June 30, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:09 PM


Death of the super model (Ruben Andersson, 6/30/09, guardian.co.uk)

The Swedish dream is no more.

Swedes were roused from this dream with the 1986 assassination of prime minister Olof Palme. Palme might have left behind "a country where no one was poor and no one had room for optimism" as Andrew Brown puts it, but it was Sweden's homemade financial meltdown of the 1990s that finally killed off the dream. Poverty was added to the pessimism. Savage cuts hit schools, unemployment rocketed, the krona sank – leaving the social system in a disarray from which it has not recovered. The conservative government at the time has lately been praised worldwide for its handling of the crisis. Actually the bankers were rewarded, not punished, while the rest of the country is still reeling from the cuts, selloffs and dashed dreams the crisis provoked. But the idea of a well-oiled Swedish model insulated from the shockwaves of capitalism runs on like a Volvo. The reality, like troubled, Ford-owned Volvo itself, is more globalised and gloomy than that.

Take healthcare. Swedes do not enjoy free public care: it costs to see a GP. That is, if you manage to see one. Queues are long and scandals rack the system. Psychiatric care, the source of many such scandals, has a near-medieval penchant for authoritarianism with few European equivalents. People are locked up for months for not taking medicine, given no therapy, and spat out of the system into despair and destitution. The mentally ill die in wards and in outpatient isolation. And they do not even have charities to turn to because state-run healthcare is supposed to work: this is Sweden, after all. [...]

Even being in the system is less rewarding than it was. Unemployment benefits are falling behind those of other countries, and access to social security involves Big Brother-style controls most Europeans would abhor. The state's iron grip remains even as the care that used to go with it has gone. Swedes might lack Britain's profusion of CCTVs, but their lives are scrutinised by an armada of bureaucrats. A new law lets authorities tap all phone and internet traffic crossing the borders. Norwegian lawyers have sued over privacy infringement, leaving the prime minister perplexed – because in Sweden, the state is there to help us.

Just as Sweden was in the vanguard of postwar social democracy, it has since the 1990s become a neoliberal experiment.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:02 PM


The John Roberts Method: How the Supreme Court is patiently bending the law to the right. (Tom Goldstein, June 30, 2009, New Republic)

Here is what strikes me most about this Term. The Court is moving steadily in the direction of rolling back Warren Court-era precedents that conservatives view as significant overreaching of the judicial role. To be clear, that isn't the Court's principal occupation. Most of its docket is filled with important but ordinary questions of federal law. But it is a significant trend.

I am struck in particular by the opinions of the Chief Justice that seem to lay down markers that will be followed in later generations of cases. NAMUDNO details constitutional objections to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act that seem ready-made for a later decision invalidating the statute if it is not amended. Herring contains significant language that can later be cited in favor of a broad good-faith exception to the Fourth Amendment exclusionary rule that applies to individual police mistakes.

If I'm right about the direction of the case law, the Court's methodology is striking. It is reinforcing its own legitimacy with opinions that later can be cited to demonstrate that it is not rapidly or radically changing the law. This approach may be in the starkest relief if next Term the Court cites its recent decision in Wisconsin Right to Life as precedent for concluding that McConnell v. FEC and Austin v. Michigan have been significantly undermined and should be overruled. The plurality and concurrence in Wisconsin Right to Life famously debated how aggressively the Court should go in overruling prior campaign finance precedent. The Chief Justice urged patience--not moving more quickly than required--and the wait may not have been long.

Intellectuals of the Right are easily impressed by a good resume and some incendiary writing. W saw further and understood better so sought to place collegial justices on the Court who would bring folks with them, like Roberts and Miers. Antonin Scalia may be as smart as any two mere mortals, but he has no influence on the Court.

Fortunately, the UR too is an intellectual rather than a governor so he's appointed an Alito-type, not a Roberts/Miers-type.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:35 AM


Health Savings Accounts Can Save Michigan Money (Mr. Michael D. LaFaive and Mr. James Porterfield, June 30, 2009, Mackinac Center)

(Editor's note: The following is an edited transcript of testimony Fiscal Policy Director Michael D. LaFaive to the Michigan House Tax Policy Committee on June 21, 2009.) [...]

A Health Savings Account (HSA) is a thrice blessed tax-advantaged account into which money is placed by an employer and or an employee to pay for ongoing medical expenses. These accounts are married to a qualified consumer-directed health plan (CDHP) insurance policy to cover unpredictable big-ticket expenses.

Most people have become familiar with the general concept: The money in the HSA is spent for routine or less costly types of care, up to the point at which the deductible is met and then the actual insurance kicks in. For example, a 2009 federal law requires that HSA deductibles be at least $1,150 for self-coverage and $2,300 for family coverage. There are ceilings, too. These accounts are "thrice blessed" because money going in is untaxed by the federal government, it earns interest tax free, and it can be withdrawn and used for qualified medical expenses tax free.

Savings accrue to employers because high deductible insurance premiums cost less than premiums associated with more traditional insurance, including PPOs or HMOs. The opportunity to rein in health care costs and also provide consumers with greater health care choices has led to an explosion of growth in the use of HSAs. An estimate by the AHIP Center for Policy and Research indicates that the number of people using HSA/CDHPs has grown from 1 million in early 2005 to more than 8 million by January 2009. In 2008, large and small group HSA coverage leapt 35 percent and 34 percent respectively.

In the fall of 2007, my colleague James Porterfield and I published a short essay that included very conservative estimates on what the state could save if it adopted HSAs for all its civil service employees. We estimated savings of $16.2 million in the first year with total savings growing to $1.1 billion through 2015. The assumptions included the state (as employer) paying 100 percent of the legally allowable contributions to the employees' HSAs, and 100 percent of the premiums associated with the high-deductible insurance policy. As an aside, this is a very rare occurrence. A survey of 6,000 employers nationwide published by Information Strategies Inc. indicated that fewer than 10 percent provided employees with 100 percent premium support.

We are in the process of revisiting the HSA concept and recalculating our numbers based on insurance costs more in line with those for private sector employees. We do so knowing that state employees currently make premium contributions of 5 percent to 10 percent depending on their coverage. Under our assumptions the state would pay 100 percent of the premiums for the HDIP and fund 75 percent of the legally allowable employee contributions to each civil servant.

Based on these and other assumptions, we estimate first-year savings of $106 million from moving state civil servants into HSAs, and cumulative savings of up to $5.9 billion through 2021. This staggering figure represents the difference between estimated costs of CDHPs at a 3.5 percent annual increase (an upper bound for such plans) versus the upper limit of 9 percent annual increases projected for PPO premiums by the Citizens Research Council of Michigan.

Want to reduce spending on health care? Let us keep the money we don't spend.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:01 AM


Big Money in Cap-and-Trade (Donald Marron, June 30, 2009)

The number one thing you should know about this bill is that the allowances are worth big money: almost $1 trillion over the next decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office, and more in subsequent decades.

There are many good things the government could do with that kind of money. Perhaps reduce out-of-control deficits? Or pay for expanding health coverage? Or maybe, as many economists have suggested, reduce payroll taxes and corporate income taxes to offset the macroeconomic costs of limiting greenhouse gases?

Choosing among those options would be a worthy policy debate. Except for one thing: the House bill would give away most of the allowances for free. And it spends virtually all the revenue that comes from allowance auctions.

As a result, the budget hawks, health expanders, and pro-growth forces have only crumbs to bargain over. From a budgeteer’s perspective, the House bill is a disaster.

...the problem with gas taxes is that their transparent and they'd work, thus cap-n-trade.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:58 AM


Fireworks over Baghdad as Iraqis take over (The National, June 30. 2009)

Iraqi forces assumed formal control of Baghdad and other cities today after American troops handed over security in urban areas in a defining step toward ending the US combat role in the country.

A countdown clock broadcast on Iraqi TV ticked to zero as the Monday midnight deadline passed for US combat troops to finish their pullback to bases outside cities.

Should have done it on the 4th of July.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:52 AM


Euro-Zone CPI Posts First-Ever Drop (ILONA BILLINGTON, 6/30/09, WSJ)

Consumer prices in the 16 countries that use the euro declined in June from a year earlier, marking the first negative reading since records began in January 1997.

The euro zone's annual consumer-price-index rate fell 0.1% in June from a year earlier, the European Union's official statistics agency, Eurostat, said Tuesday.[...]

Other data reported earlier Tuesday suggest that consumer prices may continue to fall for some time. The forward-looking producer-price indexes for May from both France and Italy dropped sharply from a year earlier

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:47 AM


Rudy's Back! : As speculation builds about his campaign for governor, Rudy Giuliani tells The Daily Beast’s John Avlon how he’d tame the nation’s most dysfunctional legislature. Can America’s Mayor become New York’s Governor? (John Avlon, 6/30/09, Daily Beast)

In Albany, the inmates are running the asylum. The state senate is entering its fourth week of partisan lockdown, cementing its reputation as the most dysfunctional legislature in the nation. Mayor Bloomberg’s successful school reform program could expire mid-week if no action is taken. A recent poll showed that 20% of New Yorkers want to leave the state amid rising taxes, poverty and unemployment rates, and parallels to the bad old days of the 1970s. At least one guy’s not buying it: “Once you say something’s ungovernable,” Rudy Giuliani told me, “You remove accountability.” [...]

New Yorkers know Rudy Giuliani does best in a crisis. I’ve seen that up close, working with him in City Hall. And the Empire State is currently wrestling with two huge problems with long-term ramifications.

First, the mess in Albany, where corruption and scandal have left only one out of four statewide elected Albany officials where the voters put them less than three years ago. The serial dysfunction has hit tragi-comic proportions in recent weeks, with party defections and parliamentary games like one party turning out the lights while the other locks the legislative door and hides the key. Literally.

Second, the state economy is a mess: New York has lost 1.5 million people this decade and 195,000 private sector jobs in the past year. Upstate manufacturing jobs have declined by 24% and the only sector growing north of the Hudson River Valley is the government. In the face of the worst economic crisis in a generation, the Democrat-controlled legislature raised taxes by $8 billion and spending by an unprecedented 9 percent.

Some people see parallels to the shape of New York State today and the shape of New York City when Rudy ran for mayor.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:43 AM


Coach quits Colombian team over death threats (Reuters, June 30, 2009)

Santa Fe coach Ruben Israel resigned and left Colombia on Monday after being threatened with death if he did not keep a particular player in his squad.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:39 AM


U.S. to Forgive Indonesian Debt in Exchange for Conservation Plan (Tom Wright, 6/30/09, WSJ)

The United States will sign an agreement Tuesday to forgive nearly $30 million in Indonesian debt in return for the large Southeast Asian country agreeing to protect forests on Sumatra Island, which is home to endangered tigers, elephants, rhinos and orangutan. [...]

The U.S. in the past has organized smaller debt-for-nature swaps with countries like Guatemala, Botswana, the Philippines and Peru. Under the Tropical Forest Conservation Act of 1998, developing nations with a significant tropical forest, a democratically-elected government, and an economic reform agenda, are eligible for debt forgiveness in return for conservation efforts.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:29 AM


Iraq's next milestone: the Kurdish question: The survival of the country depends on bridging the Kurd-Arab divide. (The Monitor's Editorial Board, June 29, 2009, CS Monitor)

Tension between Mr. Maliki – an Arab – and the semiautonomous Kurdistan Regional Government in the north has escalated significantly in the last year. It touches issues of fundamental importance – national unity, oil wealth, and the balance of power between the central government and the regions. Left unaddressed – or worse, provoked – the Kurd-Arab divide could split the Iraqi state.

...so the split is inevitable. Why not get it over with on amiable terms?

June 29, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:38 PM


Former part owner of Red Sox considering Maine governor bid (CBSSports.com, 6/29/09)

Les Otten, a former part owner of the Boston Red Sox, says he is considering a Republican bid for Maine governor in 2010.

Otten has formed an exploratory committee and plans to spend the next two to four months on the road. He says he'll listen to Mainers' concerns while gauging support and raising money.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:33 PM


REVIEW: of The Pure Society: From Darwin to Hitler by André Pichot: Benjamin Noys discovers the modern mutations of eugenics (Nenjamin Noys, The New Humanist)

What do the Catholic Church, Anglo-Saxon liberalism and Russian Lysenkoism (the doctrine of acquired characteristics) have in common? The correct answer, one might hope, is that they have all been intellectually discredited. Unfortunately, as André Pichot's book makes clear, the answer is also that they were the only significant sources of opposition to eugenics in the period of its heyday between 1907 and 1945. [...]

Pichot controversially suggests that the taboo on recognising the widespread belief in eugenics has served to minimise and disguise the links between contemporary biology and eugenic and racist themes. Biology has a recurrent tendency to make such incursions into social policy. Darwin's own models of struggle, selection and cooperation, borrowed heavily from the existing sociological models of his time - notably Malthus, Adam Smith and Hobbes - and once these models had been biologised by Darwin they were easily exported back into the social sciences. Pichot suggests that whenever genetics runs into scientific problems it becomes more strident concerning its sociological and political claims.

In a bracing passage Pichot singles out Richard Dawkins and his thesis of the "selfish gene" - in which human beings are reduced to being mere carriers of a genetic inheritance. He argues that this "genetic mysticism" echoes the promotion by Nazi biological thinking of the priority of the racial community over the individual. Although suggestive, and useful in indicating the dubious political implications of Dawkins's genetic reductionism, the argument comes close to guilt by association, and more teasing out of this claimed continuity is necessary to make the charges stick.

In light of the current celebration of the 150th anniversary of the publication of Darwin's Origin of the Species, Pichot's work is a salutary warning. As he notes, the malignant ideologies of eugenics have not disappeared, but are now privatised with the pressure of the market, the media and medicine encouraging us to breed our own "perfect" offspring. The key question The Pure Society poses is how we can defend human beings against being reduced to mere raw material, or animals fit for breeding, without relying on the usual religious models of the sacred inviolability of human life.

The answer, of course, is: No.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:19 PM


Five things we've learned from the Confederations Cup: Although dismissed by many, the tournament offered a few clues ahead of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa (Jonathan Wilson Monday 29 June 2009, Guardian Sports Blog)

4. Brazil are better than we thought

OK, their central defence struggles to deal with the crossed ball, and Gilberto Silva and Felipe Melo are susceptible when players run at them, but Dunga's Brazil are far better than the carping nostalgists who hark back to the glory days of 1970 might suggest. Late winners against Egypt and South Africa and the comeback against the US in the final suggest great spirit and self-belief; Luis Fabiano has proved himself not merely a superb taker of chances, but a highly effective leader of the line; there is a developing balance to the midfield, even if Gilberto lacks bite.

But most importantly, they seem to have a second option. Where Spain huffed and puffed against the US, trying to pass a way through a packed midfield, Brazil changed tack at half-time and spread the ball wide, using Maicon and Andre Santos (then Dani Alves) to hit the spaces left by the US's narrow midfield. They may not yet be better than Spain, but they are evolving and improving.

Maicon played those balls through the whole first half too, but Bob Bradley never adjusted and by pulling Altidore and Feilhaber we lost much capacity to drive forward ourselves and one of the guys who'd been heading balls out of the box.

As significant as our failure to adjust to Brazil's play defensively though is our failure to ape it offensively. Our current formation--basically a 4-2-2-2--lacks width. Spector occasionally plays a cross in from the wings but isn't deft at it yet and it isn't something we're looking to do regularly. He, Bornstein, and Marvell Wynne should work on nothing else the rest of the Summer. With Onyewu, Demerit, Clark, and Bradley so firm up the middle defensively we can afford to have the other guys in back make those runs and feed balls to the middle.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:13 PM


Rudy weighing N.Y. governor run (ANDY BARR, 6/29/09, Politico)

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani said Monday that he is considering running for governor in 2010. [...]

According to a June Quinnipiac University poll, Giuliani holds a 52 percent to 34 percent advantage over the unpopular Democratic Gov. David Paterson in a potential general election match up.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:11 PM


Sadrists Deny Negotiating with US (Rahmat al-Salaam, 6/29/09, Asharq Alawasat)

The Sadrist trend that is led by the Islamic cleric Moqtada al-Sadr denied that the Iraqi government played any part in the release of former Sadrist national spokesman Abdul Hadi al-Darraji who was released by US forces on Friday night.

Salman al-Fraji, head of the Sadr office in Baghdad informed Asharq Al-Awsat that "the occupying forces [US forces] are the ones that released him and that he was handed over to a government official by the Americans."

Iraqi MP Sami al-Askari of the Untied Iraqi Alliance party informed Asharq Al-Awsat that al-Darraji's release was part of a deal to release kidnapped British hostages captured in Iraq in 2007 by Asaib Ahl al-Haq [League of the People of Righteousness] a splinter group of the Mahdi army. However last week the British government confirmed that it had received the bodies of two of these hostages.

Always a pleasure, Mook.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:05 PM


White firefighters win Supreme Court appeal (MARK SHERMAN, 6/29/09, Associated Press)

The Supreme Court ruled Monday that white firefighters in New Haven, Conn., were unfairly denied promotions because of their race, reversing a decision that high court nominee Sonia Sotomayor endorsed as an appeals court judge. [...]

Coincidentally, the court may have given a boost to calls for quick action on her nomination.

The court said it will return Sept. 9 to hear a second round of arguments in a campaign finance case, and with Justice David Souter retiring there would be only eight justices unless Sotomayor has been confirmed by then.

So what? 9 isn't a magic number.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:56 AM


Priced to Sell: Is free the future? (Malcolm Gladwell, July 6, 2009, The New Yorker)

At a hearing on Capitol Hill in May, James Moroney, the publisher of the Dallas Morning News, told Congress about negotiations he’d just had with the online retailer Amazon. The idea was to license his newspaper’s content to the Kindle, Amazon’s new electronic reader. “They want seventy per cent of the subscription revenue,” Moroney testified. “I get thirty per cent, they get seventy per cent. On top of that, they have said we get the right to republish your intellectual property to any portable device.” The idea was that if a Kindle subscription to the Dallas Morning News cost ten dollars a month, seven dollars of that belonged to Amazon, the provider of the gadget on which the news was read, and just three dollars belonged to the newspaper, the provider of an expensive and ever-changing variety of editorial content. The people at Amazon valued the newspaper’s contribution so little, in fact, that they felt they ought then to be able to license it to anyone else they wanted. Another witness at the hearing, Arianna Huffington, of the Huffington Post, said that she thought the Kindle could provide a business model to save the beleaguered newspaper industry. Moroney disagreed. “I get thirty per cent and they get the right to license my content to any portable device—not just ones made by Amazon?” He was incredulous. “That, to me, is not a model.”

Had James Moroney read Chris Anderson’s new book, “Free: The Future of a Radical Price” (Hyperion; $26.99), Amazon’s offer might not have seemed quite so surprising. Anderson is the editor of Wired and the author of the 2006 best-seller “The Long Tail,” and “Free” is essentially an extended elaboration of Stewart Brand’s famous declaration that “information wants to be free.” The digital age, Anderson argues, is exerting an inexorable downward pressure on the prices of all things “made of ideas.” Anderson does not consider this a passing trend. Rather, he seems to think of it as an iron law: “In the digital realm you can try to keep Free at bay with laws and locks, but eventually the force of economic gravity will win.”

The particular problem that the Internet creates as regards charging for ideas is that the ones you want people to pay for have to compete with ones--just as good or better--that are free and are going to remain so.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:49 AM


Time for Iron Man (E.J. Dionne Jr., June 29, 2009, Washington Post)

Every general studies the mistakes of the last war, and President Obama's style has been much influenced by the difficulties of Bill Clinton's presidency.

In particular, Obama has shied away from handing Congress his own plans on "stone tablets," a phrase much loved by senior adviser David Axelrod, and instead allowed it room to legislate.

The president has won a lot, including a decent stimulus bill and laws on children's health coverage, tobacco regulation and employment discrimination that, in less exciting times, would have been seen as landmarks. But the stimulus bill was neither as good nor as large as it might have been, and Obama is still dealing with the problems created by the legislative train wreck over his Guantanamo policies.

And then there's his centerpiece campaign to reform the health-care system.

Obama's initial approach of laying out principles and giving Congress latitude was the right response to Clinton's mistake of offering a detailed proposal, only to see it mocked and rejected.

Except that Bill Clinton didn't fight the last wars, W did. And W ran on and offered Congress extremely detailed plans, but then didn't get his knickers in a twist over the compromises need to pass them. Sometimes he couldn't even pass anything, like on SS reform. But there was never any doubt who the leader was and folks were forced to adjust to his ideas.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:47 AM


Betraying the Planet (PAUL KRUGMAN, 6/29/09, NY Times)

[A]s I watched the deniers make their arguments, I couldn’t help thinking that I was watching a form of treason — treason against the planet.

To fully appreciate the irresponsibility and immorality of climate-change denial, you need to know about the grim turn taken by the latest climate research. [...]

[W]e’re facing a clear and present danger to our way of life, perhaps even to civilization itself. How can anyone justify failing to act?

I'm not actually aware of anyone who denies that the climate of the Earth changes. What's peculiar is that people like Mr. Krugman think it oughtn't. Why are the Darwinists the ones who believe in stasis?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:35 AM


Obama champions energy bill but not its tariffs: The president calls the measure 'an extraordinary first step' toward a halt to global warming but sounds a cautionary note about its provision to penalize countries that don't similarly crack down (Jim Tankersley, June 29, 2009, LA Times)

Obama sounded optimistic about its prospects in the Senate, where the House version will be the blueprint, he said. The proposal must navigate concerns from more than a dozen Democratic senators who represent oil, coal or manufacturing-heavy states.

Asked if he supported a provision, inserted late in the House debate, that seeks to penalize imports from nations that fail to cut their emissions in step with the United States, Obama said:

"At a time when the economy worldwide is still deep in recession and we've seen a significant drop in global trade, I think we have to be very careful about sending any protectionist signals."

He noted that the bill contained other provisions to defend U.S. manufacturers and their employees from lower-cost foreign competition -- including free emissions permits for energy-intensive industries vulnerable to foreign trade, such as steel and aluminum.

"I am very mindful of wanting to make sure there is a level playing field internationally," he said. "I think there may be other ways to do it than with a tariff approach."

The WTO would strike them down anyway.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:31 AM


Clone Wars: Jacoby Ellsbury and Juan Pierre (Troy Patterson, 6/29/09, Hardball Times)

Jacoby Ellsbury had a huge 33 games in a 2007 call up and even made a great showing in the 2007 playoffs, but has yet to match those numbers since. He has been given many comparisons to other players, including Fred Lynn, Johnny Damon and Ichiro Suzuki. So far though he has fallen short in different ways, like batting eye or power. This leaves him in a dangerous position and looking dangerously more like Juan Pierre.

...is that you never have to face up to your true talent level.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:21 AM


Khamenei's son: Iran experts say he plays key role in protest crackdown: Experts say he's key in crackdown, may be successor (Jeffrey Fleishman, June 25, 2009, Chicago Tribune)

And at the center, or at least very close to it, is Mojtaba Khamenei, an ultraconservative cleric who, analysts say, is being positioned to succeed his father.

The younger Khamenei, who is believed to be in his 40s or early 50s, has emerged as a force in a bureaucracy gradually created by his father to consolidate the supreme leader's power over the nation's military, intelligence operations and foreign policy. That accumulation of control was used to outflank reformists such as Hashemi Rafsanjani and Hossein Ali Montazeri, revered figures of the Islamic Revolution who years ago had questioned the senior Khamenei's qualifications as supreme leader.

The violence that has erupted over the last week -- state media have reported that 10 to 19 people have died -- were in part the result of a crackdown by forces close to Mojtaba Khamenei, who backs Ahmadinejad and shares his Islamic fervor.

"This coup taking place is a political liquidation against the old guard by reckless people like Motjaba and Ahmadinejad," said Mehdi Khalaji, an expert on Iran with The Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "But I don't think they will win. Power that relies only on the military and doesn't care about social or religious institutions cannot last long."

Mojtaba Khamenei is a secretive man who doesn't want to "be on people's tongues," said Mohsen Sazegara, an Iranian journalist and former government official. "Nobody knows much about him."

Khalaji said the supreme leader immersed himself in literature, novels and music, was friends with intellectuals and spent time in jail with Marxists when he was younger, but the son "grew up in a very different atmosphere, a postrevolutionary generation."

Analysts say Mojtaba Khamenei lacks the religious and political stature to overcome the opposition he would face in the Assembly of Experts, the body charged with selecting the supreme leader. His father, 69, is believed to have influence over about half of the assembly's 86 seats, but the board is headed by Rafsanjani and includes other reformists who would likely block an attempt for the younger Khamenei to succeed his father.

"Neither Ayatollah Ali Khamenei nor Ahmadinejad are popular in Qom," Ali Ansari, the head of Iranian studies at St. Andrews University in Scotland, wrote in The Observer, referring to the Shiite holy city where Iran's top clerics teach. "The clerics may bide their time, but their intervention, which may come sooner rather than later -- especially if violence spreads -- could be decisive."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:14 AM


The Key to Fixing Health Care and Energy: Use Less (Michael Grunwald, Jun. 29, 2009, TIME)

[O]ur biggest problem in both health care and energy is essentially the same simple problem: we use too much. And in both cases, there's a simple explanation for much of the problem: our providers get paid more when we use more.

Undoing these waste-promoting incentives — the "fee-for-service" payment system that awards more fees to doctors and hospitals for providing more services, and the regulated electricity rates that reward utilities for selling more power and building more plants — would not solve all our health-care and energy problems. But it would be a major step in the right direction. President Obama has pledged to pass massive overhauls of both sectors this year, but if Congress lacks the stomach for comprehensive reforms — and these days it's looking like Kate Moss in the stomach department — a more modest effort to realign perverse incentives could take a serious bite out of both crises. [...]

[N]ot everyone realizes that we use too much health care; most of us assume that more treatment is better, that the best doctors are the ones who do the most to us, that our health costs are the world's highest because our health care is the world's most thorough. But a slew of research by the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice has found that as much as 30% of our annual $2 trillion–plus medical bill may be wasted on unnecessary care, mostly run-of-the-mill diagnostic tests, office visits, hospital stays, minor procedures and prescriptions for brand-name wonder drugs advertised on TV. Our soaring health spending is on course to bankrupt the Treasury — along with state and local governments, big and small businesses, and millions of families — so again, it would be nice to cut out the usage that doesn't make us healthier, and can even make us sicker. [...]

Health care usually costs us money, too, and even when co-payments are low, visiting the doctor is time-consuming and inconvenient, and staying in the hospital can be downright dangerous. Still, Dartmouth has documented enormous regional variations in medical care that produce virtually no variation in medical outcomes, a testament to our tolerance for overtreatment.

So don't expect government intervention on the demand side — through education campaigns, tax incentives or targeted subsidies — to rein in our cravings. But in the energy arena, several states have already proven that rationalizing incentives on the supply side can transform the landscape. In most of the country, per capita electricity use has increased about 50% over the past three decades — despite conservation programs, efficiency incentives and the general rise of green. But in California and the Pacific Northwest, where state legislatures decoupled utility profits from sales volumes, electricity use has been flat. Instead of an incentive to sell more power and build more generating plants, the utilities had an incentive to help their customers save electricity and avoid the need for new generating plants. So that's what they did. Energy providers were much better than the government at influencing the behaviors of energy consumers. "That's what we need in health care," says Dr. Elliott Fisher of the Dartmouth Institute. "When providers get rewarded for volume, they provide volume. That's got to change."

In medicine, the idea would be to reward quality rather than quantity, to give providers incentives to keep us healthy and reduce unnecessary treatments, to encourage doctors and hospitals to promote a culture of low-cost, high-quality care.

Demand remains high because the costs of energy and health care are too low at the consumer level. Raise the out-of-poicket costs and demand will decline.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:10 AM


Rising sea level to submerge New Orleans coastline by 2100, study warns (Suzanne Goldenberg, 6/29/09, guardian.co.uk)

Between 10,000 and 13,500 square kilometres of coastal lands will drown due to rising sea levels and subsidence by 2100, a far greater loss than previous estimates.

For New Orleans, and other low-lying areas of Louisiana whose vulnerability was exposed by hurricane Katrina, the findings could bring some hard choices about how to defend the coast against the future sea level rises that will be produced by climate change.

They also revive the debate about the long-term sustainability of New Orleans and other low-lying areas.

It just has to be W's fault somehow.....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:08 AM


The Obamas Find a Church Home — Away from Home (Amy Sullivan, 6/29/09, TIME)

[I]n an unexpected move, Obama has told White House aides that instead of joining a congregation in Washington, D.C., he will follow in George W. Bush's footsteps and make his primary place of worship Evergreen Chapel, the nondenominational church at Camp David.

The real surprise is that he's going to base his presidential library at SMU.

June 28, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:46 PM


Brazil shows why it's Brazil (Gabrielle Marcotti, 6/28/09, SI)

[I]n the first half Sunday, Brazil looked fairly dazed, shell-shocked by the U.S.' one-two punch of Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan. If the first goal was a function of some not-so-tight marking (a fact which made Dunga blue in the face), the second was the result of a perfectly executed U.S. counterattack. Donovan to Charlie Davies, back to Donovan, André Santos turned inside-out, ball in the back of the net. It was textbook stuff, intelligently and accurately executed.

Dunga may no doubt have been tempted to change things around at halftime. The thunder-and-lightning combination of Jozy Altidore and Davies was giving his defenders -- particularly Luisão -- fits. Meanwhile, Jay DeMerit and Oguchi Onyewu were effectively shackling Fabiano while, in central midfield, despite the absence of Michael Bradley, Ricardo Clark and Benny Feilhaber were forcing Kaká into uncomfortable positions.

Then, barely after the second-half kickoff, came Luís Fabiano's goal, a gorgeous swivel and shot which halved the U.S. lead and swung the momentum decisively the other way. The timing of goals does matter and, perhaps, the worst possible time to concede is either side of the break.

Brazil ratcheted up the pressure, Tim Howard was called to make a number of fine saves (the kind which deservedly won him the goalkeeper of the tournament accolade, despite conceding nine in four outings) and you got the sense it was just a matter of time before the Seleção broke through. Kaká's header should have been the equalizer -- Howard palmed it away after the ball had crossed the goal line -- but the goal wasn't awarded. No matter. Fabiano's strike made it 2-2 after Robinho hit the crossbar with the U.S. goal under a full-fledged siege.

U.S. head coach Bob Bradley had no cards left to play at this stage. With Altidore off the pitch, there wasn't much punch left and, in some ways, Lúcio's winning header was predictable. There was only so much of a battering the admirable Onyewu-DeMerit partnership could take before eventually crumbling.

"Look, we played well, we gave them a very good fight," said Dempsey after the match. "It's just that they created more chances and scored more goals and deserved to win. Sometimes you just have to accept that."

US coach Bob Bradley made himself unfireable in a tournament that demonstrated why the US would benefit from an upgrade.

There's no shame in losing to Brazil, but it was a game the US could have, maybe even should have, won. He waited too long to bring on subs, when we could have used fresh legs, and because they came on immediately after the Brazilians tied, he ended up taking off the two guys who might have gotten a third for us--Altidore and Feilhaber--while bringing in a very uncertain Klestjens, who got burnt repeatedly, including on the play that set up the winning corner, and made almost no decent passes. Midfield was always going to be a problem with his son suspended for the game, but Jose Francisco Torres would have been a better choice if you insisted on removing Feilhaber and Davies should have come off instead of Altidore. If nothing else, they lost on a set piece which Altidore had cleared two of earlier. Dempsey should have been in Davies spot from the start.

A win here would have been a nice surprise--well, a shocker really--but the game they have to win is in Mexico in August. The talent level of this squad is high enough that no more excuses for losing to inferior teams--like Italy--should be accepted. America ought to be one of the teams mention as a threat to win the 2010 World Cup.

Selecao comeback ends U.S. dream (ESPN SoccerNet, June 28, 2009)

Brazil, which won its third Confederations Cup title, looked like a beaten team in the first half, creating little and being constantly stymied by the United States defense and goalkeeper Tim Howard.

But Fabiano started the comeback in the 46th minute as Brazil's "Beautiful Game" burst into life. The striker collected a pass from Ramires before turning and shooting past defender Jay DeMerit for his fourth goal of the tournament.

He added a fifth in the 74th, heading in a rebound after Kaka's cross was kicked against the crossbar by Robinho.

Dempsey, who also scored in the 2-0 semifinal win over Spain, gave the Americans the lead in the 10th minute by redirecting a cross from Jonathan Spector. Donovan added the second by finishing off some nice passing play with Charlie Davies on a fast counterattack in the 27th.

Brazil battle back to down US in cup final (The National, June 29. 2009)
The defending champions Brazil fought back from 2-0 down to beat the United States 3-2 and win the Confederations Cup for the third time after a hugely entertaining final.

The Americans, who shocked the European champions Spain in the semi-finals, looked set for another huge upset when goals by Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan put them 2-0 ahead at half-time.

Brazil rallies to defeat U.S., 3-2: The Americans surrender a two-goal lead as Brazil avoids an upset to win its second consecutive Confederations Cup championship.
By Grahame L. Jones, June 28, 2009, LA Times)
Producing the best soccer it has played in recent memory, the United States men's national team came within a whisker Sunday of pulling off its second staggering international soccer upset in just five days.

After shutting out Spain, the world's No. 1-ranked team, 2-0, in midweek, the U.S. was leading Brazil by the same score at halftime in the final of the FIFA Confederations Cup in Johannesburg, South Africa.

The Americans still held a 2-1 advantage with less than 20 minutes remaining.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:31 PM


Obama is choosing to be weak (Clive Crook, June 28 2009, Financial Times)

The president has cast himself not as a leader of reform, but as a cheerleader for “reform” – meaning anything, really, that can plausibly be called reform, however flawed. He has defined success down so far that many kinds of failure now qualify. Without hesitating, he has cast aside principles he emphasised during the campaign. On healthcare, for instance, he opposed an individual insurance mandate. On climate change, he was firm on the need to auction all emissions permits. Congress proposes to do the opposite in both cases and Mr Obama’s instant response is: “That will do nicely.”

The White House calls this pragmatism. Never let the best be the enemy of the good. Better to take one step forward than blah, blah, blah. The argument sounds appealing and makes some sense, but is worth probing.

First one must ask whether the bills really do represent progress, however modest. As they stand, this is doubtful, especially in the case of cap-and-trade. Then one must ask whether the US will get to where it needs to be on climate change and healthcare via a series of small steps. Perhaps the country has just one chance in the foreseeable future to get it right. The White House has said as much: “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” Botch these policies this time, and it may be years before Congress can start again.

A White House that is more interested in promotion than in product development has another great drawback: it squanders talent. Mr Obama has impeccable taste in advisers: he has scooped up many of the country’s pre-eminent experts in almost every area of public policy. One wonders why. On the main domestic issues, they are not designing policy; they are working the phones, drumming up support for bills they would be deploring if they were not in the administration. Apart from anything else, this seems cruel. Mr President, examine your conscience and set your experts free.

The greatest waste of talent in all this, however, is that of Mr Obama himself. Congress offers change without change – a green economy built on cheap coal and petrol; a healthcare transformation that asks nobody to pay more taxes or behave any differently – because that is what voters want. Is it too much to ask that Mr Obama should tell voters the truth? I think he could do it. He has everything it takes to be a strong president. He is choosing to be a weak one.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:02 PM

Soccer Diary: U.S. vs. Brazil, 2:30 p.m. ET (William Snyder, 6/28/09, WSJ: Daily Fix)

The Journal provides minute-by-minute analysis of today’s Confederations Cup final between the U.S. and Brazil in Johannesburg, South Africa. Guest blogger Will Snyder offers commentary on the match and the ESPN telecast. Feel free to email William questions or comments before or during the match, which kicks off around 2:30 p.m. ET.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:08 AM



Something else some of us like to do, just for kicks, is stir up ideological mischief at dinner parties. Given the depth of liberal hypocrisy on certain issues, this is easier than it might sound, and occasionally even provokes actual thought in one's prey. My favorite tale in this regard comes from a friend who lives in Park Slope. She reports creating level-red discomfort, when the talk on a recent evening turned to gay marriage. Everyone was for it, of course, including my friend. "But wouldn't it bother you if your own children were gay?" she added, all innocent curiosity. "After all, isn't it natural to want your kids to mirror your experience? To have a traditional marriage and raise children in the traditional way? I can't think of anything that would make them more foreign."

She reports that, hearing this, the liberals around the table "got very flustered -- because of course they feel exactly the same way. There was a long silence, and then someone said: 'I would be much more upset if my kids were Republican,' and that let everyone off the hook. But afterward, one liberal friend came and whispered in my ear 'I would be really devastated.' "

Indeed, if one keeps things polite in such situations, those on the other side are all but helpless, robbed of their chief weapon: Insults. For many liberals in these parts, dismissive contempt toward the other side is a reflex. So, for the enterprising conservative, pointing out, "that's not an argument, that's name-calling" is enough to stop them dead in their tracks. After lifetimes spent casually referring to those on the right as "haters" or "fascists," they are truly unaware there is anything wrong with it. While afterward they'll continue to believe you are a fascist, and say so behind your back, at least you'll have a momentary triumph.

For conservatives in places like New York, that's about the best that can be hoped for. As a species, adamant liberals are not exactly known for graciousness. Even in the wake of their triumph last November, many seem Constitutionally unable to stop bashing Bush, Cheney or Palin. And talk about gloating. Having in many cases defiantly left on their Kerry-Edwards stickers through Bush's second term, can anyone doubt that, even if unemployment reaches 20%, their Obama stickers will still be in place on the Volvo when it gets towed off to that great recycling heap?

Of course, that's just another difference between us and them -- we tend toward optimism and good grace. Rotten as times seems now for conservatives, we face life as it is and press on, plucky as colonial Brits in those old movies on TCM. Just a day after the election, one friend remarked that he'd already taken the McCain sticker off his car, adding that Obama was our president now, and he was willing to give him a chance. "Still," he added, smiling, "I kept on the one for the New York Rifle & Pistol Association -- just in case anyone thinks I've gone soft."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:31 AM


U.S. aiming for upset in Confederations Cup final (ESPN SoccerNet, June 27, 2009)

Skipper Carlos Bocanegra, whose side were beaten 3-0 by Brazil in their Group A encounter on June 18, insists the U.S. will play without fear against their heavily favoured opponents and adopt an entirely different strategy for this match.

Unlike the U.S., Brazil know all about winning major trophies, crowned world champions five times and seeking a third Confederations Cup victory in attempting to retain the trophy they won in 2005.

"The first time we played Brazil we came out a bit timid," Bocanegra said at a news briefing on Friday. "We gave them too much respect.

"We went out and sat back too much, but we changed it against Egypt, playing with a lot of energy from the start and we carried that into the Spain game. We had a go at them for 90 minutes rather than absorb pressure." [...]

Bradley will not be able to choose son Michael for the game, however, after he was sent off towards the end of the semi-final victory.

But he will have the impressive Clint Dempsey in attack and the Fulham forward will be looking to complete an excellent tournament with a winner's medal.

Dempsey has scored twice, including the second against Spain, and was praised by FIFA Technical Study member Holger Osieck for "winning nearly every ball in the air, keeping possession and working hard" in their 3-0 win over Egypt.

Osieck also praised his "tireless" performance against Spain in which besides his goal, he helped set up the first for Jozy Altidore.

Despite the north Americans enthusiasm and new-found sense of belief, Brazil still start as overwhelming favourites.

Although the South Americans know they cannot allow themselves to be out-thought as they were for long periods against South Africa in their semi-final on Thursday, or they might struggle to win with the flourish the world loves to see.

A Daniel Alves free-kick two minutes from time secured their slender 1-0 win over the hosts and midfielder Gilberto Silva says they will be taking nothing for granted.

One of the realities of soccer is that just the question of who gets to referee the game could determine its outcome. Howard Webb from the EPL would allow the sort of physical game that the US plays and for which it has been harshly penalized in this tournament. Meanwhile, the ref who sent off Michael Bradley for a hard but fair challenge has supposedly red-carded an American in every game he's ever officiated involving the USA. [And the folks wonder why Americans don't like the game?]

The loss of Bradley was bad enough in the Spain game but he's covered more ground than any other player in the Tournament and he's not really replaceable for Sunday (hurry Jermaine Jones). Additionally, the core of this team has played with just ten men for a significant amount of time in three of the last four games and while three days off ought to be plenty and coldish weather should help, some fatigue may creep in.

The biggest reason to be hopeful is that Coach Bradley finally had his line-up and formation right late in the Spain game and the US showed the sort of commitment to attack that made it possible to win. Attacking Brazil will be just as important and getting the first goal vital, but they're the best team in the world on counterattack. As Tim Vickery has said, they're the only team for whom an opponent's corner kick is a scoring opportunity for the defenders, as we found out last game. And if they pick up an early goal and we're forced to press forward they'll exploit every chance we give them. So we'll have to maintain a stout central defense but, at the same time, go for goal. Just as it's said that basketball teams that use the press hate to be pressed back, a team that relies on the counterattack can be successfully counterattacked right back if you defend them well.

Happily, the US defense has been terrific the last couple games, with Onyewu and Demerit forming a dominant center and Jonathan Spector playing very well. Carlos Bocanegra is the captain and has the sort of experience Coach Bradley may want on the field, but he had some shaky moments against Spain. Ricardo Clark and Michael Bradley have reinforced that defense from the midfield and whoever replaces the latter (please, God, not DeMarcus Beasley) has to be capable of continuing the partnership. It's the four guys in front of that six who it seems fair to criticize the coach about.

Charlie Davies has shown that he can offer a nice burst of energy for about a twenty minute stretch and he's difficult enough for the other team to account for that it does provide Altidore with some space. But one would think he's best saved for the final twenty minutes rather than spent in the first and then necessarily subbed for.

Clint Dempsey seems to be of the, perhaps justified, opinion that since he can score regularly in the EPL he ought to be a primary offensive option for the USA. He's a completely different player on the front line than in midfield, much more interested and hard-working, and he's got the scent of the net right now. Teamed with Altidore, he'd also give us a physical presence in front of the goal that could create problems for the defense.

Then you put Landon Donovan and Benny Feilhaber in between the front two and the two defensive midfielders and have them provide service for the scorers. Put Feilhaber in the middle of the field--a la Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard--and swing Donovan out wide where he'd have enough room to lift balls into the box. Numerous goals in this tournament have demonstrated that if we just get the ball into dangerous places our physicality can produce scores.

Finally, Tim Howard certainly deserves to start. He just produced a clean sheet against the best team in the world and the best offense by some considerable margin. But he has to stop out-kicking his coverage. We're Americans and we're all mighty impressed that every time he has a goal kick he can boot it all the way down field to the back defensive line, but the object isn't actually to turn over possession on every single kick. And even if he's doing it to temporarily relieve pressure in front of his own goal, giving it away isn't the best option--against Brazil it may be suicidal. A little less foot would produce better opportunities for us to get and control the ball, even if it wouldn't look so pretty.

It's a winnable game and, for once, people in the States might be watching. They got great press coverage after beating Spain and the Sunday afternoon ESPN coverage is convenient. If they manage another upset and do it playing a distinctly American sort of game (as American as soccer can be) they can put the team on the radar, not as a peer of the NFL, college football, NBA, etc., but on par with NASCAR, golf, & hockey and above stuff like UFC, bowling, poker, and the many other sports that get regular tv coverage. Not only would a win be the greatest accomplishment ever for the Men's national team but they could keep the momentum going for their game at Mexico on August 12th, where they've never won. They're a better team than Mexico now and winning there is the last stumbling block to their becoming the dominant side north of the Canal. Americans aren't soccer fans but we are patriots and we love winners and a side in any sport that can beat foreigners, especially ones who are ashamed to lose to us, can develop a following.

But first they better play well on Sunday....

U.S. Starting XI vs. Brazil: No Surprises (Jack Bell, 6/27/09, NY Times: Goal)

Who replaces Michael Bradley?

Probably Benny Feilhaber, who entered the match against Spain in the 67th minute, controlled the ball well when he had the chance, calmly started the play that led to the second U.S. goal and was generally a positive factor.

A start for Feilhaber would be a delicious turn of events for the 24-year-old midfielder. Feilhaber was born in Brazil, after his family fled Austria before the start of World War II. They moved to the United States when Feilhaber was a child. [...]

The defense seems to be settled and solid with Tim Howard in goal, Jonathan Spector and Carlos Bocanegra on the flanks, and the imposing tandem of Jay DeMerit and Oguchi Onyewu in the middle.

In the midfield, Clint Dempsey, Ricardo Clark and Landon Donovan are mostly likely to be joined by Feilhaber, or perhaps Sacha Kljestan, who was drafted by and played for Bob Bradley at Chivas USA in M.L.S.

The twosome up front is likely to be the same as started and played well against Spain: Jozy Altidore and Charlie Davies.

What about playing Bocanegra in Bradley's spot and Bornstein on defense?
Confederations Cup Final Preview: Brazil - U.S.A.: Goal.com rate the chances of the brilliant Brazil and the shock troops of America in Sunday's final in South Africa... (Goal.com, 27 Jun 2009)
Defensively, the pairing of Ogushi Onyewu and Jay Demerit were a towering presence, subduing the prolific David Villa and Fernando Torres like very few sides have achieved previously. They blocked, they headed, they challenged, they were inspirational, and it was a particularly sweet victory for striker Jozy Altidore. His big-money move to Villarreal in 2008 has been a disaster, but he reaped some level of vindication by embarrassing Casillas for the opening goal.

The team, as a whole, will be required to produce a similar level of commitment in the final, but the key factor may be whether Landon Donovan et al still have an element of surprise. It could be questioned if the Spanish superstars took the American challenge seriously enough, but they have paid for their complacency. However, the Brazilians, surely, will be more vigilant.

After a debatable start in the Samba hotseat, coach Dunga has instilled a level of discipline and tactical nous that, so far, has complemented the trickery and style to tremendous effect. World Cup 2010 qualification is almost secured and in this Confederations Cup campaign they have looked extremely comfortable. Sevilla forward Luis Fabiano and the mercurial Robinho have linked superbly in an attack full of pace and agility.

Decision Time for U.S. Before the Final (Jeré Longman, 6/27/09, NY Times: Goal)
Bradley said he was leaning toward Benny Feilhaber, whose skittering move across the top of the penalty area began the sequence that led to the second American goal in Wednesday’s 2-0 defeat of Spain. That the United States is playing Brazil is something of note beyond soccer: Feilhaber was born in Rio de Janeiro after his family fled Austria before the start of World War II.

Bradley must also consider whether to stick with a 4-4-2 formation or perhaps use a five-man midfield to provide extra cover in Michael’s absence. In that case, Sacha Kljestan might get a start. It seems unlikely that it will be DaMarcus Beasley, considering Beasley’s elemental blunder in losing the ball on a short corner in the 3-0 group play defeat to Brazil, which became a lightning-fast goal on a counterattack.

Bradley has said that his team feels more comfortable in a 4-4-2. And Jozy Altidore said Friday that he preferred to be paired with another striker.

“Tactically, in every game, you have to weight the different factors,” Bob Bradley said. “At times, there’s a need to make a small tactical adjustment to make a big change in how you play. At the same time, it’s not always the case that we handle those changes well.”

The United States started in a 4-4-1-1 against Italy before losing Ricardo Clark early to a red card, then shifted to a 4-4-1 and a 4-3-2. It has seemed more assured in the 4-4-2 since.

Whether by design or not it clicks when they're in 4-2-2-2.
USA need to change tactics against the Samba style (Jonathan Wilson, June 27. 2009 , The National)
It is Robinho who presents opponents with the greatest tactical conundrum. He plays in an odd three-quarter position, neither forward nor midfielder, neither central nor wide, and thus falls into the sphere of neither right-back nor centre-back to mark.

If a defensive midfielder is assigned to pick him up, that draws resources from the other flank, where both Ramires and Maicon can attack from deep.

South Africa restricted Brazil in the semi-final by taking the game to them, and playing the game largely in Brazil’s half; the reverse of how the USA frustrated Spain in their semi-final, which was to sit deep and deny Spain’s playmakers space to thread passes.

Brazil, it must be expected, will be rather better than they were in the semi-final. In the wake of their astonishing victory over Italy, Brazil may have been underwhelmed by the prospect of a game against dogged minnows. Yet, as Gilberto Silva hinted, South Africa’s man-marking had unsettled them.

That is something for the USA to consider. Certainly to sacrifice the wings and allow their opponents to cross would be a far riskier policy against Brazil than it was against Spain and, besides, USA’s centre will be weakened by the absence of Michael Bradley, the third American to be sent off.

Charlie Davies may again use his pace to try to get in behind Maicon, as he did against Sergio Ramos in the semi-final; he may not have created much from there, but he successfully disrupted the Spanish right as Ramos became reluctant to advance.

It's an all-Americas final: Seasoned Brazil, upstart U.S. meet for Confederations Cup title (Grahame L. Jones, June 28, 2009, Chicago Tribune)
Most recent meeting: Brazil 3, U.S. 0 in a Confederations Cup first-round game on June 18 in Pretoria.

All-time head-to-head record: Brazil, 13 victories and 26 goals; U.S., one victory and eight goals.

Most expensive player: Kaka (Brazil), acquired this year by Real Madrid from AC Milan for $94 million; Jozy Altidore (U.S.), acquired last year by Villarreal from the New York Red Bulls for $10 million.

Oddity No. 1: The American roster has only five players who play in the U.S. The Brazilian roster has only seven players who play in Brazil. The other 34 players are scattered around 11 European countries, Canada and Mexico.

PREVIEW: UNITED STATES - BRAZIL (Brent Latham, June 27, 2009, Yanks Abroad)
The back line will likely remain the same, with captain Carlos Bocanegra nearly entrenched in his new left back role, and having had a few extra days to regain his fitness after a nagging hamstring injury.

Jozy Altidore and Charlie Davies have formed a dynamic duo up front, and will hope to continue their exploits in the Americans' first FIFA final.

Dunga brings a exciting team into the final as well. The Brazilians have scored eleven goals over four Confederations Cup matches, but looked far from their best in their semifinal win Thursday over South Africa. A late Dani Alves free kick gave the South Americans the slim victory.

The defending Confederations Cup champs will have to do without his stalwart in the center of defense, Juan, who has been ruled out for the tournament.

The match gets under way at 8:30 local time on what is expected to be a cool, clear evening in South Africa's capital.

Brazil advantage at Confederations final (Fred Kaweesi , 6/27/09, Sunday Vision)
The one difference in the side is likely to be the suspension of Michael Bradley, who was sent-off against Spain.

The counter-attacking prowess of USA could make for an uncomfortable night for Brazil’s back four — especially if the industrious Felipe Melo struggles to offer them protection like it was against South Africa.

Against the Bafana Bafana, Brazil showed signs of fallibility and it remains to be seen whether their lumbering performance was a one-off or the high altitude in Johannesburg will continue to affect their confidence and customary swagger.

With decent players available in every other position, how USA coach Bob Bradley must wish he could call upon a prolific, match-winning striker. Once again this patently isn’t the case, with none of Jozy Altidore and Charlie Davies entirely convincing in the crucial role of lone striker that is in their 4-2-3-1 system.

The flip side of this is that USA’s six goals so far at the finals have been spread among five different players, but the lack of a constant threat and reliable source of goals is an undeniable hindrance. The centre back pairing of Oguchi Onyewu and Jey DeMerit has been as strong as any in the competition in the last two games, and will have to be against Brazil’s attack of Kaka, Robinho and Luis Fabiano.

Confederations Cup Soccer Final Preview (Mark Lincir, 6/27/09, 90 Minutes)
Against Brazil Sunday the U.S. needs to start out with the same intensity and commitment to defense that they did against Spain the other day. It will take another grueling day at the office for the U.S. to keep things close and be in a position to get a result.

The only adjustment I would make is to insert Benny Feilhaber at center mid for the suspended Bradley. I actually liked the game that Ricardo Clark had the other day and hope that he has landed on somebody's radar in Europe.

Even though I'm not a huge fan of the 4-4-2 against world-class teams, I think if they play it low pressure, it will still work with Davies and Altidore up front. I was not a fan of Davies initially, but like what he does out there and want to see more of it.

Altidore needs to be allowed to stay more centralized. He needs to use his body and strength to brutalize the Brazilian defense, get shots off in dangerous spots and draw fouls, just like he did the other night against Spain.

I am not quite a Coach Bob Believer yet...but if he can pull off a victory tomorrow, I may well just have to become one.

I do have to give him credit as of late for simply putting the best players in the best spots and going out and playing in the best system possible to earn a result, which he has been doing the last couple of games (how noble, it's only his job!).

A tactical genius he is not. But a practical person who is finally listening to reason (ME) he just might be!

Boca Raton's Jozy Altidore, U.S. soccer hero, is enjoying the American Dream (HAL HABIB, 6/27/09, Palm Beach Post)
A few days after Christmas in 1975, a man named Joseph boarded a plane from Port-au-Prince to New York. He carried $300 in his pocket and hopes of a new life in his head. He couldn't have known that shortly before him, a woman named Gisele was leaving Haiti under nearly identical circumstances.

Their lives first crisscrossed in Orange, N.J. Boarding bus No. 20 one stop after Joseph had, Gisele chose the seat next to his and found that they could talk to each other about most anything. Even marriage.

Although two years passed before they encountered each other again, they began dating, married and eventually moved to Boca Raton - a happily-ever-after story that has everything to do with the United States having an equally improbable shot today at its greatest feat ever in men's soccer.

Joseph and Gisele are better known as the parents of Boca Prep graduate Jozy Altidore, who at 19 years old is a key reason the Americans will face powerhouse Brazil in the Confederations Cup final in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:35 AM


Velocity still big part of a pitcher's arsenal (Pat Mitsch, 6/28/09, Pittsburgh TRIBUNE-REVIEW)

While the top vitals of a good pitch remain location and movement, velocity is a tool that can revive a pitcher in an at-bat when any important pitch goes flat.

"Velocity lets you get away with mistakes a little easier," said Pirates closer Matt Capps. "A lot of times, not necessarily swings and misses, but you throw a ball not in the right spot, down the middle, and you get just a foul tip and not a base hit."

More pitchers in today's MLB are catching on, and velocity seems to be an increasingly valuable commodity for major-league clubs. It's no coincidence the Nationals took Stephen Strasburg, whose velocity tops 100 mph, with the top pick in this year's draft.

"As you talk with guys who have been watching this game over the past 20, 30 years, they'll say there's more guys throwing harder today than there used to be," said Pirates director of player development Kyle Stark.

There's a great stat board at FanGraphs, showing pitchers ranked by average fastball velocity. The thing that stands out is that while all are not dominant major league pitchers, you have to go pretty deep before you get to a guy you'd be afraid to bring into a game you needed to win.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:13 AM


REVIEW: of Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America By John Earl Haynes, Harvey Klehr and Alexander Vassiliev (Andrew Lownie, 28 Jun 2009, Daily Telegraph)

A common perception is that, both before and after the Second World War, the British Establishment was penetrated by Soviet spies (most notably by the Cambridge Spy Ring) while America somehow escaped infiltration. This important new book, however, which is based on archival material – a rare luxury for intelligence historians – shows the huge extent of Soviet espionage activity in the United States during the 20th century.

The authors estimate that from the Twenties more than 500 Americans from all walks of life, including many Ivy League graduates and Oxford Rhodes Scholars, were recruited to assist Soviet intelligence agencies, particularly in the State Department and America’s first intelligence agency, the OSS.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:07 AM


Health-Care Activists Targeting Democrats: Sniping Among Liberals May Jeopardize Votes Needed to Pass Bill (Ceci Connolly, 6/28/09, Washington Post)

In the high-stakes battle over health care, a growing cadre of liberal activists is aiming its sharpest firepower against Democratic senators who they accuse of being insufficiently committed to the cause.

The attacks -- ranging from tart news releases to full-fledged advertising campaigns -- have elicited rebuttals from lawmakers and sparked a debate inside the party over the best strategy for achieving President Obama's top priority of a comprehensive health-system overhaul.

The rising tensions between Democratic legislators and constituencies that would typically be their natural allies underscore the high hurdles for Obama as he tries to hold together a diverse, fragile coalition. [...]

Much of the sparring centers around whether to create a government-managed health insurance program that would compete with private insurers. Obama supports the concept, dubbed the "public option," but he has been vague on details. Left-of-center activists want a powerful entity with the ability to set prices for doctors and hospitals.

But in the Senate, where the Democrats do not have the 60 votes needed to stop a filibuster, members are weighing alternatives such as a nonprofit cooperative or a "fallback" provision that would kick in only if market reforms fail.

The UR could kill two birds with one stone by changing his middle name from Hussein to Vague.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:02 AM


Playing It Safe in Cancer Research (GINA KOLATA, 6/27/09, NY Times)

The cancer institute has spent $105 billion since President Richard M. Nixon declared war on the disease in 1971. The American Cancer Society, the largest private financer of cancer research, has spent about $3.4 billion on research grants since 1946.

Yet the fight against cancer is going slower than most had hoped, with only small changes in the death rate in the almost 40 years since it began.

One major impediment, scientists agree, is the grant system itself. It has become a sort of jobs program, a way to keep research laboratories going year after year with the understanding that the focus will be on small projects unlikely to take significant steps toward curing cancer.

The genius of the system is that as long as they keep finding and removing more "cancers" people will keep funding the jobs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:48 AM


Blue Note keeps 'em lookin' as smooth as they sound (Mike Doherty, 6/26/09, Weekend Post)

When German emigrés Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff founded the Blue Note record label 70 years ago in New York City, jazz held most of the market for recorded music. Nowadays, it's decidedly a niche genre. So why do so many artists with mainstream success, from Norah Jones to Anita Baker, still want to record music for the legendary bastion of small-group instrumental jazz?

"The label has always stood for high quality," says its CEO, Bruce Lundvall, a former president of CBS Records and lifelong fan who helped resurrect Blue Note in 1985, after it petered out in the '70s. Even the fact it lay dormant in the heyday of airbrushed synth-pop feeds into Blue Note's matchless cachet - the label is synonymous with "cool." [...]

Lundvall has intentionally strayed from Lion's lead in other ways: He records vocal music (to which Lion wasn't attuned) and has signed pop and soul artists. He used to divert such projects to sister label in Manhattan as a matter of course (e.g., Bobby McFerrin's breakthrough, Simple Pleasures), but he gave in to Norah Jones's insistence on releasing her 2002 debut, Come Away with Me, on Blue Note. Since then, a number of her peers have followed suit, from Van Morrison through new signing Kristina Train, a singer of blue-eyed southern soul who, Lundvall says, "doesn't sound like anyone but herself, which is what we always look for."

Branching out from jazz, the CEO admits, has been an economic necessity, not only to keep the label in the black, but also to help to fund the work of jazz musicians he considers to be ahead of their time. During his tenure, Blue Note has crossed over into Latin jazz, using its clout, for instance, to sign phenomenally proficient Cuban pianists Chucho Valdés (playing fests across Canada this year) and Gonzalo Rubalcaba (playing Toronto and Montreal). And despite his focus on acoustic music, when Lundvall first heard Us3's acid jazz, based on uncleared Blue Note samples, he decided to sign them rather than sue.

Lundvall's devotion to eclecticism has brought criticism from purists but has won unlikely converts: Even Wynton Marsalis, whom he signed to CBS in 1981 and then to Blue Note in 2003, is apparently "becoming a little more open-minded than he was a few years back, where if [music] didn't swing a certain way, it wasn't jazz, and so on."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:46 AM

'A Hardware Store as Proof of the Existence of God' (Nancy Willard, February 22, 2007, Chronogram)

I praise the brightness of hammers pointing east

like the steel woodpeckers of the future,

and dozens of hinges opening brass wings,

and six new rakes shyly fanning their toes,

and bins of hooks glittering into bees,

and a rack of wrenches like the long bones of horses,

and mailboxes sowing rows of silver chapels,

and a company of plungers waiting for God

to claim their thin legs in their big shoes

and put them on and walk away laughing.

In a world not perfect but not bad either

let there be glue, glaze, gum, and grabs,

caulk also, and hooks, shackles, cables, and slips,

and signs so spare a child may read them,

Men, Women, In, Out, No Parking, Beware the Dog.

In the right hands, they can work wonders.

June 27, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:55 PM


Obama urges Americans get tested for HIV (AFP, 6/27/09)

President Barack Obama on Saturday urged his fellow Americans to get tested for HIV in an effort to reduce transmission of the virus that causes AIDS.

If you are a male who has never had sex with another man [nor shoots heroin in flophouses] there is exactly zero utility to your having this test.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:51 PM


The Pitfalls of the Public Option (N. GREGORY MANKIW, 6/28/09, NY Times)

Even if one accepts the president’s broader goals of wider access to health care and cost containment, his economic logic regarding the public option is hard to follow. Consumer choice and honest competition are indeed the foundation of a successful market system, but they are usually achieved without a public provider. We don’t need government-run grocery stores or government-run gas stations to ensure that Americans can buy food and fuel at reasonable prices.

An important question about any public provider of health insurance is whether it would have access to taxpayer funds. If not, the public plan would have to stand on its own financially, as private plans do, covering all expenses with premiums from those who signed up for it.

But if such a plan were desirable and feasible, nothing would stop someone from setting it up right now. In essence, a public plan without taxpayer support would be yet another nonprofit company offering health insurance. The fundamental viability of the enterprise does not depend on whether the employees are called “nonprofit administrators” or “civil servants.”

In practice, however, if a public option is available, it will probably enjoy taxpayer subsidies. Indeed, even if the initial legislation rejected them, such subsidies would be hard to avoid in the long run.

Want to see Democrats disavow the public option, suggest that everyone should be able to opt for a public lawyer instead of a private one.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 PM


Iran's president lashes out at Obama (JIM HEINTZ, 6/27/09, Associated Press)

Iran's hardline president lashed out anew at the United States and President Barack Obama on Saturday, accusing him of interference and suggesting that Washington's stance on Iran's postelection turmoil could imperil Obama's aim of improving relations.

"We are surprised at Mr. Obama," Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in remarks to judiciary officials broadcast on state television. "Didn't he say that he was after change? Why did he interfere?"

"They keep saying that they want to hold talks with Iran ... but is this the correct way? Definitely, they have made a mistake," Ahmadinejad said.

Obama was strongly criticized at home and by many abroad, for his initial measured response to opposition allegations that Ahmadinejad was re-elected by fraud in the June 12 balloting and to the harsh crackdown on protesters.

Interesting that both presidents have made the same mistake. It doesn't matter what they want to do, just what their people want.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:55 AM


‘Advise and Consent’ at 50 (THOMAS MALLON, 6/27/09, NY Times)

Of all the real-life senators serving when Allen Drury’s “Advise and Consent” was published 50 years ago this summer, only Robert C. Byrd remains in office. At this long remove one may be tempted to see him as Drury’s model for South Carolina’s Seabright Cooley, whose ornate, quavering oratory was made so memorable by both the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel and Charles Laughton’s performance in the film that followed. But then one remembers that Byrd, only 41 in 1959, didn’t grow into the part of Cooley until decades later.

Drury’s Senate is such a passionate, full-throttle place that “Advise and Consent” never has occasion to quote George Washington’s famous wish that the Senate serve as a cooling saucer for legislation that boils over from the more demotic House. His mid-20th-century senators certainly speak better than those serving today, most of whom, during debate, could scarcely pronounce, let alone deploy, its orotund courtesies and barbs. Indeed, much of the ambience in which these fictional senators work and preen has vanished. In Drury’s capital, printed newspaper editorials still drive the action, and the head of General Motors calls up senators from Michigan not to rattle a cup but to dictate and threaten. At the parties given by Dolly Harrison (a more genteel version of the real-life Perle Mesta), guests stay twice as long and drink three times as much as they would allow themselves to do at any Washington party today.

And yet, 50 years later, most of the subject matter remains recognizable. Drury’s 99 men and lone woman wrestle with the issue of pre-emptive war, the degree of severity with which lying under oath must be viewed, and the way the coverup is invariably worse than the crime. Part of what kept the book on the best-seller list for 102 weeks is its comforting assumption that many politicians come to Washington hoping to do good.

More than that is the assumption, amply proved since, that the Republic will weather its kerfuffles

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:25 AM


A world removed (Scott MacMillan, June 27. 2009, The National)

Standing on the rooftop of the monastery where he has lived since the age of 10, Jampa Norphel steps up to the dung-chen, a Tibetan horn longer than a man lying down.

From the height of the monastery’s crag, it lets out a bellow that soars over Norphel’s home village towards the distant Himalayan peaks, summoning his fellow monks to the second day of the annual Goyasamaja mandala ceremony.

It’s 6am, and Thiksey monastery in Ladakh, India, is beginning to stir. In the dim light of the temple, pre-teen novice monks and elderly lamas alike begin chanting, surrounded by statues of benevolent Buddhas and the fearsome protector deities of Vajrajana Buddhism.

The bass frequencies shake the timber of the sacred 15th-century space, the vibrations recalling countless puja offerings from the past.

Ladakh, a mountainous province in the far north of India, is one of the few places in the world where visitors can still experience Tibetan Buddhism in an original setting. Though Ladakhis are not Tibetan, they have long taken their religious cues from their neighbours to the east, and the similarities in language, dress and cuisine are unmistakable.

Under threat in Tibet proper, Tibetan Buddhist culture here is visible in both monastery and hamlet, with villagers and monks leading separate yet symbiotic lives as they have done for centuries.

As Norphel explains later, the Goyasamaja ritual usually lasts eight days, with monks painstakingly creating a sand painting, grain by coloured grain. When it’s finished, they destroy it, signifying the fleeting impermanence of all phenomena: all that arises will one day cease. Ladakh itself has survived as a sovereign kingdom for a millennium, and even the invaders of the present, the tourists and trekkers that flood the region during the summer, have failed to upset the basic pattern of life.

The region is still inaccessible by road for six months of the year, with the season’s first fresh produce arriving in late April when the snow melts enough to cut a pony trail through the mountains.

No surprise, then, that guidebooks have dubbed Ladakh “the last Shangri-La”, after the fabled hidden Himalayan utopia. From the mid-ninth century until its surrender to the Dogra rulers of Jammu in 1834, Ladakh retained its independence from Mughal emperors and Dalai Lamas alike.

Disputed ground in the ongoing conflict between India and Pakistan, Ladakh was closed to outsiders until 1974, when authorities in New Delhi decided to open it to tourists even while maintaining a heavy military presence. Today, it is a district with a population of about 270,000, part of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:38 AM


Let’s Burst the Bubble: Politicians will, almost by definition, be deeply weird. (Mark Steyn, 6/27/09, National Review)

[B]eing nominally a republic of citizen-legislators, we have inaugurated the post-modern pseudo-breakout from “the bubble,” in which the president and his family sally forth to an ice-cream parlor in Alexandria, Va., accompanied only by 200 of their most adoring sycophants from the press corps. These trips, explained the New York Times, enable the Obamas to “stay connected” with ordinary people, like White House reporters.

The real bubble is a consequence of big government. The more the citizenry expect from the state, the more our political class will depend on ever more swollen Gulf Emir–sized retinues of staffers hovering at the elbow to steer you from one corner of the fishbowl to another 24/7. “Why are politicians so weird?” a reader asked me after the Sanford press conference. But the majority of people willing to live like this will, almost by definition, be deeply weird. So big government more or less guarantees rule by creeps and misfits. It’s just a question of how well they disguise it. Writing about Michael Jackson a few years ago, I suggested that today’s A-list celebs were the equivalent of Mad King Ludwig of Bavaria or the loopier Ottoman sultans, the ones it wasn’t safe to leave alone with sharp implements. But, as Christopher Hitchens says, politics is showbusiness for ugly people. And a celebrified political culture will inevitably throw up its share of tatty karaoke versions of Britney and Jacko.

I was asked the other day about the difference between American and British sex scandals. In its heyday, Brit sex was about the action — Lord Lambton’s three-in-a-bed bi-racial sex romp; Harvey Proctor’s industrial-scale spanking of rent boys; Max Mosley’s Nazi bondage sessions, with a fine eye for historical accuracy and the orders barked out in surprisingly accurate German; Stephen Milligan’s accidental auto-erotic asphyxiation while lying on a kitchen table wearing fishnet stockings . . . With the exception of the last ill-fated foray, there was an insouciance to these remarkably specialized peccadilloes.

By contrast, American sex scandals seem to be either minor campaign-finance infractions — the cheerless half-hearted affair with an aide — or, like Governor Sanford’s pitiful tale (at least as recounted at his press conference and as confirmed by the e-mails), a glimpse of loneliness and social isolation, as if in the end all they want is the chance to be sitting at the bar telling the gal with the nice smile, “My wife, and my staffers, and my security detail, and the State House press corps, and the guy who writes my Twitter Tweet of the Day, don’t understand me.”

Small government, narrow responsibilities, part-time legislators and executives, a minimal number of aides, lots of days off: Let’s burst the bubble.

Sure, if we got these guys out of the bubble we'd be putting them at some risk, but that seems a reasonable trade-off for bringing them back into contact with normal life and their fellow citizens.

When I worked on the NJ gubernatorial in 1985 we were campaigning on the cheap, which meant that on weekends--when our assigned police detail was off--I was the driver, advance man, press contact, and security. Inevitably we had the occasional squirelly character come up to the candidate and it was seldom pleasant. Being responsible for the candidate's safety, even if only secondarily, was nerve-wracking at times. Were it your sole responsibility and were they a likely target of crazies it's easy to see why you'd put them as deep in the bubble as you could.

