates never made it onto the ship. The vessel is now being escorted by a coalition ship, still bound for Mombasa.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:02 PM


Scholars on the Sidelines (Joseph S. Nye Jr., April 13, 2009, Washington Post)

President Obama has appointed some distinguished academic economists and lawyers to his administration, but few high-ranking political scientists have been named. In fact, the editors of a recent poll of more than 2,700 international relations experts declared that "the walls surrounding the ivory tower have never seemed so high."

While important American scholars such as Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski took high-level foreign policy positions in the past...

...were any two men more responsible for reaching the nadir of the Cold War, the point at which folks thought it losable?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:58 PM


Kill the Pirates (Fred C. Iklé, April 13, 2009, Washington Post)

[W]hy do we keep rewarding Somali pirates? How is this march of folly possible?

Start by blaming the timorous lawyers who advise the governments attempting to cope with the pirates such as those who had been engaged in a standoff with U.S. hostage negotiators in recent days. These lawyers misinterpret the Law of the Sea Treaty and the Geneva Conventions and fail to apply the powerful international laws that exist against piracy. The right of self-defense -- a principle of international law -- justifies killing pirates as they try to board a ship.

...but why we let one live.

BTW: Where did the UR put him?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:49 PM


Obama Weighs Airing CIA Tactics (EVAN PEREZ and SIOBHAN GORMAN, 4/13/09, WSJ)

The Obama administration is leaning toward keeping secret some graphic details of tactics allowed in Central Intelligence Agency interrogations, despite a push by some top officials to make the information public, according to people familiar with the discussions. [...]

[T]op CIA officials and some in the White House argue that disclosing such secrets will undermine the agency's credibility with foreign intelligence services. They also say revealing operational details will embroil officers in probes of activities that were cleared by Justice lawyers at the time.

In the middle is deputy national-security adviser John Brennan, a former CIA official, has generally sided with the CIA, the senior administration official said.

Intelligence officials also believe that making the techniques public would give al Qaeda a propaganda tool just as the administration is stepping up its fight against the terrorist group in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Some former administration officials have also argued that releasing all of the memos could help terrorists train to endure the most extreme interrogation techniques.

The 2005 Bradbury memos represent an effort by the Bush administration to keep the CIA program of "enhanced" interrogations of certain detainees on a legal footing after the Bush administration in late 2004 withdrew earlier Justice Department memos on interrogation.

Leon Panetta, the CIA director, has been described by some officials as initially favoring release, then later pulling back from that view. Other officials say Mr. Panetta always favored releasing only legal outlines, and not details of the techniques allowed.

Making those details public, one official said, would make CIA officials disinclined to take any risks in the future.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:40 PM


Bush's high road highlights contrasts with Cheney (Peter S. Canellos, April 14, 2009, Boston Globe)

Former vice president Dick Cheney, the alleged Svengali of the eight-year Bush administration, will be absent, tending to his own affairs - which have recently included blistering attacks on the Obama administration for abandoning the interrogations of terrorism suspects that many people considered torture.

Bush, by contrast, has taken the high road, refusing opportunities to criticize the new president even in the face of repeated jabs by members of the Obama administration, and Obama's own frequent declarations about the sorry state of affairs he "inherited" from Bush.

Bush's forbearance, compared with Cheney's pugnaciousness, could by itself influence perceptions of the Bush legacy, the burnishing of which is strongly in the minds of those gathering for today's brainstorming session in Dallas.

The former president's refusal to undermine Obama, coming after a very dignified transition, suggests a determination to put the welfare of the country ahead of politics or legacy-shaping. Cheney's refusal to do the same will only further perceptions of him as the ideologically driven hard-liner in the duo, whose zealousness lacks boundaries.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:19 PM


..."It looks like my Cozy Coop, only you don't have to use your feet."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:49 AM

BEAUTY... (via Jim Yates):

...is objective.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:04 AM


North Mississippi Allstars, Hill Country Revue at TLA (A.D. Amorosi, 4/13/09, The Inquirer)

You can detect the Dickinson family's DNA in every lick, crack, and blast of both the North Mississippi Allstars and Hill Country Revue. That undeniable heritage made Saturday's sold-out show at the Theatre of the Living Arts by the two bands something to behold.

Sainted Memphis soul-maker Jim Dickinson (Big Star, Stones, Aretha) produces the dirty Southern-fried records his kids, Luther (guitarist, singer) and Cody (drummer), re-create as the Allstars.

Beyond toying with traditional American folk, the brothers, along with the third member of the trio, bassist Chris Chew, herd juke-joint swing, country blues, dusty funk, and hiccuping blues-punk into one sloppy corral. Then they get real loud.

Hill Country Revue, a side project formed by Cody and Chris, opened the program. But this wasn't your typical crowd-warmer/headliner arrangement. One set cascaded into the other.

Chew was the bedrock for both ensembles.

The Dickinson's are even better with Robert Randolph and John Medeski in the sacred steel super group, The Word.

-CONCERT ARCHIVES: Live Music Archive > North Mississippi Allstars (Internet Archive)
-CONCERT: North Mississippi Allstars in Concert (WXPN, March 23, 2007)
-CONCERT: John Hiatt & North Mississippi Allstars: Americana (David Dye, September 11, 2006, World Cafe)
-CONCERT: North Mississippi Allstars: Down and Dirty (David Dye, December 16, 2005, World Cafe)
-North Mississippi Allstars' 'Electric Blue Watermelon' (October 23, 2005, Weekend Edition Sunday)

There's something sweetly familiar about the sound of the North Mississippi Allstars. The guitar-bass-and-drum trio's music recalls the feel-good Southern rock of the Allman Brothers from the 1970s, or the anthems of Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Guitarist Luther Dickinson says he formed the band to play hill country blues. "It wasn't the whining and moaning and crying the blues. It was about having a good time," he says of the Allstars' beginnings in the mid-1990s.

Luther and his brother, Cody Dickinson, who plays drums, are sons of legendary Memphis producer Jim Dickinson, and grew up in Hernando, Mississippi. Bass player Chris Chew rounds out the group, who've just released their sixth CD: Electric Blue Watermelon, which includes a duet with singer Lucinda Williams and contributions from pedal-steel phenom Robert Randolph.

-North Mississippi Allstars (Renee Montagne, September 12, 2000, Morning Edition)
-PROFILE: Heavenly 'Sacred Steel' (Liane Hansen, 8/05/01, Weekend Edition Sunday)
Liane Hansen visits pedal-steel player Robert Randolph in the House of God Church in Orange, New Jersey. The 23-year-old guitar prodigy is part of a little-known group of church musicians playing "sacred steel", and he's now playing more and more on the club circuit. The Word, on Ropeadope Records, with Randolph, keyboardist John Medeski and the North Mississippi Allstars has just been released on CD.

-CONCERT: The Word, Recorded Live in Concert (WXPN, December 28, 2007)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:02 AM


Knowledge, Organizational Evolution and Market Creation (Dinesh Sharma, April 14, 2009, Far Eastern Economic Review)

Gita Surie, a senior fellow at the Wharton School and Assistant Professor at the Adelphi University School of Business, makes a bold attempt to fill this information gap. Her book, Knowledge, Organizational Evolution, and Market Creation, based on a decade-long research project conducted coincidentally in parallel with the recent wave of globalization in the South Asian subcontinent, traces the evolution and internalization of Indian firms. While situated squarely within the studies of business administration and organizational change, Ms. Surie borrows broadly from a wide array of theories, including cognitive science, technology transfer, complexity theory and economic development.

The book presents an integrative framework for understanding organizational change in emerging economies. Its central claim is that the international expansion of Indian firms follows an evolutionary process that builds on the acquisition of new-found capabilities. Knowledge creation is central to building new capabilities, which are acquired and accelerated through cross-border replication of knowledge. In Stage 1, the capabilities are scarce in the domestic environment, where modernization consists of investments in industrial technology, skilled labor, and an overall shift from agriculture to technology and infrastructure. Given that the domestic economy may lack both the knowledge and the capital investment, the early emphasis on growing business must be on knowledge transfer from exogenous sources. Stage 2 consists of diffusion of knowledge and capabilities followed by a large-scale adoption of the new learning within the institutional framework. Stage 3 is marked by cross-border innovation, where local firms participate in knowledge creation and compete in the global economy.

Yup, that's what folks mean by Evolution.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:58 AM


Obama's Authorization of Force Against Pirates Is a Defining Moment (Kenneth T. Walsh, April 13, 2009, US News)

It didn't play out minute by minute on the nation's television screens as so many other crises have, but the dramatic rescue of American hostage Richard Phillips on the high seas yesterday was still a defining moment for President Obama.

Obama's decision to authorize he use of military force to free Phillips, captain of the cargo ship Maersk Alabama, from a band of pirates demonstrated that the new commander in chief will apply American muscle in a crunch.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:20 AM


A Thawing with the U.S.?: The tone of the Obama Administration's approach improves the chances for a better relationship between the two countries (Stanley Reed, 4/14/09, BusinessWeek)

Just about everyone I have talked to so far in Iran—with the exception of an immigration officer at the airport who fingerprinted me, as has been unpleasantly required for some years now—is optimistic about the chances for better relations with the U.S. and in favor of such a change. [...]

[A]bove all, people are tired of the situation, which has damaged both countries, but especially Iran, over the past three decades. Iranian businesses think they could be a much bigger factor in the world economy if there were no stigma attached to doing business with them, and if they had access to better technology and, above all, management skills. It's almost a cliché to say that Iran with its big, youthful population of 74 million and fairly serious industrial base could be a huge opportunity for American companies—and, indeed, many others.

None of this, of course, means that a thaw will happen soon. While the Obama Administration and some in the Iranian leadership see the benefits of change, hostility between the two nations is ingrained in the internal politics of both. Iran, in particular, is deeply suspicious of the U.S. Iranians recite a long list of grievances dating back to the CIA-aided coup of 1953 that ousted Iran's elected Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadeq and led to the restoration of the Shah. More recently, the Iranian leadership believes that it has received the back of America's hand after being helpful to the U.S. in the invasions of both Iraq and Afghanistan earlier in this decade.

Warming relations with the U.S. might be disorienting for some Iranian politicians, and the topic could become a big issue in what could be a highly charged June presidential vote, when Ahmadinejad will be challenged by one or more candidates from the so-called reform camp. As one businessman remarked to me with some exaggeration, roughly 60% of the content of political speeches in Iran is criticism of the U.S., so with normal relations, that 60% would need to be replaced with something else.

...that even this administration would be deft enough to make it clear that Ahmedinejad is a stumbling block to the thaw and that he must be replaced--either by Khameini directly or by the voters--but they've been so inept so far you can easily see them accidentally rewarding him via such improvements.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:13 AM


The Art of Duplicity (Geri Spieler, April 14, 2009, Huffington Post

Twenty-seven years ago I promised a convicted felon I would store her art collection until her son would take for her.

This collection is not some small assembling of prints or photos. The collection includes seven oil paintings, some as large as a doorway. There are wall-size Georgia O'Keefe-type flowers bursting in reds and orange magnificence.

The most interesting piece is an original United Press International photo of Jackie Kennedy walking on the beach in Hyannis Port, MA. On the back of the frame is the original type written report from the press photographer.

How this photo got into the hands of a potential presidential assassin is curious, indeed. I wish I knew? The story of the Jackie photo and the history of many other pieces of the art collection are still unknown to me.

The story of how I became the "keeper of the art" began on October 15, 1975.

Ms Spieler's book on Sara Jane Moore describes an almost unimaginably peculiar woman.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:08 AM


U.S. Appears Set To Boycott U.N. Session on Racism: Conference Stance on Israel Is at Issue; Advocacy Groups Criticize White House (Michael A. Fletcher, 4/14/09, Washington Post)

The Obama administration appears to be standing by its decision to boycott the World Conference Against Racism next week in Geneva, despite efforts to focus and tone down language in a draft conference document viewed as hostile toward Israel.

The preliminary conference document ran 45 pages and called for reparations for slavery, condemned the "validation of Islamophobia," and asserted that Israel's treatment of the Palestinians is grounded in racism.

In response to objections raised by negotiators from the Obama administration, the document has since been dramatically shortened and many of its sharp statements have been removed. Still, the administration seems uninterested in attending, stoking frustration among activist groups who have said that it is ironic that the nation's first black president would choose that course.

...you haven't paid any attention to his career.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:04 AM


For all his oddities, Fidrych was an overgrown kid living the dream (Joe Posnanski, 4/14/09, Sports Illustrated)

The love affair with Detroit began almost immediately. Fidrych was unlike anyone else. He talked to the baseball. Later, he would say that he was talking to himself ... but, no, it seemed pretty clear that he talked to the baseball. He got on his knees and smoothed out pitching mounds with his hands. He said hilarious things. He sprinted out to congratulate fielders who made nice plays. He never took any of it for granted. "It's either this," he often said, "or working at the gas station back home."

And he did not pitch like any 21-year-old anyone had ever seen. He had impeccable, almost freakish, control. He hardly ever walked anyone. He walked one batter in an 11-inning victory at Texas on the fifth of June, and followed it up by walking nobody his next time out against the California Angels. He won nine of his 10 first decisions. He allowed just one run against the New York Yankees on Monday Night Baseball. He threw an 11-inning shutout against Oakland on July 16.

By then, he was a national sensation.

It's impossible to look back at Fydrich's remarkable 1976 -- knowing what we know now about pitch counts and such things -- and not cringe at the way manager Ralph Houk abused him. Of course, nobody was counting pitches in 1976, but even so it's hard to believe a manager would allow a rookie to throw five extra-inning games. Five! Or how about this stretch: From July 29th to August 29th, The Bird threw a nine-inning game, a seven-inning game, a nine-inning game, another nine-inning game, another nine-inning game, a 10-inning game, a nine-inning game and an 11 1/3 inning game -- each one on three-days rest. Imagine that: Fydrich threw 73 1/3 innings and seven complete games in a month.

To give you a comparison, K-Rod threw 68 1/3 innings all last year.

To give you a comparison, Johan Santana has thrown nine complete games in his career.

But then, nobody was thinking about the future. To a 9-year-old kid in Cleveland, Fidrych was simply the coolest guy in the entire world.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:57 AM


Red Balloon has uplifting pranks (Sarah Frater, 4/14/09, Evening Standard)

The Royal Opera House has a good track record of producing new family ballets down in its basement studio theatre. Will Tuckett had a tip-top run with Wind in the Willows, Pinocchio and Thief of Baghdad, and now Aletta Collins follows through with The Red Balloon.

It is a lovely-looking adaptation of Albert Lamorisse’s 1956 fantasy short of the same name, which tells the story of a young French boy who’s befriended by a helium-filled red balloon. The balloon seems to have a mind of its own, keeping the young boy company, playing pranks and having fun.

Makes you want to take the Enola Gay out of mothballs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:54 AM


Loosening of Cuba embargo could mean huge possibilities for U.S. businesses: The policy shift could lead to telecom deals and more air travel, among other opportunities. The degree of access that Cuba will offer, however, is still in question. (Peter Pae and Alana Semuels, April 13, 2009, LA Times)

Airline flights. Phone service. Money transfers.

Those are among enticing new or expanded business opportunities seen ahead for U.S. companies with Monday's loosening of the U.S. embargo with Cuba. [...]

And the latest policy shift has raised prospects that travel restrictions could be lifted for everyone, fueling a surge in tourism. About 1.5 million Americans, including about 85,000 Cuban Americans who live in Los Angeles, have relatives on the island.

Thanks, Raoul.

April 13, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:37 PM


Is the west thwarting Arab plans for reform? (David Gardner, April 10 2009, Financial Times)

Uneasy Lies the Head was the perhaps inevitable title of the autobiography of the late King Hussein of Jordan, the West’s favourite benign Arab despot. He was the improbable survivor of innumerable plots, coups and uprisings, of three Arab-Israeli wars, two Gulf wars and a civil war with the Palestinians, as well as around a dozen assassination attempts in the 46 years he wore the heavy crown of his improbable desert kingdom.

The Hashemite monarch, descended from the family of the Prophet Mohammed and the Sharifs of Mecca, exuded total confidence in his legitimacy. Yet, this most open of Arab autocrats, this elegant and charming authoritarian, relied on the military and the Mukhabarat, his ubiquitous secret police, to stay in power, no less than in any other Arab state. To underline this truth is not necessarily to disparage King Hussein’s often liberal instincts. What it reveals is that even a leader willing to experiment with change, a regal populist who could utter the word “democracy” with a more or less straight face, a monarch who was once prepared to share (a bit of his) power with Islamists, was in the end no different from his peers.

But a Hussein experiment of 20 years ago is jostling its way back onto the political agendas of the Arab world and wider Middle East: the attempt to marry Islam and democracy. This is the single biggest challenge facing a region mired in despotism and failure, where US and western collusion with local strongmen has created an Arab Exception – leaving the Arabs marooned in tyranny as waves of democracy broke over eastern Europe and Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa and south-east Asia. There is no other part of the world – not even China – where the west operates with such little regard for the human and political rights of local citizens. The west’s morbid fear of political Islam has served to deny Arabs democracy in case they support Islamists, just as during the cold war many Latin Americans, Asians and Africans had to endure western-endorsed dictators lest they supported communists. Unless the Arab countries and the broader Middle East can find a way out of this pit of autocracy, their people – more than half of them under 25 – will be condemned to bleak lives of despair, humiliation and rage. Western support for autocracy and indulgence of corruption in this region, far from securing stability, breeds extremism and, in extremis, failed states. It will, of course, be primarily up to the citizens of these countries to claw their way out of that pit. But the least they can expect from the west is not to keep stamping on their fingers.

So what was it King Hussein did? In 1989, the king risked an experiment in “guided democracy”. The main beneficiaries were Islamists, grouped mostly in the Jordanian chapter of the pan-Islamic Muslim Brotherhood (al-Ikhwan al-Muslimeen). With 34 out of 80 assembly seats, the Islamists were the largest, and the only ideologically cohesive, bloc. In 1990-91, the king brought four Muslim Brothers into the cabinet. In private conversation four years later, he even foresaw the day when Jordan would have an Islamist prime minister, “and they and the people will see what government is about and who can do it”. But, first, he bound their leadership into a constitutional consensus. This set out the rules of managed democracy. Crucially, it also established Islam as but one fount of political legitimacy, alongside the parallel claims of Jordanian patriotism, Arab nationalism, and universal values. This Jordanian National Charter (al-Mithaq al-Watani al-Urduni) remains one of the most suggestive political documents to have emerged in the modern Arab world. It bucked the trend in the region.

The minute the Brothers began to develop an agenda independently from the Palace, however, King Hussein changed the rules, enacting new electoral laws to guarantee majorities in parliament of Bedouin loyalists and tribal grandees. As the peace Jordan signed with Israel in 1994 grew ever more unpopular, moreover, so the king rolled back his democratic reforms, limiting change to largely meaningless changes of government (he ran through 56 prime ministers in 46 years).

This episode nonetheless remains important, and transcends Jordan. King Hussein’s volte face meant an opportunity was lost to develop new forms of legitimacy – democratic legitimacy – by one of the few Arab leaders who had any reserves of this precious commodity left. Yet in the following two decades, there would be repeated attempts – from Khatami’s Iran to post-Saddam Iraq, from Erdogan’s Turkey to King Abdullah’s Saudi Arabia – either to synthesise Islam and democracy or tilt towards forms of modernity the region’s religious heritage could sustain.

The Islam and modernity debate, which accompanied the collapse of the Ottoman empire after the first World War, has emerged again nearly a century later. But there is an important difference. Few Muslims now invest much hope in the democratic western powers (essentially the US, Britain and France) that back the rulers who oppress them, even if, against the odds, they still admire “western” values, science and culture. There is no endemic or intrinsic conflict between Christians and Muslims. Rather, the root of the problem is that a majority of Muslims is convinced that the west – interested only in a stability based on regional strongmen, the security of Israel and cheap oil – is engaged in a war against Islam and is bent on denying them the freedoms it claims for itself.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:26 PM


Human ancestors 'less ape-like' (Daily Telegraph, 4/13/09)

Human ancestors living millions of years ago were bad at climbing trees and not nearly as ape-like as many experts believe, new research suggests.

Scientists came to the conclusion after studying ankle joints from "hominins" dating back more than four million years.

The creatures lived a relatively short time after humans and chimpanzees split from a common ancestor four to eight million years ago.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:21 PM


Legal left cools toward Obama (JOSH GERSTEIN, 4/13/09, Politico)

It’s not just Paul Krugman anymore.

A growing chorus on the legal left is cooling toward President Barack Obama as a result of recent actions by the Justice Department vigorously defending the Bush administration in what it termed the war on terror.

“Obama Position on Illegal Spying: Worse Than Bush,” a large graphic declared over the weekend on the home page of a respected group advocating freedom on the Internet, Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Obama has been pilloried by a liberal TV icon who was one of President George W. Bush’s most vociferous critics, MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann.

Obama is Dubya's acceptable face (Greg Sheridan, April 11, 2009, The Australian)
[T]he fact Obama has a double standard working in his favour is a great benefit for those who appreciate the importance of US leadership in the world. So I should rejoice in the double standard and hope it continues for the eight years Obama is likely to be President.

After all, on all the big foreign policy questions, Obama has continued Bush's policies. The predator drones still fly over Pakistan, destroying any al-Qa'ida operative dumb enough to talk on the phone. The terrorists are still in Guantanamo as Obama's administration develops the Bush administration's decision to shut Guantanamo, as a necessity of global PR, while trying to stop the terrorists from going back to killing civilians. Like Bush, Obama is pursuing an attempt to engage the Iranian regime and even using the same official Bush did. He is withdrawing from Iraq very slowly, on a timetable approved by Republican senator John McCain. He acknowledges the success of the US troop surge in Iraq and wants to emulate it in Afghanistan. He stands four square behind Israel's security. And so on.

Yet while much of the world hated Bush with an irrational passion, allegedly for these policies, it loves Obama with at least a seemingly similar passion, notwithstanding these very same policies. This is a bit of a mystery, but so far at least it's a good mystery.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:03 PM


Former Tiger, Rookie of the Year Fidrych found dead at 54 (CBSSports.com, 4/13/09)

Former All-Star pitcher Mark "The Bird" Fidrych has been found dead in an apparent accident at his farm in Northborough, Mass. He was 54.

Worcester County district attorney Joseph D. Early Jr. says a family friend found Fidrych about 2:30 p.m. Monday beneath a pickup truck. He appeared to be working on the truck, Early said.

-Cuckoo Over A Rara Avis: Rookie righthander Mark (The Bird) Fidrych has sent the spirits of Tiger fans winging with his youthful eccentricities and a 9-1 record
Jerry Green, 7/12/76, Sports Illustrated)

A strange Bird with flamingo legs, a sparrow's countenance and Harpo Marx plumage stood on the mound and talked to the baseball:

"Flow, gotta flow now, gotta flow.

"C'mon, gotta keep down. Let it fly."

The soliloquy was accompanied by wing-flapping gyrations. When it concluded, the Bird did a double knee bend. He pitched. The batter swung at the fastball and missed.

"Great pitch, way to flow, in the groove," the Bird said to the ball when he got it back.

So it went far into the night, and when the game was over, 47,855 human beings stood and shrieked in unison, "We want the Bird! We want the Bird! We want the Bird!"

So the Bird came mincing out of the dugout in his stocking feet. He took off his cap and waved it. He waved it again. He blew kisses to the multitudes, and he bowed and nodded. Then he bird-stepped back to the clubhouse.

This all actually happened. There is no fiction about the Bird, the Tigers' rookie righthander whose real name is Mark Fidrych. This scene occurred early last week after he defeated the first-place Yankees 5-1, but there was as much excitement five days later when 51,032 showed up to see Fidrych shut out Baltimore for his ninth win in 10 big-league starts. Detroit, a city of sports deprivation, vibrated the way it had not since the days of Denny McLain. Donald Shoemaker of nearby Warren even named his newborn son Mark Fidrych Shoemaker.

-'he's Not A Bird, He's A Human' (Ron Fimrite, 4/11/77, Sports Illustrated)
While shagging flies at the Tigers' Florida training camp on March 21, Mark Fidrych, baseball's most refreshing performer last year, tore cartilage in his left knee. Ten days later he underwent corrective surgery and is expected to be out of action until June. But Bird watchers need not despair. Fidrych was a late bloomer in 1976, too, and ended up winning 19 games. [...]

Mark Fidrych is lying carelessly on a couch in his one-bedroom apartment in the Detroit suburb of Belleville. He is a lanky 6'3". 175 pounds and so eternally restless that he looks as uncomfortable in repose as someone bound and gagged. He is wearing his uniform—blue jeans, a T shirt with FLEETWOOD DINER written across the front and no shoes. Above his quizzical young face, curly blond hair rises in a coiffure accurately likened to Harpo Marx's. Fidrych always looks as if he is about to ask, "How come?"

A rerun of I Love Lucy is on television, an episode filmed about the time Fidrych was born. He is eating strawberry yogurt in great unhappy gulps, glancing nervously out a window at a view of unrelieved snow-white nothingness. The lake where he keeps his boat is frozen solid, a marble corridor into the void. Fidrych rises to switch off the antic figures on television and replace their considerable noise with the even more clamorous sounds of Led Zeppelin on his stereo. A huge stuffed owl perches menacingly atop one of the speakers, a gift from some misguided fan. Everybody sends the Bird birds. They peer out at him from every cranny of the small apartment, monsters his celebrity has created. Nevermore. Nevermore.

"I don't like being in the city," he says, explaining his flight to suburban Belleville. "Action? Naw, all I'm lookin' for mainly is to play pool and the pinball machines and, maybe, dance. I don't care what kind of people I'm around as long as I'm havin' a good time. The guy that owns me [ Detroit Tigers owner John Fetzer] took me to L.A. in December for the baseball meetings. He wanted to educate me. So all I see there is guys, and all they're doin' is talkin' about baseball. Baseball, baseball, baseball. Night and day. That ain't for me. Those guys live and die baseball. My dad would probably enjoy that. He always reads sports and stuff, doesn't go to bars every night like a lot of others. Me, I just wanna goof around. But these guys are askin' me, what d'ya think of this and that? Hey, I say, I don't know. I'm just playin'.

"I've met Elton John and the Beach Boys. That was a thrill to me. Out in L.A. I got to meet Cary Grant, Monty Hall, Don Rickles and Frank Sinatra. That's more for my folks. I mean, what am I supposed to say to Frank Sinatra: 'Hi there, Old Blue Eyes'?"

The Bird Flaps Again And Doesn't Flop: In his first 1977 appearance, Detroit's Mark Fidrych drew 44,207 fans. Although he lost, he showed he's still baseball's most winsome player (Peter Gammons, 6/06/77, Sports Illustrated)
Almost unnoticed amid the hoopla was the fact that Fidrych had proved in his first appearance that the knee he had injured in spring training was sound, that he was the same emu who in four months last year had rocketed from a spring training nobody to baseball's Elton John. He had pitched nine strong innings. The two Mariner runs were the result of a dropped fly ball, a bloop double and an error. "I feel like I let the people down by losing," said Fidrych. "But, boy, I'm happy to be back. It felt fine, so fine. When I started warming up and heard all those cheers, I felt tingly and got half-tears in my eyes. Lemme tell you, I felt good."

But from March 21, when he tore cartilage in his left knee shagging flies in Lakeland, Fla., until last Friday, the Bird had not always felt good. On March 31 he was rushed back to Detroit for an operation. During the next two weeks, except for daily visits to the hospital, he could do nothing but sit around his apartment. "I was going nuts," Fidrych says. "Everything I do revolves around playing baseball." In mid-April he started jogging. "By then I'd learned to kill time better," says the Bird. "I started riding my two motorcycles. When I'm on them, I just think of happiness." By the end of April he was throwing batting practice. "He's so young and eager," says Tiger Manager Ralph Houk, "but we wanted to bring him back slowly, so that the first time he started, he'd be ready to go nine."

On May 11, in front of nine cops, 16 Minnesota Twins and 29 members of the concessions and ground crews, the Bird pitched a mock game against a batting order consisting of Tiger substitutes. On a trip two weeks ago—during which he almost gave Houk a heart attack by trying to lift a car that had gotten its bumper locked with the Tigers' bus in Dallas—Fidrych pitched an exhibition game in Cincinnati. He allowed four hits and a run in seven innings. He was, at last, pronounced ready.

By that time, the Bird had become itchy and testy. "He kept telling me he was ready," says Houk. "I sure wanted to pitch," says Fidrych, "but it's probably good the doctors didn't listen to what came out of my head." He had shouted at a reporter in Texas and had demanded in Cincinnati that no one mention his knee again. And it did not help that the Bird's return, which, it had been speculated, would occur during the middle of last week, was finally scheduled for Friday. There were two good reasons for that: first, he would not have to face California's Nolan Ryan or Frank Tanana, Detroit's opponents on Tuesday and Wednesday; and, second, Friday night crowds in Detroit are twice as big as those on mid-week evenings. The Tigers could be excused for making the shift, though some local reporters accused the club of "exploitation." Because six of Fidrych's 10 missed starts would have been at home, the Detroit front office figures his sore knee cost nearly $500,000 in gate receipts.

-The Bird Fell To Earth: For one fairy-tale year, Mark Fidrych was king of baseball, but the reign ended far too soon (Gary Smith, 4/07/86, Sports Illustrated)
At 5:50 a.m. the alarm clock rings, and the dream he has started having recently—the one in which he keeps throwing strike after strike after strike; no crowd, no cameras, no reporters, just he and his body back in that sweet sweaty rut—comes to an end. Sasha, his ancient black mutt, lifts her grizzled face from the single bed they share and blinks.

He pulls on his long Johns, tattered jeans, boots, red flannel jacket and the blue denim jacket with four rips on the right sleeve, then plops an old brown hat on his head of tangled hair. There are three puncture marks on his right shoulder, a little wariness in his brown eyes and the frailest footprints of crow around his eyes, but the face is still young and the dirty blond curls still fall around it.

Yella, the half St. Bernard, half collie evicted from the single bed because of overcrowding, shakes himself down and falls into line behind his master and Sasha. They shuffle quietly past the room of his sleeping parents. "You stay," he orders Sasha. It is too cold for the old mutt, and she doesn't fight the order.

Out the kitchen door they walk into the flat gray dawn, his boots crunching old snow, the late February chill sneaking in through each hole in his sleeve. Ten years ago, almost to this very day, on a sunny morning in Lakeland, Fla., Mark Fidrych entered the dream year. Today he enters his beat-up blue Chevy pickup with Yella, pulls up to the back door of a restaurant called The Grille and muscles two garbage cans full of pig slop onto the truck bed.

He drives the scraps back to his farm, where there are 20 pigs, 12 cows, three sheep, two goats, six chickens and six geese. One of the baby pigs is dead, smothered perhaps in the litter's crush for their mother's milk. Mark Fidrych lifts it by the back legs and stretches it out on a steel barrel. "It's no skin off my butt," he says. "I just haven't buried it yet."

Pigs and pitching arms die young. Sometimes, when a man grows weary of trying to understand why, his only alternative is indifference. Fidrych pours the slop into a feeding box, flecks of tomato sauce spattering his boots, and watches the pigs bite and shove each other to get to the food. "They're wee-uhd," he says in his New England accent.

Some mornings it almost seems to him as if that dream year never happened. Other times, taking long crunching steps across a minefield of frozen manure on a shivering morning, the question of who he is seems hopelessly clouded by who he was.

"No, I'm not a farmer," he says. "You don't make any money doing this. You do it because it's something to do. You do it because it keeps you going."

He pauses. "I'm in love with my land. I got it all from playing ball. It gives me prestige. Someone says, 'What you got?' I say, 'One hundred and twenty-one acres of nice land.' "

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:08 PM


HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?: Why the Economic Crisis Was Not Anticipated (RICHARD A. POSNER, 4/17/09, The Chronicle Review)

Moreover, taking action to reduce the risks warned against by Roubini and a few others would have been costly. Had the Federal Reserve caused interest rates to rise in order to curtail risky bank lending, that would have accelerated the bursting of the housing bubble — and then, since no one could be certain that it was a bubble, the Federal Reserve would have been blamed for the fall in home values and the increase in defaults and foreclosures. Those benefiting from the bubble would deny it was a bubble, and sometimes they would be right, and if they were wrong but the bubble was pricked before it had expanded to a very large size, there would be great difficulty in proving that it had been a bubble.