But the fact of the matter is that staying safe is in not the primary role of our elected leaders. And when we allow their security details to make it so and allow their staff to further isolate them from any unscripted interactions with the public we lose that republican sense that they are just normal citizens. That hackneyed old canard about George H. W. Bush not knowing what a supermarket scanner was endures for a reason: we find it entirely believable that the governing class is so removed from day-to-day life that even a simple trip to the grocery store would mystify them.

The NY Times editorial board had a long-standing tradition of interviewing every candidate of both parties in NJ, just so they could pretend they covered the state. But with Tom Kean headed to easy re-election they had no interest in meeting with his challenger. When they were finally guilt-tripped into doing so, they tried to reschedule because the Israeli Prime Minister, Shimon Peres, was flying into NY that day and they wanted to meet with him. Our campaign insisted so they did the boards back-to-back. One of the cops was driving that day so we dropped the candidate off and went to get a cup of coffee. As we were walking back a caravan of black Suburbans whipped up, filled with folks in black suits and sunglasses, the occasional Uzi visible as they scrambled around. Peres was hustled into the Times building like a child molester being saved from an angry mob, even though we were nearly the only two people on the street. No one will ever wonder why Israeli and American security details would be overprotective of the latter's leader, but he was essentially treated as an object to be moved somewhere.

Edmund Morris opens his great Teddy Roosevelt biography at the White House on New Year's Day, where the President insisted on greeting and shaking hands with "all citizens who are sober, washed and free of bodily advertising." Obviously we're never returning to such a time. The assassinations of the 60s, in particular, ended that sort of openness for all time. But there has to be a better medium we could find between John Adams walking down to the Potomac to swim naked and George W. Bush being hustled off to Nebraska on 9-11 to be hidden away by the Secret Service.

Our political leaders have always faced certain unique dangers as a function of their offices. Just as arsonists like to burn down churches, so do crazies like to target those who govern us. Some risk is built into the job. If there are those who would not seek office were we to relax the security around them, so be it. If we were to lose another president because we popped the bubble, that seems a worthwhile trade-off for re-integrating them into normal life. After all, it's a republic, there are plenty of other citizens who can step in and do the job of the fallen. To treat them as if they were indispensable is antithetical to our very system of government.

June 26, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:44 PM


Obama signs war bill — with caveats (Michael O'Brien, 6/26/09, The Hill's Briefing Room)

President Obama signed the $106 billion war-spending bill into law Friday, but not without taking a page from his predecessor and ignoring a few elements in legislation.

Obama included a five-paragraph signing statement with the bill, including a final paragraph that outlined his objections to at least four areas of the bill. [...]

"Provisions of this bill…would interfere with my constitutional authority to conduct foreign relations by directing the Executive to take certain positions in negotiations or discussions with international organizations and foreign governments, or by requiring consultation with the Congress prior to such negotiations or discussions," Obama said in a statement.

"I will not treat these provisions as limiting my ability to engage in foreign diplomacy or negotiations," he added.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:34 PM


Rep. John Boehner launches energy bill filibuster (Sabrina Eaton, 6/26/09, Cleveland Plain Dealer)

Just as the House of Representatives was getting ready to vote on a sweeping energy bill that its backers said would reduce the nation's carbon emissions and encourage development of renewable energy, House GOP Leader John Boehner took to the floor.

Instead of wrapping up the debate on behalf of House Republicans, he took advantage of his right as a party leader to speak indefinitely by launching into the House equivalent of a filibuster. Instead of speaking for the expected two minutes, he started to read through the lengthy bill page by page, critiquing the many points he disagrees with.

"I hate to do this to all of you, I do, but when you file a 300 page amendment at 3:09 in the morning, someone needs to work on it," Boehner told his colleagues. "I want to make sure everyone understands what's in this 300 page amendment."

If they had to read the entire federal budget aloud we'd have the equivalent of a permanent government shutdown.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:27 PM


White House Drafts Executive Order to Allow Indefinite Detention of Terror Suspects (Dafna Linzer and Peter Finn, 6/26/09, Washington Post)

The Obama administration, fearing a battle with Congress that could stall plans to close Guantanamo, has drafted an executive order that would reassert presidential authority to incarcerate terrorism suspects indefinitely, according to three senior government officials with knowledge of White House deliberations.

Such an order would embrace claims by former president George W. Bush that certain people can be detained without trial for long periods under the laws of war.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:22 PM


Jeb Bush for President in 2012? After Sanford, Ensign Etc., It's Not Impossible (John Aloysius Farrell, 6/26/09, US News: Thomas Jefferson Street blog)

With Gov. Mark Sanford at wit's end, and Sen. John Ensign joining Sanford at adultery camp, and Gov. Jon Huntsman going to China, and Gov. Bobby Jindal flopping in his first big national TV appearance, and Gov. Mitch Daniels saying he doesn't want to be president, and Gov. Sarah Palin running such an undisciplined operation up there in Alaska, the prospect for fresh blood is thinning.

We got some old party leaders from down South—Gov. Haley Barbour and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich—and a couple of former governors who couldn't beat John McCain last time out—Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee.

And then there is Jeb.

Yes, my friends. It is sad but true. We have not seen the end of the Bush dynasty yet.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:10 PM


I Become an American (ALEXANDER COCKBURN, CounterPunch)

We’ll come momentarily to Obama’s discovery that it’s not all fun being president, but first a bulletin on regime-change for co-editor Cockburn. Though the U.S. Constitution seemingly blocks my path at this time, I have taken the first necessary step in my own quest for the White House by becoming a citizen of the United States at approximately 10 am, Pacific time, last Wednesday, June 17, in the Paramount Theater in Oakland, California.

To my immediate left in the vast and splendid deco theater was a Moroccan, to my right a Salvadoran and around us 956 other candidates for citizenship from 98 countries, each holding a small specimen of the flag that was about to become our standard. All of us had sworn early that day that since our final, successful interview with immigration officials we had not become prostitutes or members of the Communist Party. Inductees to U.S. nation-hood were downstairs; relatives and friends were up in the balcony, including CounterPuncher and friend Scott Handleman, attorney at law. I was determined to start out on the right path. What is more American than to have a lawyer nearby?

Master of ceremonies was US Citizenship and Immigration Service agent Randy Ricks. The amiable Ricks actually conducted my final interview in USCIS’s San Francisco hq. At the Paramount he pulled off the rather showy feat of making short welcoming speeches to the cheerful throng in French, Spanish, Chinese, Tagalog, Russian and I think Hindi. After various preliminaries, including uplifting videos about Ellis Island that tactfully omitted the darker moments in the island’s past, Ricks issued instructions. Each time, starting with Afghanistan, he announced a country the cohort from that nation stood up and it was easy to see that China, India, the Philippines and Salvador were very strongly represented.

A handful of Zambians brought us to the end of the roster and we were all on our feet. We raised our right hands and collectively swore that we “absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty” and that that we would “bear arms on behalf of the United States”, or perform “work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law.” The phrase rang a bell. In the Second World War in Britain , so my mother Patricia would recall from time to time, cats patrolling warehouses where food was stored would get extra rations for performing work of national importance.

Minutes later I was outside on the sidewalk, registering to vote, albeit declining to state which party I would favor.

Many of you won't be old enough to recall Mr.Cockburn and Christopher Hitchens making their bones in the 80s raging against Ronald Reagan and his war on the USSR. For those of us who were subjected to it, the fact that both are now citizens of a significantly more conservative America than the Gipper led is simply hilarious.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:21 PM


Global reach of Spain's courts curtailed: Spanish parliament passes law to limit judges from taking cases of torture or war crimes in other countries. Is this a blow for universal justice? (Robert Marquand, 6/25/09, The Christian Science Monitor)

[S]pain is now following an international legal trend away from allowing national courts to try anyone, anywhere, analysts say. Courts in France, Finland, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany have also seen their forays into global justice curtailed.

Under the new law, expected to quickly pass in Spain's senate, the nation is narrowing its legal mandate. Although a wide variety of cases that originate overseas may still be brought, they must involve grievances that include a Spanish citizen.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:18 PM


Congress grows impatient on Iran, N. Korea, vows action: Tired of President Obama's cautious approach, lawmakers look to sanction the two regimes. (Howard LaFranchi, 6/26/09, The Christian Science Monitor )

Some members of Congress, increasingly impatient with the Obama administration's "give diplomacy a chance" stance toward Iran and North Korea, are pressing for new punitive measures against those countries.

This week the House Appropriations Committee attached an amendment to the 2010 foreign operations appropriations bill that would direct the Export-Import Bank to cut off US loan guarantees to certain companies doing business with Iran, particularly in the petroleum sector.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:48 PM


Arab Activists Watch Iran And Wonder: 'Why Not Us?' (Sudarsan Raghavan, 6/26/09, Washington Post)

Across the Arab world, Iran's massive opposition protests have triggered a wave of soul-searching and conflicting emotions. Many question why their own reform movements are unable to rally people to rise up against unpopular authoritarian regimes. In Egypt, the cradle of what was once the Arab world's most ambitious push for democracy, Iran's protests have served as a reminder of how much the notion has unraveled under President Hosni Mubarak, who has ruled the country for 30 years.

"I am extremely jealous," said Nayra El Sheikh, 28, a blogger and Sharkawy's wife. "I can't help but think: Why not us? What do they have that we don't have? Do they have more guts?"

The frustration comes against a backdrop of deep-rooted skepticism among pro-democracy activists that U.S. policies under President Obama will help transform the region, despite his vow to engage the Muslim world in a highly publicized speech here last month. Some view Obama's response to Iran's protests, muted until Tuesday, as a harbinger of U.S. attitudes toward their own efforts to reform their political systems. The Egyptian government, they note, is a key American ally, and U.S. pressure on Egypt for reforms began subsiding in the last years of the Bush administration.

"When Obama does not take a stance, the very next day these oppressive regimes will regard this as a signal. This is a test for his government," said Ayman Nour, a noted Egyptian opposition politician who was recently released from jail. "If they can turn a blind eye to their enemy, they can turn a blind eye to any action here in Egypt."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:58 AM


When Radar Gun Hits 100 M.P.H., There’s More Than Meets the Eye (GREG BISHOP, 6/21/09, NY Times)

How can Johnson, the towering lefty with the intimidating scowl, and Lincecum, the marvel of motion who has been mistaken for a batboy, accomplish the same feat in such different ways?

“It’s similar to how a Corvette and a Porsche look so different and drive so fast,” said Rick Peterson, the biomechanics expert and former pitching coach for the Oakland Athletics and the Mets. “Under the hood there are so many similarities.”

The differences are easier to spot. Johnson, 45, rises like a smokestack from the pitching mound, and he throws with a lower, almost sidearm arm angle, longer arm action and fewer moving body parts than Lincecum.

Lincecum, 25, learned his mechanics from his father, Chris, who works at Boeing and doubles as a pitching guru. His power comes from constant and harmonious motion, from his old-fashioned windup to a Luis Tiant-like body turn, then uncoiling into an unusually long stride. Lincecum likes to say that he uses every body part from his ankles to his ears.

“Short righty and supertall lefty,” the 5-foot-11 Lincecum said in Washington this month. “With our deliveries, that’s about as opposite as you can get.”

The similarities lie beneath the surface, rooted in biomechanics — the physics of fastballs, if you will.

A lifelong philosopher of pitching, Chris Lincecum has a frame similar to his son’s and still hit 88 m.p.h. on a radar gun when he was in his 50s. In his son, as well as in the 6-10 Johnson, he sees the same creation of leverage, the same generation of power from the ground up.

“The key is the arm twisting and turning on the same plane as your shoulders,” Chris Lincecum said. “The lower body controls the upper body, and energy transfers at the hinges, the ankles, knees, hips and trunk. It all has to be in sequence. They both whip the ball. Randy does it differently, but they’re whipping it.”

Scientists call this kinetic change. Coaches call it coordination. Either way, pitchers are transferring energy from larger muscles to smaller ones.

Rotational speed is crucial for velocity. Peterson compared a pitcher’s body rotation to that of an upside-down tornado, with the upper body rotating twice as fast as the hips, and the shoulder rotating so quickly that a physicist once told him that if the human body rotated at that speed, it would be deadly.

“Ever wonder why Indy 500 cars go faster than the Nascar cars?” Peterson said. “Because their tires rotate faster. Size doesn’t necessarily transfer to speed.”

The ideal motion works like a whip. The larger part — the legs and the trunk — moves more slowly but generates more power. The smaller part — the hand — moves at much higher speed, with pitchers turning into Indiana Jones and whipping, more than throwing, the ball toward the plate.

Johnson’s motion is more vertical; Lincecum’s more horizontal. But both are built long and lean and with fast-twitch muscles, like the Greek gods that Chris Lincecum remembers from old movies.

In fact, Kyle Boddy, a pitching instructor who runs the Web site Driveline Mechanics, said that if he took an image of Lincecum’s motion, he could bend it until it provided a “mirror image” of Johnson’s motion at the point of delivery.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:55 AM


China’s predicament: Getting old before getting rich (The Economist, 6/25/09)

There will be a lot more need for institutional care for elderly people in future, says Du Peng, director of the Institute of Gerontology at Beijing’s Renmin University. For the past three decades China has been operating a strict population-control policy, so there are now far fewer young people around to take care of the elderly. This state of affairs is usually referred to by the nifty formula “4-2-1”, meaning that the typical only child today will have two parents and four grandparents to look after—a bit of an exaggeration, but not that far off.

It has also become harder for families to live together because people move around a lot more than they used to. An estimated 150m migrant workers have left their rural homes for jobs in the big cities, though many of them might return home eventually. Most importantly, because of the low birth rate and rising life expectancy, the number of over-60s is expected to go up very rapidly, from about 166m now to 342m in only 20 years’ time. All this means, says Mr Du, that many more older folk will be living in institutions.

China is still a relatively young country, with a median age of around 30. But, uniquely among developing countries, it is ageing extraordinarily fast, so by 2050 its median age will have risen to about 45. Over the next few decades the ratio of elderly dependants to people of working age will rise steeply, from 10% now to 40% by 2050. From about 2030 the country will have more elderly dependants than children (see chart 8), whereas in most other developing countries the opposite will remain true for the next few decades. China’s pattern of ageing is very similar to that in Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan. The difference is that in China this is happening at a time when the country is still relatively poor.

The man who lays claim to having invented the phrase “getting old before getting rich”, in the early 1980s, is Wu Cangping, an academic at the Population and Development Research Centre at Renmin University. At that time population ageing was receiving little attention, and he wanted to shock the government into preparing for it.

Recovery In China? Not So Fast: Instead of a turnaround, accelerating decline. (Gordon G. Chang , 06.26.09, Forbes)
For one thing, Beijing is funneling state cash to state businesses, and state financial institutions are diverting credit to state-sponsored infrastructure. China enjoyed average annual growth of almost 10% for three decades due to the development of the private sector, but now the government is renationalizing the economy with state cash. As the state sector--composed of monopolistic, inefficient and value-destroying enterprises--crowds out scrappy private businesses from the marketplace, the productive power of the economy will surely erode.

Second, state banks are blowing up their balance sheets as they shovel money out the door at Beijing's direction. In the first five months of this year, they lent 5.8 trillion yuan, exceeding their full-year quota of 5 trillion. Obviously, these institutions cannot keep up this pace. Not surprisingly, this government-directed lending is resulting in loans going to "beauty-show projects" and other unviable investments. Chinese banking authorities may say they are monitoring loan quality, but there is nothing they can do because the Politburo is calling the tune and goosing the economy. Unfortunately, China's banks are headed for another bad-loan crisis.

Third, the central government is borrowing far more than it contemplated just a few months ago. The World Bank predicts that this year China's budget deficit will be 4.9% of GDP, far in excess of the 3.0% forecast by Beijing, which just happens to be the internationally recognized safety limit. Yet we cannot rely on these ratios because China both exaggerates its GDP and hides tens of billions of dollars of military expenditures. Beijing will eventually have to end its fiscal stimulus program because it will not be able to pay for it as government revenues tumble, as they have been doing the first five months of this year. And please note: Foreign exchange reserves cannot, as a practical matter, be used to create domestic-currency growth.

Fourth, China's stimulus program is resulting in the building of new factories. Yet the Chinese people cannot absorb all that the country produces at this time, and so they will not be able to buy the resulting output of the new mills, mines and facilities. This puts additional pressure on China to increase its exports, but that is not possible in a world of collapsing demand, both in developed and developing nations. Beijing's stimulus program is only postponing the day of reckoning, and therefore ensuring that the inevitable adjustment will ultimately be worse for China.

So, as big as all of Beijing's spending programs are--they could end up being about 18% of GDP and the largest in the world on a percentage basis--they are not enough to stop the country's accelerating decline for more than a few quarters. China was once in a supercycle upward. Now it has turned a corner and is in a supercycle in the other direction. At some point, this will become evident, even to the World Bank.

Into the unknown: The world has never seen population ageing before. Can it cope? (The Economist, 6/25/09)

Younger people today mostly accept that they will have to work for longer and that their pensions will be less generous. Employers still need to be persuaded that older workers are worth holding on to. That may be because they have had plenty of younger ones to choose from, partly thanks to the post-war baby-boom and partly because over the past few decades many more women have entered the labour force, increasing employers’ choice. But the reservoir of women able and willing to take up paid work is running low and the baby-boomers are going grey.

In many countries immigrants have been filling such gaps in the labour force as have already emerged (and remember that the real crunch is still around ten years off). Immigration in the developed world is the highest it has ever been, and it is making a useful difference. In still-fertile America it currently accounts for about 40% of total population growth, and in fast-ageing western Europe for about 90%.

On the face of it, it seems the perfect solution. Many developing countries have lots of young people in need of jobs; many rich countries need helping hands that will boost tax revenues and keep up economic growth. But over the next few decades labour forces in rich countries are set to shrink so much that inflows of immigrants would have to increase enormously to compensate: to at least twice their current size in western Europe’s most youthful countries, and three times in the older ones. Japan would need a large multiple of the few immigrants it has at present. Public opinion polls show that people in most rich countries already think that immigration is too high. Further big increases would be politically unfeasible.

To tackle the problem of ageing populations at its root, “old” countries would have to rejuvenate themselves by having more of their own children. A number of them have tried, some more successfully than others. But it is not a simple matter of offering financial incentives or providing more child care. Modern urban life in rich countries is not well adapted to large families. Women find it hard to combine family and career. They often compromise by having just one child.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:51 AM


Barack Obama Is a Big Fat Liar: Obama spent $44 million attacking McCain for an idea that Obama no longer opposes. (Jim Geraghty, 6/27/09, National Review)

Ever since Barack Obama declared his candidacy for president, it’s been easy — and great fun — to spotlight when his promises and statements come with “expiration dates.” The list is long: Public financing. Renegotiating NAFTA. His promise to support a filibuster of any bill that includes retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies. His inability to disown Rev. Jeremiah Wright. The release of detainee photos. Denouncing Turkey for genocide.

Flip-flops are nothing new in politics, but every once in a while, a president breaks a promise or an important pledge on such an epic level that it defines him, at least in part: “Read my lips: No new taxes.” “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” “We did not — repeat — did not trade weapons or anything else for hostages — nor will we.” Even “I will never lie to you.”

Barack Obama’s sudden about-face on taxing employer-provided health insurance deserves to rank among these classics. Not because it’s as laughable as Bill Clinton’s, or as emphatic as George H. W. Bush’s, but because it takes a certain moral venality to casually adopt, as president, a position that was a dominant theme of your argument for why your opponent should not be president.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:48 AM


Witnesses: Waters shoves Obey on House floor (GLENN THRUSH, 6/26/09, Politico)

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Dave Obey (D-Wis.) and Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) engaged in a late-afternoon shouting match on the House floor after Obey reportedly rebuffed Waters on an earmark request, aides and witnesses said.

Witnesses, speaking on condition of anonymity, said it appeared that Waters pushed or shoved Obey.

The pair were seen shouting at each other and had to be separated by members — who were crowded on the floor casting final votes before heading off to a party at the White House.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:34 AM


No Choice but Democracy (Michael Gerson, June 26, 2009, Washington Post)

Some American conservatives found Burkean lessons in the fading freedom agenda, asserting that democracy is a fragile flower that grows only in a rich cultural soil tended by Jeffersons and Hamiltons. Many liberals seemed relieved that President Bush didn't seem right after all, though this involved global setbacks for political liberalism. It may seem strange that anyone should feel a thrill of vindication when the ideals of their nation appear to falter. But let us judge not, that we be not judged.

Now spring is returning. January's local elections in Iraq favored secular nationalists instead of clerical parties. In Lebanon, Hezbollah was defeated in an open and vigorous vote. Kuwaiti women have been elected to parliament for the first time. And in Iran, brave women and men have demonstrated that democracy, not just nihilism, counts martyrs in the Muslim world.

If one lesson stands out from these years of bipolarity, it is this: Experts will overinterpret events to confirm preexisting views. No snapshot in this complex historical process is the permanent picture. Every idealist will have his day; every realist will have his night.

But while the development of democracy in the Middle East is not linear, it is also not random.

Pardon our whiggishness but, then why does it form a line?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 AM


Eckersley's delivery a real hit (Chad Finn, June 26, 2009, Boston Globe)

As his comfort level has grown during his seven weeks since sliding over from his usual gig as a studio analyst, the better he has become. With his energy, candor, self-effacing humor, and easy rapport with play-by-play voice Don Orsillo, he has been a revelation.

He hasn’t replaced Remy in the hearts of Red Sox fans, and partially out of deference to the man whose spot he is filling, Eckersley laughs off the suggestion that a three-man booth would be a treat for NESN viewers. But he has earned his own legion of admirers, and it’s hard to imagine that anyone who appreciates insightful baseball analysis wouldn’t enjoy the perspective the 54-year-old Eckersley brings.

Having endured his share of valleys during his playing career, he can relate to successes and hardships on the field. His I’ve-been-in-his-spikes monologue as 20-year-old Detroit pitcher Rick Porcello melted down against the Sox earlier this season was downright compelling.

Yet he also has an uncanny knack for echoing a fan’s feelings as a moment unfolds. On more than one occasion, with barely contained exasperation, he has implored the maddening Daisuke Matsuzaka to pitch aggressively.

“When I was in the studio talking about whatever big thing happened in the game, I always tried to have the same reaction as if it just happened,’’ said Eckersley. “I gave my honest feelings. I don’t sugar-coat it. But when I’m in the booth, it really is instant, you know? It’s right there in front of you, and you’re getting my immediate reaction.

“Sometimes that leads to mistakes - and I’ve made them,’’ laughed Eckersley, whose four-letter slip of the tongue earlier this season might have briefly elevated NESN’s telecast to a PG-13 rating.

Accidental expletives aside, sometimes Eckersley does fall into a lingo all his own, most often by repeatedly referring to a fastball as “cheese.’’ But that’s the thing - it is all his own, and if it’s shtick, it’s the same shtick he’s used since he arrived in the major leagues in 1975 as a cocky 20-year-old fireballer for the Cleveland Indians.

This is, after all, the man who coined the term “walk-off’’ for a game-ending homer, someone who was paid homage by Peter Gammons in the 1986 classic “Beyond the Sixth Game’’ with a glossary of “Dial-Eck.’’

It is not an act, his own one-man show.

“I’m just who I am,’’ he said.

...because Don Orsillo lives in near terror of what Eck might say next--he's the most honest color commentator ever.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:27 AM


Massage benefits may be a myth: Athletes use post-exercise rubdowns to boost recovery but the gains could be all in the mind. (MiNDFOOD, Jun 23, 2009)

In a recent study by the American College of Sports Medicine’s, researchers claimed to have blown the myth that massage speeds up recovery from exercise. Professor Michael Tschavovsky of the health studies department at Queens University in Ontario, Canada, says that while most massage therapists believe that their work boosts circulation to the muscles and reduces fatigue, no study before his had tested the validity of this theory.

Tschavovsky asked 12 healthy male subjects to perform isometric hand-grip exercises for two minutes at a time while he and his team measured blood flow and lactic acid build-up every 30 seconds and for ten minutes after the exercise had finished. They also took the same measurements during rest, when the subjects had massage and during “active recovery” such as gentle jogging, walking or stretching. What they found was that massage did not increase — but decreased — blood flow to the muscles and hindered rather than improved the removal of lactic acid and other waste materials by as much as 25 per cent compared to “active recovery”.

“Anyone who believes that lactic acid symptoms are relieved by massage is wrong because the alleviation of discomfort is not due to waste products being flushed out after exercise,” Tschavovsky says. So does this mean that post-workout massage is a waste of time? Tschavovsky thinks not. He is a fan himself and admits to having massage to help his legs to recover after football tournaments. But he says that the benefits could all be in the mind. “It feels good, that’s the truth of it,” he says. “A lot of sports performance is psychologically based so if you feel you are in a better situation to train with massage then, yes, it probably does have the ability to improve your performance.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:11 AM


Mir-Hossein Mousavi slams Iran's leaders: Opposition leader Mousavi speaks out after days of quiet, blasting the supreme leader and state-controlled media. He pledges to continue his campaign to have Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's reelection annulled. (Borzou Daragahi, June 26, 2009, LA Times)

In his statement, Mir-Hossein Mousavi issued a rare attack on supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, accusing him of not acting in the interests of the country, and said Iran had suffered a dramatic change for the worse.

Mousavi's forceful remarks appeared to show that the former prime minister is willing to risk his standing as a pillar of the Islamic Republic to take on Iran's powerful leadership. And they seemed aimed at securing his position at the head of a broad movement seeking change.

He also slammed state-controlled broadcasters, which have intensified a media blitz against him and his supporters with allegations that unrest over the June 12 election was instigated by Iran's international foes. And he pledged to pursue his quest to have President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's reelection annulled.

"I am not only prepared to respond to all these allegations but am ready to show how election fraudsters joined those who are truly behind the recent riots and shed the blood of people," he said in comments that appeared on his website and were distributed to supporters via e-mail. "I am not prepared to give up under the pressure of threats or personal interest."

June 25, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:16 PM


How the USA tamed Spain (Chris Hatherall, June 25. 2009, The National)

The USA’s remarkable victory over Spain in the semi-finals of the Confederations Cup has not only sparked celebrations in the American camp but seen international managers all over the world clamour to analyse the tactical template used by coach Bob Bradley. [...]

The prospect of the world’s great coaches queuing at his door for advice will probably amuse Bradley, who faced accusations of tactical ineptitude – and calls for him to quit – following his team’s group stage defeats against Italy and Brazil.

System? The only striker in the world with comparable size and strength to Altidore is John Carew, while Onyewu and Demerit just played the most imposing 180 minutes of any central defense going. A coach who understood how to use that physical advantage---a Tony Pulis--would go a long way with this squad. Bradley doesn't even know how to provide Altidore with the ball.

The one thing he did have sort of right by the end of the game was our formation:

4 defenders (Spector/Demerit/Onyewu/Bocanegra or whoever for the 4th)

2 defensive midfielders (Clark/Bradley)

2 offensive midfielders (Donovan/Feilhaber)

2 forwards (Altidore/Dempsey)


Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:00 PM


Officials: US bolsters Somalia aid to foil rebels (PAULINE JELINEK and LOLITA C. BALDOR, 6/25/09, AP)

The Obama administration has decided to bolster efforts to support Somalia's embattled government by providing money for weapons and helping the military in neighboring Djibouti train Somali forces, U.S. officials said Thursday.

The goal is to stem Islamic insurgent advances in the Horn of Africa, but the plan would commit the U.S. to a greater embrace of a shaky government atop one of the world's most chaotic states.

An administration review of U.S. policy toward Somalia found an urgent need to supply the Somali government with ammunition and weapons as it struggles to confront increasingly powerful Islamic militants.

Having foolishly toppled the Courts we now have to not just restore them but prop them up.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:51 PM


Beauty and Desecration: We must rescue art from the modern intoxication with ugliness. (Roger Scruton, Spring 2009, City Journal)

At any time between 1750 and 1930, if you had asked an educated person to describe the goal of poetry, art, or music, “beauty” would have been the answer. And if you had asked what the point of that was, you would have learned that beauty is a value, as important in its way as truth and goodness, and indeed hardly distinguishable from them. Philosophers of the Enlightenment saw beauty as a way in which lasting moral and spiritual values acquire sensuous form. And no Romantic painter, musician, or writer would have denied that beauty was the final purpose of his art.

At some time during the aftermath of modernism, beauty ceased to receive those tributes. Art increasingly aimed to disturb, subvert, or transgress moral certainties, and it was not beauty but originality—however achieved and at whatever moral cost—that won the prizes. Indeed, there arose a widespread suspicion of beauty as next in line to kitsch—something too sweet and inoffensive for the serious modern artist to pursue. In a seminal essay—“Avant-Garde and Kitsch,” published in Partisan Review in 1939—critic Clement Greenberg starkly contrasted the avant-garde of his day with the figurative painting that competed with it, dismissing the latter (not just Norman Rockwell, but greats like Edward Hopper) as derivative and without lasting significance. The avant-garde, for Greenberg, promoted the disturbing and the provocative over the soothing and the decorative, and that was why we should admire it.

The value of abstract art, Greenberg claimed, lay not in beauty but in expression. This emphasis on expression was a legacy of the Romantic movement; but now it was joined by the conviction that the artist is outside bourgeois society, defined in opposition to it, so that artistic self-expression is at the same time a transgression of ordinary moral norms. We find this posture overtly adopted in the art of Austria and Germany between the wars—for example, in the paintings and drawings of Georg Grosz, in Alban Berg’s opera Lulu (a loving portrait of a woman whose only discernible goal is moral chaos), and in the seedy novels of Heinrich Mann. And the cult of transgression is a leading theme of the postwar literature of France—from the writings of Georges Bataille, Jean Genet, and Jean-Paul Sartre to the bleak emptiness of the nouveau roman.

Of course, there were great artists who tried to rescue beauty from the perceived disruption of modern society—as T. S. Eliot tried to recompose, in Four Quartets, the fragments he had grieved over in The Waste Land. And there were others, particularly in America, who refused to see the sordid and the transgressive as the truth of the modern world. For artists like Hopper, Samuel Barber, and Wallace Stevens, ostentatious transgression was mere sentimentality, a cheap way to stimulate an audience, and a betrayal of the sacred task of art, which is to magnify life as it is and to reveal its beauty—as Stevens reveals the beauty of “An Ordinary Evening in New Haven” and Barber that of Knoxville: Summer of 1915. But somehow those great life-affirmers lost their position at the forefront of modern culture. So far as the critics and the wider culture were concerned, the pursuit of beauty was at the margins of the artistic enterprise. Qualities like disruptiveness and immorality, which previously signified aesthetic failure, became marks of success; while the pursuit of beauty became a retreat from the real task of artistic creation. This process has been so normalized as to become a critical orthodoxy, prompting the philosopher Arthur Danto to argue recently that beauty is both deceptive as a goal and in some way antipathetic to the mission of modern art.

Beauty lies in the representation of Creation, so of course the intellectuals despise it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:49 PM


Why the turbans are at odds: A debate rages about the nature of clerical rule (The Economist, 6/25/09)

THE Koran is the word of God, which every Muslim must follow, but its commands can be hard to interpret. So people should submit to the rule of a properly trained religious scholar. The idea is a simple one, and the father figure of Iran’s revolution of 1979, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, made it the central principle of his Islamic state.

But the notion of velayat-e faqih (guardianship of the jurist) has proved to be controversial as a religious doctrine and tricky in practice. The turbulence now sweeping Iran has many causes, among them a simple urge for freedom. Yet the tensions, inconsistencies and hypocrisies generated by trying to impose velayat-e faqih lie at the heart of its troubles.

Divisions among top Shia scholars are nothing new. In the main seminary towns of Najaf in Iraq and Qom in Iran, followers of competing ayatollahs have frequently clashed, sometimes with fists. One recurring split has pitted scholars who believe they should stay outside politics against those who believe they must engage in it. Ayatollah Khomeini pushed this argument to a new level. His revolutionary constitution created the post of supreme leader, placing an unelected senior scholar in overall command of the country.

Many of his fellow ayatollahs saw this as an “innovation”, a bad word in Muslim jurisprudence, signifying an unsubstantiated departure from Islam’s founding texts. Some feared that immersion in worldly affairs would taint clerics and end by repelling believers from the faith. Others argued that democracy was a better way to divine God’s will, or that a committee of scholars, rather than a single man, would suit the leadership function better. Ali al-Sistani, a Najaf-based ayatollah who is probably the most widely revered scholar among the world’s Shias today, has stated that in order to be legitimate such a ruler should win acceptance from a majority of believers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:45 PM


Stetter's strikeout feat has Elias guessing: Bureau unsure how lefty's 14-out streak ranks historically (Cash Kruth, 6/25/09, MLB.com)

Mitch Stetter has stumped the Elias Sports Bureau.

The Brewers reliever went into Wednesday night's game against Minnesota at Miller Park having recorded his last 11 outs via strikeout. Stetter had already broken the franchise record of 10 (set by Ben Sheets in 2008), and he added to his total by striking out the side in the seventh inning of the Brewers' 4-3 win over the Twins on Wednesday.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:41 PM


Gladiator: A conversation with historian Barry Strauss, author of a new book on Spartacus. (Interview by Donald A. Yerxa, June 25, 2009, Books & Culture)

Who was the "real" Spartacus, and how does he compare to Kirk Douglas' character in Kubrick's 1960 film?

Perhaps the most surprising thing is that the Kubrick film isn't complete fiction. The truth is that Spartacus really was a slave and a gladiator in Capua, Italy, and he really did lead a revolt. As the movie shows, it started in the kitchen of the gladiatorial barracks with the men using basic kitchen utensils to fight the guards and break out. And it's even true that Spartacus had a ladylove as he did in the movie, though the real woman was quite different. But there are some significant differences as well. The movie Spartacus was born a slave and was the son and grandson of slaves, but the real Spartacus was born free. He came from Thrace, roughly equivalent with today's Bulgaria. And far from being a lifelong opponent of Rome, he started out as an allied soldier in the Roman army. He fought for Rome. His fate, ending up as a slave and gladiator, was quite unexpected and quite unjust. The Romans themselves admitted that Spartacus was forced to become a gladiator even though he was innocent.

So what went wrong? We don't precisely know, though the sources allow us to make several suggestions. I think the most likely explanation is that Spartacus, while on campaign with the Romans, campaigned against other Thracians. Spartacus was taken prisoner, and as often happens to prisoners of war, he was sold back to the Romans as a slave. Now he might have expected that the Romans would intervene to ransom him. And he certainly had every right to expect the Romans not to buy him as a slave themselves. So if that is in fact what happened, Spartacus had a justified sense of outrage at how he had been mistreated.

The other huge difference between the movie and what actually happened is more subtle. The movie depicts Spartacus as someone who was against slavery philosophically and who wanted to create a world in which slavery wouldn't exist. But we simply can't say that was true of the real Spartacus. We have very little evidence that there were people in antiquity who were opposed to slavery outright. There is very little evidence of an ancient abolitionist movement and no evidence that abolition was Spartacus' motive. In fact, the closest we come to understanding his motive from the sources, which are sadly lacking, is that he wanted to take the army he raised out of Italy back to his native land of Thrace.

It was just a rather humane way to assimilate defeated peoples instead of kill them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:38 PM


A Deal To Save Iran?: The Daily Beast’s Reza Aslan reports that Iran’s clerics may be close to forcing a compromise from the Supreme Leader—one that would entail a run-off election between Mousavi and Ahmadinejad. (Reza Aslan, 6/25/09, Daily Beast)

Reliable sources in Iran are suggesting that a possible compromise to put an end to the violent uprising that has rocked Iran for the past two weeks may be in the works. I have previously reported that the second most powerful man in Iran, Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani, the head of the Assembly of Experts (the body with the power to choose and dismiss the Supreme Leader) is in the city of Qom—the country’s religious center—trying to rally enough votes from his fellow Assembly members to remove the current Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei from power. News out of Iran suggests that he may be succeeding. At the very least, it seems he may have gained enough support from the clerical establishment to force a compromise from Khamenei, one that would entail a run-off election between Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his main reformist rival Mir Hossein Mousavi.

Reports of the possible compromise, though unconfirmed, are coming from multiple sources. Considering the Guardian Council’s tacit admission that there were indeed some voting irregularities (at least 50 cities in Iran reported more than 100% voter turnout—some as much as 140%), as well as the refusal of many senior members of Iran’s parliament, including the powerful speaker Ali Larijani, a close ally of Khamenei, to accept the election results (Ahmadinejad’s presidential victory party last night drew less than a third of Parliament’s members, with Larijani a conspicuous no-show), there is reason to believe that the regime may be willing to accept some kind of compromise.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:31 AM


Sowing the field of dreams: In Cary and Durham, USA Baseball develops the next generation of players (Mike Potter, 6/24/09, Independent Weekly)

USA Baseball, which was made the official national governing body of the sport by the Amateur Sports Act of 1978, fields the only baseball teams officially representing the country in any competition. There are five levels of men's teams and one of women's, which plays baseball and not softball. "We're the sole organization in our sport that when 'USA' is on the jersey has the authority to select and train teams," said USA Baseball CEO Paul Seiler at his DBAP office. The organization has an annual operating budget of about $3 million, with sponsors such as Major League Baseball, the card company Upper Deck and equipment manufacturers Rawlings, New Era and Nike.

"When we win a game, we win it for our country," Seiler said. "Our goal is to develop a pool of players at the major league level who have USA Baseball experience."

And, he hopes, to resume play in the Olympics. The sport was dropped from the Games for 2012, and it needs a positive vote at a meeting of the International Olympic Committee in Copenhagen in October to be added back to the program for 2016.

Meanwhile, the area will be busy with USA Baseball this summer. The national team, comprised of collegians whose eligibility hasn't expired, plays the most games. It formerly represented the country in the Olympics before pros began playing in 2000.

This national team's 2009 tryout group originally consisted of over 40 players including Elon's rising junior pitcher and Charlotte native Tom Girdwood, along with half a dozen from the ACC—Virginia's rising sophomore left-handed pitcher/first baseman Danny Hultzen and junior outfielder Jarrett Parker, Florida State's junior outfielder Tyler Holt and right-handed pitcher/outfielder Mike McGee, Miami's junior catcher Yasmani Grandal and Clemson's junior southpaw Casey Harman.

With a 22-man final roster, that team is aimed at the 37th USA versus Japan Collegiate All-Star Championship—a five-game series that the home team almost always wins—and the World Baseball Challenge in British Columbia, both in late July.

Most of its "friendlies" will be played locally, with five games against Canada in Cary or Durham from June 25-29 and three more against Guatemala from July 2-4.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:24 AM


The Placebo Effect (Harriet Hall, 5/20/09, MD, Skeptic)

In a study of pain after dental surgery, patients were given either intravenous morphine or a saline placebo. If they were told that the saline was a powerful new painkiller, they got just as much relief as the patients who received morphine. In another study, all patients were given morphine for post-op pain, but only half were told they were getting it. The patients who didn’t know they were getting it only experienced half as much pain relief. In a study of acupuncture for post-op dental pain, there was no difference between the “real” acupuncture and placebo “sham” acupuncture groups, but when they asked patients which group they thought they were in, they discovered that those who believed they were in the “real” group reported significantly more pain relief than those who believed they were in the “sham” group — regardless of which group they were actually in!

We not only know placebos “work,” we know there is a hierarchy of effectiveness:

* Placebo surgery works better than placebo injections
* Placebo injections work better than placebo pills
* Sham acupuncture treatment works better than a placebo pill
* Capsules work better than tablets
* Big pills work better than small
* The more doses a day, the better
* The more expensive, the better
* The color of the pill makes a difference
* Telling the patient, “This will relieve your pain” works better than saying “This might help.”

In one study patients were given the same aspirin in either a brand name bottle or an unlabelled bottle; it worked better if it was labeled as a brand they recognized. Our pharmacy used to stock two different brands of allergy pills that were made in the same factory and were identical except that one was green and the other was blue. When a patient said it wasn’t working any more, we’d switch him to the other brand and it would start working again.

Along with placebo effects, there are nocebo (“I harm”) effects. People getting inert treatments often report new symptoms. A friend of mine stopped taking her homeopathic sleep remedy because she thought it was causing side effects. (Homeopathy is the ultimate placebo because its remedies usually contain nothing but water.) In the Women’s Health Initiative study of postmenopausal hormone treatment, when the treatment was stopped, 63% of the women taking hormones reported withdrawal symptoms, but so did 40% of the women taking a placebo. If we tell patients a treatment may cause nausea, they are far more likely to report nausea than if we don’t mention that possibility.

The placebo effect is mainly subjective. Placebos don’t work on patients who are asleep or unconscious. You have to know you’re being treated. Placebos don’t keep women from getting pregnant. They don’t cure cancer, heal broken bones, or do anything you can measure objectively. They work for more elusive complaints like headache, depression, itching, shortness of breath, tension, indigestion, and other symptoms that require us to accept the patient’s self-report of what he is experiencing.

Hygiene, nutrition and inoculations--the rest is bunk.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:18 AM


Spotted Owls Face Genetic Bottleneck (Emily Sohn, 6/25/09, Discovery News)

[T]he owl's numbers have been dropping by 3 to 4 percent each year. One reason is competition with the barred owl, whose range has been expanding. Habitat loss remains a problem, too. Funk and colleagues suspected that genetic bottlenecking might also add to the owl's woes.

For their study, the researchers scanned DNA from more than 350 northern spotted owls across the animal’s range. Then, they ran a bottleneck test, which looks for the loss of certain rare gene-forms, or alleles. When a population shrinks, chances rise that uncommon alleles will disappear.

Analyses, published in the journal Conservation Genetics, showed signs that populations of northern spotted owls had indeed shrunk, especially in the Cascade Mountains of Washington -- the same region where field studies have shown the sharpest population declines.

The loss of genetic diversity is an added blow to the loss of individual birds. Once they're gone, gene forms don't always come back.

"We knew from census data that there was a problem," Fleischer said. "We didn't know it was something that we would see in genetic variation at this stage."

One of the spotted owls greatest challenges is that since they aren't actually a species they just breed with the barred owls.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:14 AM


Bit by Careful Bit, Obama Toughens Stance on Iran (HELENE COOPER, 6/25/09, NY Times)

In his first public comments in the aftermath of Iran’s elections, President Obama pledged early last week to “continue to pursue a tough, direct dialogue” between the United States and the Iranian government.

Fast-forward eight days, hundreds of thousands of Iranian protesters, a vicious crackdown and one haunting videotaped death of a 26-year-old Iranian woman. At a White House news conference on Tuesday, Mr. Obama was unsparing in his criticism of the Iranian government’s handling of the post-election demonstrations. Pressed by a reporter about whether he would still try to engage Iranian officials, Mr. Obama sounded a little less emphatic and a lot less certain.

...to have a president who becomes less certain as events unfold?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:06 AM


In ’98, Hints From Sotomayor on Death Penalty (BENJAMIN WEISER, 6/25/09, NY Times)

The 1998 case, the only death penalty matter she appears to have handled on the federal bench, offers some answers. Transcripts provide a revealing look at the judge, acting as an official arbiter on an issue she once addressed strongly — and weighing the lives of two men.

The case record shows she was curious enough about the defense arguments that she ordered prosecutors to produce data on the race of defendants considered for the death penalty. But it also shows she was tough on defense lawyers, repeatedly challenging their claims that minority defendants were disproportionately singled out.

She even rejected the same kind of statistical argument against capital punishment that she had made years earlier as a lawyer, saying it was not sufficient to prove discrimination.

“We gave her enough ammunition that she could have struck down the death penalty,” recalled David A. Ruhnke, a defense lawyer in the case. “Whether it would have stood up in the U.S. Supreme Court, who knows? But we gave her enough room to do it — had she wanted to reach out and do it — and she didn’t.”

In the end, Judge Sotomayor never ruled on the merits of the death penalty, even though her remarks made clear that she was unlikely to find it unconstitutional. Some two years into the case, she was elevated to the federal appellate bench in New York, and the case was handed to another judge, who declined to strike down the law. Both defendants pleaded guilty and avoided execution.

But Judge Sotomayor conducted three lively pretrial hearings that explored the death penalty. In more than 100 pages of transcripts, she emerges as deeply engaged, vocal and demanding, scrutinizing both sides and sometimes floating provocative ideas.

At one point, pressed by defense lawyers to resolve the death penalty’s inequities, she advised them to be careful what they wished for.

“As my law clerk said to me the other day, what is the remedy? Should we just have more people sentenced to capital punishment? That’s as effective a remedy as having fewer people sentenced to capital punishment if we find that we need to remedy some overall societal inequity.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:02 AM


Ahmadinejad compares Obama to Bush (Reuters, 6/25/09)

Obama said on Tuesday he was "appalled and outraged" by a post-election crackdown and Washington withdrew invitations to Iranian diplomats to attend U.S. Independence Day celebrations on July 4 -- stalling efforts to improve ties with Tehran.

"Mr Obama made a mistake to say those things ... our question is why he fell into this trap and said things that previously (former U.S. President George W.) Bush used to say," the semi-official Fars News Agency quoted Ahmadinejad as saying.

Pity the poor pragmatists....they so badly want "stability" but Americans recognize our mission in the world.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:43 AM


Now No One Plays for Keeps (DAN ACKMAN, 6/25/09, WSJ)

The first national marbles tournament was born out of a fight for bragging rights. Charles "Buster" Rech, of Jersey City, N.J., declared himself world champ after winning an all-city contest. Buster and Jersey City were then challenged by winners of tournaments in Washington, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Newark and New York. Big-city mayors promoted an intercity tournament in 1922, after which Baltimore's Frank McQuade Jr. was declared the first national champion, according to a history of the game written by Stan Flewelling for the National Marble Museum in West Virginia.

The following year, the Scripps-Howard newspaper chain decided to sponsor a truly national tournament. Rules were standardized; the official game was Ringer, in which 13 marbles are arranged in an 'X' inside a 10-foot circle -- the first player to knock seven marbles out of the ring would win. That tournament, open to kids under 14 (today the minimum age is 8), was held in Atlantic City -- up the beach from where it is held today, and the same town where the Miss America pageant was born a year earlier.

The inaugural contest was between 40 city champs from as far away as Los Angeles and San Francisco. Harlin McCoy of Columbus, Ohio, took the title, and a crowd of 10,000 hailed his homecoming. The tournament grew from there: By 1926, Mr. Flewelling writes, three million kids played in local contests that fed into the national championship. Interest remained strong for a generation.

During this time the sharp-eyed mibster became an icon of American youth: tough and independent, but also a bit of a hustler. Playing for keeps on sidewalks, on dirt and in back alleys was, after all, a form of gambling, not an activity sanctioned by national committees.

The game and the tournament started a long decline in the mid-1950s, with television the main culprit. Lately, participation has been diverted further by video games and all manner of organized sports. But marbles' popularity persists in such pockets as Pittsburgh, Clay County, Tenn. and Mesa County, Colo.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:32 AM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:22 AM


Iran's Struggle, and Ours: How a Movement Could Transform the Region (Robert D. Kaplan, June 24, 2009 , Washington Post)

The Iran of the ayatollahs was never a one-dimensional tyranny such as Saddam Hussein's Iraq; it is a complex system with an elected parliament and chief executive. Likewise, Iran's democracy movement is strikingly Western in its organizational discipline and its urbane use of technology. In terms of development, Iran is much closer to Turkey than to Syria or Iraq. While the latter two live with the possibility of implosion, Iran has an internal coherence that allows it to bear down hard on its neighbors. In the future, a democratic Iran could be, in a benevolent sense, as influential in Baghdad as the murder squads of a theocratic Iran have been in a malignant sense.

Iran is so central to the fate of the Middle East that even a partial shift in regime behavior -- an added degree of nuance in its approach to Iraq, Lebanon, Israel or the United States -- could dramatically affect the region. Just as a radical Iranian leader can energize the "Arab street," an Iranian reformer can energize the emerging but curiously opaque Arab bourgeoisie. This is why the depiction of presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi as but another radical, albeit with a kinder, gentler exterior than President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, completely misses the point.

As in the former Soviet Union, change in Iran can come only from the inside; only an insider, be it a Mousavi or a Mikhail Gorbachev, has the necessary bona fides to allow daylight into the system, exposing its flaws. Only a staunch supporter of the Islamic Republic such as Mousavi would have been trusted to campaign at all, even as he is now leading a democratic movement that has already undermined the Brezhnevite clerical regime. It is unfinished business of the Cold War that we have been witnessing the past few days. The Iranian struggle for democracy is now as central to our foreign policy as that for democracy in Eastern Europe in the 1980s.

It is crucial that we reflect on an original goal of regime change in Iraq. Anyone who supported the war must have known that toppling Saddam Hussein, a Sunni Arab -- whether it resulted in stable democracy, benign dictatorship or sheer chaos -- would strengthen the Shiite hand in the region.

Clash of the Clerics: Iran's ayatollahs fight over the future of the Islamic republic. (Henry Newman, June 24, 2009, Slate)
The options for change in Iran should not be understood as a choice between democratic Western-style secularism on one hand and a military dictatorship in the name of Islam on the other. There are many options on the table, and most Iranians seek evolutionary rather than revolutionary change, to paraphrase journalist Roxana Saberi. The ultimate realization of this evolutionary change will, of course, depend on the ability of the proponents of differing visions to triumph over their opponents. It should be recognized that the ideological vision of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and its implementation through the corrupt election of June 12 does not represent a continuation of the status quo but is itself a new trajectory. Ahmadinejad's supporters have labeled his power grab as revolutionary, describing his election as Iran's third revolution. (They consider the first to be that of 1979 and the hostage crisis the second.)

Ahmadinejad's vision owes a large debt to his spiritual "guide," Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah-Yazdi, who has been satirically caricatured as a crocodile in the Iranian press. The cleric is a hard-line conservative committed to a literal interpretation of the Quran and is a fierce opponent of Iran's reform movement, so much so that he allegedly issued a fatwa sanctioning cheating in the recent elections. Mesbah-Yazdi and his Haghani Circle of followers reject even the limited elements of popular sovereignty, such as presidential elections, of today's republic and demand more Islamic government. Despite the influence of the Haghani Circle on the president and within elements of the Revolutionary Guard, Mesbah-Yazdi lacks widespread accreditation from other mullahs. Senior clerics have not yet recognized him as a grand ayatollah, or marja.

An alternative vision comes from the Association of Combatant Clerics. This group, populated by many of the founding fathers of the Islamic republic and some "veterans" of the hostage crisis, now advocates a reformist vision. Mohammad Khatami, president from 1997 to 2005, is its most famous member. After Khatami withdrew from the election campaign in March, he endorsed Mir Hossein Mousavi. The association has expressed concern at the "massive engineering of votes" in the recent election and has openly called for pro-Mousavi rallies.

Other important voices have joined Ahmadinejad's critics: Grand Ayatollahs Yousef Sanei and Lotfollah Safi-Golpaygani have both cast doubt on the election results, as has Grand Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri. Montazeri, once Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's chosen successor, has been the republic's bête noire since he openly questioned Iran's human rights record in 1989 and then challenged Ali Khamenei's credentials to replace Khomeini as supreme leader. All three grand ayatollahs and their supporters have questioned the election results, and in doing so they have challenged the authority of the supreme leader.

Use Islam to End the Iranian Regime: Thirty years ago, Iranians used Islam as a catalyst to overthrow the shah. Nazee Moinian, who lived through that revolution, on how the protesters on the streets of Tehran can use religion to bring down the current leadership. (Nazee Moinian, 6/24/09, Daily Beast)
The sense of witnessing a historic transformation from a feudal and stagnant country to a modern oasis was not lost on my parents or the people of their generation who had seen harder times. Iranians were running, not walking toward modernity. The country was making great strides. With a treasury flush with funds from the oil boom of the 1970s, the shah pursued ambitious programs. Like his father, Reza Shah, the Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was determined to bring Iran into the 20th century, and was prepared to ignore all outward signs of discontent, which were slowly gaining substance and momentum.

As the pace of change quickened, the youth felt left out, the intellectuals insulted, the bazaaris and clerics threatened.

And then the riots began. Downtown Tehran became a hotbed of anti-shah demonstrations. In a show of defiance, clean-shaven, European-styled young men stopped shaving and threw off their ties. They stood on street corners handing out free cassette tapes of Imam Khomeini. They filled the streets and shouted “Death to the dictator,” imploring their “brothers and sisters” to listen to the “truth” and “denounce the lies.” They threw rocks at the police and chased them out of neighborhoods; then regrouped at night and set cars ablaze.

By the time the police finally did open fire, the revolution had begun. Overnight, posters covered the streets of Tehran in remembrance of “martyrs” whose blood was nourishing the red tulips of the revolution. Blood-red flowers were clenched by angry fists pounding the air and chanting “tulips are springing—from the grounds of our martyrs’ bleeding.”

The revolution was no longer about corruption in the government or moral callousness in the court. It was about avenging the death of those killed on the streets. It was about self-martyrdom, a victimized death, the most sacred tenet of Shia Islam. It was about Imam Hussein, whose death more than 1,000 years ago at the hands of the evil Yazid still drove pious Iranian to tears.

And thus began a cycle of systematic violence.

Iran 2.0: The world of wired dissidents will grow. (Daniel Henninger, 6/25/09, WSJ)
Technology is unavoidably a major element now in the world of geopolitics. Iran can't grow economically, can't become "normal," without letting its people use Web 2.0. The same goes for Egypt, Syria and other politically significant players. Absent liberal use of Web 2.0, they will drop faster toward failure, which in our time infers a default to acquiring nuclear capability as a crude equalizer and then striking out at the winners.

This is a puzzle. Mr. Obama should task his smarter people -- for instance at the Pentagon's Office of Net Assessment -- to find a path out of the State Department's standard model of our diplomats talking to their fake diplomats. That model made him look foolish this week. Nuance needs an upgrade. He should seek a new model that incorporates the wired dissidents not only because it is the right thing to do. But because it is unavoidable. Intelligent meddling.

Tehran the past week is not a one-off. The world of wired dissidents will grow at the same rate as communications technology. These dissidents and their overlords in Tehran and Beijing are the ones now shaping the rules and boundaries of the information-technology future -- what's allowable and what isn't.

A West led by passive leadership will find its commercial protocols written by mullahs and Chinese bureaucrats. (Though where centralizing Western governments think their interests lie in this competition between Web 2.0 and public authority is an interesting question.)

Some media has been spinning criticism of Mr. Obama's early passivity as "neoconservative opportunism." This is nonsense. The technology of Web 2.0 and beyond means no major power can hide from the forces in motion in Iran's streets today, and somewhere else tomorrow. Those who want to hide are the statist Left and the isolationist Right. This is old America. A new American foreign policy has to deal with the world as it exists. You have been watching it on screens large and small since last week.

Bet on Neda's Side (David Ignatius, June 24, 2009, Washington Post)
[O]ver the coming months and years, my money is on the followers of the martyred Neda. They have exposed the weakness of the clerical regime in a way that Iran's foreign adversaries -- America, Israel, Saudi Arabia -- never could. They have opened a fundamental split in the regime. The rulers will try to bind this wound with force, and salve it with concessions, but neither approach will make the wound heal.

We are watching the first innings of what will be a long game in Iran. President Obama has recognized that with his gradually escalating rhetoric. Yesterday, he was using powerful language to describe the "timeless dignity" of the protesters and the "heartbreaking" images of Neda. He suggested that the mullahs cannot win a war of repression against their own people. "In 2009, no iron fist is strong enough to shut off the world from bearing witness to peaceful protests," he said.

Behind Obama's cool but confident talk is a judgment that, as one senior White House official puts it, the mullahs "can't put the genie back in the bottle." The official explained: "Iran will never be the same again. You don't have to know how this will end to know that. The regime has been challenged. They are now back on their heels."

The Sounds of Silence on Iran (Mona Eltahawy, June 25, 2009, Washington Post)

What's happening in Iran is not about the United States or Israel. It's not about Ahmadinejad or Mir Hossein Mousavi. It's not even about the poor or the rich in Iran. The demonstrations are about people who feel their will and voice have been disregarded. In Egypt, it's our secular dictator, in power for almost 28 years, who disregards our will. In Iran, it's a clerical regime in power for 30 years, hiding behind God.

Dictatorship by clerics is not more acceptable because its torture and beatings are committed in the name of God.

This must be especially difficult for political Islamic organizations such as the Muslim Brotherhood, which congratulated Ahmadinejad on his "victory" and yet whose generational disagreements and divisions mirror those in Iran: A young generation of Muslim brothers and sisters has over the past few years challenged the Brotherhood's aging leadership on issues such as prohibiting female and Christian leaders.

That aging leadership gave the young Muslims the very undemocratic choice of shutting up or leaving.

How do we know? The same way we've known about much of Iran's strife -- through blogs and social networking Web sites such as Facebook and Twitter. These days, most of the noise in the Arab world is online.

Online, you will hear bloggers connecting repression in Iran and Arab countries. Egyptian blogger Wael Abbas, known for exposing police brutality on YouTube, was quick to send Twitter alerts that Iran's clerics, like the Mubarak regime, used plainclothes thugs to terrorize demonstrators. Online, you will hear young Arabs express envy over the huge Iranian demonstrations in the face of government crackdowns. Online, Arabs will expose U.S. hypocrisy and ask what happened to U.S. support for peaceful demonstrators when they were beaten and dragged off Cairo streets in 2005 and 2006.

Iran MPs boycott Ahmadinejad victory party: report (AFP, 6/25/09)
Iranian parliament speaker Ali Larijani and over 100 MPs refused to attend a victory dinner party hosted by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, newspapers reported on Thursday.

"Apart from 70 members of the (Islamic) revolution faction, which backs Ahmadinejad, only 30 other principalists (conservatives) turned up," the reformist Etemad Melli newspaper said, adding that 100 boycotted the event.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:18 AM


Game-changer: Zumaya explains pitch: Offspeed toss belted for late homer a curious decision (Jason Beck, 6/24/09, MLB.com)

Joel Zumaya wowed fans at Comerica Park with fastballs that ranged from 102 to allegedly 104 mph. He briefly broke their hearts with an 85-mph changeup.

How Zumaya's eighth-inning showdown in Tuesday's 5-4 win over the Cubs came to that point, with Micah Hoffpauir seemingly sitting on an offspeed pitch for a two-run homer to pull the Cubs ahead, was a series of calls and shake-offs that led to Zumaya getting the pitch he wanted, but paying for it.

Never get beat on your third pitch.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:45 AM


Fulham Boss Roy Hodgson Considers Bid For Jozy Altidore - Report: The American is apparently on the Cottagers' radar... (Zack Wilson, 6/24/09, Goal.com)

Fulham could be lining up a swoop for United States international striker Jozy Altidore, who has not managed to establish himself as a first-team regular in Spain with Villarreal. [...]

His frustration with life in La Liga has reportedly intensified his desire to succeed in Europe, and England would apparently appeal as a destination, according to British tabloid The Daily Mail.

As the Premier League builds an audience in the States, there's a tremendous opportunity for some side to craft a distinct appeal to Americans by signing our players and maybe developing a relationship with an MSL team. No coach in the EPL did more with less than Hodgson last year except Tony Pulis and Steve Bruce. Pulis's Stoke even plays a style that would appeal to American fans, but Hodgson already has Clint Dempsey.

American players have had trouble getting playing time in Europe because of the prejudice that we just can't be any good. But that victory yesterday ought to get some guys a second look. Altidore has some work to do on his first touch in particular, but Onyewu could start for pretty nearly every team. The most pronounced shortage in top-flight soccer is of physically-dominant, defense-minded fullbacks, which is what he is. The thing for a Fulham is that they could establish a pipeline to a player and a consumer pipeline, giving them a double win.

U.S. sends shockwaves across Europe with win against Spain
(Steve Davis, 6/24/09, ESPN SoccerNet)

Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey supplied Wednesday's goals, but inspiring performances could be found all over the field in a result that's sure to make global headlines. It snapped the reigning European champions' 15-match winning streak and jaw-dropping 35-match unbeaten streak.

Jasper Juinen/GettyImages

The U.S. team pulled off one of the biggest upsets in soccer history.

Tim Howard was a force in goal. His adamant stand will surely evoke comparisons to Kasey Keller's massive night in the U.S. net in a similarly stunning 1998 upset over Brazil in the Gold Cup final. In front of Howard, center backs Jay DeMerit and Oguchi Onyewu were shot-blocking giants, lunging, stretching and diving time and again to reach shots or poke balls from Spanish strikers David Villa and Fernando Torres before they could endanger the goal. Midfielder Ricardo Clark retreated into deep spots near the goal to provide more of the same.

Landon Donovan, supremely fit, covered honestly and reliably on defense and was always aggressive in sprinting forward on the attack. On one of those hard runs forward, Donovan and substitute Benny Feilhaber conspired to set up Dempsey for the late insurance goal. Dempsey had a hand in both U.S. goals, feeding Altidore on the critical first-half strike and exploiting Sergio Ramos' sloppy, thoughtless defense for the late goal. Dempsey started at a wide midfield spot but scored for the second consecutive game after, interestingly, he was shifted forward into a striker's position. Dempsey plays in the midfield for Fulham, but his latest pair of strikes will surely renew enduring debates about whether he's better when deployed closer to goal.

In terms of magnitude, Wednesday's victory on a cold night in South Africa may not preside quite as sweetly as modern-era upsets over Portugal and Mexico in 2002, or a breakthrough result over Colombia in 1994, for those were meaningful World Cup triumphs. But in terms of perceived imbalance in talent, this one stands tall.

Budweiser Man of the Match: Clint Dempsey (USA) (FIFA.com, 24 June 2009)
After claiming the accolade in USA's final group game against Egypt, Clint Dempsey collected his second Budweiser Man of the Match award in two matches following his outstanding role in the 2-0 defeat of Spain in the first semi-final of the FIFA Confederations Cup South Africa 2009.

The decision was made by the FIFA Technical Study Group, who watched the game from the stands at the Free State Stadium in Mangaung/Bloemfontein.

"As well as playing a direct part in both goals, setting up one and scoring the other, Dempsey linked up play perfectly between midfield and attack," commented TSG member Holger Osieck. "In the second half, playing as a second striker alongside (Jozy) Altidore, he ran tirelessly from one flank to the other."

Soccer steps into the limelight as America celebrates its miracle on grass: A stunning win over Spain at the Confederations Cup has left the USA's football-supporting minority dreaming of a bright future (Amy Lawrence, 6/25/09, Guardian Sports Blog)
The contribution of Donovan, now 27 and with over 100 caps, was massive. Then there was the 19-year-old unpolished diamond Jozy Altidore, the most expensive player ever to leave the MLS, whose bulldozer strength opened the scoring. Interestingly, he endured a pretty challenging first season in Europe since signing for Villarreal for a reported $10m (£6.15m), and made only six appearances.

It is telling, nonetheless, that 18 members of the 23 man squad play abroad - 16 of them in Europe. That is a considerable change to the 2002 World Cup, when the US team performed well and made it to the quarter-finals. The split between the American and European based players then was roughly 50-50.

The footballing savvy they are picking up abroad is encapsulated in the figure of Clint Dempsey, whose quick reflexes finished Spain off. Over the course of last season at Fulham under the shrewd stewardship of Roy Hodgson he has become a much more complete and productive player.

June 24, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:35 PM


Britain could never debate the burka like France: President Sarkozy's proposed ban may be pure politicking, but it does expose a fundamental cross-Channel difference (Agnès Poirier, 6/24/09, Times of London)

"The burka is not a religious problem, it's a question of liberty and women's dignity. It's not a religious symbol, but a sign of subservience and debasement. I want to say solemnly, the burka is not welcome in France. In our country, we can't accept women prisoners behind a screen, cut off from all social life, deprived of all identity. That is not our idea of freedom.”

So spoke Nicolas Sarkozy in Versailles during his first state of the nation address to France's two chambers, the National Assembly and the Senate. He won rapturous applause and there is little doubt that an overwhelming majority of the French agreed with his every word. I say an overwhelming majority because this issue crosses all party lines in France. Republican principles of equality and secularism are so deeply grounded in the French mind that they belong as much to the Left as to the Right.

For someone like me, firmly on the Left, the defence of secularism is the only way to guarantee cultural diversity and national cohesion. One cannot go without the other. However, when I get on Eurostar to London, I feel totally alien. To my horror, my liberal-left British friends find such a position closer to that of the hard Right.

The fundamental value of the Anglosphere is liberty, of the Continent equality. The two are incompatible.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:17 PM


This gaping hole calls for a new party. Let's call it Labour: The party I joined as a gullible student has been dismantled by Blair and Brown, and with it any voice for those on the left (Simon Jenkins, 6/23/09, guardian.co.uk)

As a doubtless gullible student, I purchased a Labour party card, gulping at the notorious clause four on its reverse. Even when, disillusioned, I crossed the floor to a similar flirtation with Conservatism, I retained a respect for Labour as custodian of a fine genetic strain in British politics, an ambition for social liberalism, fairness in wealth distribution and ethical dealing in public life.

That party was dismantled, ideologically and constitutionally, by Tony Blair and his circle, to prevent it impeding his freedom of action in office, as it had done so many of his predecessors. He wanted no trouble from that quarter.

He was right. The exigencies of power led him in directions far removed from the wellsprings of his support. There were reasons for the U-turn on labour law and progressive taxation in the 1990s. There were reasons, albeit weak, for the wars of liberal interventionism. There were reasons, downright bad ones, for passing 14 repressive and illiberal curbs on personal freedom in the name of national security.

There were even reasons for accelerating Tory privatisation and for increasing the disparity between rich and poor. There were reasons for responding to the credit crunch by re-enacting the last chapter of Animal Farm on the sofas of Downing Street, with ministers carousing with bankers, lords and ladies until you could not tell them apart. As the money men traipsed through Whitehall protecting their backs and their pockets, the high streets and the factories shut and the job queues lengthened.

What has been astonishing is the silence with which the Labour party has received all this. So thoroughly had Blair destroyed Labour as a movement ­independent of its place in power that hardly a peep has been heard from what is supposedly a party of the left.

...with the Left unrepresented.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:38 PM


Spain 0-2 USA (Saj Chowdhury , 6/24/09, BBC)

USA caused one of the biggest surprises in Confederations Cup history by beating European champions Spain to reach the Sunday's final.

Jozy Altidore scored the opener when he turned his marker Joan Capdevila to fire in from 15 yards.

Fulham's Clint Dempsey doubled the lead when he converted Landon Donovan's pass from close range.

Tim Howard saved from Fernando Torres and Cesc Fabregas before USA's Michael Bradley saw red for a tackle of Xavi.

Onyewu and Demerit were just monsters again--the former hasn't lost a ball in the air in two games. And they held the 1-0 lead long enough that even Bradley had Feilhaber on and Dempsey replacing Davies in front. Then it was a matter of holding on for dear life. The red card--which was ridiculous--compounded matters.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:27 PM


The Ghosts of 1994 Loom for Obama and the Democrats: Haven't we seen this movie before? (Robert Schlesinger, June 24, 2009, US News)

Everywhere I look, I see the ghosts of 1994.

There's the young Democratic president with an ambitious (overly so, some argue) agenda, seemingly intent on doing it all at once. Bill Clinton's initially charming peripatetic policy appetite quickly became a hallmark of his lack of focus. Obama and his supporters have thus far managed to frame comparisons with ambitious predecessors using Franklin Roosevelt rather than Clinton, but that could yet change. As with Clinton, Obama's agenda is topped by a major healthcare overhaul, the likes of which predecessors have attempted unsuccessfully.

The Democratic president faces a Republican Party thirsting for a return to power. Radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh is rallying the faithful while Newt Gingrich is an omnipresent face of the opposition, throwing bombs and new ideas in equal measure.

Gay issues are forcing themselves onto the agenda. Then it was gays in the military; now it's same-sex marriage and. . .gays in the military.

The president's wife is even getting drawn into a scandal involving cronyism and improper political largess.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:24 PM


Gov. Sanford Admits Affair and Explains Disappearance (ROBBIE BROWN and SHAILA DEWAN, June 24, 2009 , NY Times)

Mark Sanford, the governor of South Carolina, said he had conducted an extra-marital affair with a woman in Argentina, ending a mystery over his week-long disappearance that had infuriated lawmakers and seemed to put his rising political career in jeopardy. He apologized for the affair and the deception surrounding his trip in a rambling news conference Wednesday afternoon.

Sarah Palin may be running unopposed at this rate.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:05 PM


Subtle signs of a turnaround on a troubled L.A. campus: Green Dot faced much skepticism when it took over Locke High last year. There's still a long way to go, but most students say they're safer and are learning more. (Howard Blume, June 24, 2009, LA Times)

For years, Locke, on the edge of Watts, has had among the state's lowest test scores and highest dropout rates. In 2004, 1,451 students enrolled as freshmen; just 261 graduated four years later. Of them, only 85 had completed the courses required to apply to a University of California or California State University school.

A year ago, Green Dot Public Schools, which runs 12 charters serving the city's urban poor, took over the school. The effort to transform Locke has been a nationally watched test of whether such a large, deeply impoverished urban high school could be transformed by a charter operator. Charter schools are publicly funded but operate beyond the direct control of school districts, exempt from many regulations and union contracts.

Locke, which holds its graduation today, remains a troubled school, and Green Dot's strategy has relied on extra funds that may not be sustainable or readily replicable.

But despite those caveats, a qualified turnaround appears to be emerging.

Students say the campus is safer and calmer. The teachers, although mostly young and inexperienced, receive praise for being devoted and effective. There are signs of academic progress. Students repeat one point over and over: Instruction is better and nearly all teachers work hard and expect them to achieve.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:53 AM


Iran: Qom's Senior Clerics Pushing for Compromise (Manal Lutfi, 6/24/09, Asharq Alawasat)

Amid pressures and nonstop consultations behind the scenes between senior officials in the Islamic Republic of Iran, at the head of them Assembly of Experts Chairman Hashemi-Rafsanjani, and the sources of emulation and ayatollahs in Qom, Iran's Supreme Guide Ayatollah Ali Khamenei agreed to the Guardian Council's request to extend the period for examining the election-related complaints for five more days.

This development came as informed sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that the senior sources of emulation in Qom were exerting pressures on the authorities in Tehran to search for a compromise to the current political crisis shaking Iran. They said a delegation from the Guardian Council's members visited the religious leaders and ayatollahs in Qom to get their public support for the legitimacy of the election and the reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for a second term. But an Iranian source told Asharq Al-Awsat: "But praise be to God, the sources of emulation did not support the demands" of the Guardian Council and added that many of the sources of emulation in Qom formed a "neutral" voice during this crisis and because of their tendency to remain "above politics" can play an important role during the crisis shaking Iran.

An Iranian source talked about reports to the effect that around 50 of the sources of emulation, ayatollahs, and clerics in Qom sent messages to Ayatollah Khamenei urging him to look into the complaints of the reformists and examine the reported violations.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:51 AM


A Recession in Dog Years: The United States is experiencing what Japan did in the 1990s, but seven times faster. (Daniel Gross, June 24, 2009, Slate)

[I]n a meeting Monday, Kiyohiko Nishimura, Yale-trained economist, former Tokyo University professor, and deputy governor of the Bank of Japan, gave one of the most lucid and useful explications of the credit crisis and its aftermath that I've heard—and I've heard a lot of them. And even more surprisingly, it was pretty optimistic. [...]

Nishimura dates the onset of the Japan crisis to the fourth quarter of 1990, when commercial land prices began to fall, and tracks the policy responses (rate cuts in 1991, stimulus in August 1992 and following years, expanding bank insurance in 1995, bank failures in 1997, injections of public funds into banks in 1998, zero-interest rate policies in February 1999). The Japanese economy began to grow again in 1999 but slipped back into recession in 2001. The final turning point for Japan came in October 2002, when Japan's authorities urged banks to deal more aggressively with problem loans. "The Japanese economy was, in general, out of the woods around 2005," Nishimura concludes. (Of course, it's deep in recession now, with the rest of the global economy.)

If the first chunk of this story sounds familiar, you're right. On an adjacent chart, he shows how the U.S. crisis, which he dates to the decline in mortgage-backed securities prices in February 2007, has followed a remarkably similar course. But that doesn't mean the United States is in for 15 lean years. The resemblance lies more in the sequence of events than in their duration, the rhyming rather than the repeating. In fact, the United States is acting in what might be considered dog years. In the early stages, he said, "one month in the U.S. looked approximately equal to three months in Japan in the early stage." But since September 2008, he said, it's more like "one month in the U.S. is equal to six or seven months in Japan."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:47 AM


The silent killer in Uganda (Derrick Z. Jackson, June 23, 2009 , Boston Globe)

HEADLINES in the June 8 New Vision newspaper warned, “We are eating our way to the grave’’ and “Obesity rising in rural areas.’’ A third of women in urban Kampala and a quarter of the women in more rural central and southwestern Uganda are overweight or obese, according to 2007 government statistics.

...when even Africans have too much food.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:48 AM


Putting New York Back Together (RUDOLPH W. GIULIANI, 6/24/09, NY Times)

Over the course of New York’s history, our state has held seven constitutional conventions, one as recently as 1967. Calling another convention would be an extraordinary step, but it is a necessary and effective way to overcome the challenges we face. It would be an opportunity for Republicans, Democrats and independents to come together, take a long hard look at our problems and then propose real, lasting solutions.

If the State Legislature were to approve the measure in the next few weeks, New Yorkers could vote on whether to proceed with a constitutional convention this November. A “yes” vote would move the process forward, allowing voters to choose a slate of delegates in November 2010. After the convention took place, the recommendations would be put forward to the people for an up-and-down vote.

The specific measures should be left to the convention itself and then judged by the voters. But to start the debate I offer seven recommendations for reform. [...]

THE BUDGET PROCESS The governor should be empowered to set revenue estimates on his own, as the mayor of New York City does, adjusting future spending against responsible benchmarks rather than unrealistic estimates. The budget should conform to generally accepted accounting principles, and there should also be a formal four-year financial plan allowing for transparency and long-term planning. Finally, if a new budget is not adopted by April 1, the previous year’s budget should be automatically continued.

TERM LIMITS All statewide elected officials and members of the Legislature should be term limited to bring new blood into Albany while stopping the careerism that too often blocks real progress. A citizens’ legislature would be more effective in addressing New Yorkers’ problems with a fresh perspective. [...]

SUPERMAJORITY FOR TAX INCREASES Too often increasing taxes is the first impulse for Albany legislators. Requiring a supermajority for tax increases would provide a powerful check on those who still think we can tax and spend our way out of economic problems. A supermajority would protect already over-burdened citizens and attract businesses, improving our long-term competitiveness.

Making yourself the candidate of fundamental reforms is good politics right now.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:29 AM


U.S. to send ambassador to Syria after 4 years (Reuters, June 24, 2009)

President Barack Obama has decided to return a U.S. ambassador to Syria after a four-year hiatus as talks between the two nations intensify, U.S. media reported Tuesday.

The State Department informed Syria's ambassador to Washington, Imad Mustafa, of Obama's intention Tuesday night, a senior administration official told the Washington Post.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:12 AM


Southern Sweet Tea Pops (Recipe from "Pops! Icy Treats for Everyone," by Krystina Castella, 06/24/2009, Contra Costa Times)

4 cups water, divided

1¾ cups sugar

2 limes, peeled and cut into rounds

2 lemons, peeled and cut into rounds

12 sprigs of fresh mint

3 "family-size" or 8 regular-sized bags Orange Pekoe Black Tea

1. Bring 2 cups water to a simmer in a saucepan over low heat, and stir in the sugar until dissolved. Remove from heat and add 2 cups cold water. Cool for 10 minutes.

2. Pour the sugar water into a clear glass container. Add limes, lemons and mint, and stir. Add the tea bags. Cover and let stand at room temperature for 3 to 5 hours, or until the tea reaches the desired strength.

3. Remove the tea bags and stir the tea. Scoop out the lemons, limes and mint and divide them evenly among the pop molds. Pour in the tea. If using wooden pop sticks, freeze at least 1½ hours to 2 hours and then insert the sticks. Let freeze for a total of 6 hours.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:09 AM



Looking past their fiery rhetoric and apparent determination to cling to power using all available means, Iran’s hardliners are not a confident bunch. While hardliners still believe they possess enough force to stifle popular protests, they are worried that they are losing a behind-the-scenes battle within Iran’s religious establishment.

A source familiar with the thinking of decision-makers in state agencies that have strong ties to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said there is a sense among hardliners that a shoe is about to drop. Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani -- Iran’s savviest political operator and an arch-enemy of Ayatollah Khamenei’s -- has kept out of the public spotlight since the rigged June 12 presidential election triggered the political crisis. The widespread belief is that Rafsanjani has been in the holy city of Qom, working to assemble a religious and political coalition to topple the supreme leader and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

"There is great apprehension among people in the supreme leader’s [camp] about what Rafsanjani may pull," said a source in Tehran who is familiar with hardliner thinking. "They [the supreme leader and his supporters] are much more concerned about Rafsanjani than the mass movement on the streets."

Ayatollah Khamenei now has a very big image problem among influential Shi’a clergymen. Over the course of the political crisis, stretching back to the days leading up to the election, Rafsanjani has succeeded in knocking the supreme leader off his pedestal by revealing Ayatollah Khamenei to be a political partisan rather than an above-the-fray spiritual leader. In other words, the supreme leader has become a divider, not a uniter.

Just as Ronald Reagan's most damaging indictment of the USSR was that it had failed on its own Marxist terms, so too does Khamenei's refusal to honor the popular will indict him on Shi'a theological terms.

Clerics join Iran's anti-government protests (Octavia Nasr, 6/23/09, CNN)

A photo showing Iranian clerics prominently participating in an anti-government protest speaks volumes about the new face of Iran's opposition movement.

In a blatant act of defiance, a group of Mullahs took to the streets of Tehran, to protest election results that returned incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power.

Whether these clerics voted for Ahmadinejad or one of the opposition candidates is unknown. What is important here, is the decision to march against the will of Iran's supreme leader who called the results final and declared demonstrations illegal.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:05 AM


Big Oil Ready for Big Gamble in Iraq (GINA CHON, 6/24/09, WSJ)

Next week, Iraqi officials plan a welcome-back party for Big Oil.

The government intends to auction off oil contracts to foreign companies for the first time since Iraq nationalized its oil industry more than three decades ago. If all goes according to plan in the first round, foreign oil companies will move in to help Iraq revive production at six developed fields that have suffered from years of war and neglect.

...we won. Thanks, W.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:01 AM


Obama Rips Iran in Tactical Shift (JAY SOLOMON, JONATHAN WEISMAN and YOCHI J. DREAZEN, 6/24/09, WSJ)

President Barack Obama delivered his sharpest criticism of Iran's election and political crackdown, throwing into question his plan for diplomatic outreach to Tehran that stands at the center of his broader Middle East security strategy.

After days of criticism from Republicans, Mr. Obama opened a White House news conference saying he was "appalled and outraged" by the threats and confrontations in the streets of the Iranian capital.

Those unable or unwilling to engage in strategic thinking are always stuck with nothing but tactics.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:41 AM


U.S. Drone Strike Said to Kill 60 in Pakistan (PIR ZUBAIR SHAH and SALMAN MASOOD, 6/24/09, NY Times)

An airstrike believed to have been carried out by a United States drone killed at least 60 people at a funeral for a Taliban fighter in South Waziristan on Tuesday, residents of the area and local news reports said.

Details of the attack, which occurred in Makeen, remained unclear, but the reported death toll was exceptionally high. If the reports are indeed accurate and if the attack was carried out by a drone, the strike could be the deadliest since the United States began using the aircraft to fire remotely guided missiles at members of the Taliban and Al Qaeda in the tribal areas of Pakistan. The United States carried out 22 previous drone strikes this year, as the Obama administration has intensified a policy inherited from the Bush administration.

Finally got to see the Liam Neeson flick, Taken. It makes a few assumptions about the viewers that are revealing as one considers the WoT.

* The CIA hard men are the heroes.

* The folks back home don't even realize that.

* The Europeans are either useless or actually complicit with the bad guys.

* Not only is torture utilized by the good guy but it is quite effective.

* Once the good guy locates the wrong-doers, everyone surrounding them is fair game as well.

* And, most importantly, it's a 90 minute advertisement for the Time Zone Rule.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:55 AM


Stay Tuned for More of 'The Obama Show' (Dana Milbank, June 24, 2009 , Washington Post)

After the obligatory first question from the Associated Press, Obama treated the overflowing White House briefing room to a surprise. "I know Nico Pitney is here from the Huffington Post," he announced.

Obama knew this because White House aides had called Pitney the day before to invite him, and they had escorted him into the room. They told him the president was likely to call on him, with the understanding that he would ask a question about Iran that had been submitted online by an Iranian. "I know that there may actually be questions from people in Iran who are communicating through the Internet," Obama went on. "Do you have a question?"

Pitney recognized his prompt. "That's right," he said, standing in the aisle and wearing a temporary White House press pass. "I wanted to use this opportunity to ask you a question directly from an Iranian."

Pitney asked his arranged question. Reporters looked at one another in amazement at the stagecraft they were witnessing. White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel grinned at the surprised TV correspondents in the first row.

The use of planted questioners is a no-no at presidential news conferences, because it sends a message to the world -- Iran included -- that the American press isn't as free as advertised. But yesterday wasn't so much a news conference as it was a taping of a new daytime drama, "The Obama Show." Missed yesterday's show? Don't worry: On Wednesday, ABC News will be broadcasting "Good Morning America" from the South Lawn (guest stars: the president and first lady), "World News Tonight" from the Blue Room, and a prime-time feature with Obama from the East Room.

...the UR is so awful off-script that allowing him to take real questions could seriously damage national security.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:47 AM


'Public Option' May Be Highest Hurdle in Senate (Shailagh Murray, 6/24/09, Washington Post)

Even as senators make strides in reducing the emerging legislation's overall cost, the notion of disrupting the private insurance market by injecting federal competition has stoked passions on both sides and created the kind of wedge that President Obama and Democratic leaders had sought to avoid in the debate.

On the left, the group MoveOn.org is running ads criticizing Sen. Mary Landrieu (La.), a moderate Democrat, for voicing objections to a government-sponsored plan. Former Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean will lead a coalition of advocacy groups to Capitol Hill on Thursday to rally for the cause. On the right, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has delivered at least 10 speeches in recent weeks blasting the idea, and has pledged unified Republican opposition if Democrats proceed. That could spell stalemate for the health-care bill in the Senate, where the minority has numerous options for obstructing bills.

Private insurers warned in a letter last week to Senate Health Chairman Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) that expanding the government's role in health care would lead to "devastating consequences," including steep reductions in employer-sponsored health coverage.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:44 AM


A Republican comeback? (JIM VANDEHEI & JONATHAN MARTIN, 6/24/09, Politico)

Polls show that Obama's chief vulnerability is public concern over the soaring deficit. And as the sticker shock of a trillion-dollar-plus health care plan takes hold, these concerns are only likely to grow.

Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) — long used to hearing complaints about Bush — says his moderate constituents have finally found something else to gripe about. "Now the dominant thing I hear from them is: 'What is all this government spending?'" said Kirk, who is mulling a Senate run next year.

Squabbling over much else, Republicans are emboldened and united on this issue. In the House, they banded together last week to oppose a supplemental war funding bill because it included $5 billion for the International Monetary Fund — what one GOP member called a "global bailout." They are gearing up to oppose Democratic plans to increase domestic spending this summer and fall.

Yes, this approach is more than a tad hypocritical. Under Bush, Republicans vastly expanded the size of government and whacked Democrats when they opposed war funding. But memories fade fast in politics, especially in this era of turbo-charged media.

And, as is key in political debates, Republicans have distilled their argument down to a bumper sticker slogan: "President Obama spends too much, taxes too much and borrows too much."

Expect to hear that refrain in upcoming spending fights — and with regularity in the midterm elections.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:16 AM


EXCLUSIVE: U.S. contacted Iran's ayatollah before election: Administration overture to Khamenei ridiculed in sermon (Barbara Slavin, June 24, 2009, Washington Times)

Prior to this month's disputed presidential election in Iran, the Obama administration sent a letter to the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, calling for an improvement in relations, according to interviews and the leader himself.

Ayatollah Khamenei confirmed the letter toward the end of a lengthy sermon last week, in which he accused the United States of fomenting protests in his country in the aftermath of the disputed June 12 presidential election.

A public letter, making it clear that the US recognized the Grand Ayatollah but would not deal with Ahmedinejad, might have been useful. A quiet nod during an election could only be counterproductive.

June 23, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:48 PM


Fail better: Jóhann Jóhannsson explores the ruins of dreams (MICHAEL BRODEUR, June 23, 2009, Boston Phoenix)

It's another gross, rainy afternoon in Boston, and I'm on the phone to Copenhagen with Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson talking about failure and despair. Great. Maybe I just had weird assumptions about Icelanders, but I expected we'd proceed on jollier terms — I was, after all, still rocking goosebumps from a fresh pass through Fordlândia, his most recent suite of compositions for 4AD. Had I the coffee in me to draw parallels between the personality of the composer and that of his works, I might have known enough to be patient and let the mood lift of its own accord — and of course it does.

"There's a beauty to this sort of over-reaching, though," Jóhannsson continues. "It's part of any creative act. There's a beauty in failure. And it's this heroic failure that I'm interested in."

Heroic failures like Fordlândia itself — Henry Ford's ill-fated and short-lived 1928 attempt at a utopian rubber plantation/village stuck into a particularly unfavorable patch of land in the middle of the Amazon rain forest. (Sounded pretty solid, though, right?) The sound of Jóhannsson's Fordlândia is a soaring aerial view of decayed optimism, as overgrown with lush thickets of strings as the ruins are with "the Amazon forest slowly and surely reclaiming" them. But if the music conveys a sense of paradise failed and fading, it also conveys the hope that allowed the dream to fail in the first place.

-Johann Johannsson: Ambience In Action (Stephen Thompson, February 11, 2009, NPR.org)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:44 PM


China Isn't All It's Cracked Up To Be: Beijing is ignoring the lessons of successful East Asian development--to its own detriment. (John Lee, 06.23.09, Forbes)

The nature, purpose and extent of the role of the state in Chinese economy and society sets it apart from successful East Asian neighbors. In fact, the differences are significant enough to call into question whether China will taste the fruits of successful modernization enjoyed by other Asian economies, including Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.

The key to success in these countries was the development of conditions needed for vibrant organizations, competition and private enterprise to eventually take off. Even though it was within a context of state-guided capitalism and mistakes were made, the government ultimately offered a helping hand to lay the foundations for future private enterprise and capitalist activity--in particular, widespread and open access to economic opportunity, rule of law, property rights and social and political stability.

Isn't China doing similar things to achieve growth? Most Western commentators focus on the spectacular success of China's export sector and the emergence of China as the world's factory. But the greater contributor to Chinese growth is actually domestically funded fixed investment, which constituted over 50% of GDP in 2008 and over 40% of growth in that year. China is way off the charts in this regard. Taiwan, for example, which had an unparalleled growth rate of 8% each year over 50 years, never had capital investment spending of more than 30% of GDP.

But it is not just the high reliance on fixed investment that is striking. It is where the capital goes that is all-important. China is unusual in that bank loans, drawn from the deposits of its citizens and funneled into state-controlled banks, constitute around 80% of all investment activity in the country.

Even though state-controlled enterprises produce between one-fourth and one-third of all output in the country, they receive over 75% of the country's capital, and that figure is rising.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:33 PM


Looking for a net gain in the energy sector (Tyler Hamilton, 4/20/09, Toronto Star)

Construction of the world's largest laser device is finally complete, the U.S. Department of Energy proudly announced late last month, and it only took $4 billion (U.S.) and 15 years to do it.

Scientists at the new National Ignition Facility plan to take its 192 massive lasers and aim them at a tiny pellet containing the hydrogen isotopes deuterium and tritium. If all goes as planned, the isotopes will compress, heat up and finally fuse into helium, releasing a split-second wallop of emission-free energy.

The goal – after decades of research and unfulfilled promise – is to get out more energy than goes in, a sought-after turning point in fusion research called "net gain."

Achieve net gain, the theory goes, and you're on the path to developing nuclear fusion power plants that can generate an almost endless supply of clean electricity with virtually no radioactive waste – a dramatic improvement over the nuclear fission reactors we use today.

"It's the big target for fusion," says Michel Laberge, founder and president of Vancouver start-up General Fusion Inc.

Big target, yes, but Laberge believes he can hit the same bull's-eye at a fraction of the cost using a comparatively low-tech mechanical design enabled by 21st-century digital know-how. Give him $50 million, he says, and within four years he and his small team of scientists and engineers at General Fusion will show a world trying to wean itself off carbon-based fuels how to fuse atoms on the cheap.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:28 PM


Sanford: Crazy Like a Fox: The South Carolina governor isn’t an irresponsible lunatic for wandering off the reservation—he just made himself a better bet for president in 2012. (Mark McKinnon, 6/23/09, Daily Beast)

Mark Sanford unplugged. Literally. He decided to take a hike. And he told his security detail to take a hike as well.

Guy wanted some alone time in the woods to clear his head.

Here we have a guy in politics who actually likes to get OUT of the spotlight. How exceedingly normal.

...consider that when the UR wanted to "get away" he took Michelle to a Broadway show that cost us all tens of thousands of hundreds or thousands of dollars. Cheap and manly trumps queer and pricey.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:08 PM


United States learning to cope without Bocanegra (STUART CONDIE, 6/22/09, AP)

[J]ay DeMerit and Oguchi Onyewu have started to show improvement on defense, culminating in Sunday's 3-0 win over African champion Egypt.

"They have been solid in the back," United States coach Bob Bradley said Monday. "There still are some moments when I think we lose our line too easily. The understanding between Jay and Gooch at times is such that one will drop too far off and they're not always perfectly in synch, but you can see the understanding getting better."

With Jonathan Spector and Jonathan Bornstein the fullbacks, Bradley has kept the same defense in all three group matches, although he did switch from Tim Howard to Brad Guzan in goal on Sunday.

Spector and Bornstein each set up a goal in the win over Egypt.

Mission impossible? Nothing new for U.S. team (Robert Burns, 6/23/09, FoxSoccer.com)
It's difficult to imagine a more daunting task than the one facing the U.S. men's national team currently in South Africa.

With a Wednesday date in the Confederations Cup semifinals against Spain — the world's best team — the Americans are going up against the reigning European champions who just happen to be on a record 15-match winning streak and 35-straight unbeaten run (one shy of the world record).

The last time Spain lost a game? That was way back in November of 2006.

And yet for all the obstacles stacked up in front of them, the USA has already experienced a miracle of sorts in the tournament and might just ride that luck one step farther into the final against either Brazil or South Africa.

The US picked a good time to get its defensive act together. Settling on the Jonathan's has been a huge help and Demerit looked like a completely different player against Egypt than against Brazil, plus having Clark and Bradley back from suspensions helped in the midfield. But it'd be disastrous to just hunker down defensively. Feilhaber has to start, Davies can't, and Dempsey shouldn't unless he's moved up front. Supposedly Feilhaber isn't fit for 90 minutes so Dempsey could come in for him. But they'd better be able to put some pressure on Spain or it could get ugly.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:59 PM


OPEC and Europe attack oil speculators (Chris Stanton, June 23. 2009, The National)

The European Commission shares OPEC’s concern that a new speculative bubble could be forming in oil markets, and has called for greater transparency in a joint statement with the exporters’ group yesterday.

Analysts have been warning for months that crude’s rally to US$73 a barrel has overshot the level supported by supply and demand, and OPEC and European officials singled out speculative investors on commodities exchanges for blame yesterday.

“The 2008 bubble could be repeated if adequate regulatory reforms, including greater transparency, were not made as part of an overall reshaping of the global financial sector,” officials said after a meeting in Vienna.

...it was the inflation one, not the credit one.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:58 AM


A Wandering Mind Heads Straight Toward Insight: Researchers Map the Anatomy of the Brain's Breakthrough Moments and Reveal the Payoff of Daydreaming (ROBERT LEE HOTZ, 6/19/09, WSJ)

In fact, our brain may be most actively engaged when our mind is wandering and we've actually lost track of our thoughts, a new brain-scanning study suggests. "Solving a problem with insight is fundamentally different from solving a problem analytically," Dr. Kounios says. "There really are different brain mechanisms involved."

By most measures, we spend about a third of our time daydreaming, yet our brain is unusually active during these seemingly idle moments. Left to its own devices, our brain activates several areas associated with complex problem solving, which researchers had previously assumed were dormant during daydreams. Moreover, it appears to be the only time these areas work in unison.

"People assumed that when your mind wandered it was empty," says cognitive neuroscientist Kalina Christoff at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, who reported the findings last month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. As measured by brain activity, however, "mind wandering is a much more active state than we ever imagined, much more active than during reasoning with a complex problem."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:55 AM


Iran’s Tensions, Foreshadowed in Its Cinema (A. O. SCOTT, 6/20/09, NY Times)

The flowering of Iranian cinema in the 1990s was itself evidence of a cultural and political thaw, a tentative premonition of the current demand for change. As minister of culture and Islamic guidance from 1989 to 1992, Mohammed Khatami encouraged the expansion of film production, and his election to the presidency in 1997 (in an unexpected landslide) came less than a week after Mr. Kiarostami shared the Palme d’Or in Cannes for “Taste of Cherry.”

As nearly contemporaneous news events — and in retrospect today — those two victories symbolized the possibility of a relatively liberal and cosmopolitan Iran, or at least the partial ascendance of more outward-looking and conciliatory forces within Iranian society. The reality turned out to be much more ambiguous, as Mr. Khatami’s tenure in office was marked more by the frustration of reformist aspirations than by their fulfillment.

But in the eight years between his election and that of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iranian cinema, with and without official sanction, continued to fructify. Younger filmmakers like Jafar Panahi, a protégé of Mr. Kiarostami’s, and Mr. Makhmalbaf’s daughter Samira came to prominence with work that was often more directly critical of Iranian social conditions than that of their precursors. The emphasis shifted from the countryside to the city, from children to women, war veterans, refugees and the poor, and formal self-consciousness was balanced by an increasingly uncompromising sense of realism.

No national cinema is easily summarized, and movies are always an imperfect window on the world. But to watch, say, “The Apple” (1998), Ms. Makhmalbaf’s first film; “The Circle” (2000), “Crimson Gold” (2003) and “Offside” (2006) by Mr. Panahi; the more tenderly sentimental films of Majid Majidi (including “The Color of Paradise” and “Baran”); and Bahman Ghobadi’s tough, poetic films about Kurdistan — and this is a very partial list — is to encounter images and stories that add depth and meaning to the raw videos and tweets of recent weeks. You see class divisions, the cruelty of the state, the oppression of women and their ways of resisting it, traditions of generosity and hospitality, and above all a passion for argument.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:51 AM


Case of walkabout South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford grips US (Brad Norington, June 24, 2009, The Australian)

The case of South Carolina's missing Governor set tongues wagging across the US yesterday, after no one had heard from him for five days.

Last Thursday, Mr Sanford left his governor's mansion in the state capital, Columbia. He was seen driving out alone in his security detail's black Chevrolet Suburban 4WD.

Mr Sanford's last known location was reportedly a long way from home, a few days later, after a mobile phone tower picked up his signal near Atlanta in the adjoining state of Georgia.

The disappearance could be dismissed as a man seeking time alone, and no one has suggested his safety was in doubt.

But Mr Sanford is no ordinary wanderer. He is not only South Carolina's head of state, and normally accompanied by bodyguards. In recent months he has been touted as a potential Republican Party candidate for president in 2012. Some commentators speculated yesterday that Sanford had already blown his chances after the demonstration of bizarre behaviour.

Would it be voters or just the media who are bothered by his having the temerity to get away for awhile?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:44 AM


Persian Paranoia: Iranian leaders will always believe Anglo-Saxons are plotting against them (Christopher Hitchens, June 22, 2009, Slate)

The best-known and best-selling satirical novel in the Persian language is My Uncle Napoleon, by Iraj Pezeshkzad, which describes the ridiculous and eventually hateful existence of a family member who subscribes to the "Brit Plot" theory of Iranian history. The novel was published in 1973 and later made into a fabulously popular Iranian TV series. Both the printed and televised versions were promptly banned by the ayatollahs after 1979 but survive in samizdat form. Since then, one of the leading clerics of the so-called Guardian Council, Ahmad Jannati, has announced in a nationwide broadcast that the bombings in London on July 7, 2005, were the "creation" of the British government itself. I strongly recommend that you get hold of the Modern Library paperback of Pezeshkzad's novel, produced in 2006, and read it from start to finish while paying special attention to the foreword by Azar Nafisi (author of Reading Lolita in Tehran) and the afterword by the author himself, who says:

In his fantasies, the novel's central character sees the hidden hand of British imperialism behind every event that has happened in Iran until the recent past. For the first time, the people of Iran have clearly seen the absurdity of this belief, although they tend to ascribe it to others and not to themselves, and have been able to laugh at it. And this has, finally, had a salutary influence. Nowadays, in Persian, the phrase "My Uncle Napoleon" is used everywhere to indicate a belief that British plots are behind all events, and is accompanied by ridicule and laughter. ... The only section of society who attacked it was the Mullahs. ... [T]hey said I had been ordered to write the book by imperialists, and that I had done so in order to destroy the roots of religion in the people of Iran.

Fantastic as these claims may have seemed three years ago, they sound mild when compared with the ravings and gibberings that are now issued from the Khamenei pulpit.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:36 AM


Confessions of a high-speed junky: Like many Spaniards, Giles Tremlett is hooked on the country's high-speed AVE trains. He hops on the latest route, and hurtles from one end of the country to the other (Giles Tremlett, 6/23/09, guardian.co.uk)

The snow-capped foothills of the Pyrenees are in the far distance, framed by my picture window against a foreground of olive trees and open countryside. The menu in my hand, as I settle down with a glass of fino sherry in a wide, comfy seat, promises green salad with cured duck breast, mango and poppy seeds. A set of small, green digital figures above the compartment door mark 301km/h (187m/h).

I am travelling Club Class in one of Spain's high-speed AVE trains, in a style that Monocle Magazine recently referred to as "the best first class rail development" of the year.

I'm bound for various interesting work assignments, but I'm most excited about trying the latest offering from the growing AVE network - a direct service from Seville to Barcelona in five and a half hours. That's a 516 mile, as-the-crow-flies trip - roughly the same as, say, London to Aberdeen. I have booked ahead, so my hours of pampering on this stretch of the trip cost a modest €96.

After 18 years hopping from one Spanish airport to another I am now a self-confessed AVE addict. The hassle of crowded, out-of-town airports like Barcelona or Madrid becomes more nightmarish as the ease of getting on a train increases. The AVE has put the pleasure back into travel. It can now take me from Madrid to a dozen of Spain's main - and not so main - cities at speeds that top 300km/h. Train trips to Cordoba, Valladolid, Segovia, Toledo, Girona, Tarragona and Zaragoza now take much less time than by air. I have even been to tiny Huesca - a short hop from some of Spain's best ski slopes - in under two and half hours. The airplane still wins (though only just) in both time and price on trips to Barcelona, Seville and Malaga, but that is easily made up for by the gain in comfort and ease. Spaniards have voted with their wheely-bags. They are flocking back to railway stations.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:14 AM


Are We Igniting a Trade War? (Kurt Brouwer, June 23rd, 2009, Fundmastery)

One of the biggest factors that lengthened and deepened the Depression was a trade war. The Smoot Hawley Tariff Act is widely considered to have been the catalyst for a worldwide bout of protectionism that deepened the economic contraction we call the Great Depression.

If you ever wondered how trade wars started back in the 1930s, then pay attention because it is happening again. We are in the early stages of a trade war and if some adult supervision does not come along soon, it could get much worse. Here’s how it goes.

Politicians tries to curry favor with some group and they insert a “Buy American” clause into legislation. Perhaps they think this will protect jobs in their state. Or, maybe they want to favor a given industry or trade union. For example, the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act of 2009, President Obama’s economic stimulus plan, included a significant “Buy American” provision. But it does not stop there because politicians in other countries get the same ‘bright’ idea and they insert protectionist trade policies into legislation over there as China is now doing. Rinse, repeat and escalate and before long you have a serious problem.

Just as we had in the 1930s, we now have real movement towards trade protectionism, which is an enormous policy mistake. And, we are the ones who are starting the war. Canada, Mexico, Brazil and China have all complained about the ‘Buy American’ provision mentioned above.

Barack Obama: Soft on the Twelvers, hard on the economy.


China and US head for trade war
: China could face censure at the WTO after America and Europe lodged a joint complaint today over its restrictions on raw materials exports. (Heather Stewart, 6/23/09, guardian.co.uk)

Europe and the United States have announced co-ordinated action against China for breaking World Trade Organisation rules, raising fears of a damaging trade war in the depths of the global recession.

The US trade representative issued a statement this afternoon criticising restrictions China has placed on exports of raw materials, to the disadvantage of American firms. Together with Europe, the US will start formal "dispute resolution consultations" at the WTO, claiming China has breached the rules of the international marketplace.

The trade representative said: "For American industrial manufacturers, this is a critical step toward market equality. China's export restrictions on a broad range of raw materials have given unfair competitive advantages to their own manufacturers while raising the costs of doing business for US companies."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:09 AM


Iranian authorities scramble to negate Neda Soltan 'martyrdom' (Jenny Booth, 6/23/09, Times of London)

Neda Salehi Agha Soltan, 26, was killed as she watched a pro-democracy protest, and mobile phone footage of her last moments have become a worldwide symbol of Iran's turmoil.

The authorities had already banned a public funeral or wake and have prevented gatherings in her name while the state-controlled media has not mentioned Miss Soltan's death.

Today it was reported that they had also told her family to take down the black mourning banners outside their home in the Tehran suburbs to prevent it becoming a place of pilgrimage. They were also told they could not hold a memorial service at a mosque.

Nevertheless posters of Miss Soltan's face have started to appear all over Tehran.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:15 AM


Poll: Americans Say No to New Healthcare Taxes (Paul Bedard, 6/22/09, US News)

Americans are not keen on paying any new tax to fund healthcare reform and instead want Congress to cut programs to pay for the changes. In the new Whispers poll from Synovate eNation, 56 percent rejected new taxes while 29 percent said OK to sin taxes, 12 percent are willing to pay a soda tax, and just 3 percent agree with a tax on employer-paid health insurance.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:13 AM


Neda Loved Music, Travelling And Iran: Neda studied Islamic philosophy, played the piano and loved travelling. She was not an activist. (Javno, 6/23/09)

She was buried quickly and quietly, she was called the Angel of Iran and she became the symbol of freedom of the Iranian people. Her name is Neda Agha-Soltan and her life ended on Saturday when she was shot by a member of the Iranian militia.

The soldier was shooting straight for her heart – the bullet exploded in her chest. The video footage of her death circled the globe, giving Iranian protestors a motive to maintain with the struggle for their rights. Politicians like U.S. Republican John McCain, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Iranian oppositional leader Mousavi used the tragedy to criticise the regime of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

However, they all forgot that she was just somebody`s daughter, sister and friend. The girl was only 26 years old, everyone said she was cheerful and full of enthusiasm. She fought for justice, together with her friends. Politics has ruled again, while she is just a victim whose name will probably be forgotten in a few months` time.

June 22, 2009

Posted by Stephen Judd at 11:49 PM


For the third year, I'll be participating in the Relay For Life, in Wolfeboro NH, to celebrate cancer survivors, honor friends and family that have died from the disease, and raise money for cancer research. The Relay is an 18-hour walking relay, where at least one member from our team will be walking the track at all times.

If you are so moved, please visit my participant page to make a donation.

Thanks, Stephen (The Other Brother)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:05 PM


GOP: no benefit to court fight (MANU RAJU, 6/22/09, Politico)

Nearly a month after President Barack Obama picked her for the Supreme Court, Republican senators say Sonia Sotomayor isn’t serving as the political lightning rod some in their party had hoped she would be.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:03 PM


Solar Collectors Covering 0.3 Percent of the Sahara Could Power All of Europe: A company plans to construct the world's largest solar power project ever, in the Sahara (Dan Smith, 06.22.2009, Popular Science)

Solar power is an exciting source of renewable energy, but has so far mostly been used to power little things like homes, cars and small villages. But what if solar energy was used on a scale that would power the majority of Europe? The Desertec Foundation, a Jordanian and German company are hoping to secure financing for a radically ambitious project to harness solar energy in the world’s most barren, sun-drenched expanse, the Sahara Desert. Desertec claims that if only 0.3 percent of the expanse of the Sahara was covered with solar panels, it would power the entire European continent. If up to 1 percent of the desert were covered, it could power the entire world.

Desertec hopes to construct decentralized solar fields across different parts of Northern Africa within the next 10 to 15 years. They predict that these installations will generate about 100 gigawatts of power, which would be sent over high-voltage DC lines buried under the Mediterranean and power about 15 percent of Europe. Their plans get even more ambitious from there. The company hopes to also set up a series of desalinization plants in the area as a source of clean water and for irrigation in the region in hopes of reclaiming portions of the desert. They even have a long-range plan that adds wind farms to the mix.

...can we make them go live there?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:53 PM


President Obama's poll numbers start to wilt (MICHAEL FALCONE & ANDY BARR, 6/22/09, Politico)

[T]he trend lines among a variety of polls over the past several days are unmistakable: Independents and even some Republicans who once viewed him sympathetically are becoming skeptical, and many people of all stripes are anxious about economic and fiscal trends.

Obama’s approval rating has dipped below 60 percent on other occasions according to Gallup, but while those slumps lasted only a day, this one appears to be more persistent.

So is the intensity of partisan reaction to Obama, who ran on the promise of softening ideological divisions and unifying Americans. On Sunday, a Rasmussen Reports tracking poll found that 32 percent of Americans strongly approved of the president while 32 percent strongly disapproved.

Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center, said the Obama administration should look at the results of the center's recent poll and others “as a warning sign” but added that the new numbers were “not an indication of a loss of fundamental political support.”

“The real driver is not the president’s personal popularity,” which remains robust, Kohut said, “but faith in him to deal with the nation’s number one problem” — i.e, the economy.

...as long as Cap & Trade and Health Care fail and he doesn't ruin the economy himself.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:14 AM


Women's voices 'make plants grow faster' finds Royal Horticultural Society (Richard Alleyne, 22 Jun 2009, Daily Telegraph)

Women gardeners' voices speed up growth of tomato plants much more than men's, it found.

In an experiment run over a month, they found that tomato plants grew up to two inches taller if they were serenaded by the dulcet tones of a female rather than a male.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:19 AM


Fondly, Greenland Loosens Danish Rule (SARAH LYALL, 6/22/09, NY Times)

[G]reenland, with 58,000 people and only two traffic lights, both of them here in the capital, is now securing its place in the world. On Sunday, amid solemn ceremony and giddy celebration, it ushered in a new era of self-governance that sets the stage for eventual independence from Denmark, its ruler since 1721.

The move, which allows Greenland to gradually take responsibility over areas like criminal justice and oil exploration, follows a referendum last year in which 76 percent of voters said they wanted self-rule. Many of the changes are deeply symbolic. Kalaallisut, a traditional Inuit dialect, is now the country’s official language, and Greenlanders are now recognized under international law as a separate people from Danes.

Thrillingly, the Greenlandic government now gets to call itself by its Inuit name, Naalakkersuisut — the first time in history, officials said, that the word has been used in a Danish government document.

“It’s a new relationship based on equality,” said Greenland’s new, charismatic prime minister, Kuupik Kleist, speaking of the balance of power between Greenland and Denmark.

This is the future, not union.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:12 AM


The Science of Economic Bubbles and Busts: The worst economic crisis since the Great Depression has prompted a reassessment of how financial markets work and how people make decisions about money (Gary Stix, June 22, 2009, Scientific American)

The behavioral ideas now garnering increased attention take exception to some central ideas of modern economic theory, including the view that each buyer and seller constitute an exemplar of Homo economicus, a purely rational being motivated by self-interest. “Under all conditions, man in classical economics is an automaton capable of objective reasoning,” writes financial historian Peter Bernstein.

Another central tenet of the rationalist credo is the efficient-market hypothesis, which holds that all past and current information about a good is reflected in its price—the market reaches an equilibrium point between buyers and sellers at just the “right” price. The only thing that can upset this balance between supply and demand is an outside shock, such as unanticipated price setting by an oil cartel. In this way, the dynamics of the financial system remain in balance. Classical theory dictates that the internal dynamics of the market cannot lead to a feedback cycle in which one price increase begets another, creating a bubble and a later reversal of the cycle that fosters a crippling destabilization of the economy.

A strict interpretation of the efficient-market hypothesis would imply that the risks of a bubble bursting would be reflected in existing market prices—the price of homes and of the risky (subprime) mortgages that were packaged into what are now dubbed “toxic securities.” But if that were so and markets were so efficient, how could prices fall so precipitously? Astonishment about the failure of conventional theory was even expressed by former chair of the Federal Reserve Board Alan Greenspan. A persistent cheerleader for the notion of efficient markets, he told a congressional committee in October 2008: “Those of us who looked to the self-interest of lending institutions to protect shareholder’s equity, myself especially, are in a state of shocked disbelief.”

The behavioral economists who are trying to pinpoint the psychological factors that lead to bubbles and severe market disequilibrium are the intellectual heirs of psychologists Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman, who began studies in the 1970s that challenged the notion of financial actors as rational robots. Kahneman won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2002 for this work; Tversky would have assuredly won as well if he were still alive. Their pioneering work addressed money illusion and other psychological foibles, such as our tendency to feel sadder about losing, say, $1,000 than feeling happy about gaining that same amount.

A unifying theme of behavioral economics is the often irrational psychological impulses that underlie financial bubbles and the severe downturns that follow. Shiller, a leader in the field, cites “animal spirits”—a phrase originally used by economist John Maynard Keynes—as an explanation. The business cycle, the normal ebbs and peaks of economic activity, depends on a basic sense of trust for both business and consumers to engage one another every day in routine economic dealings. The basis for trust, however, is not always built on rational assessments. Animal spirits—the gut feeling that, yes, this is the time to buy a house or that sleeper stock—drive people to overconfidence and rash decision making during a boom. These feelings can quickly transmute into panic as anxiety rises and the market heads in the other direction. Emotion-driven decision making complements cognitive biases—money illusion’s failure to account for inflation, for instance—that lead to poor investment logic.

The importance of both emotion and cognitive biases in explaining the global crisis can be witnessed throughout the concatenation of events that, over the past 10 years, left the financial system teetering. Animal spirits propelled Internet stocks to indefensible heights during the dot-com boom and drove their values earthward just a few years later. They were present again when reckless lenders took advantage of low-interest rates to proffer adjustable-rate mortgages on risky, subprime borrowers. A phenomenon like money illusion prevailed: the borrowers of these mortgages failed to calculate what would happen if interest rates rose, which is exactly what happened during the middle of the decade, causing massive numbers of foreclosures and defaults. Securitized mortgages, debt from hundreds to thousands of homeowners packaged by banks into securities and then sold to others, lost most of their value. Banks witnessed their lending capital decline. Credit, the lifeblood of capitalism, vanished, bringing on a global crisis.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:06 AM


Events move Obama's approach to Iran (BEN SMITH, 6/21/09, Politico)

[E]ven analysts sympathetic with Obama’s careful approach to Iran have begun to doubt whether any engagement with Ayatollah Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad can be sustained, regardless of what the White House says now.

“The incremental rhetoric, the trying to position America to be in a place to have options regardless of the outcome may not work,” said Aaron David Miller, a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center “If the regime is left in place more nasty, besieged and insecure than ever, do you think it’s going to matter that Barack Obama tried to cultivate a middle road through it?”

“The time may have come and gone when he needs to put America’s views on the record. He’s about to miss a moment here,” he said.

Certainly, there can be no negotiations about nuclear weapons – America’s top regional priority – for now.

“As long as the crisis persists, there is no chance that he can initiate meaningful negotiations with Iran,” Gary Sick, who managed Jimmy Carter’s Iran crisis, wrote yesterday.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:57 AM


Iran's Supreme Revolutionary: By inexplicably inserting himself into the election controversy, Ayatollah Khamenei is destroying his reputation and tainting himself with an aura of corruption, Reza Aslan writes. Worse, he’s unwittingly turning a protest into a revolution. (Reza Aslan, 6/21/09, Daily Beast)

The remarkable thing about Khomeini’s innovative religio-political system is that it stood in contradiction to more than 1,000 years of Shiite theology. Shiism is a messianic religion in that it eagerly awaits an “End Times” when the messiah (called the Mahdi in Islam) will return to sweep away the old order and replace it with the perfect state, the kingdom of God. Hence, only a government administered by the messiah after he returns to earth can be considered legitimate. A government run by human beings—whether monarchy, democracy, or theocracy—is considered a usurpation of the messiah’s authority, which is why the religious clergy in Shiism have for centuries maintained a deep and abiding commitment to political quietism.

Khomeini argued, however, that in the absence of the messiah, the people must rely on his agents on earth (i.e., the clergy) to carry out the messiah’s duties and responsibilities. That includes establishing the perfect state for him. Simply put, rather than wait for the messiah to return to create the kingdom of God, the clergy should build the kingdom of God for him, thereby ushering in the messiah’s return (a uniquely Islamic take on Christian millenarianism).

For the vast majority of Khomeini’s fellow ayatollahs, including practically all of his superiors, this was a scandalous idea. Khomeini was accused of appropriating the authority of the messiah for himself; in effect, declaring himself to be the long-awaited Mahdi. Of course, Khomeini never made any such statement, nor did he ever explicitly identify himself with the Mahdi. Rather, like any good messiah, he simply embraced the messianic imagery of the Mahdi and allowed his followers to draw their own conclusions. For example, he eagerly accepted the title “The Imam,” an appellation reserved solely for the Mahdi when he returns to earth.

During Iran’s horrific eight-year war with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, Khomeini cast the battle as revenge for the Sunni massacre of the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson Husayn and his family at Karbala, even though such vengeance is the exclusive right of the Mahdi. “The blood of our martyrs [is] the continuation of the blood of the martyrs of Karbala,” he proclaimed.

But by far the most overt connection Khomeini established between himself and the messiah was his doctrine of the Valayat-e Faqih. In Khomeini’s view, the faqih would have more than just supreme authority, he would have infallible and divine authority—authority that, in fact, would be equal to the authority of the Prophet Muhammad.

“If a knowledgeable and just faqih undertakes the task of forming the government, then he will run the social affairs that the Prophet used to run and it is the duty of the people to listen to him and obey him,” Khomeini wrote in his magnum opus Islamic Government. “This ruler will have as much control over running the people’s administration, welfare and policy as the Prophet… had, despite the special virtues and the traits that distinguished the Prophet… [he will have] the same power as the Most Noble Messenger… in the administration of the society…[he] will hold the supreme power in the government and management and the control of social and political affairs of the people in the same way as the Prophet.”

This was a startling, some would say heretical, statement, but it was vital to Khomeini’s success in achieving absolute power.

Ayatollah Khamenei had, wisely, disavowed such absolute power, but now is trying to reclaim it and, thus, delegitimizing himself in purely theological terms.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:53 AM


Obama Closes Doors on Openness (Michael Isikoff, 6/20/09, NEWSWEEK)

As a senator, Barack Obama denounced the Bush administration for holding "secret energy meetings" with oil executives at the White House. But last week public-interest groups were dismayed when his own administration rejected a Freedom of Information Act request for Secret Service logs showing the identities of coal executives who had visited the White House to discuss Obama's "clean coal" policies. One reason: the disclosure of such records might impinge on privileged "presidential communications." The refusal, approved by White House counsel Greg Craig's office, is the latest in a series of cases in which Obama officials have opted against public disclosure. Since Obama pledged on his first day in office to usher in a "new era" of openness, "nothing has changed," says David -Sobel, a lawyer who litigates FOIA cases. "For a president who said he was going to bring unprecedented transparency to government, you would certainly expect more than the recycling of old Bush secrecy policies."

The hard line appears to be no accident. After Obama's much-publicized Jan. 21 "transparency" memo, administration lawyers crafted a key directive implementing the new policy that contained a major loophole, according to FOIA experts. The directive, signed by Attorney General Eric Holder, instructed federal agencies to adopt a "presumption" of disclosure for FOIA requests. This reversal of Bush policy was intended to restore a standard set by President Clinton's attorney general, Janet Reno. But in a little-noticed passage, the Holder memo also said the new standard applies "if practicable" for cases involving "pending litigation." Dan Metcalfe, the former longtime chief of FOIA policy at Justice, says the passage and other "lawyerly hedges" means the Holder memo is now "astonishingly weaker" than the Reno policy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:51 AM


President Obama's health-care reforms shaky with Democrats, GOP (Kenneth R. Bazinet, 6/22/09, NY DAILY NEWS)

"I don't know that [Obama] has the votes right now. I think there's a lot of concern in the Democratic caucus," Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) said Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union" show.

Like New York, California is concerned Obama will cover costs in part by reducing Medicaid and Medicare payments that help support hospitals and the public health system.

"If you change the Medicaid rate, for example, it has an impact on California between $1billion and $5 billion a year," Feinstein said. "Now, how could I support that?"

...they're going to come up with a massive plan to spend money on health care that saves taxpayers money?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:49 AM


Iran admits 50 cities had more votes than voters (Martin Fletcher , 6/22/09, Times of London)

In 50 Iranian cities the number of votes cast in this month presidential election exceeded the number of eligible voters, the state's election watchdog admitted today.

The surprising admission by the Guardian Council was, however, designed to undermine the claims of the defeated candidates that the vote was rigged.

Mir Hossein Mousavi, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's main rival in the hotly-disputed election, and the other two losing candidates have claimed that the vote exceeded eligible voters in as many as 170 districts.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:35 AM


The Myth of Prevention: A doctor explains why it doesn’t pay to stay well. Decoding what works, what falls short in Obama’s plans to reform health care (ABRAHAM VERGHESE, 6/20/09, WSJ)

My wife tried to tell me the other day that she had just ‘saved’ us money by buying on sale a couple of things for which we have no earthly use. She then proceeded to tote up all our ‘savings’ from said purchases and gave me a figure that represented the money we had generated, which we could now spend . . .she had me going for a minute.

I mention this because I have similar problems with the way President Obama hopes to pay for the huge and costly health reform package he has in mind that will cover all Americans; he is counting on the “savings” that will come as a result of investing in preventive care and investing in the electronic medical record among other things. It’s a dangerous and probably an incorrect projection. [...]

But if your preventive strategy is medical, if it involves us, if it consists of screening, finding medical conditions early, shaking the bushes for high cholesterols, or abnormal EKGs, markers for prostate cancer such as PSA, then more often than not you don’t save anything and you might generate more medical costs. Prevention is a good thing to do, but why equate it with saving money when it won’t? Think about this: discovering high cholesterol in a person who is feeling well, is really just discovering a risk factor and not a disease; it predicts that you have a greater chance of having a heart attack than someone with a normal cholesterol. Now you can reduce the probability of a heart attack by swallowing a statin, and it will make good sense for you personally, especially if you have other risk factors (male sex, smoking etc).. But if you are treating a population, keep in mind that you may have to treat several hundred people to prevent one heart attack. Using a statin costs about $150,000 for every year of life it saves in men, and even more in women (since their heart-attack risk is lower)—I don’t see the savings there.

Or take the coronary calcium scans or heart scan, which most authorities suggest is not a test to be done on people who have no symptoms, and which I think of as the equivalent of the miracle glow-in-the-dark minnow lure advertised on late night infommercials. It’s a money maker, without any doubt, and some institutions actually advertise on billboards or in newspapers, luring you in for this ‘cheap’ and ‘painless’ way to get a look at your coronary arteries. If you take the test and find you have no calcium on your coronaries, you have learned that . . . you have no calcium on your coronaries. If they do find calcium on your coronaries, then my friend, you have just bought yourself some major worry. You will want to know, What does this mean? Are my coronary arteries narrowed to a trickle? Am I about to die? Is it nothing? Asking such questions almost inevitably leads to more tests: a stress test, an echocardiogram, a stress echo, a cardiac catheterization, stents and even cardiac bypass operations—all because you opted for a ‘cheap’ and ‘painless’ test—if only you’d never seen that billboard.

June 21, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:57 PM


NYT editor: We had to keep mum on Afghan abduction (AP, June 21, 2009)

The Times reported Saturday that reporter David Rohde (ROHD) escaped by climbing over a wall. Rohde was abducted Nov. 10 along with an Afghan reporter and a driver south of the Afghan capital of Kabul.

In an interview on CNN Sunday, Times editor Bill Keller said suppressing the story of David Rohde's kidnapping seven months ago was "an agonizing position that we revisited over and over again."

All the news that won't affect us personally....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:43 PM


USA secure unlikely Confed Cup progress (ESPN SoccerNet, June 21, 2009)

The States had lost their two previous games in South Africa and needed a win, a Brazil victory and a six-goal swing over Italy to advance.

And that is exactly what happened as Bob Bradley's men pulled off the unthinkable, winning 3-0 against Egypt.

The Egyptians, who beat Italy last time out and pushed Brazil close in their opener, were second best throughout and had no answer to goals from Charlie Davies, Michael Bradley and Fulham's Clint Dempsey.

Starting Davies and not Feilhaber made it particularly surprising that we got three, but Egypt was so awful we should have had 6. Nor did subbing for Altidore make much sense. But Coach Bradley was eventually forced to move Dempsey to a central position up front which got him interested and Landon Donovan was all over the place, though too bashful about shooting.

Meanwhile, the back line was dominant, especially Onyewu in the air.

And Nick Green had a walk-off homerun to send Sox fans home happy.

Happy Father's Day!

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:20 AM


Why aren't there any decent football films?: From Sly Stallone saving Nazi penalties to Frodo Baggins running with hooligans, the beautiful game comes off badly. (Duleep Allirajah, 6/19/09, spiked)

Why are there so few good football films? I can understand why Hollywood has given football the swerve. Soccer simply isn’t a box-office draw in the US. But you’d expect better from British filmmakers. It’s a national obsession on this side of the pond. Yet our filmmakers have conspicuously failed to do justice to the game.

Take feelgood sports films for example. I’ve yet to see a decent, rags-to-riches, Roy of the Rovers feelgood football movie. All previous attempts to copy the well-worn American rise-fall-and-redemption sports movie template have failed. [...]

The only film to explore the non-hooligan dimension of football fandom was Fever Pitch, the film adaptation of Nick Hornby’s celebrated book. Hornby’s confessional account of his own obsession with Arsenal is transformed by director David Evans into a typically British romantic comedy. The film has its moments, but it simply can’t recapture some of the best passages of the book, such as Hornby’s extended meditation on why no human pleasure – sex, childbirth, passing exams – could possibly compare to Arsenal winning the Championship in 1989 with virtually the last kick of the season. Bend it Like Beckham and Gregory’s Girl are two other football-related rom coms worth mentioning. Bend it Like Beckham is far too worthy for its own good as far as I’m concerned. Bill Forsyth’s Gregory’s Girl is, by contrast, a much better film, but it’s far more about teenage love than football. And while we’re on the subject of comedies, Mike Bassett Football Manager is passable, but for sheer toe-curling comedy of embarrassment you’re better off watching the original Graham Taylor documentary, An Impossible Job.

I haven’t mentioned Escape to Victory, of course. It’s not strictly speaking a British film, directed as it was by John Huston and starring Sylvester Stallone. However it’s one of the few films about football that is worth watching. I’m choosing my words carefully here. It’s not a great film. It’s certainly no Raging Bull. In fact, there are so many things wrong with it I haven’t got time to list them all. But somehow it holds a special place in the hearts of many British football fans. Why? Well, despite the anachronisms, the preposterous plot, and the hammy acting, the film possesses that winning combination of plucky Brits, football, Nazis and Michael Caine that we simply can’t resist.

I watched Escape to Victory again last Sunday and three things struck me. Firstly, Russell Osman’s ‘but we can win this’ rallying cry must go down as the most iconic half-time pep talk in football history. Simply inspiring. Secondly, the film serves as a timely reminder that pitch invasions are not necessarily a bad thing. If it assists Allied POWs escape from the Nazis then a pitch invasion is clearly A Good Thing. Finally, the film reminds us that there was a time, admittedly before many of us were born, when the Germans didn’t always score from the penalty spot. All young British goalkeepers should be shown Colonel Hatch’s last-minute penalty save to debunk the pernicious myth that Germans are invincible at spot kicks.

As I said Escape to Victory isn’t a great film. I’d be lying if I said it was a good film. But it’s still one of the best films about football ever. And that’s a sad indictment of the film industry’s failure to translate the world’s greatest game on to the silver screen.

...is that the dreadful Victory is widely considered the best soccer film, the American version of Fever Pitch is vastly superior to the soccer version, and only the Iranians made a soccer flick that's actually worth watching.

In Jafar Panahi's Offside a young girl is hellbent on sneaking into Azadi Stadium for the 2006 World Cup qualifier between the Iranian national team and Bahrain, from which women are barred. Despite the assistance she receives from sympathetic male fans, she's caught and penned up with other equally unfortunate girls. They're watched over by guards who either recognize the absurdity of the gender segregation or genuinely believe it morally dangerous for them to be exposed to the boorish behavior of a crowd of men. When they're taken from the stadium in a bus for processing by the police, even the most conservative country boy guard fiddles with the radio antenna until they can get adequate reception to listen to the end of the game. The girls aren't given names and it's hard to figure out what makes them so passionate in their desire to attend the game in person, until the lead reveals her own motivation in the most affecting scene in the film.

Some will object that the filmmaker isn't very judgmental about the males-only policy. You can imagine the self-righteous indignation with which a Western director would have approached the topic. Perhaps more revealing is that the movie was shot on location during the events, though Mr. Panahi apparently misled authorities about the sort of film he was making. Thus is illustrated the vital difference between authoritarianism and totalitarianism. The characters demonstrate a corresponding conviction that they can talk the authorities and their minions out of most of the trouble they get in for violations of rules that no one is terribly eager to enforce.

Soccer is only the backdrop for the tale here and we see the action only from long distance, though one guard narrates what's going on to the girls and then they do get to hear the radio broadcast. But it is certainly fair to call it a soccer film.

Another indicator of the trouble with soccer films is that David Anspaugh, who made terrific sports movies in Hoosiers and Rudy, turned out a very pedestrian one about the greatest victory in US soccer history in The Game of their Lives. In 1950, a USA team made up of the sons of immigrants in St. Louis, a Haitian dish washer, and some East Coast boys, went to Brazil and defeated the mighty English, 1-0. The book about the event, by Geoffrey Douglas, is terrific. But it focuses on the social milieu, Dago Hill (home to Yogi Berra and Joe Garagiola as well), from which five of the 11 starters, including goalie Frank Borghi, arose, and on the curious character, the Haitian Joe Gaetjens, who went from scoring the US goal in this game to being murdered by the Duvalier regime in his native land, apparently keeping the same open and trusting manner the whole way.

The film takes a more straightforward sporting glory approach and, predictably, the more attention given the game of soccer itself the less interesting the movie. Especially odd given the source material is that none of the players' personalities are developed very well. If you didn't know it was a true story it would all seem overly cliched. And one of the unfortunate narrative devices employed is to have Patrick Stewart play an elderly version of the only American reporter who attended the game, Dent McSkimming from St. Louis. He's required to explain the significance of the game at considerable length as well as to evangelize for the sport's future. It's quite contrived and intrusive, though undoubtedly necessary for an American audience that could generally care less about soccer. The final victory is exciting enough, but the rest of the movie never rises above the humdrum.

Actually, the greatest soccer movie ever made is probably the documentary, Once in a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos. It relates the story of how Steve Ross and Warner Communications built the bedraggled New York franchise of the North American Soccer League into a global brand and, briefly, had soccer on the verge of major sport status in America, by recruiting first Pele and then Giorgio Chinaglia, Franz Beckenbauer, Carlos Alberto, Steve Hunt, Dennis Tueart and other internationals to play with club team scrubs. The combination of backing from a major media mogul, the phenomenon that was Pele, playing in Giants Stadium, and spending enough to make the team a powerhouse in a paupers' league, eventually got soccer on US sports pages and even on broadcast television, though only for a season.

It's interesting to hear the greatest stars of the game, Beckenbauer, Alberto, and Johann Cruyf, talk about the possibility that the NASL version of the game--which didn't allow for ties, playing an extra period and then a hockey-style shootout instead--was superior to the rest of the world's and to hear their genuine pride in having been part of the team and its accomplishments. The film argues, quite convincingly, that the Cosmos were forerunners of the Manchester United's and Real Madrid's of modern soccer.

But there lurked within the success a great evil, and he was Giorgio Chinaglia. The Welsh-Italian striker represented everything detestable about modern sports in general and soccer in particular. His only interest was in scoring goals and he not only believed that the entire offense should run through him but that he should run the entire club for his own benefit. As sycophantic to those above him as he was dismissive towards those below, he captivated Ross to the point that he was allowed to bring in a coach of his own choosing and ultimately to install his own dog's body, Peppe Pinton, to run the team. If Ross had run up huge dents they were nothing compared to what Chinaglia managed. And, arrogant to the end, the former player is only too happy to sit on camera and justify it all as nothing more than he deserved.

This internal destruction of the team was occurring as the league expanded far beyond its capacity to draw fans and field talent and as ABC television tried following a Monday Night Football format rather than utilizing the Match of the Day format that is so successful on British television. The former depends on the notion that any given game is a sufficient event that fans will tune in and that the game itself is interesting enough to fans that they'll stay tuned for even a pretty bad game. The latter involves a recognition that even in a soccer-mad country like England, all too many of the matches stink on paper and are even worse in the playing. MotD allows the broadcaster to show long highlights from the very best game and shorter highlights of the others. It goes without saying that if you couldn't get folks who love the game to watch them in their entirety you weren't going to get Americans to watch them.

Sadly, Steve Ross, who'd done his best to foster the game in America and had tried to get the World Cup to come here, died just before the 1994 Cup was played here. He was predeceased by the team and league. The film depicts the tumultuous ride he went on as a truly grand adventure, even it it did end in tragedy, brought down by his Iago.

One final football movie irony--while there are few or no good British football films, there's one episode of the series Cracker that employs the game to excellent effect. In To Be a Somebody, Robert Carlyle plays a Liverpool fan with a psychotic bent and Robbie Coltrane has to "crack" him. 15 years after it was first broadcast I still can't get his chant out of my head.

The 50 Greatest Sports Movies Of All Time! (Sports Illustrated, 8/04/03)

8 Breaking Away
This boy-meets-bike classic kickstands the test of time. Dooley is hilarious as a refundphobic used-car salesman, but this is above all a career movie for Christopher, who croons arias and pedals to an exciting finish against snooty college boys in the Little 500.

9 Chariots of Fire
It's amazing that a movie about Caucasian sprinters, some of whom look slow even for the 1924 Olympics, won the Academy Award for best picture in the go-go '80s. But there's so much heart at the finish line that we accept the lack of soul on the blocks. [...]

11 Bang the Drum Slowly
Nobody looks much like a ballplayer, least of all pitcher Moriarty and doomed, tobacco-chewing catcher De Niro. But Drum movingly hugs the foul line between myth and reality. And there's not a dry eye in the stadium as De Niro stumbles around under that final pop foul. [...]

20 Requiem for a Heavyweight
This melancholy mood piece features Quinn as a tender, mumbling giant who plods down lonely streets as if the ground were tapioca. Highlights include Mickey Rooney's wary, sympathetic cutman and the shadowy, darkly glamorous cinematography. [...]

30 The Rookie
An earnest Quaid has the right stuff in this true story about Jim Morris, a failed minor league pitcher turned high school teacher-coach who gets another shot at the Show. Quaid's mound scenes pop the glove, and Griffiths supplies a mood changeup as his encouraging wife. [...]

38 Field of Dreams
Cornball, yes, but also a cornfield classic that touches the bases of nostalgia, baseball history and the bond between fathers and sons. Costner excels as ball field builder Ray Kinsella. And Burt Lancaster is unforgettable as old-timer Moonlight Graham. [...]

42 The Pride of the Yankees
Cooper achieves a quiet nobility and grace in this sentimental biography of Lou Gehrig. To mimic the lefthanded Iron Horse, Cooper—a righthander—wore a uniform with the number reversed and ran to third base instead of first. When processed, the film was flipped. [...]

47 It Happens Every Spring
A lighthearted romp about a chemistry professor (Milland) who accidentally invents a compound that repels wood. To test it from the mound, he tries out for the big leagues, makes a team and proves unhittable. This gem anticipates steroids and corked bats.

48 The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings
It's 1939, eight years before Jackie Robinson will cross major league baseball's color line, and a rowdy African-American team is barnstorming the country. The script is sneakily subversive: For a black man to succeed in a white world, he must clown and cakewalk.

49 Phar Lap
This beautifully filmed Australian period piece is a loving biography of the thoroughbred that captivated the land Down Under in the 1920s and '30s. The movie touchingly depicts the relationship between Phar Lap and the groom (Burlinson) who cares for him.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:13 AM


Obama's slip is showing: The public likes his big plans much less than it likes him, and that can't (Michael Goodwin, June 21st 2009, NY Daily News)

One of President Obama's favorite words is "unsustainable." It also happens to be the perfect description of his standing with the American people.

Polls consistently find he is personally more popular than his major policies. That situation is unsustainable - something has to give. The first law of politics says the two must eventually get in sync.

Bet that Obama's popularity will give. In part that's because, even if he wanted to, he can't undo the big policies the public doesn't like, especially his adding to the deficit and his aggressive push to get government more involved in private industry. [...]

Dem gains in the last two elections came primarily from conservative-leaning districts and some members already are worried about re-election. If the tide turns against Obama, they could be in trouble.

...to run a campaign that just boils down to one issue: "tax and spend"

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:21 AM


Iran in chaos as Mousavi 'ready for martyrdom' (Parisa Hafezi, 6/21/09, Scotland on Sunday)

DEFEATED presidential candidate Mirhossein Mousavi told supporters last night he was "ready for martyrdom" as protestors clashed once again with police on the streets of Tehran.

Mousavi also called for a national strike if he is arrested and as darkness fell across the capital last night, rooftop cries of "Allahu Akbar" (God is greatest) sounded out in an echo of the tactics used in the 1979 Islamic revolution against the Shah.

Earlier, in an act fraught with symbolic significance, a suicide bomber blew himself up at the mausoleum of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the father of Iran's Islamic revolution, while unrest continued across Tehran in defiance of a ban on demonstrations.

Riot police deployed in force, firing teargas, using batons and water cannon to disperse protesters.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:14 AM


1938: Hitler’s Gamble by Giles MacDonogh is a powerful account of the Fuhrer's annus mirabilis (Nigel Jones, 6/21/09, Daily Telegraph)

MacDonogh’s book is a minutely detailed chronicle of how this tragic transformation took place. It is an insider’s account, largely confined to the chancelleries and embassies where the Continent’s fate was decided, and based on the diaries and memoirs of those diplomats and politicians involved. One chapter is devoted to each month of the year, giving a sense of a gradually unfolding doom as Nemesis approaches.

Although MacDonogh’s intention was clearly to give a dispassionate overview of the whole year, culminating in the crucial Munich conference in October when the Western democracies rubber-stamped Hitler’s dismemberment of Czechoslovakia, it is in fact an earlier event in March that dominates the book and gives it its emotional charge: the Anschluss.

An afterword reveals why the author devotes such horrified attention to Hitler’s absorption of Austria. MacDonogh’s maternal grandfather, Felix, was an assimilated Viennese Jew: one of that vibrant, wealthy and creative community that gave the world such talents as Freud, Mahler, Joseph Roth and Stefan Zweig. Although his extended family – including several of the author’s lively and lusty great-aunts – managed to make their escape as the Nazi jaws closed around Austria, not all of MacDonogh’s relatives were so lucky. The book’s very last sentence reads bleakly: 'One of my close relatives perished: the painter Rudolf Rapaport abandoned his mentally retarded son when he fled to America. Martin Rapp was gassed at Hartheim in 1944.’

MacDonogh’s account of the Anschluss and its aftermath is a masterpiece of extreme emotion held in check. His level tone as he reels off appalling atrocities and such chilling statistics as the steadily rising suicide rate among Jews trapped in Vienna somehow makes the tragedy of the destruction of a whole community even more telling.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:09 AM


In Tehran, a Moment For Obama to Seize (Jim Hoagland, June 21, 2009, Washington Post)

By threatening and then delivering repression blessed by his religious authority, Khamenei has turned an election dispute into a crisis of legitimacy for a regime that claims to be divinely inspired. Obama's decision to stay out of the limelight is paying off by keeping the focus on those who cheat and maim Iranians.

But the president and his advisers still have not adjusted policies and tactics being overtaken by events. This is clear both from the initial "caught in the headlights" reaction by Obama as he temporized -- albeit with steely skill -- and from accounts of diplomatic and other official sources here.

Caught in the headlights, the deer temporized with steely skill.

A lot of the press corps is going to be embarrassed in a few years time, reading what they wrote in the midst of their Obamania.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:05 AM


For Obama, the Glow Fades (David S. Broder, June 21, 2009, Washington Post)

Five months into his tenure, Obama has become the only president the American people think about. And a series of polls last week showed that when Americans think about Obama, they are becoming increasingly critical.

The Wall Street Journal-NBC, the New York Times-CBS and the Pew Research Center polls all reported similar findings. Barack Obama retains his personal popularity, with overall job approval scores at upward of 60 percent. But when asked about specific important policies of the administration, the scores are much lower -- or even negative.

In Andrew Kohut's survey for Pew, the share of voters applauding Obama's handling of the economy declined from 60 percent in April to 52 percent now. He barely broke even on his approach to the General Motors and Chrysler bailouts, with 47 percent approving and 44 percent disapproving. By a 22-point margin, those polled disagree with spending billions to keep the companies operating.

For weeks, polls have consistently registered opposition to Obama's decision to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay. His speech blaming Bush for opening the prison apparently did little to ease the political fallout.

The New York Times-CBS poll had more worrisome news. As the size of the budget deficits has become more evident, concerns about the budget policies of the administration have grown. By a 2-1 margin, this survey found that voters answered negatively when asked if Obama has developed a clear plan for dealing with the deficit. A 52 percent to 41 percent majority rejected the Obama priority for stimulating the economy at the cost of higher deficits. They said the focus should be on reducing the deficit.