Instead the Fed took that precise course of action but ostensibly to fight "inflation," though with exactly the same dire results. What economists failed to anticipate--once again--was the consequences of raising rates into a continuing climate of global deflation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:04 PM


Phillies president: Legendary announcer Kalas dead at 73 (CBSSports.com, 4/13/09)

Team president says Philadelphia Phillies broadcaster Harry Kalas is dead at age 73.

Apparently he dropped dead in the box at the ballpark, which seems as good a way to go as any so far devised by man.

Phils broadcaster Kalas passes away (Jeff Seidel, 4/13/09, MLB.com)

Long-time Phillies broadcaster Harry Kalas passed away Monday afternoon after collapsing in the broadcast booth prior to Philadelphia's game at Washington. [...]

Kalas, the 2002 Ford C. Frick Award winner, was found by Phillies director of broadcasting Rob Brooks and was immediately taken to George Washington Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. He had been broadcasting Phillies games since 1971 and was known for his distinctive "Outta here!" home run call.

Before his stint with Philadelphia, Kalas was an original member of the Houston Astros' broadcast team from 1965-70.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:50 PM


The English Beat performs live in The Current studio (Mark Wheat, April 10, 2009, MPR: The Current)

It's been thirty years since The English Beat (or The Beat as they are called in the U.S.) formed in Birmingham, England in 1979. Well-known for their early-80's ska punk hits like "Mirror in the Bathroom" and "Too Nice To Talk To," The English Beat broke up in 1983.

...not only has it been 25 since they broke up but that's the year I graduated from college. What the heck just happened?

N.B. The seque's at the end of save it for Later are cool.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:40 PM


...we could use a man like Julius Caesar again.

There's nothing wrong with negotiating with terrorists--or any other enemy--to get what you want, so long as once you have it you ignore every concession you made.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:37 PM


THE OPTION TO PROTECT: The New Terms for Humanitarian Intervention (Richard Herzinger, 4/13/09, Der Spiegel)

It is difficult to recall a contribution to the German political debate that has been as roundly ignored, both in Berlin political circles and by the wider public, as President Horst Köhler's comments on the unrest in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In November 2008, Köhler argued that "if we are serious about the values we all stand for," then Europeans must be prepared to "provide soldiers to put a stop to these murders."

He was certainly correct that Europe is not serious.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:32 PM


War By Any Other Name: Obama's new terminology has started a trend. (Joe Queenan, 4/12/09, WSJ)

The Obama administration has come under intense criticism for replacing the term "war on terror" with the emaciated euphemism "overseas contingency operations," and for referring to individual acts of terror as "man-caused disasters."

This semi-official attempt to disassociate the administration from the fierce rhetoric favored by George W. Bush and Dick Cheney has enraged Americans on both the right and left. Many feel that such vaporous bureaucratese is a self-emasculating action that plunges us into an Orwellian world where words have no emotional connection with the horrors they purport to describe.

Yet, if the intention of the Obama administration is to tone down the confrontational rhetoric being used by our enemies, the effort is already reaping results. This week, in a pronounced shift from its usual theatrical style, the Taliban announced that it will no longer refer to its favorite method of murder as "beheadings," but will henceforth employ the expression "cephalic attrition." "Flayings" -- a barbarously exotic style of execution that has been popular in this part of the world since before the time of Alexander -- will now be described as "unsolicited epidermal reconfigurations." In a similar vein, lopping off captives' arms will now be referred to as "appendage furloughing," while public floggings of teenaged girls will from here on out be spoken of as "metajudicial interfacing."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:18 PM


Download 773 Free MP3s from Amazon (Adam Pash, Apr 13 2009, Lifehacker)

Love a little unquestionably legit, free music? Then head on over to Amazon's Free MP3 downloads section to choose from among 773 totally free songs

How ya gonna beat Lil' Ed and the Blues Imperials doing "Hold That Train" for free?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:34 AM


What Moneyball Missed: The blockbuster book that has transformed sports did not give baseball enough credit for creating the conditions that the A’s were able to exploit. (Adam Fleisher, April 3, 2009, American)

Moneyball missed something. That something is known as the reserve clause.

The problem with likening the market for baseball players to an equity market is that the former is not a genuinely free market. The reserve clause binds players to the team that drafted them for the first six years of their career; during this time they cannot become free agents and sell their services to the highest bidder. So the intrinsic value of a highly productive player will rise, but he will not necessarily be paid his market value until he has completed his “indentured servitude” (as Lewis termed it). Thus it is not surprising that while payroll cannot tell us anything about wins, it does a pretty good job of predicting a team’s average age: young players are much cheaper.

To understand how much the reserve clause matters, let’s look at the young talent on the Oakland squad Lewis chronicled. Shortstop Miguel Tejada hit 30 home runs for the low, low price of $290,000 in 2000. Two years later, when he won the American League MVP, he made only $3.5 million (I know, but it’s all relative). His free agent contract, which he signed with the Baltimore Orioles after the 2003 season, was for $72 million over six years. Eric Chavez (whom the A’s actually did sign to a long-term market-value contract in 2004) produced 32 home runs in 2001 for $625,000.

Mark Mulder, Tim Hudson, and Barry Zito, the A’s “big three” pitchers, led the team to the 3rd, 2nd, 1st, and 1st American League ERA ranking, respectively, from 2000 to 2003. In 2001, when the A’s won 101 games, the combined salary of Tejada, Chavez, MVP-runner up and all-star first baseman Jason Giambi, Mulder (21 wins), Hudson (18 wins), and Zito (17 wins) was under $8 million. In the first year after each player’s “indentured servitude” ended, the six made a total of $43 million. The A’s won even though they were poor because they did not have to pay their young players what they were worth.

Giambi, who won the MVP in 2000, epitomizes the economics of baseball. He joined the Yankees as a free agent after the 2001 season. In that first year with his new team, he made more in salary than in the seven years he spent in the A’s organization combined. This turned out to be some deal for Oakland. As the San Francisco Chronicle’s Vlae Kershner recently pointed out, Giambi produced about half of his career home runs and RBIs in an A’s uniform. For that output, the team paid about 9 percent of his career earnings (up to the end of last season).

Just as the A’s could not have afforded to compete without the reserve clause during their “moneyball” run, no small-market team could compete without it today. [...]

Moneyball was not wrong, necessarily. It just did not give Major League Baseball enough credit for creating the conditions that the A’s were able to exploit. And when Beane took over in Oakland there were indeed an embarrassment of inefficiencies. With the reserve clause, the A’s were not only able to buy and hold young talent, but were also able to find undervalued mid-level free agents because the rest of the league threw their money at the latest huge stars to finally hit the market.

Also, thanks to the reserve clause, it did not matter when everybody eventually caught on to what the A’s were doing. Last year, as the A’s were suffering through their second mediocre season in a row, Baseball Prospectus’s Christina Kahrl argued that it was finally happening—there were no more valuable players whose market value had dropped. “Scaring up useful players from among journeymen and minor league veterans… gets a lot more difficult when everyone knows to fish those waters,” she wrote. At the time the A’s were jettisoning veterans and getting younger.

And look where we are today. As we have seen this offseason, teams are hoarding young players and are less interested in pursuing free agents. As a result, a number of older, potentially productive players were available at a discount. The A’s have been able to scare up useful aging veterans to plug holes in their lineup. They signed, for example, Jason Giambi, of all people, after he was let go by the Yankees.

In fact. one of Bill James's signal findings was the frequency with which almost any player has his best year of his career, or at least his breakout year, when he is between the ages of 26 and 28 with a thousand at-bats in the majors. This confluence of circumstances is extremely likely to have occurred before a player ever becomes a free agent. Take a young guy who earns a starting job at age 24, after a couple of trials, he'll have his thousand at bats as he's headed into his age 26 season and will be very nearly as productive as he's capable of being for the next three years. He's basically establishing a value as he heads into free agency that buyers ought not expect him to maintain. And yet they'll pay him for it....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:29 AM


The triumph of curves
There's no ignoring it — women everywhere are finally saying goodbye to the skinny-thinny and celebrating the fuller figure
(Shane Watson, 4/12/09, Times of London)

It’s taken roughly 15 years, but at long last, after a couple of false alarms, we are officially over skinny. And here is how you can tell: women have started to envy other women, not for their jutting hip bones and the amount of daylight visible between their thighs, but for their soft and shapely bodies. We’re not talking about recognising that hips, thighs and breasts are a normal part of the female package. (We’ve always known that, and it hasn’t stopped us from wanting to look like malnourished girls.) We’re talking about, once again, finding the shapely form desirable. We look at pictures of Daisy Lowe in her leotard and opaque tights and think — yes, that’s what youth should look like: blooming and rounded and bee-stung. We look at Joan in Mad Men, in those curve-packing dresses, and feel the strange sensation that, for the first time in more than a decade, we are seeing the womanly form as God intended it. Up to this point, there have been odd breakthrough moments when we’ve been reminded of the power of shape (Scarlett Johansson’s arrival on the scene, for example), but the novelty always wore off pretty quickly when we were faced with the prospect of fitting into this season’s fashion. For as long as anyone can remember, thin has been the aspirational body type — the one that went hand in hand with success and glamour and money and, above all, looking good in clothes.

Women don’t necessarily want to look as thin as Agyness Deyn (no offence, Agyness), and the fashion industry is waking up to the idea of a proper womanly shape. Look at the fabulous curve-enhancing clothes of Roland Mouret: the global success of the ubiquitous Galaxy dress was partly down to its ability to flatter a fuller figure. Even Anna Wintour, the editor of American Vogue and notorious scourge of fat, seems to be coming round to the idea of curves. Recently, she featured the shapely British singer Adele in the magazine. Okay, she was photographed lying down, but at least Wintour didn’t ask her to lose weight for the shoot, as she famously did with Oprah Winfrey. The emaciated look has simply run its course for a whole host of reasons, and now we are ready for something completely different.

Something completely familiar. If you just stick to tradition the trend-sucking dilettantes always come crawling back eventually.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:26 AM


Sébastien Clerc's common sense crusade to improve French education (adam Sage, 4/13/09, Times of London)

Sébastien Clerc left teacher training college with a good knowledge of 18th-century literature and 19th-century history, but he had almost no idea how to cope with the violent, rebellious teenagers he met in his first job.

He was posted to a secondary school near Paris teetering on the edge of anarchy amid gangland battles and classroom insurrection. “I was on my knees” within a few weeks, he said.

Now the frail-looking 33-year-old is fighting back with a campaign to restore authority in the suburban lycées that are in the front line of social and economic breakdown in France.

His recipe — be firm but fair, keep troublemakers apart, never let misdemeanours go unpunished — draws heavily on common sense. But it represents an historic U-turn for a nation that has traditionally taken a high-flown attitude to education.

“In France, we like the theoretical approach because it seems more noble,” Mr Clerc told The Times. “But when it comes to getting a class to obey you, there is no one theory which holds sway — just a series of pragmatic steps you can take. As a result, it has been ignored altogether here.”

Perhaps even for France, two hundred years of noble theory is enough?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:19 AM


Iraq Sunni anti-Qaeda leader eyes Shi'ite alliance (Mohammed Abbas, 4/12/09, Reuters)

A senior leader in a Sunni Arab movement founded to combat al Qaeda in Iraq is edging away from the military activity of the past, toward a once unthinkable alliance with the country's Shi'ite prime minister.

Sheikh Ahmed Abu Risha is head of the Awakening Conference, a political party born out of an armed movement that uprooted al Qaeda and other militants from Anbar province in western Iraq, once the deadliest place for U.S. forces in Iraq.

Abu Risha's renunciation of armed struggle and steps toward working with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki could be a landmark in new political cooperation between Iraq's majority Shi'ites and minority Sunnis after years of bloodshed.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:11 AM


Hamas Comes Out of Hiding (PAUL McGEOUGH, 4/13/09, NY Times)

When I talked with Mr. Mishal in 2007, I was interviewing him for my book on an attempted assassination in the streets of Amman, Jordan, in September 1997. Then a midlevel operative in Hamas, Mr. Mishal was the intended victim. The killers were Mossad agents, dispatched by Benjamin Netanyahu, then Israel’s prime minister.

In the intervening decade, the circle of the Middle East crisis has made a full turn. Both men are still very much alive. Khalid Mishal has moved to the top of Hamas, and Benjamin Netanyahu is set to begin his second term as prime minister.

In the aftermath of the Gaza war, a resurgent Mr. Netanyahu faces an unbowed Hamas — thanks in no small part to the Mossad’s bungling of the attempt to eliminate Mr. Mishal, which at the time served to reinvigorate Hamas as much as it did to humiliate the Israeli government. [...]

Pressed on policy changes that Hamas might make as a gesture to any new order, Mr. Mishal argued that the organization has already shifted on several key points: “Hamas has already changed — we accepted the national accords for a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders, and we took part in the 2006 Palestinian elections.”

On the crucial question of rewriting the Hamas charter, which calls for the destruction of Israel, he was unbending: “Not a chance.” Khalid Mishal is not Yasir Arafat — he is not looking for a Nobel Peace Prize. Among the Hamas articles of faith is a belief that in renouncing violence and in recognizing Israel’s right to exist in 1993, Mr. Arafat sinned against his people. (Nonetheless, others to whom he speaks have told me that Mr. Mishal has said that “when the time comes,” Hamas will make some of the moves demanded of it by the West.)

Curiously, amid rising calls from politicians and policy makers around the world for Hamas to be given a seat at the Middle East negotiating table, Mr. Mishal made clear that he was willing to bide his time. His message is, “Watch what we do, not what we say.”

While it is impossible for many in the West to grasp the calculus in the Hamas strategy of war and terror, the movement has demonstrated that it is disciplined in holding its fire, as it did in the summer and fall of 2008. Likewise, it has proved itself capable of negotiating with Israel — albeit through third parties.

Over the long term, Hamas accepts the concept of two states in the Levant, which arguably puts Mr. Mishal’s terrorist movement closer to Washington than Netanyahu is — he now proposes only “economic peace” between Jews and Palestinians.

When you focus on boilerplate you give the party you're negotiating with an item of value which they can trade at no cost to themself but some to you.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:07 AM


Science, Mythology, Hatred, and the Fate of the Gray Wolf (VERLYN KLINKENBORG, 4/13/09, NY Times)

For the past few weeks, I’ve been trying to find a way to accept the decision by Ken Salazar, the new secretary of the interior, to remove the gray wolf from the endangered species list in Idaho and Montana.

It was a relief to have a sensible conversation with newly appointed interior officials after eight years of hearing almost nothing but distortion and duplicity from the top figures in the department. It was also a relief to hear them say, in describing the way they reached this decision, that they were simply following the guidance of career scientists.

Oh, wait, Science has spoken?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:03 AM


Taylor Rules: In a new book, economist John Taylor explains the cause of the crisis.: a review of (David R. Henderson, 03.24.09, Forbes)

Taylor, one of the leading New Keynesian economists in the U.S.--and, indeed, in the world--is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and an economics professor at Stanford University. He carries serious credentials as a practitioner of economic policy: From 2001 to 2005, he was Bush's Undersecretary of the Treasury for International Affairs. Virtually all of his impressive academic papers have been in macroeconomics, many of them on monetary policy.

And how many economists besides Taylor can claim that a rule for conducting monetary policy has been named after them? Answer: none. The famous Taylor rule is one that a large percent of macroeconomists of various persuasions agree should guide a central bank's monetary policy, assuming that a central bank is a good idea. So when John Taylor speaks or writes, people should listen or read.

Taylor writes that the Federal Reserve Bank, Fannie Mae (nyse: FNM - news - people ) and Freddie Mac caused the crisis, the Bush administration misdiagnosed the problem, and, because of the misdiagnosis, the bailout made the problem worse.

Throughout 2007 and 2008, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and others in policy-making positions assumed that the problem was that the financial system lacked liquidity, and virtually all their actions were calculated to inject more liquidity. But Taylor gives evidence, which he garnered with economist John Williams, that liquidity was not a problem. The problem, writes Taylor, was "counterparty risk." Taylor compares finance to the game of Hearts. In Hearts, you don't want to get stuck with the queen of spades. The queens of spades in finance, he writes, "were the securities with bad mortgages in them" and "people didn't know where they were." Increasing liquidity by increasing the money supply does nothing to solve that problem.

...for markets to function efficiently the cards have to be on the table. Even the Queen is valuable, so long as you know which card she is.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:00 AM


Snark Attack: The New Yorker's David Denby campaigns against "low, teasing, snide, condescending" criticism: a review of Snark: It’s Mean, It’s Personal, and It’s Ruining Our Conversation, by David Denby (Michael C. Moynihan, April 6, 2009, Reason)

Not long ago, New Yorker film critic David Denby had an epiphany: American culture was being debased by “snark,” that “low, teasing, snide, condescending, knowing” style of criticism, a “bad kind of invective” that’s “spreading like pinkeye through the national conversation” and proliferating on the Internet. Denby received this revelation while enjoying a “pan-Pacific dinner” with the political journalist Michael Kinsley. “Somewhere between the Singing Fish Satay and the Pow Wok Lamb,” he writes, “Mike and I...said more or less the same thing—that snark was becoming the characteristic discourse of our time.”

Maybe intellectuals wouldn't be made fun of so much if they didn't make themselves such targets of opportunity?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:57 AM


Legal Immigrants: Why we need them more than ever. (Tamar Jacoby, 04.13.09, Forbes)

The recession hasn't changed any of the fundamental economic or demographic realities that produced the immigrant influx of the last 25 years. Americans are increasingly educated: Only 10% of U.S. men now drop out of high school to look for unskilled work, compared with 50% in 1960. Few of us want to do farm work or menial service-sector jobs. And even when we're laid off, we're much more hesitant than immigrants to relocate in order to find work.

But nor are we educated enough to keep our 21st-century knowledge economy globally competitive. Foreigners still account for two-thirds of the students enrolled in computer science and engineering programs at American universities. And the laws of supply and demand still apply.

So on the ground too, the collapse has meant less change than might be expected. As the economy has slowed, we've needed fewer foreign workers, particularly in hospitality and construction, and the influx from abroad has slowed accordingly. But there's still demand for immigrant labor on farms, in food-processing plants, in home health care and in the high-tech sector. The need is particularly acute where the work is seasonal--not even laid-off U.S. workers seem interested in traveling hundreds of miles for a three-month stint picking fruit or making beds at a resort.

And geography isn't the only issue. A recent article in The New York Times about how the recession is affecting lives at a Tennessee chicken processing plant found that even when they have been out of work for six to nine months, U.S. workers dropped from the skilled middle rungs of the workforce were not applying for the low-end line jobs still filled largely by immigrant labor. There's an economic misunderstanding at the heart of the growing rage. Workers are not identical or interchangeable, and aggregate unemployment numbers are misleading.

In the downturn, as before, immigrants are different from American workers, both more and less educated. By and large, newcomers complement rather than compete with those already here. Americans cluster on the middle rungs of the job ladder, immigrants at the low or high ends. And because they do things Americans don't, foreigners help sustain jobs for the native-born. They provide the technical expertise to keep an American company globally competitive, for example, or make it possible for a grower to continue operations in the U.S. rather than move to another country, one where farm labor is plentiful.

The result: not just continued employment for the U.S.-born supervisors on the farm, the U.S.-born technicians who tend the machinery and the U.S.-born clerical help that keeps the books, but also more work for a wide range of other businesses and other native-born workers, both upstream and down in the U.S. economy--everything from the companies manufacturing farm machinery to the banks financing farm production.

According to one estimate, every farm worker employed in the U.S. supports 3.5 additional jobs off the farm--jobs that would disappear if the grower moved operations to another country. And this isn't true just in farming. It's true in every sector where immigrants are helping to keep U.S. businesses open by doing high- and low-end work that there are few Americans to do--even in the recession.

Amnesty will help get us out.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 AM


Doom Or Boom? (Reihan Salam, 04.13.09, Forbes)

A carbon tax, in contrast, is far more transparent. If the goal is to set clear price signals, carbon taxes are clearly preferable to cap-and-trade. James Hansen, head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and a leading voice for aggressive action against climate change, has raised the specter of electricity suppliers threatening the public with blackouts if a serious cap is enforced. The rolling blackouts that plagued California in the summer of 2005--which helped drive then-Gov. Gray Davis out of office--could be a hint of what’s to come.

To prevent this outcome, Hansen favors a carbon tax that pays out all of its revenue in the form of a dividend. Think of it as a green version of Alaska’s Permanent Fund, one that would be of particular benefit to Americans who live in big cities and strenuously avoid airplanes. It is easy to see why Hansen, an undeniably brilliant man, likes this idea. Unlike cap-and-trade, which, as Thune and Ensign have demonstrated, is pretty frightening to strapped middle-income households, tax-and-dividend instantly creates its own constituency: every household that gets a net benefit out of the deal.

As a committed urbanite, tax-and-dividend would certainly serve my narrow self-interest. Yet there is a serious downside to this approach. Hansen notes that cap-and-trade has been a bust in Europe, but neglected to mention that a carbon tax failed to prevent per-capita carbon emissions from increasing sharply in Norway. As Northwestern sociologist Monica Prasad has noted, however, Denmark used a carbon tax to far greater effect: between 1990 and 2005, per-capita carbon emissions in Denmark fell by a stunning 15%. Denmark didn’t achieve this through a tax-and-dividend approach, like that favored by Hansen. Rather, the Danes give the tax revenues to firms that switch to alternative energy sources.

Mr. Salam's focus is far too narrow here. Revenue from gas taxes provide an opportunity to reduce taxes on investment, savings, and income. As gas use falls those revenues can be made up by phasing in other forms of consumption taxes. Gas taxes are merely a wedge with which to begin the long overdue reform of the entire tax code.

April 12, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:16 PM


Obama, Who Vowed Rapid Action on Climate Change, Turns More Cautious (JOHN M. BRODER, 4/11/09, NY Times)

President Obama came to office promising swift and comprehensive action to combat global climate change, and the topic remains a surefire applause line in his speeches here and abroad.

Yet the administration has taken a cautious and rather passive role on the issue, proclaiming broad goals while remaining aloof from details of climate legislation now in Congress.

After 8 years of activism it's perfectly understandable that the American electorate might have wanted 4 years of passivity. The problem for the Democrats is that a GOP Congress is the best guarantee.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:13 PM


Vatican blocks Caroline Kennedy appointment as US ambassador (Alex Spillius, 11 Apr 2009, Daily Telegraph)

The Vatican has blocked the appointment of Caroline Kennedy as US ambassador, according to reports.

Vatican sources told Il Giornale that their support for abortion disqualified Ms Kennedy and other Roman Catholics President Barack Obama had been seeking to appoint.

Mr Obama was reportedly seeking to reward John F Kennedy's daughter, who publicly gave her support to his election bid.

...doesn't mean the Vatican will help him appease Moloch.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:07 PM


Vicious and vile: Revealed: Shocking emails behind the secret No10 smear plot targeting Tories (news of the World, 12/04/2009)

THE shocking extent of planned smears against the Tories which led to the resignation of Gordon Brown's most trusted aide last night are revealed today by the News of the World.

The Prime Minister's personal spin doctor Damian McBride quit after it emerged he and Derek Draper, Labour's internet campaign chief, conspired to spread false and sinister stories of a highly personal nature.

McBride boasted that the sleaze campaign "will put the fear of God" into the Tories. [...]

In emails sent from McBride's Downing Street account he told Draper of his plans: "One is a solid investigative story. The other three are gossipy and mainly intended to destabilise the Tories."

In a damning admission he confesses to using "a bit of poetic licence".

Draper wrote back: "These are absolutely totally brilliant, Damian. I'll think about timing." McBride added: "We've got to keep the momentum going."

The sick stories were drafted and pictures were even selected to go alongside them. A website, called Red Rag, had been set up to run them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:04 PM


America under Barack Obama is taking a long, cold look at its transatlantic relations: Europe's passion for the States is unlikely to be reciprocated (Janet Daley, 12 Apr 2009, Daily Telegraph)

America has become quite accustomed to being despised by Europe. I wonder how Europe will adjust to being hated – or worse, dismissed – by America.

What's that? You thought that the contemptuous attitude to Old Europe had been definitively trounced when the swaggering Texan was replaced by Barack Obama, the cosmopolitan sophisticate who took time out from his own domestic political campaign to address adoring crowds in Berlin? Bizarrely enough, precisely the opposite has happened. Paradoxically, what Mr Obama has succeeded in demonstrating to his own nation is that no amount of charm and flattery, no degree of self-abasement and apology for American "arrogance" is going to get any meaningful reciprocity from the Old Europeans (which is to say France and Germany, and the EU which they dominate) who could give lessons in sublime, transcendental arrogance to any American president however urbane and nuanced his message might be.

It is only now America has stopped swaggering that its more erudite, socially acceptable commentators have begun to engage in vitriolic condemnation of European selfishness and irresponsibility in the face of international danger: what is emerging is, in effect, a mirror image of the anti-Americanism which has become commonplace among European intellectuals. And paradoxically, it is precisely the change in presidential tone and approach which has made this possible.

So long as it was those rough and ready cowboys George Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld who were condemning it, Old Europe could afford to smirk – and its loathing was lapped up enthusiastically (and put to good use) by all those American liberals who saw the Bush administration as a crass international embarrassment. But now Europe has got the US president of its dreams and it has given him nothing in return for his pious declarations of global humility. So maybe, thinks mainstream America, Mr Rumsfeld was right all along about those cynical, self-serving Old World powers whose leaders seem not to understand that they have rendered themselves irrelevant by their refusal to help defend Western values militarily, and by their unsustainable economic policies which will see them marginalised in the global market place.

It can't be that he isn't magical, there has to be something wrong with them!

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:00 PM


Ethier scores before double play ends top of second (Ken Gurnick, 4/12/09, MLB.com

The Dodgers literally were awarded a gift run in the second inning Sunday when a rarely seen "fourth-out rule" was invoked in their game against the D-backs.

Andre Ethier was at third base, Juan Pierre at second, and with one out, Randy Wolf lined out to pitcher Dan Haren, who threw to second baseman Felipe Lopez, who tagged out Pierre off second base for the apparent third out of the inning.

But by the time Pierre was erased, Ethier had crossed the plate. The D-backs left the field without making a play on Ethier at third base, which would have been the fourth out of the inning.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:26 PM


Official: U.S. sea captain freed in swift firefight (Lara Jakes, 4/12/09, ASSOCIATED PRESS)

An American ship captain was freed unharmed Sunday in a swift firefight that killed three of the four Somali pirates who had been holding him for days in a lifeboat off the coast of Africa, the ship's owner said.

A senior U.S. intelligence official said a pirate who had been involved in negotiations to free Capt. Richard Phillips but who was not on the lifeboat was in custody.

Phillips, 53, of Underhill, Vermont, was safely transported to a Navy warship nearby.

Captain jumps to freedom (Sara A. Carter, 4/12/09, THE WASHINGTON TIMES)
Capt. Richard Phillips jumped to freedom on Easter Sunday from the lifeboat where four pirates had been holding him captive off the coast of Somalia in a five-day stand off with the U.S. Navy.

Capt. Phillips, who has been described by his crew as a hero for leaving with four pirates in a lifeboat to save his ship, the Maersk Alabama, escaped by jumping overboard.

Before pirates could respond, U.S. forces killed three pirates still on the lifeboat and arrested a fourth pirate.

Their business depends on not harming hostages but ours on killing the pirates. Talk about asymmetrical....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:33 AM


Chow Yun-fat makes a silly film worth it (Roger Moore, 4/12/09, Orlando Sentinel)

We've had to wait decades, enduring first subtitled Hong Kong films and later sputtering Hollywood attempts at turning him into a conventional Chinese character actor, for our first chance to see the great Chow Yun-Fat cut up the way he does in Dragonball Evolution. Whatever director James Wong was going for, whatever the studio intended in this film adaptation of a beloved comic and video game, Chow saw his chance to chew the scenery. And he took it.

As Master Roshi, mystical martial-arts master, owner of a dragonball and, of late, trainer to young Goku (Justin Chatwin), Chow goes for the laughs, and lands them.

"Believe it, punk, you're going to get your clock cleaned," he says when we and Goku meet him. He mugs. He grins. His every move is a calculated bit of tomfoolery. And he's a stitch, almost the only reason to see this warmed-over Far Eastern fantasy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:13 AM


Art for evolution's sake: Our desire to create may have helped us survive: a review of The Art Instinct by Denis Dutton (Matthew Battles
April 12, 2009 )

Fiction, it has been argued, also serves as an efficient archive of cultural knowledge; Eric Havelock famously argued that for nonliterate peoples, epics like the "Iliad" constitute a kind of oral encyclopedia. Perhaps more than its tactical or archival capacities, however, fiction provides a unique platform for social and psychological reasoning. "The inner psychological experience of one's fellows, the shared emotional and intellectual world of the tribe," Dutton writes, is the final field upon which fiction plays - and perhaps its ultimate evolutionary raison d'etre as well.

And, after all, just because psychological musing is unique to Man doesn't mean it isn't a Darwinian imperative.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:32 AM


Christos Anesti: When He rose, empires fell. (Jerry Bowyer, 3/21/08, National Review)

Rome needed money to buy off the urban mob, and Herod needed Rome to keep down the Palestinian rabble. And so when the people came to Jerusalem to make their offerings to God, they were met at each step in the process of religious devotion with another checkpoint at which tolls were extracted. The journey to Jerusalem often meant crossing a Roman checkpoint — ka-ching! Since the trip was long and hard on the animals, it was better to travel light and buy the sacrifices in Jerusalem — ka-ching! You can’t use pagan Roman coins for that sort of thing, of course, so off to the money-changers — ka-ching again. Tithes, offerings, sacrifices, festivals, Rome got her cut — ka-ching, ka-ching, ka-ching, ka-ching, ka-ching. In fact, that’s the only reason there even was a temple or a King Herod. Rome would have long ago plundered it and killed him, except you don’t kill the goose that lays the golden eggs.

If the temple was the bridge between heaven and earth, Herod was the troll who lived under the bridge. Every pilgrim was forced to pay the toll. That’s what kept Herod in power: no ka-ching, no king. Ordinary Jews hated the regime, and the anger was boiling over, but Herod didn’t care what they thought; he had Rome on his side.

Into this world steps the young son of a Galilean entrepreneur. Joseph was a tekton, a skilled contractor. His adopted son, Jesus, was a rabbi, who gathered around him a small group of apprentices (mathetai, disciples) and set off for Jerusalem. Along the way he said and did things that implied that the temple was losing its status as the exclusive provider of access to the presence of God. Most Jews had already come to similar conclusions. They knew the Temple was corrupt, and turned to small-group Torah study as an alternative. Jesus adopted and intensified this new worship model. He created a network of small, nimble, and self-replicating clusters of people who could study and pray together and care for the poor. In his words: “Wherever two or more are gathered in my name, I am there in the midst of them.” This threatened the Templar monopoly.

The Temple hierarchy was enraged by this. Their livelihood was at risk. Eventually Jesus went a step farther and staged a protest in which he overturned the foreign-exchange tables at the Temple where Roman coins were swapped for Jewish ones. The Temple was forced to shut down. That was the last straw. Jesus had demonstrated in a graphic, physical way that the Temple really did run on money. Even worse, he had demonstrated that during the time that The Temple, Inc. ceased to function the world still rolled along just fine without it.

Such knowledge could destabilize the entire world.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:55 AM


Seattle chef puts on a rather disturbing Peeps show (HSIAO-CHING CHOU, 4/07/07, Seattle P-I )

These chick-shaped icons have delighted the masses at Easter for more than 50 years. Along the way, Just Born, the company that developed Peeps, has expanded the confection line to include hearts for Valentine's, snowmen for Christmas, pumpkins for Halloween, stars for the Fourth of July, and even a chocolate bunny for Easter.

But it's the chicks that rule the roost and continue to chirp their way into the depths of wild imaginations.

John Moe, senior reporter and occasional host of American Public Media's "Weekend America," wondered if there was more to Peeps than simply devouring them out of the box. So he channeled the creative juices of chef Jason Wilson, who owns Crush restaurant in Seattle, toward concocting an Easter feast fit for Peeps.

"He took to the assignment with gusto and with a blowtorch," said Moe, whose Peeps show will air today on "Weekend America."

[originally posted 4/07/07]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:53 AM


Who Killed Jesus?: After centuries of censure, Jews have been relieved of general responsibility for the death of Jesus. Now who gets the blame? (Paul L. Maier, April 9, 1990, Christianity Today)

"In its effect upon the life of the Jewish people," declares Jerusalem rabbi Eliezar Berkovits, "Christianity's New Testament has been the most dangerous anti-Semitic tract in history." His opinion is shared by a growing number of Christian theologians, many of whom are calling for editorial exclusion of all "anti-Jewish" sections of the New Testament, particularly in John's gospel. The publicity-conscious group of scholars known as the Jesus Seminar now declares that all passages in the Gospels that claim the Jews were at least partly responsible for the Crucifixion are not authentic and should be removed from the New Testament.

Such revisionism reached a new extreme at a conference held at Oxford in September 1989, when A. Roy Eckardt, emeritus professor at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, suggested that Christians ought to abandon the resurrection of Jesus, since it "remains a primordial and unceasing source of the Christian world's anti-Judaism."

Strangely, too many Christian theologians seem silent in the face of such broadsides against the faith. It is high time to return to the historical record.

The question of Jewish involvement in the arrest and judicial process against Jesus of Nazareth in that first "Holy Week" continues to percolate through many strata in the debate between Christians, Jews, and New Testament scholars. Probably no issue in the history of religion has elicited more blind partisanship, misinterpretation, faulty logic, hostility, or fad following. [...]

Just what is historical?

Both interpretations above of the Jewish role on Good Friday are grossly mistaken. To deny any Jewish prosecution may be almost normative in current revisionist theology, but it flies in the face of historical fact. Quite apart from the New Testament accounts, the traditions in the Babylonian Talmud about Yeshu Hannozri, Jesus the Nazarene (Sanhedrin 43a), and the minim ("heretics," particularly Christians) are very negative, an attitude fully congruent with the opposition portrayed in the Gospels. The traditions are negative also toward the house of Annas, incidentally, so any attempted rehabilitation of that priestly family must fail (Pesachim 57a).

From the earliest records, the hostility between synagogue and church is well attested, and much of the apostle Paul's life and theology would have no meaning if this were not the case. Again, quite apart from the New Testament epistles and Acts, the testimony of the first-century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus demonstrates early Sanhedral opposition to Christianity in a remarkable incident that has so many startling parallels to Good Friday that it might well be styled "Good Friday II." This incident involved James, the half-brother of Jesus, and presiding authority at the Apostolic Council (Acts 15). Josephus reports that the high priest Ananus... indicted James during the interim between the administrations of Festus and Albinus as governors of Judea:

Ananus thought that with Festus dead and Albinus still on the way, he would have his opportunity. Convening the judges of the Sanhedrin, he brought before them a man named James, the brother of Jesus who was called the Christ, and certain others. He accused them of having transgressed the law, and condemned them to be stoned to death. (Antiquities, xx, 197)

That Christianity was the charge on this occasion is confirmed by Hegesippus, the earliest of the church chroniclers, who was quoted by the early church historian Eusebius in his Ecclesiastical History (ii, 23). The comparison, then, is conclusive.

Pilate's defensive posture vis-à-vis Jesus, as portrayed in the Gospels, also finds dramatic resonance in the attitude of a later successor, Albinus, who was so angry that Ananus had incited the stoning of James that, upon his arrival, he arranged for the deposition of the high priest.

The high-priestly and Sanhedral opposition to Jesus in the Gospels, then, is dramatically reflected just a generation later in the case of his half-brother James, who was executed by the brother-in-law of Caiaphas. This report, it should again be emphasized, comes from a Jewish (that is, non-Christian) source.

As for Pilate himself, that he had ultimate legal responsibility in Jesus' case is beyond debate. That he could have been subject to the pressures portrayed in the Gospels also appears highly credible. Riot control in Jerusalem was not the simple matter claimed by revisionist critics, and Pilate's Jerusalem cohort of Samaritan and Syrian mercenaries would have been hard pressed to handle thousands of angry demonstrators. According to Josephus's Jewish War (ii, 538f.), a later Roman governor named Cestius Gallus of Syria commanded no less than a legion (several thousand soldiers), but he and his men were chased out of Jerusalem by the riots that sparked the Jewish rebellion in A.D. 66.

Pilate was probably under further pressure from the Roman imperial government in the so-called Episode of the Golden Shields in Jerusalem, according to the first-century Alexandrian Jewish philosopher Philo (Embassy to Gaius 38ff.). Months earlier, Pilate had received a truculent letter from the emperor Tiberius, ordering him to remove shields that he had hung in his praetorium, which Herod Antipas and his brothers had found offensive. The imperial directive also warned Pilate to uphold all Jewish religious customs henceforth. Clearly, then, Pilate was in no position to disregard the wishes of the crowd by setting Jesus free, as critics claim he could so easily have done.

Furthermore, the earliest church fathers, especially Polycarp in Martyrdom of Polycarp (13f.) and Justin in Dialogue with Trypho (17), are virtually unanimous in finding the attitude reflected by the prosecution on Good Friday endorsed by many in the synagogues of their own day. Indeed, some of these opponents were active in harassing them personally for their Christianity. [...]

Logic and extrabiblical sources...offer a better solution to the tangled problem of the prosecution on Good Friday, one that does no violence to the New Testament sources or to historical fact. Both Christians and Jews should find it not only accurate but also congenial. Perhaps, then, they will abandon arbitrary, indeed illogical, excesses of interpretation whenever they discuss the events of Good Friday.

As Father Richard John Neuhaus has written:
In the shadow of the Holocaust, it is both morally imperative and good manners to emphasize the linkage between Judaism and Christianity. But much more is involved than a moral imperative, and certainly much more than good manners. It simply is not possible to understand the Christian story apart from its placement in the Jewish story.

Unfortunately though, this inextricability must lead to enduring, often horrific, tension. Whatever else may be true of Mel Gibson's forthcoming movie then, it affords the opportunity for a discussion of what the passion mystery means to Christians and what its misuse over the centuries has meant for Jews. Even Entertainment Weekly has a long article about the issues surrounding the film this week--a salutary change from our usual cultural obsessions, like the Super Bowl halftime show or whatever.

The passion over the Passion: Mel Gibson has done the unthinkable. He's made a non-English film that is poised to become the most popular film in America. Oh yeah, and it's about some guy named Jesus. (Benyamin Cohen, February 16, 2004, Jewsweek)

[Originally posted: February 18, 2004]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:30 AM


The following is an excerpt from the book Truth and Fiction in The Da Vinci Code: A Historian Reveals What We Really Know About Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Constantine by Bart D. Ehrman (via FSB Associates)

Men in the Ministry of Jesus

The first thing to be said is that it appears that most of Jesus' followers, and certainly his closest followers, were men. The vast majority of the stories about Jesus -- both those that can be established as historically authentic and those about which we might have some doubts -- concern his interaction with men. This is not to be unexpected: women in the first century were typically under the authority of the men in their lives -- their fathers and/or husbands -- and would not have been allowed, for the most part, to be traipsing about the countryside after an itinerant teacher when there was so much work to be done in the home: preparing food, making and mending clothes, taking care of children. These were women's activities; men had more of a public profile outside the home. For a woman to be active outside the home usually meant either that she was not under a man's authority (father or husband) because she was, say, an older single adult or that she was an upper-class woman of means who had others, such as slaves, to take care of her household duties. And even though a select few of Jesus' followers may well have been from the upper classes -- and probably were, as we will see -- the vast majority of them were peasants. And peasant women in areas such as rural Galilee would necessarily have spent most of their time at home working; there was not a lot of time (if any) for leisure activities such as going out midweek to hear a good sermon.

And so it is no surprise that most of Jesus' followers were men, who were more likely to be out and about rather than stuck at home. Moreover, it is a firmly rooted tradition in our historical record that the closest followers of Jesus were all men. These are the twelve disciples, whose gender is not open to serious dispute -- twelve men drawn from the larger company, predominantly of men, around Jesus. This was not only the actual situation attending Jesus' public ministry but also the ideal situation that he himself appears to have envisaged. For, as we have seen, one of the firmly grounded traditions of Jesus' teaching is that he expected the imminent arrival of the kingdom of God in which God would rule his people through human mediators. And who would those human mediators be? Recall the saying of Jesus preserved for us from Q, a saying that passes our historical criteria for authenticity: "Truly I say to you, in the renewed world, when the Son of Man is sitting on the throne of his glory, you [disciples] also will be seated on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel" (Matt. 19:28; cf. Luke 22:30). The future rulers of God's people would all be men.

Women in the Ministry of Jesus

This does not mean that women were absent from Jesus' ministry. Quite the contrary, even though women are not prominently featured in the stories of Jesus in comparison with men, they do appear there on a regular basis, far more than one might anticipate given the patriarchal society that restricted women's public activities in the first century. More than other teachers, including other Jewish teachers, Jesus appears to have been publicly involved with women in his ministry. This is born out by a careful examination of our surviving sources, utilizing the various historical criteria that I spelled out in the previous chapter.

To provide a brief synopsis of the material, I can summarize as follows. It is attested independently in two of our early sources, Mark and L (Luke's special source) that Jesus was accompanied by women in his travels (Mark 15:40-41; Luke 8:1-3). This tradition is corroborated, independently again, by the Gospel of Thomas (e.g., Gosp. Thom. 114) and by other passages where Jesus interacts with women (e.g., Luke 10:38-42; Matt. 15-21- 29). Mark and L also indicate that women provided Jesus with financial support during his ministry, evidently serving as his patrons (Mark 15:40-41; Luke 8:1-3). That is to say, since Jesus during his ministry had no source of income, these women (one of them is named as Mary Magdalene) provided him with the funds that he and his disciples needed in order to live. These obviously would have been wealthier women who would not have been forced to remain at home to do the work necessary to keep a household together. It may be that some of these women, including Mary Magdalene, were single, but not all of them were. One of them is named as "Joanna, the wife of [King] Herod's steward Chuza" (Luke 8:2). Another is called Susanna, but, as with Mary, we are not sure of her marital status. Luke tells us that there were "many others who provided for him [Jesus] out of their own resources." The others named by Mark include one named Salome and another Mary, who is identified as "the mother of James the younger and of Joses." It is possible that this is none other than the mother of Jesus, who is earlier said in Mark 6:3 to have two other sons named James and Joses. In any event, it is clear that Jesus was accompanied in his travels not only by the twelve men disciples but also by women, some of whom provided for him out of their means.

Not only was Jesus accompanied by women, he also was actively in contact with them during his public ministry. In both Mark and John, Jesus is said to have engaged in public dialogue and debate with women who were not among his immediate followers (John 4:1-42; Mark 7:24-30). Both Gospels also record, independently of one another, the tradition that Jesus had physical contact with a woman who anointed him with oil in public (Mark 14:3-9; John 12:1-8). In Mark's account this is an un- named woman in the house of a leper named Simon (this same account is found in a different form in Luke as well, who appears to have gotten it from Mark but changed it in some key ways; see Luke 7:36-50); in John's account it is Mary of Bethany, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, in her own home. And Jesus is said to have helped women in need on several occasions (e.g., Matt. 15:21-29).

In all four of the canonical Gospels, the women who accompanied Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem during the last week of his life are said to have been present at his crucifixion (Matt. 27:55; Mark 15:40-41; Luke 23:49; John 19:25). The earliest traditions in Mark suggest that they alone remained faithful to the end -- all of his male disciples had fled. In addition, it is clear from all four of the canonical Gospels, along with the noncanonical Gospel of Peter, that women followers were the first to believe that Jesus' body was no longer in the tomb (Matt. 28:1-10; Mark i6:i-8; Luke 23:55-24: 1 0; John 2 0:1-2; GOSP. Pet- 50-57). These accounts all differ in significant ways concerning how many women there were at the empty tomb: was it Mary Magdalene alone, as in John? Or Mary Magdalene and other women, as in the other Gospels? And if it was with other women, which other women? It depends on which account you read. In any event, it was these women who were the first to proclaim that Jesus had been raised from the dead. As some feminist historians have pointed out, it is hard to underestimate the importance of this tradition about the women at the tomb: without these women, there may well have been no proclamation of the resurrection -- and thus no Christianity.

There are other interesting traditions about Jesus' contact with women that are found in only one or the other of our Gospels and so do not meet our criterion that multiply attested stories are more likely to be authentic. These would include the memorable moment found only in Luke's Gospel when Jesus encourages his friend Mary of Bethany in her decision to attend to his teaching rather than busy herself with "womanly" household duties (Luke 10:38-42).

What can we say about the contextual credibility of these traditions, in light of our criterion that any tradition about Jesus must plausibly be situated in a first-century Palestinian context to be accepted as historical? It is true that women were generally viewed as inferior to men in the ancient world. But there were exceptions. Greek philosophical schools such as the Epicureans and the Cynics, for example, advocated equality for women. Of course, there were not many Epicureans or Cynics in Jesus' immediate environment of Palestine, and our limited sources may suggest that women, as a rule, were generally even more restricted in that rural part of the empire with respect to their abilities to engage in social activities outside the home and away from the authority of their fathers or husbands. Is it credible, then, that a Jewish teacher would have encouraged and promoted such activities?

We have no solid evidence to suggest that other Jewish teachers had women followers during Jesus' day. But we do know that the Pharisees were supported and protected by powerful women in the court of King Herod the Great. Unfortunately, the few sources that we have say little about women among the lower classes, who did not have the wealth or standing to make them independent of their fathers or husbands.

There is one other consideration, however, that makes it easy to believe that Jesus may have had women publicly following him during his ministry. This involves the particular character of his proclamation of the coming kingdom of God. If you'll recall, Jesus maintained that God was going to intervene in history and bring about a reversal of fortunes. The first would be last, and the last would be first. Those who were rich would be impoverished, and the poor would be rich. Those who were exalted now would be humbled, and the humble would be exalted. As a corollary of his message, Jesus associated with the outcasts and down-trodden of society, evidently as an enactment of his proclamation that the kingdom would belong to such as these. If women were generally looked down upon as inferior by the men who made the rules and ran the society, it does not seem at all implausible that Jesus would have associated freely with them and that they would have been particularly intrigued by his proclamation of the coming kingdom.

Some recent scholars have proposed that Jesus in fact did much more than this, that he preached a "radically egalitarian society" -- that is, he set about to reform society by inventing a new set of rules to govern social relations, creating a community in which men and women were to be treated as absolute equals. This, however, may be taking the evidence too far and possibly in the wrong direction, for there is little to suggest that Jesus was concerned with pushing social reform in any fundamental way in this evil age. In his view, present-day society and all its conventions were soon to come to a screeching halt, when the Son of Man arrived from heaven in judgment on the earth. Far from transforming society from within, Jesus was preparing people for the destruction of society. Only when C-@-od's kingdom arrived would an entirely new order appear, in which peace, equality, and justice would reign supreme. This kingdom, though, would not arrive through the implementation of new social reform programs. It would arrive with a cosmic judge, the Son of Man, who would overthrow the evil and oppressive forces of this world.

To this extent (and I would stress, only to this extent), even though Jesus did not urge a social revolution in his time, his message did have radically revolutionary implications. He may have urged his followers to implement these implications in the present (hence his association with women). And in any event, it should be clear that some persons would find his message more attractive than others -- especially those who considered themselves downtrodden and oppressed in the present age, who would be rewarded in the age to come. If there were women who felt this way, given the patriarchal structures of their society, small wonder they would have been attracted to the apocalyptic message of Jesus and the hope it held out for life in the kingdom that was coming.

Was Jesus Married?

We can now turn to the thorny question of whether Jesus him- self was married. In The Da Vinci Code there is no question about the matter, as both Robert Langdon and Leigh Teabing speak of Jesus' marital status.

As Teabing says at one point to Sophie Neveu:

"Jesus as a married man makes infinitely more sense than our standard biblical view of Jesus as a bachelor."

"Why?" Sophie asked.

"Because Jesus was a Jew," Langdon said . . . According to Jewish custom, celibacy was condemned, and the obligation for a Jewish father was to find a suitable wife for his son. If Jesus were not married, at least one of the Bible's gospels would have mentioned it and offered some explanation for His unnatural state of bachelorhood." (p. 245)

Once again, however, we appear to be in the realm of sensationalized fictional claims instead of the realm of historical reality. I will be dealing in a moment with the general question of whether Jewish men were always married and whether celibacy was "condemned." But first, what have historians said about Jesus' marital status?

It is true that there have occasionally been historical scholars (as opposed to novelists or "independent researchers") who have claimed that it is likely that Jesus was married.6 But the vast majority of scholars of the New Testament and early Christianity have reached just the opposite conclusion. This is for a variety of compelling reasons.

Most significant is a fact that cannot be overlooked or underestimated: in none of our early Christian sources is there any reference to Jesus' marriage or to his wife. This is true not only of the canonical Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John but of all our other Gospels and all of our other early Christian writings put together. There is no allusion to Jesus as married in the writings of Paul, the Gospel of Peter, the Gospel of Philip, the Gospel of Mary, the Gospel of the Nazarenes, the Gospel of the Egyptians, the Gospel of the Ebionites -- and on and on. List every ancient source we have for the historical Jesus, and in none of them is there mention of Jesus being married.

And just think of all the occasions each of the authors of these books would have had to mention Jesus' marriage or his wife, had he been married. Jesus' mother is mentioned in these books, as are his "father" (Joseph), brothers, and sisters. Why would his wife never be mentioned? His disciples are mentioned; his other followers (including other women) are mentioned. Why would his wife never be? Moreover, the spouses of his followers are occasionally alluded to. And in one passage there is a reference to the wives of the apostles and to the wives of Jesus' earthly brothers (i Cor. 9:5)- Why not to the wife of Jesus? (That this is not just an argument from silence will become clear in a moment.)

More specifically with reference to Mary Magdalene, if Jesus were actually married to her, why would there be no reference to it? Why is she not singled out as special anywhere in the canonical Gospels? Why in fact, apart from Luke 8:1-3, where she is mentioned by name along with two other named women (Joanna and Susanna) and several others, is she not mentioned during his ministry at all, let alone as one who stood in a special relationship with Jesus? Why does she figure in none of the stories about Jesus in these Gospels? And even in Gospels where she is thought of as someone special, such as the Gospel of Mary, why is it as someone to whom Jesus delivered an important revelation, rather than as someone to whom he was married?

More telling still, why is she identified as she is, as Mary Magdalene? Scholars are widely agreed that she is called Magdalene to differentiate her from the other Marys named in the New Testament, including Mary the mother of Jesus and Mary of Bethany, the sister of Martha and Lazarus. Magdalene indicates her Place of origin -- the town of Magdala, a fishing village on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. If one wanted to differentiate this Mary from other Marys, why not indicate that this is the one to whom Jesus was married, rather than to say where she was from? Moreover, if they were married, how is it that Jesus is never portrayed as leaving his hometown until his public ministry, but this woman actually comes from a different town (Magdala, rather than Nazareth)?

These are imponderable difficulties for most scholars considering the question of whether Jesus was married, let alone married to Mary Magdalene. She simply doesn't figure prominently in any of our earliest traditions of Jesus, except at the very end, when she along with other women come to anoint his body for burial. And as I pointed out, not even the later Gospels, such as the Gospel of Philip, indicate that they were married (more on these Gospels in the next chapter).

But if in fact Jesus was not married, how can we explain that he was not? Is Robert Langdon right to say that Jewish men were expected to be married and that celibacy was "condemned"?

Unfortunately, this again is simply part of the narrative fiction of The Da Vinci Code; it has no basis in historical reality (or, perhaps, is based on a tendentious reading of much later Jewish sources). For we do know of Jewish men from the time and place of Jesus who were single, and it is quite clear that they were not "condemned" for it. And what is striking is that this tradition of remaining single and celibate can be found in precisely the same ideological circles as Jesus himself, among Jewish apocalypticists of the first century who expected that the world they lived in soon was to come to a crashing halt when God intervened in history in order to overthrow the forces of evil and bring in his good kingdom.

We know about one group of Jewish apocalypticists in particular from this time and place, as we have already seen. This is the group of Essenes who produced the Dead Sea Scrolls. As it turns out, according to ancient records of these Essenes, they were predominantly single, celibate men. This is the testimony of Jewish sources from the time, such as the first-century philosopher Philo, who indicates that "no Essene takes a wife," and the historian Josephus, who indicates that the Essenes shunned marriage; on the other hand, this view is affirmed even by non-Jewish sources, such as the writings of the Roman polymath Pliny the elder, who indicates that the Essenes renounced sex and lived "without any woman."

*Endnotes have been omitted.

In this hilarious and fascinating book, Mr. Ehrman does for Dan Brown's bestseller what Paul Tibbets did for Hiroshima.

[Originally posted: 11/29/04]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:07 AM


Astronomers 'pinpoint time and date of crucifixion and resurrection' (Ananova, 8th May 2003)
Liviu Mircea and Tiberiu Oproiu claim to have pinpointed the exact time and date of Christ's crucifixion and resurrection.

The pair, from the Astronomic Observatory Institute in Cluj, Romania, say Jesus died at 3pm on Friday, April 3, 33 AD, and rose again at 4am on
Sunday, April 5.

They used a computer programme to check biblical references against historical astronomical data.

It has the added benefit of making the dating of our calendar pretty accurate too. [Originally posted: May 8, 2003]
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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Leg of lamb most splendid: Forget everything you know about the dish. Roasted a bit longer than intuition dictates, it takes on sublime texture and flavor. (Russ Parsons, April 4, 2007, LA Times)

THIS weekend being Easter, many Americans will sit down to a Sunday dinner of roast lamb. And that will be the last time they try the meat until the same time next year.

Lamb is to this holiday what turkey once was to Thanksgiving, something served once a year and, for many, eaten more for ceremony than for pleasure. [...]

AUStralian and New Zealand lamb tends to be smaller than American lamb. The American Lamb Council brags that domestic rib chops are 38% bigger than imported chops. American lamb also seems to be more variable in flavor; whereas New Zealand and Australian lamb is fed entirely on grass, much American lamb is finished on grain, which gives the meat a milder taste.

Other than that, your only choice in lamb will be whether you want the leg whole or with the bone removed and tied into a roll. Either can be roasted, and they can be used interchangeably in recipes except for a slight difference in timing. Because the bone conducts heat, the boneless roast will take slightly longer to cook.

For most roasts, I prefer to leave the bone in, strictly for appearance's sake (though boneless legs, untied and opened flat, are superlative for grilling as they offer so much surface area to sear a good crust).

If you're roasting with the bone in, look for legs that have had the hip bone removed for easier carving (as is automatically done at some markets), or have the butcher remove it. For a nicer presentation, I also "french" the shank -- that is, remove the last 1 1/2 to 2 inches of meat all the way around the bone. A butcher can also do this.

Roasting a leg is about as simple as good cooking can get. Season it liberally with salt and pepper. Rub it with olive oil. Brown it in a 450-degree oven for 20 minutes, and then reduce the heat to 325 to let it cook through to an interior temperature of 130 degrees. Let it rest so the juices can redistribute and then serve.

Roasted this way, a leg of lamb is a majestic piece of meat. Anything else you do to it is an elaboration -- not that that would be a bad thing, necessarily.

Pot roasting is usually quite distinct from oven roasting -- it normally means cooking a big piece of meat in a covered pot until it's falling apart. But you can make a delicious roast by braising the leg only briefly on a garlicky bed of fennel and potatoes before removing the lid to finish cooking. This way, the perfume of the vegetables penetrates the meat quickly, but you still get the nice brown crust of a roast.

With either type of roast, you might like a sauce. You can make a simple jus while the lamb is resting by pouring off most of the fat from the roasting pan, sizzling some shallots in what is left and deglazing with red wine. Taste, and if the wine is too intense, dilute it with a little water.

Or make a mint sauce. I really like this adaptation from British chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's upcoming "The River Cottage Meat Book." Shake up chopped mint and minced shallot in vinegar and thicken it with yogurt. It's about as far from the stereotypical super-sweet English mint jelly as you can get -- there's just enough sugar to take the edge off of the acidity.

Italian salsa verde is usually made with a mixture of parsley and basil, but for serving with lamb, make it with parsley and mint. This is an exuberant sauce, like a very gutsy pesto, super-charged with pounded anchovies and capers.

Lamb 101 (PAUL LUKAS, April 4, 2007, NY Sun)

With Easter right around the corner, sales of lamb have been increasing. And that, paradoxically, is part of the problem for the lamb industry.

"People generally think of lamb for special occasions and holidays, and that's about it," the marketing director of the American Lamb Board, Megan Wortman, said. So after Easter, sales will go back down to pre-holiday levels. And those levels tend to be low: Annual lamb consumption in America is only one pound per capita, compared with 66.5 pounds for beef and 50 pounds for pork.

Industry sources cite many reasons for this, including the lack of a concerted marketing effort (there's no lamb equivalent to "Pork: The Other White Meat" or "Beef: It's What's for Dinner"), the squeamishness of some people about consuming such a young animal, and the simple fact that many Americans don't like lamb's robust flavor profile.

As a result, the boutique meat revolution has largely left lamb behind.

[originally posted 4/07/07]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Ham strung? We'll help you pick the best choice for Easter (HSIAO-CHING CHOU, 4/04/07, Seattle P-I)


# 1 (16- to 20-pound) whole bone-in or boneless ham, or half ham
# Ham Glaze (recipe follows)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Trim away any skin and trim external fat to a thickness of about 1/4 to 1/2 inch. Lay ham fat side up in a sturdy roasting pan. Place a rack low enough in the oven so that the ham does not touch the roof of the oven while baking. Place ham in the oven.

You'll need to roast a whole ham for about 2 1/2 to 3 hours, or about 10 minutes per pound. Since today's ham is sold already fully cooked, the purpose of baking it is threefold: to warm it through, to concentrate some of the flavors and to improve the texture. At 2 1/2 hours, begin monitoring the internal temperature with an instant-read thermometer. If not yet at 130 degrees, continue to check the ham every 15 minutes. When the temperature reaches 130 degrees, it is time to apply the glaze. If you don't want to glaze the ham, continue to bake it until it reaches 135-140 degrees.

# Remove the ham, transfer it to a carving board and let it rest 20-30 minutes before carving. Tent loosely with foil, if desired. That way the ham can complete its cooking and the juices can be gently reabsorbed into the meat and not end up on the carving board. While the ham rests is an excellent time to put the finishing touches on the rest of the meal.

[originally posted: 4/04/07]

April 11, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:50 PM


Volcker panel yet to meet (JOSH GERSTEIN, 4/11/09, Politico)

"The whole organizational side of this has been a nightmare," Volcker told the Wall Street Journal on Saturday.

The story echoes a report last month in POLITICO about the slow takeoff of the President's Economic Recovery Advisory Board and how legal constraints on such groups have complicated the process. A Bloomberg report last month also mentioned, in passing, the former Fed chair has been "kept out of major policy decisions, associates say. Volcker was named to head a White House economic advisory board, and then several of his choices for that board were vetoed by the White House." [...]

Last month, budget director Peter Orszag announced that Obama has invited a subpanel of the board to craft plans to simplify the tax code and improve compliance.

Seven of the board's members met with Obama on March 13. However, some members of the panel said they were not told in advance of the session. The president described the event as a meeting of the advisory panel, but the White House later insisted it was not.

In case you were wondering why it seems like this is an administration with no adult supervision....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:35 PM


Axed Ronaldo faces missing Champions League clash as Sir Alex finally loses patience with his posturing superstar (11th April 2009

Teenage sensation Federico Macheda rescued Manchester United’s Premier League title challenge for the second time in a week yesterday — and diverted attention from a crisis confrontation between Old Trafford boss Sir Alex Ferguson and moody superstar Cristiano Ronaldo.

World player of the year Ronaldo was dropped to the bench as United clung to their single-point lead at the top of the Premier League with a 2-1 victory at Sunderland. [...]

Sir Alex has told the Portuguese superstar to cut out the posturing and improve his body language because he fears it has started to affect his concentration during matches.

Sir Alex decided to act after Ronaldo’s error in the 2-2 draw with Porto in the Champions League on Wednesday left United with a tough task to retain their European crown.

Sir Alex may be past it, but even he realizes they're better without him.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:13 AM


The Pirates Challenge Obama's Pre-9/11 Mentality: Distinctions between lawful and unlawful combatants go back to Roman times. (MACKUBIN THOMAS OWENS, 4/11/09, WSJ)

When Somali pirates hijacked the U.S.-flagged Maersk Alabama this week and took 20 Americans hostage, President Barack Obama refused to comment. It seems that our new president is desperate to do everything he can to distance himself from his predecessor, which is why his team has launched a campaign to rebrand the War on Terror. The results are mystifying. "Overseas contingency operations" is the new name for the war, while "man-caused disasters" is a euphemism for terrorist attacks.

In this new rhetorical regime, the administration criticizes President George W. Bush for his "illegal" policies with respect to the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, and claims that the treatment of the detainees themselves constitutes "torture."

But while they've certainly made cosmetic changes, many claim the Obama administration has left the substance of Bush's approach intact.

Attorney General Eric Holder added to this perception when, after visiting Guantanamo, he acknowledged that the facility is very well run and that implementing Mr. Obama's promise to close it down will be difficult.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:53 AM


Taking Communism from the Communists (Fred Siegel, April 08, 2009, Telos)

Modern liberalism has been compared favorably and unfavorably and even conflated with its competitors, communism, socialism, Fabianism, social democracy, anarchism, and fascism. What it has in common with its rivals is that it was a fully fledged ideology that effloresced at the turn of the twentieth century in opposition to the newly emergent worlds of mass production, mass politics, and mass culture. Of all these frameworks, social democracy was the only one that never descended into an "ism." Social democracy satisfied a satiable hunger on the part of working people for a greater share of capitalism's bounty. The others were in search of an unattainable quest for a secular soteriology, a political path to salvation.

Like communism, Fabianism, and fascism, modern liberalism was born of a new class of politically self-conscious intellectuals who despised both the individual businessman's pursuit of profit and the conventional individual's pursuit of pleasure, both of which were made possible by the lineaments of the limited nineteenth-century state. Like anarchism and social democracy, liberalism embraced heroes without enthroning supreme leaders. Like all but social democracy, liberalism was strongly influenced by the Nietzschean ideal of a true aristocracy that might serve as a counterpoint to what were seen as the debasements of modern commercial society shorn of traditional hierarchies.

Liberalism was far more intellectually permeable, and far more politically adaptable, than most of its competitors and more willing than all but the trade-union-tied social democrats to work through the existing government structures. These qualities brought it to the forefront of American life. But it nonetheless represents a distinct ethos often at odds with America's democratic and capitalist traditions. The best short credo of liberalism came from the pen of the literary historian Vernon Parrington in the late 1920s. "Rid society of the dictatorship of the middle class," Parrington insisted, referring to both democracy and capitalism, "and the artist and the scientist will erect in America a civilization that may become, what civilization was in earlier days, a thing to be respected." Alienated from middle-class American life, liberalism drew on an idealized image of both organic pre-modern folkways and the harmony to come when it would re-establish the proper hierarchy of virtue in a post-bourgeois, post-democratic world. [...]

The American thinkers who did the most to carve out the enduring assumptions and mental gestures that streamed into liberalism as an ideology were Herbert Croly, editor of The New Republic, and Randolph Bourne, a spirited young prophet of righteous anger. Bourne bitterly broke with The New Republic over American entry into World War I. He accused Croly and The New Republic of criminal naiveté in thinking that a war against Germany, which was much admired at the journal for its pioneering welfare state, could be turned to progressive ends. But despite this break between Croly with his slow-fire political piety and Bourne's tendency to not so much live but burn intensely, they both argued eloquently in the tradition of John Stuart Mill and H.G. Wells for a clerisy, a secular priesthood that could Europeanize America. It's a legacy that has not only endured but thrives down to the present

It isn't just that they loathe the middle class of a middle class country but that their project requires anti-democratic means to achieve anti-democratic ends, a tough sell in a democracy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:42 AM


Keeley Hawes: ‘There’s a birth and a snog and lots of deaths’: We’re thrilled that Keeley has been busy reprising her role (and that 80s bubble perm) as DI Alex ‘Bolly Knickers’ Drake in the time-travel cop series Ashes to Ashes. And, she reveals, life has been just as frantic off screen (Maureen Paton, 05th April 2009, Daily Mail)

A former child actor, Keeley launched herself into grown-up TV as one of Dennis Potter’s dream-girl sex objects in 1996’s Karaoke, then munched her way through mountains of chips to play a plump young Diana Dors in the ITV drama Blonde Bombshell, followed by a bisexual heart-breaker in the BBC’s sapphic costume shocker Tipping the Velvet.