Health care, Obama's latest and biggest fight, will provide another test of his leadership, with indications in several polls that Republicans and Democrats are taking opposing stands, despite the president's calls for a bipartisan bill.

And given the impact of a health plan on the size of the deficit he's already lost the issue to the GOP.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:57 AM


Top cleric may be playing role in Iran unrest (HAMZA HENDAWI, 6/20/09, Associated Press)

One of Iran's most powerful men may be playing a key role behind closed doors in the country's escalating postelection crisis.

Former president and influential cleric Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani has made no public comment since Iran erupted into confrontation between backers of hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and reformists who claim he stole re-election through fraud.

But Iranian TV has shown pictures of Rafsanjani's daughter, Faezeh Hashemi, speaking to hundreds of opposition supporters. And Rafsanjani, who has made no secret of his distaste for Ahmadinejad, was conspicuously absent from an address by the country's supreme leader calling for national unity and siding with the president.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei praised Rafsanjani, 75, on Friday as one of the revolution's architects and an effective political figure for many years, but he acknowledged that the two have "many differences of opinion."

A Struggle for the Legacy of the Iranian Revolution (ROBERT F. WORTH, 6/21/09, NY Times)
Ascertaining what the true Iran is has never been harder. What is clear, though, is that the electoral dispute has exposed a deep rift in Iranian society, one that cannot be measured or healed by vote counts. On each side, faith merges with perception, making the partisans believe with fierce certainty that they represent the country’s true majority.

The difference is sometimes caricatured as one between a Westernized urban elite and the pious lower classes. In fact, it is not that simple, even if there is little doubt about who all those fashionable Tehrani women in jeans and loose head scarves voted for. A vast opposition rally on Monday — in which more than a million people are believed to have taken part — was also full of people who looked more like Ahmadinejad supporters: women in traditional Islamic garb, and working-class men.

In essence, the core of the struggle is between two competing views of what this country’s Islamic revolution sought to achieve.

“One side wants a gradual evolution of democratic institutions and a more democratic reading of Islamic institutions,” said Kavous Seyed-Emami, a political science professor at Imam Sadeq University in Tehran. “The other side is for a populist and more or less authoritarian reading of Islam.”

The Koran and the Ballot Box (REUEL MARC GERECHT, 6/21/09, NY Times)
The Islamic revolution in Iran encompassed two incompatible ideas: that God’s law — as interpreted by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini — would rule, and that the people of Iran had the right to elect representatives who would advance and protect their interests. When Khomeini was alive and Iran was at war with Iraq, the tension between theocracy and democracy never became acute. [...]

[I]n the current demonstrations we are witnessing not just the end of the first stage of the Iranian democratic experiment, but the collapse of the structural underpinnings of the entire Islamic approach to modern political self-rule. Islam’s categorical imperative for both traditional and fundamentalist Muslims —“commanding right and forbidding wrong” — is being transformed.

This imperative appears repeatedly in the Koran. Historically, it has been understood as a check on the corrupting, restive and libidinous side of the human soul. For modern Islamic militants, it is a war cry as well — a justification of the morals police in Saudi Arabia and Iran, of the young men who harass “improperly” attired Muslim women from Cairo to Copenhagen. It is the primary theological reason that Ayatollah Khamenei will try to stop a democratic triumph in his country, since real democracy would allow men, not God and his faithful guardians, the mullahs, to determine right and wrong.

Westerners would do well to understand the magnitude of what is transpiring in the Islamic Republic. Iran’s revolution shook the Islamic world. It was the first attempt by militant Muslims to prove that “Islam has all the answers” — or at least enough of them to run a modern state and make its citizenry more moral children of God. But the experiment has failed. The so-called June 12th revolution is the Iranian answer to the recurring hope in Islamic history that the world can be reborn closer to the Prophet Muhammad’s virtuous community. Millions of Iranians said in the presidential election, and more powerfully on the streets since, that they want out of Ayatollah Khomeini’s dream, which has become a nightmare.

No matter what Ayatollah Khamenei does — and at his most recent Friday prayer sermon he gave no inclination he’s ready to stop hammering the reformers — this message isn’t going to change. In the nine years since the reform movement around Mr. Khatami was crushed, it has only grown stronger. It brought within its ranks Mr. Moussavi, a favored lay disciple of Ayatollah Khomeini, who clearly has no regard for either Mr. Ahmadinejad or the supreme leader.

What may seem more surprising is that so many prominent first-generation revolutionaries have sided with Mr. Moussavi. There are many reasons for this, but among the most salient is a growing belief that the Islamic Republic and the revolution are finished unless Iran becomes more democratic.

The belief in the evolution of the Republic is, of course, anti-revolutionary.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:40 AM


Okay, the only competitive meal I had in mind was a dog, a beer, and a bag of peanuts at the ballpark, with the venue being all important.

But that leaves us with an audio copy of Horse Soldiers still to be given away and we just received a review copy of Piers Paul Read's Death of a Pope to add to the kitty.

How about picking two golfers in the US Open and low combined score (your choices have to make the cut) wins. One caveat: you can't take Tiger.

Here are all the players Good Luck!

June 20, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:02 PM


How white roofs shine bright green: Painting homes a lighter shade does more than save money on A.C. (Mark Clayton, 10/03/08, The Christian Science Monitor)

It has long been known that a white roof makes a dwelling cooler. That saves energy and cuts carbon emissions. But until Akbari, a researcher at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, picked up a pencil to do the calculations, few realized the major climate effect that millions of white rooftops could have by reflecting sunlight back into space.

It turns out that a 1,000 square foot area of rooftop painted white has about the same one-time impact on global warming as cutting 10 tons of carbon dioxide emissions, he and his colleagues write in a new study soon to be published in the journal “Climatic Change.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:52 AM


Protesters defy Ayatolla, police fire tear gas (The National, June 20. 2009)

Witnesses said police fired tear gas and water cannons at thousands of protesters who rallied in Tehran today in open defiance of Iran’s clerical government, sharply escalating the most serious internal conflict since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Witnesses described fierce clashes near Revolution Square in central Tehran after about 3,000 protesters chanted “Death to the dictator” and “Death to dictatorship”.

Police responded with tear gas and water cannons, the witnesses said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:20 AM


This Father's Day Consider the Power of Legacy (Doug Stanton, Author of Horse Soldiers: The Extraordinary Story of a Band of U.S. Soldiers Who Rode to Victory in Afghanistan)

Horse Soldiers is the untold story of a victory won by U.S. Special Forces and other Americans, alongside Afghan counterparts, at a critical time in our recent history. Part sociologist, diplomat, part foreign policy expert, the men in the book enacted a nuanced campaign that is a template for the way future conflicts can be approached, and a window to where we are in Afghanistan today. And, according to those who know, their ethos is simpatico with emerging national policy concerning Afghanistan. In other words, these guys got it right. One of the reasons I wrote Horse Soldiers was to understand the world my children would inherit after the events of 2001.

When I was writing my first book In Harm’s Way, I witnessed the sense of sacrifice that those WWII veterans possessed. I was surprised that sometimes their grandchildren hadn’t talked to them about the historic events of that night in July 1945, when the USS Indianapolis went down. With some modest means, I started a scholarship program for the grandkids of the survivors, one of the requirements of which was that they write an essay about their grandfather. This project was meant to foster a legacy in these young people of the sacrifices made by those who had come before them.

Recently, then, I was startled and more than saddened, after hanging up the phone with Betty McCoy, of Palm Coast, Florida, the wife of Giles McCoy, of the USS Indianapolis, who told me that Gil had just passed away after a battle with cancer. My son and I had visited Gil and Betty, making a last trip to say goodbye, although I didn’t want to admit that at the time.

Gil, a WWII Marine, having survived Peleliu, Iwo Jima, and the sinking of his ship, devoted himself to a life of helping others. He was about as resilient and strong a character as you could meet, and yet alongside his own steely self-awareness he possessed real powers of empathy. He never used phrases like “everyone agrees with me so I must be right.”

This idea of legacy, of being bound together around the campfire or kitchen table of shared experience, is important, because it’s in those moments that we move to the heart of solving problems, global and local, big and small. And of all people, I have learned that the people I write about in Horse Soldiers, the modern soldiers of the U.S. Army Special Forces, are trained to walk a selfless mile in another’s shoes during often dangerous journeys meant to create change. And as with McCoy, when I call their actions heroic, I’m using a word they are too humble to use in describing what they accomplished.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:17 AM


Sotomayor quits women's club after GOP criticism (MARK SHERMAN, 6/19/09, Associated Press)

Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor resigned Friday from an elite all-women's club after Republicans questioned her participation in it. Sotomayor said she resigned from the Belizean Grove to prevent the issue from becoming a distraction in her confirmation hearings.

Ah, the principled Right...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:06 AM


REVIEW: of Heart of the Assassin by Robert Ferrigno (Publishers Weekly)

STARRED REVIEW: Set in a future American divided into two major regions, Edgar-finalist Ferrigno’s final entry in his Assassin trilogy (after Sins of the Assassin) nicely ties up the wildly diverse plot lines that have motivated his many characters. [... One can read this volume as a stand-alone, but to enjoy the vast breadth of what is truly a remarkable achievement, one should start with book one, Prayers for the Assassin, and read the series in order. (Aug.)

-EXCERPT: Chapter One of Heart of the Assassin (RobertFerrigno.com)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:02 AM


How Obama could lose health fight (MIKE ALLEN & JIM VANDEHEI, 6/19/09, Politico)

President Obama's campaign for health care reform by this fall, once considered highly likely to succeed, suddenly appears in real jeopardy.

Top White House advisers, especially chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, are still privately predicting massive changes to the health care system in 2009. But for the first time, Democrats on Capitol Hill and in the administration are expressing frank worries about stronger-than-expected opposition from moderate Democrats and worse-than-expected estimates for how much the plan could cost.

Business groups, which had embraced the idea of reform and have been meeting quietly with Democrats for months in an effort to shape the legislation, now talk of spending millions of dollars to oppose the latest proposals out of Capitol Hill. And Democrats themselves are not united, with leading party figures making contradictory declarations about how far they should go to overhaul the system when deficits are soaring and prospects for an economic recovery remain cloudy.

And top Democratic officials tell POLITICO they are increasingly pessimistic about getting any more Republican votes than they did on the stimulus package, with some aides referring to the idea of a bipartisan bill as "fool's gold" — an unattainable waste of time.

...is if they pass something.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:30 AM


Environmentalists baffled by Obama's strategy: The administration is defending in court environmental measures that the president once vowed to roll back. Officials say they have a plan, but some fear backpedaling. (Jim Tankersley, June 19, 2009, LA Times)

As a candidate for president, Barack Obama wooed environmentalists with a promise to "support and defend" pristine national forest land from road building and other development that had been pushed by the Bush administration.

But five months into Obama's presidency, the new administration is actively opposing those protections on some 60 million acres of federal woodlands in a case being considered by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The roadless issue is one of several instances of the administration defending in court environmental policies that it once vowed to end.

Its position has been a disappointment to environmentalists who had hoped for decisive action in rolling back Bush-era policies.

...he's all tactics.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:28 AM


Why the Fed Isn't Igniting Inflation: Yes, the Fed is expanding the money supply. But any inflationary effect will be offset by consumers' new frugality (Peter Coy, 6/18/09, Business Week)

[I]f anything, the wave of money it's generating may not be big enough. How can that be? Because the inflationary effects of the new money are being fully offset, or more than offset, by the far-reaching and long-lasting impact of household debt repayments. Whether it's voluntary frugality or under the coercion of creditors, Americans have abruptly switched from living beyond their means to saving more and working down the debts they incurred during the bubble years.

The people who worry about inflation—and there are many—may not have fully grasped the multitrillion-dollar ramifications of American households' extended deleveraging. While cleaning up debt is a good thing for the long-term health of the U.S. economy, it's hell on consumer spending, which accounts for about two-thirds of gross domestic product.

The dramatic pullback in consumer spending means money that otherwise would have gone into raising prices is going into propping up the faltering economy. Banks have drastically increased their reserves at the Fed rather than making new loans. That's the biggest cause for the increase in the monetary base. "At every level of the economy and every level of society, the demand for cash is unprecedented," says David A. Rosenberg, chief economist and strategist for Gluskin Sheff & Associates, a Toronto money manager. Says Rosenberg: "If the Fed didn't meet that demand for cash, we'd have a destabilizing deflation on our hands."

As a matter of fact, the economy is teetering on the edge of deflation—a general extended decline in prices—despite the Fed's intervention. Excluding food and energy, consumer prices rose a modest 1.8% in the 12 months through May—and including food and energy, they fell 1.3%, the most since 1950. Cutbacks by consumers are bringing about deflation in business, with unemployment in May at 9.4% and manufacturers using only 65% of their capacity, the lowest since recordkeeping began in 1948. Small businesses that were aggressively raising prices a year ago are now "worried about weak demand, the fact that they don't have many customers," says William C. Dunkelberg, chief economist of the National Federation of Independent Business.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:15 AM


Iraq Declares Victory As U.S. Troops Leave Cities: U.S. combat forces must leave urban centres by June 30 and the entire force that invaded Iraq in 2003 must be gone by 2012. (Javno, 6/20/09)

Iraq's leader declared victory on Saturday as the country began to end a foreign occupation with the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from cities, and told Iraqis not to lose faith if the pullback resulted in attacks.

As part of a security pact signed between Baghdad and Washington last year, U.S. combat forces must leave urban centres by June 30 and the entire force that invaded Iraq in 2003 must be gone by 2012.

"It is a great victory for Iraqis that we are taking the first step toward ending the foreign presence in Iraq," Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki told a conference of leaders from the ethnic Turkmen community.

...when will we be able to withdraw our troops from Europe and Japan?

June 19, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:53 PM


Peterson: Democrats Back to Square One on Climate Bill (Jennifer Bendery, 6/19/09, Roll Call)

House Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) on Friday said climate change bill negotiators are heading back to the drawing board after discussions between Democrats “blew up last night.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:20 AM


Democrats Scramble to Cut Costs From Health Plan (ROBERT PEAR, 6/19/09, NY Times)

Mr. Obama suggested earlier this week that the total cost to overhaul the health care system would be “on the order of $1 trillion over the next 10 years.” But initial estimates by the Congressional Budget Office, the official scorekeeper on the cost of legislation, have come in much higher, leaving many lawmakers with sticker shock and casting about for alternatives.

As the Senate health committee continued drafting a companion bill on Thursday, one of its Democratic members, Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland, said, “Obviously this is not going to go as fast as we thought.”

The Finance Committee has wrestled all week with the three biggest issues in the health care legislation: how to pay for coverage of the uninsured, whether to create a new public insurance plan and whether to impose new obligations on employers.

But it is the cost of the legislation that seems to bedevil lawmakers the most. A budget office estimate of $1.6 trillion as the cost of an earlier Finance Committee draft sent members hunting for ways to pare the expense. Peppered with questions about the legislation, the committee’s chairman, Senator Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana, has postponed a drafting session that was to have begun early next week.

Obama Initiatives Hit Speed Bumps On Capitol Hill: High Price Tag For Reform Bill Prompts Sparring And a Delay (Ceci Connolly, 6/19/09, Washington Post)
In a high-level meeting at the White House yesterday, Obama conveyed his concern over early pronouncements by the Congressional Budget Office that a bill drafted by the Senate health committee would cover just 16 million additional people at a cost of $1 trillion, said one official with knowledge of the session who was not permitted to talk to reporters and so spoke on the condition of anonymity.

"That is not his idea of good, affordable, universal coverage," said this adviser. The preliminary estimate, pounced on by Republicans, "has rattled everyone."

Most of us are insured and nearly everyone who is insured expresses satisfaction with their own coverage. We fret about those uninsured we keep hearing about and would like to help them out. Until we see the price tag and start hearing about what the Democrats' plans will do to our own coverage. Americans want to keep what they have and cover everyone else on the cheap. Mr. Obama ain't that magical.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:59 AM


Public Starting to Question Obama Economic Policies: Despite the President's Popularity, Polls Show Waning Support for Economic Policies (JAKE TAPPER, June 18, 2009 , ABC News)

Obama's spending proposals, plus a record-breaking national debt inherited from President Bush that is projected to grow, could be the President's political Achilles heel and one reason he often underlines fiscal prudence as a top priority.

The percentage of people in a Pew Research Center poll out today who expressed approval for the way Obama is handling the economy slipped to 52 percent from 60 percent in April.

Recent NBC/Wall Street Journal and CBS/New York Times polls showed that nearly six in 10 people said the Obama administration is not doing enough to reduce the deficit. The Pew poll showed about the same percentage disapprove of the government's spending billions to keep General Motors and Chrysler in business.

It's exquisitely easy for the GOP because demanding deficit reduction is a popular way of attacking everything Democrats want to do.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:48 AM


Katyn is story the world has been waiting to hear (Andrew O'Hagan, 6/19/09, Evening Standard)

Andrzej Wajda is a Polish master who had been making films for nearly 60 years. Since his first great trilogy on the Second World War — A Generation, Kanal, and Ashes and Diamonds — he has made movies questioning what is left after bloodshed, what ideology does, what revolution means, what society is for, and he has come full circle, at the age of 85, to make what is probably his greatest, about the Russian massacre of 20,000 Polish officers and intellectuals in 1940.

It is a movie that grows out of not only the Polish film tradition, but also a Polish hunger for truth: Katyn is told in full psychological colour, in a local, human, emotional accent, with the pressure of history bleeding into every scene and through every character. That is what makes it different from anything Hollywood could provide: it carries the DNA of a national ordeal on to the screen. And the journey is personal: Wajda’s own father was one of those officers killed in cold blood at Katyn.

The film is a work of experience. It takes something that has long been in Wajda’s family, in his nation, and marries it to something he discovered himself, a talent for storytelling and cinema. He makes a good decision to concentrate on the women and children of the officers, because that story, via his mother, via himself, is where memory and history unite.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:41 AM


Ayatollah brands British government 'treacherous' and blames it for bloodshed (Chris Laker, 19.06.09, Evening Standard)

Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei today said that extremist behaviour of political governments around the world was to blame for the unrest in the country.

He added that there was "definitive victory" and no rigging in disputed presidential elections that set off days of unprecedented protests. [...]

He blamed Great Britain and Iran's external enemies for the unrest, calling the British government the 'most treacherous'.

He's mining a deep meme of Iranian culture there, but it's not going to cut the mustard this time. All he's done is defined subsequent protests as being directed against his own defense of the John Thonpson of Iran.

Iran protesters pour onto Ahmadinejad's home turf: Demonstrators flood Imam Khomeini Square in south Tehran on a fourth day of mass protests over last week's presidential election. The supreme leader is expected to address the nation today. (Borzou Daragahi and Ramin Mostaghim and Kim Murphy, June 19, 2009, LA Times)

With titans of the Islamic Republic entrenched against each other, huge crowds of protesters clad in green and black pressed into President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's home turf Thursday to make the case that he won reelection through massive vote fraud.

Dressed in black to mourn those killed in the clashes and green to mark their allegiance to rival candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi, the protesters moved into traditionally conservative south Tehran, pouring out of a subway station into the vast Imam Khomeini Square.

Witnesses said they filed quietly through the Grand Bazaar, a vast labyrinth of shops and wholesalers that was once the nation's economic nerve center.

Many shops were closed. But some workers in the district hung green fabric from balconies and windows or flashed victory signs in support of the protesters.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:19 AM

ONCE YOU SPLIT THE OAK.... (via Kevin Whited:

The Art Guys’ big fat not-so-gay wedding (DOUGLAS BRITT, 6/12/09, Houston Chronicle)

As more and more gay couples are doing these days, Michael Galbreth and Jack Massing will don tuxes on Saturday and walk down a wedding aisle to say their vows.

But what will distinguish their marriage from ones happening in Iowa and most New England states isn’t just the fact that it will have no legal standing in Texas, which confers none of the rights and responsibilities of marriage to same-sex couples, even if they’ve been together as long as Galbreth and Massing, who celebrated their 25th anniversary last year.

Or the likelihood that their wives will attend the ceremony in the Lillie and Hugh Roy Cullen Sculpture Garden of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

It’s the fact that their wedding isn’t to each other. It’s to a live oak sapling.

Welcome to The Art Guys Marry a Plant, the latest performance — or as they prefer to call it, the latest “behavior” work — by the Houston conceptual duo. And it has nothing to do with the country’s hottest civil rights issue, they say, although they both support the right of same-sex couples to marry.

The beauty of all humor being conservative is that they don't even get that they're mocking the idea that other unions are morally equivalent to real marriage.

June 18, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:15 PM


Iran's Supreme Leader May 'Sacrifice' Ahmadinejad to Save Himself: Interviewee: Karim Sadjadpour, Associate, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (Interviewer: Bernard Gwertzman, Consulting Editor, CFR.org, June 17, 2009, CFR)

The supreme leader's decision to delegate responsibility to the Guardian Council was classic Khamenei in the sense that he doesn't cede authority--the Guardian Council is essentially under his jurisdiction--but he buys time and deflects accountability. He was calculating that if he could buy time, the scale of these protests would gradually diminish. So far, that hasn't been the case. He may eventually be faced with a situation of whether to sacrifice President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose "reelection" he announced, or go down himself with the ship.

'Khamenei Has Never Seen a Crisis Like This': This week's protests in Iran are truly unprecedented, says Iran expert Afshin Molavi in an interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE. (Der Spiegel, 6/19/09)

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Who are the demonstrators? What part of society do they come from?

Molavi: We are witnessing the return of the Iranian middle class to the political space. This middle class is vibrant, modern, wired, eager to engage with the outside world, hungry for more social and political freedoms, and for better economic management. Many members of Iran's urban middle class -- and its important to remember that Iran is 70 percent urbanized -- chose not to vote in the 2005 election, disillusioned with the failures of the reform movement led by (former Iranian president) Mohammad Khatami. They are returning in full after four years of Ahmadinejad and demanding that their votes be counted...

SPIEGEL ONLINE: ...because they feel cheated. Were they?

Molavi: That is the main reason people went out onto the streets. They felt that they were a victim of massive fraud -- that their vote did not count. They did not go to the streets for a revolution. The case for a massive fraud is overwhelming. Let's make no mistake: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has a base. But on election day, the results of 40 million ballots were announced within an hour of polls closing. Hand counting 40 million ballots? In addition, security services surrounded the offices of Ahmadinejad's main opponent Mir Hossein Mousavi. They shut down Mousavi Web sites. They jailed hundreds of Mousavi supporters the next day. However, as the crowds grow, so do the demands, and what started out as protest with the slogan "where is my vote?" has morphed into something larger, reflecting a generalized discontent with the order of things.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: It also seems as though it is no longer just like a battle of the people against the regime, but also a battle within the regime itself.

Molavi: The analysis in Tehran is that this was a coup perpetrated by supporters of the "new guard" of revolutionary elite, many of whom hail from the security and intelligence services. Over the past four years, Ahmadinejad has appointed former Revolutionary Guard members and former security officials to key positions. Facing them is the "old guard," consisting of influential figures like former President Ali Akbar Rafsanjani, Khatami, and Mousavi. The clerics are divided, too. Rafsanjani already went to talk to the major clerics and likely warned them that the current turmoil is highly dangerous for the country and for them personally. The interesting thing is: Rafsanjani is also chairman of the Assembly of Experts, 83 clerics theoretically authorized to appoint or remove the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who holds a strong grip on power. This internal struggle is the most serious ever faced by the Islamic Republic.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:10 PM


Kenneth Starr Endorses Sotomayor (David Corn, June 18, 2009, Mother Jones)

Starr voiced his backing of Sotomayor while delivering the keynote speech at a luncheon held in Los Angeles for Loyola Law School's program for journalists who cover legal issues. He said that he "thinks very well of her." He noted that he has not written any official endorsement letter for Sotomayor but that no one had asked him to do so—suggesting he would if requested.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:19 PM


OPEN LETTER TO AYATOLLAH KHAMENEI: 'Your Regime Is Finished': "The people of Iran will accept your rule no more," writes Afshin Ellian in an open letter to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. The professor of law in exile demands that Iran's religious leader allow democratic change -- and suggests that South Africa could offer valuable lessons. (Afshin Ellian, 6/19/09, Der Spiegel)

To His Excellency Ayatollah Said Ali Khamenei, [...]

Thirty years ago, millions of Iranians, young people mainly, took to the streets to demonstrate for three fundamental rights. First and foremost the three basic freedoms of Azadi-e Baian, Azadi-e Qalam, Azadi-e Andish-e: the freedom of speech, the freedom to write and the freedom of thought. Secondly, the right of independence. And thirdly, they demanded the (Islamic) republic.

Against our hopes we helped put a monstrous constitution in place. In the end, Imam Khomeini's doctrine of vilayat-i faqih, rule by a single ayatollah, created an unparalleled crisis for Iran and Islam itself.

Excellency, every response you have given in the face of non-violent protest has been one of more oppression and more violence. Even in constitutional questions: the appointment of the supreme religious political leader under the vilayat-i faqih system, has led to insoluble conflict. The periodical presidential elections have had no influence at all on the organization of the judicial system, on foreign policy or the government's security policy, and have thus undermined every form of public credibility and legitimacy. Former-president Khatami was eventually forced to concede in public that despite the high expectations of his supporters he had been unable to implement any serious reforms. You, as leader of Iran, blocked every presidential measure that you did not accept. As a result, millions of Iranians were disappointed in President Khatami -- although it was actually you who was to blame.

The revolution that had begun in freedom, ended in the rule of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, with anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial. President Ahmadinejad boasted that he would wipe Israel, a member of the United Nations, from the map. Many like me feel a deep shame at this uncivilized and un-Persian anti-Semitism.

Iran's semi-official anti-Semitism and tyrannical rule towards its own people reveals the moral failure of the regime that you lead. Millions of people in Teheran and other Iranian cities have condemned this moral bankruptcy by demonstrating and by voting for Mir Hossein Mousavi. Your regime is finished. Surely you realize that too, Excellency? And if you have not realized it yet, then surely you, just like the Shah some 30 years ago, must have heard the hundreds of thousands in Teheran shouting "Allahu Akabar, down with the dictatorship!"

Excellency, the demonstrations attest that the people of Iran, the children of the revolution, will accept your rule no more. Your regime is no longer able to exercise sovereignty over the Iranian people without the recourse to violence -- extreme violence. I urge you to recognize that Iran is now undeniably at a crossroads: Either the will of the people is accepted and a peaceful transition to democracy is achieved or you plan to respond to these protests by launching a bloodbath, which will cause unprecedented chaos in Iran. Ask yourself: Can a regime, hated and rejected by a huge majority of the population, transform itself into a democratic administration that recognizes the rule of law? Has it ever in history been possible for a political transition to take place peacefully and without the shedding of blood?

The surprising answer is yes: it has been done. The Apartheid regime was also despised by the majority. And that regime was an extremely violent regime. Even so, South Africa opted for a peaceful transition under the brilliant leadership of Nelson Mandela. They negotiated to guarantee the interests (including security and property rights) of the ruling minority. At the same time, they discussed and developed a transitional constitution. This model, called Negotiating Justice, is founded on human rights and the principle of democracy. What happened in South Africa, a country torn apart by hatred and violence, can happen in Iran too.

Apartheid South Africa like the Iranian Republic was required by its own democratic principles to reform.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:12 PM


Public Wary of Deficit, Economic Intervention (LAURA MECKLER, 6/18/09, WSJ)

[T]he poll suggests Mr. Obama faces challenges on multiple fronts, including growing concerns about government spending and the bailout of auto companies. A majority of people also disapprove of his decision to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Nearly seven in 10 survey respondents said they had concerns about federal interventions into the economy, including Mr. Obama's decision to take an ownership stake in General Motors Corp., limits on executive compensation and the prospect of more government involvement in health care. The negative feeling toward the GM rescue was reflected elsewhere in the survey as well.

A solid majority -- 58% -- said that the president and Congress should focus on keeping the budget deficit down, even if takes longer for the economy to recover. [...]

Mr. Obama's overall job approval and personal ratings have slipped, particularly among independent voters. His job approval rating now stands at 56%, down from 61% in April. Among independents, it dropped from nearly two-to-one approval to closely divided.

Any time any Republican spends taking about anything other than spending is time wasted. In fact, they should move to confirm Ms Sotomayor by acclimation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:04 PM


Editor quits after journal accepts bogus science article: Science journal fails to spot hoax despite heavy hints from authors (Jessica Shepherd, 6/18/09, guardian.co.uk)

The editor-in-chief of an academic journal has resigned after his publication accepted a hoax article.

The Open Information Science Journal failed to spot that the incomprehensible computer-generated paper was a fake. This was despite heavy hints from its authors, who claimed they were from the Centre for Research in Applied Phrenology – which forms the acronym Crap.

The journal, which claims to subject every paper to the scrutiny of other academics, so-called "peer review", accepted the paper.

...just for printing unconsidered crap, you'll free up a lot of shelf space in the libraries.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:51 PM


Bring on the Traitor Democrats: Who cares if Obama's electoral coalition is fragile? Democrats need to run against other Democrats to push Congress to the left. (Matthew Yglesias, 2/18/09, Daily Beast)

To some, a popular president elected by a strong majority of the voters and backed by a majority in the House and 59 co-partisans in the Senate ought to have his program sailing through. The reality is quite a bit different. The legislative prospects for the kind of strong climate-change bill Obama campaigned on look fairly bleak. The administration recently backed off its original idea of completely overhauling the structure of American financial regulation once it became clear that Congress wouldn't support it. And while the odds of health care reform legislation passing look fairly good, Obama's proposals for paying for it were rejected out of hand on the Hill, and it seems reasonably likely that the administration may not achieve several of its key subsidiary goals. This has led some like Reuter's Felix Salmon to wonder what Obama's doing wrong, but the reality is simply that the situation is not as favorable as it seems.

Getting members of Congress to do what you want is hard. But more primaries on the Democratic side would probably make it easier.

For both the Left and the Right the very fact of electability is an indictment.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:04 PM


Brazil Brushes Aside U.S. in Confederations Cup (JERÉ LONGMAN, 6/18/09, NY Times)

In the 20th minute, Beasley, who has been struggling, missed the ball on a short corner played to him by Landon Donovan, an amateur mistake as a soft roller went beneath his left foot. Brazil raced the length of the field to make it 2-0.

Kaká’s short pass unleashed the streaking midfielder Ramires, who dribbled furiously to the top of the penalty area. Spector raced across the field, trying to cut off Ramires. But the Brazilian midfielder made a deft pass to Robinho, who beat a charging Howard from 12 yards, punching the ball inside the left goal post. [...]

Beasley was benched at halftime, as Conor Casey came on at forward and Donovan moved to the right side of midfield. In the 48th minute, Casey smartly played a give-and-go pass in the penalty area to Jozy Altidore, but Altidore could not finish, putting his shot high over the crossbar.

The Americans’ first threatening chance came in the 83rd minute, when Benny Feilhaber lashed a shot off the crossbar from 16 yards. Casey headed a free kick into the crossbar in the 89th minute. Both times the ball ricocheted harmlessly away.

When he started Beasley and benched Feilhaber, Coach Bradley made it a tentative squad, one not set up to drive the ball forward. As soon as he got Feilhaber and Casey in we started getting chances despite being a man down.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:00 AM


EXCERPT: Rethinking the Crusades | Jonathan Riley-Smith | The Preface to the fourth edition of What Were the Crusades? (Ignatius Press, 2009)

During the last 30 years a historical vision, which prevailed for nearly two centuries and still informs popular understanding, has been challenged. The vision originated in the writings of two early nineteenth-century authors, the Scottish novelist Sir Walter Scott and the French historian Joseph-Francois Michaud. Between 1819 and 1831 Scott published four novels in which crusaders played significant parts. For him, a child of the Enlightenment who had been influenced by the philosopher-historian William Robertson, the crusades were the incursions of glamorous but uneducated westerners, childish and destructive, into a civilization superior to their own.

For Michaud, whose Histoire des croisades appeared between 1812 and 1822, and for those writers who followed him, the crusades were glorious instruments of nationalism and proto-imperialism. These views of the past must have seemed irreconcilable—indeed the only thing on which they were in agreement was that a crusade was to be defined by its opposition to Islam—but they began to merge with one another in the 1920s, when crusading, stripped of its ethic, was being interpreted in social and economic terms by Liberal economic historians, who had inherited from imperialism, and took for granted, the assumption that crusading was an early example of colonialism. Scott's Enlightenment image of representatives of an inferior culture barging their way into a more sophisticated one coalesced with the Michaudist Romantic conviction that their motivation had been proto-colonialist and the amalgam gave birth to a neo-imperialistic and materialistic orthodoxy which is still a feature of popular perceptions.

No one had even half-proved this interpretation by research, but by the 1950s it had gained general currency. The consensus prevailing at that time can be summarized as follows.

1. Crusading was defined in terms of the goal of Jerusalem and warfare against the Muslims and the only crusades worth considering were, therefore, those directed to the East.

2. In their expeditions to the Levant the crusaders were taking on opponents who were culturally their superiors.

3. The crusades were generated as much by economic as by ideological forces; and the best explanation for the recruitment of crusaders was that they had been motivated by profit.

4. The military orders were most usefully to be considered nor as religious orders, but as political and economic corporations.

5. The settlements in the Levant were proto-colonialist experiments, aspects of the first expansion of Europe, although there was no agreement about the colonial model that it was best to adopt.

These propositions could not survive a renewed concern with theories of violence in a post-war, cold-war society, the interest of which in the justice or otherwise of force was fuelled by debates about nuclear deterrence and proportionality, and a revival of the conviction that human beings can indeed be inspired by ideas, even ones that might seem alien to us. Without digressing into complex historiography, publications have appeared in the last 40 years which have expressed, or implied, some or all of the following counter-propositions, although they are not, of course, acceptable to everyone.

1. As the first and subsequent editions of this book have maintained, authentic crusades were fought in many different theatres and against many different opponents. Crusading can no longer be defined, therefore, solely as warfare against Muslims, but should be viewed in broader terms. It is true to say, however, that this—the most discussed aspect of the new approach—is itself being further modified, particularly by those who have been most influenced by it.

2. It is not helpful to treat the crusaders as the cultural inferiors of the Muslims. Nor is it provable. The evidence provided in the past never supported a case which was always selective—indeed often anachronistic—and it is striking how it has been tacitly abandoned.

3. The crusades were primarily religious wars and, in so far as one can generalize about them, the best explanation for the recruitment of crusaders was that they were moved by ideas.

4. The military orders can only be understood as orders of the church and their history should be treated in the context of that of other religious orders.

5. The settlements in the Levant may well have been 'colonies' of a sort—provided the word 'colony' is loosely defined—but the issue of colonialism seems to be no longer one that is considered to be worth serious discussion. It has lost its significance in the wake of the abandonment of the Marxist experiment and a disenchantment with historical 'models', and because of changes in historical perception, particularly in Israel, where the kingdom of Jerusalem has taken its place in the background history of the land. Most historians of the Latin East are more interested in the settlements for what they were and in their relationship to other co-existing societies.

Late in the 20th century, conservatives staged an extremely effective academic counter-revolution and retook the history narrative in particular. No one may have been a more successful counterevolutionary than Mr. Riley-Smith

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:51 AM


Tehran dispatch: "The revolution had begun." (J. Shams, June 17, 2009, Boston Globe: Political Intelligence)

The noise of the crowd was the first thing to hit me. I had been among demonstrators before, but I had never actually heard an angry crowd before.

The noise was powerful and full of fury. As I approached the street, I distinguished what they were chanting: "mikosham, mikosham, aanke baradaram kosht: I shall kill, I shall kill, he who killed my brother."

My wife, who was among the crowd, had told me that several people had been killed by riot police. I quickened my pace and approached the street. As if in sync, hands bearing stones and bricks were pumping into the air. "I shall kill, I shall kill..." I burst into tears.

The next thing I noticed surprised me: the crowd did not consist of young men, but housewives, seniors, businessmen wearing suits, even children. There was blood on many of them. They were walking downhill towards the Interior Ministry, determined and in force. The wave that had taken over Iran and partied in the streets into the morning for the last few weeks was now an army on the move. As I stood in place trying to figure out what I was seeing, I noticed shopkeepers shutting down and joining the flock. People were also chanting on the sidelines, "down with the dictator," referring to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, while the crowd chanted "join us proud Iranians, join us, join us." The crowd was growing by the moment.

I had walked with them for a few minutes when I saw the riot police in the distance.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:46 AM


Obamanomics: The Good, the Bad, the Weak (Nomi Prins, 6/17/09, Mother Jones)

On Wednesday, after weeks of the requisite press leaks and prefabricated spin, the Obama administration released details of its new "rules of the road" financial regulations, which had been billed as the most sweeping overhaul of the financial system since the Great Depression.

Obama, alas, is no FDR. Roosevelt's New Deal reforms included the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, which split complex financial institutions into commercial banks (for consumers) and investment banks (for speculators). This enabled government to safeguard the boring, conventional activities of consumer banking without insuring the dice-rolls of high-risk investors. His reforms also opened the banking sector to independent audits to ensure financial soundness—as opposed to just taking the banks' word for it, as Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner's recent stress tests effectively did—and established the Home Owners' Loan Corporation, which helped people at risk of foreclosure cover their mortgages.

The administration's new 88-page white paper, titled "Financial Regulatory Reform: A New Foundation," focuses more on alterations than true reform.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:32 AM


USA's focus is on Brazil (Ridge Mahoney, Thursday, Jun 18, 2009, Soccer America)

[CONFEDERATIONS CUP] To keep alive its slim hopes of advancing to the Confederations Cup semifinals, the USA must at least accomplish something it has never done at this level when it faces Brazil Thursday (9:55 a.m. ET, ESPN2, TeleFutura) in Tshwane/Pretoria.

Get a tie.

Its chances of doing so look remote, yet while beating Egypt, 4-3, in its opening game Monday, the Brazilians at least seemed vulnerable defensively while typically relentless on the attack. And despite starting the tournament by losing to Italy, 3-1, the Americans performed creditably while down a man for nearly an hour against the world champion. [...]

The tepid form of Dempsey in the past few games gives rise to speculation he could be replaced by Freddy Adu, though Bradley could play Landon Donovan at right mid, give DaMarcus Beasley another shot on the left side, and try Charlie Davies or Conor Casey as a front-line partner for Jozy Altidore. Still, Adu remains an option in one of the attacking slots, and Jose Francisco Torres deserves to get some time in midfield, particularly with Clark suspended and Pablo Mastroeni not in the squad.

Davies is merely useless; Beasley's a liability.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 AM


Inside Iran, a rebellion that is familiar and unpredictable: As I walk through Tehran, scenes bring back childhood memories of the 1979 revolution. But this is a very different kind of uprising. (Babak Rahimi, June 18, 2009, LA Times)

As an academic who studies Iranian politics, the recent developments in Iran have taken me by surprise. I originally left Iran for the U.S. in the mid-1980s, when the political situation in the country was highly unstable. But since 1997, when Mohammad Khatami, the reformist president, was elected, I have been back frequently. This year, I traveled to Tehran in late March to study the presidential elections and how Iranians perceived the electoral politics. I have been in Iran since that time.

During the first couple of weeks after I arrived, I sensed little public interest in the election. But in the weeks before the election, the country underwent a dramatic change of attitude. I watched passionate supporters of Mousavi dance, sing and chant anti-government slogans on the streets of Tehran, despite a ban on most of these activities under Islamic law. From the southern port city of Bushehr to the northern towns of Mazandaran province, an astonishing sense of enthusiasm spread throughout the country. "I have never voted before, but I will vote this time," a resident of Bushehr told me, expressing a sentiment I heard again and again.

One major claim of those in power is that although there is some dissent in the cities, the countryside voted solidly for Ahmadinejad, which accounts for his win. But in my preelection fieldwork in a number of southern provinces, I observed major tensions between provincial officials -- especially the local imams -- and the Ahmadinejad administration in Tehran. I saw far lower levels of support for the president than I had expected. In fact, I heard some of the most ferocious objections to the administration in the rural regions, where the dwindling economy is hitting the local populations hard. As one young Bushehr shopkeeper put it: "That idiot thinks he can buy our votes. He does not care for us."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:26 AM


President Obama fails to quell gay uproar (JOSH GERSTEIN & BEN SMITH, 6/18/09, Politico)

President Barack Obama’s announcement Wednesday offering limited benefits to the same-sex partners of federal employees failed to quell growing anger in the gay community that gay rights issues were getting short shrift at the White House.

In fact, Obama’s promise to offer ancillary employee benefits — such as long-term-care insurance and the right to use sick leave to care for domestic partners — while still denying more valuable benefits, such as health insurance and retirement funds, may have further agitated gay and lesbian activists who were already fuming over other perceived snubs.

...it's as if he's bucking up his support amongst blacks and Hispanics.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:18 AM


Iran treads lightly in a culture of martyrs: A Tiananmen-style massacre there would create a new set of heroes for the protest movement. (Borzou Daragahi and Ramin Mostaghim, June 18, 2009, LA Times)

Protesters have tailored their message to make sure no one makes blanket calls against the Islamic Republic. Such rhetoric would not only provoke the authorities, but alienate segments of a budding movement that includes a huge cross-section of the nation: emergency room physicians and pious, working-class women who cover all but their faces in black chadors; factory owners and factory workers; and a wide range of political groups whose agendas converge in opposition to Ahmadinejad.

Posters held aloft Wednesday urged demonstrators to stop their march at a certain point and call out praise for the prophet Muhammad. Then, witnesses said, protesters were instructed to remain silent for 10 minutes in honor of those killed so far in the unrest, disperse and go home.

Big rallies held Tuesday and Wednesday were largely silent, devoid of slogans altogether, except for the occasional salavats -- blessings for the prophet and his descendants -- which served to both refresh the crowd as it walked along in the late spring heat and make older, pious protesters feel welcome as they worked their prayer beads.

"We had one vote and we gave it to Mousavi," said one placard at Wednesday's rally. "We have one life and we'll give it up for freedom."

Both the government and the protesters seem eager to avoid an all-out confrontation. Not only would a Tiananmen Square-style massacre sully officials' claims to popular legitimacy, it would create a whole new set of martyrs who could further galvanize a popular movement. Such killings paved the way for the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Most of the violence has been inflicted by semiofficial militias such as the Basiji or the secretive Ansar-e Hezbollah, which have reportedly been responsible for at least 12 deaths in the last five days.

Perhaps more perilous for authorities is the possibility that some soldiers, security officials and Revolutionary Guardsmen might refuse orders to fire on protesters, creating a dangerous rift within the security apparatuses.

"I would never do it," said Hossein, a 23-year-old member of the security forces who said he and many of his friends at the military base where he serves support the marchers. "Maybe someone would, but I would never fire on any of these people myself."

Thanks to the history of Shi'ism and the rhetoric of the Republic the very act of suppressing the rebellion legitimizes it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:53 AM


Wall Street isn't buying Obama's reform plan: Banks and other firms are quick to attack Obama's consumer-friendly overhaul of financial rules. The stage is set for a legislative battle, with Wall Street turning to allies in Congress. (Walter Hamilton and Jim Puzzanghera, June 18, 2009, LA Times)

Much of his reform package involves complex changes to the inner workings of the financial system, but Obama said that better consumer protection -- a priority -- was a key to avoiding future financial crises.

Such safeguards could reach far down the line to such everyday matters as bank overdraft protection. A new agency would have the power to write federal rules that, for instance, prohibit prepayment penalties on loans, require better disclosures, order financial companies to offer easily understood options, and levy fines and penalties for lenders that don't comply.

"The most unfair practices will be banned," Obama said. "Those ridiculous contracts with pages of fine print that no one can figure out, those things will be a thing of the past. And enforcement will be the rule, not the exception."

Consumer groups hailed the plan.

"This is a dramatic shift in the focus of financial regulation, which should lead to a credit marketplace which is easier for consumers to understand and safer," said Travis Plunkett, legislative director for the Consumer Federation of America.

But banks and other Wall Street firms that earn billions of dollars on consumer financial products quickly attacked the proposal, setting the stage for what is likely to be a hard-fought legislative battle.

Only a Hint of Roosevelt in Financial Overhaul (JOE NOCERA, 6/18/09, NY Times)
On Wednesday, President Obama unveiled what he described as “a sweeping overhaul of the financial regulatory system, a transformation on a scale not seen since the reforms that followed the Great Depression.”

In terms of the sheer number of proposals, outlined in an 88-page document the administration released on Tuesday, that is undoubtedly true. But in terms of the scope and breadth of the Obama plan — and more important, in terms of its overall effect on Wall Street’s modus operandi — it’s not even close to what Roosevelt accomplished during the Great Depression.

Rather, the Obama plan is little more than an attempt to stick some new regulatory fingers into a very leaky financial dam rather than rebuild the dam itself.

All bureaucracies become captive of the very people they're there to regulate.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:50 AM


White-supremacist code printed nationwide: One man's death spread the numeric code for "Heil Hitler" across the world. (JEFF INGLIS, June 17, 2009, Boston Phoenix)

[W]hile von Brunn survived to face federal criminal charges and may yet die slowly in federal prison, he did manage to get newspapers around the globe to print a white-supremacist code praising Adolf Hitler right next to his name. "James von Brunn, 88," was a phrase in almost every news story — indeed, it was a common piece of harmless information that would have been more noticeable if reporters had left it out. It is his age.

But white supremacists and those who monitor hate groups know it is also a numeric code meaning "Heil Hitler." The letter "H" is the eighth letter of the alphabet, and hatemongers around the world have long used "88" to mean "HH," or "Heil Hitler," honoring the leading historical icon of hate and intolerance, Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler.

Von Brunn himself knew and used this code often. Even before this year, he signed many of his Web postings "James von Brunn 88" — differing only by a comma from how newspapers and online news sites described him after he put his tragic plan into action.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:45 AM


The Language of Confusion: 60 years later, Orwell's dystopian vision is more prophetic than ever (Rabbi Yonason Goldson, 6/17/09, http://www.JewishWorldReview.com)

In his essay "The Principles of Newspeak," the appendix to his classic novel, 1984 (published 60 years ago this month), George Orwell describes how the leaders of his totalitarian future have contrived to assure their hold on power by replacing English with Newspeak, a language containing no vocabulary for concepts contrary to the platform of the state-run Party. By controlling language, the Party controls its people's very thoughts.

Intuition suggests that language is a product of thought: if we think clearly, automatically we will speak clearly. Orwell demonstrates the opposite, that thought is a product of language. Because we formulate our thoughts in words and sentences, incompetent use of language guarantees muddled thinking. If there are no words for rebellion, uprising, or discontent people will find it difficult to formulate and articulate the concept of overthrowing even the most corrupt and oppressive government.

Students of Orwell will shudder when applying this simple axiom to the corruption of modern language. Advertisers and politicians have known for years that the best way to manipulate public perception is by arranging words in unconventional combinations. Car dealers know that potential customers will feel better buying cars that are "pre-owned" rather than "used." A certain former president knew that the American people would not respond to the gravity of his presidential peccadilloes if distracted by pondering what the meaning of "is" is.

But linguistic confusion became institutionalized with the rise of political correctness. By dodging frantically out of the rain of potentially offensive terms, we soak ourselves in a torrent of euphemisms for simple words the thought-police deem pejorative. When illegal aliens become "undocumented workers," we lose all sense of the danger posed by the porous condition of our borders. When terrorists become "insurgents," we more readily accommodate the moral equivalence that blurs the line between aggressors and defenders. When abortion becomes "reproductive freedom," the horror over the indiscriminate murder of innocents vanishes altogether.

Similarly, when marriage is bereft by judicial fiat of the definition that has served for thousands of years, the foundations of the family structure erode like sand castles before the approaching tide. And as it becomes taboo to make any direct reference to race, class, ability or performance without fear of hurting one group's collective feelings or another group's collective self-esteem, the words that form our thoughts and understanding end up so fully shorn of their dictionary definitions that they cease to mean much of anything at all. In short, nothing makes sense.

In truth, for advertisers, politicians, special interest groups, and the politically correct, the real purpose of language is no longer to convey meaning - it is to obscure meaning, to appeal to emotions while bypassing the intellect. Their motive is obvious: it is far easier to evoke a strong emotional response than it is to present a logically developed argument. But by allowing meaning to be drained from our language and our words, we have not only denuded them of their clarity, but also of their depth.

Even worse, we are no longer allowing confusion to reign free but legislating it into the public square. Earlier this year, London decided to remove apostrophes from its street signs. King's Heath will now become Kings Heath. What's the reason? Apostrophes are too confusing.

Of course, because of the nature of our society English is the most demotic of languages too, so change from below is far more extensive than that from above.

June 17, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:56 PM


Oh, How I Hate Ulysses (A Bloomsday Rant) (Joe Carter, 6/16/09, First Things)

Today marks the 105th anniversary of Bloomsday, a commemoration of a day in the life of Leopold Bloom, the hero of James Joyce’s Ulysses. For at least the past fifty years, fans of the notoriously difficult novel have gathered around the world in order to drink, dress up and celebrate their status as the literary equivalent of Trekkies.

Who are these people? And why is such a monstrously bad book still praised so highly? Perhaps it can be attributed to the career inferiority complexes of English majors. They may no make as much money as their friends who got their MBAs, they reason, but at least they can claim to have read The Greatest Novel Ever Written.

Even fans of the book, though, will admit that it is almost completely unreadable without outside help. When you have to read a book length companion guide in order to grasp the story, though, something has gone terribly askew. The only other comparable literary work that requires such scholarly aids for understanding is the Bible. But at least that was inspired by God. What was Joyce’s excuse for such pretentiousness?

He wanted to replace God, of course.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:53 PM


Melbourne gang matriarch Judy Moran charged after relative’s murder (Sophie Tedmanson, 6/18/09, Times of London)

A vicious gangland struggle that has gripped Melbourne for more than a decade took a surprising twist this week when the matriarch of the city’s most powerful criminal clan was charged in connection with the murder of her brother-in-law. [...]

The twist in the gangland wars tale has surprised even Melbourne police officers. “Fact is almost stranger than fiction with what we’ve seen,” said the Victorian Police Chief Commissioner Simon Overland. “If you were a scriptwriter and sat down and wrote this stuff you’d probably say: ‘Look, no, it’s all a bit far-fetched; no one will believe it’.”

The story of the turf wars in Melbourne has been the subject of many books, with the rivalry between two crime families immortalised in Australia by the award-winning television series Underbelly — which had to overcome various legal hurdles before it could be screened in the Victoria area.

The series is based on the book Leadbelly: Inside Australia’s Underworld, by The Age journalists John Silvester and Andrew Rule. A third series of the show is being written — and the latest developments should give the screenwriters plenty of fresh material.

There are fears that this week’s events — while seemingly contained within one family — could lead to a renewal of hostilities.

Other leading players in the gang wars have included Carl Williams, who is serving a life sentence for three murders; the Carlton Crew, an Italian-Australian criminal organisation; and the underworld figure Mick Gatto, a former heavyweight boxer.

If you've been watching the series, this doesn't even seem unusual.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:35 AM


Iran protests: Fifth day of unrest as regime cracks down on critics (Robert Tait, Ian Black and Mark Tran, 6/17/09, guardian.co.uk)

Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Tehran in a fifth day of protests as the government intensified its crackdown on opposition figures with the arrest of hundreds of leading critics.

Mainly dressed in black and wearing green wristbands and headbands to show their support for the defeated presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, crowds gathered in Tir square and streets around it. Most of the protesters were silent and made victory signs, according to Reuters news agency.

Witnesses estimated that as many as half a million people joined the march, with one street leading to the square packed for several kilometres. A young woman held a picture of one of those killed during the recent violence. [...]

The protests spread as far as South Korea, where Iranians denounced their government during a World Cup qualifying match. Dozens of Iranians unfurled a banner that read "Go To Hell Dictator" and chanted: "Compatriots, we will be with you to the end with the same heart."

Iranian football team shows support for Mousavi with green arm bands at Seoul World Cup qualifier (Daily Telegraph, 17 Jun 2009)
Several players on the Iranian national football team took advantage of a World Cup football qualifier in Seoul to denounce their government amid allegations of election rigging at home.

As many as eight players wore green wristbands and the captain, Ali Karimi, wore a green armband, symbolising support for Mir Hossein Mousavi, the opposition challenger, at the high-profile game, which was broadcast live on Iranian state television.

In a culture where martyrdom is so central, the regime runs tremendous risks in making new ones.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:56 AM


Obama, Siding With the Regime (Robert Kagan, June 17, 2009, Washington Post)

One of the great innovations in the Obama administration's approach to Iran, after all, was supposed to be its deliberate embrace of the Tehran rulers' legitimacy. In his opening diplomatic gambit, his statement to Iran on the Persian new year in March, Obama went out of his way to speak directly to Iran's rulers, a notable departure from George W. Bush's habit of speaking to the Iranian people over their leaders' heads. As former Clinton official Martin Indyk put it at the time, the wording was carefully designed "to demonstrate acceptance of the government of Iran."

This approach had always been a key element of a "grand bargain" with Iran. The United States had to provide some guarantee to the regime that it would no longer support opposition forces or in any way seek its removal. The idea was that the United States could hardly expect the Iranian regime to negotiate on core issues of national security, such as its nuclear program, so long as Washington gave any encouragement to the government's opponents. Obama had to make a choice, and he made it. This was widely applauded as a "realist" departure from the Bush administration's quixotic and counterproductive idealism.

It would be surprising if Obama departed from this realist strategy now, and he hasn't. His extremely guarded response to the outburst of popular anger at the regime has been widely misinterpreted as reflecting concern that too overt an American embrace of the opposition will hurt it, or that he wants to avoid American "moralizing." (Obama himself claimed yesterday that he didn't want the United States to appear to be "meddling.")

But Obama's calculations are quite different. Whatever his personal sympathies may be, if he is intent on sticking to his original strategy, then he can have no interest in helping the opposition. His strategy toward Iran places him objectively on the side of the government's efforts to return to normalcy as quickly as possible, not in league with the opposition's efforts to prolong the crisis.

...considering we opposed the regime when it was democratic and now support it when it steals an election.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:30 AM


Consumer prices rise less than expected in May (Associated Press, June 17, 2009)

Consumer prices rose less than expected in May, fresh evidence that the recession is keeping inflation in check.

The Labor Department reported Wednesday that the consumer price index rose a seasonally adjusted 0.1 percent last month, below analysts' expectations of a 0.3 percent rise.

Excluding volatile food and energy costs, core prices also increased 0.1 percent, matching expectations.

Low inflation enables the Federal Reserve to keep a key short-term interest rate near zero, where it has been for months.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:57 AM


Italy loss demonstrates U.S. Soccer's lack of progress (Jim Nguyen, June 17, 2009, Fox Sports)

The U.S. Men's national team came into the Confederations Cup with hopes that the tough competition would give them a barometer of how the team measures up.

And the initial impressions are not too good.

The U.S. lost to Italy 3-1 on Monday, and although the scoreline is a bit unfair to the Americans, the loss clearly demonstrates that the U.S. has a long way to go to be a player on the big international stage.

Folks looking for excuses could find plenty of reasonsd to feel the US was hard done by: the red card for Ricardo Clark came for a mere kick in the knee and his first foul of the game; it was followed by an elbow to the jaw of Landon Donovan that didn't draw a red; nor did the foul on Jozy Altidore in the box; and there wasn't even a foul called on the Italian who went over Donovan's back in the box.

That said though, it was the coaching that was costly. It was nice to see Bob Bradley start Feilhaber, but he shoved him out wide and played Clark in the middle. It was no coincidence that the US goal came after Clark was sent off and Feilhaber was playing more centrally, setting up Altidore. then, as the lead slipped away, he took off Altidore and Feilhaber--our entire offense--and brought in Davies and Beazley who were dire.

And it wasn't just the formation that was a problem, but Bradley's "tactics." Not having our defenders cover the ball until it's in deep is insane. Bad enough when you leave them free to pass at will but on the first two goals Jay Demerit actually moved out of the shooter's way instead of trying to block the kick. Goalies always want a clear view of the shooter, but the danger of their being screened on occassion is not worth giving up the chance to keep the shot off net entirely. Once the Italians realized they could shoot unimpeded from 25 yards out the game was over.

And the final really noticable problem is the pretense that Landon Donovan is our best player. Donovan is a perfectly competent taker of penalty kicks. And if you want to honor his service to the squad by letting him take them, so be it. But he's godawful on free kicks, which means we're wasting way too many set piece opportunities.

How about playing a 4-3-1-2 the rest of the Tournament:





And attacking the ball when the opponent has it for cripes sake....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:52 AM


Democrats Lose Ground in Health Care Debate (Alex Wayne, 6/17/09, CQ)

[T]he last 24 hours have seen a barrage of criticism from Republicans over a preliminary cost estimate for the Democrats’ starter bill.

The cost estimate, called a “score” by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), said portions of the measure would cost $1 trillion over 10 years, while accomplishing only a modest increase in insurance coverage. More than 30 million people would remain uninsured if the bill were enacted, CBO estimated, although the agency cautioned that it had not examined other proposals to expand coverage, including an expansion of Medicaid, the health entitlement for the poor, or a new government-run insurance plan to compete with private insurance.

Republicans were quick to pounce.

“What has been scored is astronomical,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell , R-Ky. “It is not ready to go forward.”

“The plan Democrats are proposing is a very radical solution with a lot of unknowns and an unaffordable price tag,” said Rep. Chris Lee, R-N.Y., while contrasting the Kennedy bill with a plan offered by a group of moderate House Republicans on Tuesday.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:44 AM


Obama Team's Advocacy Boosts Charter Momentum (Lesli A. Maxwell, 6/16/09, Ed Week)

President Barack Obama and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan have been championing charter schools for months, creating what some advocates believe is the most forceful national momentum to expand the largely independent public schools since the first charter opened nearly 20 years ago.

That high-profile advocacy is being matched, moreover, by significant financial leverage, thanks to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Mr. Duncan has pledged that states with laws he deems unfriendly to charters will be last in line for the grant money he will have broad authority to award from the $4.35 billion Race to the Top fund established under the economic-stimulus law.

Repeatedly, Mr. Duncan has warned the 26 states that currently impose caps on the numbers of charter schools, and the 10 states that do not permit charters at all, that they risk being at a “competitive disadvantage” for the discretionary grants for programs to help states boost student achievement.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:29 AM


Given the facts and trends Friend Brouwer outlines here, there would seem to be a great opportunity for Republicans to use California as the labratory for crafting their message of a spending rollback (note that's spending, not government--semantics matter in politics).

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:23 AM


New Evidence Says Pius XII Helped Jews: Foundation to Publish 2,300 Pages of Documents (Zenit.org, 6/15/09)

A foundation that promotes interreligious dialogue announced that it has more than 2,300 pages of original documents illustrating Pope Pius XII's efforts to help Jews in the face of Nazism.

Gary Krupp, president of the New York-based Pave the Way Foundation, affirmed this today in a statement to ZENIT, and stated that the documents from the years 1940-1945 will be made available to the public for research.

The president, himself a Jew, reported that these papers, found through the organization's private research, give "strong support to the argument that Pope Pius XII -- Eugenio Pacelli -- worked diligently to save Jews from Nazi tyranny."

As a part of a private research project, the foundation found the documents in a monastery in Avellino, Italy. The foundation's statement noted the possibility that "many more vital documents could be found in larger dioceses, if researchers simply took the time to look."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:14 AM


Bulldozing America’s Shrinking Cities (Edward L. Glaeser, 6/16/09, NY Times: Economix)

On Friday, a British newspaper, The Telegraph, ran an article titled “U.S. Cities May Have to Be Bulldozed to Survive.”

This idea is hardly new. Youngstown, Ohio, and its mayor, Jay Williams, have long aimed at transforming that declining Rust Belt polis into “a sustainable mid-sized city.” Detroit’s last mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick, was elected in 2002 on a promise to raze 5,000 houses. The Telegraph article’s novelty was the suggestion that the Obama administration is interested in supporting bulldozing, which prompted the Drudge Report headline: “Obama Era: Bulldoze Shrinking Cities?”

Despite the headlines, the Telegraph article does not actually describe a massive new government policy aimed at helping cities shrink to greatness. The text described the pro-shrinkage ideas of the treasurer of Genesee County, Mich., who “outlined his strategy to Barack Obama during the campaign,” and has been “approached by the U.S. government and a group of charities who want him to apply what he has learnt to the rest of the country.”

The hotels are outside the parks at Disney and mass transit brings you in. The only residence is inside the castle, built for Walt Disney himself. Cities will follow a similar model, with only the extraordinarily rich living there permanently, in their castles, and the rest of us commuting for work and entertainment purposes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:40 AM


With Unionist parties like these, who needs Nationalists?: The Union will not be saved by the opposition dealing Alex Salmond one winning hand after another (Alan Cochrane, 6/17/09, Daily Telegraph)

Alex Salmond wasted no time yesterday in grasping the initiative handed to him by the unqualified and in some cases euphoric support from the Labour, Tory and Liberal Democrat parties for the Calman Commission's proposals for more devolution.

It would have been difficult for him not to cash in, given the enthusiasm shown by the Unionist parties for "DevoMax", that long-time SNP staging post on the road to complete Scottish independence and the break-up of the United Kingdom.

The Union will not be saved [full stop]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:14 AM


David Cameron ‘would not oppose’ Blair becoming first president of the EU (Francis Elliott, Philip Webster and David Charter, 6/17/09, Times of London)

David Cameron will give Tony Blair a free run if he tries to become the EU’s first president, The Times has learnt.

The Conservative leader has told senior colleagues that they should do nothing to oppose a Blair candidacy if the Lisbon treaty, which creates the role, is ratified later this year.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:01 AM


Obama stays on sidelines after Iran's disputed election: 'It's not productive, given the history of the U.S.-Iranian relationship, to be seen as meddling,' the president says. (Paul Richter, June 17, 2009, LA Times)

As they watch the bedlam unfold after Iran's disputed presidential election, U.S. officials are uncertain whether it might lead to reform and an easing of tensions with Tehran or to a crackdown by an insecure leadership. Either way, they say, their course is clear: Say little, and do even less. [...]

[O]bama has accepted his public status of an onlooker.

Barack Obama sits on the fence by refusing to back Mousavi (Kiran Randhawa, 17.06.09, Evening Standard)
Barack Obama has come under attack for refusing to meddle in the row over Iran's disputed election.

The American president is resisting pressure to side with the country's opposition, saying there might not be much difference between the policies of president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his rival Mirhossein Mousavi.

Maybe the teleprompter is just out of batteries because he's missing a golden opportunity to borrow from the Gipper at Westminster. Recall that the key to that speech was President Reagan's indictment of Communism not in Western terms but in Marxist. The differences between the candidates are entirely beside the point in Iran. The vital thing is that thwarting the electorate violates the principles of the Republic and delegitimize it by its own standards. Mr. Obama doesn't need to meddle, just turn up the pressure by openly and continuously referring to Ahmedinejad as unelected.

June 16, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:57 PM


Dems reel on healthcare (Jeffrey Young, 06/16/09, The Hill)

Congressional Democrats and the White House are scrambling to regain their footing after a series of setbacks has stalled political momentum to reform the nation’s healthcare system. [...]

A cost estimate hanging a $1 trillion price tag on an incomplete bill, salvos from powerful interest groups and great uncertainty among key Democrats on what will actually be in the legislation that moves through Congress have emboldened Republican critics.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee postponed the markup of its healthcare reform bill by one day, to Wednesday. On the eve of that markup, the powerful U.S. Chamber of Commerce publicly ripped the bill.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:53 PM


Iran's senior ayatollah slams election, confirming split (Warren P. Strobel and Jonathan S. Landay, 6/16/09, McClatchy Newspapers)

"No one in their right mind can believe" the official results from Friday's contest, Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri said of the landslide victory claimed by Ahmadinejad. Montazeri accused the regime of handling Mousavi's charges of fraud and the massive protests of his backers "in the worst way possible."

"A government not respecting people's vote has no religious or political legitimacy," he declared in comments on his official Web site. "I ask the police and army personals (personnel) not to 'sell their religion,' and beware that receiving orders will not excuse them before God." [...]

Montazeri's pointed public comments provided fresh evidence that a serious rift has opened at the top of Iran's powerful religious hierarchy after Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei endorsed the official election results and the harsh crackdown against the opposition.

A leader of the 1979 Islamic revolution who's often feuded with Khamenei and once vied with him for the supreme leader's position, Montazeri accused the government of attacking "the children of the people with astonishing violence" and "attempting a purge, arresting intellectuals, political opponents and scientifics."

"He is questioning the legitimacy of the election and also questioning the legitimacy of (Khamenei's) leadership, and this is the heart of the political battle in Iran," said Mehdi Noorbaksh, an associate professor of international affairs at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology in Pennsylvania. "This is very significant. This is huge support for Mousavi and the demonstrators on the reformists' side."

In an attempt to defuse the crisis, the 12-member Guardian Council, part of the ruling theocracy, announced that it would conduct a partial recount of the balloting, which the government said Ahmadinejad won with more than 24 million votes, to 13 million for Mousavi.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:24 PM


Iran protest cancelled as leaked election results show Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came third (Colin Freeman, 15 Jun 2009, Daily Telegraph)

Iran's Interior Ministry said Mr Mousavi would be responsible for any consequences if he went ahead with the protest.

Mr Mousavi's cancellation of the protest came as sporadic disturbances continued around the Iranian capital, and reports circulated of leaked interior ministry statistics showing him as the clear victor in last Friday's polls.

The statistics, circulated on Iranian blogs and websites, claimed Mr Mousavi had won 19.1 million votes while Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had won only 5.7 million.

The two other candidates, reformist Mehdi Karoubi and hardliner Mohsen Rezai, won 13.4 million and 3.7 million respectively. The authenticity of the leaked figures could not be confirmed.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:43 PM

Chili pie (Christine Merlo, 6/17/09, Boston Globe)

1 pound 85 percent lean ground beef
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped
1 can (15 ounces) red kidney beans, drained
1 can (28 ounces) whole tomatoes, crushed
3/4 teaspoon chili powder
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon brown sugar
8 ounces sharp cheddar, shredded
3 cups corn tortilla chips, crushed
1/2 iceberg lettuce, shredded
2 tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup sour cream

1. In a large skillet over medium heat, brown the beef. Add the onion, garlic, and 3/4 of the jalapeno. Cook 1 minute. Add the beans, tomatoes, chili powder, cumin, salt, pepper, and brown sugar. Bring to a boil and simmer for 45 minutes.

2. Set the oven at 400 degrees. In a small bowl, combine the cheddar and remaining jalapeno.

3. Taste the chili for seasoning and add more salt and pepper, if you like. Sprinkle with crushed tortilla chips, cheese, and jalapeno. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until the cheese melts and the chili is bubbling. Serve with lettuce, tomatoes, and sour cream.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:36 PM


Moaning German soldiers an 'embarrassment' say chiefs (Allan Hall, 16 Jun 2009, Daily Telegraph)

German soldiers are softies who lack discipline, hate responsibility and show an inadequate desire to serve their country, according to the army's chief inspector.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:20 PM


Presidents act religious even when they are not (Rich Barlow, June 17, 2009, Boston Globe)

Pop quiz: Which president "asserted frequently that God directed history, considered himself to be God's agent, and insisted that the United States would prosper only if its citizens sought divine guidance and followed biblical principles?"

Those who have followed the news only since last Tuesday, and even the more attentive, could be forgiven for guessing George W. Bush. In fact, the believer-in-chief referred to in that sentence from "Religion and the American Presidency" is Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Progressive icon FDR, his un-Christian extramarital fling with Lucy Mercer notwithstanding, believed his New Deal and antifascist policies reflected religious teachings, privately advised a correspondent that prayer would "overcome every obstacle," and even interrupted Cabinet meetings to take phone calls about the New York Episcopal church where he served as senior warden.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:18 PM


Unrest in Iran forces President Obama's hand (BEN SMITH, 6/15/09, Politico)

The images of massive protests and beaten students in the streets of Tehran, Iran, forced an initially reluctant President Barack Obama to speak out sharply against the crackdown and to raise doubts about the election’s outcome. [...]

Obama’s extensive comments Monday marked a break with days of extreme caution on the riveting conflict since Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was declared the victor — and rival Mir Hossein Mousavi protested the results.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:08 PM


Obama’s Unhealthy Reform: It's hard to know whether Obama's healthcare proposal is naive, hypocritical or simply dishonest. (Robert J. Samuelson, Jun 15, 2009, Washington Post)

A new report from Obama's own Council of Economic Advisers shows why controlling health costs is so important. Since 1975, annual health spending per person, adjusted for inflation, has grown 2.1 percentage points faster than overall economic growth per person. If this trend continues, the CEA projects that:

*Health spending, which was 5 percent of the economy (gross domestic product) in 1960 and is reckoned at almost 18 percent today, would grow to 34 percent of GDP by 2040 -- a third of the economy.

*Medicare and Medicaid, the government insurance programs for the elderly and poor, would increase from 6 percent of GDP now to 15 percent in 2040 -- roughly equal to three-quarters of present federal spending.

*Employer-paid insurance premiums for family coverage, which grew 85 percent in inflation-adjusted terms from 1996 to $11,941 in 2006, would increase to $25,200 by 2025 and $45,000 in 2040 (all figures in "constant 2008 dollars"). The huge costs would force employers to reduce take-home pay.