That role introduced her to a whole new audience, especially after she was misquoted as saying in one lesbian magazine interview that she was bisexual. ‘What I actually said was that everybody is probably perfectly capable of finding somebody of the same sex attractive – but I certainly haven’t had any lesbian relationships,’ she now says. [...]

She returns to our screens this month in Ashes to Ashes, as Detective Inspector Alex Drake, a 21st-century policewoman catapulted back to the sexist 1980s, while barely clad in a tarty off-the-shoulder red top from an undercover job. No wonder she had so many hysterics while trying to maintain her authority, especially with all that crackling sexual tension between Alex and Philip Glenister’s charismatically macho DCI Gene Hunt (who calls her ‘Bolly Knickers’ because he thinks she’s a champagne-quaffing Southerner).

The second series is darker, with a theme of police corruption, and Keeley says that Alex has developed accordingly. ‘There’s a birth and a snog and lots of deaths and a marriage, although I’m not the one giving birth or getting married,’ she grins, and won’t be drawn over who is doing the snogging.

‘Alex is less highly strung and she’s had time to go clothes-shopping, so that off-the-shoulder number has gone. But if I actually appeared in clothes that a woman DI would have worn then, everybody would say, “Where’s the fun in that?” So you have to have some artistic licence.

'Part of the fun of doing a show set in the 80s is the clothes and hair,’ says Keeley, who didn’t escape the Kevin Keegan look of the time because she got her first perm at the age of 11. ‘Back then everyone wanted to look like Chris Cagney from the female cop show Cagney & Lacey,’ says Keeley, who wears a Cagney half-wig on top of her real hair in the new series of Ashes.

She’s filming the CID interiors in the same windowless room in Bermondsey, London, where she shot the MI5 interiors for Spooks, a show that she doesn’t seem to be able to get away from.

Even while she was giving birth to a 10lb 8oz Ralph, the starstruck anaesthetist was saying to Keeley and Matthew: ‘I do miss you both in Spooks.’ ‘I felt like saying, “Shut up! Now is not the time!”’ says Keeley. ‘Ralph is going to be a tall boy – he’s already got his rugby legs.’
‘Botox makes everybody look the same. It’s much cheaper to have a fringe – it takes years off everybody’

Keeley herself is 5ft 10in, which means she often towers over her leading men – though not in the case of six-footers Matthew and Philip.

Before her big break in Karaoke, she had spent 18 months as a model from the age of 16 – albeit a lazy one, by her account, who couldn’t be bothered to go on diets. ‘I’m a size 12 and I’m very happy with it. Matthew likes me however I am, all through my pregnancies and afterwards,’ says Keeley, who told me when we last met nearly four years ago that he even said he would be happier if she were half a stone heavier (what an ideal husband). ‘Life is simply too short to think about everything you put in your mouth, and it’s not good for children to see you picking over bits of salad.’

And despite her awareness of the passing years, she’s firmly against cosmetic surgery. ‘Botox and other fillers make everybody look the same, with the big cheekbones where they fill you up. It’s much cheaper to have a fringe – it takes years off everybody,’ she grins.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:29 AM


Welcome to the Free Music Archive: "It's not just free music; it's good music" (Jason Sigal on 04/08/2009, Free Music Archive)

This is FMA Beta!

Welcome to the Free Music Archive, a social music website built around a curated library of free, legal audio. It's a work in progress, and your participation will help us continue to grow.

So before you stray too far, why not Sign Up and create a profile? That way, you'll be able to create and share mixes, blog, post comments, save favorites, and connect with friends. If you're already logged in, you'll see a "profile" button at the top of the screen. Edit your profile by clicking the Edit pencil, and hit "save" when you're done.

Looking for a place to get started? WFMU compiled a couple Free Music Archive samplers together last year, here's Volume 1 and here's Volume 2. You can listen to a sample track below, and hit + to pop-out a playlist for continued listening while you cruise the site.

WFMU is the Jersey City non-commercial station that came up with this whole idea, but we are just one of several major curators who are collaborating on this project.

Fellow curators include radio stations like KEXP (Seattle) and KBOO (Portland OR), webcasters like DUBLAB (Los Angeles) and Halas Radio (Israel), netlabels (Comfort Stand), venues (ISSUE Project Room), and amazing online collectives like CASH Music. Though we all share a common goal, each curator brings a unique mix of audio to the site. "Browse By Curator" up top and get a sense of where each curator is coming from. We'll be announcing more curators in the coming weeks, as we also invite artists and labels to manage their content. Please get in touch if you'd like to participate.

Grew up listening to FMU when it was the station of Upsala College in East Orange, NJ. The Wife was always kind of dubious about our stories of growing up in the ghetto, so a few years ago we went on a quick tour of the old 'hood. Here's what remains of the campus:

It looked like Beirut in the '80s.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:26 AM


Faith, Proof and Relics: This week's disclosure on the missing history of the Shroud of Turin sheds new light on a much studied object. Peter Manseau on the enduring appeal of holy objects. (PETER MANSEAU, 4/10/09, WSJ)

The Shroud of Turin underscores an essential aspect of religion. Believers suspend their rational processes and undertake an act of faith. Yet the power of holy relics is that they offer the tantalizing possibility of concrete proof of that belief, setting up a battle between reason and devotion.

Like any good true-crime story, the mystery of the Shroud starts with a body. To know who he is, and why he matters, we need to ask how he got there. A partial answer came earlier this week, when a report from Rome shined new light on the Shroud, Christianity's most hotly contested relic. With the announced discovery of a document explaining the 150 years in which the supposed burial cloth of Jesus disappears from the historical record, Vatican researchers have attempted to provide a missing link that could bolster claims of the Shroud's authenticity. Inevitably, the light of this renewed interest will shine just as brightly on longstanding doubts.

The Shroud is one of the relics related to the events Christians commemorate this weekend, including the Spear of Destiny (said to be the Roman soldier's lance that pierced Jesus's side), the Crown of Thorns, a handful of Holy Nails and a Holy Sponge (from which Jesus drank gall before he died). No matter who is right about where they came from, the most interesting question still remains: Why should these physical objects hold such enduring spiritual fascination?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:09 AM


Life On Venus: Europe’s Last Man (Adam Kirsch, World AffairsJournal )

[T]hen came 1989 and the end of history—or at least The End of History and the Last Man, as Francis Fukuyama put it in his influential book. It is almost always referred to simply by the first part of its title; to his critics, Fukuyama is the man who declared “the end of history,” triumphally and, needless to say, prematurely.

But the second part of the book’s title is actually more telling, and more representative of Fukuyama’s argument. No sooner had humanity emerged from a century of hot and cold wars than Fukuyama was resurrecting Nietzsche’s admonition that a world of peace and prosperity would be a world of Last Men. “The life of the last men is one of physical security and material plenty, precisely what Western politicians are fond of promising their electorates,” he pointed out. “Should we fear that we will be both happy and satisfied with our situation, no longer human beings but animals of the species homo sapiens?”

While Fukuyama appreciates the seriousness of the Nietzschean warning, he hears it from the perspective of a partisan, not a foe, of liberalism. The danger he foresees is not simply that bourgeois democracy will cause human beings to degenerate, but that degenerate human beings will be unable to preserve democracy. Without the sense of pride and the love of struggle that Fukuyama, following Plato, calls thymos, men—and there is always an implication that thymos is a specifically masculine virtue—cannot establish freedom or protect it:

It is only thymotic man, the man of anger who is jealous of his own dignity and the dignity of his fellow citizens, the man who feels that his worth is constituted by something more than the complex set of desires that make up his physical existence—it is this man alone who is willing to walk in front of a tank or confront a line of soldiers. And it is frequently the case that without such small acts of bravery in response to small acts of injustice, the larger train of events leading to fundamental changes in political and economic structures would never occur.

When Fukuyama published his book in 1992, he was specifically concerned about the loss of thymos among Americans. Today, his predictions about the debility of the post-historical world still pass for common currency among neoconservatives; what has changed, dramatically, is the consensus view about where that post-historical world can be found. The American response to the 9/11 attacks—the war on terror, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan—have banished any fear that America might grow passive and debellicized. The opposite complaint is much more likely to be heard, especially from European critics of America. And partly for that reason, it is to Europe that Americans now look for examples of the Last Man. The opposition of Europeans to the Iraq War, from a neoconservative perspective, all but epitomizes the inability “to walk in front of a tank or confront a line of soldiers” that Fukuyama warned about.

This was the essence of Robert Kagan’s argument in Of Paradise and Power, published in 2003 on the eve of the Iraq War. Europe, Kagan wrote, “is turning away from power” and “entering a post-historical paradise of peace and relative prosperity,” while the United States “remains mired in history.” He dwelled, in terminology purposefully reminiscent of Nietzsche and Fukuyama, on the psychological frailty, the thymotic decay, of contemporary European society. “The real question,” he writes, “is one of intangibles—of fears, passions, and beliefs.” Kagan’s much-quoted formula, “Americans are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus,” is a more or less overt accusation of European effeminacy. Or, as James Sheehan puts it, in more value-neutral terms, in Where Have All the Soldiers Gone?: “The eclipse of the willingness and ability to use violence that was once so central to statehood has created a new kind of European state, firmly rooted in new forms of public and private identity and power. As a result, the European Union may become a superstate—a super civilian state—but not a superpower.”

Is it true that Western Europeans, after half a century of peace and prosperity, suffer from the kind of moral malaise that Nietzsche warned about, and that Fukuyama and Kagan diagnosed? One way to answer this question is to listen, not to American pundits, but to Europeans themselves—in particular, to their novelists. In the nineteenth century, a reader of Dostoevsky and Flaubert could have gained insights into the state of Europe that a reader of newspapers would have missed. In the twenty-first, it is at least possible that the most significant European novelists can give us similar insights. Precisely because novels are not, and should not be, political documents, they offer a less guarded, more intuitive report on the inner life of a society. And when novelists from different European countries, writing in different languages and very different styles, all seem to corroborate one another’s intuitions, it is at least fair to wonder whether a real cultural shift is under way.

The three novels I wish to consider are not, of course, anything like a representative sample of the fiction being written in Europe over the last two decades. But W. G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn, Michel Houellebecq’s The Elementary Particles, and Ian McEwan’s Saturday are as distinguished and emblematic a selection as might be made. All of these writers were born in the 1940s and 1950s, and emerged as major novelists in the 1990s. In other words, they are members of the post–World War II generation, and did or are doing their most important work in the post–Cold War period. They belong to, and write about, a cosmopolitan, peaceful, unified Western Europe: McEwan (b. 1948) is English; Sebald (1944–2001), a German, spent most of his adult life in England; and Houellebecq (b. 1958), who is French, has lived in Ireland and Spain.

While all of these writers are celebrated and critically acclaimed, they in no sense form a school or movement. Houellebecq is an often-crude satirist, whose misanthropic, pornographic novels have won him a scandalous reputation. (The most recent of many affaires Houellebecq came last year, when his own mother attacked him in viciously personal terms for misrepresenting her in his fiction.) He could not be more different from Sebald, who had a considerable reputation as a literary scholar before he began to publish a series of unclassifiable books—hybrids of fiction, memoir, and history—in the 1990s. Sebald’s melancholy works were immediately acclaimed in Germany and then in the United States, and before he died, in a car accident, at the age of 57, he was often mentioned as a candidate for the Nobel Prize. McEwan has been at the center of the English literary world since the 1970s, but he has emerged in the last decade as probably the best novelist of his generation, on the strength of books like Amsterdam and Atonement. The New Statesman has described him as “the closest thing we have to a ‘national novelist.’”

Three more different writers could hardly be invented. Which makes it all the more suggestive, I think, that their portraits of the spiritual state of contemporary Europe are so powerfully complementary. They show us a Europe that is cosmopolitan, affluent, and tolerant, enjoying all the material blessings that human beings have always struggled for, and that the Europeans of seventy years ago would have thought unattainable. Yet these three books are also haunted by intimations of belatedness and decline, by the fear that Europe has too much history behind it to thrive. They suggest currents of rage and despair coursing beneath the calm surface of society, occasionally erupting into violence. And they worry about what will happen when a Europe, gorged on historical good fortune, must defend itself against an envious and resentful world.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:02 AM


Light rail helps take fans out to the ballgame: Up to 6,000 fans used trains on D-Backs' Opening Day, Metro says (Jim Walsh, Apr. 11, 2009, The Arizona Republic)

Metro light rail is a big hit so far with Arizona Diamondbacks fans, who jammed trains as if they were in Boston, New York or Chicago for the first week of games.

Fans formed a sea of Sedona red hours before Opening Day on Monday as they lined up at fare vending machines at Mesa's Sycamore station, and they kept coming through the team's three-game home stand against the Colorado Rockies. [...]

Tuesday and Wednesday.

"I think that's going to be a trend. It will be an established ritual in the East Valley," said Mike James, Mesa's deputy transportation director.

Metro is installing two additional fare boxes near the operations building at the Mesa Transportation Center to reduce long lines, James said. They will be positioned to reduce glare on the screens of the fare machines.

A number of fans said they drove long distances from east Mesa, Gilbert and Apache Junction to park at the Mesa station and ride the train to the game.

"It's convenient. It saves on parking. It's right at the ballpark. It saves time and money," said Art Gracia of Mesa, who was wearing a Chicago Cubs hat to the Diamondbacks game.

Leave it to America's pastime to lead folk to wisdom and decency.

April 10, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:15 PM


Obamas fly in chef 860 miles... just to make pizza (Daily Mail, 10th April 2009)

When you're the president of the United States, only the best pizza will do - even if that means flying a chef 860 miles.

Chris Sommers, 33, jetted into Washington from St Louis, Missouri, on Thursday with a suitcase of dough, cheese and pans to to prepare food for the Obamas and their staff.

Makes Bill Clinton's haircuts look economical....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:51 PM


Harvard astrophysicist: Sunspot activity correlates to global climate change (Rick C. Hodgin, April 10, 2009, TG Daily)

Harvard astrophysicist Dr. Willie Soon tells us that Earth has seen a reduced level of sunspot activity for the past 18 months, and is currently at the lowest levels seen in almost a century. Dr. Soon says "The sun is just slightly dimmer and has been for about the last 18 months. And that is because there are very few sunspots." He says when the sun has less sunspots, it gives off less energy, and the Earth tends to cool. He notes 2008 was a cold year for this very reason, and that 2009 may be cold for the same.

As of today, there have been 15 days in a row without any sunspots. In 2008 there were 266 days scattered throughout the year without sunspots, and in 2007 there were 163 days without sunspots. These are the #2 and #9 fewest sunspots years seen since 1911.

Dr. Soon's field of specialty is the sun. He explains that sunspots are planet-sized pockets of magnetism with much greater energy output and matter expulsion, some of which strikes the Earth's atmosphere as extra energy from the sun. He says when sunspots are present, the temperature goes up, when they are not present the temperature goes down. He also told a reporter at WBZ, CBS TV 38 (in Boston, MA) that beginning in 1645 and continuing through 1715, there were no observed sunspots. This is the period known as the Little Ice Age.

He also explains that sunspots go in cycles, which are around 11 years. There are periods of maximum activity (called the Solar Max) and periods of minimal or no activity (called the Solar Min).

Around the year 2000, the current cycle had reached its maximum. As of right now in 2009, it is at a period of zero sunspot activity.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:07 PM


Abortions leave China with 32M extra boys (Times of India, 11 Apr 2009)

Selective abortion in favour of males has left China with 32 million more boys than girls, creating an imbalance that will endure for decades, an investigation released on Friday warned.

The probe provides ammunition for those experts who predict China’s obsession with a male heir will sow a bitter fruit as men facing a life of bachelorhood fight for a bride.

“Although some imaginative and extreme solutions have been suggested, nothing can be done now to prevent this imminent generation of excess men,” says the paper, published online by the British Medical Journal (BMJ).

Sure it can. War kills young men.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:00 PM


Remembering the Nazis’ War on the ‘Genetically Unfit’ (AILEEN JACOBSON, 4/10/09, NY Times)

BEFORE the Nazis began the mass murder of Jews, they started to sterilize or kill hundreds of thousands of their own — non-Jewish Germans, including children, who were considered mentally or physically defective. They even issued a “Ten Commandments for Choosing a Mate” that advised against marrying a person with an undesirable characteristic, or the possibility of inheriting one: “Never marry the one good person from a bad family.”

This intensive war against the “genetically unfit” is one of the areas explored in “Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race,” a handsome and harrowing exhibition about the Nazis’ use of science, at Charles B. Wang Center at Stony Brook University through June 12. The exhibition, a traveling version of one that opened at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington in April 2004, will be accompanied by 10 public events and lectures by experts in fields like medicine, history and philosophy.

Besides the extent of Nazi mutilation and murder, “it’s also surprising how accepted it was by the medical establishment in Germany,” said Jack Coulehan, a Stony Brook professor emeritus who still teaches medical ethics and was involved in bringing the exhibition to the university.

You can understand why they don't want to face the fact, but Nazi "science" was largely derived from American Darwinists, population controllers, nativists and the like and modern abortion law is nothing but a reflection of that same politics.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:57 PM


Catholic Democrats: Is Their Support for Obama Fraying? (Amy Sullivan, Apr. 10, 2009, TIME)

Barack Obama won the White House in November with the help of a majority of Catholic voters, but it didn't mean that Catholics, who in recent years had mostly sided with the GOP because of social issues, had any illusions about Obama's stance on such sensitive matters.

They fully expected that he would overturn the so-called Mexico City policy restricting family-planning funding overseas, reverse George W. Bush's ban on federal funding for embryonic-stem-cell research and move to rescind a last-minute Bush Administration "conscience clause" rule for medical providers, the latter of which he will probably do as early as next week. But they also presumed Obama would handle and communicate these weighty decisions with a delicate touch, and in that respect, the President has disappointed the crucial voting bloc. It's something Obama can ill afford, especially at time when his Administration is under constant fire from a determined group of conservative Catholics.

So they're perfectly willing to sell him their consciences but want him to ask nicer? And they wonder why no one takes the Christian Left seriously.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:37 PM


On Cuba, Obama must first think of Latin America – and democracy: The region's democracies need to be defended, as does US nurturing of liberty (The Monitor's Editorial Board, April 10, 2009, CS Monitor)

In coming days, Mr. Obama's actions toward the island state will reveal if he will be an active democracy promoter in global affairs, much like presidents before him.

So far, he appears to be putting other US interests first. Obama has distanced himself from the "freedom agenda" of George W. Bush. His secretary of state has downplayed human rights in China. The US no longer expects democracy in Afghanistan. And no matter what the fate of Iraq's fragile elected government, US combat troops will likely exit there next year.

But the issue of Cuba could force Obama to become a champion of liberty, as he said he wanted to be during the 2008 campaign.

Imagine if folks had to ask if the guy you voted for would act like an American or not?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:34 PM


Hostage killed as French storm yacht held by Somali pirates (Xan Rice, 4/10/09, guardian.co.uk)

A French military operation to free a yacht hijacked by Somali pirates backfired today when one of the hostages was killed, highlighting the perils facing US forces trying to free an American seaman being held captive in a parallel pirate standoff.

Four French hostages, including a three-year-old child, were rescued on board the Tanit, which was hijacked en route to Zanzibar last weekend. Two pirates also died in the raid, according to president Nicolas Sarkozy's office.

Despite the death of one of the hostages, the French government stood by the commando-style tactics – which they have used before – and stressed that they would not give in to pirates running amok in the Indian Ocean, who have seized dozens of vessels for ransom over the past year.

"During the operation, a hostage sadly died," a statement from Sarkozy's office said. But it added that the president "confirms France's determination not to give into blackmail, and to defeat the pirates".

Here's something you won't hear us say everyday: the French are absolutely right. The mission was a success.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:12 AM

CASE FILES (via Ted Welter):

Neko Case And Will Sheff In Concert (NPR.org, April 9, 2009, All Songs Considered)

Emerging out of the sound of the spring peepers that close her new album, Middle Cyclone, Neko Case and her five-piece band opened the night's performance with "Maybe Sparrow." The stage was set in something out of a nature cartoon with trees painted on long banners and an owl overseeing it all. Behind them videos of cyclones, airplanes and anthropomorphic animals were projected on a screen. But the attention was clearly on Case, her stunning voice, as well as her solid backing band. She gave a full concert from Washington, D.C.'s 9:30 Club, which was webcast live on NPR.org. Okkervil River's Will Sheff opened, stepping in for Crooked Fingers, the Eric Bachmann outfit that double-booked that night.

-Neko Case Live at The Triple Door 2009-01-25 (Internet Music Archive)

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:05 AM


Fearing Uprising, Russia Backs Moldova's Communists: This week's peaceful protests in Moldova that transformed into riots have raised the possibility of an anti-Communist revolution like those seen in Georgia and Ukraine. Now Russia is stepping in to back Moldova's old guard, but the country's tangled history could prove to be diplomatic quicksand for the West. More protests were brewing on Friday. (Der Spiegel, 4/10/09)

Moldova's current president, Vladimir Voronin, has belittled the protests and accused neighboring Romania of organizing a coup. He even expelled Romania's ambassador on Wednesday. "When the flag of Romania was raised on state buildings, the attempts of the opposition to carry out a coup became clear," he said. "We will not allow this."

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov lined up behind Voronin on Thursday and described the protesters who ransacked the parliament as "pogrom-makers" bent on destroying the country.

In the West, the uprising looked like another post-Soviet "color" revolution, a people's movement against an old-guard Communist regime, such as Georgia's 2003 "Rose Revolution" or Ukraine's 2004 "Orange Revolution." From Moscow's perspective, that's exactly the problem. "The Moscow authorities are afraid of spontaneous mass protests in the regions … and, for this reason, Russian television is showing what is happening in an exclusively negative light," Dmitry Oreshkin, a Moscow-based political analyst, told Reuters. "It is beneficial for the Kremlin to show the consequences of peoples' protests to justify why it needs to be tough."

The Duma, or Russia's lower house of parliament, has called on the EU to condemn the protests. But some of the anti-Communist opposition parties in Moldova want to join the EU, if possible by reunifying with Romania. The two nations were unified for a while before World War II, and about two-thirds of Moldovans claim Romanian descent. Reunification was a campaign issue in Sunday's election. "If Romanians and Moldovans decide in favor of a union," one European diplomat said in last week's run-up to the vote, "the EU will not oppose them."

Now the UR has to decide whether he's a Realist, who backs Russian oppression, or an American, who backs self-determination.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:12 AM


Top 50 Manliest Cities, Charlotte Ranks Second (Chelsi Zash, 3/5/2009, DigTriad)

Who knew? Apparently having too many home furnishing stores like Ikea in your city is a sign of being "unmanly."

At least that's the conclusion of a study released Thursday that ranks "America's Manliest Cities" on criteria such as the number of professional major league sports teams, popularity of tools and hardware, and frequency of monster truck rallies.

Nashville came out on top in the study conducted by Sperling's BestPlaces. Mars Snackfood US and its Combos snack food brand commissioned the study. The ranking is part of the Combos launch of its Ultimate Man Zone Sweepstakes, which awards prize packages to upgrade men's tailgating, grilling, home theater or gaming "zones."

New York City finished last out of 50 of the largest U.S. metropolitan areas.

Cities lost ranking points for "emasculating" characteristics like the abundance of home furnishing stores, high minivan sales and subscription rates to beauty magazines.

Nashville grabbed the top spot in the ranking thanks to its high number of NASCAR enthusiasts, popularity of hunting and fishing, and concentration of barbecue restaurants.

Rounding out the top five were: Charlotte, N.C.; Oklahoma City; Cincinnati; and Denver.

As their own criteria demonstrates, straight men don't live in cities. For one thing, letting someone else barbecue your food is little different than having season tickets to the ballet.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:16 AM


More Squatters Are Calling Foreclosures Home (JOHN LELAND, 4/10/09, NY Times)

When the woman who calls herself Queen Omega moved into a three-bedroom house here last December, she introduced herself to the neighbors, signed contracts for electricity and water and ordered an Internet connection.

What she did not tell anyone was that she had no legal right to be in the home.

Ms. Omega, 48, is one of the beneficiaries of the foreclosure crisis. Through a small advocacy group of local volunteers called Take Back the Land, she moved from a friend’s couch into a newly empty house that sold just a few years ago for more than $400,000.

Michael Stoops, executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless, said about a dozen advocacy groups around the country were actively moving homeless people into vacant homes — some working in secret, others, like Take Back the Land, operating openly.

Now here's a movement that the Right -- for whom Hernando De Soto's classic, The Other Path, has long been required reading -- can get behind. Side by side with the defense of property in Anglo-American law marches the unique hostility to unproductive uses of property, the source of adverse possession and eminent domain law.

-ESSAY: Toxic Assets Were Hidden Assets: We can't afford to allow shadow economies to grow this big.(Hernando De Soto, 3/25/09, WSJ)

Today's global crisis -- a loss on paper of more than $50 trillion in stocks, real estate, commodities and operational earnings within 15 months -- cannot be explained only by the default on a meager 7% of subprime mortgages (worth probably no more than $1 trillion) that triggered it. The real villain is the lack of trust in the paper on which they -- and all other assets -- are printed. If we don't restore trust in paper, the next default -- on credit cards or student loans -- will trigger another collapse in paper and bring the world economy to its knees.

If you think about it, everything of value we own travels on property paper. At the beginning of the decade there was about $100 trillion worth of property paper representing tangible goods such as land, buildings, and patents world-wide, and some $170 trillion representing ownership over such semiliquid assets as mortgages, stocks and bonds. Since then, however, aggressive financiers have manufactured what the Bank for International Settlements estimates to be $1 quadrillion worth of new derivatives (mortgage-backed securities, collateralized debt obligations, and credit default swaps) that have flooded the market.

These derivatives are the root of the credit crunch. Why? Unlike all other property paper, derivatives are not required by law to be recorded, continually tracked and tied to the assets they represent. Nobody knows precisely how many there are, where they are, and who is finally accountable for them. Thus, there is widespread fear that potential borrowers and recipients of capital with too many nonperforming derivatives will be unable to repay their loans. As trust in property paper breaks down it sets off a chain reaction, paralyzing credit and investment, which shrinks transactions and leads to a catastrophic drop in employment and in the value of everyone's property.

Ever since humans started trading, lending and investing beyond the confines of the family and the tribe, we have depended on legally authenticated written statements to get the facts about things of value. Over the past 200 years, that legal authority has matured into a global consensus on the procedures, standards and principles required to document facts in a way that everyone can easily understand and trust.

The result is a formidable property system with rules and recording mechanisms that fix on paper the facts that allow us to hold, transfer, transform and use everything we own, from stocks to screenplays. The only paper representing an asset that is not centrally recorded, standardized and easily tracked are derivatives.

Property is much more than a body of norms. It is also a huge information system that processes raw data until it is transformed into facts that can be tested for truth, and thereby destroys the main catalysts of recessions and panics -- ambiguity and opacity.

-Hernando De Soto (Cato Institute)
-INTERVIEW: CULTURE CLASH: A Talk with Hernando De Soto (Peter Robinson April 22, 2002, Uncommon Knowledge)
-INTERVIEW: Hernando De Soto Interview (Dario Fernandez-Morera, November 30, 1999, Reason)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:59 AM


A Trio Turns Back to Making Jazz, Not Firewood (NATE CHINEN, 4/10/09, NY Times)

Jeff Ballard and Larry Grenadier were in Europe last fall, on tour with the Brad Mehldau Trio, when they got the horrific news. Mark Turner, their partner in the dynamic post-bop band Fly, had sliced through two fingers of his left hand with a power saw while cutting firewood, severing nerves and tendons. Though typically low-key about his injury at the time — “I had an accident,” he wrote his band mates by e-mail — it was uncertain whether Mr. Turner, among the top tenor saxophonists of his generation, would ever be able to play again. [...]

Over the last five years Fly has emerged as one of the most compellingly cohesive small groups in jazz, with a sparse but supple chemistry admired by other musicians. Mr. Mehldau first heard the band in a New York club in 2004, experiencing “a pang of jealousy,” he recalled in an e-mail message, “because they had their own thing and were so confident and strong, and so graceful in their identity.” (Before long Mr. Mehldau overhauled his own trio in Fly’s image, bringing Mr. Ballard aboard.) Diego Barber, a classically trained guitarist from the Canary Islands, tapped all three members to play on his debut, “Calima,” just out on Sunnyside.

The members of Fly, now all in their 40s, have also become figures of considerable influence, and even some awe, among younger musicians. “There’s stuff on YouTube of Mark just practicing,” Mr. Ballard said with a chuckle during a group interview at the Midtown offices of ECM. “Like, ‘Mark Turner warming up.’ Four million hits.” (The clip has actually been viewed about 17,000 times, still impressive for what amounts to an arcane scalar exercise.)

Fly is a collective trio, musically as well as socially: each member contributes tunes, pulls an equal share of weight and helps determine the direction and shape of the music. It’s a familiar model of modern-jazz interplay, but it’s hardly common in practice, especially for the saxophone-bass-drums trio, a format that has evoked top-down hierarchies ever since the tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins adopted it more than 50 years ago.

The group originally formed, Mr. Grenadier said, “because of this ideal of ultimate democracy.”

“They always say jazz is democratic music, and it is, but there are aspects of it that aren’t too,” he said. “So in our desire to form a band apart from all of the side projects we do, part of the idea was, there’s not going to be a leader, and we’re all going to write for it.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:54 AM


Rove: Biden a 'blowhard' and 'liar' (CAROL E. LEE, 4/10/09, Politico)

Karl Rove called Joe Biden a “blowhard” and a “liar” in response to some of the vice president’s comments about the Bush administration.

“He’s a serial exaggerator. If I was being unkind I would say he’s a liar, but it’s a habit he ought to drop,” Rove said on FOX News. “"You should not exaggerate and lie like this when you are the Vice President of the United States.”

Irrespective of the truth of the story, Joe Biden is indeed so compulsively dishonest that no one can take his word for anything.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:38 AM


Who Gets a State, and Why?: The Relative Rules of Sovereignty (Stephen D. Krasner, Foreign Affairs)

In international politics, sovereignty still rules. Recent crises in Kosovo, Georgia, and Gaza are reminders that recognition as a sovereign state is the golden ring that political leaders hope to grasp. Recognition offers even small and weak communities a wealth of benefits, including international status, diplomatic protection, possible control over natural resources, seignorage (the right to print money and sell other assets such as flags of convenience and Internet domain names), and access to foreign aid from richer states and international financial institutions. [...]

The many different arrangements that prevail regarding recognition, autonomy, and effectiveness of governance show that sovereignty does not mean just one thing. Sovereignty has not been displaced by other ways of ordering political life -- such as trusteeships, tributary states, regional or world government -- precisely because it has been so malleable, not because it provides a fixed, universal template. No legislature sets authoritative rules for how sovereignty should be enacted; no court or umpire settles competing claims. Any kind of deal is possible, and the reason particular arrangements succeed or fail is not whether they conform to a conventional pattern, but whether they align with the interests of important domestic and international players. Sovereignty, in other words, is whatever the relevant actors say it is.

It is whatever America says it is.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:34 AM


Some rays of sunshine for the economy: Good news from the retail, banking and foreign trade sectors sends hearts -- and markets -- soaring. (E. Scott Reckard, April 10, 2009, LA Times)

After months of nearly unmitigated gloom, glimmers of improvement are emerging in the U.S. economy.

On Thursday, retail sales figures showed that the decline in consumer spending that began with a miserable Christmas shopping season might be stabilizing. Wells Fargo & Co. surprised analysts by saying it expected to report a record first-quarter profit despite setting aside $4.6 billion for potential loan losses. [...]

As if to cap things off, San Francisco's Wells Fargo, the biggest bank from a state that has become a national emblem for foreclosures and job losses, stunned Wall Street by predicting its earnings would be more than twice what analysts had forecast -- a record $3 billion in first-quarter profit.

Clearly benefiting from the low interest rates engineered by the government, Wells reported that its mortgage business was booming, with encouraging news about loans to buy houses as well as a tsunami of refinancings. It also said its takeover of Wachovia Corp., the Eastern banking giant that nearly collapsed last year after heavy mortgage losses and a run on deposits, was working out better than expected.

A report that all 19 of the nation's largest banks were likely to pass the government's so-called stress tests for financial health also buoyed confidence. The stock market reacted as if the news marked a turning point for the battered banking industry, and perhaps the larger economy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:05 AM


April 9, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:10 PM


Why Israel Will Bomb Iran: The rational argument for an attack. (David Samuels, April 9, 2009, Slate)

What the nuclear optimists miss is that it is not the United States that is directly threatened by the Iranian nuclear program but Israel—and the calculations that drive our Middle Eastern client state are very different from those that guide the behavior of its superpower patron.

Less sanguine types—who think that Israel isn't bluffing—generally fall into two camps: those who think that the Israelis are crazy and require the firm hand of America to restrain them and those who think that the Iranian leadership lives on a different planet and will use nuclear weapons against Israel. Yet it is not necessary to stipulate that either party is crazy in order to see why an Israeli attack on Iran makes sense.

From the standpoint of international relations theory, the scariest thing about recent Israeli rhetoric is that an attack on Iran lines up quite well with Israel's rational interests as a superpower client.

While Israeli bluster is clearly calculated to push America to take a more aggressive stance toward Iran, that doesn't mean the Israelis won't actually attack if President Obama decides on a policy of engagement that leaves the Iranians with a viable nuclear option. In fact, the more you consider the rationality of an Israeli attack on Iran in the context of Israel's relationship with its superpower patron, the more likely an attack appears.

...Israel doesn't owe Barack Obama anything and their attacking Iran would be wildly popular with the President's employers, the American people.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:01 PM


As Texas goes, so goes the nation on textbooks (Dr. Charles Garner and David Klinghoffer, 4/08/09, DC Examiner)

When the dust settled, the resulting vote left Texas with the most advanced science standards on evolution of any state in the country. As you can imagine, many “experts” and activists on the Darwinian side are outraged. The citizens had failed to listen obediently! They had dared to think for themselves.

Lobbyists for strict enforcement of Darwinian theory as sacred dogma fought hard. In testimony given before the vote, scientists in favor of strengthening the requirement of critical analysis kept their remarks focused on the relevant scientific issues.

Darwinian activists, however, sought to scare everyone with hysterical warnings about Biblical literalist “creationism” run amok—a grossly dishonest red herring, often waved about in the Darwin debate, and one that the SBOE saw through and dismissed. The new science standards are about science, not religion.

The newly adopted standards call on students, “in all fields of science, [to] analyze, evaluate and critique scientific explanations by using empirical evidence, logical reasoning, and experimental and observational testing including examining all sides of scientific evidence of those scientific explanations so as to encourage critical thinking by the student.”

In addition, high school students are specifically required to “analyze and evaluate” evidence on evolution-related topics including the fossil record, natural selection as an evolutionary mechanism, the complexity of the cell, and the common ancestry of humans and animals.
Texas is now one of seven states with such educational requirements. Previously, state science standards there called on students to examine the “strengths and weaknesses” of scientific theories, including the theory of Darwinian evolution through natural selection.
The new standards improve on the old by their greater clarity and specificity, detailing, for the first time, the main headings under which Darwinian theory most urgently needs critical scientific attention.

It is not a revolution but a solid, sober, and welcome reworking of the standards. What’s even more important is the impact this development will have far beyond Texas and its broad borders.
It’s sometimes said by revelers and gamblers that what happens in Las Vegas, stays in Las Vegas. That’s not true of Texas. As one of the country’s major consumers of textbooks, Texas powerfully influences the way educational texts for high school and other students are written. The same critical thinking on science that is being encouraged in that state will also influence students elsewhere in America.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:53 PM


Obama may fire pollution particles into stratosphere to deflect sun's heat in desperate bid to tackle global warming (David Gardner, 09th April 2009, Daily Mail)

President Barack Obama is considering a radical plan to tackle global warming by firing pollution particles into the stratosphere to deflect some of the sun’s heat.

The controversial experiment was touted yesterday as a possible last resort to help cool the Earth’s air by the president’s new science advisor John Holdren.

Why not take advantage of Nuclear Winter and kill two birds with one stone? Nuke the North Korea, Pakistani, Iranian, and PRC nuclear facilities and you not only deter weapons proliferation but get your desired particulate matter.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:50 PM


Bush Aides Challenge Biden's Boasts of Oval Office Slapdowns (Bill Sammon, 4/09/09, FOXNews.com)

"I remember President Bush saying to me one time in the Oval Office," Biden told CNN, "'Well, Joe,' he said, 'I'm a leader.' And I said: 'Mr. President, turn and around look behind you. No one is following.'"

That exchange never took place, according to numerous Bush aides who also dispute a similar assertion by Biden in 2004, when the former senator from Delaware told scores of Democratic colleagues that he had challenged Bush's moral certitude about the Iraq war during a private meeting in the Oval Office. Two years later, Biden repeated his story about dressing down the president.

"When I speak to the president - and I have had plenty of opportunity to be with the president, at least prior to the last election, a lot of hours alone with him. I mean, meaning me and his staff," Biden said on HBO's "Real Time with Bill Maher" in April 2006. "And the president will say things to me, and I'll literally turn to the president, say: 'Mr. President, how can you say that, knowing you don't know the facts?' And he'll look at me and he'll say - my word - he'll look at me and he'll say: 'My instincts.' He said: 'I have good instincts.' I said: 'Mr. President, your instincts aren't good enough.'"

Bush aides now dispute the veracity of both assertions by Biden.

"I never recall Biden saying any of that," former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said after reviewing detailed notes of Bush's White House meetings with Biden, which include numerous direct quotes from Biden. "I find it odd that he said he met with him alone all the time. I don't think that's true."

Fleischer said that whenever Bush met with Sen. Biden, the meeting also included a congressional counterpart so as to not "antagonize" the House.

Unless you chained W to the wall how would you get him to spend some alone time with such a notorious bore?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:11 AM


Oldest Stone Blades Uncovered (Ann Gibbons, 2 April 2009, ScienceNOW Daily News)

Paleoanthropologists working in Africa have discovered stone blades more than a half-million years old. That pushes the date of the earliest known blades back a remarkable 150,000 years and raises a question: What human ancestor made them?

Not long ago, researchers thought that blades were so hard to make that they had to be the handiwork of modern humans, who had evolved the mental wherewithal to systematically strike a cobble in the right way to produce blades and not just crude stone flakes. First, they were thought to be a hallmark of the late Stone Age, which began 40,000 years ago. Later, blades were thought to have emerged in the Middle Stone Age, which began about 200,000 years ago when modern humans arose in Africa and invented a new industry of more sophisticated stone tools. But this view has been challenged in recent years as researchers discovered blades that dated to 380,000 years in the Middle East and to almost 300,000 years ago in Europe, where Neandertals may have made them (ScienceNOW, 1 December 2008).

Now it appears that more than 500,000 years ago, human ancestors living in the Baringo Basin of Kenya collected lava stone cobbles from a riverbed and hammered them in just the right way to produce stone blades. Paleoanthropologists Cara Roure Johnson and Sally McBrearty of the University of Connecticut, Storrs, recently discovered the blades at five sites in the region, including two that date to between 509,000 and 543,000 years ago. "This is the oldest known occurrence of blades," Johnson reported Wednesday here at the annual meeting of the Paleoanthropology Society.

Johnson and McBrearty found the stone blades in a basalt outcrop known as the Kapthurin Formation, including four cores from which the blades were struck. "These assemblages would have been made by a different species of human," Johnson said.

Just keep repeating that mantra and you may even start to believe it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:08 AM


Obama declines comment on US hostage crisis off Somalia (Reuters, Apr 9, 2009)

Obama was asked to comment on the situation several times by reporters at a White House event on refinancing for homeowners. Obama, however, stuck closely to the script and replied that he wanted to remain focused on housing.

No lines on the teleprompter, no "thoughts."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:34 AM


INTERVIEW: Holbrooke reaches out to Hekmatyar (Syed Saleem Shahzad, 4/09/09, Asia Times)

The recent meeting between a deputy of Richard Holbrooke, the United States special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and an emissary of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, leader of Hezb-i-Islami Afghanistan (HIA), is by all accounts a landmark move in the United States' stated aim of involving militant groups in ending the conflict in Afghanistan.

The choice of Hekmatyar also indicates just how desperate the US is in finding an escape route from the escalating crisis in Afghanistan. Hekmatyar is a declared terrorist with a reported $25 million price on his head. The 61-year-old engineer from Kunduz province and his anti-government fighters are responsible for large numbers of attacks against Afghan and international forces, mainly in the northeast of the country. [...]

Now, eight years after the US attack on Afghanistan, Washington is initiating dialogue with Hekmatyar through his longtime lieutenant Daoud Abedi, the link between the Hekmatyar and the West. Abedi is an Afghan-American based in California as well as a prominent businessman, social worker and a former representative of the HIA.

In an exclusive interview from his home in Los Angeles, Abedi explains what was discussed between himself and the US official representing Holbrooke and the White House. [...]

ATol: Would [Hekmatyar] agree to any immediate ceasefire with the NATO troops?

DA: A ceasefire is possible once talks are over and we know the exact schedule for the departure of the foreign troops. This has not been discussed yet, but we are hopeful that if there is an accepted date for the departure of the foreign troops, then all sides could talk - the HIA, Taliban and the foreigners - and see if we could agree on a ceasefire as a goodwill gesture. But that can be done only when there is a confirmed date of departure.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:13 AM


The President Has Become a Divisive Figure: Compare his start with George W. Bush's. (KARL ROVE, 4/08/09, WS Journal)

His campaign promised post-partisanship, but since taking office Mr. Obama has frozen Republicans out of the deliberative process, and his response to their suggestions has been a brusque dismissal that "I won."

Compare this with Mr. Bush's actions in the aftermath of his election. Among his first appointments were Democratic judicial nominees who had been blocked by Republicans under President Bill Clinton. The Bush White House joined with Democratic and Republican leaders to draft education reform legislation. And Mr. Bush worked with Republican Chuck Grassley to cut a deal with Democrat Max Baucus to win bipartisan passage of a big tax cut in a Senate split 50-50 after the 2000 election.

Mr. Obama has hastened the decline of Republican support with petty attacks on his critics and predecessor. For a person who promised hope and civility in politics, Mr. Obama has shown a borderline obsessiveness in blaming Mr. Bush. Starting with his inaugural address and continuing through this week's overseas trip, the new president's jabs at Mr. Bush have been unceasing, unfair and unhelpful. They have also diminished Mr. Obama by showing him to be another conventional politician. Rather than ending "the blame game," he is personifying it.

The question that will worry the Obama West Wing is whether the views of independents come to look more like Democrats or Republicans. Recent opinion surveys show that support for his policies among independents is slipping.

...is that W had certain political beliefs, but understood that not all shared them, whereas the UR believes only in himself and, therefore, if you don't share that belief you de facto oppose him. Thus all disagreements must be personal for him and the pettiness follows.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:00 AM


Mencken and Me (R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr., 4.9.09, American Spectator)

Can you believe it? In the public prints, I have been called a "pipsqueak" and a "self-important pipsqueak" at that. The scene of the crime is the current Forbes magazine. The felon is Jonathan Yardley, an elderly book critic at the Washington Post. Yardley was asked by Forbes if any of the "current crop of right-wing pundits" is comparable to H.L. Mencken, the editor and critic best known for his work in the 1920s. I was referred to along with Ann Coulter (who apparently told CNN in 2006 that she is "the right-wing Mencken"), Mark Steyn, and P.J. O'Rourke. Yardley went on to say, "I don't respect a single one of them, much less think that a single one of them deserves to be compared to H.L.M." [...]

In The American Spectator I reviewed a couple of convincing biographies of "the Sage" and concluded that he was a very amusing, albeit wrong-headed, writer of brilliant prose, who by the 1930s "had become an anti-Semite, a racist, and a reactionary crank." Yet, he was also a fine philologist and editor. The American Mercury, which he founded in 1924 with George Jean Nathan and Alfred A. Knopf, was an exhilarating departure from the musty magazines that preceded it, and the Mercury allowed him to become America's first celebrity intellectual. [...]

He was a very funny writer until his anti-democratic and anti-religious jokes overwhelmed his other jokes and lost the capacity to make readers laugh.

As Friend Driscoll rightly pointed out, imagine the well-warranted indignation with which a new Mencken would be met today. Mr. Yardley is basically acknowledging that even the sharpest andmost-biting conservative pundits today are devoid of the sort of hatreds that all too often drove the Sage of Baltimore, which is, not coincidentally, why they're funny.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:20 AM


Ninety-Two Years and Counting (Geoffrey Norman, 4.8.09, American Spectator)

Still, the United States joined in; at a cost of more than 250,000 killed and wounded. Europeans tended to downplay the military contribution of the United States while a number of Americans believed that without their country's help, the Allies wouldn't have won the war. Winston Churchill agreed, though that did not mean he considered this a good and desirable outcome.

"America should have minded her own business and stayed out of the World War," he told an American newspaper editor. "If you hadn't entered the war the Allies would have made peace with Germany in the Spring of 1917. Had we made peace then there would have been no collapse in Russia followed by Communism, no breakdown in Italy followed by Fascism, and Germany would not have signed the Versailles Treaty, which…enthroned Nazism in Germany."

We got the Treaty wrong, too. At least according to John Maynard Keynes who wrote to a friend that America "had a chance of taking a large, or at least humane view of the world, but unhesitatingly refused it." [...]

"Some damned fool thing in the Balkans," Bismarck had said when asked what would bring war to Europe. He was right. August, 1914 turned Europeans into cynics and fatalists and maybe with reason. They didn't have an especially good century and they became bitter, cautious, and touchy. If a nation's birthrate is a measure of civic optimism, then Europe is populated by pessimists.

Americans don't see the world that way and don't really need to apologize for being arrogant, derisive, and dismissive. We've groveled enough before the airy sophisticates. Let them keep the headquarters in Brussels for meetings. They can assemble all their combined military might on the parade ground (since the troops certainly won't be in Afghanistan or anywhere that actual fighting is being done) for a full-dress review after which the ministers and their aides can adjourn for a good luncheon. That's the sort of thing they are good at.

We, meanwhile, can look north, south, and west where the next opportunities and threats will come from.

And write the last 92 years off as an honest, well-intentioned mistake.

John Mosier's Myth of the Great War leaves no question about how decisive our entry into the war was. Though all it won was a Pyrrhic peace when Wilson forsook the quintessentially Anglo-American value of self-determination for the intellectuals' pipe dream of transnationalism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:16 AM


Tokyo's cat cafes: Customers coo, crawl around floor and snap photos at increasingly popular cat cafes. (Mimi Hanaoka, 4/06/09, GlobalPost)

I followed the instructions of the watchful cashier and took off my shoes, sanitized my hands, placed my bag in a locker and dangled an ID card (“customer #18”) from a lanyard around my neck. The cashier then gave me a once over and a shallow bow, and I padded quietly into the sitting room of the cafe.

“She’s the prettiest girl we have at our cafe. Everybody wants to touch her, but we ask that customers only do so if she doesn't resist you,” a waitress told me.

She didn’t resist. And since I was paying for the privilege, I leaned in and stroked her cheek. She was as lovely as the waitress had promised: a big-eyed, silky soft, compliant 2-year-old Russian Blue cat.

I was at Calico, one of Tokyo’s increasingly popular cat cafes, where customers seeking human and feline companionship pay to sip tea and stroke one of the 20-odd resident cats, representing 17 different breeds.

In an increasingly childless and aging nation, cat cafes fill a void.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:24 AM


Obama to Push Immigration Reform Bill Despite Risks (JULIA PRESTON, 4/09/09, NY Times)

Mr. Obama will frame the new effort — likely to rouse passions on all sides of the highly divisive issue — as “policy reform that controls immigration and makes it an orderly system,” said the official, Cecilia Muñoz, deputy assistant to the president and director of intergovernmental affairs in the White House.

Mr. Obama plans to speak publicly about the issue in May, administration officials said, and over the summer he will convene working groups, including lawmakers from both parties and a range of immigration groups, to begin discussing possible legislation for as early as this fall.

Some White House officials said that immigration would not take precedence over the health care and energy proposals that Mr. Obama has identified as priorities. But the timetable is consistent with pledges Mr. Obama made to Hispanic groups in last year’s campaign.

He said then that comprehensive immigration legislation, including a plan to make legal status possible for an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants, would be a priority in his first year in office. Latino voters turned out strongly for Mr. Obama in the election.

“He intends to start the debate this year,” Ms. Muñoz said.

It looks increasingly like this will be the one great accomplishment of an otherwise pointless presidency.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:20 AM


How Cheap Is the Market? (Jeremy Siegel, Ph.D., 4/08/09, Yahoo)

According to Standard & Poor's, total reported earnings on the S&P 500 index for calendar year 2008 was a mere $14.97, the lowest in many decades, primarily because of the huge losses of a few financial firms. S&P reports that, at the index's level on March 31 of 798, the S&P was selling at an extraordinarily expensive 53.3 times last year's earnings.

Yet S&P's own Web site says that "AIG's record setting Q4 '08 'As Reported' loss of $61.7 billion, or $22.95 per share, took $7.10 off the index." AIG's quarterly loss was so massive that it more than canceled out the entire year's income of Exxon Mobil, which earned $45 billion in 2008. For the full year, AIG lost over $99 billion, more than twice the total profits of Exxon Mobil.

Where the Distortion Comes In

Here is where the distortion comes in. Exxon Mobil has a market value of $350 billion, while AIG's value is now a mere $15 billion (and it was only $5 billion a month ago). That means that the average investor owns more than 20 times as much Exxon Mobil stock in their portfolio as AIG stock, so that for the average portfolio of those two stocks, the oil giant has over a 95 percent share and AIG has less than a 5 percent share.

S&P says that an investor holding 95 percent of his portfolio in Exxon Mobil and 5 percent in AIG has negative aggregate earnings and an infinite price-to-earnings ratio because the losses of AIG are greater than the profits of Exxon Mobil, no matter how much you hold in each. S&P would say this even though 95 percent of your portfolio is in Exxon Mobil, a stock that sells for less than 8 times its earnings.

My methodology would weight the $45 billion earned by Exxon Mobil by 95 percent and the $99 billion loss of AIG by 5 percent to obtain a weighted average earnings of $39 billion for the portfolio. With a weighted average market value of AIG and Exxon Mobil of $335 billion, this would lead to approximately a 9 P/E ratio for the portfolio, not the infinite P/E computed by Standard & Poor's.

With a few firms sporting huge losses, weighting the gains and losses by market value gives a much better picture of the market's current valuation. Instead of reported earnings of $14.97, the market-weighted earnings is a much higher $71.50, which gives the market a P/E ratio of just over 11 instead of 53.3, as reported by S&P.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:27 AM


Old, Brutal Surgeries Inspire Elegant Modern Devices (Alexis Madrigal, March 31, 2009, Wired)

Unlike pharmaceuticals, which depend on complex intracellular interactions and can be very expensive to develop, medical devices sit on a rich and long history of manipulating the plumbing of the physical body. For centuries, anatomists and physiologists have cut into cadavers, as well as live bodies, to figure out where the heart pumps blood, which nerves connect where, and how the physical materials of the body — flesh, blood, bones — act under human interventions. They figured out a lot about the mechanics of the corpse, long before they knew anything about cells or viruses or genomes.

The Foundry's glaucoma device is based on a treatment popularized in 1906. German surgeons discovered a simple solution for glaucoma — where the eyes' lubricating liquid gets blocked, creating pressure that kills off the optic nerves: They simply sliced open a hole in the eye to let fluid drain out.

It worked, according to the medical reports of the day. The pain was tolerable — it only required cocaine and adrenal shots, not general anesthesia — but it left patients with a hole in the eye that could be made too big, dangerously reducing eye pressure, or that spontaneously closed up, eliminating its positive effects.

So the technique was abandoned, despite a 1930s review that found the procedure, called cyclodialysis (.pdf), worked 80 percent of the time when used on the right types of glaucoma.

Now, rather than physically cutting a pathway for the fluid, a newly-designed implant could act as a tiny pipe that drains fluid out from the front of the eye. This might solve the problems long-associated with the procedure — and a spin-off company has $7 million in venture capital to give it a go.

The glaucoma treatment is one of a number of old, brutal surgical procedures that have been revived or modified by new technologies and materials. Inserting older materials into the body would create scarring or lead to infection, but increasing knowledge of what materials work best inside the body allows scientists to engineer new devices to solve old problems.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:49 AM

Prize-winning noodle kugel (Lisa Share-Sapolsky, 9/24/08, Boston Globe)

Butter (for the dish)

Salt, to taste

16 ounces medium egg noodles

1 1/4 cups (2 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

6 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature

1 cup honey

5 eggs

1 cup sour cream

1. Set the oven at 350. Generously butter a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.

2. In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the noodles according to package instructions until they are tender. Drain them and rinse with cold water. Spread them evenly in the baking dish.

3. In an electric mixer, cream the butter and cream cheese. Beat in the honey, followed by the eggs, one at a time. Beat in the sour cream. The mixture should be thick and creamy. Pour it over the noodles.

4. Bake the kugel for 45 to 60 minutes or until it is set and golden brown. Let the kugel sit for 10 minutes. Cut into squares.

[originally posted: 1/26/09]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:16 AM


Exodus Exegesis: There’s a clear choice of worldviews in the Passover greetings from the Clinton, Obama and McCain campaigns. (WILLIAM KRISTOL, 4/21/08, Der Spiegel)

[L]ast week, in the midst of the excitement over the pope’s visit, the Clinton, Obama and McCain campaigns found time to issue Passover greetings. They were of course staff-produced, and somewhat formulaic. Still, differences among formulaic statements can be revealing. [...]

Hillary Clinton’s statement sounds as if it were written by a serious and slightly old-fashioned Reform rabbi, full of the spirit of earnest liberal advocacy. Obama’s message has the feel of a slightly New Age, somewhat hip, multicultural, dialogue-friendly, college-town pulpit.

Not John McCain. He understands Passover as a time for reflection about sacrifice: “As families gather together for Seders, members of the Jewish faith reflect upon the painful sacrifices made by their ancestors, the joys of freedom, and the triumph of inherent goodness over evil.”

Sacrifices for the sake of freedom, the triumph of good over evil -- if John McCain was at a Seder this past weekend, he surely would have liked this passage: “In all ages they rise up against us to destroy us; and the Holy One, blessed be He, rescues us from their hands.”

McCain’s statement is also the only one to mention current assaults on Jews. He asks us to reflect on three young Israelis -- Gilad Shalit, Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser -- who were kidnapped in the summer of 2006 by Hamas and Hezbollah, and “who will celebrate this occasion, once again, in captivity.” McCain recalls his meetings with the families of two of these men in December 2006, reiterates his commitment to seek their swift release, and urges others to do the same.

So if Clinton’s Passover message is liberal, and Obama’s is multicultural, one might call McCain’s Zionist. There’s a clear choice of worldviews here -- and not just for Jews, but for all Americans.

...that the conservative Southern Christian is the Zionist.

[originally posted: 4/21/08]

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April 8, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:31 PM


Bach's Mass In B Minor: A Cathedral In Sound (Ted Libbey, 4/07/09, The NPR Classical 50)

The Mass in B minor is as lofty in design, scope and expression as anything written by the hand of man. It's one of several instances in the music of Johann Sebastian Bach in which a piece is created as an ideal type, rather than crafted for a practical use. As such, it represents an attempt to both summarize the tradition of the mass in a single perfect specimen and leave a statement on the nature of sacred music as a bequest to the future.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:25 PM


Two cheers and a jeer: Most Americans like having a leader whom foreigners adore. But some wish he was feared a bit more
(The Economist, 4/08/09)

One or two aspects of Mr Obama’s foreign policy are unpopular at home. The attempts of his secretary of homeland security to replace the word “terrorism” with “man-caused disasters” attracted much ridicule. More seriously, Americans disapprove of Mr Obama’s plan to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay by 50% to 44%. But since it is unclear what he will do with the inmates—he has left open the possibility of detaining the most dangerous ones indefinitely—that could change. Even less popular is Mr Obama’s lifting of the ban on federal aid for groups, such as Planned Parenthood, which provide abortions or advise about them in foreign countries. Only 35% of Americans approve of this, with 58% opposed.

Poll: Americans Want Obama to Keep Abortion Conscience Clause in Place (Steven Ertelt, 4/08/09, LifeNews.com)
The Polling Accompany conducted a poll from March 23-25 with 800 Americans adults and found 87 percent believe it is important to “make sure that healthcare professionals in America are not forced to participate in procedures and practices to which they have moral objections.”

Support for this protection garnered considerable intensity as well, with 65% of respondents considering it very essential.

"Majorities of men, women, and adults of all ages, races, regions, and political affiliations considered it critical to defend the rights of healthcare providers to refuse to perform certain procedures on moral grounds," the survey firm said in its report on the poll.

The support for conscience protections for medical staff and centers exists whether respondents are pro-life or consider themselves pro-choice. The poll found 95 percent of pro-life advocates back the conscience protections while 78 percent who support legal abortions do as well.

The Polling Company survey also found 80 percent of people who backed Obama in the 2008 presidential elections support the conscience protections.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:01 PM


U.S. Crew Beats Back Somali Pirates (CBS News, April 8, 2009)

The crew of a hijacked U.S. cargo ship overpowered Somali pirates and regained control of at least part the vessel, military sources told CBS News national security correspondent David Martin.

The sources told CBS News that crew members threw three pirates overboard and took another one into custody.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:33 AM


Wholesale inventories drop by most in 17 years (Associated Press, April 9, 2009)

Wholesalers cut their inventories in February by the steepest amount in more than 17 years, while sales rose for the first time since the summer, encouraging signs that companies may be getting their inventories under control.

The Commerce Department said Wednesday that wholesale inventories dropped 1.5 percent in February, the most on records dating to January 1992 and more than double analysts' expectations.

Sales at the wholesale level rose 0.6 percent, the first increase since June and a sharp reversal from January's revised 2.4 percent drop. That shows retailers and other businesses have begun to replenish their supplies.

...the imbalance of supply and coming demand sets the stage for the next boom, as long as the Democrats don't screw it up.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:30 AM


Is He Iran’s Obama? (Tariq Alhomayed, 4/08/09, asharq alawasat)

They have finally seen it for themselves, for here we have Iranian presidential candidate Mir Hossein Moussavi pledging to change the image of his country from an extremist state to a moderate state if he is elected president of Iran.

In his first press conference since declaring his candidacy for the Iranian elections, which are scheduled to take place on June 12, Moussavi acknowledged that “Extremism has cost us a great deal; we have to work hard to build international confidence.” He added, “Our foreign policy is extreme. In some cases, we have been on the brink of extremism and found that we had to turn back.”

This is coming from an Iranian politician; not an Arab, Westerner, Wahhabi or Sunni but an Iranian.

...after all, it isn't their foreign policy that needs to be reformed--it's just empty bluster--but their economy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:19 AM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:09 AM


Knowing Your Chances: What Health Stats Really Mean: Learn how to put aside unjustified fears and hopes and how to weigh your real risk of illness--or likelihood of recovery (Gerd Gigerenzer, Wolfgang Gaissmaier, Elke Kurz-Milcke, Lisa M. Schwartz and Steven Woloshin, April 2009, Scientific American)

Medicine has held a long-standing antagonism toward statistics. For centuries, treatment was based on an ethic of personal trust as opposed to quantitative facts, which were dismissed as impersonal or irrelevant to the individual. Even today many doctors think of themselves as artists, relying more on intuition and faith in their own judgment than on numbers. For their part, many patients prefer to trust their doctors rather than even asking for data to analyze. For example, in a 2008 unpublished survey by one of us (Gigerenzer) and his colleagues, two thirds of more than 100 American economists said they had not weighed any pros and cons of getting a prostate cancer screening test but simply followed their doctor’s recommendation.

Moreover, individuals often shy away from statistics because they have an emotional need for certainty—a concept at odds with statistical literacy, which prepares us to make decisions in the face of uncertainty. Much of the public harbors illusory certainty about the reliability of tests such as those for cancers and HIV, suggests a survey Gigerenzer conducted in 2006.

Furthermore, statistically unsophisticated patients and their doctors tend to wildly overestimate the benefits of screening tests and are blind to their harms. For example, mammography reduces the risk of a woman in her 50s dying from breast cancer from about five to four in 1,000 over some 13 years, but 60 percent of a random sample of U.S. women believed the benefit to be 80 times as high. Americans are similarly overenthusiastic about total-body computed tomographic scans: in a random sample of 500 Americans, nearly three quarters said they would prefer a free total-body CT scan to $1,000 in cash. Yet no professional medical organization endorses such scans, and several discourage them because screening tests such as this one can result in important harm from a cascade of medical quandries and invasive treatments triggered by ambiguous findings. [...]

While running for president, Giuliani claimed that health care in the U.S. was superior to that in England. He apparently used data from the year 2000, when 49 British men in every 100,000 were diagnosed with prostate cancer, of whom 28 died within five years—about 44 percent. Using a similar approach, he cited a corresponding 82 percent five-year survival rate in the U.S., suggesting that Americans with prostate cancer were twice as likely to survive as their British counterparts were. That implication, however, is false because these survival statistics largely reflect diagnostic differences between the two countries rather than better treatment and prolonged survival in the U.S.

To understand why, imagine a group of prostate cancer patients diagnosed (by their symptoms) at age 67 in the U.K., all of whom die at 70. Each survived only three years, so the five-year survival of this group is 0 percent. Now imagine that the same group is diagnosed in the U.S., where doctors detect most prostate cancer by screening for prostate-specific antigens (PSA). (The PSA test is not routinely used in Britain.) These U.S. patients are diagnosed earlier, at age 60, but they all still die at age 70. All have now survived 10 years, and thus their five-year survival rate is 100 percent. Even though the survival rate has changed dramatically, nothing has changed about the time of death. This example shows how setting the time of diagnosis earlier can boost survival rates (lead-time bias), even if no life is prolonged or saved.

Spuriously high survival rates can also result from overdiagnosis, the detection of abnormalities that are technically cancer but will never progress to cause symptoms in the patient’s lifetime. Say 1,000 men with progressive cancer do not undergo screening. After five years 440 are still alive, which results in a survival rate of 44 percent. Meanwhile in another population of men, PSA screening detects 1,000 people with progressive cancer and 2,000 people with nonprogressive cancer (who by definition will not die of cancer in five years). These nonprogressive cases are now added to the 440 who survived progressive cancer, which inflates the survival rate to 81 percent. Although the survival rate changed dramatically, the number of people who die has not changed at all.

In the U.S., screening for prostate cancer using the PSA test in the late 1980s led to an explosion in the number of new prostate cancer diagnoses. In Britain, the effect has been much smaller because of far less use of the PSA test. This diagnostic disparity largely explains why five-year survival for prostate cancer is higher in the U.S. (The most recent figures are 98 percent five-year survival in the U.S. versus 71 percent in Britain.)

Despite the difference in survival rates, mortality rates in the two countries are close to the same: about 26 prostate cancer deaths per 100,000 American men versus 27 per 100,000 in Britain. That fact suggests the PSA test has needlessly flagged prostate cancer in many American men, resulting in a lot of unnecessary surgery and radiation treatment, which often leads to impotence or incontinence.

In essence, the only reason to have your prostate checked is sexual experimentation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:56 AM


Iron Logic: Margaret Thatcher, Revised: a review of Claire Berlinski, “There Is No Alternative”: Why Margaret Thatcher Matters (Tod Lindberg, World Affairs)

[O]ne aspect of the Thatcher legacy in foreign policy remains, if anything, underappreciated, including even by Berlinski and perhaps Thatcher herself, to judge by her retrospective comments. That was her decision to go to war to reclaim the Falkland Islands from Argentina. Berlinski rightly sees the Falklands as a key moment in Thatcherian certitude: she knew the Argentine occupation was morally wrong, and she was pitiless in her view of the Argentines. Yet she saw the question preeminently as one of British prestige. The junta’s decision to invade was therefore a product of the broader decline of Britain that she sought to rectify: “We had come to be seen by both friends and enemies as a nation which lacked the will and the capability to defend its interests in peace, let alone in war. Victory in the Falklands changed that,” Thatcher wrote in her memoir.

The stakes for her were immense. Had the war come out differently, it is doubtful her government would have survived, or her reputation. This is the prism through which Berlinski views the episode. There were other ramifications, however, and not confined even to the subsequent fall of the regime of the generals in Argentina. In the broadest sense, the war vindicated the principle that armed conquest for the purpose of territorial aggrandizement was unacceptable in international politics. The Falklands war drew a bright line, and not just around sovereign British territory in the south Atlantic.