The message in these dismal figures is that uncontrolled health spending is almost single-handedly determining national priorities. It's reducing discretionary income, raising taxes, widening budget deficits and squeezing other government programs. Worse, much medical spending is wasted, the CEA report says. It doesn't improve Americans' health; some care is unneeded or ineffective.

Not that this last paragraph is at war with the first two. We're a far wealthier people than we were fifty years ago and there's no empirical reason we shouldn't squander some of that wealth on the health care industry the same way we do on the electronics industry. In 1960, my in-laws had one tv--in the living room of their house. Today they have five in their condo. they're spending "more" on television, but we don't prattle on about rising costs because that's so obviously a consumer choice. But the reality is that medicine today is largely just a consumer good too. Indeed, it's mostly a waste of money as regards its effect on our health.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:05 PM


Health reform bill could cost over $1T (CARRIE BUDOFF BROWN, 6/15/09, Politico)

A health care reform bill proposed by Sen. Ted Kennedy’s committee would cost more than $1 trillion over 10 years while still leaving millions of people uninsured, according to a preliminary estimate released Monday by the Congressional Budget Office.

The analysis projected that about 37 million people would still go without insurance once the bill is fully implemented, falling far short of President Barack Obama's promise to extend coverage to all Americans.

That's that. Such a bill has zero chance of passing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:11 AM


Tiller and the Logic of ‘Choice’ (Donald DeMarco, June 21-27, 2009, National Catholic Register)

[A] compelling case can be made that the alleged murderer was not “pro-life” but “pro-choice.”

Pro-choice propaganda abounds in our present culture. The president declares that he is “pro-choice.” Pro-choice advocates advise people to “choose choice.” Planned Parenthood sells Christmas cards carrying the slogan “Let there be choice on earth.”

Choice itself becomes a sui generis validation for moral action. Is it not possible, then, that a pro-choice mentality has seeped into the culture to the extent that some people find it difficult to resist the temptation to think that something is good because it is chosen? If a woman can choose to kill the child in her womb, why can’t someone choose to kill an abortionist if he is personally convinced of the righteousness of his act?

The difference between barbarians and civilized people is not that one group chooses and the other does not. Rather, it is that the former chooses recklessly whereas the latter chooses righteously. “Choice” is not a self-validating moral principle. Even pro-choice people know this, and that is precisely why they condemn the slaying of George Tiller.

Being pro-choice has its appeal. It simplifies things by eliminating the more moral and usually more difficult option. It is convenient, requiring little discipline and conscience. It demands neither reflection nor knowledge. It is shortsighted, having little or no concern for the future. It conforms neatly with Nike’s popular maxim “Just do it.”

The accused, Scott Roeder, succumbed to the pro-choice attitude that is part of the culture. We judge people by their actions. If we judged people solely on the basis of their words, it would be impossible to ever convict a spy of treason.

And since actions speak not only more loudly but more meaningfully than words, we must conclude that the accused is not pro-life but pro-choice. Tragically, he gave in to the temptation that permeates the present culture and is being played out on many other fronts — arson, vandalism, theft, libel, assault and battery.

The attempt to smear all pro-life people because of the actions of one person — who is not even pro-life — is discrimination at its very worst. But more significantly, it reveals the inability of pro-choice people to come to terms with their own philosophy.

They are the ones who have been disseminating an unregulated “pro-choice” morality. When it comes home to roost, the result is not self-recognition, but the projection of guilt onto the innocent. It is sobering to remember that when a person points the finger of blame at another, three fingers are pointing back at himself.

Being unqualifiedly pro-choice is, of course, barbaric.

...but given that the clinic closed the action was undeniably pragmatic.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:59 AM


Europe: No Longer A Role Model For America (Joel Kotkin, 06.16.09, Forbes)

[O]verall the anti-E.U. vote should make it clear that Europe's overall economic system makes for a poor role model for our country. When the current economic crisis first hit, many European leaders--and their American fans, like Harvard economist Ken Rogoff--saw vindication for the E.U.'s economic policy and a much tougher road for the U.S. over the next year or two. Yet in reality, Europe already has suffered as much as we have from the downturn, and recovery there may also be even slower to emerge. In some countries, such as Greece and France, social unrest has been far more evident than here in the U.S.

Simply put, European models do not necessarily work better--and when they do, they have occurred in part due to shifts away from strict welfare-state policies. As Sweden's Nima Samadji and Robert Gindehag have argued the recent return to growth in places like Sweden came only after some modest reforms in both taxes and social benefits.

Yet at the same time, even successful European countries--as well as the whole E.U.--generally experience slower growth than the U.S. with respect to measures like gross domestic product and job growth. This makes it an example of limited utility for America, a country that needs strong economic growth in order to maintain both its quality of life and overall social sustainability.

The biggest source of divergence between the U.S. and the E.U. lies in demographic trends. For the most part, Europe is aging far more rapidly, and its workforce is shrinking. As demographer Ali Modarres notes, America's population over the second half of the 20th century grew by 130 million, essentially doubling, while the populations of France, Germany and Britain together increased by 40 million, or 25%.

As a result, there is virtually no European equivalent for cities like Houston, Phoenix, Las Vegas or Atlanta. American cities sprawl--and will likely continue to do so--because they are newer and because they are growing much faster in a country that is much vaster. Even with 100 million more people, the country will still be one-sixth as crowded as Germany.

These differences will only become more stark. Opposition to immigration--from both Muslim countries and the E.U.'s own eastern periphery--is growing even in historically tolerant places like Great Britain, Denmark and Holland. Over time, migration into Europe is destined to slow. In Barack Obama's wildly multicultural America, strong restrictionist sentiments have not gained much political ground, and, at most, efforts are directed not at reducing legal immigration but rather shifting it toward a more meritocratic model.

So we can expect America's population to continue growing at close to the highest rate in the advanced industrial world while Europe remains among the most rapidly aging places on earth. America's fertility rate is 50% higher than Russia's, Germany's and Italy's. By 2040, for example, the U.S. could have a greater population than the first 15 member nations of the European Union. Compare that prediction to 1950, when America had only half the population of Western Europe.

These numbers point toward separate destinies for the U.S. and the E.U.

Indeed, if you want to see what the model of our future is, look to Great Britain in 1775. Despite the homogenous population and culture of the various colonies, which seemingly provided no coherent reason for them to seek independence, the Empire devolved over the next two hundred and thirty-five years (inclusive), to the great advantage of all concerned. Even as the Europeans try to develop a superstate we are likely to divide into a number of smaller states. 300 million people is already too great a population for effective liberal democratic governance and adding two hundred million will only increase the sclerosis. But we could easily spin off regions (New England, the Pacific NorthWest, etc.) and free standing entities (Hawaii and Alaska) while remaining tethered together in a commonwealth. Moreover, we could at that point enter into more formal permanent relationships with our Anglospheric partners--Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, England, etc.). Our destiny is the exact opposite of the EU.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:54 AM


Recession and Revolution (ROSS DOUTHAT, 6/16/09, NY Times)

In 1930s Europe, a economic crisis toppled democratic governments, and swept dictators into power. Liberal societies seemed ineffectual; authoritarianism was the coming thing.

The crash of 2008, though, may end up having the opposite effect. Over the last few years, both American alarmists and anti-American triumphalists have emphasized the disruptive power of populist, semi-authoritarian political actors — from Ahmadinejad’s Iran to Vladimir Putin’s Russia to Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela. But these regimes, which depend on petro-dollars for stability at home and influence abroad, may prove far more vulnerable to economic dislocation than their democratic rivals.

Amid the wreckage of the Great Depression, intellectuals and policymakers looked to fascist Italy and the Soviet Union for inspiration. But it’s hard to imagine anyone seeing a model in the current crop of authoritarian governments. It’s much easier to imagine them being swept away, if the recession endures, by domestic discontent.

Maybe something worse would take their place. Certainly there are authoritarian states — Egypt, Saudi Arabia — where the danger of an Islamist revolution should keep American policymakers awake at night.

But as an ideological rival to liberal democracy, Islamism isn’t in the same league with the totalitarianisms of the 1930s. And there aren’t any other likely candidates on the horizon. Indeed, for all the talk about a crisis of global capitalism, what’s most striking about the great financial meltdown is how little radicalism it’s spawned.

After 9-11 there was much chest-thumping on the Left and Right about how the End of History had been discredited, but Islamicism is no more an alternative than is Hindu Nationalism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:48 AM


You Be Obama (DAVID BROOKS, 6/16/09, NY Times)

Let’s say that you are President Obama. You’ve inherited a health care system that is the insane spawn of a team of evil geniuses from an alien power. Pay is divorced from performance. Users are separated from costs. Rising costs threaten to destroy your nation and everything you hold dear.

Because you have a lofty perspective on things, you know there are basically two ways to fix this mess. There is the liberal way, in which the government takes over the health care system and decides who gets what. And then there is the conservative way, in which cost-conscious consumers make choices in the context of a competitive marketplace.

You also know that these two approaches have one thing in common. They are both currently politically unsellable. Others have tried and perished. There are vast (opposing) armies arrayed against them. The whole issue is a nightmare.

Mr. Brooks has obviously stacked the deck here, but the manner in which he describes the genuine problems with the health care system reveals that the solution has nothing to do with what the Democrats are seeking to do. All of the difficulties in health care trace to one key fact: too many people are insured. The Democrats proposal? Insure everyone.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:42 AM


"You the People" Conservatism (Jerome di Costanzo, 16 - 06 - 2009, Open Democracy)

“My firm conviction is that we of the conservative camp must put ourselves entirely onto a democratic basis. After the collapse of the old conditions nothing else can provide us with a future and a justification except pure democracy. Even if democracy has a dark side it is preferable to the quasi-democratic aristocracy of the representative system.”
Philipp Anton von Segesser, 1866

How this quote from a mid-19th century Swiss politician could perfectly transpose to Britain today! Jonathan Steinberg, author of "Why Switzerland?" goes on to comment: “Philipp Anton entered politics as naturally as certain old Etonians become Tory MPs and, like some of the ‘wetter’ among them, he incorporated the paradox of the aristocrat as democrat.”

Does this not aptly depict a David Cameron of today? What is it about Conservatives and democracy? They could be seen as in opposition when one considers the sovereign democratic tendencies of the Thatcher years. Today cynicism might make us think that Cameron’s latest declarations about democracy at the Open University are just to push Gordon Brown towards a new election. But the evidence points to a real governmental and social strategy: during the debate on the Lisbon treaty, they asked for a referendum; David Davis resigned – forcing a by-election in his constituency – because of his opposition to our Orwellian society, creating the ‘fight for freedom’; and then last week, David Cameron called for elected peers in the Lords, more power for the local councils, and a turnover of parliament with a reduction in the number of MPs. Laura Sandys, who is a member of the Tory Conservative Taskforce [and Chair of openDemocracy] calls this “a truly British Revolution in the making…”. Perhaps the Tories want us to see them as knights-in-shining-armour, rescuing our sick political system? Whatever the case, it is interesting to look at what is happening to this reputedly patrician party. What is this new form of British Conservative rhetoric – a “You the people” Toryism?

The two pet projects of the Left--Multiculturalism and Transnationalism--are loathed by the majority of people, so why wouldn't conservatives be democrats?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:37 AM


Sharon Gless is a scene-stealer on 'Burn Notice' (FRAZIER MOORE, 6/16/09, AP)

The lighthearted caper show centers on Jeffrey Donovan as Michael Westen, a mysteriously blacklisted spy stranded in Miami, where he's trying to wangle some work while he clears his name and flushes out the person who "burned" him. He keeps his sanity with the help of fellow renegades including Gabrielle Anwar as Fiona, a gorgeous ex-IRA operative, and Bruce Campbell as Sam, a washed-up intel contact and Michael's closest pal.

Also in the picture is Madeline, Westen's meddlesome mom who, a Miamian, just loves having her formerly wayward son stuck close at hand.

Westen is tied up on a case when his cell phone rings: Mom calling.

"It's somebody's birthday todaaaay," she coos. "I thought you'd come over for a nice dinner."

"We're celebrating birthdays now?" he scoffs.

"It's never too laaaaate!"

"Where are we getting takeout from?" he brusquely replies.

"Who said anything about takeout?" says Madeline, at that moment juggling her cell phone, a cigarette and a takeout flier from a Greek restaurant.

In this show about fighting crime, Gless is a culprit whenever she appears: She is likely to steal any scene within reach.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:26 AM


Jazz: Has it been all downhill since 1959?: With the reissue of landmark jazz albums Kind of Blue and Time Out from 50 years ago, it's hard not to feel a little nostalgic (J.D. Considine, 6/15/09, Globe and Mail)

Commercially, 1959 was clearly a high-water mark. Kind of Blue , which arrived in stores on Aug. 17 that year, is by far the bestselling jazz album of all time; in a genre where even gold records are ridiculously rare, Kind of Blue has gone quadruple platinum. Take Five , a tune composed by the late alto saxophonist Paul Desmond for the Time Out album, became the first jazz single to sell a million copies. “It was never supposed to be a hit,” Desmond joked later. “It was supposed to be a Joe Morello drum solo.”

Unsurprisingly, both recordings have sparked commemorative tours. Drummer Jimmy Cobb, the only surviving member of the Kind of Blue band, has assembled a sextet to recreate the album in concert. Dubbed the So What Band after the album's opening tune, it will be performing at the Vancouver International Jazz Festival (July 2) and the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal (July 6). Also, pianist Dave Brubeck, who has billed his current tour as “Time Out – Take Fifty,” will be playing the Toronto Jazz Festival (July 1) as well as Montréal (July 4).

Everybody likes an anniversary, of course, but what's being celebrated isn't mere nostalgia, as both Kind of Blue and Take Five were revolutionary recordings that changed the way jazz was played. Kind of Blue attacked harmony; instead of following the convention of improvising on chord changes (that is, the underlying harmony in a tune), Davis gave his players specifically composed scales to solo on, a strategy that made the playing both freer and more melodic. Take Five and the rest of Time Out took on rhythm, shattering the hegemony of four-beat swing with melodies set in 5/4, 9/8 and other exotic time signatures.

The revolution didn't end there, either. In New York, on May 5, 1959, tenor saxophonist John Coltrane — who mere weeks before had been in the studio with Davis, recording the second side of Kind of Blue — cut Giant Steps , a breakneck exercise in polytonality that is perhaps the most carefully studied recording in jazz.

A few weeks later in Los Angeles, the Ornette Coleman Quartet began recording what would become The Shape of Jazz to Come . Coleman believed that improvisation shouldn't be constrained by chord changes and that jazz should focus on the feeling within a tune, not on its structure or harmonic grammar. By the time Coleman's group opened at New York's Five Spot, later that year, “free jazz” had become the focus of fierce debate both within and outside the jazz community.

Major moments, to be sure, but what does this celebration of the past say about jazz's present? Pointing out the surpassing greatness of these discs isn't quite the same as saying that little of consequence has happened since, but it's not far removed from that argument, either. Has jazz slowly ground to a creative standstill over the last half century, moving so far from its core values – as Wynton Marsalis and others have argued – that much of today's “jazz” seems hollow and insignificant when compared to past masterpieces? What does it say about the current scene that bold predictions about “the shape of jazz to come” are no longer welcomed?

What if it's exactly the opposite? Isn't the problem with jazz, as with all the other arts, that the objective of creating beauty was replaced by the objective of creating "creativity"? In effect, art is no longer art, but an intellectual exercise designed to demonstrate something about the creators instead of Creation. There is no jazz, just theory. And the less people like it the more thoroughly the theories have triumphed

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:30 AM


Reason vs. Faith: the Battle Continues (RICHARD WOLIN, 6/15/09, The Chronicle Review)

In 1802 Georg W.F. Hegel wrote an impassioned treatise on faith and reason, articulating the major philosophical conflict of the day. Among European intellectual circles, the Enlightenment credo, which celebrated the "sovereignty of reason," had recently triumphed. From that standpoint, human intellect was a self-sufficient measure of the true, the just, and the good. The outlook's real target, of course, was religion, which the philosophes viewed as the last redoubt of delusion and superstition. Theological claims, they held, could only lead mankind astray. Once the last ramparts of unreason were breached — our mental Bastilles, as it were — sovereign reason would take command and, presumably, human perfection would not be long in coming.

Soon legions of skeptics and naysayers emerged to cast doubt on the Enlightenment's presumptuous self-conceit. By making the lowly human intellect the measure of all truth, weren't the philosophes arbitrarily isolating humanity from the possibility of attaining a higher order of truth? Who would really want to inhabit a totally enlightened universe, denuded of mystery, plurality, and sublimity? What if ultimate reality weren't attainable by the prosaic methods of cognition or secular reason? What if, instead, the Absolute had more to do with the faculties of the imagination, intuition, or the unfathomable mysteries of the human unconscious?

A cursory glance at the major cultural divide of our day suggests that, in many respects, we haven't gotten much beyond the landmark dispute between faith and reason that separated the leading lights in Hegel's time. For with the notable exception of Western Europe, on nearly every continent, religion seems to have found its second wind. And it would be difficult to deny that this global revival of spirituality has occurred in pointed reaction to the broken promises of enlightened modernity. Nineteenth-century utopians like Charles Fourier speculated that, once industrial society was perfected, rivers and lakes would pulsate with lemonade, public fountains would overflow with salmon, men would learn to fly, and wild beasts would do our hunting. Instead, as we confront on a daily basis the dislocations of Western modernity — teeming cities, urban blight, industrially scarred landscapes, massive pollution, and climate change of eschatological proportions — it seems as though Oswald Spengler's Decline of the West was more clairvoyant than Fourier's odes to universal harmony.

Prominent secularization theorists like Peter L. Berger who, as recently as the 1960s, openly conceded religion's demise, are having to radically alter their forecasts. They have had to invent new concepts and categories to describe the phenomenon of religion's unexpected global resurgence. The philosopher Jurgen Habermas now felicitously refers to the advent of a "postsecular society" to characterize religiosity's remarkable staying power. In recent works such as Between Naturalism and Religion (Polity Press, 2008), he questions whether modern societies possess the moral resources to persevere without relying on their religious roots — the Judeo-Christian basis of secular ethics, for example.

Of course, Hegel/Descartes only triumphed in Western Europe. Within the Anglosphere, Hume had already disposed of the notion that the belief in Reason was itself rational,/a> and every great English philosopher thereafter was a skeptic of Reason.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:27 AM


Fortified Foods: How Healthy Are They?: Food companies are getting more creative with the products they're enhancing -- collagen-infused marshmallow, anyone? But can they really deliver on the health benefits they claim? (SARA REISTAD-LONG, 6/15/09, WSJ)

Fortified foods are nothing new. Iodine was first added to salt in Michigan in 1924 in order to help reduce the prevalence of goiter, which had reached an alarming rate of 47% in that state. The measure worked so well that it led to the voluntary iodization of the product for the entire country. It also paved the way for a cascade of similar, mandatory approaches. Brain-and-skin degenerating pellagra was almost completely eradicated within about a decade after breads and grains were enriched with niacin, thiamin, riboflavin and iron in 1943.

In 1998, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration made it mandatory to add folic acid to enriched grains such as breads and cereals with the goal of reducing neural-tube defects in babies. Between then and 2004, the number of infants born with neural-tube defects went down by 25%, according a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-sponsored study, which concluded that folic acid fortification was at least partially responsible for the drop.

"Nutritionally enhanced foods are essentially just a different way of getting some of the benefits of a vitamin supplement. Studies show both do the job," says Sheldon Hendler, M.D., Ph.D, co-author of "The Physician's Desk Reference for Nutritional Supplements."

Dr. Hendler says in some cases there can even be advantages to the fortified variant over a multivitamin: "Many of these ingredients are fat-soluble, so they're digested better when taken in food. They may also combine favorably with the food's existing components, increasing potency that way." Indeed, vitamin A's fat-solubility is precisely the reason many margarine brands now include the ingredient. The vitamin D that's routinely added to milk is often touted for aiding calcium absorption.

But enhanced foods aren't always as impressive as the label may suggest --especially when compared to whole foods. "Processing destroys nutrients, and the more processing there is, the more destruction you get," says Marion Nestle, author and professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University. "Fortification adds back some nutrients, so overall you're better off with a processed fortified food than a processed unfortified one. But a whole food is always going to be superior."

For instance, while numerous brands of protein-fortified pastas can contain nearly as much protein as a serving of meat, the meat is usually the healthier choice because the pastas are made from processed grains and are thus high in simple carbohydrates. Another example: Since probiotics occur naturally in yogurts, consumers might be tempted to think that yogurts touting extra probiotics may escalate health benefits. But processing actually breaks down existing probiotic strains, and many of the lab-developed variants have little research to support their health claims.

Then one has to be mindful of serving size and strength. Hearts and Minds Peanut Butter with Omega-3 and Olive Oil has 100 mg of the fatty acid per two-tablespoon serving, but a 3.5 oz. portion of salmon, tuna or sardines has 1,500 mg of omega-3. One would have to eat 30 tablespoons of the peanut butter -- and 180 grams of fat -- to get the same amount of omega-3 present in a single serving of fish.

Better the whole jar than a forkful of seafood.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:21 AM


“Conservatives” Are Single-Largest Ideological Group: Percentage of “liberals” higher this decade than in early ’90s (Lydia Saad, 6/15/09, Gallup)

Thus far in 2009, 40% of Americans interviewed in national Gallup Poll surveys describe their political views as conservative, 35% as moderate, and 21% as liberal. This represents a slight increase for conservatism in the U.S. since 2008, returning it to a level last seen in 2004. [...]

There is an important distinction in the respective ideological compositions of the Republican and Democratic Parties. While a solid majority of Republicans are on the same page -- 73% call themselves conservative -- Democrats are more of a mixture. The major division among Democrats is between self-defined moderates (40%) and liberals (38%). However, an additional 22% of Democrats consider themselves conservative, much higher than the 3% of Republicans identifying as liberal.

June 15, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:37 PM


Five Best: These spy tales are unsurpassed, says novelist Alan Furst (Alan Furst, 6/15/09, WSJ)

2 The Miernik Dossier By Charles McCarry
Saturday Review Press, 1973

With “The Miernik Dossier,” Charles McCarry introduced us to Paul Christopher, the brilliant and sensitive CIA officer who would appear in a series of perhaps more widely known novels, such as “The Secret Lovers” and “Second Sight.” The book itself is the “dossier” in question: the reports and memoranda filed by a quintet of mutually mistrustful espionage agents, including a seductive Hungarian princess and a seemingly hapless Polish scientist, who undertake to drive from Switzerland to the Sudan in a Cadillac. It is a travelogue that bristles with suspicion and deception—but don’t listen to me, listen to a certain highly acclaimed spy novelist who reviewed McCarry’s literary debut: “The level of reality it achieves is high indeed; it is superbly constructed, wholly convincing, and displays insights that are distinctly refreshing. A new and very welcome talent.” Good call, Eric Ambler.

Two that belong here: anything by Gerald Seymour, but Archangel in particular; and Kolymsky Heights by Lionel Davidson.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:36 AM


Democrats, Republicans, and Jews (Bill Kristol, 6/13/09, Weekly Standard)

There’s an article in the May/June Boston Review on an interesting study that seems (I wonder why?) to have gotten little attention. Neil Malhotra, of Stanford Business School, and Yotam Margalit, who teaches political science at Columbia, report on a survey of 2,768 American adults in which they “explored people’s responses to the economic collapse and tried to determine how anti-Semitic sentiments might relate to the ongoing financial crisis.”

They asked, “How much to blame were the Jews for the financial crisis?”, with respondents given five categories: a great deal, a lot, a moderate amount, a little, not at all. Among non-Jewish respondents, 24.6 percent of Americans blamed the Jews a moderate amount or more, and 38.4 percent attributed at least a little level of blame to the group. This alarms Malhotra and Margalit. Or perhaps 75 percent of Americans saying a little or no blame (with 60 percent saying no blame at all) isn’t really too bad.

But what the Stanford and Columbia academics find “somewhat surprising” is the partisan breakdown among the American public: “Democrats were especially prone to blaming Jews: while 32 percent of Democrats accorded at least moderate blame, only 18.4 percent of Republicans did so (a statistically significant difference).” Why is this surprising? Because of “the presumed higher degree of racial tolerance among liberals and the fact that Jews are a central part of the Democratic Party’s electoral coalition.”

There isn't a less tolerant group this side of the Khyber.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:59 AM


Bayelsa star killed after title win (BBC, 6/15/09)

The captain of Nigeria's Bayelsa United has been shot dead just hours after leading his club to the league title. [...]

The team finished top of the 20-team league on 70 points, three ahead of their closest rivals Heartland FC of Owerri.

The death comes just a few week after two other players from the same team were killed.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:56 AM


Why is Dennis Ross being ousted as Obama envoy to Iran? (Barak Ravid, 6/15/09, Haaretz)

Dennis Ross, who most recently served as a special State Department envoy to Iran, will abruptly be relieved of his duties, sources in Washington told Haaretz. [...]

Washington insiders speculate that a number of reasons moved the administration to reassign Ross. One possibility is Iran's persistent refusal to accept Ross as a U.S. emissary given the diplomat's Jewish background as well as his purported pro-Israel leanings. Ross is known to maintain contacts with numerous senior officials in Israel's defense establishment and the Israeli government.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:38 AM


How on Earth Do You Tame Extremists?: Cass Sunstein tackles an impossible task. (Christopher Caldwell, June 15, 2009, Slate)

It was Cass Sunstein, now a Harvard constitutional law professor, who first alerted a broad public to the kind of polarization that has preoccupied us most in recent years. Society, with the help of the Web, was sorting people by ideology in a way that eroded fellow-feeling and fostered mindless partisanship. Almost a decade ago, his Republic.com lamented that while daily newspapers confront people with all kinds of material they didn't ask for, the Web allows them to dodge what they disagree with. This was an alarming refutation of our smug claims about the Internet. In theory, the Internet opens people up to new ways of looking at things. In practice, it lets people wall themselves off in informational micro-environments of their own design. It makes them not more cosmopolitan but more parochial.

Now Sunstein has written Going to Extremes, a short book about the nature and roots of extremism. It is meant to unsettle us in the way his earlier work did. He finds that sitting people down to deliberate does not necessarily lead them to compromise or to converge on their mean opinion. They tend to radicalize in the direction of whatever bias they had to begin with. Teams of doctors, deciding collectively, are more likely to support the "extreme" strategy of heroic efforts to save terminally ill patents than the average individual doctor among them. Juries tend to vote, after discussion, for much more "extreme" monetary awards than the average individual juror among them would. Talking things over isn't necessarily wrong. But it doesn't lead reliably to moderation, either.

Other people have made similar arguments. To take an example that Sunstein does not mention: When Barack Obama won the Democratic Party's nomination last year, largely thanks to his strength in caucus states, Hillary Clinton's supporters complained that the deliberative caucus system didn't just express voter sentiment but warped it. It would be interesting to know whether Sunstein—President Obama's friend, former colleague, and nominee as chief White House regulator—agrees with the Clinton view. He seems to.

Much of Sunstein's evidence about how people drift to extremes comes from his studies of groups that already have a bias to begin with. Individual Democrats and Republicans on three-judge panels cast more "extreme" votes when they are in the majority than when they are not. A group of conservative Republicans in Colorado Springs will move sharply rightward when they discuss global warming among themselves, and a group of liberal Democrats from Boulder will move sharply leftward.

These homogeneous groups are not the special cases they would appear. They tell us something about what happens in more heterogeneous groups, too. If you bring the two clashing sides together, they don't find middle ground any more than like-minded people do. Each side digs in. If you give "a set of balanced, substantive readings" to a group that is at loggerheads over abortion or affirmative action, Sunstein shows, each side simply mines the readings for support of its own position. Ideology, it turns out, is not just a matter of opinions or positions—it is a predisposition to receive some kinds of evidence and not others. Compounding the problem, certain kinds of extremist arguments have an "automatic rhetorical advantage" in deliberation. Me, too, but less is harder to rally behind than In for a penny, in for a pound.

Environmentalism and its opposite is a good example of how the extremes divide into nihilistic camps, with one group wanting to exterminate humankind for the benefit of Nature and the other wanting to pollute just to prove a point.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:18 AM


Iran Supreme Leader Orders Vote Fraud Probe (ANNA JOHNSON and ALI AKBAR DAREINI, Jun. 15, 2009, TIME)

Iran's state television says the supreme leader has ordered an investigation into claims of fraud in last week's presidential election.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is ordering the powerful Guardian Council to examine the allegations by pro-reform candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, who claims widespread vote rigging in Friday's election.

A New Islamic Revolution?: How the Iranian regime betrayed its ideals (Reihan Salam, 06.15.09, Forbes)

The great strength of the Islamic Republic of Iran has been its ability to mask its fundamentally authoritarian character with the trappings of democratic elections. To be sure, the only candidates who are allowed to run for office are those who accept the basic--and very narrow--contours of Iran's constitutional order. Those who believe that the state treasury shouldn't be used as a piggy bank for elite military officers and their mistresses and cronies, for example, are ineligible for office, which is convenient.

But even so, Iran's elections have traditionally been a good way to let off steam, and also a good way to distract attention from Iran's so-called deep state. With a reformist at the helm like Khatami or a clown like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the real powers-that-be can do their dastardly deeds undisturbed. Now, however, Iran's real rulers have signed their death warrant.

Tehran is running scared of the uncontrollable forces of freedom: The surge of revolt threatened to become a tidal wave. So the Islamic republic responded with ‘a coup against the coup (Martin Fletcher , 6/15/09, Times of London)
Scarcely had polling ended than Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's cronies in the Interior Ministry and Elections Commission declared him the winner. They gave him not a razor-thin victory, which might just have been credible - the President did have legions of diehard supporters among the pious and rural poor. They gave him nearly two thirds of the vote, a figure that defied belief and raised two unmistakable fingers to the Iranian people and the world. They claimed that the main challenger, Mir Hossein Mousavi, lost heavily even in his own village. The number of votes allegedly cast for Mr Ahmadinejad, 24.5 million, was probably chosen so that he could claim to have more support than any president in the republic's 30-year history. The previous high was just over 20 million, cast for the reformist Mohammad Khatami in 1997.

The crackdown began instantly. Mobile phone and text messaging systems were taken down so the opposition could not organise. Opposition websites and international news services were blocked. Baton-wielding security forces flooded on to the streets. Overnight the festive atmosphere turned to fear, exuberance to terror, as the regime showed how evil it is.

All weekend protests were ruthlessly suppressed. Demonstrators were beaten. Foreign journalists, including a reporter and photographer from The Times, were detained. Leading reformists were arrested. Iran's “Prague Spring”, its “Velvet Revolution”, was crushed with Soviet-style ruthlessness by a regime practised in silencing dissent. Mr Ahmadinejad, the self-styled man of the people and champion of the oppressed, unleashed the full force of the state machinery on his own population. Meanwhile, congratulations poured in from... well, Syria and Venezuela.

Why the volte-face? Why did the regime open the door a crack, only to slam it shut so violently? Almost certainly because it was appalled by what it saw on the other side.

-Iran's Military Coup: Iran election protest The Iranian election was bald-faced election fraud, writes the Daily Beast’s Reza Aslan, perpetrated by a powerful intelligence unit known as the Pasdaran. ( Reza Aslan, 6/15/09, Daily Beast)
So let’s get this straight. We are supposed to believe that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was reelected in Iran’s presidential election last week by a 2 to 1 margin against his reformist rival Mir Hossein Mousavi. That this deeply unpopular president, whose gross mismanagement of the state budget is widely blamed for Iran’s economy hovering on the edge of total collapse, received approximately the same percentage of votes as Mohammad Khatami, by far Iran’s most popular past president, received in both 1997 and 2001? That Mousavi, whom all independent polls predicted would at the very least take Ahmadinejad into a run-off election, lost not only his main base of support, Tehran, but also his own hometown of Khameneh in East Azerbaijan (which, as any Azeri will tell you, never votes for anyone but its own native sons)…and by a landslide. That we should all take the word of the Interior Ministry, led by a man put in his position by Ahmadinejad himself, a man who called the election for the incumbent before the polls were even officially closed, that the election was a fair representation of the will of the Iranian people.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:11 AM


Sammy Davis Jr. — Black and White On the Silver Screen? (Andrea Shea King, Big Hollywood)

Who is Burt Boyar? And why does he care?

The treasure hunt for answers begins on Broadway, circa 1954 when Burt and his wife Jane were moving within the inner circle of New York City’s theater district. His daily column “Burt Boyar’s Broadway,” a widely read ‘who’s who’ of the theatrical world, was prominently positioned on the front page of the Morning Telegraph.

The Boyars were hitting the hot spots — the El Morocco, the Copa, the Latin Quarter, the Stork Club — gleaning tantalizing tidbits to toss to ten million readers as they sipped their morning coffee over the morning news. “Burt Boyar’s Broadway” was published in every Newhouse and Annenberg newspaper. A mere mention in the column was gold, shining nuggets of priceless publicity coveted by actors and their press agents. Manhattan’s most sought after couple were out every evening. “Jane and I would go to every nightclub in town to see who was around and form the basis of what I was writing about. We went to virtually everything,” Boyar begins.

“In fact, we were on the ‘first night’ list, which was a wonderful thing and often a horrible thing at the same time. Every show that opened, we automatically received tickets for opening night and we had our same seats, just like all the critics. And you think, ‘My gosh, how glamorous can you be? You go to every theater opening in New York!’ But if you think about it, there are some 200 shows every year. Of them, there are maybe five hits. And you have to sit through every one of the others. You cannot imagine what it was like. You sit there wondering, ‘How did they ever pay for this? Who would put up money to finance this? How do we get out of here?’ But you couldn’t leave early, because then you’d be accused of writing about something you hadn’t seen,” he jokes.

Boyar also wrote a weekly column for TV Guide. “I had a lot of audience and so naturally I got invited everywhere,” he says.

At about this time, Sammy Davis, Jr. was performing in “Mr. Wonderful,” a dog of a show that was getting lousy reviews — except for the last 40 minutes when Davis was onstage. Critics loved his Vegas-Copa-Miami Beach nightclub act. Boyar took note, and rang him up.

“When I called Sammy, he said, ‘What do you say we have dinner one night?’ So that very night we went out to dinner, Jane, Sammy and I, to Danny’s Hideaway, which was a theatrical steak house. It’s closed now but it was a very hot spot in those days. As dinner was coming to an end, he excused himself and said, ‘I’m sorry, I’ve gotta go do the show, but what do you say we have dinner…’ And he thought a second and then he said, ‘how about having dinner five nights a week?’ And as it turned out, we had dinner seven nights a week!” It would be the beginning of a long friendship.

Our interview with Mr. Boyar appears here.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:07 AM


WHO's Convenient �Pandemic� (Michael Fumento, June 14, 2009, The Los Angeles Times)

How bizarre! The World Health Organization has declared swine flu a "pandemic," signaling governments worldwide to launch emergency response plans.

The mildest pandemics of the 20th century killed at least a million people worldwide, according to the WHO, while old-fashioned seasonal flu strikes every nation yearly and kills an estimated 250,000 to 500,000. As of Thursday, when the pandemic was declared, H1N1 swine flu had killed only 144 people total — fewer than succumb daily to seasonal flu annually. And in Mexico, where the outbreak began and where it has been the most severe, cases peaked quickly, in just four weeks.

A pandemic declaration will be costly when we can least afford it and could prompt severe restrictions on human activities (think China). Perhaps most important, such a declaration could render the term "flu pandemic" essentially meaningless — risking lethal public complacency if a bona fide one hits.

So how can the WHO say swine flu qualifies as a pandemic? And why?

The WHO definition for "influenza pandemic" once required "several, simultaneous epidemics worldwide with enormous numbers of deaths and illness." But in 2005, it promulgated a definition that virtually ignores the number of cases and completely ignores deaths.

June 14, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:14 PM


Pixilated Over Pixels (MAUREEN DOWD, 6/14/09, NY Times)

Women are faking it in bedrooms all over America.

“When my husband says, ‘Can you believe how much better this is?’ I say, ‘Yes, honey, it’s amazing,’ ” one woman told me. “I really don’t see that much difference, but he’s so happy, I just pretend to.”

As an explosion of pixels hits our TV screens this weekend, with the digital and high-def revolution, my unscientific survey shows women are less excited about high-def than men.

Your HDTV should be in the den so you can watch sports.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:05 PM


Mousavi lodges legal appeal against Ahmadinejad victory: Opposition candidate goes to country's guardian council after supporters claim result was manipulated (Ian Black and Saeed Kamali Dehghan in Tehran and Haroon Siddique, 6/14/09, guardian.co.uk)

The defeated Iranian presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi today launched a formal appeal against the election result as his supporters took to the streets of the capital again, raising the prospect of more violent clashes.

Mousavi, who claimed his defeat by the hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was manipulated, said in a statement on his website that he had appealed to the ruling guardian council to overturn the result, and urged his supporters to continue protests "in a peaceful and legal way".

With temperatures at 35C, the situation in the Iranian capital threatened to run out of control as special forces in riot gear chased protesters through side streets near Fatemi Square. In a sign of the anger among Mousavi's supporters, they chanted "the president is committing a crime and the supreme leader is supporting him", highly inflammatory language in a regime where the supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, is considered irreproachable.[...]

Mousavi, who had been widely expected to beat the controversial incumbent if there was a high turnout – or at least do well enough to trigger a second round – insisted he was the victor after the results were announced and appealed against the result to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

"I personally strongly protest the many obvious violations and I'm warning I will not surrender to this dangerous charade," said Mousavi, a former prime minister. "The result will jeopardise the pillars of the Islamic republic and establish tyranny."

But Khamenei replied that the election had been conducted fairly. He ordered the three defeated candidates and their supporters to avoid "provocative" behaviour. "All Iranians must support and help the elected president," he warned.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:55 AM


Republicans Rethinking the Reagan Mystique (JOHN HARWOOD, 6/14/09, NY Times)

“I don’t use him publicly as a reference point,” said Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana, a Republican who lately has emerged as a potential national party leader. Mr. Daniels instead has urged fellow Republicans to “let go” of Mr. Reagan as a contemporary symbol.

As Mr. Reagan’s White House political director, Mr. Daniels brings credibility to the discussion. A year ago, when he first proposed that Republicans turn the page he drew sharp criticism from Rush Limbaugh, among others. Now, Mr. Daniels observes, “I think it’s spreading.”

That’s not to say Republicans disavow Mr. Reagan’s achievements, which include cutting tax rates, presiding over the successful conclusion of the cold war and, as Mr. Obama noted, boosting morale after a period of national self-doubt. Indeed a recent video made by a conservative group includes Newt Gingrich invoking Mr. Reagan in the terms of old: “His rendezvous with destiny is a reminder that we all have a similar rendezvous,” Mr. Gingrich said, reflecting the admiration for Mr. Reagan that is still in force among the party’s conservative base.

Mr. Daniels, too, hails his former boss for “timeless” principles like suspicion of big government and appreciation of the importance of individual freedom and opportunity. As he tackles issues in Indiana — education policy lately is a hot topic — he says he asks himself whether Mr. Reagan would approve.

But “Reagan always faced forward,” the governor said. “If he were around, he’d tell Republicans to do that now. He’d be the last to want the focus on him.”

The fact is that, presumably because he lived through the Depression, Reagan was fundamentally a Second Way governor who never moved beyond the New Deal. Given the chance to throttle Social Security he saved it instead.

The GOP has to become more openly Thatcherite and Third Way in order to provide the security that peoples in developed nations demand but do so in a manner more consistent with capitalism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:50 AM


Too complex to exist (Duncan Watts, June 14, 2009, Boston Globe)

Answering these questions properly requires us to grapple with what is called "systemic risk." Much like the power grid, the financial system is a series of complex, interlocking contingencies. And in such a system, the biggest risk of all - that the system as a whole might fail - is not related in any simple way to the risk profiles of its individual parts. Like a downed tree, the failure of one part of the system can trigger an unpredictable cascade that can propagate throughout the entire system.

It may be true, in fact, that complex networks such as financial systems face an inescapable trade-off - between size and efficiency on one hand, and global stability on the other. Once they have been assembled, in other words, globally interconnected and integrated financial networks just may be too complex to prevent crises like the current one from reoccurring.

Rather than waiting until the next cascade is imminent, and then following the usual modus operandi of propping up the handful of firms that seem to pose the greatest threat, it may be time for a new approach: preventing the system from becoming overly complex in the first place.

To understand why such preventive measures might be useful, it helps to take a step back and notice a general trend toward building ever larger and more complex networks. In recent years, hundreds of millions of people have rushed to join online social networks, while billions more rely on e-mail and cellphones to stay connected to friends and coworkers all day, every day. Technologists wax lyrical about "Metcalfe's Law," which posits that a network's "value" increases in proportion to the square of the number of people or devices in it. And system designers revel in the ability of networks to improve a system's overall efficiency by dynamically distributing computer-processing load, power generation, or financial risk, as the case may be.

In all the excitement, however, we tend to overlook a fact that should be obvious - that once everything is connected, problems can spread as easily as solutions, sometimes more so. Thanks to globally connected transportation systems, epidemics of disease like SARS, avian influenza, and swine flu can spread farther and faster than ever before. Thanks to the Internet, e-mail viruses, nasty rumors, and embarrassing truths can spread to colleagues, loved ones, or even around the world before remedial action can be taken to stop them. And thanks to globally connected financial markets, a drop in real-estate prices in California can hurt the retirement benefits of civil servants in the UK.

Traditionally, banks and other financial institutions have succeeded by managing risk, not avoiding it. But as the world has become increasingly connected, their task has become exponentially more difficult. To see why, it's helpful to think about power grids again: engineers can reliably assess the risk that any single power line or generator will fail under some given set of conditions; but once a cascade starts, it's difficult to know what those conditions will be - because they can change suddenly and dramatically depending on what else happens in the system. Correspondingly, in financial systems, risk managers are able to assess their own institutions' exposure, but only on the assumption that the rest of the world obeys certain conditions. In a crisis it is precisely these conditions that change in unpredictable ways.

...that the financial devices were constructed in such a manner as to disguise risk.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:42 AM


A tale of two markets divided by the conforming-loan limit: Mortgage rates are low and sales are booming for cheaper homes. But sales are at a virtual standstill for pricier homes because buyers can't get jumbo loans at acceptable rates. (Lew Sichelman, June 14, 2009, LA Times)

Roused by a combination of low mortgage rates, sagging prices and government largesse, first-time buyers appear to have entered the housing market with a vengeance. According to the latest statistics from the National Assn. of Realtors, half of existing-home sales were to rookies who had never owned homes before.

But at the top of the housing ladder, the move-up market remains at a virtual standstill, stymied by the inability of sellers to attract buyers who can obtain financing at rates close to what first-timers are paying. [...]

What we have is a tale of two markets where the dividing line is $417,000, the so-called conforming-loan limit. It's the ceiling on the loans that can be bought by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two government-sponsored enterprises that buy loans from primary lenders and package them into securities for sale to investors.

Below that amount, Fannie and Freddie provide the grease that keeps money flowing into housing. But above the ceiling, known as the jumbo-loan market, there is no government underpinning in most places.

"If you ever wondered what the mortgage market would look like without government support, that's what we have today in the jumbo market," says Howard Glaser, a Washington, D.C., financial services industry analyst. "And it's not just the high end of the market that's impacted. It affects the market all the way down the ladder, and I'm not sure policymakers in Washington understand that."

...despite the seeming similarity of the borrowers and the repayment rates, there's never been a securitization of small business loans similar to what occurred for mortgages...why is that? The answer lies entirely in the absence of government guarantee for the former.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:36 AM


What is American cuisine? (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, June 14, 2009)

Does America have a cuisine, one that transcends Thanksgiving turkey and July 4th grilling? What is America's culinary identity?

Send in your definition of American food and your most American recipe, and we'll run the most persuasive on July 5. We'll have a prize for the best description and recipe. E-mail it to food@post-gazette.com or mail to China Millman, Post-Gazette, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh, PA 15222

We've got one more (audio) copy of the Horse Soldiers for anyone who can name a meal that a straight white male could conceivably prefer to Thanksgiving dinner and the 4th of July bbq. I can think of one that's at least close, but may already be included.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:29 AM


Italy out for revenge against US at Confed Cup (Andrew Dampf, 6/14/09, AP)

Italy will be out for revenge against the Unites States on Monday in both teams' Confederations Cup opener.

Three years ago at the World Cup, a 1-1 draw with the Americans was the only blemish on the Azzurri's otherwise perfect run in Germany.

"This is the most important match," said Italy coach Marcello Lippi, who stepped down after the World Cup victory only to return last year. "We've got to beat the United States because if the first game goes well, then so will the following games. Whereas if it goes badly, it will be tougher for us to recover." [...]

Italy has never lost to the Americans in nine meetings.

The Azzurri feature the tournament's oldest squad, with an average age of 29.7. The Americans are the most youthful team, more than three years younger than Italy on average.

You obviously can't expect the US to win, but why not try?.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:24 AM


ran sees second day of clashes as anger rises over elections: Opposition activists ratchet up rhetoric against Ahmadinejad and supreme leader (Ian Black and Saeed Kamali Dehghan, 6/14/09, guardian.co.uk)

Outraged supporters of the moderate candidate, Mir Hossein Mousavi, who claimed his defeat in the Iranian election at the hands of hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was manipulated, took to the streets of Tehran again today, raising the prospect of more violent clashes.

With temperatures at 35C, the situation in the Iranian capital threatened to run out of control as special forces in riot gear chased protesters through side streets near Fatemi Square. In a sign of the anger among Mousavi's supporters, they chanted "the president is committing a crime and the supreme leader is supporting him", highly inflammatory language in a regime where the supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, is considered irreproachable.

Crowds also gathered outside Mousavi's headquarters but there was no sign of Ahmadinejad's chief political rival, who is rumoured to be under house arrest. Supporters waved their fists and chanted anti-Ahmadinejad slogans.

Iran Cracks Down on Reformists after Riots (AFP, 6/14/09)
Analysts have warned that the dramatic events could pose a risk to the future of the Shiite-dominated country, which has been under the control of powerful clerics since the Islamic revolution three decades ago.

On Saturday, baton-wielding riot police firing tear gas clashed with protesters who pelted security forces with stones and set rubbish bins and police vehicles ablaze as demonstrators shouted "Death to the Dictator."

An AFP correspondent touring riot-hit areas reported a heavy police presence around the interior ministry, while a bank building was burnt to a shell and the road to Tehran University's student dormitory locked down.

The election results dashed Western hopes of change after four years under the combative Ahmadinejad, who set the country on a collision course with the international community over its nuclear drive and his anti-Israeli tirades.

World governments have so far reacted cautiously, while voicing concern about the vote-rigging allegations.

...Western leaders can sway this situation (meaning Ayatollah Khamenei) by withdrawing recognition of the regime.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:15 AM


Some in Palau are worried about Guantanamo detainees: The laid-back island republic is unaccustomed to geopolitics, and some question why the U.S. is sending them Chinese Muslims. But others say their culture is welcoming to foreigners. (John M. Glionna, June 14, 2009, LA Times)

The U.S. achieved hero status here after American forces fought and died to free Palau from Japanese rule in World War II. For decades afterward, Palau was a U.N. trust territory administered by U.S. officials.

Its citizens still celebrate American Independence Day. They use their old U.S. ZIP Code (96940), and the island currency remains the greenback. Most Palauans speak English along with their melodic native tongue.

The new government center, an imposing building that's visible for miles as it rises incongruously out of the jungle with its gleaming white dome, is modeled on the U.S. Capitol.

But all this America worship has become unhealthy, critics say. They say a compact Palau signed with the U.S. before its independence created an economic reliance on Uncle Sam.

Under the pact, Washington agreed to give Palau $20 million a year. The two recently worked on a new aid package that could exceed $200 million -- more than the gross domestic product of about $160 million. The per capita income here is less than $10,000 a year.

State Department officials insist that the aid is not tied in any way to Palau's agreement to accept Guantanamo detainees.

In an interview Saturday, Toribiong said no amount of aid or diplomatic arm-twisting could have influenced his decision to accept the inmates.

"This wasn't an obligation; it was an honor," Toribiong said as he drank a bottle of Perrier a few feet from the crashing surf. "We're showing that we're a partner to the U.S. in good times and in bad.

"Palau can enter the world stage as a little guy helping a big guy, a tiny island republic going to bat for a world superpower."

Toribiong said he initially agreed to accept 17 Uighurs but later learned that the U.S. had unexpectedly sent four to Bermuda. He now expects 13 detainees to soon arrive.

Once here, they will be put in a halfway house until homes and jobs are found for them -- the cost of their relocation covered by the U.S., Toribiong said.

He said that the arrangement was temporary and would be periodically reviewed.

Some have doubts

The people of Palau weren't waiting to review the arrangement.

At a Mobil gas station mini-mart in downtown Koror, a dozen residents, including mechanics and former senators, sat around white plastic tables drinking coffee and hashing out the country's problems.

Most often the banter revolves around the occasional marijuana bust, string of burglaries or illegal shark killings.

But recently the men have dissected the fate of the Uighur separatists from China's Xinjiang region, a rugged landscape of snowy mountains and sweltering deserts so foreign to Micronesia that it sent many Palauans scrambling for a map.

The Uighurs now headed for Palau were captured and sent to Guantanamo in 2001 after traveling to Pakistan and Afghanistan for firearms training as part of their fight for independence from China.

"My question is, where are we going to put these people? Are we going to let them roam around? Are we going to put them in jail?" asked Evans Beches, a former politician. "And where was the referendum on this? Don't people have a right to debate something so important to the future of this island?"

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:59 AM


Obama's Spending Plans May Pose Political Risks: Concern Mounts in White House as 2010 Elections Loom (Scott Wilson, 6/14/09, Washington Post)

After enjoying months of towering poll numbers, legislative victories and well-received foreign policy initiatives, the White House has become increasingly concerned that President Obama's spending plans, which would require $9 trillion in government borrowing over the next decade, could become a political liability that defines the 2010 midterm elections. [...]

[T]here is evidence of growing public concern over his fiscal policies. As he traveled Thursday in Green Bay, Wis., Obama was greeted by demonstrators holding signs that said, "No socialism" and "Taxed Enough Yet?"

Republican leaders, who have been searching for a way to dent the president's popularity, are training their attacks on his economic policies as they look ahead to the 2010 midterm congressional elections. [...]

[E]ven some leaders in his own party are calling on the president to soon begin making those difficult choices, despite a fragile economy that remains in recession.

Were the GOP to put together a really basic four or five point program for reducing government and government spending--via things like means-testing (emphasizing ag subsidies not entitlements), abolishing cabinet departments, eliminating duplicative and antiquated programs, reorganizing defense, etc.--it could repeat its success from 1994, in the House at any rate.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:59 AM


Last Things: What Is Theology? (James V. Schall, S.J., 06/08/09, First Principles)

In a famous essay, Leo Strauss asked: “What Is Political Philosophy?” Following Plato, Aristotle, and Aquinas, he advised us to pay particular attention to “what is?” questions. Thus, we have minds to ask: “What is courage?” “What is truth?” “What is man?” “What is beauty?” “What is knowledge?” If we already have the courage of Plato’s brother Glaucon, we can even ask: “What is ‘is’?”—though most good philosophers do not think “is” is a “what.”

When we have endeavored to answer such questions, we find ourselves wondering: “What is the cause or origin of all that is?” “What is the purpose of everything?” “Is the world made in justice, or something more than justice, as Aquinas surmised?” And if we complain about evil, which we cannot avoid noticing, “To whom do we complain?” Some philosophies pretend it does not exist; others, as the early Augustine, think that some evil god causes it. This view has the convenient side-effect of excusing us without changing us.

Some ancient (and modern) philosophers used to claim that no “origin” of things could be found, nor, contrary to Aristotle, was an end or purpose found in them either. Whatever is, always was. It just keeps coming around again and again. That’s why, it is said, we can understand it, anticipate it. But after we think of this “round and round” affair long enough, we still wonder: “Why does it circle in this way and not some other?” “Are not some things also new, things that have never existed before, ourselves, at our conception, for instance?”

Such wonderments bring us to the “God question” as central to the “what is?” questions. With any curiosity at all, like it or not, we must at least wonder about the “God question.” We find it odd, perhaps, in reading Exodus, a book basic to our tradition, to hear Moses ask Yahweh “Who He was?” The answer came back: “I am who am,” a version of the “what is” question. Similarly, Christ kept asking, “Who do men say that I am?” Or, “before Abraham was, I am.” (Incidentally, the spell-check on my computer, when it read the three “am’s” in the previous sentences changed them to “is.” Nothing could prove more clearly that machines do not philosophize about the highest things!)

Even if we just ask Leo Strauss’ question about political philosophy, we find that Aristotle had already asked the same question. After defining science as “knowledge through causes,” Aristotle said that politics was the highest of the “practical” sciences, of the sciences that deal with things that could be “otherwise.” Politics at its highest included a form of knowledge called “prudence,” recta ratio agibilium, the right reason of things to be done. The politically prudent statesman strove to put a final stamp of his intelligence on an act that could be otherwise. That final act, as all human acts, has to be chosen or determined to be what it is. As chosen, it could be good or evil, praised or blamed, noble or despicable. But politics was not the highest science as such.

This latter science would be the knowledge of “being as being,” generally called metaphysics, or first philosophy, or, at its peak, “theology.” Aristotle added, to make his point, that if man were the highest being, politics, not metaphysics, would be the highest science. When politics is thought to be the highest science, that is, a kind of substitute metaphysics, by its practitioners, it claims the power to do everything formerly attributed to God.

June 13, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:17 PM


Iran's political coup (Gary Sick, 6/13/09)

It is still too early for anything like a comprehensive analysis of implications, but here are some initial thoughts:

1. The willingness of the regime simply to ignore reality and fabricate election results without the slightest effort to conceal the fraud represents a historic shift in Iran’s Islamic revolution. All previous leaders at least paid lip service to the voice of the Iranian people. This suggests that Iran’s leaders are aware of the fact that they have lost credibility in the eyes of many (most?) of their countrymen, so they are dispensing with even the pretense of popular legitimacy in favor of raw power.

2. The Iranian opposition, which includes some very powerful individuals and institutions, has an agonizing decision to make. If they are intimidated and silenced by the show of force (as they have been in the past), they will lose all credibility in the future with even their most devoted followers. But if they choose to confront their ruthless colleagues forcefully, not only is it likely to be messy but it could risk running out of control and potentially bring down the entire existing power structure, of which they are participants and beneficiaries.

3. With regard to the United States and the West, nothing would prevent them in principle from dealing with an illegitimate authoritarian government. We do it every day, and have done so for years (the Soviet Union comes to mind). But this election is an extraordinary gift to those who have been most skeptical about President Obama’s plan to conduct negotiations with Iran. Former Bush official Elliott Abrams was quick off the mark, commenting that it is “likely that the engagement strategy has been dealt a very heavy blow.” Two senior Israeli officials quickly urged the world not to engage in negotiations with Iran. Neoconservatives who had already expressed their support for an Ahmadinejad victory now have every reason to be satisfied. Opposition forces, previously on the defensive, now have a perfect opportunity to mount a political attack that will make it even more difficult for President Obama to proceed with his plan.

In their own paranoia and hunger for power, the leaders of Iran have insulted their own fellow revolutionaries who have come to have second thoughts about absolute rule and the costs of repression, and they may have alienated an entire generation of future Iranian leaders. At the same time, they have provided an invaluable gift to their worst enemies abroad.

Iran: What now?: Three Middle East experts weigh in on the situation in Iran, and what the United States should do about. (Foreign Policy, 6/13/09)
Trita Parsi:

Few doubt that the results presented by the interior minister are rigged. In fact, there are increasing questions as to whether the votes were ever even counted. If this were really a landslide in favor of Ahmadinejad, where are those 63 percent of the people right now? Shouldn't they be celebrating their victory on the streets?

Clearly, the anti-Ahmadinejad camp has been taken by surprise and is scrambling for a plan. Increasingly, given their failure to get Khamenei to intervene, their only option seems to be to directly challenge -- or threaten to challenge -- the supreme leader.

Here's where the powerful chairman of the Assembly of Experts, Mousavi supporter Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, comes in. Only this assembly has the formal authority to call for Khamenei's dismissal, and it is now widely assumed that Rafsanjani is quietly assessing whether he has the votes to do so or not.

It may be that the first steps toward challenging Khamenei have already been taken. After all, Mousavi went over the supreme leader's head with an open letter to the clergy in Qom. Rafsanjani clearly failed to win Khamenei's support in a reported meeting between the two men Friday, but the influential Ali Akbar Mohtashamipour, who heads the vote-monitoring committee for Mousavi and fellow candidate Mehdi Karroubi, has officially requested that the Guardian Council cancel the election and schedule a new vote with proper monitoring.

If he doesn't intervene against the Revolutionaries, Ayatollah Khamenei risks being responsible for the demise of the Republic.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:00 AM


Epic Chesterton (Hal G.P. Colebatch, 6.11.09, American Spectator)

What is perhaps his greatest imaginative book, The Ballad of the White Horse, is available from Ignatius Press in San Francisco.

In its style, though not in its ultimate concerns, The Ballad of the White Horse is a rather different work from the adventures of Father Brown. It is not perfect as poetry but it is one of those works -- there are not very many -- that can actually change the reader's life and is a perennial source of inspiration and hope.

Some say Chesterton wrote it in inspired haste over a few days, though the introduction to the present edition says it took ten years. It was published in 1911, and is a vast (173-page), sweeping, heroic account in ballad form of King Alfred the Great's hopeless war, crushing defeat and final "eucastrophic" victory over the Great Army of the marauding Danes in "the Thornland of Ethandune" about a thousand years ago, a victory which saved English-speaking civilization from being murdered in its cradle, and saved us, as Chesterton put it earlier, "from being savages forever." A book-length poem is not the most likely of publishing propositions, but for those in the know about it, The Ballad of the White Horse has enjoyed sales for nearly a hundred years. The present edition is embellished with wood-cut illustrations and notes, though the latter seem hardly necessary: the poem speaks for itself.

It is a poem that can be read by anyone in need of inspiration and encouragement in dark times.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:21 AM


Bill McHenry: Live At The Village Vanguard (WBGO, June 8, 2009)

Everything about Bill McHenry's musical profile would seem to indicate that he's merely a generic player. He's a tenor saxophonist who arrived in New York in the early-'90s wave of young talent, released a few records on small independent labels and chose not to hide his enthusiasm for melodies and chord changes. But those in the know recognize McHenry as one of the most distinct voices of his generation — one who possesses the rare ability to distill abstruse modern ideas into gorgeous, palpably warm music. That voice was on display with his newest band, a quintet featuring a likeminded cohort in drummer Paul Motian, in a live performance from the Village Vanguard.

McHenry called a set of intriguing originals, plus a couple of standard ballads chosen with care. On his compositions, twisting horn themes often in unison motion gave way to solos that drifted in and out of apparent form; the slow tunes were clearly picked with a view toward torch-song beauty. And when he stepped to the fore, he wowed with his command of subtle details in shading and shaping even the most technical of phrases.

Joining McHenry on the front line were poised trumpeter Duane Eubanks and passionate alto saxophonist Andrew D'Angelo, who both took solos with forays into extended technique. Bassist Ben Street both walked time and toyed with it authoritatively; drummer Paul Motian, he of the uncommon accents, was as immediately recognizable as always.

-Bird Alone: Bill McHenry and the Wood Thrush (Josh Jackson, WBGO)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:16 AM


Dave Brubeck: An Unlikely Hit, 50 Years Strong (All Things Considered, June 12, 2009, NPR)

In 1959, jazz pianist Dave Brubeck topped the pop charts and shook up the notion of rhythm in jazz with an odd-metered song called "Take Five."

Only trained musicians might understand exactly what gave the Paul Desmond-penned song its flow. It was all in the time signature: five beats to the measure, a departure from more traditional four-four time in jazz. It was cutting-edge and cool — a song millions would scoop up and savor. In an interview with Michele Norris, Brubeck explains what made the time signature so difficult.

"You were brought up playing in four-four," Brubeck says. "Everybody could walk to it and dance to it. Put an extra beat on it — everybody's tripping."

Fifty years ago, "Take Five" appeared on Time Out, a title that served as a double-entendre. Those in the know knew it referenced the mood and the music's meter.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:58 AM


NASA's mission: Can we live on the moon?: The agency is set to launch spacecraft that will update topographical maps of the surface and will probe deep into a crater to search for water. (John Johnson Jr., June 13, 2009, LA Times)

On Wednesday, NASA is scheduled to launch a robotic mission aimed at finding the best site for Earth's first off-world colony, the centuries-old dream of science fiction writers and utopians.

This time, we're not just going for a walkabout or to hit golf balls and cruise around in a $10-million moon buggy, as the Apollo astronauts did. Ultimately, we hope to pack up the kids and the dog and move in.

"We're going to provide NASA with what is needed to get human beings back to the moon and to stay there for an extended duration," said Craig Tooley, project manager for the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, one part of the two-pronged mission.

The orbiter itself is expected to produce the most detailed topographic maps of the moon ever made, as well as first-ever glimpses inside perpetually shadowed craters at the north and south poles. Inside those craters, scientists hope to find caches of frozen water that have been hidden away for billions of years.

The mission won't stop there. Using a second spacecraft -- the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite -- NASA is planning to punch a hole in one to see what comes out.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:39 AM


Gospel Singer’s Discovery Was 60 Years in the Making (SAMUEL G. FREEDMAN, 6/13/09, NY Times)

On the Sunday morning when Naomi Davis first sang gospel for an audience, in the wood-frame sanctuary of Mount Coney Baptist Church, Harry S. Truman was president and Martin Luther King Jr. a precocious teenager graduating from college. Naomi was 6, a farm girl from the outskirts of Midway, Ala., population something like 500, nearly entirely black.

With her older siblings Hattie Mae and Annie Ruth, Naomi performed throughout her childhood in the Davis Sisters, harmonizing on “I Got Over” and “Nearer, My God, to Thee.” They went from church to church, played at Baptist conferences, did shows from a radio station in Tuskegee.

For decades to come, Naomi Davis could envision no life except singing. That vision lasted through day jobs and different states, through marriage and motherhood; for a time in the 1960s, she cleaned houses in two shifts before doing a soul show at a Brooklyn club called the Night Cap.

Through it all, one thing eluded her: a record album. As 78s gave way to 33s, as LPs surrendered to CDs, as iPods and downloads emerged, only a few singles attested to the musical existence of Naomi Shelton, her married and professional name.

Then, a few weeks ago, the obscurity ended, and in an unlikely way. An independent label, Daptone, with its diehard audience among the young and hip, released the first album by Mrs. Shelton in a gospel career that began 60 years ago.

-MYSPACE: Naomi Shelton and the Gospel Queens
-SONG OF THE DAY: Naomi Shelton Knows What You've Doner (NPR, 6/11/09)
-PROFILE: Naomi Shelton's Everything Bagel: Daptone's new gospel-soul star prefers Friday-night masses (Jim Allen, May 26th 2009, Village Voice)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:35 AM


Ahmadinejad wins surprise Iran landslide victory (Ian Black, 6/13/09, guardian.co.uk)

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has won a crushing victory in Iran's landmark presidential election, according to the country's authorities, but his moderate challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi has warned of "tyranny" and protested that the result was rigged after a record turnout of 84%.

Mousavi appealed directly to the regime's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as baton-wielding riot police dispersed angry supporters outside his Tehran headquarters today.

"I personally strongly protest the many obvious violations and I'm warning I will not surrender to this dangerous charade," said Mousavi. "The result of such performance by some officials will jeopardise the pillars of the Islamic Republic and will establish tyranny."

Both Sides Claim Victory in Presidential Election in Iran (ROBERT F. WORTH and NAZILA FATHI, 6/13/09, NY Times)
The election commission is part of the Interior Ministry, which Mr. Ahmadinejad controls. Some lawmakers were already congratulating Mr. Ahmadinejad, and some of his supporters were celebrating in the streets, the news agency said.

Some analysts warned that Mr. Moussavi’s supporters might take to the streets to protest on Saturday, despite a firm warning against any demonstrations by the deputy commander of the Iranian national police, Ahmadreza Radan. Early on Saturday morning the Tehran police began a “maneuver” to maintain security, the news agency said.

The emotional campaign was widely seen as a referendum on Mr. Ahmadinejad’s divisive policies. It pitted Mr. Moussavi, a former prime minister who has pledged to move Iran away from confrontation with the West, combat economic stagnation and expand women’s rights, against Mr. Ahmadinejad’s economic populism, social conservatism, and hard-line foreign policy.

Many women, young people, intellectuals and members of the moderate clerical establishment backed Mr. Moussavi. Mr. Ahmadinejad drew passionate support from poor rural Iranians as well as conservatives.

At his news conference, Mr. Moussavi cited irregularities that included a shortage of ballots. He accused the government of shutting down Web sites, newspapers and text messaging services throughout the country, crippling the opposition’s ability to communicate during the voting.

Fraud has been a prominent concern for Mr. Moussavi’s campaign, with many of his allies warning that Mr. Ahmadinejad could use the levers of state — the military, the Revolutionary Guard, and the Basij militia — to cajole or intimidate voters, or even engage in outright fraud. In 2005, Mr. Karroubi, who is also a candidate in this election, accused the Basij of rigging the vote in Mr. Ahmadinejad’s favor.

At his news conference, Mr. Moussavi called on the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to help the country reach a “favorable conclusion.”

Ayatollah Khamenei, who has final authority over affairs of state, appears to be the only figure who could mediate between the two camps in the event of an open confrontation over the legitimacy of the vote. But it is not clear how much he knows about the crisis, or what role he might play.

Mr. Khamenei met on Friday with Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a cleric, former president and backer of Mr. Moussavi’s who had warned the supreme leader in an unusual open letter on Tuesday about the possibility of election fraud, according to a political analyst who spoke on condition of anonymity, citing the gravity of the situation.

While casting his ballot earlier in the day Friday, Ayatollah Khamenei had said that people were using texting to spread rumors, but it is unclear if that is why the services were shut down.

Amid the confusion overnight, a reformist Web site called Fararu said Mr. Moussavi was talking with the two other candidates, Mr. Karroubi and Mr. Rezai, to discuss the situation. Mr. Karroubi is a reformist cleric and Mr. Rezai is a conservative and the former commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.

Turnout like that generally accompanies a change of power, not a re-election. But vhere are the usual election observers?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:24 AM


The Question: Are defensive forwards the future?: Barcelona, Manchester United and Liverpool are among the teams to have realised that attacking players must be prepared to function in less glamorous ways (Jonathan Wilson, 4 June 2009, The Guardian SportsBlog)

[S]ince Rinus Michels took charge there in 1971, they [Barcelona] have favoured the classical Dutch model, which demanded pressing and an aggressive offside trap. "When I went to Barcelona," remembers Marinho Peres, the Brazilian defender who joined the club in 1974, "Michels wanted the centre-backs to push out to make the offside line. In Brazil this was known as the donkey line: people thought it was stupid. The theory was that if you passed one defender, you passed all the others.

"But what Cruyff said to me was that Holland could not play Brazilians or Argentinians, who were very skilful, on a huge pitch. The Dutch players wanted to reduce the space and put everybody in a thin band. The whole logic of the offside trap comes from squeezing the game. This was a brand new thing for me. In Brazil, people thought you could chip the ball over and somebody could run through and beat the offside trap, but it's not like that because you don't have time."

Arrigo Sacchi, whose philosophy was developed from Total Football, believed that a side pressing would ideally allow only 25 metres between centre-forward and centre-back, but such a thin band seems impossible under the liberal modern interpretation of the offside law, which is one of the reasons that it has become increasingly common for sides to play in four bands instead of three. (In fact, it could be argued that one of the reasons that United were so outplayed was that Barcelona's system was discernibly a 4-1-2-3, while United, perhaps because of the absence of Darren Fletcher, perhaps because of Anderson's indiscipline, were stuck in a far more rigid 4-3-3. Given rough equality of talent in that midfield area, a triangle will always beat a line.)

What Barcelona achieved, in other words, was to find a way of pursuing the classic tenets of Total Football – short passing, intermovement of players, winning the ball high up the field – under the modern interpretation of the laws.

The offsides trap is one of the things that prevents soccer from being more exciting (an obviously relative concept), all too often bringing back long passes and breakaway runs. The game would be better served by having a blue line (like hockey) and a rather deep one that would be the only portion of the field where onsides was enforced. This would prevent a Dimitar Berbatov (which is soccerese for Phil Esposito) from standing next to the goalie for the entire game, hoping for a cheap poke in, while allowing for increased fluidity and creativity on the rest of the field. You'd reward teams that are looking to attack, which would only help the game.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:17 AM


Take “Pelham 1 2 3″ (Kyle Smith, June 12, 2009)

I was thoroughly thrilled by the remake of “The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3,” the original of which used to be a mainstay of (I think) channel 9 TV back in the 1970s (or was it channel 11?). I never saw the movie as a kid and didn’t know what that title meant, being a Western Massachusetts lad. It always sounded like the weirdest title to me. Anyway, I’d give the remake 3 1/2 stars and I’m glad to call it one of the finest New York City subway movies of all time. (The original might be no. 1 in this department, though “The Warriors” is close.)