In August 1990, Saddam Hussein attempted to cross that line with the invasion and occupation of Kuwait. It fell to George H. W. Bush to assemble a coalition to eject Saddam. In this effort, he enjoyed Thatcher’s wholehearted support and encouragement: she famously told him in an August 26 telephone call that this was “no time to go wobbly.” Berlinski passes over this episode, coming as it did near the end of Thatcher’s tenure, when the long knives were coming out against Thatcher in her own party. But as far as her influence on the world stage goes, it is a clear example, and the success of the 1991 coalition effort to drive out the Iraqis and restore the sovereignty of Kuwait stands alongside her success in driving the Argentines from the Falklands in support of an important principle—one that became much larger than the question of British national prestige.

The illegitimacy of conquest and annexation in international politics—a centuries-old taboo, to be sure, but unevenly heeded—is a norm that was powerfully reinforced in 1982 and has rarely been questioned since. So, too, Thatcher’s championing of market principles and globalization, both of which enjoy an acceptance today, notwithstanding a crisis in the financial system, that they simply did not in her day. Thatcher seems to have seen herself chiefly in terms of what she could and would do for her country, but her example in both of these areas had universal import. That’s the real reason she still matters.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:28 AM


Absolute Fiction: The Perversion of Sovereignty (James Traub, Winter 2009, World Affairs Journal)

“Sovereignty” has become an inflamed concept, and not only in matters of intervention. The battle lines seem, if anything, more entrenched today than they were nine years ago; some former neutrals have joined the camp of the sovereign absolutists. Maybe a President Barack Obama will defuse some of the tensions. But the problem existed well before George W. Bush made it worse.

The idea that sovereignty does not confer upon the sovereign an absolute right to do as he wishes with his citizens, or with others who happen to fall under his sway, greatly predates the 1990s. The first Geneva Convention, signed in 1864, obliged states to extend certain protections to citizens in occupied territories. World War II, and above all the Holocaust, put an end to the principle of absolute sovereignty that had dominated political theory and practice since the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. First the UN Charter, and then the UN Declaration of Human Rights, explicitly asserted that the state has an obligation to protect and advance individual rights. The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in 1948 made the inadmissibility of genocidal violence a matter of international law.

But the idea of limited or conditional sovereignty was just that—an idea. In practice, the UN was governed by Article 2(7) of the Charter, which stipulates that “nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state.” (Defenders of sovereign rights tend to forget about the admonition, in the ensuing clause, that “this principle shall not prejudice the application of enforcement measures under Chapter VII,” which authorizes the Security Council to respond to aggression.) Anything contained within a state’s borders, including the most heinous violations of human rights, was understood to fall into the realm of domestic jurisdiction. The UN had been created as a globalized mutual-defense pact; it had become, over the years, the locus classicus of the principle of sovereignty, a place where all states were equal, and equally inviolable. [...]

[B]y the time the World Summit Outcome document was signed, sovereignty had long since become a neuralgic issue in Security Council deliberations. And here a good deal of the blame accrues to the Bush administration, which from its first months insisted that it would not be constrained by international law, and would not accept the legitimacy of international pacts. Perhaps the administration’s single most provocative decision was, first, to very loudly and publicly withdraw from the International Criminal Court, and then to demand that states sign bilateral agreements making American citizens immune from prosecution. Here was sovereign abolutism hitched to superpower status. And even as the U.S. held itself immune from external judgment, the White House’s enthusiasm for regime change in countries whose policies it opposed, whether the “Axis of Evil” or such lesser evils as Venezuela, implied a deep nonchalance toward the sovereignty of others.

And then, in the fall and winter of 2002–03, came the long, agonizing melodrama of the UN deliberations over war in Iraq, a debate that the administration made plain would have little or no bearing on its own conduct. The debate did not address directly the question of sovereignty. Washington described Saddam Hussein as a threat to international peace and security. But both President Bush, and, to a much greater extent, Tony Blair, sought to justify the war on humanitarian grounds. This claim, on behalf of a war widely seen, rightly or not, as unprincipled and unnecessary (unlike Kosovo), offered supreme vindication to those, like President Bouteflika, who saw humanitarian intervention as an instrument of neo-colonial control. Here was a rogue American administration eager to clothe its geopolitical aspirations in universalist principles. Beyond that, American unilateralism and high-handedness—the transparent wish to turn the UN into an extension of national policy—poisoned the atmosphere and provided a point of solidarity amidst the varied and conflicting interests of the developing world. That world—the Non-Aligned Movement, to use the archaic language still in vogue at the UN—would have to defend itself from American hegemonism. And sovereignty would be the first line of the defense.

Since that time, the argument over sovereignty has regularly brought the wheels of the Human Rights Council, the International Criminal Court, and the Security Council grinding to a halt. [...]

How, then, shall we understand the sovereignty backlash? The reaction plainly has a great deal to do with the Bush administration. Today almost any proposed course of action intending to advance American or Western values, whether sanctions in Sudan or democracy promotion in the Middle East, is routinely rebutted with a single word: Iraq. But Iraq also serves as a convenient excuse for those who opposed such measures long before George W. Bush ever became president. The same regimes that railed against the doctrine of humanitarian intervention express doubts today about the responsibility to protect; the change of language has persuaded some skeptics, and may persuade more in the months and years to come; but it has scarcely converted those who regard sovereignty as sacrosanct. In fact, the word “backlash” may be misleading. The Algerias of the world have not suddenly discovered the virtues of Westphalian first principles; they have reacted to what they see as the endangerment of those principles.

As to why autocracies like Russia and China, or Iran and Cuba, oppose the responsibility to protect, there is no mystery here: to embrace any of these doctrines or practices would be to jeopardize their own mechanisms of control. [...]

What can the West—and, specifically, President Barack Obama—do to reduce the inflammation around the idea of sovereignty? [...]

We also need to accept the legitimacy of complaints about the global distribution of power. If states agree to forfeit some traditional aspects of sovereignty, they have a right to ask: “To whom?” And the answer cannot be: “To us, the West.”

Indeed, the answer is not to the West in general but to the Judeo-Christian/Anglo-American conception of legitimate government in particular and that has been the answer for several centuries now. We have imposed a normative component on the concept of sovereignty such that when any state does not conform to our ideals--of protestant capitalist democracy (the End of History)--there is a dispositive case for our intervention. The only remaining question is whether we choose to act on our moral obligation to liberate its citizens.

President Bush put the matter exceptionally well when he explained to the UN that it could either enforce its stated ideals in Iraq or we would do it ourselves, George W. Bush
Remarks to the U.N.
(New York, September 12, 2002):

The United Nations was born in the hope that survived a world war -- the hope of a world moving toward justice, escaping old patterns of conflict and fear. The founding members resolved that the peace of the world must never again be destroyed by the will and wickedness of any man. We created the United Nations Security Council, so that, unlike the League of Nations, our deliberations would be more than talk, our resolutions would be more than wishes. After generations of deceitful dictators and broken treaties and squandered lives, we dedicated ourselves to standards of human dignity shared by all, and to a system of security defended by all.

Today, these standards, and this security, are challenged. Our commitment to human dignity is challenged by persistent poverty and raging disease. The suffering is great, and our responsibilities are clear. The United States is joining with the world to supply aid where it reaches people and lifts up lives, to extend trade and the prosperity it brings, and to bring medical care where it is desperately needed.

As a symbol of our commitment to human dignity, the United States will return to UNESCO. (Applause.) This organization has been reformed and America will participate fully in its mission to advance human rights and tolerance and learning.

Our common security is challenged by regional conflicts -- ethnic and religious strife that is ancient, but not inevitable. In the Middle East, there can be no peace for either side without freedom for both sides. America stands committed to an independent and democratic Palestine, living side by side with Israel in peace and security. Like all other people, Palestinians deserve a government that serves their interests and listens to their voices. My nation will continue to encourage all parties to step up to their responsibilities as we seek a just and comprehensive settlement to the conflict.

Above all, our principles and our security are challenged today by outlaw groups and regimes that accept no law of morality and have no limit to their violent ambitions. In the attacks on America a year ago, we saw the destructive intentions of our enemies. This threat hides within many nations, including my own. In cells and camps, terrorists are plotting further destruction, and building new bases for their war against civilization. And our greatest fear is that terrorists will find a shortcut to their mad ambitions when an outlaw regime supplies them with the technologies to kill on a massive scale.

In one place -- in one regime -- we find all these dangers, in their most lethal and aggressive forms, exactly the kind of aggressive threat the United Nations was born to confront.

Twelve years ago, Iraq invaded Kuwait without provocation. And the regime's forces were poised to continue their march to seize other countries and their resources. Had Saddam Hussein been appeased instead of stopped, he would have endangered the peace and stability of the world. Yet this aggression was stopped -- by the might of coalition forces and the will of the United Nations.
To suspend hostilities, to spare himself, Iraq's dictator accepted a series of commitments. The terms were clear, to him and to all. And he agreed to prove he is complying with every one of those obligations.

He has proven instead only his contempt for the United Nations, and for all his pledges. By breaking every pledge -- by his deceptions, and by his cruelties -- Saddam Hussein has made the case against himself.

In 1991, Security Council Resolution 688 demanded that the Iraqi regime cease at once the repression of its own people, including the systematic repression of minorities -- which the Council said, threatened international peace and security in the region. This demand goes ignored.

Last year, the U.N. Commission on Human Rights found that Iraq continues to commit extremely grave violations of human rights, and that the regime's repression is all pervasive. Tens of thousands of political opponents and ordinary citizens have been subjected to arbitrary arrest and imprisonment, summary execution, and torture by beating and burning, electric shock, starvation, mutilation, and rape. Wives are tortured in front of their husbands, children in the presence of their parents -- and all of these horrors concealed from the world by the apparatus of a totalitarian state.

In 1991, the U.N. Security Council, through Resolutions 686 and 687, demanded that Iraq return all prisoners from Kuwait and other lands. Iraq's regime agreed. It broke its promise. Last year the Secretary General's high-level coordinator for this issue reported that Kuwait, Saudi, Indian, Syrian, Lebanese, Iranian, Egyptian, Bahraini, and Omani nationals remain unaccounted for -- more than 600 people. One American pilot is among them.

In 1991, the U.N. Security Council, through Resolution 687, demanded that Iraq renounce all involvement with terrorism, and permit no terrorist organizations to operate in Iraq. Iraq's regime agreed. It broke this promise. In violation of Security Council Resolution 1373, Iraq continues to shelter and support terrorist organizations that direct violence against Iran, Israel, and Western governments. Iraqi dissidents abroad are targeted for murder. In 1993, Iraq attempted to assassinate the Emir of Kuwait and a former American President. Iraq's government openly praised the attacks of September the 11th. And al Qaeda terrorists escaped from Afghanistan and are known to be in Iraq.

In 1991, the Iraqi regime agreed to destroy and stop developing all weapons of mass destruction and long-range missiles, and to prove to the world it has done so by complying with rigorous inspections. Iraq has broken every aspect of this fundamental pledge.

From 1991 to 1995, the Iraqi regime said it had no biological weapons. After a senior official in its weapons program defected and exposed this lie, the regime admitted to producing tens of thousands of liters of anthrax and other deadly biological agents for use with Scud warheads, aerial bombs, and aircraft spray tanks. U.N. inspectors believe Iraq has produced two to four times the amount of biological agents it declared, and has failed to account for more than three metric tons of material that could be used to produce biological weapons. Right now, Iraq is expanding and improving facilities that were used for the production of biological weapons.

United Nations' inspections also revealed that Iraq likely maintains stockpiles of VX, mustard and other chemical agents, and that the regime is rebuilding and expanding facilities capable of producing chemical weapons.

And in 1995, after four years of deception, Iraq finally admitted it had a crash nuclear weapons program prior to the Gulf War. We know now, were it not for that war, the regime in Iraq would likely have possessed a nuclear weapon no later than 1993.

Today, Iraq continues to withhold important information about its nuclear program -- weapons design, procurement logs, experiment data, an accounting of nuclear materials and documentation of foreign assistance. Iraq employs capable nuclear scientists and technicians. It retains physical infrastructure needed to build a nuclear weapon. Iraq has made several attempts to buy high-strength aluminum tubes used to enrich uranium for a nuclear weapon. Should Iraq acquire fissile material, it would be able to build a nuclear weapon within a year. And Iraq's state-controlled media has reported numerous meetings between Saddam Hussein and his nuclear scientists, leaving little doubt about his continued appetite for these weapons.

Iraq also possesses a force of Scud-type missiles with ranges beyond the 150 kilometers permitted by the U.N. Work at testing and production facilities shows that Iraq is building more long-range missiles that it can inflict mass death throughout the region.

In 1990, after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, the world imposed economic sanctions on Iraq. Those sanctions were maintained after the war to compel the regime's compliance with Security Council resolutions. In time, Iraq was allowed to use oil revenues to buy food. Saddam Hussein has subverted this program, working around the sanctions to buy missile technology and military materials. He blames the suffering of Iraq's people on the United Nations, even as he uses his oil wealth to build lavish palaces for himself, and to buy arms for his country. By refusing to comply with his own agreements, he bears full guilt for the hunger and misery of innocent Iraqi citizens.

In 1991, Iraq promised U.N. inspectors immediate and unrestricted access to verify Iraq's commitment to rid itself of weapons of mass destruction and long-range missiles. Iraq broke this promise, spending seven years deceiving, evading, and harassing U.N. inspectors before ceasing cooperation entirely. Just months after the 1991 cease-fire, the Security Council twice renewed its demand that the Iraqi regime cooperate fully with inspectors, condemning Iraq's serious violations of its obligations. The Security Council again renewed that demand in 1994, and twice more in 1996, deploring Iraq's clear violations of its obligations. The Security Council renewed its demand three more times in 1997, citing flagrant violations; and three more times in 1998, calling Iraq's behavior totally unacceptable. And in 1999, the demand was renewed yet again.

As we meet today, it's been almost four years since the last U.N. inspectors set foot in Iraq, four years for the Iraqi regime to plan, and to build, and to test behind the cloak of secrecy.

We know that Saddam Hussein pursued weapons of mass murder even when inspectors were in his country. Are we to assume that he stopped when they left? The history, the logic, and the facts lead to one conclusion: Saddam Hussein's regime is a grave and gathering danger. To suggest otherwise is to hope against the evidence. To assume this regime's good faith is to bet the lives of millions and the peace of the world in a reckless gamble. And this is a risk we must not take.

Delegates to the General Assembly, we have been more than patient. We've tried sanctions. We've tried the carrot of oil for food, and the stick of coalition military strikes. But Saddam Hussein has defied all these efforts and continues to develop weapons of mass destruction. The first time we may be completely certain he has a -- nuclear weapons is when, God forbids, he uses one. We owe it to all our citizens to do everything in our power to prevent that day from coming.

The conduct of the Iraqi regime is a threat to the authority of the United Nations, and a threat to peace. Iraq has answered a decade of U.N. demands with a decade of defiance. All the world now faces a test, and the United Nations a difficult and defining moment. Are Security Council resolutions to be honored and enforced, or cast aside without consequence? Will the United Nations serve the purpose of its founding, or will it be irrelevant?

The United States helped found the United Nations. We want the United Nations to be effective, and respectful, and successful. We want the resolutions of the world's most important multilateral body to be enforced. And right now those resolutions are being unilaterally subverted by the Iraqi regime. Our partnership of nations can meet the test before us, by making clear what we now expect of the Iraqi regime.

If the Iraqi regime wishes peace, it will immediately and unconditionally forswear, disclose, and remove or destroy all weapons of mass destruction, long-range missiles, and all related material.
If the Iraqi regime wishes peace, it will immediately end all support for terrorism and act to suppress it, as all states are required to do by U.N. Security Council resolutions.

If the Iraqi regime wishes peace, it will cease persecution of its civilian population, including Shi'a, Sunnis, Kurds, Turkomans, and others, again as required by Security Council resolutions.

If the Iraqi regime wishes peace, it will release or account for all Gulf War personnel whose fate is still unknown. It will return the remains of any who are deceased, return stolen property, accept liability for losses resulting from the invasion of Kuwait, and fully cooperate with international efforts to resolve these issues, as required by Security Council resolutions.

If the Iraqi regime wishes peace, it will immediately end all illicit trade outside the oil-for-food program. It will accept U.N. administration of funds from that program, to ensure that the money is used fairly and promptly for the benefit of the Iraqi people.

If all these steps are taken, it will signal a new openness and accountability in Iraq. And it could open the prospect of the United Nations helping to build a government that represents all Iraqis -- a government based on respect for human rights, economic liberty, and internationally supervised elections.

The United States has no quarrel with the Iraqi people; they've suffered too long in silent captivity. Liberty for the Iraqi people is a great moral cause, and a great strategic goal. The people of Iraq deserve it; the security of all nations requires it. Free societies do not intimidate through cruelty and conquest, and open societies do not threaten the world with mass murder. The United States supports political and economic liberty in a unified Iraq.

We can harbor no illusions -- and that's important today to remember. Saddam Hussein attacked Iran in 1980 and Kuwait in 1990. He's fired ballistic missiles at Iran and Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Israel. His regime once ordered the killing of every person between the ages of 15 and 70 in certain Kurdish villages in northern Iraq. He has gassed many Iranians, and 40 Iraqi villages.

My nation will work with the U.N. Security Council to meet our common challenge. If Iraq's regime defies us again, the world must move deliberately, decisively to hold Iraq to account. We will work with the U.N. Security Council for the necessary resolutions. But the purposes of the United States should not be doubted. The Security Council resolutions will be enforced -- the just demands of peace and security will be met -- or action will be unavoidable. And a regime that has lost its legitimacy will also lose its power.

Events can turn in one of two ways: If we fail to act in the face of danger, the people of Iraq will continue to live in brutal submission. The regime will have new power to bully and dominate and conquer its neighbors, condemning the Middle East to more years of bloodshed and fear. The regime will remain unstable -- the region will remain unstable, with little hope of freedom, and isolated from the progress of our times. With every step the Iraqi regime takes toward gaining and deploying the most terrible weapons, our own options to confront that regime will narrow. And if an emboldened regime were to supply these weapons to terrorist allies, then the attacks of September the 11th would be a prelude to far greater horrors.

If we meet our responsibilities, if we overcome this danger, we can arrive at a very different future. The people of Iraq can shake off their captivity. They can one day join a democratic Afghanistan and a democratic Palestine, inspiring reforms throughout the Muslim world. These nations can show by their example that honest government, and respect for women, and the great Islamic tradition of learning can triumph in the Middle East and beyond. And we will show that the promise of the United Nations can be fulfilled in our time.

Neither of these outcomes is certain. Both have been set before us. We must choose between a world of fear and a world of progress. We cannot stand by and do nothing while dangers gather. We must stand up for our security, and for the permanent rights and the hopes of mankind. By heritage and by choice, the United States of America will make that stand. And, delegates to the United Nations, you have the power to make that stand, as well.

By choosing not to follow the UN resolutions requiring him to democratize Iraq, Saddam brough the war upon himself. By choosing not to enforce its own resolutions the UN rendered itself an afterthought. Fortunately for the people of Iraq, George W. Bush took the ideals and the resolutions seriously.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:25 AM


Drunken Nation: Russia’s Depopulation Bomb (Nicholas Eberstadt, Spring 2009, World Affairs Journal)

Aspecter is haunting Russia today. It is not the specter of Communism—that ghost has been chained in the attic of the past—but rather of depopulation—a relentless, unremitting, and perhaps unstoppable depopulation. The mass deaths associated with the Communist era may be history, but another sort of mass death may have only just begun, as Russians practice what amounts to an ethnic self-cleansing.

Since 1992, Russia’s human numbers have been progressively dwindling. This slow motion process now taking place in the country carries with it grim and potentially disastrous implications that threaten to recast the contours of life and society in Russia, to diminish the prospects for Russian economic development, and to affect Russia’s potential influence on the world stage in the years ahead. [...]

So where, given these daunting facts, is the Russian Federation headed demographically in the years and decades ahead? Two of the world’s leading demographic institutions—the United Nations Population Division (UNPD) and the U.S. Bureau of the Census—have tried to answer this question by a series of projections based upon what their analysts believe to be plausible assumptions about Russia’s future fertility, mortality, and migration patterns.

Both organizations’ projections trace a continuing downward course for the Russian Federation’s population over the generation ahead. As of mid-year 2005, Russia’s estimated population was around 143 million. UNPD projections for the year 2025 range from a high of about 136 million to a low of about 121 million; for the year 2030, they range from 133 million to 115 million. The Census Bureau’s projections for the Russian Federation’s population in 2025 and 2030 are 128 million and 124 million, respectively.

If these projections turn out to be relatively accurate—admittedly, a big “if” for any long-range demographic projection—the Russian Federation will have experienced over thirty years of continuous demographic decline by 2025, and the better part of four decades of depopulation by 2030. Russia’s population would then have dropped by about 20 million between 1990 and 2025, and Russia would have fallen from the world’s sixth to the twelfth most populous country. In relative terms, that would amount to almost as dramatic a demographic drop as the one Russia suffered during World War II. In absolute terms, it would actually be somewhat greater in magnitude.

Strikingly, and perhaps paradoxically, Moscow’s leadership is advancing into this uncertain terrain not only with insouciance but with highly ambitious goals. In late 2007, for example, the Kremlin outlined the objective of achieving and maintaining an average annual pace of economic growth in the decades ahead on the order of nearly 7 percent a year: on this path, according to Russian officials, GDP will quadruple in the next two decades, and the Russian Federation will emerge as the world’s fifth largest economy by 2020.

But history offers no examples of a society that has demonstrated sustained material advance in the face of long-term population decline.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:41 AM


Show Us the Ball (THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN, 4/08/09, NY Times)

Advocates of cap-and-trade argue that it is preferable to a simple carbon tax because it fixes a national cap on carbon emissions and it “hides the ball” — it doesn’t use the word “tax” — even though it amounts to one. So it can get through Congress. That was true as long as no one thought cap-and-trade could ever pass, but now that it might under Mr. Obama, opponents are not playing hide the ball anymore.

In the past two weeks, you could hear a chorus of Republicans, coal-state Democrats, right-wing think tanks and enviro-skeptics all singing the same tune: “Cap-and-trade is a tax. Obama is going to raise your taxes and sacrifice U.S. jobs to combat this global-warming charade, which many scientists think is nonsense. Worse, cap-and-trade will be managed by Wall Street. If you liked credit-default swaps, you’re going to love carbon-offset swaps.”

Some of the refrains from this song have a very catchy appeal. They could easily kill this effort. So, if the Obama team cares about the “ends” of a stronger America and a more livable planet, as much as the “means,” I hope it will consider an alternative strategy, message and messenger.

Since the opponents of cap-and-trade are going to pillory it as a tax anyway, why not go for the real thing — a simple, transparent, economy-wide carbon tax?

A carbon tax is too opaque as well. Just tax gasoline. Dependence of gas is the problem, not carbon use.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:27 AM

Roasting garlic (Washington Post, April 8, 2009)

[L]op off the top of a head of garlic so that its cloves are exposed a bit, drizzle with olive oil, wrap tightly in aluminum foil and toss into the oven with whatever else is baking.

Normally it takes about 40 minutes in a 400-degree oven; you'll know the garlic is ready when you squeeze the foil and it feels soft.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:20 AM


Doomed to despotism: a review of Khomeini’s Ghost by Con Coughlin and The Life and Death of the Shah by Gholam Reza Afkhami (Jonathan Sumption, 4/07/09, The Spectator)

The legislation of 1964, conferring legal immunity on US forces stationed in Iran, touched a sensitive nerve, bringing mobs back onto the streets and assassins into the Shah’s household. To the outside world, the Shah embodied the swaggering new nationalism of the oil-rich Middle East. Inside the country, he was undermined by an older, more conservative nationalism which retained its hold on the mass of the population and proved to be the real source of the Ayatollahs’ power. Khomeini stood in an ancient and powerful tradition.

Of the mass of Iranians who celebrated the fall of the Shah in 1979, very few would have voted for Khomeini’s brand of totalitarian theocracy. Most probably looked forward to some form of liberal democratic state. Yet it is exceptionally difficult for the liberal model to survive in a society obsessed by the enemy without, whether it is a monarchy or an Islamic republic. The stand-off with the United States and the long war with Iraq served only to consolidate the new regime in power. As for Khomeini himself, the Iranians got what was on the tin. He had never pretended to be a democrat and was certainly not a liberal. The tragedy of Iran’s modern history was that it was doomed to exchange one kind of nationalist autocracy for another.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:57 AM


The Secret behind Obama's Bow to the King (Muhammad Diyab, 4/08//09, asharq alawasat)

Obama lived part of his childhood in Indonesia and in his meeting with the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques attempted to evoke this. For bowing is an expression of affection in Indonesian culture and in East Asia in general. And so Obama wished to demonstrate his respect and appreciation of the personality of King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz, who has made one of the most important calls in the modern era, namely the call for inter-faith and inter-cultural dialogue to defuse the hatred, conflict and wars.

...is Mr. Obama the leader of Indonesia or of America? Because part of American culture is not paying obeisance to foreign rulers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:51 AM


I’m sorry . . .: I should have tamed Rooney (Graham Poll, 04th April 2009, Daily Mail)

The problem is that those excesses have been allowed to become part of his game and so it would take a massive change for him to eradicate them which could well affect his form, so vital for both club and country. What a pity that they were not nipped in the bud as I am sure some red cards and strict management could have made Rooney see the light.

I had my chance, in his formative years at both Everton and at Manchester United, most notably when he appeared to tell me to 'f*** off' 27 times in 45 minutes! The fact that I didn't troubles me now but at the time there was an expectancy to manage a game with tolerance, understanding and empathy - that was wrong then and is wrong now. [...]

He needs only to look at his England captain John Terry, who is gradually improving his on and off-field image with far more controlled behaviour since not being under the dark influence of Jose Mourinho. Fabio Capello has done his bit and I am sure that Guus Hiddink will reinforce the need for restraint and, dare I say, respect on the field of play.

One problem for Rooney, though, would appear to be that his behaviour is not being discouraged at his club. There is no longer an onfield presence big enough to convince Rooney to stop when it is apparent to all watching that the red mist has descended. Manchester United do not possess a captain in the mould of former legends Steve Bruce, Bryan Robson or Roy Keane - men who could strike fear into colleagues and demand change. While Ryan Giggs continues to perform fantastically for his team I cannot imagine him convincing Rooney to walk away and count to 10 before getting involved.

Mr. Poll explained on World Soccer Daily that he cut Rooney slack because he was rewarded with big games to ref for doing so. Thus do the powers that be in soccer encourage reprehensible behavior.

Manchester United: What's wrong? (Rory Smith, 08 Apr 2009, Daily Telegraph)

Ferguson's loyalty to players who have served him well is commendable in an industry not renowned for sentimentality, but the suspicion among the Old Trafford faithful is that Gary Neville and Paul Scholes, in particular, have gone to seed.

Neville was brutally exposed by John Carew against Aston Villa but even as a right-back he is a painfully ponderous alternative to Rafael da Silva, the teenager whose hamstring injury seems to have robbed United of much of their elan, while Scholes is a shadow of his former self, impressive now only against weaker opposition. Only Ryan Giggs, of the old guard, is not in danger of spoiling his legacy.

Defensive changes
Injuries for Rio Ferdinand, Rafael, Gary Neville and Wes Brown and suspension for Nemanja Vidic have unsettled United, as they would any team. The return of Ferdinand, in particular, cannot come soon enough, though it is important to remember he, too, was part of the side beaten by Liverpool.

Nemanja Vidic
Until March 14, the imposing Serb defender was a shoo-in for player of the year. Then Fernando Torres happened. Vidic returned from suspension against Porto, whose gameplan consisted largely of isolating him under football's equivalent of a Garryowen, a test he failed. Vidic needs to exorcise his demons and rediscover his form if United are to plug their defensive gaps.

Cristiano Ronaldo
While his petulance is well-documented, what is of more significance is his increasing impatience with his team-mates. Should the ball not arrive where he demand it, or his run be ignored, he is ever more likely to berate the perceived offender, a trait best documented in one hissy fit at Fulham.

The Portuguese has been good this season, not great, and against Porto, the first green shoots of the fans' patience wearing thin appeared. It is time for him to take a leaf from Wayne Rooney's book and work his way back into form, rather than blaming others for his shortcomings.

Actually, Ronaldo's game is just too dependent on getting wghistles and Ferdinand and Vidic's on not getting them. They're an officiating dependent side.
Some good news for Manchester United fans, possibly: The next three league opponents should provide some respite for Sir Alex Ferguson's struggling defenders, unless, like Porto, they cast aside respect for the champions (Paul Wilson, 4/08/09, Guardian Sports Blog)
Just about the only good news for beleaguered Manchester United, in the Premier League at least, is that forthcoming fixtures against Sunderland, Portsmouth and Tottenham are unlikely to add to the sudden avalanche of goals at Edwin van der Sar's end of the pitch. The goalkeeper who set a new record for clean sheets at the turn of the year has now seen 10 goalbound efforts fly past him in four games, and unless Sir Alex Ferguson can sort out his ailing defence and tired midfield in double-quick time the damage in Europe might be irrepairable.

Porto did not just outplay United in the first leg of the Champions League quarter-final, they showed them no respect. That is to say, they did not approach the game cautiously, trying to contain their opponents and waiting to see what the champions of Europe would do, they believed in themselves and went on the offensive from the outset. Van der Sar had to make his first important save within seconds of the kick-off, and United's chances of escaping without conceding an away goal had evaporated after just four minutes.

Absent deference from refs and opponents they're in big trouble.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:39 AM


Listening to the Earth's deepest secrets (Rachel Courtland, 4/08/09, New Scientist)

Its name is USArray and its aim is to run what amounts to an ultrasound scan over the 48 contiguous states of the US. Through the seismic shudders and murmurs that rack Earth's innards, it will build up an unprecedented 3D picture of what lies beneath North America.

It is a mammoth undertaking, during which USArray's scanner - a set of 400 transportable seismometers - will sweep all the way from the Pacific to the Atlantic. Having started off in California in 2004, it is now just east of the Rockies, covering a north-south swathe stretching from Montana's border with Canada down past El Paso on the Texas-Mexico border. By 2013, it should have reached the north-east coast, and its mission end.

Though not yet at the halfway stage, the project is already bringing the rocky underbelly of the US into unprecedented focus. Geologists are using this rich source of information to gain new understanding of the continent's tumultuous past - and what its future holds.

For something so fundamental, our idea of what lies beneath our feet is sketchy at best. It is only half a century since geologists firmed up the now standard theory of plate tectonics. This is the notion that Earth's uppermost layers are segmented like a jigsaw puzzle whose pieces - vast "plates" carrying whole continents or chunks of ocean - are constantly on the move. Where two plates collide, we now know, one often dives beneath the other. That process, known as subduction, can create forces strong enough to build up spectacular mountain ranges such as the still-growing Andes in South America or the Rocky mountains of the western US and Canada.

In the heat and pressure of the mantle beneath Earth's surface, the subducted rock deforms and slowly flows, circulating on timescales of millions of years. Eventually, it can force its way back to the surface, prising apart two plates at another tectonic weak point. The mid-Atlantic ridge, at the eastern edge of the North American plate, is a classic example of this process in action.

What we don't yet know is exactly what happens to the rock during its tour of Earth's interior. How does its path deep underground relate to features we can see on the surface? Is the diving of plates a smoothly flowing process or a messy, bitty, stop-start affair?

USArray will allow geologists to poke around under the hood, inspecting Earth's internal workings right down to where the mantle touches the iron-rich core 2900 kilometres below the surface - and perhaps even further down. "It is our version of the Hubble Space Telescope. With it, we'll be able to view Earth in a fundamentally different way," says Matthew Fouch, a geophysicist at Arizona State University in Tempe.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:17 AM


JazzSet On The Road: Blue Note 7 Recorded Live: Hear A Concert Spotlight From The Kennedy Center (Becca Pulliam, 4/06/09, JazzSet)

How many record labels have a 70-year run? How many groups tour for 90 days straight? Celebrating the anniversary of the Blue Note label by reworking selections from its catalog, The Blue Note 7 launched its CD, Mosaic, with a 50-city tour in January. A lot of the travel has been by bus, and some of the cities are not large — Meridian, Norman, Sheboygan. But it's adding up to quite a story. All together, some 50,000 people have come out to see the band. And on Sunday night, the star-studded band played to a packed house at the Kennedy Center. You can hear the climax from the concert by clicking the audio link above.