Bulletproof Monk isn't great, but does feature Chow Yun Fat.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:14 AM


Penguins In Seventh Heaven With Cup Win Over Wings: `It`s a dream come true, everything you imagine and more`, said Captain Sidney Crosby. (Javno, 6/13/09)

The Pittsburgh Penguins claimed their revenge and a Stanley Cup with a nervy 2-1 Game Seven win over the Detroit Red Wings on Friday.

The Penguins, who lost the Cup to the Red Wings in six games a year ago, join the 1971 Montreal Canadiens as the only team to drop the opening two games of a final on the road and then claw their way back to win the title.

Maxime Talbot, a grinder with a knack for scoring big goals, tallied twice in the second period while goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury answered his critics with a solid 23-save effort as the Penguins celebrated their third Stanley Cup and first since 1992. [...]

After winning the Cup last year, the Red Wings had made Joe Louis Arena a virtual fortress, and had lost only once in 12 home playoff games prior to Friday's Game Seven.

Home teams had also prevailed in 12 out of 14 times the Cup finals were decided in the winner-take-all Game Seven.

In Hockey Final, Youth Drinks From the Cup (JEFF Z. KLEIN, 6/13/09, NY Times)
It was the first road victory for either team in this series, and it kept intact an unusual record for the Penguins. In their 42-year history, they have never lost a playoff Game 7 on the road, going 5-0 in that span.

The Penguins also rallied from deficits of 2-0 and 3-2 in the series for the franchise’s third Stanley Cup; the others were in 1991 and ’92, the era of Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr.

Lemieux, now the owner of the Penguins, is the first man ever to win a Cup as both player and owner.

It was only the third time in 15 Stanley Cup finals that a Game 7 was won by the road team. The last time the visitors won a Game 7 was in 1971, when the Montreal Canadiens won in Chicago.

The victory could be a watershed moment in Penguins history, similar to when the Edmonton Oilers defeated the Islanders dynasty in 1984 after losing to them a year earlier. The Oilers then went on to start their own dynasty.

The younger Penguins played a near-perfect game against the Red Wings, whose usual precision passing and stick handling were often disjointed.

...were as good as sports get.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:07 AM


Divided We Stand: What would California look like broken in three? Or a Republic of New England? With the federal government reaching for ever more power, redrawing the map is enticing (Paul Starobin, 6/12/09, WSJ)

Remember that classic Beatles riff of the 1960s: “You say you want a revolution?” Imagine this instead: a devolution. Picture an America that is run not, as now, by a top-heavy Washington autocracy but, in freewheeling style, by an assemblage of largely autonomous regional republics reflecting the eclectic economic and cultural character of the society.

There might be an austere Republic of New England, with a natural strength in higher education and technology; a Caribbean-flavored city-state Republic of Greater Miami, with an anchor in the Latin American economy; and maybe even a Republic of Las Vegas with unfettered license to pursue its ambitions as a global gambling, entertainment and conventioneer destination. California? America’s broke, ill-governed and way-too-big nation-like state might be saved, truly saved, not by an emergency federal bailout, but by a merciful carve-up into a trio of republics that would rely on their own ingenuity in making their connections to the wider world. And while we’re at it, let’s make this project bi-national—economic logic suggests a natural multilingual combination between Greater San Diego and Mexico’s Northern Baja, and, to the Pacific north, between Seattle and Vancouver in a megaregion already dubbed “Cascadia” by economic cartographers.

Devolved America is a vision faithful both to certain postindustrial realities as well as to the pluralistic heart of the American political tradition—a tradition that has been betrayed by the creeping centralization of power in Washington over the decades but may yet reassert itself as an animating spirit for the future. Consider this proposition: America of the 21st century, propelled by currents of modernity that tend to favor the little over the big, may trace a long circle back to the original small-government ideas of the American experiment. The present-day American Goliath may turn out to be a freak of a waning age of politics and economics as conducted on a super-sized scale—too large to make any rational sense in an emerging age of personal empowerment that harks back to the era of the yeoman farmer of America’s early days. The society may find blessed new life, as paradoxical as this may sound, in a return to a smaller form.

...is ill-equipped by comparison to David. Smaller is too beneficial for us not to head in that direction.

-It's Good to be Anglosphered (BrothersJudd, 10/20/06)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:04 AM


Shenzhen to test-run political reform (Stephanie Wang, 6/13/09, Asia Times)

[I]t seems Beijing wants Shenzhen to pilot a profound restructuring of government, which could herald a nationwide reform of the political system. According to a report in the Beijing News, Shenzhen's master plan to pilot comprehensive reforms was formally approved by the State Council early in May.

The most prominent and ambitious item in the package is reform of the administrative system, which will divide the municipal government departments into three categories, namely, decision-making, execution and supervision. The reform has been wildly tagged as an experiment in "separation of powers", something new and definitely challenging for the Middle Kingdom.

Historically, and at present, a government department is normally the policymaker, executor and supervisor in its jurisdiction. But some say this is a major cause of red tape, abuse of power and a lack of transparency and oversight.

From this perspective, any reform that separated administrative powers would bring fundamental changes to the government system - but it is by no means expected to lead to democratization.

June 12, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:42 PM


Afghanistan al-Qaida leader says group needs cash (AP, 6/11/09)

Al-Qaida's top commander in Afghanistan urged Turkish Muslims in a new audio message to send money to militants fighting coalition troops in the country, saying they are low on funds.

Mustafa Abu al-Yazeed said many militants in Afghanistan are unable to fight because they lack the necessary equipment.

"And we, here in Afghanistan, are needy of money," al-Yazeed said in the message released Wednesday. "And the reason for the weakness of the operations here is the inadequacy of equipment."

They need Jerry Lewis to adopt their cause....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:41 PM


Obama Bows on Settling Detainees (Peter Finn and Sandhya Somashekhar, June 12, 2009, Washington Post)

The Obama administration has all but abandoned plans to allow Guantanamo Bay detainees who have been cleared for release to live in the United States, administration officials said yesterday, a decision that reflects bipartisan congressional opposition to admitting such prisoners but complicates efforts to persuade European allies to accept them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:23 PM


White supremacist gunman James W. von Brunn had links to BNP (Kaya Burgess , 6/12/09, Times of London)

Tim Blodgett, a former White House aide who worked as an informant within white supremacist groups, said today that Mr von Brunn and his friend John de Nugent had attended meetings in Arlington County, Virginia, of the American Friends of the BNP. The organisation was set up to raise funds for the BNP but has since been disbanded.

Mr de Nugent wrote on his blog: “I have twice met Nick Griffin, the dynamic chairman of the British National Party.”

He added that he had “the gravest misgivings” about Mr Griffin allowing Jewish people to join the BNP, but said: “My hat is off to this fighting white man, Nick Griffin, for the incredible victories for White Britain which his hard work, rhino-thick skin against Jewsmedia criticism, and inspired leadership have made possible. It is not easy to be a leader; it is lonely, as they say, at the top. Hail the white leader, Nick Griffin!”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:40 PM


Crowded Polls After Hard-Fought Campaign in Iran (ROBERT F. WORTH, 6/13/09, NY Times)

Polls were originally due to close at 6 p.m. (9:30 a.m. in New York), but voting was extended until midnight (3:30 p.m. in New York) due to the very high turnout, The Associated Press reported. Initial results are not expected until hours after the polls close.

The strong showing appeared to be driven in part by a broad movement against Mr. Ahmadinejad that has spurred vast opposition rallies in Iran’s major cities over the past few weeks. Many reform-oriented voters stayed away from the polls in 2005, and now say they are determined not to repeat the mistake. Most say they support Mir Hussein Moussavi, a moderate and former prime minister who is the leading opposition candidate.

There are four candidates in the race, and if none wins more than 50 percent of the vote on Friday, the top two finishers will compete in a runoff a week later. Most analysts have assumed that the election will go to a second round, but in recent days, the extraordinary public support for Mr. Moussavi has led to predictions that he could win the presidency in the first round on Friday. The other contenders are Mehdi Karroubi, a reformist cleric; and Mohsen Rezai, a conservative and the former commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:51 AM


Discovery raises new doubts about dinosaur-bird links (Bio-Medicine.org, 6/9/2009)

Researchers at Oregon State University have made a fundamental new discovery about how birds breathe and have a lung capacity that allows for flight and the finding means it's unlikely that birds descended from any known theropod dinosaurs.

The conclusions add to other evolving evidence that may finally force many paleontologists to reconsider their long-held belief that modern birds are the direct descendants of ancient, meat-eating dinosaurs, OSU researchers say.

"It's really kind of amazing that after centuries of studying birds and flight we still didn't understand a basic aspect of bird biology," said John Ruben, an OSU professor of zoology.

...amazing that their ideology led them down a blind alley...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:41 AM


Budgetball on the Mall: Pass the Ball, Not the Buck (The Peter G. Peterson Foundation)

On Sunday, June 14, the fun begins on the National Mall as Washington, DC hosts the first-ever exhibition tournament of Budgetball.

Budgetball on the Mall: Pass the Ball, Not the Buck
June 14 at the Washington Monument

* 11:00 am Opening Ceremony
* 11:15 am Budgetball Tournament Begins
* 1:15 pm Budgetball on the Mall Championship Game
* 1:45 pm Awards Ceremony

Budgetball is a team sport similar to Ultimate Frisbee and designed to build awareness, especially among young people, about the nation's growing financial challenges and the trade-offs involved in solving them. The tournament is being hosted by the National Academy of Public Administration, which helped design the game, and by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, which supported the game's development.

The following teams will be battling it out for the championship:

* Stress Tested (US Treasury Department)
* Budget Hawks (House Budget Committee)
* Fiscal Fanatics (Brookings Institution, Concord Coalition, Concerned Youth of America)
* Debt Busters (Urban Institute)
* Baseliners (Office of Management and Budget)
* Money Makers (Philander Smith College)
* TheLaunchPad.org (University of Miami)
* PGPF & NAPA Real Reformers, featuring former U.S. Comptroller General and PGPF President Dave Walker (Peterson Foundation and National Academy of Public Administration)

So whether they're fans of the politicos or the poli-sci majors, invite your readers to cheer on their favorite teams this weekend at the Budgetball tournament. For more information about the event, check out http://www.budgetball.org/washington/.

Best regards,

Myra Sung
Public Affairs Manager
The Peter G. Peterson Foundation

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:17 AM


Abortion Business in Philadelphia Gives Away Free Abortions Honoring George Tiller (Steven Ertelt, June 10, 2009, LifeNews.com)

An abortion business in Pennsylvania is drawing criticism or giving away free abortions on Tuesday in honor of slain late-term abortion practitioner George Tiller. The Philadelphia Women's Center said the free abortions were meant to show appreciation for Tiller, who was allegedly killed by extremist gunman Scott Roeder.

Town Hall columnist Jillian Bandes said a staff member at the abortion center said an unspecified number of free abortions were done yesterday for Tiller's “memory and legacy.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:12 AM


The Big Hate (PAUL KRUGMAN, 6/12/09, NY Times)

Back in April, there was a huge fuss over an internal report by the Department of Homeland Security warning that current conditions resemble those in the early 1990s — a time marked by an upsurge of right-wing extremism that culminated in the Oklahoma City bombing.

Conservatives were outraged. The chairman of the Republican National Committee denounced the report as an attempt to “segment out conservatives in this country who have a different philosophy or view from this administration” and label them as terrorists.

But with the murder of Dr. George Tiller by an anti-abortion fanatic, closely followed by a shooting by a white supremacist at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the analysis looks prescient.

There is, however, one important thing that the D.H.S. report didn’t say: Today, as in the early years of the Clinton administration but to an even greater extent, right-wing extremism is being systematically fed by the conservative media and political establishment.

Weekly Standard may have been shooter target (Ben Smith, 6/11/09, Politico)
Von Brunn's published rants included attacks on "neocons," and the Standard has been at the heart of the neoconservative movement.

The suggestion that the Standard may have been a target complicates any view of the racist shooter in contemporary left-right terms. Von Brunn's white supremacist roots put him under the rubric of a "right-wing extremist," but the substance of his views -- which included everything from believing that President Bush may have been in on the September 11 attacks to denying that President Obama is an American citizen -- are too far on the fringe to fit into conventional political classification.

The focus on the Standard, though, appears to be of a piece with his central motivation: Anti-Semitism. In one essay, Von Brunn attacked "JEWS-NEOCONS-BILL O’REILLY," and the suggestion that neoconservatism is a specifically Jewish conspiracy is common on the racist fringe.

Fearing Fear Itself (PAUL KRUGMAN, 10/29/07, NY Times)
Consider, for a moment, the implications of the fact that Rudy Giuliani is taking foreign policy advice from Norman Podhoretz...

For one thing, there isn’t actually any such thing as Islamofascism — it’s not an ideology; it’s a figment of the neocon imagination. [...]

Mr. Podhoretz, in short, is engaging in what my relatives call crazy talk. Yet he is being treated with respect by the front-runner for the G.O.P. nomination. And Mr. Podhoretz’s rants are, if anything, saner than some of what we’ve been hearing from some of Mr. Giuliani’s rivals. [...]

In the wake of 9/11, the Bush administration adopted fear-mongering as a political strategy. Instead of treating the attack as what it was — an atrocity committed by a fundamentally weak, though ruthless adversary — the administration portrayed America as a nation under threat from every direction.

Most Americans have now regained their balance. But the Republican base, which lapped up the administration’s rhetoric about the axis of evil and the war on terror, remains infected by the fear the Bushies stirred up — perhaps because fear of terrorists maps so easily into the base’s older fears, including fear of dark-skinned people in general.

And the base is looking for a candidate who shares this fear.

Just to be clear, Al Qaeda is a real threat, and so is the Iranian nuclear program. But neither of these threats frightens me as much as fear itself — the unreasoning fear that has taken over one of America’s two great political parties.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:59 AM


Mousavi Ally Claims Lead In Iran Election (Javno, 6/12/09)

An ally of Mirhossein Mousavi said the moderate candidate was winning most votes in Iran's presidential election on Friday, but President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's camp dismissed the claim as "psychological war".

Sadegh Kharazi, an ally of Mousavi, told Reuters that surveys made by reformers showed former prime minister Mousavi was getting about 58-60 percent of the votes cast so far. He was speaking about three hours before polling stations were officially due to close at 6 p.m. (1330 GMT).

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:09 AM


New momentum for charter schools (Scot Lehigh, June 12, 2009, Boston Globe)

TALK ABOUT barriers lifting and paradigms shifting.

Suddenly, support for charter schools, once the lonely province of public-policy entrepreneurs and intrepid, union-defying pols, has become positively mainstream.

For that, you can credit a pro-charter Democratic president, recent Boston Foundation-sponsored research demonstrating their educational efficacy, persistent pressure from both Boston dailies, a developing mayoral race in the Hub - and, oh yes, the myopic resistance to change displayed by the leadership of the Boston Teachers Union.

Hmmmm, who'd he forget? Oh, yeah, Obama Echoes Bush on Education Ideas (Erik W. Robelen, 4/08/09, Education Week)
President Barack Obama campaigned on a message of change, but when it comes to K-12 education, he appears to be walking in the policy footsteps of his recent predecessors, including George W. Bush.

Mr. Obama is sounding themes of accountability based on standards and assessments. He’s delivering tough talk on teacher quality, including a call for performance-based pay. And he’s promoting an expanded charter school sector. [...]

“He is operating almost in a straight line from President Bush,” said Diane Ravitch, an education historian at New York University, who co-writes a blog for edweek.org. She has criticized core elements of Mr. Obama’s K-12 agenda, such as his enthusiasm for the charter sector and what she worries is an overreliance on standardized testing to judge schools and teachers.

“Obama is, in effect, giving George W. Bush a third term in education,” said Ms. Ravitch, who served as an assistant secretary of education under the first President Bush.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:01 AM


As Iran Votes, Talk of a Sea Change (ROBERT F. WORTH, 6/12/09, NY Times)

Iranians went to the polls Friday to elect a new president after an unusually intense campaign which saw the hard-line incumbent, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, seemingly thrown onto the defensive. Opposition leaders said they expected a huge turnout, with many reformists who sat out the last vote in 2005 saying they will take part this time.

Mr. Ahmadinejad’s main opponent is Mir Hussein Moussavi, a moderate who has mobilized huge crowds of his backers in Tehran and other large cities. [...]

Less than two months ago, it was widely assumed here and in the West that Mr. Ahmadinejad would coast to another victory. Many of the reformists who sat out the vote in 2005 seemed dejected and unlikely to raise a strong challenge.

By Friday, that picture had been transformed. A vast opposition movement has arisen, flooding the streets of Iran’s major cities with cheering, green-clad supporters of Mr. Moussavi. Mr. Ahmadinejad has hurled extraordinary accusations at some of the Islamic republic’s founding figures, but the tactic has served to unify a diverse and passionate body of opponents of his populist economic policies and confrontational approach to the West.

Some Iranians believe that the unruly democratic energies unleashed over the past few weeks could affect this country’s politics no matter who wins. Mr. Ahmadinejad’s radical policies and personal attacks, they say, have galvanized powerful adversaries who will use his own accusations of corruption and mismanagement against him. Ayatollah Khamenei, who has the final say in affairs of state and prefers to avoid open conflict, may force Mr. Ahmadinejad to steer a more moderate course if he is re-elected.

“The elite will not let go of Ahmadinejad’s neck” if he wins, said Muhammad Atrianfar, a journalist and former government official who supports Mr. Moussavi. “The official institutions will be in conflict with him, including the Parliament.”

...because the reformists, with our mistaken encouragement, sat out last time.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:53 AM


Blood and treasure: People are altruistic because they are militaristic, and cultured because they are common. At least that is the message of a couple of new studies (The Economist, 6/04/09)

Dr Bowles’s argument starts in an obscure cranny of evolutionary theory called group selection. This suggests that groups of collaborative individuals will often do better than groups of selfish ones, and thus prosper at their expense. It is therefore no surprise, according to group-selectionists, that individuals might be genetically predisposed to act in self-sacrificial ways.

This good-of-the-group argument was widely believed until the 1960s, when it was subject to rigorous scrutiny and found wanting. The new theory does not pitch groups against groups, or even individuals against individuals, but genes against genes. It does not disallow altruistic behaviour, but requires that this evolve in a way that promotes the interest of a particular gene—for example by helping close relatives who might also harbour the gene in question. The “selfish gene” analysis, so called after a book by Richard Dawkins, makes good-of-the-group outcomes almost impossible to achieve.

A few researchers, of whom Dr Bowles is one, have been unwilling to give up on group selection completely. They note the word “almost” in the argument above and contend that humans, with their high intelligence and possession of language, and their tendency to live in small, tightly knit groups, might be exceptional. They also think people could be subject to a form of group selection that is genetically selfish.

Dr Bowles has focused the argument on war, since it is both highly collaborative and often genetically terminal for the losers. In his latest paper he puts some numbers on the idea. He looks at the data, plugs them into a mathematical model of his devising and finds a pleasing outcome.

Because science is all about making the data fit your prejudice.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:44 AM


Now We Know: a review of Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America By John Earl Haynes, Harvey Klehr, and Alexander Vassiliev (Anne Applebaum, 6/17/09, The New Republic)

But amusing though the details may be, the most significant contribution of Klehr's and Haynes's book is its revelation of the sheer extent of Soviet espionage in America, and the numbers of people involved in it. Despite the length of this hefty volume, Haynes and Klehr discuss only a portion of some five hundred agents who at some point worked for the KGB, and about whom some details can be found in Vassiliev's notes or in the Venona files. Not all of these people were actually passing on information. Some worked as handlers, couriers, recruiters and talent spotters. The role of others may well have been exaggerated, as critics have pointed out, by the eager workers of the KGB--though certainly not all of them, given the specific details of information handed over.

If only a quarter of the people whose names appear in the files were truly agents, the numbers are still much larger than anyone previously suspected, and they represent a far deeper penetration into American society than we have hitherto known. As it turns out, the KGB in the 1930s had agents or contacts in the State Department, the Commerce Department, the Justice Department, and the OSS, the wartime intelligence agency. KGB associates were scattered throughout the Manhattan Project as well as in research institutions and private companies specializing in chemistry, aviation engineering, and physics. There were agents in the media and the literary world. The KGB even tried, not very successfully, to recruit Ernest Hemingway.

The remarkably wide range of education and experience of the KGB's agents was impressive, further proof of how deep into the culture their tentacles reached. Some of the KGB's American agents were, as one might expect, recent immigrants of Russian and East European origin. Others, such as Hiss, were Establishment WASPs. (I counted here graduates of Princeton, Stanford, Harvard, Columbia, Cornell, and the Union Theological Seminary, among others.) Samuel Dickstein was a Congressman, then a New York Supreme Court Judge. Henry Ware was a consultant to the Boy Scouts. Harold Glasser, on the other hand, wound up working for the Liberty Brush Company.

Yet most of them did, in the end, have something in common. Aside from a very small number who handed over documents purely for the money--Dickstein, certainly, and probably Salmon--most of them were either open or secret members of the American Communist Party, a group that was at the time closely aligned with the Soviet Communist Party. They were, in other words, not "liberals" at all.

Though it was long a taboo subject on the Left, the extraordinarily close relationship between the American Communist Party and the KGB should nowadays surprise no one, given what we now know about the CPUSA, and about other communist parties in other countries, and about communist ideology, the power of which should never be underestimated. Generally speaking, those who believed in communism also believed in the desirability of world revolution. Generally speaking, those who believed in the desirability of world revolution thought that this revolution would be led, or at least inspired, by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and its "sword and shield," the KGB. Those who made such assumptions may have been well-meaning people, even American patriots, as their defenders have often claimed. But that does not change the fundamental point. To the truly dedicated Marxist, the goals of the KGB and the CPUSA would have seemed very similar indeed.

And rightly so. From those organizations' own points of view, their goals were very close, not to say identical. Earl Browder, the General Secretary of the CPUSA from 1930 onward, recruited and recommended agents to the KGB. His sister was certainly an agent; so, quite possibly, was his wife, a former Soviet provincial justice commissar (and a woman who sat on the ad-hoc courts that condemned "counter-revolutionaries" to death in 1918 and 1919, during the Russian civil war). The top CPUSA officials knew their money was coming from Moscow, and did not object. On the contrary. At least in the years before the Cold War, the line between loyalty to the CPUSA and loyalty to the Soviet Union was very muddled.

For the KGB the close relationship between the Soviet Union and the CPUSA turned out to be both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, the sympathy that so many Americans felt in the 1930s for Soviet communism helped the KGB to create a large and varied espionage network. Collectively, these agents and contacts were of tremendous significance to the Soviet Union. Without question, the material they provided helped the Soviet Union to develop the atomic bomb more quickly than it otherwise would have done, and thus helped to reinforce the Soviet Union's occupation of Eastern Europe and entrench the Cold War. The background they supplied also helped Stalin to negotiate with Roosevelt at Yalta, and more generally helped the Soviet leadership to understand the motivations of the United States before and during World War II, at a time when the American government was focused on a different set of enemies.

In the long term, however, these ideologically motivated agents turned out to be inherently unstable. Had they been motivated solely by money--or, like so many Soviet citizens, by fear--the KGB's American operatives might have remained faithful. But because they were inspired by ideas, their loyalties tended to evolve along with their political views. When they decided that they disliked some aspect of the Party's policies, or the Soviet Union's diplomacy, they could drop out of contact, or, even worse, defect.

Thus the KGB lost a good number of its agents--not only Michael Straight, but also Whittaker Chambers--owing to widespread disgust at the Soviet show trials of 1937-1938 and the pact with Hitler in 1939. It lost even more when another one of its agents, Elizabeth Bentley, came to distrust her Soviet minders and to question their motives. She spilled the beans in 1945. Bentley's testimony was devastating, since she knew the identities of more than a dozen paid agents. Also, she made her decision to talk to the FBI at a time when American counter-intelligence was turning away from the question of German and Japanese agents, and finally had time to focus its attention on the KGB.

The result was rapid and dramatic. Within weeks of Bentley's defection, the KGB's extraordinary American network--a network that had delivered crucial insights into the workings of the American government and American industry, not to mention critical secrets of the atomic bomb--fell apart. It never really recovered. With the rise of anti-communism in the late 1940s, more people understood that loyalty to the Soviet Union was a betrayal of American values. The CPUSA shrank in size and influence and, along with it, the pool of potential KGB recruits as well.

I realize that much of this will sound like little more than background noise to a certain kind of reader. Invariably, when the subject of the KGB in America comes up, many people want to know only the answer to three questions: Was Alger Hiss a spy? Was J. Robert Oppenheimer a spy? And what about the beloved radical journalist I.F. Stone? The good news, I mean for the cause of historical veracity, is that Haynes, Klehr, and Vassiliev deal with all of them.

They devote their entire first chapter to Hiss, dispensing with the most notorious controversy right off the bat. I am not going to rehearse here the whole history of this infamous case or discuss at length the various pseudonyms that might or might not have belonged to Hiss, let alone the various typewriters. Suffice it to say that Vassiliev's documentation adds to the crazed lepidopterists' mountain of "fugitive documents" already in existence. Aside from the evidence produced by Whittaker Chambers, aside from the evidence gathered by the FBI, aside from the evidence in the Venona files, aside from the evidence in the Hungarian archives and aside from the testimony of multiple witnesses, Vassiliev also found a number of archival documents clearly listing Hiss, by his real name, as a Soviet intelligence source--or, more correctly, as a source of the GRU, Soviet military intelligence, in the 1930s.

The fact that Hiss was originally working for the organization that the KGB called "the neighbors" has been a source of difficulties for researchers, as it was in Hiss's lifetime. (His attempt in 1936 to recruit a colleague, Noel Field, to the GRU ended awkwardly when it emerged that Field was already working for the KGB; records of this incident are by now recorded in both Soviet and Hungarian archives as well as in the testimony of several witnesses.) Since Hiss was a GRU contact during his most active period of service, more extensive archival information about his espionage--what documents he turned over, for example--is still unavailable, since no one has yet had access to that archive. If and when they emerge, the files in those archives will no doubt add layers of nuance and color to the Hiss story, enabling someone, eventually, to write his complete biography, and to provide a better explanation of his complicated psychology. That will be a fascinating book. In the meantime, the evidence of his collaboration is overwhelming. Haynes, Klehr and Vassiliev are well within their rights to title their chapter "Alger Hiss: Case Closed."

The tale of Oppenheimer, the mercurial physicist who led the Manhattan Project, comes out rather differently. After examining an equally vast pile of fugitive documents, the authors conclude that Oppenheimer was a secret Communist Party member, at least through 1941. Knowing this, the KGB made multiple attempts to persuade him to cooperate. Traces of those attempts appear in Vassiliev's files, as they have in other places. But, at least according to all of the evidence available in those same files, the attempts failed.

As noted, plenty of other people did in fact pass atomic and other technical material to the Soviet Union. Most famous among them was the physicist Klaus Fuchs, long ago identified as a Soviet agent. But although there were others, including McNutt, no one, as far as we now know, ever persuaded Oppenheimer himself to pass information to the KGB. We do not know exactly why: Haynes and Klehr think that by the time the Manhattan Project started--this was after the Hitler-Stalin pact--he had lost his earlier faith. Their conclusion is that Oppenheimer was not honest about his Party affiliations, but did not sell atomic secrets. Once again, case closed.

As for I.F. Stone, the story is a little blurrier, since Stone, unlike Hiss or Oppenheimer, never had any proper secrets to pass on. More to the point, his assistance to the KGB, such as it was, took a subtler form. Although he is mentioned in Vassiliev's files, unambiguously, as a KGB source between 1936 and 1938, it is not clear from the material cited here what that meant. Stone was undoubtedly exchanging information with people whom he knew to be Soviet agents. He undoubtedly gave them the names of other people whom he thought they might find useful. He may have acted as a courier as well as a recruiter, and he probably had more than a few lunches with shifty characters. The KGB also tried to re-activate him after the war, but failed. Haynes and Klehr conclude that, between 1936 and 1938, the KGB believed that Stone was their agent, and Haynes and Klehr also think that Stone knew this. But whether he was getting paid for his little chats with the local handlers, and whether he himself would have considered his activities "espionage," is still unclear. The Stone case is not yet closed.

There is an explanation for the lack of clarity. In fact, Stone's cooperation with Soviet intelligence seems to me a perfect example of the pattern described above. Stone, at least at that time, still had faith in the essential goodness of communism. Mistakes had been made, but between 1936 and 1938 he still believed that only Stalin could save Europe from fascism. He would hardly object if the agents of Stalin asked him to pass on some messages or to recommend a few friends. In fact, it is hard to think of a good reason why he would not do so, given what he was writing and saying at the time. I am speculating here, but the speculation is plausible.

To understand Stone, it helps to read the rest of Spies. Anyone who focuses on the details of his case alone will find it hard to see his story for what it was. The same is even more true of Hiss. Though treatises have been written about Hiss's typewriter fonts and bird-watching habits, his life story is rarely compared to those of his contemporaries. Reading through these three accounts, I found it refreshing to see them all placed in historical context, together with less famous figures as well as the Soviet station chiefs who reported back on them. Without that context, none of these stories makes sense. Why would a shining young member of the Establishment like Hiss collaborate with the KGB? Why would a star scientist like Oppenheimer have been so heavily recruited, and why did so many of his colleagues succumb? Why would Stone, an independent curmudgeon, even consider talking to such people? Why would Hemingway, for that matter? The answers lie in the larger context: the nature of the international communist movement in the 1930s, and the extraordinary power of its ideology.

For all of their prosaic insistence on names, dates, and extensive footnotes, some of the appeal of that ideology does come through in the works of Haynes and Klehr. They conjure into existence a whole vanished world of code words and dead letter drops, of Marxist jargon and Party slang. The secret meetings, the study groups, the sense of belonging to an avant-garde that would make history--all this is here. So, too, is the blindness to reality. By all accounts, Hiss was a convincing witness at his hearing, far more so than Chambers; almost everyone agreed that his declarations of innocence sounded a lot more believable than the allegations of his accuser. But Hiss had once believed that Soviet-style communism would create utopia in America. Why wouldn't he believe in the fantasy of his own innocence, too?

Are we really still stuck at the point where we're required to forgive them all for their romantic idyll with the USSR? Bad enough how many on the Left actively collaborated with the enemy, but the venom with which even non-communist liberals attacked anyone who dared to speak honestly about their complicity ought not be excused away quite so quickly. Aren't we entitled to some mea culpa's first?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:41 AM


The woman Ahmadinejad should fear: Zahra Rahnavard could turn the tide in Friday's elections in Iran. (Ulrike Putz, Jun. 11, 2009, Der Spiegel)

Even before Zahra Rahnavard had arrived, it was clear that this woman was an important figure in the Iranian election campaign. The team working for the election of presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi had only expected a few journalists to turn up to his wife's press conference. In the end 150 gathered to hear her speak.

Since the revolution in 1979 no other political spouse has been so much in the public eye. Rahnavard is even featured in her husband's election posters: she stands next to him, holding his hand. In Iran's strict Muslim society this alone is nothing short of spectacular. She wears her black chador loosely and instead of a plain scarf, hers is printed with a colorful floral pattern. Thousands of copies of the poster can be seen across Tehran in the run up to Friday's presidential election.

Mousavi's strategy of bringing his wife into the campaign could ultimately tip the vote in his favor. People see the image of Rahnaward standing next to her husband as an equal as a kind of election promise. Many, and not just Iran's women, hope that if this reformist candidate wins, it could mark a new era of personal freedoms.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:34 AM


Cristiano Ronaldo's departure leaves a hole that Wayne Rooney must fill: Wayne Rooney must focus on his attacking duties for Manchester United, as he does for England (Kevin McCarra, 6/11/09, Guardian Sports Blog)

The issue for Ferguson is more complex than recruiting someone to take over Ronaldo's duties. He will be driven to review the overall circumstances at Old Trafford. Comprehensive defeat by Barcelona had made that a priority in any case. The manager has, of course, been conscious of the passing of a generation and the transition is well-advanced.

Gary Neville could not claim a seat among the substitutes for the Champions League final and Paul Scholes participated for a paltry 15 minutes. Ferguson will have drawn conclusions, too, from his need to bring on the midfielder for Ryan Giggs. At 35, the Welshman may continue to be a marvel for a while yet, but seemingly not at the very pinnacle of the sport.

There might not be a series of transfer moves by the manager even if the Glazers were ready to authorise it. Ferguson already has a large squad and there are figures in it that can do better still. Wayne Rooney is a perfect example. His contribution has been substantial already, but someone with his gifts ought by now to have been a potent candidate for the world and European footballer of the year awards already collected by Ronaldo. He is still to claim that sort of title even in England. United should seek more artistry and rather less industry from a player so willing to serve that he regularly helps out the left-back Patrice Evra.

Rooney's prime duty is to astonish us. He can achieve that if he is told that his prime duty is to create and surprise. That is an order in which he would rejoice. Drudgery is for lesser performers. England have had that firmly in mind under Fabio Capello, a man who does not indulge any footballer unless he is sure that the licence he grants them will be productive. International fixtures, of course, are often easier than the games United face, but there is a rightness about the sight of Rooney staying in the thick of the attack when with England.

...Bryan Trottier ought to stop back-checking and digging in the corners and should lurk in front of the net more, like Phil Esposito. It would be a very bad mistake for Sir Alex to take his best player and waste him as a mere sniper. It would be one thing if you already had Steven Gerrard or Frank Lampard to get him the ball--as he has when he plays for England (8 goals in his last 7 games). But on Manchester United he is Gerrard/Lampard. Use him that way.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:29 AM


The Drone War: Are Predators our best weapon or worst enemy? (Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann, The New Republic)

There has been some speculation in the press that the CIA might extend the drone attacks to other parts of Pakistan, in particular the southwestern Pakistani province of Baluchistan where the Afghan Taliban is headquartered, but this seems unlikely. The western tribal regions, which have lived under their own legal and social codes for centuries, have never fully been part of Pakistan proper. In fact, the Urdu word for the tribal regions is ilaqa ghair, or "foreign area." By contrast, Baluchistan is part and parcel of the Pakistani state. U.S. drone attacks there would almost certainly provoke the same fierce Pakistani pushback that the SEALs' ground incursion into the tribal regions did last year. Shuja Nawaz, the author of Crossed Swords, the authoritative history of the Pakistani military, says, "Any drone attack in provinces outside of the tribal regions would be disastrous, totally destroying the American relationship with the army."

There is widespread consensus among national security experts that the drone program is the least bad available option to pressure the Al Qaeda leadership and its Taliban allies. This is because the Pakistani government--divided between a barely functional civilian arm and a strong but unelected army--has wavered between ineffective punitive expeditions against the extremists and appeasement. Neither the military nor the political establishment has articulated an effective plan to rid the country of its jihadist militants. And so, for the moment, the drones are the only game in town.

But the drone program is a tactic, not a strategy. Bruce Hoffman, a professor at Georgetown widely regarded as the dean of terrorism studies, says, "We are deluding ourselves if we think in and of itself the drone program is going to be the answer," pointing out that the 2006 U.S. airstrike which killed the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab Al Zarqawi, did not exactly shut down the organization. Following Zarqawi's death, violence in Iraq actually accelerated.

And militant organizations like Al Qaeda are not like an organized crime family, which can be put out of business if most or all of the members of the family are captured or killed. Al Qaeda has sustained and can continue to sustain enormous blows that would put other organizations out of business because the members of the group firmly believe that they are doing God's work.

Really? Where is the evidence that they have sustained themselves and are in any sort of significant business?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:25 AM


James von Brunn, Evolutionist (David Klinghoffer, June 10, 2009, Belief Net)

Now isn't this fascinating. James von Brunn, the white-supremacist suspect in today's Holocaust Memorial Museum shooting in which the guard who was shot has now tragically died, describes the relevance of evolution to his sick thinking. He's obsessed with "genetics." He writes in his manifesto (emphasis added):

Approval of inter-racial breeding is predicated on idiotic Christian dogma that God's children must love their enemies (a concept JEWS totally reject); and on LIBERAL/MARXIST/JEW propaganda that all men/races are created equal. These genocidal ideologies, preached from the American pulpits, taught in American schools, legislated in the halls of Congress (confirming TALMUDIC conviction that goyim are stupid sheep), are expected to produce a single, superintelligent, beautiful, non-White "American" population. Eliminating forever racism, inequality, bigotry and war. As with ALL LIBERAL ideologies, miscegenation is totally inconsistent with Natural Law: the species are improved through in-breeding, natural selection and mutation. Only the strong survive. Cross-breeding Whites with species lower on the evolutionary scale diminishes the White gene-pool while increasing the number of physiologically, psychologically and behaviorally deprived mongrels. Throughout history improvident Whites have miscegenated. The "brotherhood" concept is not new (as LIBERALS pretend) nor are the results -- which are inevitably disastrous for the White Race -- evident today, for example, in the botched populations of Cuba, Mexico, Egypt, India, and the inner cities of contemporary America.

This wacko despises Christianity, too, though not quite as much as he does Judaism. Like Hitler in Mein Kampf, he draws lessons from his interpretation of Darwinism.

June 11, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:26 PM


What To Look for from U.S. in Confederations Cup (Jim Nguyen, 6/11/09, Bleacher Report)

Well, USA fans have been clamoring for the U.S. Men's National Team to be challenged by some of the best teams in the world, and we now have a chance to show what we're all about.

Defending world champion Italy awaits on June 15, followed by powerhouse Brazil on the 18th, then finally African champions Egypt on the 21st. If we make it out of the group, we stand a good chance of facing European champion and tournament favorites Spain in the semifinals. [...]

In all likelihood, Bob Bradley will go with either a 4-4-2 or 4-5-1 against Italy on Monday, scrapping the experimental 4-3-3 that was used against Costa Rica. That leaves personnel at several key positions to be decided.

Benny Feilhaber or Ricardo Clark at central midfield? Feilhaber has the creativity and vision not many in the program possess, but he is still working his way into form.

Use Feilhaber to get some goals and sub Clark to protect a lead.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:14 PM


Our Historically Challenged President: A list of distortions. (Victor Davis Hanson, 6/11/09, National Review)

[D]espite Barack Obama’s image as an Ivy League-educated intellectual, he lacks historical competency, in areas of both facts and interpretation.

This first became apparent during the presidential campaign. Candidate Obama proclaimed then that during World War II his great-uncle had helped liberate Auschwitz, and that his grandfather knew fellow American troops that had entered Auschwitz and Treblinka.

Both are impossible. The Americans didn’t free either Nazi death camp. (Regarding Obama’s great uncle’s war experience, the Obama team later said he’d meant the camp at Buchenwald.)

Much of what Obama said to thousands of Germans during his Victory Column speech in Berlin last summer was also ahistorical. He began, “I know that I don’t look like the Americans who’ve previously spoken in this great city.” He apparently forgot that for the prior eight years, the official faces of American foreign policy in Germany were Secretaries of State Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice — both African-Americans.

...but for the rest of the image of an Ivy League intellectual is that of a historical ignoramus.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:57 AM


No noble gas from North Korea blast (Susan Watts, 10 June 2009, BBC)

But there was one thing everybody in the room wanted to know. Had the network of sensors picked up radionuclides from the North Korean explosion two weeks ago? Seismologists here today say they are comfortable that explosion was a nuclear test, but detecting radionuclide evidence in the form of radioactive gas is the "smoking gun". And the big news here is that they have not found that signal.

What's more, scientists don't really seem to know why. One delegate, an expert on radionuclide detection from Sweden, told the conference how well the network performed after North Korea's nuclear test in 2006. Twelve days after that event the network picked up just a few hundreds of atoms of the noble gas Xenon 133 in Canada. He confessed to being "surprised" that this time round, so far, there has been nothing. He said he is sure the sensors are working properly. So why might there be no signal, and does it matter? [...]

In the meantime, scientists here might be keeping their fingers crossed that something shows up soon, but they seem already to be resigned to the possibility that it may not.

Even if the Norks had nukes they couldn't deliver them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:43 AM


California's day of reckoning: Its mega-deficit demands basic reform – not just fiscal accounting. (The Monitor's Editorial Board, June 10, 2009), CS Monitor)

California faces a mammoth $24 billion budget deficit and potential bankruptcy. As its governor somberly told legislators last week, "California's day of reckoning is here."

But will politicians interpret this fiscal judgment day strictly as a dollars and cents accounting? Or will they also grasp its larger message – that fundamental budgetary and political reform is needed in this "ungovernable" and "dysfunctional" state, to name two commonly used adjectives?

The fundamental that matters is reducing state sizes to about 10 million.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:16 AM


Obama's Flip-Flops for the Public Good: The president has been praised for his flexibility, not condemned for his flip-flops (Kenneth T. Walsh, June 4, 2009, US News)

The list of his fluctuations is lengthy:

* He once promised Planned Parenthood that his first act as president would be to sign an abortion-rights bill into law. Now he says it is "not my highest legislative priority."

* He pledged to gay activists that he would repeal the military's "don't ask, don't tell'' policy, which allows gays to serve in the armed forces if they don't reveal their sexual preference and gives them the assurance that no one will ask them about it. Instead, he has delayed any action to change the system.

* While he released previously classified memos describing the CIA's harsh interrogation techniques, he is now trying to legally block the release of photos showing abuse of detainees, reversing his earlier position. He says his advisers persuaded him that distribution of the photos would inflame anti-American passions and endanger U.S. troops.

* He has reinstituted the previous administration's practice of using military commissions to prosecute suspected terrorists. Obama says that while he opposed how George W. Bush used these commissions, he now supports them in some cases because they will be reformed to ensure "meaningful due process," such as by giving detainees greater choice in selecting their lawyers and by limiting hearsay evidence.

* Perhaps most dramatic and politically perilous, he has decided to withdraw U.S. combat troops from Iraq by next August, a delay of three months from his former timetable. But he also plans to leave tens of thousands of troops behind to train Iraqis, protect U.S. interests, and root out al Qaeda insurgents. Many antiwar Democrats backed Obama in key primaries and caucuses last year because they believed he would end the war as soon as possible. Some of them are disappointed; others are angry.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:14 AM


Charlie Crist holds wide lead in Senate poll (MICHAEL FALCONE, 6/11/09, Politico)

In a 2010 primary matchup, 54 percent of voters said they would back Crist while 23 percent support Rubio in the race to succeed GOP Sen. Mel Martinez, who announced his retirement late last year. Twenty-one percent of voters are undecided.

The survey showed high approval ratings for Crist among both Republicans and Democrats. Overall, 60 percent of Floridians say they have a favorable opinion of him, compared with 28 percent who rate him unfavorably. The vast majority of voters — 73 percent — said they had not heard enough about Rubio to say whether they view him favorably or not.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:01 AM


Can Obama Work to Reduce Abortion Demand Without Judging Morality of Abortion? (Dan Gilgoff, 6/10/09, US News: God & Country)

[I]n articulating a goal of reducing the need for abortion, hasn't the White House already made a judgment about its undesirability? "Let us work together to reduce the number of women seeking abortions," Obama said in his recent speech at the University of Notre Dame. Why reduce the number of women seeking abortions if there's nothing wrong with the procedure?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:57 AM


Detention in Britain ‘mental torture' (The National, June 11. 2009)

One of several Pakistani students rounded up by British authorities on allegations of terrorism – later dropped – described his detention as “mental torture” after returning to his native country today.

'The Decision to Close Guantanamo Hasn't Helped Obama' ()
The tiny Pacific island nation of Palau has announced it will accept 17 Uighur Guantanamo inmates after long negotiations between Washington and Berlin over the fate of the prisoners. German commentators accuse their own government of deliberately pursuing "delaying tactics" on the issue.

The decision to transfer 17 Uighur inmates from the Guantanamo Bay detention camp to the Pacific island nation of Palau serves almost as a punchline for months of ticklish diplomacy between Washington and Berlin. For most of the year officials in Berlin have been debating whether they should let the inmates resettle in Germany.

But on Wednesday the president of Palau, Johnson Toribiong, said his tiny state would take the Uighurs as a "humanitarian gesture." His government will now receive some $200 million in fresh aid from Washington, though Toribiong as well as US officials deny there was a tit-for-tat deal.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 AM


In Iran Race, Ex-Leader Works to Oust President (ROBERT F. WORTH, 6/11/09, NY Times)

In a makeshift campaign war room in north Tehran, two dozen young women clad in head scarves and black chadors are logging election data into desktop computers 24 hours a day, while men rush around them carrying voter surveys and district maps.

This nerve center in the campaign to unseat Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran’s hard-line president, is not run by any of the three candidates who are challenging him in a hotly contested election on Friday.

Instead, it is part of a bitter behind-the-scenes rivalry that has helped define the campaign, pitting Mr. Ahmadinejad against the man he beat in the last election, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a two-term former president and one of Iran’s richest and most powerful men. [...]

Mr. Rafsanjani is striking back, accusing Mr. Ahmadinejad of undermining the state itself. His letter casts Mr. Ahmadinejad’s election broadsides — aimed at several figures who were close to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the father of the 1979 revolution — as an attack on the country’s senior political class and therefore on the legitimacy of the entire system.

“If the system cannot or does not want to confront such ugly and sin-infected phenomena as insults, lies, and false allegations made in that debate, how can we consider ourselves followers of the sacred Islamic system?” Mr. Rafsanjani wrote.

The bitter exchanges have underscored the surprising vigor of Iran’s limited democracy. The country’s theocratic rulers weed out all but a few ideologically acceptable candidates before each election. But within those confines, the races are hard-fought and unpredictable.

Iran blossoms in this campaign season: The race for the presidency has opened up public and political spaces into which Iranians, especially the young, have flowed with enthusiasm. One street rally turns into a disco. (Borzou Daragahi, June 11, 2009, LA Times)
These are strange, magical days in Iran, where a landmark presidential race pitting Ahmadinejad against Mousavi and two other challengers has opened up the country's political and public spaces to an extent not seen since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Students have called the president a liar to his face. Carnival-like demonstrations erupt on the streets. Ordinary people engage in lively political debates with strangers on street corners.

In big cities such as Esfahan and Tehran, caravans of motorcyclists stream down roadways nightly, sometimes with two people riding pillion. With one hand clutching each other for dear life, they hold up the green balloons and banners of the Mousavi campaign or the red, white and green Iranian flag, which has become the symbol of the Ahmadinejad campaign, as they roar past.

In the countryside, campaign posters plaster walls in sleepy, ancient mud-brick enclaves far from the main highways, where women in all-covering black chadors sweep past stark golden desert landscapes.

Shopkeepers, farmers and retirees hold impromptu debates, disagreeing amicably with one another, over the country's problems and talking about its leaders -- in years past almost all would have been turbaned clerics above reproach -- as if they were athletes battling it out on the sports field.

It's been a thrilling ride, with impromptu rallies sprouting in town and city squares alike. But beneath the good-spirited fun, there is an undercurrent of danger, highlighted by the walkie-talkie-toting plainclothes security officials hovering around the crowds and the nasty bare-knuckled chants that the rival groups hurl at each other.

In addition to revealing the repressed swell of youthful energy, the election season has laid bare Iran's many divisions: between rural and urban; religious and secular; working-class and educated; old and young; those for whom the outside world remains a threat to their way of life and those who look outside Iran for ideas and opportunities.

Iran tends to loosen up during quadrennial presidential and parliamentary elections. The debates get a little more heated and street life a little less staid. But you never had anything like this year, when many of the country's top power brokers, in a bid to defeat Ahmadinejad, used the levers of government to open up the campaign by allowing late-night campaigning and television debates.

You never had people spray-painting "Freedom!" on their vans and marching in spur-of-the-moment parades.

Iranian Presidential Contenders Court Women Voters (FARNAZ FASSIHI, 6/11/09, WSJ)
For the first time in Iran's 30-year history of presidential elections, candidates are going all out to win over female voters, making a flurry of last-minute appeals before Friday's balloting. [...]

"Iranian women can be a major force and now candidates are realizing our support can deliver them victory and credibility," says Elahe Koulaee, a professor of political science at Tehran University and a former parliament member.

The top reform contender, Mir Hossein Mousavi, broke the taboo of mixing personal life with politics by campaigning with his wife, Zahra Rahnavard, an artist and scholar who has been dubbed Iran's Michelle Obama by local media.

Presidential candidate Mehdi Karroubi, a reformist cleric, has said he is against forcing women to wear the Islamic veil. He recently debated with his team the number of cabinet posts women should fill. Mr. Karroubi's top advisers lobbied for the foreign ministry, speculating that when relations with the U.S. normalize, the new foreign minister could shake hands with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Conservative candidate Mohsen Rezaie, who formerly headed Iran's Revolutionary Guards, has an advisory team of accomplished women and said he plans to reform the law so it ensures more equality for women. Mr. Rezaie has said he will place Iranian women in top posts in politics, education and management both in and outside the country.

Female voters have responded to the candidates' appeals, with many attending rallies and street demonstrations.

Can Ahmadinejad halt 'green tsunami'? (Maryam Sinaiee, June 11. 2009, The National)
Is the green wave of support for Mir Hossein Mousavi strong enough to effect a big change and leave Iran bidding farewell to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad tomorrow?

Analysts and pro-reform politicians in Tehran increasingly believe that may happen when Iranians go to the polls, concluding a hotly contested campaign.

But an Iranian proverb says when you throw an apple in the air it turns 100 times before it hits the ground.

This year’s election campaign has been full of surprises. On Monday, Mousavi campaigners themselves were surprised when at least 100,000 supporters filled both sides of the 18km-long Vali-Asr Avenue in Tehran in response to a call to form a human chain along the street.

Traffic on the avenue and side streets was blocked by 5pm, and well past midnight there were still thousands of people chanting and honking their car horns.

Some newspapers went so far as to call the massive turnout a “green Mousavi tsunami”.

Iranians dare to dream of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad losing his job: It may not be a revolution, but Tehran sees poll as the first to matter in a decade (Ian Black, 6/10/09, guardian.co.uk)
On the eve of what looks like the country's most significant election in a decade, Ahmadinejad was in classic attack mode yesterday, using his final campaign rally to lambast Zionism and imperialists and accuse the three other candidates of using "Hitler's methods, to repeat lies and accusations until ­everyone believes them".

In a strange piece of political repetition, Ahmadinejad's slogan, courtesy of Barack Obama, is "Yes We Can". [...]

lsewhere in this vast capital, the president is loathed for his mishandling of the economy, squandering billions in oil revenue and depleting the reserves with populist gestures. Unemployment of 17% is a ­disaster, especially for the young. Inflation – officially 24%, though Ahmadinejad claimed in one TV debate it was 14% – has taken a heavy toll.

Other charges include domestic repression, the extensive use of the death penalty and discrimination against women, as well as the grave damage done to Iran by his generally confrontational style and remarks on the Holocaust. Many object too to the support he has given Hezbollah and the Palestinians. "We sympathise, but let the Arabs pay," is a common refrain. "We need the money here in Iran."

In Tehran's leafy northern suburbs the gleeful chant "Ahmadi bye bye" has been taken up by thousands of Mousavi fans, many of them young women sporting headbands, face-paint and flags in green – the colour of hope and Islam. "Go open a grocery," taunts a slogan ridiculing the president's recent distribution of 400,000 tonnes of free potatoes.

Mousavi's is an impressively modern campaign that makes highly effective use of email, SMS and Facebook, but it is also rooted in Iran's national culture: the candidate's name, in beautifully intricate Persian calligraphy, is everywhere. He promises "a state of hope".

Though a lacklustre orator, Mousavi is remembered as an effective and incorrupt prime minister during the 1980s. He has pledged to increase personal freedoms and present "a happier face to the world".

Of course, this election is only significant because they treated the last one as insignificant and ended up with Ahmedinejad.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:24 AM


Holocaust Museum shooter von Brunn a 9/11 'truther' who hated 'neo-cons', Bush, McCain (Kathy Shaidle, 6/10/09, Washington Examiner)

The anti-semitism of von Brunn is the first thing one notices when visiting these bizarre websites. However, like those of most "white supremacists", many of von Brunn's political views track "Left" rather than "Right." Clearly, a re-evaluation of these obsolete definitions is long overdue.

For example, he unleashed his hatred of both Presidents Bush and other "neo-conservatives" in online essays. As even some "progressives" such as the influential Adbusters magazine publicly admit, "neoconservative" is often used as a derogatory code word for "Jews". As well, even a cursory glance at "white supremacist" writings reveals a hatred of, say, big corporations that is virtually indistinguishable from that of anti-globalization activists.

James von Brunn's advocacy of 9/11 conspiracy theories also gives him an additional commonality with individuals on the far-left.

...all the liberals who claim an abortionist was killed because of the climate of hate created by pro-lifers will now castigate themselves for the climate of hatred towards W and the neocons they created?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:15 AM


Look Who's a Believer Now: Have you ever heard the one about the Christian who started to study calculus and ended up losing his faith? (TIMOTHY LARSEN, 5/29/09, The Wall Street Journal)

Just such a conversion has happened to A.N. Wilson, the 58-year-old British biographer, novelist and man of letters. He was once an observant Anglican and, later, a Roman Catholic, but in the 1980s he lost his faith and began skewering the supposed delusions of the faithful. His antifaith stance was expressed in books such as God's Funeral (1999) and Jesus: A Life (1992). A few weeks ago, however, Mr. Wilson confessed that Christ had risen indeed. He attributed this to "the confidence I have gained with age." He now says he believes that atheists are like "people who have no ear for music or who have never been in love." [...]

Those who later recanted their atheism went on from this common start to begin to doubt their doubts. They gradually decided that their rationalistic method was too narrow: It could pick holes not only in Christianity but in any attempt to distinguish between right and wrong or to articulate the meaning of life. They came to realize that they could only tear down and thus were left intellectually with no habitable place to live. John Henry Gordon, who held the only full-time, salaried secularist lecturer position in England, came to believe that secularism was a creed of "mere negations."

Having realized that their method was flawed, they then began to reconsider faith. Christianity, they discovered, spoke to the deepest realities of human experience. George Sexton, for example, decided that Jesus as presented in the Gospels was so compelling and haunting that only a historical original could account for this: "If Christ be simply an ideal picture, the man who sketched it will be as difficult to account for as the Being himself."

Their skeptical pasts did leave a permanent stamp on their thought. Joseph Barker believed as a young man that the Bible was error-free. As a free-thinking lecturer he specialized in highlighting problem passages. As a convert, he conceded that the Bible was not perfect but went on to argue that it was perfectly suited to speak to the human condition. The Swiss Alps are not perfect cones, he observed, but this does not detract from their grandeur. Thomas Cooper declared that his newly rediscovered faith did not include a belief in eternal punishment.

As is the case with Mr. Wilson, intellectuals often pursue long, drawn-out love affairs with Christian thought. Next time you hear someone fume that God is the most contemptible being who never existed, keep in mind that you just might be watching the first act of a divine romantic comedy.

The comedy aspect is the key here. We get to sit back and enjoy the spectacle of these intellectual featherweights boxing with God.

A new entry in the God Debate: The author says atheists reject the Christian gospel because it is too radical for them. (John Timpane, 6/07/09, Inquirer)

The God Debate has been so ferocious on all sides that one asks with trembling: So what's wrong with Ditchkins?

Ignorance, to start, says Eagleton. "Rage against fundamentalism is completely understandable," he says, "but Ditchkins really thinks that all religious people are fundamentalists. So it's no longer about religion - they've created a straw man to hit at. It's religious criticism on the cheap. They need that straw man just as fundamentalists need hatred."

Ignorance grows into intolerance, a belief in the innate supremacy of Western culture and the inferiority of non-Western. "Worst of all is Ditchkins' apparent inability to distinguish between a good Muslim and a terrorist," Eagleton says, "as if there were no difference between the Archbishop of Canterbury and a Texas redneck fundamentalist." More than just a mental mistake, it has, he says, terrible implications. He's not alone in this position; many recoiled at Sam Harris' argument that the West would be justified in a nuclear first strike against Islamist targets. Eagleton says: "Such intellectual crudity is a symptom of panic, of intelligent writers who feel under threat."

Throughout the book, Eagleton argues, most surprisingly, that "Ditchkins" has missed the big point. The big point is not the provableness of God. Eagleton says, rather breathtakingly: "Ditchkins thinks he's rejecting it because of science. But I don't think that is the focus. . . . You can say what you like about faith, but let's get it right. It's not about subscribing to some supernatural entity. It's about the image of Jesus in the gospels, a far more radical, subversive image than anybody is willing to accept. The idea is that of transformative love: having the courage to abandon oneself for others, a cause, for justice, in the radical way the New Testament presents Christ as doing. That question doesn't even occur to Ditchkins as the key question. You can say the demand is impossible, utopian, stupid. But you have to get the question right, and I don't even think they get near it."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:05 AM


Manchester United accept £80m Cristiano Ronaldo bid from Real Madrid (Daniel Taylor, 6/10/09, guardian.co.uk)

Manchester United's supporters received the news they had been dreading this morning when the club announced they had accepted an £80m bid from Real Madrid that will make Cristiano Ronaldo the most expensive player in history.

The world-record transfer is expected to be finalised before 30 June after United finally accepted that the world footballer of the year was still intent on securing his "dream" move to Madrid.

"At Cristiano's request – who has again expressed his desire to leave – and after discussion with the player's representatives, United have agreed to give Real Madrid permission to talk to the player," the club said.

...fans of the club may not have figured out that Ronaldo was killing them, but the coach has. Of course, that makes playing him inexcusable as a coaching decision, but that's not how they decide these things in soccer. Reputation matters, not results.

And give the player credit too: he recognizes that he's stopped getting calls in his favor in the EPL and has even started getting booked for diving and cheap shots. Without pliant refs he's nothing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:01 AM


The Evolution of House Cats: Genetic and archaeological findings hint that wildcats became house cats earlier--and in a different place--than previously thought (Carlos A. Driscoll, Juliet Clutton-Brock, Andrew C. Kitchener and Stephen J. O'Brien, 6/10/09, Scientific American Magazine)

The house cat has not stopped evolving, though—far from it. Armed with artificial insemination and in vitro fertilization technology, cat breeders today are pushing domestic cat genetics into uncharted territory: they are hybridizing house cats with other felid species to create exotic new breeds. The Bengal and the Caracat, for example, resulted from crossing the house cat with the Asian leopard cat and the caracal, respectively. The domestic cat may thus be on the verge of an unprecedented and radical evolution into a multispecies composite whose future can only be imagined.

June 10, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:32 PM


Deeds Surges to Stunning Win in Va.: Rural Legislator Is Democrats' Pick In Governor's Race (Anita Kumar, 6/10/09, Washington Post)

R. Creigh Deeds, a longtime state legislator from rural Bath County, won a stunning come-from-behind victory in the Democratic primary for Virginia governor last night, overwhelming a pair of better-funded and better-positioned opponents.

Deeds beat Brian Moran and Terry McAuliffe in every region of the state, including vote-rich Northern Virginia, despite a pro-gun stance and relatively conservative positions that are out of line with many of the area's voters. [...]

Deeds, 51, will face Republican Robert F. McDonnell in a general election battle that amounts to a rematch of the race for attorney general four years ago, which McDonnell barely won after a late surge by Deeds.

If he were out of step he'd have lost.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:01 PM


45% Say Cancel Rest of Stimulus Spending (Rasmussen Reports, June 10, 2009)

Forty-five percent (45%) of Americans say the rest of the new government spending authorized in the $787-billion economic stimulus plan should now be canceled. A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey found that just 36% disagree and 20% are not sure.

According to news reports, only $36 billion of the stimulus plan had been spent as of late May.

Just 20% of adults say the tax cuts included in the stimulus plan should be canceled while 55% disagree. The stimulus plan includes $288 billion in tax cuts.

The GOP should be talking about nothing but spending.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:56 PM


Why Does the Much-Touted Climate Bill Look Like It Was Stolen From the Republican Playbook? (David Morris, June 6, 2009, AlterNet)

[W]hen it comes to climate change policy making, the Republican Party can justly claim a major victory for its philosophy. We may have a Democratic president and a Democratic Congress, but the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 recently passed out of the House Energy and Commerce Committee is very much a Republican bill characterized by a paucity of sticks and a plethora of carrots.

In fact, President Barack Obama has publicly described the bill as his and the Democrats' preferred alternative to regulation. Without the bill, he has threatened, the EPA will directly regulate greenhouse-gas emissions, a power it was given by the Supreme Court in 2007 and which it announced it would exercise in April 2009. Indeed, the bill specifically prohibits Obama's EPA from regulating these emissions.

The bill's carbon-cap-and-trade provisions are by all reports its heart and soul. They exemplify a Republican approach: Don't tell polluters what to do, bribe them and hope they do what you want. Democrats have faked left and gone right.

Rather, they've faked Right and followed through. They may not believe in all this stuff but it's the only way they can win elections.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:05 PM


Rev. Wright says he doesn't regret severed relationship with president (DAVID SQUIRES, June 10, 2009, Daily Press

Asked if he had spoken to the president, Wright said: "Them Jews aren't going to let him talk to me. I told my baby daughter, that he'll talk to me in five years when he's a lame duck, or in eight years when he's out of office. ...

"They will not let him to talk to somebody who calls a spade what it is. ... I said from the beginning: He's a politician; I'm a pastor. He's got to do what politicians do."

Wright also said Obama should have sent a U.S. delegation to the World Conference on Racism held recently in Geneva, Switzerland, but that the president did not do so for fear of offending Jews and Israel.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:54 AM


Feeling Slighted, Rich Patron Led Albany Revolt (DANNY HAKIM and NICHOLAS CONFESSORE, 6/10/09, NY Times)

In early spring, Tom Golisano went to Albany from his home in Rochester to meet with Malcolm A. Smith, then the Senate majority leader.

Mr. Golisano, a billionaire business executive, had spent heavily to help Mr. Smith and other Democrats win control of the Senate in the November election, and was angry to hear they were now planning to raise taxes on the wealthy. He expected an audience befitting a major financial patron. [...]

That meeting led to the dramatic collapse Monday of the Democrats’ grip on the Senate majority as a frustrated Mr. Golisano secretly planned with Republicans to persuade two Democrats to join them in ousting Mr. Smith.

The revolt has thrown Albany into an almost surreal scene of confusion; on Tuesday, both Mr. Smith and the Republican Senate leader, Dean G. Skelos, were claiming to be the majority leader. Democrats locked the doors of the Senate chamber, preventing Republicans from gathering there, and refused to turn over the keys, prompting Republicans to threaten to hold a legislative session in the park outside.

Gov. David A. Paterson vowed not to leave the state during the crisis and said he still considered Mr. Smith to be the majority leader.

Mr. Golisano, asked by reporters about the legal troubles of Pedro Espada Jr. and Hiram Monserrate, the two Democrats who had joined with the Republicans to oust Mr. Smith, said: “Don’t talk to me about ethical background in Albany,” adding, “We have a governor who stood on a podium on national television and said he had extramarital affairs and used cocaine.”

...without being smart enough to realize the Democrats exist to take it from him?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:37 AM


GOP can reclaim the Hispanic vote (RAUL DANNY VARGAS, 6/10/09, Politico)

Hispanics are the fastest-growing demographic group in the country. By 2050, we are projected to swell from 15 percent of the population to 30 percent (132.8 million people). Non-Hispanic whites will shrink from 66 percent today to only 46 percent in 2050. The effect beyond 2050 will be even larger. In 2050, 62 percent of children are expected to be minorities, up from 44 percent today, with 39 percent being Hispanic and 38 percent non-Hispanic white.

The Hispanic population’s political clout will also increase commensurately. We cannot expect to win elections with just Southern whites, seniors and ultra­conservatives. Barack Obama’s success among Hispanics in 2008 helped him reshape the political landscape.

So where do we go from here? Can we win back Hispanic voters? In short, the answer is yes, but it will take some work. Hispanics remain generally more conservative than liberal, they are very entrepreneurial, they are extremely patriotic and serve in great numbers in the armed services, and they are typically more optimistic than the general population.

The core values of Republicanism still resonate among most Hispanics — things like family, faith, freedom and opportunity. Core principles also ring true, including personal liberty, individual responsibility, human/civil rights, national security, economic prosperity in a free-market economy, limited but effective government, fiscal responsibility, limitless opportunity for all, traditional values and a respect for the family as the foundational element of society.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:10 AM


Regarding Obama (Dr. Aaidh al-Qarni, 6/10/09, Asharq Alawasat)

The Arab poet says do not stubbornly oppose the one that can do what he says. Barack Obama delivered a beautiful speech full of intelligence, tact, and courtesy unlike his predecessor Bush whose speeches were full of arrogance, haughtiness, recklessness, and highhandedness. Barack Obama gave a just testimony before the world that no other US President has uttered. He referred to the greatness of Islam and cited the Koran several times. He returned the greetings of our prophet and of Moses and Isa [Jesus Christ), may God's peace be upon them. He testified that we made the greatest contributions to the sciences and the arts like medicine, algebra, and engineering and that we forged a great Muslim civilization in the service of mankind. He testified that he is not in a state of war with Islam but in a state of partnership. He asserted that the Muslims are part of America and urged us to forget the past. He asked us to engage in dialogue and to be tolerant and to open a new page. He said that we should not be the prisoners of the past. What great intellect is this, what logic, and what speech! I contrasted it with the speeches of the revolutionary and oppressive Arab regimes that have brought our lands nothing but devastation, wars, and defeats and in which their revolutionaries start their speeches with in the name of the people instead of in the name of God, we will throw Israel in the sea, fie on the despicable who will be expelled [phrase often used by Saddam Hussein], and along list of swearwords, curses, screams, and hallucination that are uttered only by drunkards or fools. Barack Obama chose his words carefully. He did not offend our sensibilities. During his trip and his speech, he acted like the most senior official in the world. He began with Riyadh, the capital of the cradle of Islam, and continued to Cairo, the meeting place of civilizations and the mother of Arab culture. He offered his hand to the Muslim world and he supported the call to interfaith dialogue of the custodian of the two holy shrines.

What is the most proper way for us to behave in such a situation? Our wise elders, decision-makers, opinion shapers, and writers and columnists should answer him with a speech that is rational, sensible, sound, and full of wisdom, softness, and mildness. They should thank him and encouragehim to carry out what he promised and they should march with him step by step.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:56 AM


Attacked, Pakistani Villagers Take On Taliban (SABRINA TAVERNISE and IRFAN ASHRAF, 6/10/09, NY Times)

Villagers are rising up against the Taliban in a remote corner of northern Pakistan, a grass-roots rebellion that underscores the shift in the public mood against the militants and a growing confidence to confront them.

More than a thousand villagers from the district of Dir have been fighting Taliban militants since Friday, when a Taliban suicide bomber detonated his payload during prayer time at a mosque, killing at least 30 villagers. [...]

If it can be sustained, the Dir uprising could prove strategically important as the insurgents come under increasing pressure from the Pakistani military in places like Swat and seek to preserve their havens.

Close to the border with Afghanistan, the area is used by the Taliban as a passageway to fight American forces in southern Afghanistan, local people said.

The Pakistani district, like Swat and Buner, is yet another in North-West Frontier Province where the Taliban have infiltrated in recent months from the lawless tribal areas on the Afghan border, moving to within 60 miles of Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad.

The militants had quietly been building up their strength in northwest Dir, locals said, living among what Pakistani officials and local people described as a group of Afghans who had been in the area for years. Their commander, an Afghan named Khitab, is believed by Pakistani officials to be linked to Al Qaeda.

The Taliban group, estimated to comprise 200 to 400 people, did not enjoy broad support, local people said in telephone interviews. Just 4 of the 25 villages in the area, a valley called Dog Darra, sheltered them. Village elders tried for months to persuade them to leave, under pressure from government authorities.

That is why, local people believe, the Taliban set off the bomb at the mosque on Friday.

“They wanted to tame these people and attack them,” said Abdul Kalam, a supporter of the militia fighters. “Instead of leaving the area, they retaliated in the form of this attack.”

The bomb changed everything, and even some of those who had supported the Taliban joined the hunt, local people said.

“This bomb blast proved the last straw,” said Jamil Roghani, a man from the area who is providing medicine to the wounded. “This made the people violent.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:52 AM


10 Large Banks Allowed to Exit U.S. Aid Program (ERIC DASH, 6/10/09, NY Times)

Taxpayers — many of whom probably never imagined that banks would return their bailout money so soon, if ever —stand to make several billion dollars from their investment in the 10 banks. So far, the Treasury has collected about $1.8 billion in interest payments. It also might reap as much as $4.6 billion as the banks seek to expunge other government investments, known as warrants.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:38 AM


Ray Charles (1930-2004): The Lord’s Music and the Devil’s Words (Mark Steyn, Septe,ber 2004, Atlantic)

Somewhere along the way in his vast autobiography, among all the name- checking, wonkery, and self-exculpation, Bill Clinton remarks, "I had loved Ray Charles since I heard his great line from 'What'd I Say': 'Tell your mama, tell your pa, I'm gonna send you back to Arkansas. '"

It is a great line. Like Hoagy Carmichael, the composer of "Georgia on My Mind," Ray Charles had a natural affinity for the lie of the land: his voice could embrace the purple-mountained uplift of "America the Beautiful" and ramble slyly through back roads and shantytowns, too. At sixteen he was singing with an all-white hillbilly band called the Florida Playboys. At eighteen he decided he'd gone as far as he could in the Sunshine State, unrolled a map of the country, pinpointed the town that was kitty-corner to Tampa, and then got on a bus to Seattle, where he formed his own Nat Cole—style trio.

Likewise, wherever you are on the musical map, he's there too. He was, said Frank Sinatra, "the only genius in our business," and Ray wasn't minded to disagree, putting it right up there in the LP title: The Genius of Ray Charles. At the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, in Memphis, he explains in the introductory video to the official tour that soul is what happens when church, blues, and country are "all intertwined some kind of way. " [...]

He was born in Albany, Georgia, in 1930, the same year "Georgia on My Mind" was published. His father was gone, and his mother eventually moved her children across the state line to Florida. One day the five-year-old Ray was playing outside in the washtub with his little brother when the younger boy's clothes got waterlogged and he went under. Instead of running inside immediately and getting his mom, Ray struggled to pull his brother out; by the time he realized he couldn't and went for help, it was too late. At seven he went blind. When he was fourteen, his mother, barely thirty herself, died suddenly in her sleep. She had raised her children in poverty so extreme that "even the blacks looked down on us," as Charles once told me. "Going down the ladder, you had rich whites, poor blacks, then us. And there weren't nothing between us and the bottom. "

On the other hand, even singing hillbilly with the Florida Playboys, the teenage Ray Charles already seemed like a man who transcended the facts of his life. When he'd lost his sight, his mother had sent him to the state school for the blind in Saint Augustine. It had a white section and a colored section, and even at the time Ray thought it "kinda weird" that white kids and colored kids who couldn't see which was which nevertheless had to be segregated on that basis. "Ain't that a bitch," he said.

You wonder what other segregations make less sense to those who can't see them. Almost as soon as he hit the big time, critics complained that he'd sold out—when he left Atlantic Records, when he got a string section, sang country, went Hollywood, did show tunes. But isn't a lot of that prejudice to do with the externals—the orchestra's tuxedos, the Nashville cowboy getups, a suburban concert hall filled with middle-class white folks? If you can't see any of that, all you can hear, as Ray Charles heard growing up, is the music. "Take Artie Shaw," he said. "I didn't even know he was white. "

In those early days with the trio in Seattle, Charles was trying to sound like Nat Cole, and it didn't work. But other than that, whatever he did sounded like Ray Charles. On "Makin' Whoopee," Dinah Washington's blues inflections and harmonic variations seem unconnected to the material; Charles dropped it several socioeconomic notches below Eddie Cantor, did it low-down and confessional, and wrung every last drop of rueful comic juice from it. On "Eleanor Rigby" the queasy Tony Bennett was so intimidated by the mournful formality of the Beatles original that he declaimed it like a poem he'd been forced to learn for school; Charles's version is tough and personal, up closer to the characters than the Fab Four got. He understood how to find his sound in the most familiar song. The obvious example is "Georgia," which he'd sung for ages in the back of his car to and from gigs until his driver prevailed on him to record it. Hoagy Carmichael and his college roommate, Stu Gorrell, had written it thirty years earlier, and Mildred Bailey did a lovely, warm, sweet record of it. But Charles changed the song. All that soul and all that ache—"The road leads back to yooooooo" at the end of the bridge, and then that falsetto back into the final eight. After Ray Charles you couldn't glide through it the way thirties crooners used to.

He was cool in all genres, and funny in most of them too. He appropriated the music of faith and deployed it in the service of romance: "Talkin' 'Bout Jesus" became "Talkin' 'Bout You"; "This Little Light of Mine" became "This Little Girl of Mine. " "He took the Lord's music and the devil's words and made this amalgam they call soul music," said Jerry Wexler, his producer at Atlantic Records. He added strings to soul, and then did a country album in it.

Was he a nice fellow? Well, you hear the usual stories about stars, and the only difference was that Ray told some of them himself. For his girl group he ran a well-worn casting couch. "You can't be a Raelette unless you let Ray," he'd say with a chuckle. For the first two decades of his career he was a heroin addict, and because he was blind, he required others to shoot him up—a small operational detail that somehow magnifies the self-degradation. For the last two decades the genius coasted on way too many celebrity duets and on synth-pop boilerplate. "I don't mind the women," a colleague of his said to me. "But he's cheating on the music. "

He made two great jazz albums: one instrumental (Charles on Hammond organ with Basie sidemen) and one vocal, with Betty Carter. The second was an instant classic, and promptly went out of print. I had a Japanese LP of it that I used to play all the time in my disc-jockey days. The engineer saw "Alone Together" on the running order late one night and groaned, "God, I hate that song. " I played Ray and Betty's version—two idiosyncratic voices matched perfectly, close-miked, slow and conversational, intense and intimate, the opposite of that raw abandon Charles has on most of his big hits. It's as if they're sprawled on the rug in the dark at the end of a long evening. "Wow," the engineer said at the end. "Now I get it. "

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:23 AM


Get To Know: The Cole Porter Songbook: Celebrate Porter's Birthday With Five Songs Below (Nick Morrison, 6/08/09, NPR)

Everybody loves Cole Porter. But most jazz musicians really love Cole Porter. Singers love his lyrics, which contain great wit, amazing rhymes and beautiful imagery. Instrumentalists love his elegant melodies and sophisticated song structures.

During the three decades of Porter's greatest productivity — the late 1920s through the late '50s — jazz musicians would latch on to the latest Porter songs from his Broadway shows or Hollywood musicals and turn them into jazz standards almost immediately. Jazz artists are still exploring Cole Porter today. And why not? Along with the songs represented in this list, some of his other works include "Begin the Beguine," "Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye," "You're the Top," "I Get a Kick Out of You," "Easy to Love," "Miss Otis Regrets," "I've Got You Under My Skin"... and that's just scratching the surface of his amazing output.

As you listen to Cole Porter, and perhaps compare him to the other great Tin Pan Alley songwriters who were his contemporaries, remember that most of those songwriters worked in teams — Rodgers and Hammerstein, George and Ira Gershwin, and Lerner and Loewe, to name a few. But Cole Porter did it all — words and music. And nobody did it better.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:10 AM


Great Lake Swimmers: Tiny Desk Concert (Stephen Thompson, 6/08/09, NPR.org)

When Tom Jones showed up for his Tiny Desk Concert a few months back, Bob Boilen's shabby workspace quickly cut the legend's larger-than-life persona down to size. Here was a huge-voiced, lionized pop star and icon, and he seemed exposed and more than a little nervous. (Of course, Jones is also one of popular music's all-time great pros, so he banged out an unforgettable set like a champ.)

Few paragraphs about Tom Jones transition seamlessly into paragraphs about Great Lake Swimmers singer Tony Dekker, but I was struck by how shy both men seemed when presented with a tiny spotlight and a office full of happy strangers. Showing up alone — no band, no road manager — Dekker was enormously kind, but his timidity was apparent whenever he wasn't softly singing one of his band's gorgeous folk-pop songs.

Fortunately, unlike Jones, Dekker plays music that's ideally suited to a bit of introversion. Throughout a career that spans four albums — in this three-song set, "Everything Is Moving So Fast" and "Pulling on a Line" were both drawn from Great Lake Swimmers' latest, Lost Channels — Dekker has developed a sterling track record for gentle ruminations on nature, beauty, conflict and the human body.

-ARCHIVES: Great Lake Swimmers: Full NPR Music Archive

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:10 AM


Mankell explores underneath life's ice (Ed Siegel, June 9, 2009, Boston Globe)

Kurt Wallander might be the most depressive standing detective in crime fiction, but he seems like Kenneth the page from "30 Rock" compared with the protagonists in Henning Mankell's non-genre fiction.

Meet Frederik Welin. He lives on his own private island where he cuts a hole in the ice and jumps in every day to feel alive. And, this being Scandinavia, such a ritual by the 66-year-old makes the daily dip by the L Street Brownies look like a dive into a heated indoor pool.

And did we mention his dog and cat? Who are both dying. Or the lover he ditched? Who's dying of cancer. Or his former patient? Whose good arm he mistakenly amputated. Or . . . Well, you get the picture. Life isn't a cabaret for Frederik Welin. If he were to die tomorrow no one would care except the schlub who delivers his mail and gets free medical advice for his various imaginary ailments.

But wait! Who's that woman inching her way across the ice with help from her walker? Is it the Godot he had long stopped waiting for? No, it's the aforementioned cancer-ravaged lover he had abandoned, who's about to whisk him away to . . . The Forest.

And if the plot seems like something out of a film by Mankell's father-in-law, the late Ingmar Bergman...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:57 AM


Iran's elections a soft-power boon (Kaveh L Afrasiabi, 6/10/09, Asia Times)

Iran's colorful and highly contentious presidential election can be expected to prove a major boon for the country's foreign policy, no matter who is voted into office when those among the 46 million eligible voters go to the polls on Friday.

Described by the international media as "extraordinarily open" and "highly competitive", the election process has been internally polarizing and has generated excess public interest that will likely continue once the sound and fury of election euphoria is over. Yet, the net impact with respect to Iran's foreign priorities is bound to be positive.

This is because the polls will give the incoming regime international respectability and legitimacy following a dynamic electoral race that has boiled down to four main candidates. [...]

[T]he presidential race has afforded the critics of Ahmadinejad the unique opportunity to blame him for "adventurism, extremism, impressionism and sloganism", to paraphrase Mousavi.

Karroubi has questioned Ahmadinejad's purported denial of the Holocaust by arguing that "this is not an issue for Iran", while Rezai has offered a detailed, step-by-step plan for detente with the West.

Such open debates on all aspects of Iran's domestic and foreign policies, using, for the first time, the all-too-important medium of television, reflect a maturing Islamic Republic that is in the throes of a qualitative expansion of its public sphere. This political evolution is on full display before the world community.

The ultimate test of the legitimacy of the elections arrives on Friday when an estimated 60% of the electorate goes to the polls. The two reformist candidates have filed objections over the number of ballots printed - they say there are too many. This issue is expected to be resolved, though, and the next president should be able to convince the world that he has a national mandate, which includes continuing with the country's nuclear program and negotiating with other countries.

...the UR is the big beneficiary politically. If Ahmedinejad loses, the President has an opportunity for a major new opening with Iran. If Ahmedinejad wins, the President the Presiodent has the green light for an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities, which would be a welcome distraction from his domestic difficulties and a chance to look like a tough leader instead of a milquetoast.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:54 AM


The golden boy and the blob: Is Barack Obama's education secretary too good to be true? (Lexington, 5/07/09, The Economist)

IT IS hard to find anybody with a bad word to say about Arne Duncan, Barack Obama’s young education secretary. Margaret Spellings, his predecessor in the Bush administration, calls him “a visionary leader and fellow reformer”. During his confirmation hearings Lamar Alexander, a senator from Tennessee and himself a former education secretary, sounded more like a lovesick schoolgirl than a member of the opposition party: “I think you’re the best.” Enthusiastic without being over-the-top, pragmatic without being a pushover, he is also the perfect embodiment of mens sana in corpore sano—tall and lean, clean-cut and athletic, a Thomas Arnold for the digital age.

Since moving to the Education Department a couple of months ago he has been a tireless preacher of the reform gospel. He supports charter schools and merit pay, accountability and transparency, but also litters his speeches with more unfamiliar ideas. [...]

Mr Duncan is arguably the luckiest education secretary since Jimmy Carter created his department in 1979. He inherits a much richer legacy from the Bush administration than most people imagine, with mounting evidence that George Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act did something to boost educational achievement, particularly among poor children. And a growing number of Democrats, many of them black, think the party needs to distance itself from the teachers’ unions. Cory Booker, the mayor of Newark, argues that “as Democrats we have been wrong on education, and it’s time to get it right.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:51 AM


President Obama calls for legislation on pay-as-you-go (EAMON JAVERS, 6/9/09, Politico)

A day after announcing the acceleration of federal spending under his economic stimulus plan, President Barack Obama Tuesday called for binding legislation that would force a return to pay-as-you-go budgeting rules.

The so-called paygo approach would mean the federal government could not launch new tax cut or entitlement programs without finding a way to pay for them with budget cuts or revenue increases.

The president also used his appearance in the White House East Room to tout the administration’s success in allowing 10 federally bailed-out banks to repay $68 billion from the Troubled Asset Relief Fund.

The taxpayers, he said, even turned a profit on the TARP deal.

Yes, W's bailout paid for itself, now what about the UR's?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:46 AM


Election opponent accuses Ahmadinejad of lying in TV debate: As campaign hots up, Rafsanjani urges supreme leader to rein in the president, accusing him of 'fabrications' (Ian Black, 6/09/09, guardian.co.uk)

Iran's turbulent election campaign took a dramatic turn today when one of the country's most senior politicians accused the hardline president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, of lying in a televised debate.

In an unprecedented public appeal, former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani urged the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to rein in the president, who in the debate last week accused Rafsanjani of corruption. [...]

Meanwhile, central Tehran saw chaotic scenes for a second day when supporters of Mousavi – many of them young women – flocked in their tens of thousands to another demonstration, shouting anti-Ahmadinejad slogans and waving the green ribbons, banners and posters that have become the symbol of his campaign. A "human chain" rally on Monday night was likened by many to the events that shook Tehran before the 1979 Islamic revolution.

June 9, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:04 PM


Train can be worse for climate than plane (Catherine Brahic, 6/08/09, New Scientist)

True or false: taking the commuter train across Boston results in lower greenhouse gas emissions than travelling the same distance in a jumbo jet. Perhaps surprisingly, the answer is false.

A new study compares the "full life-cycle" emissions generated by 11 different modes of transportation in the US. Unlike previous studies on transport emissions, Mikhail Chester and Arpad Horvath of the University of California, Berkeley, looked beyond what is emitted by different types of car, train, bus or plane while their engines are running and includes emissions from building and maintaining the vehicles and their infrastructure, as well as generating the fuel to run them. (Table 1 on page 3 has a complete list of components that were considered).

Transport studies expert Abigail Bristow of Loughborough University, UK, who was not involved in the study, says it is valuable because it attempts to compare transport on equal terms. To do this, Chester and Horvath calculated how many passengers each train, plane, bus or car would carry in its lifetime and how many kilometres it would cover. The pair took into account how much each infrastructure component – such as tracks, roads and airports – is used in its lifetime.

Including these additional sources of pollution more than doubles the greenhouse gas emissions of train travel. The emissions generated by car travel increase by nearly one third when manufacturing and infrastructure are taken into account. In comparison to cars on roads and trains on tracks, air travel requires little infrastructure. As a result, full life-cycle emissions are between 10 and 20 per cent higher than "tailpipe" emissions.

Cars emitted more than any other form of transport with the notable exception of off-peak buses, which often carry few passengers. The researchers found that travelling 1 kilometre on a nearly empty bus during off-peak hours emits eight times more per person than taking the same bus at rush hour – suggesting peak-time commuters may suffer, but they do less harm to the environment.

Can't you just see the lines of jumbo jets driving commuters across the city?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:55 PM


Slain abortion doctor George Tiller's clinic to close: Tiller had been the only abortion provider in Wichita, Kan., and his family's decision to close the facility leaves only two other clinics in the country that perform late-term abortions. (Robin Abcarian, June 9, 2009, Los Angeles Times)

A long, difficult chapter in the struggle over legalized abortion came to an end today, when the family of slain physician George Tiller announced this morning that it would permanently close his Wichita abortion clinic, Women's Health Care Services.

Tiller, 67, was shot to death in the vestibule of his Lutheran church on May 31, where he served as an usher.

The shuttering of his clinic means there are no abortion providers left in the Wichita area, and only two other clinics in the country that perform late-term abortions, Tiller's specialty.

...the end isn't.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:43 PM


Cap’n Crunch Prevails: Crunchberries Suit Fails (Kurt Brouwer, June 9th, 2009, Fundmastery)

My two boys occasionally eat Cap’n Crunch, Froot Loops and Frosted Flakes cereals so this story got their attention. And, this heartwarming tale of commonsense in court should be good news for all. A lawsuit again Cap’n Crunch cereal has been dismissed [emphasis added]:

Reasonable Consumer Would Know “Crunchberries” Are Not Real, Judge Rules (Lowering the Bar, June 2, 2009, Kevin Underhill)

On May 21, a judge of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California dismissed a complaint filed by a woman who said she had purchased “Cap’n Crunch with Crunchberries” because she believed it contained real fruit. The plaintiff, Janine Sugawara, alleged that she had only recently learned to her dismay that said “berries” were in fact simply brightly-colored cereal balls, and that although the product did contain some strawberry fruit concentrate, it was not otherwise redeemed by fruit. She sued, on behalf of herself and all similarly situated consumers, some of whom may believe that there are fields somewhere in our land thronged by crunchberry bushes…

The legal decision was a joy to read.

...once they're soaked in milk they stick to the wall really well when you catapult them with your spoon.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:17 PM


REVIEW: of LAST ­RITES By John Lukacs (Gerald J. Russello, Spring 2009, Wilson Quarterly)

Lukacs is perhaps best known for his conviction that human knowledge is “partici­pant,” and for holding that the barrier set up by Enlightenment thinking between subject and object is an illusion. History, properly considered, is not concerned with attaining objectivity, but with seeking understanding. “The ideal of objectivity is the total, the antiseptic separation of the knower from the known. Understanding involves an approach, that of getting closer. In any event, and about everything: there is, there can be, no essential separation from the knower and the known.” Drawing on his lifelong engagement with the work of the physicist Werner Heisenberg, Lukacs finds even scientists improperly focused on false “facts” in creating an illusory objectivity. For what makes a scientific fact of interest is primarily that we are there to observe it, and, as Heisenberg taught, our very observance changes the observed event ­itself.

This may seem simply postmodern avant la lettre, but to label it that would be to mistake Lukacs’s point. All does not dissolve into subjectivity. Because we are historical beings, our understanding of the past and the world around us must be a deeply moral and humbling enterprise. Humans invested the universe with meaning, according to Lukacs, and we are responsible for what we do with it. “The universe is such as it is because at the center of it there exist conscious and participant human beings who can see it, explore it, study it.”

...against Modernity

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:14 PM


Read 'too Catholic' for UK market (Richard Brooks, 6/07/09, Times of London)

Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh will be turning in their graves. A new novel by Piers Paul Read has been turned down by his longtime agent because it is “too Catholic”. The thriller, The Death of a Pope, juxtaposes a fictional tale of a former priest accused of terrorist activities against the real backdrop of the death of John Paul II and election of Benedict XVI.

Maybe the trouble is that Read, author of many fine novels, is an orthodox Catholic and this sentiment comes over in the thriller. His agent, Gillon Aitken, whose writers include Sebastian Faulks, Pat Barker and Germaine Greer, told Read to take out some of the Catholicism. “But I didn’t want to,” the author tells me from his promotional tour of The Death of a Pope in the United States, where it has just been published. Mind you, Aitken’s had nothing to do with the American book.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:06 AM


The Patron Saint of Detectives: Faith and reason in Ralph McInerny’s Father Dowling stories. (Gerald J. Russello, 6/05/09, National Review)

The United States has seen several exemplars of the priest-detective, including Father Roger Dowling, pastor of St. Hilary’s Church, a small parish in seemingly bucolic Fox River, Illinois. Dowling is the creation of Ralph McInerny, a Catholic intellectual who has spent most of his career teaching philosophy at Notre Dame. Over the years, McInerny has written more than two dozen Father Dowling novels, as well as a separate series of mystery novels under the pen name Monica Quill, featuring Sister Mary Teresa. The Father Dowling series has been popular, rating even a four-season television series, starring actor Tom Bosley of Happy Days fame.

The Wisdom of Father Dowling has just come out, and this collection of 15 short stories featuring the eponymous hero illustrates the strengths and weaknesses of the genre. Its title invokes The Wisdom of Father Brown, which is probably Chesterton’s best collection, and the two priests share several characteristics. The centrality of reason is one: McInerny, like Chesterton, is a committed Thomist, and the respect for reasoning is evident throughout Scholastic philosophy. Nevertheless, Dowling, like Brown, is also a committed priest, and the twin concerns for physical reality and metaphysical salvation are combined when he is looking to solve a crime. Other shared characteristics include a wry sense of humor and the enjoyment of the simple pleasures of life, such as friendship.

One example of the combined resources of Dowling is found in the story “Hic Jacet,” a Latin phrase meaning “Here he lies.” Without giving away too much of the plot, I can report that Dowling solves the mystery and confronts the murderer. Rather than turning him in for an old and forgotten crime, however, the priest instead grants absolution. The combination of the rational and the supernatural in these stories illuminates McInerny’s conviction that faith and reason can act together, and should, and that while crimes might be solved through reason, forgiveness is a grace, though not part of the criminal-justice system. Even when Dowling is more bystander than participant, he remains a priest. In “Anathema Sits,” for example, Dowling solves the crime almost by accident, and the story would work with some hard-boiled city detective rather than a priest as protagonist — except for the absolution of the murderer at the end. As a stylist, McInerny makes full use of the range of detective-story devices: plot twists, unlikely suspects, misdirection, and grisly discoveries. At the core of these stories, however, is a concern for plumbing the mystery of the human condition.

...Rabbi Small.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:00 AM


Nick Griffin abandons BNP press conference under hail of eggs (guardian.co.uk, 9 June 2009)

The BNP leader Nick Griffin was forced to abandon a press conference outside parliament today after protesters pelted him with eggs.

The demonstrators shouted "Off our streets, Nazi scum" and chased him down the street to his car.

Griffin, who was elected an MEP for north-west England on Sunday, was bundled into his car by his bodyguards and quickly drove off.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:10 AM


Ten things to read about reputation in international relations (Daniel W. Drezner, 5/27/09, Foreign Affairs)

There's been a lot of chatter during the latest iteration of the North Korea crisis that the DPRK leadership is testing the Obama administration's mettle, or that "[other] nuclear wannabes, such as Iran, are watching how we deal with this provocation. To ignore, excuse, or reward it might send an unfortunate signal." This comes on the heels of the Obama administration's mantra about changing America's reputation in world politics, from one of bellicose hard power unilateralism to a greater mix of soft power and multilateralism.

So, apparently, concepts like reputation and credibility matter a lot in international affairs -- and, intuitively, we would think this to be true. The thing is, reputation is also a fuzzy concept. Countries should cultivate a reputation for what, exactly? Can a reputation for toughness in a crisis be reconciled with a reputation for compliance with international law? Do countries have reputations, or just leaders? Does a reputation in one issue area -- say, aid generosity -- spill over into other issue areas?

I could give you a definitive answer to all of these questions, but that would be an act of hubris on my part, and I don't want that rep. Instead, here are ten books/articles to read on reputation and international relations that might confuse you even more provide some enlightenment on the subject: [...]

8) Daryl Press, Calculating Credibility (2005). Press makes a provocative argument in this book -- in the heat of a military crisis, reputation does not really matter all that much. It certainly matters less than the military balance of power. This suggests that the Obama administration's response to North Korea has no bearing on Iran -- what matters are the viability of military options in both cases.

For all the fretting, no amount of groveling by the President abroad will change the fact that he has the football nearby.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:07 AM


Taking the Toxic Out of Assets (CYRUS GARDNER, 6/09/09, NY Times)

During the savings and loan crisis of the 1990s, entities called aligned interest partnerships disposed of the toxic assets, largely real estate-related, of S.&L.’s managed by the government’s Resolution Trust Corporation. Here’s how it worked: The government contributed assets to a partnership that was financed by a private investor. The investor managed the partnership, and both sides shared the proceeds. Thus the government maintained a financial interest in the success of the partnership. This is a sharp contrast to the Treasury plan, where the selling bank disposes of the asset outright, with no chance of future profits.

The partnership model worked. When all was said and done, private investors recovered more than 125 percent of the assets’ initial estimated value. But taxpayers were the ultimate winners. Compared with similar assets sold outright, the government got up to 45 percent higher returns using the partnership structure. Since then, we have used similar structures for transactions like sales of on-base housing for the United States Air Force and sales of military-grade scrap metal for the Department of Defense.

Several factors contributed to the success of the aligned interest partnerships. First, the investors received no fee for managing the assets. This reduced the temptation to sit on assets just to maintain a stream of easy payments from the government. The chief executive was paid entirely out of the investors’ share of overall proceeds. The private investors were free to manage the assets as they chose, with no daily oversight. Instead, investors provided monthly documentation that they were obeying the partnership’s rules. But since the private investors got paid only on net receipts, they had a strong incentive to operate efficiently.

Perhaps most important, partnership investors started to see equity returns much earlier than their counterparts in the Treasury plan. Private investors would receive just enough early on to keep them actively engaged. The big payoff came when most or all of the assets were sold.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:52 AM


My Professor, The Spy: From admiring lectures about Soviet double agent Kim Philby to coffee at my school’s Alger Hiss Café, hints abounded that my professor, accused Cuban spy Walter Kendall Myers, might be a Communist spook. (Tom Murray, 6/09/09, Daily Beast)

Looking for some insight into a man I thought was as establishment as they come—his great-grandfather was telephone inventor Alexander Graham Bell—I dug through my parents basement for my class notes, and came across lectures that in retrospect contained chilling information: Myers expressed high regard for the notorious Kim Philby and two other Brits—Donald Maclean and Guy Burgess—who became Soviet double agents during the Cold War.According to my notes, Myers suggested that they were called by their sense of duty to "save" Europe (rather than the British Empire), and that U.S. and U.K. policies "turned them into" spies.

In fact, the more I reflect back on my class with Myers, the more the clues—and the ironies—pile up. Johns Hopkins is based in Baltimore, of course, but SAIS has always been headquartered in Washington, and throughout its history dallied with those in the "business". Students at the school's Bologna Center, where I spent my first two semesters, accepted as fact that our program had been founded in the mid-1950s as a front for CIA operatives keen for a legitimate perch at the capital of Italy's "red" movement.

While I was as SAIS, the student newspaper staff ran a coffee shop in the basement of one of the school's two buildings, which they named, tongue-firmly-in-cheek, The Alger Hiss Café. Everyone in the school dropped by for a drink or nibble occasionally, surely including a man, the government says, who spent 30 years practicing what Hiss was accused of.

"Accused"? No wonder parody is dead.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:44 AM


Dirt Dogs and Jinegar: a review of Dickson Baseball Dictionary 3RD Edition
by Paul Dickson (Nick Stillman, The Nation)

Maine is on the northern edge of a pocket of the country that breeds obsessive fandom for the Boston Red Sox and venom for the New York Yankees. That place is known as Red Sox Nation, and my introduction to its treacherous emotional terrain came early. When I was a kid my dad worked the night shift at L.L. Bean. It was something I grew to resent. As compensation for scant father-son time, we developed a ritual: while I slept, he would artistically fan out on the kitchen table an assortment of baseball card packs -- each with a colorful wax wrapper -- for me to discover in the morning. One day my father was home to witness me tearing into his gift of cardboard gold, and I made a crucial error: I chirped that the card I coveted was Don Mattingly's -- then the Yankees' young star first baseman. Dad snatched the packs away. "Son," he softly intoned under a frowning mustache, "that's bush."

Bush? I'm unsure if it was my introduction to the term, but I knew exactly what Dad was getting at. Under his roof, esteem for anything Yankee was unacceptable. It was downright amateur, borderline ignorant, even treasonous. As Paul Dickson explains in his impressively comprehensive third edition of The Dickson Baseball Dictionary, which features more than 10,000 terms, the origins of "bush" date to 1905, when it referred to geographical exile -- the cuts, the sticks, the bushes. Gradually, "bush" has become an enduring baseball term as well as a general condemnation of a crassly unprofessional or inappropriate person or action, something akin to "wack." Gloating in the workplace about a promotion is bush. A bully who bugs the smallest kid in school is bush. Stealing from a tip jar is bush. Defying your father's orders and admiring the perennial tormentors of his favorite baseball team is definitely bush.

The otherwise forgettable 1980's tv series, Bring 'Em Back Alive, featured one great quote, when Frank Buck told a faux samurai he was fighting: "That's not bushido, that's just bush."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:41 AM


Barack Obama invokes Jesus more than George W. Bush (EAMON JAVERS, 6/9/09, Politico)

He’s done it while talking about abortion and the Middle East, even the economy. The references serve at once as an affirmation of his faith and a rebuke against a rumor that persists for some to this day.

As president, Barack Obama has mentioned Jesus Christ in a number of high-profile public speeches — something his predecessor George W. Bush rarely did in such settings, even though Bush’s Christian faith was at the core of his political identity.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:35 AM


Cautious at Heart (DAVID BROOKS, 6/09/09, NY Times)

If you look at the whole record, you come away with the impression that Sotomayor is a hard-working, careful-though-unspectacular jurist whose primary commitment is to the law.

When Sotomayor left Yale, she didn’t take the route designed to reinforce her ideological dispositions. She became a prosecutor with District Attorney Robert Morgenthau in Manhattan. She told The Times in 1983 that in making this decision, she faced “a tremendous amount of pressure from my community, from the third-world community at Yale. They could not understand why I was taking this job.”

In the years since, she has not followed the easy course. More than any current member of the Supreme Court, she worked her way up through the furnace levels of the American legal system. And when she reached a position of authority, she did not turn herself into an Al Sharpton in robes.

She is quite liberal. But there’s little evidence that she is motivated by racialist thinking or an activist attitude.

Tom Goldstein of Scotusblog conducted a much-cited study of the 96 race-related cases that have come before her. Like almost all judges, she has rejected a vast majority of the claims of racial discrimination that came to her. She dissented from her colleagues in only four of those cases. And in only one of them did she find racial discrimination where they did not. Even with what she calls her “Latina soul,” she saw almost every case pretty much as they did.

The most distinctive thing about the Judge is that her personal life is completely empty. She's divorced with no children and supposedly her "best friends" tend to be whoever happens to be clerking for her. She's far more likely to be co-opted into the social milieu of the Court than to influence its rulings.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:30 AM


Andrew Brons: the genteel face of neo-fascism: British National party MEP and former National Front chairman who started political life in group set up in honour of Hitler (Duncan Campbell, 6/08/09, guardian.co.uk)

It was on Hitler's birthday, deliberately chosen, that the National Socialist Movement was formed in Britain in the 1960s. It was the first political organisation of the far right that Andrew Brons, the newly-elected British National party MEP for Yorkshire and Humberside, was to join – but not the last.

The group that he signed up to as a teenager had been founded in honour of Hitler by the British fascist leader, the late Colin Jordan. No mention of this early political involvement features on the BNP's website celebrating Brons's victory. Instead, Brons is portrayed just as a "veteran British Nationalist".

Brons, 61, comes from what might be described as the genteel wing of British neo-fascism. He lists William Cobbett, the radical journalist and author of Rural Rides, as his favourite historical person, the Pickwick Papers as his favourite book and Zelig as his favourite film. But his early associations with the far right were when it was at its most overtly racist and before it had started to try to present itself as just another political party.

The group he first joined included among its members people responsible for arson attacks on Jewish property and synagogues. According to the anti-fascist organisation Searchlight, which has been tracking his career for decades, Brons appears to have approved. In a letter to Jordan's wife, Brons reported meeting an NSM member who "mentioned such activities as bombing synagogues", to which Brons responded that "on this subject I have a dual view, in that I realise that he is well intentioned, I feel that our public image may suffer considerable damage as a result of these activities. I am however open to correction on this point."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:26 AM


Obama Bonaparte's Campaign (Dr. Hamad Al-Majid, 6/09/09, Asharq Alawasat)

"Is he Obama Bonaparte or Obama the awaited?"

These two opposite descriptions summarize Arab reaction to President Obama's Cairo speech. On the one hand, some analysts like our colleague Fahmi Huwaydi, saw in Obama's speech the "awaited Obama" who will fill the world with justice and fairness, which will replace the widespread injustice and oppression. Others saw him as ill-intentioned, witty, and cunning and a reminder of the famous French leader Napoleon Bonaparte, who visited Cairo as a conqueror, whereas Obama visited as a speaker.

It has been said that Napoleon Bonaparte led a military campaign in the outskirts of Cairo, and so did Obama when he launched a cultural campaign through its streets. Bonaparte entered Cairo holding the Koran, dressed like an Arab, admiring their food, and promising Muslims to lead their march [for pilgrimage] to the holy places in Mecca. It has been said that Obama did the same. He entered Cairo through his former Islamic religion, African complexion, and the religious connotation of his middle name -- Hussein. He even transformed himself during his deceptive campaign into a "mullah," as he recited so many verses of the Holy Koran.

...the American president is best thought of as the Martin Luther/John Calvin of benighted peoples, explaining how they have to Reform to reach the End of History.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:07 AM


Taliban Cornered in NW Pakistan by Angry Locals (AP, 6/09/09)

A group of Taliban fighters under siege by hundreds of angry tribesmen tried to sneak to another village in northwest Pakistan, only to find themselves cornered there too, an official said Tuesday.

A citizens' militia that sprang up over the weekend to avenge a deadly suicide bombing at a mosque in Upper Dir district appeared unwilling to stop pursuing the Islamist fighters, underscoring the rising anti-Taliban sentiment in Pakistan.

The growing pressure on militants who have held sway in parts of Pakistan's northwest comes as the army bears down on their one-time stronghold in the Swat Valley region. Talk has also turned to the possibility of another operation against al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters in the nearby tribal belt along the country's border with Afghanistan, something U.S. officials privately say they would like to see.

...weren't our continual drone attacks on the jihadis supposed to turn the local populations against us, not them?

Pakistan 'to target Waziristan' (BBC, 6/09/09)

A curfew has been imposed in an area bordering the Taliban stronghold of Waziristan ahead of a military operation there, officials say. [...]

Waziristan is controlled by Taliban militants and is said to be where al-Qaeda leaders have found safe haven.

The tribal region has been described by US officials as "the most dangerous place on earth".

It is said to harbour some of the world's most wanted men including al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:37 AM


Air France pilots told not to fly Airbus jets after Brazil crash (Charles Bremner, 6/09/09, Times of London)

A pilots union called on Air France crew today to refuse to fly long-range Airbus jets until the airline replaced unreliable speed sensors that are believed to have led to the crash of Flight 447 off Brazil last week.

“To prevent a repeat of this disaster . . . we call on flight deck and cabin crew to refuse all flights aboard the A330 and A340 series which have not been modified,” said Alter, a union to which 10 per cent of the airline’s crew belong.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:33 AM

2009 Bradley Symposium: Making Conservatism Credible Again (Hudson Institute's Bradley Center for Philanthropy and Civic Renewal, June 3, 2009, 9:00 AM - 11:00 AM - Washington, D.C. Area)

The 2009 Bradley Symposium: Making Conservatism Credible Again


Governor Mitch Daniels

Rep. Paul Ryan

Rich Lowry

Yuval Levin

Arthur Brooks (moderator)

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

St. Regis Hotel


- Complete, edited transcript in PDF (30 pages, 1.88 MB) and Word

- Selected videp clips here. For full video and audio of the Symposium, please click on the orange Media Clips button in the upper right corner of this page.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:28 AM


-REVIEW ESSAY: Divided Iran on the Eve: a review of Apocalyptic Islam and Iranian Shi'ism by Abbas Amanat, Sexual Politics in Modern Iran by Janet Afary, Guardians of the Revolution: Iran and the World in the Age of the Ayatollahs by Ray Takeyh (Malise Ruthven, NY Review of Books)

During the past decade the Jamkaran mosque near Qom in Iran has become one of the most visited Shiite shrines, rivaling Karbala and Kufa in Iraq as pilgrim destinations. Here thousands of believers pray for intercessions to their messiah—the Mahdi or Twelfth Imam—whose return they believe to be imminent. Written petitions are placed in the "well of the Lord of the Age," from which many believe the imam will emerge to bring about universal justice and peace. Six months after his surprise election to the Iranian presidency in June 2005, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad predicted that this momentous eschatological event would occur within two years. With the turmoil in neighboring Iraq, where Shiites continue to be attacked by Sunni extremists, expectations for the return retain their appeal.

While the Shiite faithful (along with their Jewish and Christian counterparts) are still awaiting their messiah, the Islamic Republic is investing heavily in the Jamkaran shrine, spending more than half a billion dollars on enlargements that rival those of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, with vast interior courtyards and facilities—including offices, research centers, cultural departments, slaughterhouses, and soup kitchens—not to mention the farms where Jamkaran raises its meat. In a country where the religious establishment dominates state institutions, Jamkaran's burgeoning bureaucracy seems set to outstrip that of the longer- established shrine complexes of Mashhad and Qom.

While external observers perceive the struggle in Iran between conservatives and moderates in political terms, the Islamic Republic's conflicting ideological currents also find expression in the age-old rhetoric of the apocalypse, which originated in the region more than two thousand years ago. As Abbas Amanat explains in Apocalyptic Islam and Iranian Shi'ism, the Jamkaran makeover was part of the campaign orchestrated by conservative clerics in Qom against the government of former President Mohammad Khatami and his reformist allies.

Unlike many academics, Amanat, a professor of history at Yale, is willing to venture into regions outside his specialty of Iranian studies, which makes his book particularly valuable, as it is informed by the knowledge—all too rare among Islamicists—that Islam is one variant in a cluster of religions rather than a subject to be treated on its own. Messianic expectations are fundamental to all the West Asian religions, articulating forces that are both dynamic and dangerous:

The vast number of visitors to Jamkaran demonstrates the resurgence of interest in the Mahdi among Iranians of all classes—including the affluent middle classes in the capital—and the triumph of the Islamic Republic in capitalizing on symbols of public piety.

Although these symbols, such as the Jamkaran shrine, are specific to Shiism, their appeal—not to mention their mobilizing power—is universal. As Amanat points out, apocalyptic movements have been motors of religious change throughout history. Christian origins are inseparable from the spirit of apocalypticism that consumed the Judeo-Hellenistic world in late antiquity. Muhammad's early mission cannot be explained without reference to the "apocalyptic admonitions, the foreseen calamities, and the terror of the Day of Judgement, apparent in the early suras [chapters] of the Qu'ran." Later examples—to name but a few—include Martin Luther's call for reforming the Catholic Church and Sabbatai Zevi's claim in the seventeenth century to be the Jewish messiah. The Mormon church, the most successful of the new American religions, was born in the millennial frenzy that swept through the "Burnt-Over District" of upstate New York in the 1830s. Amanat sees all these as conscious attempts to fulfill messianic visions conceived on the ancient models preserved in Zoroastrian and biblical scriptures.

In a brief but masterful compression of insights gained from readings of Norman Cohn, founding father of millennial studies, and other scholars in the field, Amanat reviews the dynamics of apocalyptic histories. On the positive side the anticipation of imminent divine judgment can be translated into a message of social justice, with individual choice replacing dogmas handed down by ancestors, tribes, or communities. Historically, apocalyptic movements tend to be socially inclusive, appealing especially to the deprived, marginalized, and dispossessed.

Which, not surprisingly, misses
the most important positive: messianism carries with it the recognition that mere human government will inevitably be flawed.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:17 AM


Why Would Lebanon's Christians Side With Iran?: Because they're afraid of Saudi Arabia. (Brian Palmer, June 8, 2009, Slate)

Sectarianism has been enshrined in the Lebanese political system since its independence. In 1932, the French colonial government conducted a census, determining that Maronite Christians represented a slight majority in Lebanon. When the country won its independence in 1943, parliamentary seats were allocated based on the 1932 census figures: six Christian representatives for every five Muslim representatives. The 1989 Taif Agreement, which ended the Lebanese Civil War, adjusted the balance to 50-50. The highest offices are also distributed among Christians, Sunnis, and Shiites. (This confessional system makes it virtually impossible for any nonsectarian political movement, such as the Lebanese Communist Party, to gain significant power.)

No one really knows how many Christians are living in Lebanon today. The government has refused to conduct a census, because the results might upset the fragile Taif Agreement and plunge the country back into civil war.

Given that you can't have a census because it would show that the majority are being dominated by minorities, what's wrong with a Civil War?

Lebanese elections: When faking democracy works (Kamal Dib, June 01, 2009, Daily Star)

The Lebanese elections scheduled for June 7 cannot be taken seriously as a democratic expression. Ahem - from a Western perspective, that is. Although party politics are at the core of a functioning democracy, political parties in Lebanon are marginal at best. Almost 100 percent of the electoral lists are controlled or run by city and country zaims (bosses). Such bosses - we prefer to call the warlord and merchant class of Lebanon (see our book, "Warlords and Merchants") - take political parties as small partners under their wing.

For a few months now, the elections more or less have been a "done-deal." The Lebanese Parliament has 128 seats, based on geographic ridings that follow religious representation (18 groups in all). The bosses, you see, have already figured out and struck the necessary alliances and vote exchanges, etc., to guarantee that at least 115 (if not 120) seats are already named. That merely leaves a few, mostly Christian, seats in some localities (such as in East Beirut and in a mountainous region) to save face that some competition did take place.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:13 AM


Obama’s Economic Circle Keeps Tensions High (JACKIE CALMES, 6/08/09, NY Times)

President Obama was getting his daily economic briefing one recent morning when a fly distracted him. The president swatted and missed, just as the pest buzzed near the shoes of Lawrence H. Summers, the chief White House economic adviser. “Couldn’t you aim a little higher?” deadpanned Christina D. Romer, the chairwoman of the Council of Economic Advisers.

Mrs. Romer was joking, she said in an interview, adding, “There are only a few times that I felt like smacking Larry.” Yet few laughed in the president’s presence.

If the Oval Office incident was meant as a lighthearted moment, it also exposed the underlying tensions that have gripped Mr. Obama’s economic advisers as they have struggled with the gravest financial crisis since the Depression, according to several dozen interviews with administration officials and others familiar with the internal debates.

By all accounts, much of the tension derives from the president’s choice of the brilliant but sometimes supercilious Mr. Summers to be the director of the National Economic Council, making him the policy impresario of the team. The widespread assumption, from Washington to Wall Street, was that the job would be Mr. Summers’s way station until the president could name him chairman of the Federal Reserve when Ben S. Bernanke’s term expires early next year.

But Mr. Bernanke’s aggressive response to the crisis has so improved his reputation that people close to Mr. Obama increasingly suggest the president could well reappoint him in the interests of financial stability — just as Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton retained Fed chiefs who had been picked by predecessors of the other party. [...]

People familiar with the deliberations say that Mr. Summers has been more populist than they expected for a right-of-center economist, siding often with Mr. Obama’s political advisers. That has given rise to speculation among colleagues, associates and banking representatives that Mr. Summers is trying to win the Fed seat.

Why shouldn't Intelligence be politicized but it's okay for Economics to be? After all, lying about the threat Saddam posed just ended up with an evil regime replaced. Lying about economic theory could end up with our livelihoods displaced.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:52 AM


Why Is the Right Doing So Well in Europe?: For a start, they don't spend like drunken sailors. (Anne Applebaum, June 8, 2009, Slate)

We've been waiting and waiting, but the widely predicted European backlash—against capitalism, free markets, and the right—has never come. There are no demands for Marxist revolution, no calls for nationalization of industry, not even a European campaign for what the Obama administration calls "stimulus"—a policy more colloquially known as "massive government spending."

On the contrary, in last weekend's European parliamentary elections, capitalism triumphed, at least in its mushy European form. [...]

In France, Germany, Italy, and Poland—four of Europe's six largest countries—center-right governments got unexpectedly enthusiastic endorsements. In the two other large countries, Britain and Spain, left-wing ruling parties got hammered, as did socialists in Hungary, Austria, Estonia, and elsewhere. In some places the results were stark indeed: In London this weekend, I could hardly walk down the street without being assaulted by angry, screaming newspaper headlines, all declaring the Labor government of Prime Minister Gordon Brown weak, corrupt, tired, arrogant, and, yes, very unpopular. In some constituencies, European candidates of the ruling Labor Party finished behind fringe parties that normally don't get noticed at all. So rapidly are British ministers resigning from the Cabinet that it's hard to keep track of them (four in the last week—I think).

But how is it possible that the European right is doing so well—and so much better than their U.S. counterparts—during what is widely described as a crisis of global capitalism? At least in part, the Europeans are winning because their leaders have the courage of their economic convictions

...than that increasingly ethnically diverse societies will turn away from socialism. If the Left wants to defeat capitalism it has to join the far Right in opposing immigrants.

June 8, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:52 PM


Woodrow Wilson's Heir (Robert Kagan, June 7, 2009, Washington Post)

Obama's policies toward Iran, the Middle East, Russia, North Korea, China, Latin America, Afghanistan and even Iraq have at most shifted only at the margins -- as many in those countries repeatedly complain. So what, for instance, is the source of the "new beginning" in U.S.-Muslim relations that Obama called for in Cairo?

The answer, it seems, is Obama himself. In the speech, The Post reports, "Obama made his own biography the starting point for a new U.S. relationship with Islam." Or as the New York Times put it, while "the president offered few details on how to solve problems around the globe," his basic argument "boiled down to this: Barack Hussein Obama was standing on the podium in this Muslim capital as the American president."

Critics complain that Obama's speeches are too self-referential. If so, this is not a mark of vanity. It is a strategy. Obama believes that his story is a powerful foreign policy tool, that drawing attention to what makes him different, not only from George W. Bush but from all past American presidents, will persuade the world to take a fresh look at America and its policies and make new diplomatic settlements possible.

...he has to be Wilsonian (minus Point XIV).

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:36 PM


Sox outfielders play Rock, Paper, Scissors (Maureen Mullen, 6/08/09, MLB.com)

When Red Sox center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury had to leave Sunday afternoon's game with a right shoulder strain, Rocco Baldelli -- the only available outfielder left -- knew he was going into the game. But would he be in center, directly replacing Ellsbury? Or would Mark Kotsay, who started the game in right, move over to center?

Baldelli and Kotsay are both versatile outfielders who are above average in both center and right. So the two players tried a unique and fun method to try to solve the dilemma. With Kotsay sitting on the bench and Baldelli standing next to him, the two players engaged in a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors to determine who would go where.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:32 PM


Obama's True Colors: Appointee Opposes Abortion and Birth Control (Bonnie Erbe, 6/08/09, US News: Thomas Jefferson Street blog)

Women's rights stalwart Frances Kissling questions why President Obama has appointed a woman as head of the Department Health and Humans Services's Center for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives who, according to Kissling, believes abortion should be illegal and opposes birth control--even for married couples. Assuming Ms. Kissling is correct about Alexia Kelley's views, it doesn't surprise me at all. Mr. Obama, aka, "I try to make everyone happy and in the process make no one happy," is merely feeling comfortable enough to show his true self, rather than staying true to promises he made to his supporters prior to being elected ... [...]

Expect to see more of the same as his administration progresses. And as the evidence mounts that winning re-election is more important to this president than anything else, his supporters should re-examine their votes in 2012.

Who are they going to switch to? The GOP nominee won't feed Moloch.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:16 PM


Revolt Imperils Democratic Control of Senate (Jeremy W. Peters AND Danny Hakim, 6/08/09, NY Times)

Updated, 4:11 p.m. | ALBANY – Democrats appeared to have lost their majority in the State Senate on Monday, in a stunning and sudden reversal of fortunes for a party that has controlled the chamber for barely five months.

A raucous leadership fight erupted on the floor of the Senate around 3 p.m., with two Democrats, Pedro Espada Jr. of the Bronx and Hiram Monserrate of Queens, joining the 30 Senate Republicans in a motion that would displace Democrats as the party in control.
Dean G. SkelosGiovanni Rufino for The New York Times Senator Dean G. Skelos, a Long Island Republican, would likely be the new majority leader if his party takes control.

It was a noisy and acrimonious scene on the floor of the Senate as Senator Thomas W. Libous, a Republican from Binghamton and the party’s deputy leader, shouted for a roll-call vote, while Democrats attempted to stall the vote by asking to adjourn the session.

All 30 Republicans stood with their hands raised, signaling a vote for a change in leadership. Mr. Espada and Mr. Monserrate joined them, each raising his hand. It appeared that Republicans had won the vote by a 32-to-30 margin. If the Republicans retake the chamber, Dean G. Skelos, of Long Island, would likely be the new majority leader.

After the results of the vote were read aloud, the in-house television station that carries Senate proceedings live in the Capitol went dark. All that appeared on the screen was a still photo of the Senate chamber and the words “Please stand by.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:05 PM


TV debates electrify campaign (Michael Theodoulou, June 08. 2009, The National)

Mr Ahmadinejad, 52, was left reeling against the ropes by an early body-blow from [Mehdi Karrubi] the white-bearded reformist, who is the only cleric among the four presidential contenders. Mr Karrubi mocked the president for claiming that a halo-like, celestial green light had descended on him when he addressed the UN General Assembly four years ago. World leaders were supposedly so transfixed by Mr Ahmadinejad that they sat unblinking – literally – for nearly 30 minutes as he spoke. The president’s opponents have long used the tale to portray him as a hallucinating zealot who appears to believe he is on a divine mission.

In response, a visibly winded Mr Ahmadinejad simply spluttered that the New York episode was untrue. However, a video clip of the president recounting his mystical experience to a leading ayatollah, Adollah Javadi-Amoli, has been circulated on Iranian websites.

It took some time after the “halo” jibe for Mr Ahmadinejad – who sported a dark striped suit rather than his trademark, man-of-the-people cotton bomber jacket – to regain his quick-witted pugnacity and recover his smile that often resembles a smirk. But while he chuckled at his opponent’s barbs he was never as self-confident as he was in a similarly fiery encounter last Wednesday with Mir-Hossein Mousavi, a moderate candidate who is Mr Ahmadinejad’s main threat to securing a second four-year term.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:39 PM


I Cook, Therefore I Am: How dropping food in fire made us human. (Christine Kenneally, June 3, 2009, Slate)

It all comes down to those wild hunting men and foraging females, tearing at flesh and gnawing on tubers: By now we're used to evolutionary biologists, psychologists, and anthropologists invoking our prehistoric hunter-gatherer ancestry to explain our behavior today. But what if the roots of who and what we are lie not in this restless and raw state of nature but in our discovery of the secret to a more sedentary life: the home-cooked meal? That is the bewildering, but brilliant, idea proposed by Richard Wrangham, a Harvard-based biological anthropologist. In Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human, he proposes that the big breakthrough of almost 2 million years ago that generated another 1,000 ideas and changed who we are forever was this: Drop food in fire, eat it. We are because we cook.

Historians of the deep human past generally consider cooking to be a recent activity. A significant number of hearths have been unearthed around the 76,000 year mark, and there is diminishing archeological evidence of controlled fire the further back you go. The assumption is that once we became modern, we worked out how to cook. Wrangham, by contrast, thinks we were cooking 1.8 million years ago—and that the activity was not an outcome of being human but that being human was an outcome of cooking. Cooking physically transformed a creature that was more ape into the earliest version of us, Homo erectus (perhaps more Conan the Barbarian than Jamie Oliver but still fundamentally human).

This is a fantastically weird way of looking at evolutionary change. Basic evolutionary theory teaches us that our physical selves are shaped by a genetic lottery in a cruel world. Random mutations in DNA change our biology, affecting anything from what we look like to how our immune systems work. The environment then selects who will go on to live and reproduce. But if cooking pushed us across a species threshold, it means that our biology is also shaped in completely unintended ways by cultural innovations

You really have to hope that Darwinism has all been an elaborate hoax and that they realize what they say is utter nonsense. Because if they aren't in on the joke they're pitiable.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:33 AM


Not Ready for Mt. Rushmore: Reconciling the myth of Ronald Reagan with the reality (Matthew Dallek, Summer 2009, American Scholar)

Any assessment of the Reagan presidency should begin by examining the ideas that defined his economic agenda. Reagan pioneered supply-side economics and was the first president since the New Deal to put in place a thoroughgoing hands-off, deregulatory philosophy. In 1981, Reagan enacted the Economic Recovery Tax Act, which became the model for George W. Bush’s tax cuts two decades later. Reagan’s legislation drastically changed the nation’s economic priorities. It sharply cut marginal income taxes on the wealthy, slashed the capital-gains tax, lowered taxes on oil companies and other large businesses, and reduced spending on a host of unpopular social programs that had inspired Reagan’s critique of the bloated federal welfare state. Welfare, food stamps, school lunches, job training, student loans—Reagan’s first budget reduced spending in all these areas.

In contrast, his administration generously funded the nation’s military budget. Reagan devoted billions in spending to new military hardware and to researching weapons systems, including his Star Wars missile shield, a program that he endorsed in March of 1983. In his 2008 book, The Age of Reagan: A History, 1974–2008, Princeton historian Sean Wilentz explained how Reagan’s first budget marked a sharp turn in the nation’s economic direction: “wealth would be redistributed toward the wealthy, while the government would be starved of funds to meet non-military needs.” The exploding budget deficits that resulted were among Reagan’s most significant legacies. In 1980, the national debt stood at $994 billion; by 1989, it had nearly tripled to $2.8 trillion. Wilentz puts the blame squarely on Reagan’s program to reduce taxes while increasing the defense budget and failing to curb government’s growth beyond the social programs, which in any case weren’t a large part of the budget. While “the administration and its supporters were quick to blame a spendthrift Congress” for the deficits, Wilentz writes, “the administration itself (which never submitted a balanced budget) was chiefly responsible,” because incoming federal tax revenues in the 1980s “came nowhere near the levels required to cover the immense new outlays on the military.”

Moreover, the economic consequences of deficit spending for the country on a range of issues were hard to overstate. As Wilentz argues:

Deficits stripped the government of funds that might have been invested in the nation’s economic infrastructure. The requisite borrowing from abroad to cover the government’s obligations also turned the United States from a major international creditor into the world’s largest debtor in world markets. But if he wanted to reduce the deficits, Reagan would have been forced either to forgo the military buildup and the tax cuts that were the pillars of his presidency, or to ask the American people to make sacrifices in their material standard of living. Neither choice, for Reagan, was an option.

Reagan’s White House had said that lower marginal tax rates on the wealthy would create incentives for them to invest their money, thereby stimulating the economy and raising federal tax receipts. Cut taxes, they said, and tax revenues will go up. As we now know, that didn’t happen. Reagan’s refusal to make tough economic decisions inaugurated an era of reckless government spending, one that pioneered the notion that, as Dick Cheney put it during his vice presidency, “deficits don’t matter.”

But Reagan’s commitment to cutting taxes wasn’t nearly as unwavering as some of his conservative supporters have claimed. In 1982, he raised the gas tax and reversed some of his own tax cuts. In 1983, he achieved a bipartisan deal with Congress to raise Social Security payroll taxes, making the program more solvent. He reformed the tax code in 1986—cutting corporate tax rates and marginal tax rates on the wealthy while increasing the capital gains tax rate and abolishing some tax shelters—and showed flexibility that his ideological heir George W. Bush rarely showed on a host of fiscal issues.

Nonetheless, after Reagan’s 1981 budget was enacted, the die was cast. David A. Stockman, Reagan’s first budget director, who later denounced the Reagan revolution as a fraud perpetrated against the public, described the dynamic this way: “After November 1981, the administration locked the door on its own disastrous fiscal policy jail cell and threw away the key.” Stockman said that nobody inside the administration would give up anything. President Reagan wanted the tax cut; the defense secretary, Caspar Weinberger, was defending his $1.46 trillion budget; and White House Chief of Staff James A. Baker was making sure nobody in the administration proposed to cut Social Security, lest it hurt the president’s political standing. “The nation’s huge fiscal imbalance was never addressed or corrected,” Stockman wrote; “it just festered and grew.” Reagan’s rhetoric notwithstanding, the size of the federal government expanded. He made Veterans Affairs a cabinet-level agency, and the number of federal employees increased on his watch. So much for warnings about the dangers of big government.

The savings and loan crisis, the precursor of today’s financial meltdown, came about as a result of Reagan’s anti-regulatory approach. Reagan had made good on the business philosophy he had promised during the campaign: in order to give markets a freer hand, he relaxed federal regulations. Indeed, he led the charge to eliminate regulations on loans the S&Ls made, so that they operated in an unfettered environment with little oversight from the government. By 1988, this policy resulted in a debacle. Hundreds of S&Ls had made a series of high-risk investments. When the S&Ls began to fail, the administration was left with little choice but to use the power of the federal government to bail them out with taxpayer dollars. Up until Bush’s 2008 TARP program, the Reagan-led effort represented the largest government bailout in history, costing the American people an estimated $500 billion.

Even the admiring Diggins admitted that “the S&L debacle suggests the unintended consequences of Reaganomics” and that Reagan’s deregulation had backfired. “The idea of deregulation intended to remove government from the private sector of the free market. Yet the program was based on government-guaranteed banking deposits. Capitalism, hailed for its aversion to public policy and willingness to compete and take risks, actually wanted government to minimize all contingency while S&L directors gambled with other people’s money” by investing in junk bonds and other risky securities. The situation bore at least passing resemblance to the high-risk investment strategy of under-regulated banks buying up billions in bad mortgages that happened on Bush’s watch, although Democrats, including President Clinton, can share some of the blame.

Who Ended the Cold War?

Reagan’s defenders’ strongest claim for his legacy is that he won the Cold War. He alone, they say, had the foresight and wisdom to invest heavily in a military buildup; challenge the Soviets, using bold and tough rhetoric; and repeatedly invoke the cause of freedom as the United States battled implacably repressive regimes in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Confronted with Reagan’s strengthened military and his verbal assaults, the Soviet Union imploded, and the Cold War ended in a triumphant U.S. victory. As Mann’s new book shows, the president’s approach during his second term was “generally at variance with his image as a truculent Cold Warrior.” Reagan, says Mann, was among the administration’s “doves” in the last years of his presidency.

Stephen Kotkin, a specialist in Soviet history at Princeton, punches even more holes in the mythology of Reagan’s single-handed triumph over the Soviet bear. He recently pointed out in a blog post that Reagan’s greatest contribution to ending the Cold War was that “he possessed the vital political credibility . . . to respond seriously to arms control overtures by Mikhail Gorbachev, thereby giving the Soviets the room to destroy their own system unintentionally.” By putting the end of the Cold War into its larger geopolitical context, Kotkin suggests that Reagan was an important, if not always crucial, factor in this much bigger story. Reagan wisely negotiated a series of arms-reduction agreements, which led to a thawing in the Cold War. Reagan succeeded by departing from the almost single-minded anticommunism that had defined him throughout his political life.

Kotkin also asserts that the explanation for the end of the Cold War is too often “Reagan-centric.” The idea that Reagan “won” the Cold War reduces the story to the myth of a lone cowboy riding to the rescue when the world was on the eve of nuclear annihilation. “Too many analysts credit President Reagan with having helped bring down the evil empire,” Kotkin writes, “by building up America’s military and bankrupting the Soviets (who were forced to respond in kind).” But Kotkin points out that the Soviets had increased military spending to “astronomical levels in the 1970s,” before Reagan took office, and that by the 1980s they had determined that his missile defense system “would never work.” Kotkin suggests that, to understand the collapse of communism, we must look “to the wider world.” The most damaging competition to the Soviet Union came, he says, not simply from Reagan’s rhetoric but also from the material and intellectual appeal of post–World War II U.S. and Western capitalism.

Was Ronald Reagan an Even Worse President Than George W. Bush? (Robert Parry, June 5, 2009, Consortium News)
Nixon, Ford and Carter won scant praise for addressing the systemic challenges of America's oil dependence, environmental degradation, the arms race, and nuclear proliferation – all issues that Reagan essentially ignored and that now threaten America's future.

Nixon helped create the Environmental Protection Agency; he imposed energy-conservation measures; he opened the diplomatic door to communist China. Nixon's administration also detected the growing weakness in the Soviet Union and advocated a policy of détente (a plan for bringing the Cold War to an end or at least curbing its most dangerous excesses).

After Nixon's resignation in the Watergate scandal, Ford continued many of Nixon's policies, particularly trying to wind down the Cold War with Moscow. However, confronting a rebellion from Reagan's Republican Right in 1976, Ford abandoned "détente."

Ford also let hard-line Cold Warriors (and a first wave of young intellectuals who became known as neoconservatives) pressure the CIA's analytical division, and he brought in a new generation of hard-liners, including Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld.

After defeating Ford in 1976, Carter injected more respect for human rights into U.S. foreign policy, a move some scholars believe put an important nail in the coffin of the Soviet Union, leaving it hard-pressed to justify the repressive internal practices of the East Bloc. Carter also emphasized the need to contain the spread of nuclear weapons, especially in unstable countries like Pakistan.

Domestically, Carter pushed a comprehensive energy policy and warned Americans that their growing dependence on foreign oil represented a national security threat, what he famously called "the moral equivalent of war."

However, powerful vested interests – both domestic and foreign – managed to exploit the shortcomings of these three presidents to sabotage any sustained progress. By 1980, Reagan had become a pied piper luring the American people away from the tough choices that Nixon, Ford and Carter had defined.

With his superficially sunny disposition – and a ruthless political strategy of exploiting white-male resentments – Reagan convinced millions of Americans that the threats they faced were: African-American welfare queens, Central American leftists, a rapidly expanding Evil Empire based in Moscow, and the do-good federal government.

Assessments of presidents are almost always, and probably inevitably, personality-driven--that meaning both the personality of the president and of the assessor. It is much more useful to begin by looking at a range of years prior to and after the presidency to see what sorts of crises emerged and what steps needed to be taken to meet them and then to look at what that president did in this regard.

For the period following the Great Depression/WWII there were really only two issues that mattered, both flowing from the achievements and mistakes of the FDR/Truman years: (1) reforming the Social Welfare state so that it would be premised on capitalism rather than socialism; and (2) ending the war with Communism, preferably, but not necessarily, by ending the USSR. FDR's erection of some for of safety net to protect against the vagaries of capitalism's downturns was long overdue--as we can see by comparing America to every other developed nation--and the triumph over the Axis powers was an unalloyed good in itself. Unfortunately, the form of the Welfare system and the decision to leave the USSR in place meant that the presidents who followed had much left to do.

With the possible exception of Dwight D. Eisenhower's minimalist presidency, none of the successors can be said to have moved the ball in the right direction until Reagan, with all but Ike moving in the wrong direction. Reagan, however, came to office with a surpassing hatred of the Cold War and especially of the threat of mutual annihilation and with a healthy skepticism about the efficacy of the Welfare State. Since he, like Ike, grasped how inherently weak the USSR and its system were, he was able to win the Cold War simply by calling them out, by rolling them back at the margins and by challenging them technologically. Between his assertions that they were toast, his successful proxy wars in Central America, Africa, and the Middle East. and the gauntlet of Star Wars, he torqued up the pressure so high that the Iron Curtain blew apart at the seams. The Left is won to give Gorbachev credit for ending Communism, but fails to understand that Gorby wanted to reform it enough to make it competitive, not euthanize it. He lost. Reagan won.

As regards the Reform of the Welfare State, Ronald Reagan was ultimately too much a child of the Depression to undertake the radical alterations that were needed, even though he may have had the political leeway to do so. He was willing to demonize big government and largely did the rhetorical paving that cleared the path for Third Way reforms, but he, unlike a Margaret Thatcher, left behind the system he inherited.

On balance, you'd have to say that his performance was awfully good.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:02 AM


Home Mechanic: Joseph Epstein, unhandyman. (Joseph Epstein, 06/15/2009, Weekly Standard)

When I was 11 years old, my parents bought a two-flat apartment building. The building had a small front and back lawn, the care of which was turned over to me. I was no more than 10 minutes on the job when I found it even more boring than hearing about your children's high SAT scores. I rushed through the rest, and returned to our apartment to let my father know I had finished. Looking around, he noticed the patches of grass I had missed, how uneven I had left the edges of the lawn where it met the pavement, all the little clumps of grass I failed to rake up. "You know," my father said, calmly, "comes another Depression, you are exactly the kind of guy they let go first."

In Chicago grammar schools in those days, girls were required to take a course in home economics, where they learned the rudiments of cooking and sewing, and boys to take a course called home mechanics to acquaint them with tools. In home mechanics, we made bookends and lamps with bowling pins or fancy wine or whisky bottles as their bases. We did a fair amount of work with something called a coping saw. Every so often we used one of the large electric power saws; this was my first and last interaction with the firm of Black & Decker, apart from the few Black & Decker haircuts I've since had.

I did not cope at all well with the coping saw, and broke its slender blades fairly often. I had no patience for careful sanding, no interest in wiring. I took no pride in my ineptitude, as if it suggested that I was cut out for higher things. Nor did I look down on people who were good at home mechanics. I vaguely admired them, but not enough, apparently, to concentrate sufficiently at improving my own skills in this line.

Living in Little Rock, Arkansas, in the early 1960s, I often met men who tuned their own cars or did their own plumbing, and, in one instance, a guy who was building his own house. My admiration was no longer vague; I wished I had their talent, which, among other things, set them free from having to worry about being overcharged for jobs any normally (oh, hell, let's bring out the word) virile man ought to be able to do on his own but also gave them a sense of independence I lacked.

...than operating a Sawzall.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:46 AM


Reagan Didn't Do It (Robert Scheer, June 3, 2009, The Nation)

It is disingenuous to ignore the fact that the derivatives scams at the heart of the economic meltdown didn't exist in President Reagan's time. The huge expansion in collateralized mortgage and other debt, the bubble that burst, was the direct result of enabling deregulatory legislation pushed through during the Clinton years. [...]

Reagan signed legislation making it easier for people to obtain mortgages with lower down payments, but as long as the banks that made those loans expected to have to carry them for thirty years they did the due diligence needed to qualify creditworthy applicants. The problem occurred only when that mortgage debt could be aggregated and sold as securities to others in an unregulated market.

...just about bundling higher risk with lower and calling it all low.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:35 AM


Thanks to our friends at FSB Associates, we've got a couple copies of Doug Stanton's Horse Soldiers to give away, just in time for Father's Day. We reviewed Mr. Stanton's
In Harm's Way

Someone finally got the president right (Rich, please e-mail your address). How about the other one to whoever guesses the state I've emailed to the Other Brother?

-REVIEW: of Horse Soldiers by Doug Stanton (Bruce Barcott, NY Times Book Review)

Doug Stanton tells the story of that brief shining moment in “Horse Soldiers,” a rousing, uplifting, Toby Keith-singing piece of work. This isn’t Afghanistan for those who enjoy (I use the word loosely) Iraq through the analytical lens of a book like “The Assassins’ Gate,” by George Packer. It’s for those who like their military history told through the eyes of heroic grunts, sergeants and captains. Think of Stephen E. Ambrose’s “Band of Brothers” or Stanton’s own best seller, “In Harm’s Way,” the story of the survivors of the cruiser Indianapolis, which sank in shark-infested waters during World War II.

The heroes of “Horse Soldiers” are members of the Army’s Fifth Special Forces Group based in Fort Campbell, Ky., an elite corps trained to be both guerrilla fighters and wartime diplomats. In the weeks after 9/11, Fifth Group soldiers scrambled to prepare for the coming war in Afghanistan. Intelligence on the Taliban, Al Qaeda and the Northern Alliance was so thin that the men resorted to old Discovery Channel shows and back issues of National Geographic. There wasn’t time to requisition supplies through the Army, so they scooped up tents at REI, ordered fleece jackets direct from the North Face and bought every Garmin eTrex GPS unit they could find.

As the soldiers stocked their kits, C.I.A. paramilitary officers slipped into northern Afghanistan and met with local warlords who, when they weren’t feuding among themselves, came together as a loosely knit anti-Taliban coalition known as the Northern Alliance. A deal was struck: a small number of Special Forces soldiers would fight alongside the Alliance, calling in precision smart-bomb airstrikes on Taliban positions.

There was only one problem. Nobody told the Special Forces guys about the horses.

-REVIEW: 'Horse Soldiers' takes you on an unforgettable ride: a review of Horse Soldiers: The Extraordinary Story of a Band of U.S. Soldiers Who Rode to Victory in Afghanistan By Doug Stanton (Don Oldenburg, USA TODAY)
In Horse Soldiers, Doug Stanton chronicles the spellbinding true-life story of the elite U.S. Army Special Forces and CIA operatives who secretly slipped into Taliban- and al-Qaeda-held territory to strike back.

Outnumbered and desperately limited on supplies and ammunition, these highly trained warriors carried out dramatic guerrilla assaults and coordinated airstrikes that in months led to the Taliban government's collapse.

The irony and basis for the title is that in an age of unmanned drone aircraft and smart bombs, this small band of heroes and their stalwart Afghan allies battled in treacherous terrain and nearly impassable mountain ridges mostly on horseback. America's opening salvo against terrorists in the 21st century, oddly enough, was an old-fashioned cavalry charge.

Stanton, author of the 2003 best seller In Harm's Way (about the sinking of the USS Indianapolis in World War II) and contributing editor at Men's Journal, writes action-packed prose. His gritty narrative is thoroughly researched and the details of military operations jarringly precise. The storytelling of this military operation is reminiscent of Stephen Ambrose's Band of Brothers and Mark Bowden's Black Hawk Down.

The book reads more like a novel than a military history.

-REVIEW: Soldiers, horses meet in Afghanistan (MIKE GLENN, Houston Chronicle)
Although vastly outnumbered by Taliban fighters and their al-Qaida allies, the Green Berets and CIA officers joined forces with Afghanistan’s Northern Alliance soldiers to topple the brutal regime that offered shelter to those responsible for sending passenger jets into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

The campaign, combining high-tech firepower and low-tech mule-pack teams, is chronicled in author Doug Stanton’s riveting work. An able military historian and contributing editor for Men’s Journal, Stanton was given remarkable access to the publicity-shy Special Forces soldiers and walked the sites where many of the harrowing battles took place.