They are Nicholas Payton, Steve Wilson and Ravi Coltrane on trumpet, alto/flute and tenor, respectively; Bill Charlap and Peter Bernstein on piano and guitar; and Peter Washington and Lewis Nash on bass and drums.

Blue Note Records Celebrates 70 Years Of Jazz: Hear Pianist Bill Charlap's Five Blue Note Picks Below (Take Five, NPR)

Just saw these guys at Dartmouth last week and they were phenomenal--Nash and Washington in particular. They all took such obvious pleasure in each other's playing that it left you smiling.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:30 AM


Just in From Argentina, a Top-Speed, New Wave Blast From the Past (JON PARELES, 4/07/09, NY Times)

Formed in Buenos Aires in the mid-1980s, Los Fabulosos Cadillacs are a proud product of the new wave era, particularly the two-tone phase when English punk-rock made common cause with ska and reggae. The band’s reedy-voiced lead singer, Gabriel Fernández Capello (a k a Vicentico), arrived onstage wearing a jacket, white shirt and a skinny tie; its bassist, Flavio Cianciaurlo (a k a St. Flavio), had a ska-revival porkpie hat.

They are the band’s main songwriters, and through the years they have incorporated Argentine, Brazilian, Cuban, African, swing and funk rhythms into their music. At Hammerstein, each beat stoked its own variation on the pandemonium.

Fans were jubilant, singing along with nearly every song as they danced. Los Fabulosos Cadillacs regrouped last year after a seven-year hiatus from touring, and the band sold out stadiums across Latin America before performing in the United States this spring.

It has released an album, “La Luz del Ritmo” (“The Light of the Rhythm”), on Nacional Records, that tosses together a few new songs, remakes of some hits and Spanish translations of new wave oldies, including a guajira-flavored version of the Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go?”

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:04 AM


Mr. Wilson, It's Only Business: THE GODFATHER ­DOCTRINE: A Foreign Policy ­Parable By John C. Hulsman and A. Wess Mitchell. (Robert Litwak, Spring 2009, Wilson Quarterly)

The parable unfolds with the attempted hit on Don Vito Corleone, head of New York City’s paramount ­organized-­crime family, by Virgil “the Turk” Sollozzo. The young Turk turns to violence after the ­old-­school Don rejects his proposal to expand the family’s business into the lucrative but dirty drug trade. With the wounded Don out of action, the Corleone sons respond to this catalytic event—a frontal assault on the existing order by a “rogue power”—with competing strategies, each emblematic of a major American foreign-policy ­approach.

Adopted son and consigliere Tom ­Hagen—­the liberal institutionalist—­does not recognize the magnitude of the threat posed by the Turk and urges the illusory course of dialogue and “institutionalized restraint” to preserve the Mafia’s existing order, “a kind of Sicilian Bretton Woods” that benefited all the families. ­Hot­headed Sonny ­Corleone—­the neoconservative—recognizes the Turk as an “existential threat” and overrules Tom to initiate military action against Sollozzo and his allies without the legitimizing imprimatur of the other crime families. Sonny’s recklessness, which the authors liken to the Bush administration’s heedless charge into Iraq, triggers counter­balancing moves by the other Mafia families to check the Corleones’ unrestrained power. After Sonny falls victim to his own “gangland free-for-all,” his younger brother ­Michael—­the ­realist—­takes up the reins of family power and, comprehending the forces of systemic change repre­sented by the Turk, skillfully adapts to the new reality through a strategy combining Tom’s carrots and Sonny’s ­sticks.

Through this inspired metaphor, Hulsman and Mitchell carry out a cold, intellectual hit on ­Wilsonianism—­the foreign-policy school whose core idea is that international peace can be achieved through the spread of democratic gov­ern­ments to states around the world. This motivating belief has spawned contending Democratic (liberal institutionalist) and Republican (neoconservative) versions. Few would chal­lenge the authors’ assertion that neoconserv­atism is bankrupt: Its champions have been mugged by reality in Iraq; the goal of “ending tyranny” set out in George W. Bush’s second inaugural address is widely derided as vacuous ­utopianism.

Nevermind that the point of the Godfather cycle is that Michael ends up so morally compromised that he destroys everything around him, the reality of Iraq -- and Liberia, southern Sudan, Palestine, etc.--is that W's liberal democratic crusading worked. Indeed, his failures--Syria, Venezuela, etc.--came in those states where we accepted the status quo, a la the Realists.

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April 7, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:27 PM


Bow-ow-ow: Obama's painful missteps (Camille Paglia, 4/07/09, Salon)

[W]e all know how little executive experience Barack Obama has had. He was elected for his vision and his steady, deliberative character, not his résumé. For better or worse, Obama is learning as he goes -- and surely most fair-minded people would grant him reasonable leeway as he grows into the presidency, one of the hardest jobs in the world.

At a certain point, however, Obama will face an inescapable administrative crux. Arriving at the White House, he understandably stayed in his comfort zone by bringing old friends and allies with him -- a team that had had a fabulous success in devising the hard-as-nails strategy that toppled the Clintons, like crumbling colossi, into yesterday's news. But these comrades may not have the practical skills or broad perspective to help Obama govern. Like Shakespeare's Prince Hal ascending the throne, Obama may have to steel his heart and banish Falstaff and the whole frat-house crew.

Obama's staffing problems are blatant -- from that bleating boy of a treasury secretary to what appears to be a total vacuum where a chief of protocol should be. There has been one needless gaffe after another -- from the president's tacky appearance on a late-night comedy show to the kitsch gifts given to the British prime minister, followed by the sweater-clad first lady's over-familiarity with the queen and culminating in the jaw-dropping spectacle of a president of the United States bowing to the king of Saudi Arabia. Why was protest about the latter indignity confined to conservatives? The silence of the major media was a disgrace. But I attribute that embarrassing incident not to Obama's sinister or naive appeasement of the Muslim world but to a simple if costly breakdown in basic command of protocol.

That no one can have realistically expected him to be competent is as inarguable as it is disturbing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:24 PM


White House invites gay families to Easter event (GILLIAN GAYNAIR, 4/07/09, Associated Press)

The White House is allocating tickets for the upcoming Easter Egg Roll to gay and lesbian parents as part of the Obama administration's outreach to diverse communities.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:13 PM


The Demonization of Harold Koh (Bruce Ackerman, 4/07/09, Daily Beast)

It’s true that Koh has condemned the Bush Administration’s violations of international law. But so has President Obama, and we should expect him to nominate a man who will carry through on his commitment. Conservatives should recognize that they lost the election, and that the State Department will indeed return the country to its traditional role as a leading advocate of international law.

While Koh’s internationalism is mainstream, his truly distinctive views deal with the relationship between Congress and the presidency in developing foreign relations law. His landmark book, The National Security Constitution, is a sobering review of the historical process through which the imperial presidency has broken from congressional oversight. Koh’s work represents the most thoughtful effort to restore Congress to its rightful role as a check on presidential power in foreign affairs.

In contrast to most legal critics, Koh doesn’t succumb to the illusion that the Supreme Court will take the lead in insisting upon a robust congressional role. He calls for the legislative enactment of a National Security Charter that would require the president to consult Congress on key issues.

...but the notion that the Senate ought to turn a blind eye to an appointee who wants to elevate international law above it and try to rewrite it legislatively -- which is anticonstitutional by definition -- is bizarre even by their low standards. Even setting aside Mr. Koh's views--which Professor Ackerman concedes here--the role of advise and consent has some meaning, no? The Senate isn't meant to just rubber-stamp nominations because the president was elected.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:52 PM


The Plus One policy: Japan's rapidly falling population has sparked an anguished debate: should the country open itself up to an influx of immigrant labour or seal its borders and adapt to a new model of economic growth? (Alastair Bonnett, 05 March 2009, New Statesman)

What alarms [deputy chief cabinet secretary, Haku­bun ] Shimomura is that Japanese women have, on average, only 1.3 children each. Today Japan’s fertility average is lower than China’s (with an average of 1.6 children), although not quite as low as Taiwan’s (1.1 children). The corresponding figure for the UK is 1.9; while at the other end of the spectrum, women in Afghanistan, Angola and Liberia have an average of 6.8 children. Since the Japanese have one of the highest life expectancies in the world, the country is facing a withering at one end of the life cycle, but a boom at the other. By 2050, there will be more than three times as many people aged 65 or over as there will be those under 14. It is also predicted that there will be 500,000 ­people aged 100 or over.

The obvious solution is immigration. One can read in the Japan Times of the need to “throw the country open to the millions of poor Asians, Africans and Latin Americans who would certainly come if invited”. However, Japan has no history of being a country of immigration; only about 1.5 per cent of workers are foreign. Even in Tokyo, the figure rises to just

3 per cent. The Japanese myth of racial homogeneity is deep-rooted, insular and very protective. The Japanese look at societies, such as the United States and Britain, where immigrants have settled in large numbers, and see fractured ­societies in which an ill-treated caste of foreign labour fill low-paid jobs. For many, it is not an appealing vision of their own future.

Tom Tancredo ought to run for PM of Japan.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:45 PM


Tears for Middle Pleistocene human Cranium 14: An amazing archeological finding in Spain reveals the deep humanity of our distant ancestors. (Michael Cook, 4/06/09, MercatorNet)

Cranium 14 was discovered in the famous archeological site of Atapuerca. Scattered throughout several caves in the area are the bones and tools of the earliest humans found in Europe. The most interesting findings are to be found in Sima de los Huesos (the pit of the bones). This site is located at the bottom of a 13-metre (50-foot) deep chimney which has to be accessed by scrambling through caves. Twenty-eight people of both sexes rest in pieces, smashed into thousands of fragments.

No one knows exactly how and why the bones tumbled there, but it may have been a burial ground. Another theory is that they were washed down when the cave flooded. No matter. The point is that more than 30 fragments belonged to a little girl aged between 5 and 12. Nameless now, she has been christened Cranium 14 by the anthropologists.

Any relics this old offer precious clues to the lives of our distant ancestors. But when the researchers reconstructed Cranium 14’s fragments, they discovered something very surprising: she appears to have been severely mentally retarded. They know this because she clearly suffered from craniosynostosis, a birth defect in which the skull segments close too early, producing facial deformities and interfering with the development of the brain.

The particular skull distortion of the child in Sima de Huesos affects fewer than 6 in 200,000 individuals in living humans. It is distressing for parents. The head can be large and misshapen, the eyes can bulge out. The children can be blind and deaf. Their limbs may be deformed. They may have seizures and feed poorly. Cranio-facial surgery works wonders and after many, many operations, an affected child can lead something like a normal life. Even so, the story of a child with the condition makes for painful reading. Many doctors would advise mothers to terminate the pregnancy.

Here’s the remarkable thing. The hunter-gatherer Middle Pleistocene family of Cranium 14 must have cared for the child or she would not have survived for at least five years, and perhaps as many as 12 years. In the dry-as-dust words of the article, "It is obvious that the [Sima de Huesos] hominin species did not act against the abnormal/ill individuals during the infancy, as has happened along our own history many times and in many cultures".

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:01 PM


Barack Obama rejects Normandy trip to avoid offending Germany (Toby Harnden and Henry Samuel, 2 Apr 2009, Daily Telegraph)

Barack Obama, concerned about offending Britain and Germany, rebuffed strenuous attempts by President Nicolas Sarkozy of France to persuade the new American president to make a trip to Normandy this week.

White House officials travelled to France at the start of March to discuss a visit by Mr Obama to Omaha Beach, the site of the American Cemetery, established in 1944 just after D-Day and where 9,387 American personnel are buried. Among them is Theodore Roosevelt Jr the eldest son of the 26th US President.

French officials and senior American military officers walked with White House staff through the cemetery discussing how the two presidents might follow the same route. But even before their trip, the White House had decided that Mr Obama would not travel there this week.

A cemetery stroll would have been particularly appropriate symbolism given that Mr. Sarkozy is returning France to NATO whereas when DeGaulle took them out he told LBJ he wanted French soil cleared of American troops and President Johnson asked: Including the ones who are buried in it?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:57 PM


Short '06 Lebanon War Stokes Pentagon Debate: Leaders Divided on Whether to Focus On Conventional or Irregular Combat (Greg Jaffe, 4/06/09, Washington Post)

A war that ended three years ago and involved not a single U.S. soldier has become the subject of an increasingly heated debate inside the Pentagon, one that could alter how the U.S. military fights in the future.

When Israel and Hezbollah battled for more than a month in Lebanon in the summer of 2006, the result was widely seen as a disaster for the Israeli military. Soon after the fighting ended, some military officers began to warn that the short, bloody and relatively conventional battle foreshadowed how future enemies of the United States might fight.

Since then, the Defense Department has dispatched as many as a dozen teams to interview Israeli officers who fought against Hezbollah. The Army and Marine Corps have sponsored a series of multimillion-dollar war games to test how U.S. forces might fare against a similar foe. "I've organized five major games in the last two years, and all of them have focused on Hezbollah," said Frank Hoffman, a research fellow at the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory in Quantico.

A big reason that the 34-day war is drawing such fevered attention is that it highlights a rift among military leaders: Some want to change the U.S. military so that it is better prepared for wars like the ones it is fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, while others worry that such a shift would leave the United States vulnerable to a more conventional foe.

To fight a conventional foe with other than nuclear strikes is an error in itself.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:17 PM


Can Pakistan Be Governed? (JAMES TRAUB, 4/05/09, NY Times Magazine)

Pakistan feels as if it’s falling apart. Last fall the country barely avoided bankruptcy. The tribal areas, which border on Afghanistan, remain a vast Taliban sanctuary and redoubt. The giant province of Baluchistan, though far more accessible, is racked by a Baluchi separatist rebellion, while American officials view Quetta, Baluchistan’s capital, as Taliban HQ. American policy has arguably made the situation even worse, for the Predator-drone attacks along the border, though effective, drive the Taliban eastward, deeper into Pakistan. And the strategy has been only reinforcing hostility to the United States among ordinary Pakistanis.

Pakistan has made itself the supreme conundrum of American foreign policy. During the campaign, Obama often said that the heart of the terrorist threat was not Iraq but Afghanistan and Pakistan, and once in office he had senior policy makers undertake an array of reviews designed to coordinate policy in the region. They seem to have narrowed the target area even further, to the Pakistani frontier. “For the American people,” Obama announced on March 27, “this border region has become the most dangerous place in the world.” Some officials see Pakistan as a volcano that, should it blow, would send an inconceivable amount of poisonous ash raining down on the world around it. David Kilcullen, a key adviser to Gen. David Petraeus, the Centcom commander, recently asserted that “within one to six months we could see the collapse of the Pakistani state,” a calamity that, given the country’s size, strategic location and nuclear stockpile, would “dwarf” all other current crises.

One of the ways President Obama could get folks to take him seriously as regards getting rid of nukes is a joint US-Indian mission to take Pakistan's.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:08 PM


One Nation Under God?: The latest NEWSWEEK Poll finds shifting American attitudes about religion and faith. Still, the U.S. remains a deeply religious land. (Daniel Stone, 4/07/09, Newsweek)

Last summer, when George W. Bush was still in office, one third of Americans thought that religion played too big a role in U.S. politics, compared to 25 percent who said it had too little influence. The numbers have switched in the new Obama era. Now, 26 percent think religion is too influential, compared to 31 percent who say faith doesn't carry enough weight in the political system. [...]

Still, Americans' personal beliefs about religion haven't changed much in the last 20 years. The number of Americans with faith in a spiritual being—nearly nine in 10—has not changed much over the past two decades, according to historical polling. Seventy-eight percent said prayer was an important part of daily life, an increase of 2 points since 1987. Eighty-five percent said religion is "very important" or "fairly important" in their own lives—a number that hasn't changed much since 1992. Nearly half (48 percent) described themselves as both "religious and spiritual," while another 30 percent said they were "spiritual but not religious." Only 9 percent said they were neither religious nor spiritual.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:46 PM


US Forecaster Lowers Atlantic Hurricane Prediction (Javno, 4/07/09)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:36 PM


What the heck? Anyone bought a copy of USA Today lately? I only get it on Opening Day for the complete major league rosters. Not only is it a $1 now, but when I opened it there seemed to be something wrong. As far as I can tell the pages are now about 3 inches narrower than a normal newspaper. Is that possible, or did I get a runt?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:44 AM


A baby boomlet, and mama's older (JAMES WALSH, 3/19/09, Minneapolis Star-Tribune)

According to a review of most 2007 birth certificates by the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the birth rate in the U.S. rose slightly for women of all ages. [...]

U.S. fertility rates are higher in every racial group, according to the CDC study. On average, a U.S. woman has 2.1 babies in her lifetime. That's the "magic number" required for a population to replace itself.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:26 AM


Boston Globe staffers lash out at union leaders (Jessica Heslam, April 7, 2009, http://www.bostonherald.com)

Rank-and-file Boston Globe staffers are rising up against their union leaders, accusing them of keeping members in the dark over last week’s stunning ultimatum from the New York Times [NYT] Co. and questioning whether they’re putting their own interests first [...]

Leaders of the Guild, the paper’s largest union, are among the more than 340 union members who were granted lifetime job guarantees, according to a list on the Guild’s Web site.

The lifetime deals - a list dubbed the “Book of Life” - were given to staffers when the Taylor family sold the Globe to the Times in 1993. According to the contract, those staffers would never be laid off without cause.

Guild president Totten, vice president Scott Steeves, treasurer Patrice Sneyd and at-large executive board member Carl Younger are among those with lifetime jobs.

Totten didn’t return a call or e-mail yesterday.

Six of the union’s 23 governing board delegates also have lifetime job guarantees. It could not be determined how many members of management and other Globe unions were given lifetime gigs. The list of lifers also includes scores of Globe reporters, including columnists Joan Vennochi, Adrian Walker and Kevin Cullen, sports writers Mark Blaudschun, Kevin Paul DuPont and Nick Cafardo, and State House reporter Frank Phillips.

Some union members are frustrated with Guild leaders’ hard-line stance against the Times. In an e-mail to union members Friday night - the day after the Times’ threat - Totten said he told Times and Globe management it was time for them “to step up and give concessions.”

Leader-for-life? What a banana republic...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:11 AM


The End of Philosophy (DAVID BROOKS, 4/07/09, NY Times)

Socrates talked. The assumption behind his approach to philosophy, and the approaches of millions of people since, is that moral thinking is mostly a matter of reason and deliberation: Think through moral problems. Find a just principle. Apply it.

One problem with this kind of approach to morality, as Michael Gazzaniga writes in his 2008 book, “Human,” is that “it has been hard to find any correlation between moral reasoning and proactive moral behavior, such as helping other people. In fact, in most studies, none has been found.”

All of philosophy is just the attempt to liberate morality from God and it failed. If you were looking for one reason that the Anglosphere thrives while continental Europe dies, you need look no further than the distinctive Anglo-American skepticism about Reason.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:44 AM

Bud Shank, Jazz Saxophonist, Is Dead at 82 (BRUCE WEBER, 4/07/09, NY Times)

Mr. Shank, whose career spanned 60 years, was a versatile player, both as a sideman and bandleader, in a wide variety of musical arenas, from big band swing to symphonic to pop, with a wide variety of collaborators. He played with the Stan Kenton big band in the early 1950s; in the 1960s he accompanied the sitarist Ravi Shankar, and he recorded with the Mamas and the Papas, playing the flute solo on their hit “California Dreamin.’ ” In 1985, he was the featured soloist with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra on a recording of a concerto for alto sax and orchestra.

But he thought of himself primarily as a bebop alto sax player, and no matter whom he was playing with, his sound, crisply melodic with an underlying swing, reflected his earliest influences: Lester Young, the great swing saxophonist of the 1930s and 1940s, and the bebop generation that followed him.

In the 1950s, living in Los Angeles along with musicians like the trumpeter Chet Baker and the baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan, Mr. Shank helped establish the laid-back, nonchalant-seeming sound that came to be called West Coast jazz. With other Kenton big band alumni, he was a regular presence at the legendary jam sessions at the Lighthouse Cafe in Hermosa Beach.

It was also in the Kenton band that he met Laurindo Almeida, a Brazilian guitarist, with whom he recorded two 1953 albums, known as “Brazilliance” Volumes 1 and 2, that anticipated the emergence of the bossa nova, the fusion of Latin music and cool jazz that would be popularized a few years later by Antonio Carlos Jobim and João Gilberto. Mr. Shank reunited with Almeida in 1974 in a band known as the L.A. Four, which toured internationally and recorded several albums.

-Bud Shank dies at 82; alto saxophonist was immersed in West Coast jazz scene (Jon Thurber, April 6, 2009, LA Times)
A versatile musician with an adventurous nature, Shank also played flute and -- during a productive period of studio work -- had pivotal solos on the popular 1960s pop tunes "California Dreamin' " by the Mamas and the Papas and "Windy" by the Association. He had an early interest in music without borders, playing and recording with Brazilian guitarist Laurindo Almeida several years before the Bossa Nova craze. In 1962, he recorded an album with Indian sitarist Ravi Shankar.

For many, however, he is best known for his work in Los Angeles with Stan Kenton starting in the late 1940s, followed by his association with Howard Rumsey's Lighthouse All-Stars at the fabled Lighthouse Cafe jazz club in Hermosa Beach.

-OBIT: Bud Shank, 1926-2009 (Doug Ramsey, Rifftides)
-Jazz Profiles from NPR: Bud Shank (Produced by Bruce Talbot, NPR)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:40 AM


The American Suburb Is Bouncing Back (Joel Kotkin, 04.07.09, Forbes)

Although the economy is still hurting, the housing trend has become much more positive. Statewide, existing home sales have jumped 30% over the past year, taking the inventory from an estimated 16.7 months to less than seven months. In Chino Hills, it is down to six months.

Most encouraging, this activity is taking place exactly where the market was hit hardest in the beginning--in the suburbs and at the lower end of the market, which in the Inland Empire means between $150,00 to $300,000. This could presage the resurgence of the suburbs and the prospects for the middle- and working classes once again to purchase their piece of the American dream.

Nor is this merely a Californian phenomenon. Nationwide, existing home sales--predominately in the suburbs--have been on the rise for the last few months. The strongest growth is occurring in Sunbelt markets in Arizona, Nevada and Florida, as well as in California. These places experienced some of the greatest surges in prices, which forced many buyers to turn to subprime and interest-only loans.

These loans are largely not available today, Guerrero notes. Instead of financial quackery, lower prices--sometimes as much as 50% below peak--are allowing new buyers to buy affordably. In 2007, Inland Empire median house prices were roughly seven to 10 times the average annual income of potential buyers. Now they are settling close to the historic norm of three times.

But not everyone will be happy to see life return to the suburban housing tracts. Indeed, for some self-proclaimed urbanists, planners and pundits, this development might seem almost nightmarish.

...is that a year from now nothing will be different than it was a year ago. Historic trends don't end just because of technical glitches in the markets.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:31 AM


Yes, We Can . . . Disarm?: Obama's Quixotic Rallying Cry for the World (Anne Applebaum, April 7, 2009, Washington Post)

[S]omeone has to say it: Although some things went well on this trip, some things went badly. The centerpiece of the visit, Obama's keynote foreign policy speech in Prague -- leaked in advance, billed as a major statement -- was, to put it bluntly, peculiar. He used it to call for "a world without nuclear weapons" and a new series of arms control negotiations with Russia. This was not wrong, necessarily, and not evil. But it was strange.

Clearly, the "no nukes" policy is one close to the president's heart. The Prague speech even carried echoes of that most famous of all Obama speeches, the one he made after losing the New Hampshire primary. "There are those who hear talk of a world without nuclear weapons and doubt whether it is worth setting a goal that seems impossible," he told his Czech audience. (Recall: "We have been told we cannot do this by a chorus of cynics.") "When nations and peoples allow themselves to be defined by their differences, the gulf between them widens," he continued. ("We are not as divided as our politics suggests.") He didn't say "Yes, we can" at the end, but he did say "human destiny will be what we make of it" -- which amounts to the same thing.

The rhetoric was Obama's -- and so was the idea. Look at his record: One of the few foreign policy initiatives to which Obama stuck his name during his brief Senate term was an increase in funding for nuclear nonproliferation. One of the few trips Obama managed as a senator was a nuclear inspection tour of Russia, Ukraine and Azerbaijan.

Which is all very nice -- but as the central plank in an American president's foreign policy, a call for universal nuclear disarmament seems rather beside the point. Apparently, Obama's intention is to lead by example: If the United States cuts its own nuclear arsenal and bans testing, then, allegedly, others will follow.

Yet there is no evidence that U.S. nuclear arms reductions have ever inspired others to do the same. All of the world's more recent nuclear powers -- Israel, India, Pakistan -- acquired their weapons well after such talks began, more than 40 years ago.

...one of the key's to understanding Ronald Reagan is to recognize that he too was obsessed with ending the threat of nuclear weapons. But the key to understanding him as a leader is that he never acted unilaterally to weaken America, only to threaten a recalcitrant Moscow. He was willing to take steps--disarmament and sharing Star Wars-- that were mutually beneficial, but negotiation was always on America's terms.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:30 AM


Reality hits Obama Express (MIKE ALLEN, 4/7/09, Politico)

Officials are most pessimistic about his energy and global warming plan, with many aides doubting he will win passage of a cap-and-trade emissions reduction system, which is strongly opposed by business and Republicans.

The White House is most optimistic for passage this year of his plans to overhaul the nation’s financial regulations, and aides also see a strong chance that a gradual version of his health care overhaul will get through Congress this fall.

Congressional and administration aides agree that none of his three biggest agenda items is likely to achieve final passage before this fall.

...that if he were to pass anything he's proposing it would break his legislative hymen.

April 6, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:57 PM


Obama, Going Along to Get Along (Jackson Diehl, April 5, 2009, Washington Post)

What's striking about Obama's diplomacy, however, has been his willingness to embrace the priorities of European governments, Russia and China while playing down -- or setting aside altogether -- principal American concerns. [...]

For many around the world, Obama's diplomacy will certainly look like a refreshing change from that of George W. Bush. Yet in Washington, some may compare it to his handling of early domestic legislation, where he has allowed congressional Democrats to take control and set priorities. Is the new president shrewd and pragmatic about using his power at home and abroad -- or too passive, even weak?

...once you acknowledge that the two are indistinguishable?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:36 PM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:52 AM


The Lean and Slippered Pantaloon (James Bowman, 04/06/09, First Principles)

I immediately thought of the young man in Joseph Epstein’s college course on Henry James who, asked to describe the character of Gilbert Osmond in Portrait of a Lady, answers: “Well . . . he’s an a**hole.” I suspect that young people might find a touch of self-importance or portentousness in Mr. Epstein’s reaction to that comment, which was to give up teaching Henry James. “Something, I realized, had changed in the nature of civilized discourse in America.” But if you’re old enough, as I am, to respond sympathetically to further evidence that the younger generation is on the swiftest of trajectories to what Huckleberry Finn called “the bad place” and therefore most likely soon to be disqualified completely from the life of the mind, you will find much to enjoy in the book which contains this anecdote. It is Mr. Epstein’s tenth collection of essays, titled In a Cardboard Belt! after the famous lament of Max Bialystock in The Producers, and published on the occasion of his 70th birthday.

As always with this author, the best essays are the personal ones, full as they are of revealing, touching, amusing, or instructive touches and many “wise saws and modern instances” (for the benefit WikiAnswers readers, “saws” means sayings and “modern” means “everyday”). Above all he has the familiar essayist’s trick of being confiding and disarming, as when he writes in a parenthesis that “Life is not easy for me, being a snob and a reverse snob simultaneously.” The essays are about the death of his father, keeping a diary, being a teacher, his dislike of travel, his culinary tastes, obituaries, and the piquant “Why I am not a lawyer.” This may be the most provocatively titled essay in the collection, since it immediately summons up so many possible answers to the implied question that we are almost forced to read on to discover which one it is—and if it may be one that we haven’t thought of yet. I won’t give away the answer, but it is the best possible of the reasons for anyone’s not being a lawyer only better expressed and better illustrated with examples of both the best and the worst sorts of lawyer than most of those who have similarly dodged the lawyerly bullet could have thought of.

The final essay in this section and the one which represents the most emphatic life-milestone in a book that is uncomfortably aware throughout of the passage of time is about getting rid of a personal library it took him a lifetime to accumulate. This, too, is a fascinating subject, especially to the author’s fellow bibliomanes who must feel, as I did, a frisson of horror at the very idea of such a divestment. And yet the logic is impeccable. At a certain point in your life, you have to come to terms with the fact that there is simply not enough time left to you to read Orwell or Mencken again, let alone Shaw or Thomas Mann.

Much as one hate to disagree with two such estimable figures as Mr. Bowman and Mr. Epstein, the young man is right and any further time wasted on analyzing fiction as notoriously deadly as James's merely compounds the waste of having read him in the first place, time which could have been spent reading the good books in your library.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:19 AM


Hiss-Chambers Trial (Patrick A. Swan, 04/06/09, First Principles)

Then there were the witnesses—many, many witnesses. Fifteen character witnesses vouched for Hiss, either in person or in writing. These included Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, Illinois Governor Adlai Stevenson, and 1924 Democratic presidential nominee, John W. Davis. Familial witnesses for Chambers included the singular figure of his wife Esther, who, after sustained badgering by Stryker, exclaimed to the jury, “My husband is a decent citizen, a great man!”

And, finally, there was the evidence: the prothonotary warbler, a rare bird that Hiss had told Chambers he had recently seen in a conversation during the 1930s. By making reference to this bird, Hiss unwittingly confirmed his conversation with Chambers and helped congressional investigators seeking to verify a relationship between the two men. There were the purloined secret State Department memos and documents Hiss passed to Chambers. There were the additional copies Hiss had keyed overnight on his Woodstock typewriter. Most famously, there were the “Pumpkin Papers,” actually rolls of incriminating microfilm Chambers had photographed from secret documents Hiss had removed from the State Department. Chambers spirited away these canisters when he made his break with communism, and later stowed them away for safekeeping in a hollowed-out pumpkin on his farm at the height of the investigation’s furor.

The prosecution pieced these materials together into a picture of Hiss’s clandestine activities that convinced the second jury of his intentional spying for the Soviet Union. Of course, the evidence failed to convince some of Hiss’s diehard supporters and mattered little to many on the American Left who argued (as some still argue) that such activities were noble because undertaken for the “right” cause.

After completing his sentence, Hiss began a career as a greeting card salesman (as a convicted felon, he was disbarred from practicing law). He also published his first memoirs, In the Court of Public Opinion (1957), essentially a pedestrian lawyer’s brief, and continued defiantly declaring his innocence until his death in 1996.

In 1952, Chambers wrote his memoirs, the modern biographical classic titled Witness, detailing his life in the Communist Party and the challenges America faced with communism in mid-century. Chambers succinctly summarized those challenges by posing the question: “Faith in God or Faith in Man?” By presenting the stakes in such stark terms and by in effect putting secular liberalism on trial, the soft-spoken Chambers had brought to the fore one of the defining questions of American political discourse in the latter half of the twentieth century. After the trial, an exhausted Chambers retired to his farm in Westminster, Maryland, writing sporadically and publishing commentary in William F. Buckley’s fledgling National Review. He died in 1961.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:04 AM


Obamaism (George Packer, April 13, 2009, The New Yorker)

Well short of Obama’s first hundred days, the dominant characteristic of his Presidency is clear: activist government, on every front. It’s harder to make out the contours of the philosophy at the core of this dazzling blur of action. Given the early and ample track record, there’s surprisingly little agreement over the nature of Obamaism. Obama’s signature projects defy grouping under a single heading, and, as a result, he has been criticized for inconsistency. To take one example, he forced the chief executive of General Motors, Rick Wagoner, into early retirement, and yet he has not called for the removal of any of the failed leaders of America’s financial institutions, like Bank of America’s Kenneth Lewis. He promised a federal guarantee of warranties for owners of G.M. and Chrysler cars, but he won’t put the government in temporary control of the banks, which are at the heart of the economic crisis. He is willing to spend $275 billion for homeowners’ relief, but he won’t let the government enter into the business of making direct loans. He has made health-care reform the ultimate test of his first year, but seems prepared to compromise on significant aspects of the legislation.

To liberals such as Robert Kuttner, of the American Prospect, and Paul Krugman, of the Times, these self-imposed limitations are unnecessary concessions to a free-market ideology that has been thoroughly discredited. In this reading, Obama lacks the courage of his activist impulses, and his hesitations will play right into the hands of his enemies. The usual reply to such criticism is that Obama is basically a pragmatist, who will do what he thinks can work. But pragmatism is a description of a temperament, not an explanation of a world view.

What underlies so many of Obama’s decisions is an attachment to the institutions that hold up American society, a desire to make them function better rather than remake them altogether.

Almost there. He actually isn't concerned at all with how or whether they function, just that he's accepted as capable of functioning within them. As you'd expect of a guy whose parents ditched him and who perceives himself as racially distinct within America, he's driven entirely by the desire to belong.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:43 AM


One Shot Fells a Thousand Tons; Or, The Iceman's Tale (Paul Reyes, Spring 2009, VQR)

An iceberg had drifted deep into White Bay, near the hamlet of Sop’s Arm, and was stuck there, depreciating quickly in the mild summer waters. Ed Kean and I were riding up to claim it, traveling by bus through a rolling landscape of stone and bright lichen, bald patches and spindly white stubble of third- and fourth-growth forest, through fog and sun and fog again.

This was Newfoundland in June, the middle of the working season, one of long daylight and heavy drinking and erratic weather. A season mild enough for trawlers to make three-day runs off the coast and for cruise ships to pause during North Atlantic jaunts to let tourists swarm the pubs of St. John’s harbor. A time when mainlanders come in droves to hike the cliffs and ogle icebergs drifting south.

Kean was seventy, but still tough, a longtime merchant seaman with some of the archetypal stuff in him: rude blue eyes, boyish and crowfooted; arms tanned and wrists striped from long days in the sun. He gestured with a kind of shyness, but he didn’t suffer contradiction, which was perfectly clear without him having to say so. It was clear in the list of provisions I had scribbled down just a couple of nights ago, as dictated by him: five days at sea; very little sleep, lots of work; earn your keep; oilskins & boots; sleeping bag; wear some wool, lots of wool; five boxes of 12-gauge slugs; 40 oz. of scotch.

The scotch was my idea, because it would be impossible to go five days at sea among strangers without it. Scotch soothes the nerves. You can barter with it. It is an immediately practical item. Kean suggested the slugs, a remarkable improvement over bullets. “Put a slug in one last week,” he said, gazing at the landscape scrolling past us. “Two thousand tons with one shot, boy . . . shattered like a window.” He was talking about shooting an iceberg, which was part of how the Keans, both father and son, harvested its water. And it was my reason for joining them—to take part in the hunt.

It began with the idea of bringing fresh water to US troops in Kuwait but evolved from that failure into Canadian Iceberg Vodka, a Toronto company that mixed Ontario-grown sweet corn with water that the Keans extracted from icebergs lumbering past Newfoundland’s coast, to distill what was marketed as “the purest vodka on the planet.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:24 AM


The Radicalization of Ben Bernanke: He is throwing trillions of dollars at the financial crisis. What happens if his gambles don't pay off? (Simon Johnson and James Kwak, April 5, 2009, Washin gton Post)

Without a doubt, this crisis is now Ben Bernanke's war.

Bernanke has become the country's economist in chief, the banker for the United States and perhaps the world, and has employed every weapon in the Federal Reserve's arsenal. He has overseen the broadest use of the Fed's powers since World War II, and the regulation proposals working their way through Congress seem likely to empower the institution even further. Although his actions may be justified under today's circumstances, Bernanke's willingness to pump money into the economy risks unleashing the most serious bout of U.S. inflation since the early 1980s, in a nation already battered by rising unemployment and negative growth.

If he succeeds in restarting growth while avoiding high inflation, Bernanke may well become the most revered economist in modern history. But for the moment, he is operating in uncharted territory.

When he first joined the Federal Reserve's Board of Governors in 2002, and later when he became chairman in 2006, there was little reason to expect Bernanke to revolutionize central banking.

Actually, Mr. Bernanke's chief qualification for the job was his expertise on the catastrophic effects and institutional causes of the Great Deflation, an ideal background for a central banker in a deflationary epic. Unfortunately, he somehow managed to misinterpret the temporary and wholly artificial spike in oil prices for a sign of systemic inflation--a notion that flat wages were enough to refute dispositively--and boosted interest rates. This made rate-sensitive loans--of which there were an unusual number at that moment--too expensive for many marginal borrowers and exposed the real risk in the various derivatives that Wall Street had devised. Easy as it is to blame him for ignoring his own studies and following the inflation hawks--who've made this same mistake at least three times since Reagan and Volker quashed the monster--it is also the reality of the post that you're there to defend the lending interests, who don't mind deflation, since they get repaid in dollars worth more than they lent, and despise inflation, which sees them repaid in cheaper dollars. Any new chairmen--especially one whose concerns have been precisely the opposite--has to appease the constituency and prove his bona fides before he can start doing what he knows to be right.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:20 AM


A Pricing Revolution Looms in Online Advertising: Demographic profiling and behavioral targeting by such companies as Google, Quantcast, and ValueClick is slashing ad costs and threatening Web publishers (Ben Kunz, 4/06/09, Business Week)

Online publishers face a big revenue squeeze as companies become more sophisticated in their ability to determine who is visiting what Web sites and when—just as marketers look to squeeze more from dwindling ad budgets.

The old online ad model is getting turned on its ear by such firms as ComScore (SCOR) and Quantcast. They specialize in so-called demographic profiling, which pinpoints the types of people visiting each Web site, and behavioral targeting, which helps advertisers reach a desired audience based on a person's past Web-surfing behavior.

Marketers can use these tools to reduce online ad costs dramatically. Say your company sells "Bidgets," a luxury product. Ordinarily you'd run banner ads on FancyOldSite.com, which reaches your target audience of men and women who earn more than $150,000 a year. The ads are expensive—say $60 per thousand impressions—but they reach your ideal audience.

You might instead embed a snippet of code in the banners that run on FancyOldSite.com. This places so-called cookies on the computers of everyone who sees the ad so you can track them when they visit other Web sites. That's where retargeting kicks in. Every time a former FancyOldSite.com reader who saw your ad visits other Web sites, your Bidget banner ads pop up again. The banner ads reappear because the cookie on that computer flags a retargeting "network" of thousands of sites, saying "This desirable reader is back." These new ads are cheap—$3 CPM—but they reach exactly the same audience.

Congratulations! You just used behavioral targeting to reduce your ad costs from $60 to $3 CPM, a 95% savings. (And yes, those cost quotes are based on real client experience.) Online targeting of individuals has been around for more than a decade, notes John Ardis, vice-president for corporate strategy at ValueClick (VCLK), another firm that specializes in online advertising. But interest has surged during the recession. "Obviously today's economy has advertisers looking to do more and more efficient things," he says. Not only are costs lower; results are often better. ValueClick, which provides retargeting, says click-through rates on such ads are 110% to 840% higher than average because they reach an audience more likely to be interested in a product or service.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:16 AM


Philip José Farmer: A River Ran Through Him (EDWARD CHAMPION, 4/06/09, Barnes & Noble)

In 1952, a febrile fabulist blooming a bit late in Peoria took part in a fiction contest sponsored by Shasta and Pocket Books. This former Air Force man, who had always put family before precocity, had just parachuted out of a glum 11-year stint at Keystone Steel and Wire to write full-time. Bolstered by the sales of two tales in Startling Stories, this wildly imaginative 30-something banged out a 150,000-word novel titled I Owe for the Flesh. Inspired by John Kendrick Bangs's A House-Boat on the Styx, the scenario imagined that every person who had ever lived on Earth was resurrected on a planet consisting of a serpentine river snaking its way through rocky terrain for millions of miles, with sustenance provided through magical grails. Decades before Stephen King's Roland, Richard Black (later named Sir Richard Burton) sought the dark tower at river's end.

The writer here in question was Philip José Farmer, who passed away in February. And this early effort was the genesis point for the Riverworld books, perhaps his best-known work. This magical quintet (along with two anthologies) affirmed Farmer's faculties for shuffling through a deck of historical and literary figures (picked up by Alan Moore in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) and his peculiar form of tropical mysticism (perhaps an unacknowledged inspiration for the television series, Lost).

As it turned out, Farmer won the $4,000 prize. His novel awaited rewrites. But editor Melvin Korshak took the money and gambled it away on another book that bombed. Shasta went bankrupt. And Farmer was never paid for his labor. This financial nightmare forced him to cede his house. The manuscript was lost, and it seemed for a time that the ripe prototype for Farmer's most ambitious work was permanently stalled.

But this setback didn't stop Farmer. His relentless inventive powers and his Depression-hewn work ethic produced dozens of short stories, poems, articles, and novellas over the next few years.

I grew up reading all the old pulps I could get my hands on--particularly Edgar Rice Burroughs, Doc Savage, The Avenger and The Shadow--which led to Mr. Farmer, who'd published pseudo-biographies of Tarzan and Doc Savage. Freshman year of college I read To Your Scattered Bodies Go and though it was terrific, was disappointed enough in subsequent volumes to never finish the series. However, the main character in the first, Sir Richard Francis Burton, was so fascinating I spent finals reading every biography of him in the Colgate library. Suffice it to say, he didn't appear on any of the exams.

Those early biographies are especially interesting because Burton -- translator of the Arabian Nights and the Kama Sutra and the first Christian to visit Mecca, clandestinely -- was such a controversial figure. Between writing frankly about the sexual practices of the Middle East and Africa and various rivalries he provoked with other men, he was subject to all kinds of rumors about his own sexuality, which were only dealt with by innuendo (so to speak) back in the day. There have been some fine subsequent studies of his life and William Harrison's novel about his expedition to find the source of the Nile with John Hanning Speke and their subsequent feud was turned into a reasonably good movie.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:08 AM


Can Iran Change?: High stakes in Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s reëlection campaign. (Jon Lee Anderson, 4/13/09, The New Yorker)

Many people within Iran’s political establishment privately disdain Ahmadinejad, precisely because of his background. “He’d only travelled outside Iran once before he came to power, and that was just to Iraq for a couple of days,” one former diplomat said. A European diplomat said that a senior Iranian official had confided to him that before Ahmadinejad became President he was the sort of man whom the official would have kept waiting for thirty minutes outside his office, just to put him in his place.

Still, to dismiss Ahmadinejad as a rube is to misunderstand him. He is a populist along the lines of Hugo Chávez, of Venezuela, a politician who knows that his country is full of people like him, and knows how to speak to them. Ahmadinejad is, for some of his supporters, a throwback to the ideological verities of the first years of the Islamic Republic, when Ayatollah Ruholla Khomeini reigned, and teen-age boys volunteered to be martyrs. For many Iranians, Ahmadinejad’s promise of restoring Iran’s “rightful place” in the world—and providing subsidies and jobs—holds great appeal.

Ahmadinejad’s pursuit of a nuclear program taps into this nationalism, and has broad support among Iranians. “What they want is respect,” Lee Hamilton, the former congressman and co-chair of the Iraq Study Group, who has been an influential voice on U.S.-Iran policy, said. “And the best way they thought to get it was to master the nuclear fuel cycle.” [...]

How much power Ahmadinejad actually wields in the complex structure of the Iranian state is not transparent at all. There is no one more powerful than Ayatollah Khamenei, who has been Supreme Leader, the country’s paramount religious and political authority and the commander-in-chief of its armed forces, since Khomeini’s death, in 1989. Ahmadinejad requires the approval of the Majlis, or parliament, to pass laws; Khamenei can issue a fatwa. After his election, Ahmadinejad publicly kissed Khamenei’s hand, demonstrating his fealty. Hossein Shariatmadari, who is the Supreme Leader’s representative and the editor of Kayhan, the newspaper of the clerical establishment, said, “Mr. Ahmadinejad, you know, is only the head of the implementation in Iran.”

Their relationship is more complicated than that. On one visit I made to Tehran, with Iraq’s President Jalal Talabani, in December, 2006, Iraqi officials who were present for the highest-level meetings told me that Ahmadinejad had been deferential with the Supreme Leader, but that the two men clearly worked closely together. One of Talabani’s senior aides recounted a significant moment. Talabani had given a blunt assessment of the situation in Iraq; at the time, Shiite-Sunni sectarian killings were at their height, and Iranian-backed militias were heavily involved. As Talabani described the violence, Khamenei repeatedly exclaimed, “Oh, how terrible! We are praying for you.” Finally, Talabani interrupted him: “What we need is not prayers, we need medicine.” Khamenei replied, “I will provide the prayers and he”—he gestured to Ahmadinejad—“will provide the medicine.”

“We can guess ourselves silly about the intricacies of Iranian politics,” Lee Hamilton said, “but we will never really know the truth.” Vali Nasr added, “Even Khamenei’s authority is constrained by a whole web of relationships.”

Thomas Pickering, a former Under-Secretary of State, who has been meeting with Iranians in an effort to help formulate a new U.S. policy approach, said, “In talking with the Iranians for several years, we have discovered that it’s difficult to know for certain the Iranians’ internal political architecture. There’s no way to have the tight intelligence to know when the right or wrong time to try talking with them might be. With the opacity of their system, it’s always going to be a kind of crapshoot.” [...]

Mohammad Khatami, Ahmadinejad’s predecessor and rival, is a religious moderate, and thus, in Iranian terms, a reformist. That is the usual formulation. But what does it really mean? There exists a bewildering array of definitions for political types in Iran. They range from hard-line religious conservatives, represented by Ahmadinejad, to religious pragmatists, to religious reformists. “Reformist” is a relative term. No one in Iranian politics is talking openly about separation of church and state, for example, or even contemplating it seriously. When I spoke to Khatami recently, he said that Iran could have “democracy, human rights, and all the freedoms that we want,” but only in an Islamic “moral framework.”

Khatami wavered for months over whether to run in this year’s Presidential race, an indecisiveness that frustrated his followers. He had said from the beginning that if Mir-Hossein Mousavi ran he would drop out, and he did so after five weeks. Mousavi, who is sixty-seven, served as Prime Minister from 1981 to 1989, but then withdrew from politics for more than a decade, after losing a political battle with Ayatollah Khamenei. (One commentator, remarking on Mousavi’s return, called him “the Persian Cincinnatus.”) What most Iranians remember about him is that he managed an effective rationing system during the Iran-Iraq War, keeping families supplied with basic goods despite severe shortages. Mousavi emerged from the milieu of Iran’s radical left, the members of the revolutionary generation who joined with the clerics to oust the Shah, and were hostile to the West and free-market economics. “Many of the people who became reformists were at the beginning leftist Islamists,” Nasr said. Mousavi is aligned with the reformists and, because of his quarrels with Khamenei and his reputation as a manager, is considered one himself—someone who is willing to challenge the theocrats. But his past makes him relatively appealing to Iran’s clerics and to the Revolutionary Guards; they do not despise him, as they do Khatami.

The reformist camp apparently calculated that Mousavi had the best chance of winning. [...]

Khatami continued, “I am a child of the Revolution, you know. I was involved from the very beginning, with Ayatollah Khomeini. We knew that there had been changes in the world, in science and technology, and that we could not ignore these things. And Iran also needed its independence. Iran has had a great civilization. We religious intellectuals thought we could achieve all of this—that we could achieve modernity and be Islamists, too.” Khatami paused, and said, “We were very different from those who want to take the world backward. . . . The destiny of Islam depends on the outcome of this—Islam that can bring dialogue and logic instead of terrorism, and actually contribute things to the world. I think that’s what Iranians want. And I think that’s what Imam Khomeini wanted, too.”

Many Iranians are not particularly anti-American, or especially concerned with politics. But Ahmadinejad is the product and the defender of a deeply ingrained strain in Iran’s political culture, which tends, historically, toward absolutism. Khomeini and his fellow-clerics scorned the imperial trappings of the Shah’s regime but shared his belief in Iran’s past and future glory—its Persian exceptionalism. Iranian society today is characterized by an unreconciled mixture of religious nationalism and everyday pragmatism. Xenophobia is coupled with a sense of entitlement. The state is a chimera: an Islamic theocracy wedded to a regime chosen in heavily contested (if not entirely free) elections, in a globalized economy. The election this summer will help determine whether Iran’s fractures—at home and abroad—can be repaired through moderation and compromise, or whether the regime will continue to sustain itself through coercion.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:46 AM


Jake Tapper Isn't Letting Go: Keeping the White House accountable. (Mark Hemingway, 4/06/09, National Review)

As a rule, journalists are supposed to be tough on the people they’re covering, and Tapper is more interested in making sure he’s doing his job than in pointing fingers at his colleagues. “I hope I’m tough and consistent. I can’t say I always achieve that stance, but I do aspire to it,” he says. “In general, I have affection and respect for my White House colleagues and probably the more I’m a reporter and the less I’m a media critic the better.”

He’s also keenly aware that there’s a problem when the reporter becomes too much a part of the story. While his exchange with Robert Gibbs elevated his profile, that was not his objective. “The YouTubed exchange with Gibbs is a perfect example of something I didn’t care for, not because I think I was wrong, but because the tone of that conversation took focus away from the more important issue — transparency — and put it where I don’t particularly care for it, into a debate about me and Gibbs and who was right and who got the better of whom. Which serves no one,” Tapper says.

Another big concern for Tapper is coming down with a bad case of Beltway-itis. Asked whether the Washington press corps gets too focused on issues of little consequence to average Americans, Tapper readily admits that’s the case.

“Yes, we do. But that doesn’t mean they’re not important or that, framed differently, they aren’t significant. I don’t know how much the average American cares about the former lobbyists in the president’s administration, or whether the budget bill will be subject to 50 or 60 votes,” he says. “But both mean something in terms of the president’s commitments to reforming Washington and bipartisanship, respectively.”

But when it comes to avoiding the Beltway herd instinct, perhaps Tapper benefits from a somewhat eclectic career trajectory that gives him a broader perspective than fellow journalists with more traditional career paths might have. Early in his career he worked in politics, in the office of Rep. Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky, a one-term Democrat from Pennsylvania. Tapper’s also worked in public relations, as a professional cartoonist, and for a diverse array of publications and media outlets — including the Washington City Paper, where he wrote a now infamous story about having dated Monica Lewinsky a few weeks before news of her affair with the president broke. A significant amount of his work in journalism has also been well outside the realm of politics — including a stint with cable music network VH1.

“I think working early on in my career on Capitol Hill enabled me to see how Washington really works, and working in various media outlets enabled me to learn about journalism and broadcasting,” Tapper observes. “I can tell you, though, that the special I did for VH1 on Lynyrd Skynyrd brought me some Republican fans.”

And then there’s the pressure of the job. “I know I’m not alone among journalists in carrying with me the memory of every mistake I’ve ever made in my career,” Tapper says. “And it is stressful not to add to the catalogue.”

It would probably be a lot less stressful if Tapper chased the conventional wisdom, as a great many Washington reporters do. For now, Tapper is continuing the battle he started with Robert Gibbs over government transparency. It’s not even as if he feels the Obama administration is particularly bad on the issue — it’s just that Obama promised so much. And Tapper sees it as his job to hold him accountable.

April 5, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:25 PM


Second Emanuel joins Obama fray as health care adviser: Zeke, Rahm's older brother, advises on health care reform (JUDITH GRAHAM and NOAM N. LEVEY, 4/05/09, Chicago Tribune)

He's the oldest brother, a doctor and a scholar with a résumé the size of a small book. Though brothers Ari and Rahm are celebrities, he is the one they think could someday win the Nobel Prize.

Ezekiel Emanuel has become something of a public figure, like his famous siblings, as he pursues a new challenge: trying to help the Obama administration reform the health care system.

It's an enormously difficult task given the nation's economic woes, and one for which the former Chicagoan appears uniquely well suited but surprisingly unprepared.

Zeke, as everyone calls him, is an accomplished academic with boundless energy and impressive medical and policy credentials who has written a well-received book on health reform. He has the ear of Rahm, the president's chief of staff: The brothers talk every day.

Yet Zeke has never been part of a political team or toed a party line. The reforms he has championed — giving all Americans insurance vouchers and getting rid of employer-based health care coverage — bear little resemblance to those embraced by the president.

That doesn't bother the 51-year-old, who is serving as special adviser to Peter Orszag, the director of Office of Management and Budget. The job puts Zeke Emanuel at the table with a small circle of trusted insiders crafting health care policy.

As the top physician in the group, he gets to explain how policy proposals can affect providers working at the front lines of medicine — a perspective that was lacking during the debate over health reform in the Clinton presidency. Publicly, his role is to make the case for reform while reassuring medical professionals that it won't constitute an unwelcome upheaval. [...]

Although well-known in medical and academic circles, Zeke Emanuel was unfamiliar to many health reform advocates when he joined the White House team late last year.

Some were put off by proposals in his book, including a plan to scrap Medicare, Medicaid and employer-based health insurance in favor of vouchers that people could use to purchase coverage.

"It's very unrealistic," said Diane Archer, who co-directs the health care project at the Institute for America's Future, a liberal Washington think tank.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:05 PM


Partisan Gap in Obama Job Approval Widest in Modern Era (Pew Research, April 2, 2009)

For all of his hopes about bipartisanship, Barack Obama has the most polarized early job approval ratings of any president in the past four decades. The 61-point partisan gap in opinions about Obama's job performance is the result of a combination of high Democratic ratings for the president -- 88% job approval among Democrats -- and relatively low approval ratings among Republicans (27%).

Where W took office after the bitter recount mess, the UR had an enormous fund of good will to draw upon and still biffed it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:03 PM


Not All Nonbelievers Call Themselves Atheists (April 3, 2009, Pew Research)

According to the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, conducted by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life, 5% of American adults say they do not believe in God or a universal spirit, but only about a quarter (24%) of these nonbelievers actually call themselves atheists. In fact, 14% of Americans that do not believe in God self-identify as Christian and 4% as Jewish. Of the nonbelievers, 15% consider themselves agnostic.

It's really just a social pose.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:01 PM


North Korean Missile Launch Was a Failure, Experts Say (WILLIAM J. BROAD, 4/06/09, NY Times)

North Korea failed in its highly vaunted effort to fire a satellite into orbit, military and private experts said Sunday after reviewing detailed tracking data that showed the missile and payload fell into the sea. Some said the failure undercut the North Korean campaign to come across as a fearsome adversary able to hurl deadly warheads halfway around the globe.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:37 PM


Harry Reid: Too big to fail: Just like Tom Daschle (SHERMAN FREDERICK, 4/05/09, Las Vegas Review Journal)

[Tom] Daschle, you will remember, was then the Democratic leader in the U.S. Senate, just as Harry is now. He was powerful inside the Beltway, just as Harry is now. He tilted further left than his constituents on social and spending issues, just as Harry does now.

Eventually the cumulative chagrin of South Dakota voters reached the tipping point.

Nevadans (South Dakotans) must -- must! -- re-elect Reid (Daschle). Not on the merits of performance, but because he's a Beltway big shot. Conventional wisdom says he's just too darn powerful to throw away. He's politically to a small state what AIG is to the economy -- "too big to fail."

I'm not buying that bedtime story, and if Harry's smart he shouldn't either. Even in the best of times, Nevadans love to hate Harry. In fact, the further away Harry gets from the dwindling numbers inside Las Vegas union halls, the testier people become toward him.

...to try and make the Washington party less scary they choose a leader from a Red state, but leading the Blue party makes him unre-electable.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:28 PM


America 'to slash military spending' (Alex Spillius, 05 Apr 2009, Daily Telegraph)

"These are not changes to the margins. This is a fundamental shift in direction," said the Pentagon press secretary, Geoff Morrell.

Mr Gates's plans would still increase the Pentagon's regular budget by four per cent, to $533.7 billion, not counting the daily spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

From the Pentagon's point of view, four per cent is treading water. In the dying days of the Bush administration it prepared plans for a 14 per cent increase. Under Mr Bush, the US defence budget rose to equal the combined defence spending of the next 25 nations.

W managed to keep military spending below 5% of GDP even during the WoT, but now it's time to get it back to a normal pre-WWII sub-3%.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:44 PM


Shrewd Red Sox may pay less for more in 2009 (DANIEL BARBARISI, 4/04/09, Providence Journal)

Any pundit who picks the Red Sox to finish first in the A.L. East this season –– and there are many –– should give Theo Epstein, et al, extra credit for frugality.

The Red Sox improved their team this offseason despite boasting an Opening Day payroll that should decline $13 million from last year, to approximately $120 million, mostly due to the departure of Manny Ramirez.

Meanwhile, other teams –– beyond just the free-spending Yankees –– have seen their payrolls rise this winter, meaning the Red Sox ranking among the highest payrolls in the league should slip from fourth-highest payroll in 2008 to sixth this season, just ahead of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

The Yankees lead the way at roughly $207 million, with the Mets next at $140 million. The Phillies, Cubs, and Tigers are next up, and then the Red Sox should come in at just under $120 million, equal to their payroll from 2006. [...]

The Yankees have reportedly spent 38 percent of the total dollars expended on free agents over the past two offseasons. The Red Sox spent 3 percent. [...]

[T]he Red Sox now find themselves in the interesting position of having a payroll that seems to fit better in a group with the $85-million Toronto Blue Jays, $65-million Tampa Bay Rays and $75-million Baltimore Orioles than to the $200 million Yankees.

Obviously the Red Sox would have been perfectly happy to have gotten Mark Texieria instead of the Yankees. The real difference comes in the fact that they have a major league ready 1b in the high minors--Chris Carter--and a top prospect--Lars Anderson just a year away. The Yankees have no one.

Even more revealing, the Yankees dumped a ton of money into the oft-injured hole that is AJ Burnett -- only because he broke 12 wins for the first time in his career during a contract year -- while the Sox signed the younger Brad Penny to just a one year deal, which was possible because he was hurt after starting the All-Star game the year before.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:37 PM


Poll: Voters back force in N. Korea (HARRY SIEGEL, 4/5/09, Politico)

American voters across lines of age, party and gender support a military approach to eliminate North Korea's nuclear capabilities, according to a Rasmussen Reports survey released Sunday morning — and conducted in the two days prior to North Korea's test missile launch on Saturday.

The poll shows that 57 percent of all voters support such a response, while just 15 percent oppose it. A military response is favored by a majority in both parties — 66 percent of Republicans and 52 percent of Democrats — and by 57 percent of both men and women.

Want to stop proliferation? Attack the proliferators.

Barack Obama can't make rogues like North Korea play by his rules: The US President is in no position promise to rid the world of the Bomb (Janet Daley, Apr 2009, Daily Telegraph)

For the one concrete, deliverable promise that Mr Obama made in his Prague "end of nuclear weapons" speech was to continue one of the most unpopular Bush policies: the deployment of the missile defence shield in Europe. So long as Iran remains a threat, he said, the US would maintain its commitment to the missile defence programme which has (he tactfully did not say) been so unpopular in Eastern European countries such as the one in which he was speaking. And the enormous Czech crowd which stretched as far as the eye could see, cheered him. Were they listening carefully? Was his meaning lost in translation? Were the people who could be heard cheering actually Czechs? Well, never mind. He said it – and that is good news. For all the CND blah, there is still a firm grasp of reality – and resolve – at the heart of American foreign and defence policy. Not surprising really when you consider that it has been sub-contracted to Hillary Clinton and Robert Gates who were both supporters of the Bush White House on these matters (Gates having been Bush's Defence Secretary before becoming Mr Obama's).

But the pledge to continue with missile defence strategy was not the only throwback to the previous administration. Mr Obama made it clear that his plan to rid the world of nukes was not wide-eyed or credulous. It would rely, he said, on a system of rigorous inspection to ensure that suspect countries were not breaking the new international rules.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:30 AM


TARP retraction could spur deal spree (Eoin Callan, April 01, 2009, Financial Post)

The two men who walked through the doors of the bank branch in Cleveland were both older, neatly dressed and polite.

Claiming to be real-estate brokers, the pair inquired about opening a business account and were given a quick tour.

Suspicion was aroused only after their inquiries strayed beyond the norm to the number of tellers on duty behind the counter.

Then they blundered, betraying total ignorance of local geography, before bolting.

"We knew our cover was blown," said one of the men in a recent interview.

While the pair's identity remains a mystery to staff at the branch, the duo were in fact two of the most senior executives of Bank of Nova Scotia, Canada's third-largest bank.

They were casing the joint as they mapped out a plan to knock off all 1,400 branches of National City in a multi-billion-dollar takeover of the regional U. S. bank.

The plot was foiled when the U. S. government unwittingly erected barriers to foreign takeovers with a series of interventions to protect the country's banking system.

Although inadvertent, the U. S. Treasury scared off many buyers of banks when it agreed last fall to inject US$250-billion into more than 300 banks through the Troubled Asset Relief Program(TARP).

"The TARP money really slowed down the process of consolidation," said Rob Sedran, an analyst at National Bank Financial.

But things may start to change this month when the U. S. is expected to give the healthiest banks a green light to start repaying government funds, and to seek strong partners for those on the sick list.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:14 AM


The Peter Principle Lives: Now 40, The Peter Principle resonates even more today, when a lust for accomplishment has led an unprecedented level of incompetence (Robert I. Sutton, 4/05/09, Business Week)

The Peter Principle, about to be reissued in a 40th anniversary edition, was a best seller when it was first published. A satiric treatise on workplace incompetence, it touched a nerve with readers because it was so funny. And so true. Much like the film Office Space, NBC's The Office, and Scott Adams' Dilbert comic strips, this book by Laurence J. Peter (a former teacher) and Raymond Hull (a playwright) captured the twisted logic of workplaces—tapping into how ridiculous they feel to insiders. It gleefully emitted a cloud of jargon monoxide and absurd advice as it reached its famous main conclusion: "In a hierarchy, every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence."

The Peter Principle made us laugh, but it also made us aware of the importance of simple competence—and of how elusive it could be. When people do their jobs well, Dr. Peter argued, society can't leave well enough alone. We ask for more and more until we ask too much. Then these individuals—promoted to positions in which they are doomed to fail—start using a bag of tricks to mask their incompetence. They distract us from their crummy work with giant desks, replace action with incomprehensible acronyms, blame others for failure, cheat to create the illusion of progress.

If Dr. Peter were alive today, he'd find that a new lust for superhuman accomplishments has helped create an almost unprecedented level of incompetence.

...Barack Obama wasn't even an effective senator.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:01 AM


Z.P.G. ZERO POPULATION GROWTH (Greg Klymkiw, 4/05/09, Daily Film Dose)

There is a particular and peculiar brand of bleakness that no decade before or since the 1970s managed to bring to the big screen in the genre of dystopian science fiction. Alfonso Cuaron’s “Children of Men” (2006) comes very close and it’s perhaps the best contemporary example of a film that creates a world so mired in hopelessness that simple acts of humanity, while seeming to be extraordinarily noble, also feel utterly and resolutely futile. Cuaron’s picture also feels like a perfect companion piece to Michael Campus’s “Z.P.G.”, a forgotten (albeit flawed) minor gem from 1971 that has managed to sneak its way onto the DVD shelves via Legend Films ongoing series of neglected Paramount Pictures releases.

The major difference between the two (aside from obvious production value and budget) is that the central issue of population control in one is by decree whereas in the other, it is due to the forces of nature. In “Z.P.G.”, a world as polluted and ruled by martial law as in Cuaron’s film, people do want to have children, but are outlawed by Big Brother against doing so to keep the ever-increasing world numbers down.

The central characters Russ and Carol McNeil (Oliver Reed and Geraldine Chaplin respectively) are a childless couple working as performers in a live museum installation piece devoted to presenting typical domestic situations from the past. They work opposite another couple, George and Edna Borden (Don Gordon and Diane Cilento). The scenarios these two couples engage in for the edification of museum goers reflect a past that was the swinging late-60s and as such, they present a tale of wife swapping which is meant to be as titillating as it is a morality play.

Both couples are childless, but within the world of Z.P.G., all couples are allowed to “adopt” cyber children. These are not the almost-human Haley Joel Osments of Spielberg’s “A.I.”, but are creepy, mannequin-like dolls. The Bordens are perfectly content with their doll-child, but the McNeils are unable to succumb to the status quo and are not only childless, but sans the aforementioned creepy doll-child. When the McNeils decide to have a real baby in secret, they risk their lives. Eerie scenes of pod-like citizens ratting out families with real babies have a strange power to disturb, but nothing is more disturbing in this movie than when the McNeils inadvertently let the Bordens in on their secret and the childless couple demands private face time with the real child.