Stanton paints a vivid (and intended) contrast between the early tactics used by the military in Afghanistan — where the presence of U.S. soldiers was downplayed — and Iraq, with its much more pronounced American footprint.

He calls the operations in Afghanistan a template for how such conflicts should be handled in the future.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:12 AM


Final series of Ashes to Ashes will 'reveal all' about Gene Hunt (Daily Telegraph, 6/08/09)

The next series of BBC1's Ashes to Ashes will finally "reveal all" about who Gene Hunt really is and what his alternative world means.

The show, written and created by Matthew Graham and Ashley Pharoah, who were also behind Life on Mars, finishes its second series on Monday night.

A third and final series of Ashes to Ashes, in which a female detective inspector named Alex Drake is transported back to the 1980s after being shot, has been commissioned for next year.

Those behind the show promised that the climax of the third series will reveal all about politically incorrect cop Hunt played by Philip Glenister in a "stunning finale".

...the Gene Genie.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:54 AM


The sword arm of Europe: Forget Iraq or Afghanistan. British foreign policy must fix its own backyard first (Anatol Lieven, June 2009, Prospect)

On a recent, endlessly delayed rail journey to Oxford I passed a military train loaded with jeeps and armoured vehicles—pretty inadequate ones too, to judge by the news from Helmand. It reminded me that Britain will soon have two aircraft carriers of impressive bulk and uncertain purpose, at a cost of £4bn. Their purpose is mystifying. The US doesn’t need us to have them; it has far more, and far bigger ones too. If they are to allow Britain to fight independently, then where and against whom? Rumoured scenarios range from the highly unlikely (a military occupation of parts of Nigeria) to the ludicrous (a British war with China). Certainly, the two carriers will not help in Afghanistan—the last time I looked at a map it does not have a coast.

The new ships will be named the Queen Elizabeth and the Prince of Wales. Given that no one seems clear how they will be paid for, or how we can afford the aircraft that sit on them, it might have been better to name them after their predecessor as the Royal Navy’s largest ship, HMS Vanguard. First designed at the start of the second world war to fight the Bismarck and Tirpitz, by the time it was finally commissioned the war had ended. It was scrapped ten years later.

Today’s carriers come from the same mixture of imperial nostalgia, blind attachment to the US alliance and failure to decide on strategic priorities.

...and leave the fighting to us. All having a British military ever does is get them into wars we have to rescue then from.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:52 AM


Man Sues Nurse For 55 Hour Erection (Javno, 6/08/09))

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:46 AM


Stephen Colbert shaves head for US troops in Iraq (KIM GAMEL, 6/06/09, Associated Press)

[T]he loudest roars came when his first guest, Gen. Ray Odierno, accepted a videotaped order from President Barack Obama to shave Colbert's head.

The towering, bald general started the job with an electric razor, although a stylist finished it off.

The back-and-forth was humorous, but it took on serious undertones as Colbert sought to cast a spotlight on the declining attention paid to the 6-year-old war in Iraq.

Colbert, who traveled to Iraq from Kuwait on Friday on board a military transport plane, has said he was spurred to make the trip when he noticed economic news coverage eclipsing reports from Baghdad.

The four shows, which were being taped in the domed marble hall at Saddam Hussein's former Al Faw Palace, will air Monday through Thursday next week at 11:30 p.m. EDT.

Claiming the war must be over because nobody's talking about it anymore, Colbert invoked the power of cable television to "officially declare we won the Iraq war."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:44 AM


Pirates Try, Fail To Hijack Libyan Tanker (Javno, 6/08/09)

A boat stopped in the Aisha's path at 2:35 a.m. and its occupants opened fire, the paper said.

"About five more boats arrived to support the first boat and shot at the tanker to force it to stop," Oea quoted the head of operations at Libya's Maritime Transport Company, Abdulhakim al-Ghazzawi, as saying. "The captain ignored their orders to stop and accelerated until he entered safe waters."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:38 AM


Obama unwittingly used the language of pan-Islamist radicals (Arif Mohammed Khan, 6/08/09, Rediff)

On the question of democracy, the president made it clear that no nation has the right to choose a system of governance for another nation. However, he stated that he will not dilute his commitment to the principle that governments must reflect the will of the governed and he shall welcome and support all elected and peaceful governments, provided they govern with respect for all their people.

The tremendous applause that greeted the remarks of the president on democracy is a powerful indication of the popular Arab desire to have a system of governance that is not only representative and accountable but ensures freedoms and liberties available in democratic societies.

It must be understood that the common man on the Arab streets is as keen and enthusiastic to have his say in the affairs of the State as anybody else. But political establishments tend to resist and suppress this democratic aspiration. Again, it is not very realistic to hope that the regimes, which deny the basic right to elect their own governments to their people, shall behave more generously in the case of minorities and women and concede their rights.

America is the oldest democracy and is perceived as a champion of democracy, but it is strange that it has all the non-democratic regimes in the region as its allies and close friends. This is one argument that has been used very effectively by America's detractors to make it unpopular among the Arab masses.

Since President Obama travelled all the way to Cairo to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims (read Arabs) and made very positive and optimistic remarks about democracy, it is imperative that his administration formulate a new strategy to keep the goodwill and positive feelings alive.

One sure method to do this is to be seen as a friend and sympathiser of the votaries of democracy and not as an ally and protector of those who suppress popular aspirations.

The Cairo speech has been described as a promise of the dawn of a new age, but one aspect of the speech is particularly disturbing. Muslims the world over are projected as one single monolithic identity, as opposed to other religious communities which are identified by their geographical or racial denominations.

Today, Islam or Muslims are not confined to any one particular geographical region; in fact more than 80 percent Muslims belong to non-Arab lands, including the US. But in President Obama's speech, a faith like Islam and a nation-State like America are placed side by side as two equivalent entities.

On the other hand, Egyptian and Lebanese religious minorities have been described by their racial denominations such as Coptic and Maronites, and not by their Christian faith.

I do not see any design behind this idiom and terminology, but it appears that President Obama has unwittingly used the language of the pan-Islamist radicals. Right from Jamaluddin Afghani to Osama bin Laden, the ideological plank of pan-Islamists has been that Muslims are not only adherents of one common religion but they constitute one single political community.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:34 AM


How the USA coped with the Catrachos (Ridge Mahoney, Jun 8, 2009 , Soccer America Daily)

Had the Americans played as dismally on the flanks as they had in Costa Rica they would have been overrun, as Pavon and Texas product Ramon Nunez repeatedly attacked the corners, and right back Mauricio Sabillion got forward on occasion as well. Costly, too, popped up out wide as well as in the middle, and the confidence and quickness the Hondurans displayed did break open the U.S. back line after they opened the scoring, and again in the final minutes after they fell behind.

In between, however, the Americans regained security in midfield and battened down the flanks. Central mids Pablo Mastroeni and Ricardo Clark shifted from side-to-side to close down space and get in tackles, but were seldom needed near the touchline, as outside backs Jonathan Bornstein and Jonathan Spector doggedly kept their inside positions and rarely allowed opponents to get behind them for a clear serve.

High balls and crosses launched by the Hondurans from midfield seldom troubled center backs Oguchi Onyewu and Carlos Bocanegra, who on more than a few occasions headed clearances right to teammates, which forced Honduras immediately to defend. When the U.S. lost possession, aside from Clint Dempsey's unforgivable gaffe on his own side of the halfway line, usually Honduras started from deep in its own part of the field.

Mastroeni and Clark were dependable enough defensively, but with Landon Donovan and Dempsey seldom able to hit final balls that forwards Jozy Altidore and Conor Casey could turn into shots, the U.S. edge in possession wasn't amounting to much. Balls from deeper positions, such as the one that Onyewu played into the penalty area, where Honduran defender Mario Beata brushed it with his left arm, caused more problems.

After Benny Feilhaber replaced Mastroeni for the second half, midfield play opened up.

Playing the ball into the middle from slightly deeper is the point.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:13 AM


The rise of British racism may be horribly close: As the June elections draw close, Fraser Nelson goes on the stump with the BNP and is struck by a troubling paradox: the less racist Britain is, the more popular this racist party becomes. As Westminster implodes, far Right politicians are posturing as the tribunes of working people (Fraser Nelson, 27th May 2009, The Spectator)

Just ten years ago, obituaries were being written for British racial nationalism. Oswald Mosley may have filled the Albert Hall in 1940, but he never won so much as a council ward at the ballot box. The National Front won two such contests, but was crushed by Thatcher in 1979 and never recovered. The British National Party had a brief victory in Isle of Dogs in 1993 but then seemed to perish. To hawk its racism in a country as tolerant as Britain seemed as futile as trying to start a coconut farm in Yorkshire. It just didn’t seem to take root.

In recent years, however, under the very noses of the apparently triumphant mainstream political class, the BNP has suddenly started to grow again — and its rise is exponential. Nine years ago it scored just 3,020 votes in England’s local elections. Last year its total was 235,000, giving the BNP 56 incumbent councillors. One such is Seamus Dunne, whom I meet outside the Dick Whittington pub in South Oxhey, a Hertfordshire housing estate built after the war. He has agreed to let me tag along with him and his fellow campaigners, to see what he calls the ‘real BNP’ — not what he regards as the caricature invented by the media.

Certainly, Mr Dunne could scarcely be more different from the stereotype of the tattooed thug. Besuited and softly spoken, he talks about taking his family to Kew Gardens and says that he wants to serve locals — ‘black or white’ — as best he can. It is a racially mixed estate, and there is no telling what the ethnicity of the voter opening the door will be. But the first, a young white man in his thirties, is a quick success. ‘You’re the guy who sorted out the rat infestation for us,’ he tells Mr Dunne. ‘You’ll get my vote. I’m BNP, and so is everyone I know.’

This is the first important point to note: there is no explicit talk of race, immigration or the death penalty (which the BNP supports). Just rats. This chap had a problem; his councillor fixed it and secured at least one vote. This is a significant and new aspect of the BNP’s strategy. Just as Lib Dems talk about holes in the road, not holes in the nation’s finances, the BNP (in spite of its nationalist identity) focuses relentlessly on the local. It targets councils with huge (normally Labour) majorities which have, for whatever reason, lost the will or capacity to campaign and govern well. The BNP then seeks to make itself useful: most recently, by sending squads to clear litter in strategic locations. It is a devious ploy: distracting public attention from the racist reality of the BNP by presenting itself as the ‘helpful party’.

As Mr Dunne continues down the road, this is his pledge. ‘I’ll work for you, the Lib-Lab con will not.’ In itself, it’s a bland and unremarkable democratic proposition. But what strikes me is that the letters BNP are not in themselves off-putting. I wonder why until we meet a lady in the next house. ‘Only ignorant or illiterate people think the BNP is about black vs white,’ she says. ‘The BNP principles are absolutely fine. The issue is about immigration — and this government is soft in letting everyone in.’ To hear this from a swing voter is disarming, to say the least. But what makes the remark so staggering is that the woman who utters it is black.

She immigrated from Jamaica aged three, and proudly considers herself British, ‘which is why I wasn’t happy when they sprayed “NF” on my car.’ Mr Dunne sympathises. ‘My parents came here when they said “no dogs, no Irish,”’ he said. ‘But you work your way up, obey the laws.’ The lady nods. The question of racism and anxiety about immigration — so often conflated in Westminster — are totally separate matters in her mind. Not only does she not regard the BNP as racist, she believes this to be a slur.

That the BNP is racist is, of course, not a matter of opinion. It has a whites-only membership policy, for example, and while it no longer supports compulsory repatriation, there are no prizes for guessing its definition of ‘indigenous population’. But there is no hint of this on the campaign trail.

...whichever group we tried keeping out last time wants to keep the next out this time.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:36 AM


Election results: Gordon Brown 'to limp on' despite voters deserting Labour: Labour share of vote below 16% (Patrick Wintour, Deborah Summers and Matthew Weaver, 8 June 2009, Guardian)

Gordon Brown will limp on like a "wounded elephant" unless Labour rebels can garner the necessary 70 signatures to force a leadership challenge today, insiders predicted as the party suffered its worst electoral result since the first world war.

In a devastating night for Labour, the party won just 15% of the popular vote, allowing the far right British National Party to clinch its first two seats in the European parliament.

Worse than expected results for the prime minister saw Labour pushed into second place by the Tories in Wales for the first time since 1918, suffering its lowest vote in Scotland since before first world war and humiliatingly finishing third to Ukip nationally.

Barroso Eyes New EU Term After Centre-Right Gains: Far-right forces won parliamentary seats in some countries, including Britain, but they and other fringe parties did less well than expected (Javno, 6/08/09)
Centre-right forces stepped up a campaign to secure a second term for Jose Manuel Barroso as European Commission president on Monday, the day after winning the most seats in a European Parliament election.

Although ruling parties were defeated in some of the countries worst hit by the global financial crisis and turnout slumped to a record low of just 43 percent, governing conservatives did well in most of the big European economies.

Barroso is the main candidate so far to lead the European Union's executive Commission, which has far-reaching powers to regulate and propose legislation. The role of Commission chief is vital in determining how the body deals with national EU capitals which often seek to resist its initiatives.

European Parliament Election Results by Country (Der Spiegel, 6/08/09)
The June 4-7 European Parliament elections delivered a setback for the European left and gains for center-right and right-wing parties across the continent. SPIEGEL ONLINE gives an overview of the results by country.

The 2009 elections to the European Parliament were marked by historically low voter turnout and victories for center-right and right-wing parties. SPIEGEL ONLINE provides a country-by-country breakdown of the election results.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:33 AM


Using Drones in the Drug War (Tim Padgett, 6/08/09, TIME)

For weeks, U.S. and Salvadoran counter-narcotics officials had been watching a boat which they suspected was ferrying drugs to and from El Salvador's Pacific coast. But to be sure, they needed a plane that could stay aloft over the ocean, undetected, long enough to get detailed surveillance imaging. So last month the Defense Department's Southern Command (Southcom) suggested this would be a good opportunity to help determine whether an unmanned air vehicle (UAV) being tested at El Salvador's Comalapa Air Base might be the future of drug interdiction.

The results were encouraging. The UAV, or drone — a wide-winged, blue-gray plane aptly called the Heron, which can stay quietly airborne for more than 20 hours and stream high-fidelity, real-time video from as high as 15,000 feet — provided officials back at Comalapa with enough to confirm that it was indeed a narco-ship (which will probably be busted soon). "This was a historic first," says Navy Commander Kevin Quarderer of Southcom's Innovation Program, "using a UAV for maritime counter-drug operations in a real-world setting, with actual targets." (Read about how drones are used in Pakistan.)

Indeed, with drones playing an increasing role in U.S. military operations — some 7,000 are in use today, up from just around 100 in the year 2000 — it only stands to reason that drug drones would soon join America's growing stealth arsenal.

Combine them with Agent Orange drops and you have a plan.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:29 AM

-VIDEO: King Lear (Great Performances, PBS)

The monumental tragedy of an old king who decides to divide his kingdom among his daughters, but imposes a love test on each to merit her portion. His youngest daughter, Cordelia, refuses to flatter him falsely, sending Lear into a rage. He withdraws her portion, exiles his best friend, and generally becomes increasingly irrational. Cordelia leaves to marry the King of France. His eldest daughters subsequently turn on him, finally tossing him out into a stormy night. In a parallel plot, Lear’s close friend Gloucester succumbs to the plot of Edmund, his bastard son, who wants the rights of a legitimate son. As this plot develops, Gloucester’s legitimate son Edgar must flee and disguise himself, as Edmund becomes sexually embroiled with Lear’s two daughters, and with them the politics of the kingdom. As Lear rails against man and nature during a violent storm on the heath, Gloucester becomes involved in an invasion from France. Betrayed by Edmund, he loses both his eyes. In this wretched state he attempts suicide, but is spared by Edgar. He then meets Lear in a reunion of madness and blindness - “reason in madness” as Edgar describes it. Next Lear reunites with Cordelia in a moment of sublime forgiveness. But the war is lost. Edmund has Cordelia hung while in prison. One daughter poisons the other, then commits suicide. Edgar kills Edmund in a duel, but not in time to save Cordelia. Lear finally dies over her dead body in grief. As one of those still alive at the end observes, “our present business is general woe.”

King Lear - Ian McKellen
Goneril - Frances Barber
Regan - Monica Dolan
Cordelia - Romola Garai
Albany - Julian Harries
Cornwall - Guy Williams
Gloucester - William Gaunt
Edgar - Ben Meyjes
Edmund - Philip Winchester
Kent - Jonathon Hyde
Fool - Sylvester McCoy

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:25 AM


Liberals to support Tory bill on crime (Susan Delacourt, Jun 08, 2009 , Toronto Star)

Liberal MPs are set to give the Conservative government help tonight in passing tough drug-crime legislation, despite the risk of a backlash at the party grassroots.

Under the bill, soon to be law, people convicted of serious drug crimes will automatically face prison terms of six months or longer. The legislation is particularly tough on any offender who traffics drugs or gets young people involved in drug crimes.

Federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson has said the tougher sentences are aimed at "serious drug traffickers, the people who are basically out to destroy our society."

Critics argue the proposed law does nothing to rehabilitate drug users and it will simply mean more crowding in prisons.

Crowding the jails is how you reduce crime.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:21 AM


Channel 4 beats BBC in race to place its archive online for free (Ellen Widdup, 08.06.09, London Evening Standard)

Channel 4 has announced plans to put its back catalogue online for viewers to watch for free.

The broadcaster will become Britain's first to offer its archived content - beating the BBC, which screens programmes for seven days after they air via its iPlayer service.

Viewers will be able to tune into episodes of Brass Eye, The Camomile Lawn and Father Ted at any time without having to buy a DVD box set.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:19 AM


The Golden State's safety net strains: California woes alter social pact (Judy Lin, 6/08/09, ASSOCIATED PRESS)

With empty pockets and maxed-out credit, California is debating whether it can continue honoring all parts of its social contract with the state's most vulnerable residents.

The state faces an unprecedented drop in tax revenue and a widening budget deficit amid the deepest recession in decades, prompting Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to propose cost-cutting steps that once seemed unthinkable.

At stake are programs for the poor, elderly and frail, placing millions of people in the nation's most populous state at risk of falling through a decades-old social safety net.

When your model has failed, switch models.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:15 AM


Obama Cabinet dispatched to relieve auto angst (Andrea Billups, June 8, 2009, Washington Times)

Grim yet resolute faces — mayors, business owners, line workers — stared back as the secretary [Gary Locke] politely fielded questions town-hall style at Dakkota Integrated Systems in Holt, which supplies interior components such as door and instrument panels for GM vehicles.

"President Obama and the administration have no intention of being involved in the day-to-day operations of GM, even though we're a major shareholder now," Mr. Locke told the crowd of about 200, gathered inside a spotless warehouse at a company that has lost employees as a result of the slumping economy and sagging auto sales.

"We need to leave that to the experts," he said. "If the federal government gets involved in the day-to-day management, including the promotion and advertisement of these great products, where does it stop?"

Even as he pushed back on future federal involvement as GM began its restructuring plan, Mr. Locke did offer one salve to this beleaguered flock of manufacturers. He promised that the Obama administration would be focused on addressing fair-trade issues for the U.S. automakers, who have long complained that U.S. trade policies have put American companies on an uneven playing field with their foreign counterparts.

If the industry is to re-emerge as competitive after the bankruptcies of powerhouses like GM and Chrysler LLC, the trade question is a key piece of the future that these stakeholders say must be addressed.

Trade protectionism would at least damage the entire economy enough that carmakers wouldn't be the poster boys for bad management.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:49 AM


Revanche (James Bowman, 6.8.09, American Prospect)

Though I don't quite know why, I've been having some trouble defining for myself just what it was I so much enjoyed about Revanche, by the Austrian director Götz Spielmann, a movie which A.O. Scott of the New York Times calls "a tidy, glum thriller that aims for a tone of sour humanism, perched just on the near edge of cynical despair." This judgment seems to me to be completely wrong, wrong in every particular. At least on the basis of its immediate effect, I would say that the film is neither tidy, glum nor a thriller, except in the sense that any movie with a plot can be called a thriller. Nowadays, even thrillers often don't bother with plots. Nobody seems to mind being whisked from one exciting moment to the next without bothering about the connections between them. This movie is therefore old-fashioned in having a plot, and a well-developed one, but the effect it produces is more thoughtful than thrilling.

And then there's "sour humanism," which corresponds to nothing I could see in the picture -- which, if anything, has a powerfully theistic subtext, though people are likely to disagree about what it means.

...than theism, which tells us the unpleasant truth about human nature? If you're on the Left the two most cynical texts in history must be Genesis and Federalist 51.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:41 AM


Victory from the saddle : a review of Horse Soldiers: The Extraordinary Story of a Band of US Soldiers Who Rode to Victory in Afghanistan By Doug Stanton (Steve Martinovich, 6/08/09, Enter Stage Right)

It is rare that fiction is just as strange as reality. Based on an 1888 Rudyard Kipling story, the 1975 movie The Man Who Would be King told the story of two ex-British soldiers who travel to Afghanistan. Armed with Martini-Henry rifles, then perhaps the best weapons technology in the world, and in concert with local tribes, they eventually take over a remote part of the nation and one declares himself the successor to Alexander the Great. Before their eventual downfall, the two have united warring tribes armed with little more than advanced technology and diplomacy.

One might be forgiven for being reminded of that movie when reading Doug Stanton's Horse Soldiers: The Extraordinary Story of a Band of US Soldiers Who Rode to Victory in Afghanistan, minus the bleak ending, of course. Stanton tells the story of handful of Special Forces soldiers who helped unite the tribes that made up the Northern Alliance and with the aid of American air power broke the back of the Taliban during the fall and winter of 2001. It's the kind of story that should inspire movies and stories in the future.

June 7, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:30 PM

JUST NORMAL BDS (via Qiao Yang):

A Slow Burn Becomes a Raging Fire: Disdain for U.S. Policies May Have Led to Alleged Spying for Cuba (Mary Beth Sheridan and Del Quentin Wilber, 6/07/09, Washington Post)

He was a courtly State Department intelligence analyst from a prominent family who loved to sail and peruse the London Review of Books. Occasionally, he would voice frustration with U.S. policies, but to his liberal neighbors in Northwest D.C. it was nothing out of the ordinary. "We were all appalled by the Bush years," one said.

What Walter Kendall Myers kept hidden, according to documents unsealed in court Friday, was a deep and long-standing anger toward his country, an anger that allegedly made him willing to spy for Cuba for three decades. [...]

"Anyone who knows him finds it baffling and finds this completely out of character," said David P. Calleo, director of European studies at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, a friend of Myers for nearly 40 years. "He has this amazing intellectual curiosity. He is open to all kinds of ideas."

Which is precisely the sort of character that leads to hatred of conformist America.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:22 PM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:18 PM

CLASS ACT (via Qiao Yang):

President Obama's French food tested by 'taster' (AFP, 6/07/09)

A US "taster" tested the food being dished up to President Barack Obama at a dinner in a French restaurant, a waiter said on Sunday.

"They have someone who tastes the dishes," said waiter Gabriel de Carvalho from the "La Fontaine de Mars" restaurant where Obama and his family turned up for dinner on Saturday night.

We can see having someone paid to clean off all the sauce they lard up their food with...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:38 AM


Forceful Words and Fateful Realities (ROD NORDLAND, 6/07/09, NY Times)

Jarret Brachman, a former West Point terrorism expert and author of a recent book, “Global Jihadism,” said the speech “was the most important strategic step we’ve taken in this war.”

“That’s why Al Qaeda is so nervous,” he said.

If the medium were the message, the contrasts could not have been more stark. The American president was polished and poised, his speech broadcast from the elegant surroundings of an ancient Arab university, and watched worldwide. Mr. bin Laden’s was on an audiotape, crackling and hard to hear, broadcast on Al Jazeera. “Osama bin Laden and Ayman Zawahiri have been reduced to a static voice on the radio, a static voice on TV and a static image and message,” Mr. Gerges says. “The message no longer resonates with Muslims the way it did in the late 90s and after 2001.”

Has the message from Al Qaeda just become fossilized, a missive from a coelacanth that no longer dares venture out of its deep sea cave, where it slakes its predatory appetites in the dark? “We have to put this in a little bit of perspective,” says Shibley Telhami, a University of Maryland professor who runs an annual poll of Arab public opinion. “Bin Laden still has some support, his intense admirers, but the real difference is that the rest of the Muslim world were embracing him out of anger toward America, and now they’re not.” The anger toward America remains, but most people have rejected Al Qaeda as well, Mr. Telhami says.

Mr. Obama’s speech referenced the future, quoted from the three major monotheistic religions, and talked about a new beginning, all delivered with his customary calm. The two voices of Al Qaeda were strident, almost violently so, in their discourse.

“Be aware that the dogs of Afghanistan have found the flesh of your soldiers to be delicious, so send thousands after thousands to them,” Mr. Zawahiri taunted Mr. Obama, according to a transcript of his audio message distributed by SITE, which monitors and translates jihadi Web sites. “America has put on a new face but its heart is full of hate.”

Mr. Gerges accidentally makes the point--the decline began on 9-11. It was W who rendered them fossils in caves.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:11 AM


Ambassador Hot Dog (DAN BARRY, 6/07/09, NY Times)

In the Swiftian world of international relations, every detail, every gesture, is fraught with meaning. One diplomat interprets the innocent sneeze of another diplomat as an insult to his mother, and off they go into Lilliputian-Blefuscudian brinksmanship.

Thankfully, the United States has developed over the years a disarming way to put its foreign guests at ease. It is to offer that most unassuming of American food items, one long associated with baseball, barbecues and occasional gastrointestinal distress. Yes: the hot dog.

In the formal language of diplomacy, perhaps, the presentation of a hot dog may say: “On behalf of the United States of America, may we offer you this tubular delight of meat, meat byproducts, curing agents and spices?” But what it really says is: “How ya doin’? Wanna beer?”

Such is the democratic charm of the hot dog.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:05 AM


Obama's poor choice for faith leader: Why did a pro-choice president appoint someone to HHS who is against abortion AND birth control? Political payback? (Frances Kissling, 6/06/09, Salon)

President Barack Obama's appointment of Alexia Kelley, founder of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, as director of the Department of Health and Human Services' Center for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives took the pro-choice movement by surprise. On Thursday, the day that news of the appointment leaked out, Marcia Greenberger, co-president of the National Women's Law Center and a quintessential Washington insider, told me that she "hadn't heard anything about it till today, and we are trying to get to the bottom of it."

What Greenberger and others will want to know is why the post, which includes oversight of the department's faith-based grant-making in family planning, HIV and AIDS and in small-scale research into the effect of religion and spirituality on early sexual behavior, has gone to someone who both believes abortion should be illegal and opposes contraception.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:55 AM


Victory In Iraq: How we got here is a matter for history. But the democratic ideal is still within reach. (Fareed Zakaria, 6/06/09, NEWSWEEK)

[A]s levels of violence declined, so did interest in the war. Once it became clear that Iraq was reasonably—just reasonably—stable and that U.S. casualties were low, Americans promptly lost interest in the war and the country. You would have to search long and far to find much coverage of Iraq now outside of a few elite publications. [...]

When the surge was announced in January 2007, I was somewhat cautious about it. I believed that more troops and a proper counterinsurgency strategy would certainly improve the security situation—I had advocated more troops from the start of the occupation—but I believed that the fundamental problem in Iraq was political discord among the country's three main sects and ethnic groups. The surge, in my view, would alleviate those tensions but also postpone the need for a solution. Only a political agreement among these groups could reach one.

I was wrong in some ways. First, the surge turned out to be a more sophisticated strategy—encompassing political outreach to the Sunnis—than I had imagined. Second, the success of the surge empowered the Baghdad government, brought Sunni rebels out from hiding and thus broke the dynamic of the civil war. Sunni militants have now been identified, their biometric data have been collected and their groups are being monitored. They cannot easily go back to jihad. The Shiite ruling elites, secure in their hold on the country, have less to gain by ethnic cleansing and militia rule. An adviser to surge commander Gen. David Petraeus told the reporter Nir Rosen that the civil war in Iraq would end when the Sunnis knew that they'd lost and the Shiites knew that they'd won. Both now seem to be true.

...is directly proportional to one's failure to comprehend that the war was about empowering the Shi'ite majority.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:15 AM


Win Over Honduras Keeps U.S. on Track: USA 2, Honduras 1 (Steven Goff, 6/07/09, Washington Post)

With their first comeback victory in a World Cup qualifier in 24 years, the Americans (3-1-1) kept pace with first-place Costa Rica (4-1) in the six-team group that offers three automatic berths in next year's tournament in South Africa. Halfway through the 10-game schedule, the U.S. team will take a break from qualifying by playing in the Confederations Cup this month against the likes of Brazil and Italy. They'll resume the World Cup bid in August with a road match against Mexico, the group's co-favorite that has lost three of four after falling in El Salvador on Saturday. [...]

The Hondurans seized the lead after Clint Dempsey's giveaway in midfield. Wilson Palacios took advantage of space and set up Costly, who smashed a 25-yard shot just beyond goalkeeper Tim Howard's reach and into the lower left corner.

The goal marked the third time in the past four qualifiers that the Americans confronted a deficit in the first 15 minutes.

"It's concentration, it's decisions early in the game," Bradley said. "At the higher levels, you can't keep putting yourself in that hole."

But the Americans began to generate opportunities. After Bocanegra and Conor Casey missed chances, Donovan converted his second penalty kick in two games. Defender Mario Beata slapped down Oguchi Onyewu's through ball destined for Donovan deep in the box. Mexican referee Mauricio Morales awarded the penalty and probably should've red-carded Beata for disrupting a clear scoring opportunity. Instead, he showed a yellow.

Donovan's attempt was driven with velocity and direction, rocketing over goalkeeper Noel Valladares and into the upper right side for his U.S.-record 39th goal in 110 appearances.

The addition of Benny Feilhaber boosted the U.S. midfield effort after halftime and the Americans dominated possession. On the go-ahead goal, Donovan served a corner kick to the far side, where Dempsey won a header and directed the ball down in the six-yard box. Bocanegra pounced on the opportunity and scored with a diving header for his 11th career goal.

While it is necessary to blame Coach Bradley for fielding some dubious lineups and his seeming inability to change his gameplan during the action--as Wednesday--this set made much more sense for the US. Drifting Donovan out wider gave him some more room to operate--though his crosses get blocked ridiculously often. Casey (standing in for Brian Ching) and Altidore made for a powerful presence in front of the goal--though their first touches were rancid. Putting the Jonathan's--Spector and Bornstein--on the back-line seemed to settle Bocanegra and Onyewu, who stayed in position better on defense and went forward with more confidence on offense. And Feilhaber was a revelation. It would be fine to play the two defensive midfielders--Ricardo Clark and Pablo Mastroeni--in the center if you then put Feilhaber (or Dempsey) in a position between them and the forwards, a la Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard.

U.S. Soccer Keeps Searching for a True Home Game (GEORGE VECSEY, 6/07/09, NY Times)

Good for the United States officials for daring to put the game in a showcase stadium like this. Sunil Gulati, the president of the U.S. Soccer Federation, who teaches economics at Columbia University, can dabble in probabilities and demographics. He committed to playing Honduras in Chicago, which was listed as 26 percent Hispanic according to the 2000 census.

By choosing its spots carefully, the United States has not lost to a regional opponent at home in 53 straight matches, going back to a loss to Honduras in 2001. They have won 43 and drawn 10, including 14 World Cup qualifying matches.

Although many of the Latinos in Chicago are of Mexican descent, Gulati did not think Mexican fans would be a major factor because their national team’s game in San Salvador would be available on television.

“We beat Mexico in the Gold Cup final here,” Tim Howard, the United States goalkeeper, said Friday, referring to the 2-1 victory in 2007 in front of 60,000 fans.

Howard praised the red-clad Sam’s Army, the United States boosters who follow the national team to all continents, and added, “We thrive in front of big crowds and big environments.”

There is a history of American players feeling like foreigners on American soil. In 1985, the United States scheduled a vital World Cup qualifier against Costa Rica for a small college football field in Torrance, Calif. An hour before the match, several thousand Costa Ricans came over the hill, waving banners and chanting.

The United States lost, 1-0, and a young American player plaintively asked the American coach, Alkis Panagoulias, when the United States would ever play a home game. His response was, “Never.”

That is not exactly true, since the United States does well against Latin countries in Foxborough, but regional qualifying matches remain a challenge in most major cities, including R.F.K. Stadium in Washington.

On Sept. 1, 2001, the United States dared to play Honduras at R.F.K., and the crowd of 54,282 sounded decidedly pro-Honduran, as their players kicked the Americans around during a 3-2 victory.

Since then, the federation has put the first game of the final qualifying round in 2001 and 2009 in cold, blustery Columbus, Ohio, and was rewarded both times with a 2-0 victory. Mexico has its own version of atmospheric difficulty. It is called Azteca Stadium, and the Americans will travel there on Aug. 12.

U.S. overcomes Honduras in World Cup qualifier (ADAM BEASLEY, 6/07/09, MiamiHerald.com)
Midway through the first half, the United States settled down, and the offense started to flow. Three times in 13 minutes, the Americans had a great scoring chance -- with their best coming in the 20th minute, when a free kick by Donovan found Bocanegra's foot, unabated in front of the net. But Bocanegra wasn't ready for the pass.

But late in the half, the home team finally was rewarded for its intensity. In the 41st minute, a pass from Oguchi Onyewu sailed into the box, kicked up and struck Mario Beata's hand.

Donovan took the penalty kick, which he converted with a goal to the upper-right corner. The goal was his 11th in World Cup qualifying, breaking Brian McBride's U.S. record.

In the 68th minute, the Americans finally grabbed the lead. Donovan delivered a corner kick to the far post, which Dempsey redirected with a header to Bocanegra, who knocked it past goalkeeper Noel Valladares.

The Americans were without major contributors Michael Bradley (yellow card suspension), Frankie Hejduk (groin) and Michael Ching (hamstring).

Bob Bradley completely overhauled his lineup after the Americans' lost to Costa Rica, inserting four new starters and moving defender DaMarcus Beasley to the bench after a shaky outing at left back.

Fresh Faces Help U.S. Solidify Squad: The U.S.’s revamped lineup played quite well on Saturday night and the performances of some of the fresh faces could be a big boost for Bob Bradley’s squad going forward. (Goal.com, Jun 7, 2009)
One of the heroes on the night was Houston Dynamo midfielder Ricardo Clark, who played what can only be described as an inspired match against one of the most dynamic midfield tandems in the CONCACAF region.

“They scored on us in the first half, but I think we had the better of play and I think a lot of it started with me and Pablo (Mastroeni),” Clark said after the match.

The pairing of Mastroeni and Clark was one that many pundits would’ve questioned had it not been successful, but the two MLS veterans did well in keeping Honduras from building through the middle, and as a result the visitors were reduced to sending hopeful long balls forward throughout long stretches of match.

“I thought we did well with making it hard for them to play in the center of the field, cutting off passing lanes and making it solid in the midfield,” the Furham University product said.

With the match level at the half, Mastroeni, who played the full 90 minutes in Costa Rica and was showing signs of fatigue, was brought off in favor of Benny Feilhaber. Like Clark, Feilhaber was making his return to first team action after an extended layoff, and the two seemed to fall into step rather quickly.

“In the second half, Benny is a little more dynamic going forward, so I think that helped us out a lot to be successful,” Clark said of the change.

Centerback Oguchi Onyewu also hailed the play of the midfielder in front of him noting that they cleaned up a lot of the trash in front of him and Carlos Bocanegra.

“I think defensively our center midfield put out a lot of fires so it made it easy on our center backs throughout the game,” the Standard Liege star said.

Onyewu was also positive about the performances of his new defensive partners Jonathan Spector and Jonathan Bornstein, crediting the two with stepping in a filling a vital roll.

“I think both Jonathans played very solid,” Onyewu said. “They stepped in when we needed them most and I really have nothing negative to say about their play tonight.”

The quality performances out of all of the fresh faces will have an added value for Bradley’s squad going forward. The team will fly out of Chicago on Monday with the final destination being South Africa and the Confederations Cup’s group of death, which includes Brazil, Italy, and Egypt.

US Rebounds With 2-1 Win Over Honduras: Bob Bradley’s players put in a much improved effort and walked out of Soldier Field 2-1 winners on Saturday night. (Goal.com, Jun 6, 2009)
Benny Feilhaber was brought on at the half to replace Mastoreni, but it was the only change made by either side during the break.

Yet it was Honduras who opened on the front foot, earning a corner that nearly led to a goal in the opening minutes of the half. But the U.S. defense held strong and the match quickly settled into a back and forth struggle in the middle of the park.

Dempsey got the first great look in the 61st, when a ball from Feilhaber found him unmarked at the back post, but simply put, the finish was lacking and the visitors escaped still level.

The match would take a turn in the 69th when the U.S. finally took the lead off of a corner. The ball in from Donovan found Dempsey at the back post. Dempsey nodded down in front of goal and a diving Carlos Bocanegra poked it home with his head.

The U.S. continued to hold the ball well, a stark contrast to Wednesday’s fiasco, and the talented Hondurans were forced to rely on balls over the top in search of Costly.

Adu now a star who fell to earth (LINDA ROBERTSON, June 7, 2009, NEWS OK)
Adu, an attacking midfielder, might get a chance in Saturday’s game against Honduras in Chicago or the Confederations Cup in South Africa. He must capitalize with more consistency and an all-around game, said Peter Nowak, who coached him at D.C. United and the Beijing Olympics. Nowak gave Adu tough love, suspending him as a 15-year-old when he complained about playing time and explaining the brutal realities of European soccer. Nowak knows. He began his pro career as a 15-year-old in Poland.

"I told him what we do here is like kindergarten,” said Nowak, just hired as coach of the MLS Philadelphia Union. "In Europe, the fans are not polite, the coaches are tough. The teams are run like huge companies. They buy you and they just wait. If you don’t work out, they sell you. For many American players it’s still a big lesson to learn.”

Yet Americans are learning. Tim Howard has become a star goalkeeper and Clint Dempsey a co-scoring leader in England. Oguchi Onyewu has won titles in Belgium. Michael Bradley is succeeding in the Bundesliga. Of the 37 players in the 2009 U.S. pool, 25 played overseas this season, proof that homegrown players are winning international respect.

Adu can’t blame his manager in Monaco or his size (he’s generously listed as 5-8) — DeMarcus Beasley also is short and even slighter. Nor can he blame the child star trap.

"Maybe sometimes it was too much, but Freddy loved the spotlight,” Nowak said. "He needs to look deep inside and ask, ’Where am I going?’ It’s not gaining weight and looking like Dwight Howard but how he presents himself on the field with his tactics, vision and imagination. It’s not back heels, scissor-kicks and ESPN highlights but fitting in with a team. It’s not about playing time but survival instincts.

"Excuses are baloney. When you got a chance to sing, sing like Luciano Pavarotti. The doors are open for him.”

Where is Adu going? Let’s hope not back to MLS. Landon Donovan, who struggled in Germany, took the easy route home and has been a domestic star but is left with the nagging question of what he might have been in Europe, the true proving ground.

Life moved so fast for Adu that it now seems frustratingly slow. No longer a phenom, he can still be a phenomenal player.

Bocanegra gives U.S. Soccer head room in Cup qualifier (Filip Bondy, June 7th 2009, NY Daily News)
Starting five players from MLS and four with fewer than 20 caps, this was hardly the lineup envisioned by officials when the qualifying cycle began last year with such great optimism.

The U.S. roster was strapped by a combination of injuries, rust, yellow cards and fatigue. While Honduras entered the match after full rest and preparation in South Florida, the Americans were coming off that loss in San Jose with little time to regain composure or vigor.

Bradley tightened his formation and made four lineup changes. He went with two forwards, Conor Casey and Jozy Altidore, dropping Donovan back to midfield. DaMarcus Beasley and Marvell Wynne were benched to start the match. In their place on the defensive line were Jonathon Spector from West Ham United and Jonathan Bornstein of Chivas USA. Bradley also tried Ricardo Clark of the Houston Dynamo in place of his own son, Michael, who was suspended with two yellows.

Clark was effective, clearing one ball off the line and another one on a delicate sliding tackle. The other newcomers were less impressive.

The best thing about Spector and Dempsey is that they're always looking to play the ball in front of the goal where it might go in, something that seems to come from playing in the EPL.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:09 AM


Lebanon queues up to vote (The National, June 07. 2009)

A 100-year-old woman was carried up a long flight of steps today to join the queue at a polling station in Lebanon, where voters have flown in from as far away as Brazil to ensure they have say in the future of the divided nation.

But most people just ensured they woke up early to vote in a fiercely contested general election that could see an alliance led by the Shiite Hizbollah defeat the current ruling Western-backed coalition.

“I came to vote to do away with the current leaders,” said Christelle, a 21-year-old university student voting in Bikfaya, a Christian town in the mountains north-east of Beirut. “The new parliament should strive to help Lebanon evolve and end foreign intervention in our country.” [...]

Polls opened at 6am but many rose at dawn, aiming to be first in line to cast their ballot for their choice of candidate in the 128-seat parliament which is equally divided between Christians and Muslims.

By midday thousands of people were queuing outside the 5,200 polling stations in 26 districts, overwhelming the authorities who said they had not expect such an early turnout.

From early morning convoys of buses and cars poured into the port of Tripoli, Lebanon’s second largest city where outside one station around 300 women were seen waiting to vote.

Mr Aoun, who voted in the southern suburbs, complained of overcrowding and a failure to ensure smooth voting. “The authorities did not take the proper measures. It is overcrowded, but I urge voters to be patient because this is their day,” he said.

The vote is taking place for the first time in one day rather than over a month, and the authorities appeared overwhelmed by the turnout.

“We expected big crowds but not this early in the day,” a senior security official said three hours after polling began.

The interior minister Ziad Baroud urged patience. “I don’t understand how they are willing to line up for hours to get a visa at a foreign embassy and can’t wait in line to vote,” he said.

Lebanon Votes in Closely-Watched Election (AP, 07/06/2009)
A steady stream of vehicles headed south, north or east from Beirut to outlying parts of the country early Sunday, a weekend here, carrying voters to hometowns. Some vehicles had flags of political groups fluttering to show loyalty.

Voters lined up outside polling stations in government buildings and public schools across the country after polls opened. There are some 3.2 million eligible voters out of a population of 4 million. Early unofficial returns were expected late Sunday and official results as early as Monday afternoon.

Army troops in armored carriers and in trucks took up positions on major highways to ensure peaceful voting. Authorities have deployed some 50,000 soldiers and police.

President Michel Suleiman was among the early voters, casting his ballot in his hometown of Amchit on the coast north of Beirut.

"Democracy is a blessing that distinguishes Lebanon in the Middle East, and we must preserve it," he told reporters.

...is that the turnout will put paid to the notion that the Shi'a are a minoroity or even just a plurality.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:04 AM


Beyond oil: a Switzerland in the sands: Petro-dollars are not enough for Qatar: as the west struggles, the reserved and complex emirate is turning to finance. (Ruth Sunderland, 6/07/09, The Observer)

It's reality TV, but not as we know it. While we have been gripped by the rise and fall of Susan Boyle on Britain's Got Talent, viewers in Qatar are tuning in to Stars of Science, a new reality show beamed across the Arab world, where brainy youngsters compete to produce the best invention.

Among the hopefuls is Hashem al-Sada, a 22-year-old Qatari who is not a star on YouTube, but has devised a tent fitted with solar panels for electricity generation. The show has deliberately eschewed the cruelty of booting out losing candidates: instead, they are invited to team up with successful competitors.

Stars of Science encapsulates the huge faith Qatar puts in research and innovation; the contrast between it and our version of reality TV also says something about the arrogance of assuming western cultural values are automatically superior, though that's another story.

It is not just the TV that is different in Doha. Flying from a downbeat London into the vast, pristine international air terminal is like arriving in another world. The commercial property market in the UK is on its knees, but in the West Bay business district gleaming towers are springing up in the blistering 50C heat. They bear witness to the determination to reduce Qatar's dependence on oil and gas by building a sort of Canary Wharf in the desert - only without the excessive bonuses and the ruinous risk-taking.

While Gordon Brown's grip on government has been weakened by the crunch and the MPs' expenses scandal, the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa al-Thani, does not have to deal with the inconvenience of an electorate and has been able to press quietly ahead with plans to diversify the economy.

Dr Tidu Maini is executive chairman of the Qatar Science and Technology Park, set up to commercialise research in energy, the environment, healthcare and IT; he recently established an experimental facility with Qatari company GreenGulf to study solar-to-electricity conversion methods. "Instead of putting our money into a solar company in the UK or Germany, we are investing in our own country," he says. "There is nobody doing what we are doing in a comprehensive and strategic way."

With a dry smile, he adds: "But it's easy for us because we are a small country and don't have a corrupt parliament."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:01 AM


Obama 'Is Aiming at the Right Things': In a SPIEGEL interview, former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, 65, discusses the dramatic situation in Pakistan, where army troops are fighting Islamist extremists in the Swat Valley, his people's ambivalent relationship with the United States and his country's failures in combating the Taliban. (Der Spiegel, 6/07/09)

SPIEGEL: Pakistan is in a major state of crisis. Close to 2.5 million people have fled the areas of fighting in the northwest and the Swat Valley. There are attacks almost daily. Is Pakistan on the verge of collapse?

Musharraf: This is wrong. Nothing can happen to Pakistan as long as the armed forces are intact and strong. Anyone who wants to weaken and destabilize Pakistan just has to weaken the army and our intelligence service, ISI, and this is what is happening these days. Lots of articles have been written claiming that Pakistan will be divided, that it will fall apart or become Balkanized. I personally feel there is some kind of conspiracy going on with the goal of weakening our nation.

SPIEGEL: Who do you believe is behind this conspiracy?

Musharraf: I won't tell you exactly because then you will ask me for evidence. I can only tell you that India, for example, has 16 insurgencies going on and nobody is making a big thing out of it.

...the idea that either is done devolving is counterhistorical.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:59 AM


Anything goes in Miami Beach, except Mr. Clucky (AP, 6/07/09)

Miami Beach tolerates all kinds of eccentricity, but the south Florida playground of the rich and famous draws the line at a bicycle riding rooster named Mr. Clucky.

The white bird who perches on his owner's bike has become a favorite subject of tourist photos. But he's been ordered out of town for his cacophonous crowing every day at 6 a.m.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:57 AM


Pakistanis Avenge Mosque Blast, Attack Taliban (AP, 07/06/2009)

Hundreds of Pakistanis banded together and attacked Taliban strongholds in a troubled northwestern region to avenge a deadly suicide bombing at a local mosque, a top government official said Sunday.

The incident Saturday underscored a swing in the national mood toward a more anti-Taliban stance — a shift that comes as suicide attacks have surged and the military wages an offensive against the Taliban in the Swat Valley.

Some 400 villagers from neighboring Upper Dir district, where a suicide bomber killed 33 worshippers at a mosque in the Haya Gai area on Friday, formed a militia and attacked five villages in the nearby Dhok Darra area, said Atif-ur-Rehman, the district coordination officer.

The citizens' militia has occupied three of the villages since Saturday and is trying to push the Taliban out of the other two. Some 20 houses suspected of harboring Taliban were destroyed, he said. At least four militants were killed, he said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:53 AM


Islamist Urges Al Qaeda to Open Up to Obama Offer (Javno, 6/07/09)

A leader of an Islamist group that waged an insurgency in Egypt in the 1990s called on Saturday for al Qaeda and the Taliban to consider an opening offered by the U.S. president and call a halt to attacks on U.S. civilians.

Essam Derbala, a member of the leadership council of Al-Gama'a Al-Islamiya, or Islamic Group, made the appeal after President Barack Obama said in Cairo on Thursday he wanted a "new beginning" in ties between Washington and the Muslim world. [...]

"I call on the Taliban of Afghanistan and Pakistan and al Qaeda to look at this solution and put the American side to a real test of the extent of its sincerity in achieving peace with the Muslim world," Derbala told Reuters.

"I consider this a chance to reveal the truth about Barack Obama before the people," he said, adding these organisations should open up to talks with the United States and declare they have "no need to kill American civilians".

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:48 AM


Palin helps N.Y. town laud Alaska’s patron (AP, 6/06/09)

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin set aside politics only briefly Saturday to help Auburn officials celebrate their inaugural Founder's Day and raise money for a museum honoring William Seward, the 19th-century U.S. secretary of state who acquired Alaska for the United States.

More than 20,000 people turned out to see the former Republican vice presidential candidate lead a parade through downtown Auburn and sign a proclamation on the steps of City Hall honoring Seward as "the one person most responsible for Alaska."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:08 AM


Meteorites may have brought building blocks of life to Earth: A British research team suggests that a massive bombardment billions of years ago delivered enough water and carbon dioxide to create the conditions for life to form. (John Johnson Jr., June 7, 2009, LA Times)

A massive bombardment of meteorites billions of years ago could have brought in enough water and carbon dioxide to jump-start the chemistry that let the Earth develop into the garden spot of our solar system.

By studying meteorites and other evidence from this bombardment, a team of researchers at Imperial College in England has calculated that the meteorites could have carried in as much as 10 billion tons of water vapor and carbon dioxide to the young Earth every year for millions of years.

That amount of water and carbon dioxide would have been enough to set off a greenhouse effect that eventually made the Earth warm and wet enough to harbor plants and creatures.

June 6, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:14 PM


Anatomy of a Cabinet coup: how Blairite ministers tried to remove Brown: The full story of last week's plot by a group of senior ministers to remove Gordon Brown from Downing Street can be told for the first time. (Patrick Hennessy and Melissa Kite, 06 Jun 2009, Daily Telegraph)

The background to the plot began less than two years ago, when Mr Brown he took over from Tony Blair. He offered Government jobs to a number of leading supporters of the former prime minister in a bid to heal the damaging divisions of the old TB-GB wars that had scarred Mr Blair's premiership. Many of those who accepted – including James Purnell, David Miliband, Hazel Blears, John Denham and Caroline Flint – did so despite their profound doubts over Mr Brown's suitability as Prime Minister.

As time went on – and Mr Brown's time at Number 10 lurched from crisis to crisis – those doubts grew. Last summer Mr Miliband had the chance to strike against Mr Brown after writing a provocative newspaper article, but failed to so.

As the months passed and Labour plummeted still further in the polls the grumbling went on. Whenever members of this loose grouping, which also included other ministers and former ministers, met there was rarely any other subject under discussion than Mr Brown and his failings.

Last week, with key county council and European elections looming and the Telegraph's investigation into MPs' expenses still setting nerves jangling at Westminster, Mr Brown's Cabinet opponents realised they had reached their "now or never" moment.

They knew the Prime Minister would seek to reassert his battered authority with a Cabinet reshuffle in which he wished to remove Alistair Darling from the Treasury and replace him with his protégé Ed Balls, the Children's Secretary, a figure of intense suspicion among Blairites.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:29 PM


Matchnight: USA-Honduras (Steve Goff, 6/06/09, Washington Post)

Earlier today, Australia, Japan and South Korea qualified for the 2010 World Cup. After Wednesday's stinker at Costa Rica, the USA only wishes it were that close to securing a ticket to South Africa next summer. With the next match at Azteca in August, a tie or victory is vital tonight (Kickoff: 8:27 ET; ESPN, Galavision).

I've heard some interesting early rumblings about the USA starting lineup. We won't know definitively until around 7:30 ET, but one contact tells me that left back Jonathan Bornstein, right back Jonathan Spector, defensive midfielders Ricardo Clark and Pablo Mastroeni, and newly recalled striker Conor Casey are all in the lineup. It's probably safe to assume that Tim Howard, Oguchi Onyewu, Carlos Bocanegra, Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore are the others. Let's see if that XI comes to fruition.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:53 PM


Where Voices Become Instruments Of Soul (Weekend Edition, 6/06/09, NPR)

Many people know about Naturally 7, an acclaimed a cappella septet, from watching a YouTube video in which the musicians perform in the Paris Metro during rush hour. The group has toured with Michael Buble and performed for Prince Charles and Quincy Jones. Naturally 7 recently visited NPR's Studio 4A for a performance and interview with Scott Simon.

The group's members — who have trained their voices to mimic various instruments, including bass guitar, drums, harmonica, flute and baritone horn — met in New York City. Brothers Roger and Warren Thomas founded the group, while the remaining members found their way to each other gradually.

At first, the band performed standard a cappella fare. Later, its members discovered that each had a talent for mimicking instruments.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:50 PM


A german scandal, a killer spy (Robert Fulford, 6/06/09, National Post)

The accepted history of violent left-wing radicalism in 1970s Germany suggests that it began, like the First World War, with a single killing. On June 2, 1967, during a demonstration against the Shah of Iran’s visit to West Berlin, a policeman named Karl-Heinz Kurras, supposedly a right-wing gun collector, shot an unarmed student. Supported by his union and much of the press, Kurras successfully claimed self-defence. He rose to detective chief inspector before retiring in 1987.

To many Germans this was an obvious case of gross official injustice. It blossomed into a myth that fascism controlled the Federal Republic of Germany, a myth that later became the political background music for the New German Cinema of the 1970s, particularly Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s films. German students adopted this German cause while campaigning against the Vietnam war. East Germany, a police state itself, did all it could to publicize neo-Nazi strains in the West.

But now, two generations later, Germans have awakened to a startling reality: The files of the East German secret police, the Stasi, reveal that Kurras was on their payroll as a spy. Does this mean he killed on assignment? Was he part of a communist plot to destabilize West Germany? One early terrorist group, the Second of June Movement, took its name from the date of the killing. Stefan Aust’s recent book, Baader-Meinhof: The Inside Story of the R.A.F. (Oxford), describes what came next — dozens of murders, many bank robberies and the bombing of police stations, department stores and American bases.

The main terrorist gang named itself the Red Army Faction but the newspapers preferred “Baader-Meinhof gang,” after Andreas Baader, a drug-addicted sociopath with a record in petty crime, and Ulrike Meinhof, an intellectual who dreamt up class-struggle jargon (a bank robbery was an “expropriation action”). Privately she apologized to fellow terrorists for her middle-class origins and, during a Maoist exercise in self-criticism, called herself a “hypocritical bourgeois bitch.”

Like the Black Panthers in America, the German terrorists appealed to romantic leftists.

Meanwhile, when the American Left realized how overwhelmingly the public supported authorities gunning down the radicals it effectively ended the movement.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:33 PM


Little Pitchers (Letters, June 7, 2009, Boston Globe)

During the recent Yankee visit to Fenway I watched a game on TV with my 9-year-old son, Michael (we're both for the Sox), and reviewed the names of a few players. When number 20 came up to bat, I told him the player's name was Kevin Youkilis. Michael said he looked as if he belonged in a story about Jesus. When I asked him why, he said, "Because he has a beard and he has that name, you know, Eucharist." Well, at least I know he's paying attention in church.

Carol Dorion Mahar

Stratford, Connecticut

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:27 PM


A Professor Throws Curveballs a Curve (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, 6/06/09)

“There’s something physical about it and something illusory about it,” the Bucknell University professor Arthur Shapiro said.

A die-hard Mets fan well versed in the field of visual sciences, Shapiro has studied curves from every angle, and he reached the same conclusion as many other experts.

“They look like they jump or break or do all these funky things, but they don’t,” he said. “The idea that the bottom falls out isn’t so.”

He added: “I’m not saying curveballs don’t curve. I emphasize that, yes, they curve. They just do so at a more gradual rate. Instead of making a sudden hook, they would form a really big circle.”

That might have pleased Dizzy Dean. He had a favorite line for those who doubted the ball moved at all.

Dean liked to say, “Stand behind a tree 60 feet away and I’ll whomp you with an optical illusion!” Shapiro, however, offers a new theory on why hitters might think a ball bends so drastically: The eye exaggerates the break.

Shapiro said the brain processes objects it sees in peripheral vision differently than things it observes looking straight on. So a batter tracking a pitch from the corners of his eyes might throw himself a curve.

To illustrate his point, Shapiro presented a tantalizing design that recently was judged the world’s best visual illusion by a group of neuroscientists and psychologists.

It depicts a spinning ball that quickly changes direction, depending at which angle it is viewed. Straight on, it appears to simply drop; from the side, it seems to veer.

“I’m not saying this is it,” Shapiro said. “It’s a hypothesis.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:30 PM


Kazakhstan v England: Steven Gerrard revels on centre stage (Henry Winter, 6/06/09, Daily Telegraph)

If England are to shine next summer, Capello knows he will rely heavily on Rooney and Gerrard. Technically adept, innately adventurous, the pair share Capello's obsession with not giving away the ball. To an extent, Gerrard and Rooney are forces of nature, best when emulating the street football of their youth, when invited to express God-given talents. So admiring of this aptitude, Capello seeks to construct the ideal platform for such performers.

The shrewd Italian tried two systems on Saturday night, a first-half version of 4-4-2 with Rooney playing off Emile Heskey and Gerrard mainly left before changing to 4-2-3-1. Only then did England fully seize control. Although Gerrard actually delivered his most destructive passes before the break, angling them in from the flank to fashion two goals, Liverpool's captain clearly preferred being more central to the action, raiding forward in his club role, charging into the box to good effect in the second period.

Gerrard famously refers to left-midfield work as "the graveyard shift''. Capello views it as a starting position, a launch pad for attack yet England's No 11 could have been forgiven for wincing in frustration early on as long balls from John Terry, then Glen Johnson flew aimlessly over his head.

For a while, England's tactics were a mess, neither Rooney nor Gerrard settling, neither able to impose their game. Clearly worried, Capello took up residence on the edge of his technical area, indicating his displeasure. Slowly, England weathered the storm. Slowly, technical class came to the fore. Soon, Gerrard and Rooney were swapping positions, Gerrard moving inside, Rooney selflessly darting wide. Soon, they were combining, a one-two brimming with touch and speed culminating in Rooney firing wide.

Even when not completely on top of his game, the Manchester United striker is always worth watching because his qualities are so many. His awareness of colleagues' movement was seen in one magical pass to Ashley Cole. His persistence was embodied when he hunted down Alexandr Mokin, pressurising the Kazakh keeper into a hasty clearance that ended with Heskey striking the post.

Gerrard started gliding into territory where he does most damage, collecting the ball and looking to release Rooney through the middle or Cole down the left.

Your two best stacked down the middle and some quick buggers on the flanks.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:25 PM


Nominee Pulls Out as Role at CIA Is Studied: Interrogations of Suspects Are Cited (Peter Finn and Walter Pincus, 6/06/09, Washington Post)

A longtime CIA official chosen by President Obama to be the intelligence chief at the Department of Homeland Security withdrew from consideration yesterday after it became apparent that senators examining his nomination planned to scrutinize his role in the agency's interrogation of terrorism suspects.

Philip Mudd, a former deputy director at both the CIA's Office of Terrorism Analysis and the National Counterterrorism Center, was scheduled to appear next week before the Senate as the nominee for undersecretary of intelligence and analysis at Homeland Security. [...]

Over the Memorial Day recess, Mudd met with senior staff members of the Homeland Security panel whose interest was primarily how he would handle issues of intelligence sharing with state and local police units. When, near the end of a two-hour session, they went over Mudd's CIA positions from 2001 to 2005, it became apparent that questions about harsh interrogations, renditions and allegations that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had links to al-Qaeda would have to be explored, according to a person at the session who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to discuss the matter.

"Since he was deputy director of the counterterrorism center, he was going to be asked whether interrogation produced useful intelligence, and if it didn't, why didn't he stop it?" the source said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:14 PM


Sweeping losses as Labour suffers voters' brutal verdict (Hélène Mulholland and Martin Wainwright, 6/06/09, guardian.co.uk)

Voters delivered a brutal verdict to Labour yesterday, as the party lost control of all its remaining ­English county councils in Thursday's voting.

Staffordshire, Derbyshire and ­Nottinghamshire fell out of Labour's hands for the first time in 28 years, and Lancashire for the first time since 1989 – all to the Tories.

With 32 of the 34 local authority results declared, the Conservatives had control of 28 councils, and had won an additional 230 seats and nine more councils, including Devon and Somerset from the Liberal Democrats, and the previously hung Wiltshire and Warwickshire.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:16 AM


Big test for Iranian democracy: Iran boasts that it is the most democratic country in the Middle East. It's a claim worth examining, as the presidential election approaches. (Jon Leyne, 6/06/09, BBC News)

No candidate who challenges the basic tenets of the Islamic Republic would be allowed to stand, even though there are plenty of Iranians who might vote for them.

At the same time, none of those disqualified by the Guardian Council was seen as a serious contender in any case.

And the election of President Mohammad Khatami in 1997, and of President Ahmadinejad in 2005, were both unexpected.

So if people behind the scenes are trying to fix the election, they are either not very good at it, or they are afraid to be seen to be going too strongly against the will of the people.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:57 AM


Birmingham City close in on Oguchi Onyewu deal (Andy Walker, 6/06/09, Birmingham Mail)

OGUCHI Onyewu appears to be close to becoming a Birmingham City player. [...]

An article that appeared on the Belgian club’s official website at the end of last week suggested that Onyewu was set to sign a three-year contract at St Andrew’s.

The piece, dated May 29, read: “As we told you exclusively in yesterday’s tenth edition of Standard, Oguchi Onyewu is on his way to the Premier League with newly-promoted Birmingham City.”

It continued: “More and more, it appears that England and more precisely Birmingham will be his new home in Europe. The manager Alex McLeish, according to details on the other side of the (English) channel, has made him a priority considering his status as a free agent. The two parties are close to a final agreement and a three-year-old contract could be signed this weekend.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:49 AM


Airbus Noted Speed Data Problems Before Crash (Javno, 6/05/09)

Airbus had detected faulty speed readings on its A330 jets ahead of last week's crash of an Air France airliner, and had advised clients to replace a part, French air investigators said on Saturday.

But the head of France's air accident agency (BEA) said it was too soon to say if problems with speed sensors were in any way responsible for the disaster over the Atlantic Ocean, which cost the lives of all 228 passengers and crew.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:39 AM


NASA Study Acknowledges Solar Cycle, Not Man, Responsible for Past Warming: Report indicates solar cycle has been impacting Earth since the Industrial Revolution (Michael Andrews, June 4, 2009 , Daily Tech)

A study from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland looking at climate data over the past century has concluded that solar variation has made a significant impact on the Earth's climate. The report concludes that evidence for climate changes based on solar radiation can be traced back as far as the Industrial Revolution.

Past research has shown that the sun goes through eleven year cycles. At the cycle's peak, solar activity occurring near sunspots is particularly intense, basking the Earth in solar heat. According to Robert Cahalan, a climatologist at the Goddard Space Flight Center, "Right now, we are in between major ice ages, in a period that has been called the Holocene."

Thomas Woods, solar scientist at the University of Colorado in Boulder concludes, "The fluctuations in the solar cycle impacts Earth's global temperature by about 0.1 degree Celsius, slightly hotter during solar maximum and cooler during solar minimum. The sun is currently at its minimum, and the next solar maximum is expected in 2012."

According to the study, during periods of solar quiet, 1,361 watts per square meter of solar energy reaches Earth's outermost atmosphere. Periods of more intense activity brought 1.4 watts per square meter (0.1 percent) more energy.

June 5, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:02 PM


New Questions About Purpose of Big Brains (Robin Lloyd, 6/04/09, LiveScience)

This "social brain hypothesis" may pertain in some groups, but overall it's false when it comes to the natural history of carnivorous mammals such as cats, dogs, weasels, bears and their relations, two evolutionary biologists now say.

It's true that bigger brains — in such animals as whales, dolphins, primates and birds — are associated with greater behavioral flexibility and adaptability to new environments. But big brains relative to overall body mass (this ratio is referred to as encephalization) also take a lot of energy to maintain. And some brains tend to get smaller when animals are domesticated or are hunted less by other animals. So the overall trend has been hard to discern.

John Finarelli of the University of Michigan and John Flynn of the American Museum of Natural History in New York sought to work out the relationship on a bigger data set that anyone had previously devised — including 289 terrestrial carnivores, about half of which were fossil (extinct) species. They laid data on sociality, body mass and brain size over the evolutionary tree for all carnivores to investigate the relationship between brain size and sociality.

They found the relationship might hold up among living members of the Canidae family (wolves, foxes, coyotes and jackals), but that's about it.

...naturally does not occur.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:58 PM


Daily Presidential Tracking Poll (Rasmussen Reports, June 05, 2009)

The Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll for Friday shows that 34% of the nation's voters now Strongly Approve of the way that Barack Obama is performing his role as President. Thirty-four percent (34%) Strongly Disapprove giving Obama a Presidential Approval Index rating of 0. That’s the highest level of strong disapproval and the lowest overall rating yet recorded (see trends).

The President’s ratings have slipped since General Motors filed for bankruptcy to initiate a new government bailout and takeover. Just 26% of Americans believe the GM bailout was a good idea and nearly as many support a boycott of GM products.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:49 PM


Obamas' trip to Paris raises some eyebrows (Joseph Williams, June 5, 2009, Boston Globe)

Last year on the campaign trail, the Obamas prided themselves on staying close to the people. Much was made of Michelle Obama's down-to-earth J.Crew wardrobe, candidate Obama's off-the-rack suits, and the family's search for a "shelter dog" to satisfy the wishes of 10-year-old Malia and 7-year-old Sasha for a puppy.

Now, the French press is buzzing about whether the first family will dine at a posh restaurant atop the Eiffel Tower, what fashions the first lady will wear, and whether she'll outshine Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, her glamorous French counterpart.

But the trip has raised eyebrows among government watchdog groups, particularly since it comes so soon after the Obama's pricey "date night" jaunt to New York - the president called it fulfilling a campaign promise - and in the midst of what Obama himself has called the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

One public interest group notes that the White House still hasn't disclosed expenses from the Manhattan trip - estimated to be about $30,000 - and argues that the public should get a full accounting of a "flashy" European vacation.

...but wouldn't a domestic vacation play into his economic message a bit better? Why do our trade bills need to punish other nations but he gets to spend our tax dollars abroad?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:12 AM


David Carradine found dead in wardrobe in suspected sex game gone wrong (Anita Singh, 05 Jun 2009, Daily Telegraph)

David Carradine, the actor who starred in 1970s television series Kung Fu and Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill films, was found hanged in a Bangkok hotel room yesterday.

Thai police are investigating the twin theories that the death was either suicide or a sex game gone wrong. Carradine, 72, was found hanging in a wardrobe with a rope around his neck and other parts of his body.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:08 AM


Obama's green guru calls for white roofs (Louise Gray, 27 May 2009, Daily Telegraph)

Professor Steven Chu, the US Energy Secretary, said the unusual proposal would mean homes in hot countries would save energy and money on air conditioning by deflecting the sun's rays.

...but if it cuts consumers' bills why not do it?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:03 AM


No Bed of Roses for Democrats in the Garden State: The outlook is good for Chris Christie in the New Jersey governor’s race. (Michael Barone, June 5, 2009, American)

New Jersey voters went to the polls Tuesday, or at least some of them did, and chose a Republican candidate to run against embattled Democratic Governor Jon Corzine. Former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie beat former Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan 55 percent to 42 percent in the Republican primary. This was labeled by many as a contest between a moderate and a conservative, but that is not quite what it was. Christie was pretty solidly conservative on the major issue facing state government—the fact that spending is outpacing revenues, and high taxes are squeezing the private sector economy—while Lonegan’s positions on some issues were, well, pretty eccentric. [...]

There are some interesting things to be said about turnout. In a decade when turnout has been sharply rising, and when victory has tended to go to the party that has a more enthusiastic base, the numbers here do not look particularly good for the Republicans—but look worse for the Democrats. Here are the turnout figures for each party’s last three gubernatorial primaries; only the 2009 and 2001 Republican primaries were seriously contested.

Thus Republican turnout was down 2 percent from 2001 to 2009, both seriously contested primaries, while Democratic turnout was down 26 percent from 2001 to 2009, both not seriously contested primaries. Local factors may have been at work here; presumably turnout is higher in counties where there are serious contests for legislative seats. Still, the decline in Democratic turnout, taken with the polling which has shown Corzine trailing Christie by significant margins all year, suggests that Democrats will have more trouble rallying the party faithful to the polls than the Republicans.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:57 AM


Obama: Salaam Aleikum (Joshua Kucera, June 5, 2009, Slate)

President Obama spoke to the Muslim world in a heavily watched speech in Cairo, and it leads almost all the papers. In the words of the Washington Post, it was "a direct appeal to the Islamic world Thursday for a 'new beginning' with the United States, acknowledging historical mistakes made over centuries in the name of culture and religion that he said are now overshadowed by shared interests." The reviews were largely positive and acknowledged Obama's ambition in giving the speech: The New York Times called the address a "bold overture" and "the riskiest of his presidency." The Post said it "electrified many Muslims in the Arab Middle East," and the Los Angeles Times called it "sweeping" and said it got "support from unexpected voices, such as members of the Hamas militant group in the Gaza Strip and Islamist intellectuals in Pakistan." Only the Wall Street Journal seemed unimpressed, saying Obama "waded into the heart of the Middle East conflict" and "chided" Israel. USA Today fronts the speech but leads instead with advance word that a Federal Aviation Administration report will show that one in three U.S. airports have not taken legally mandated action to protect planes from birds.

Obama seemed to have the Cairo crowd at hello; his greeting of "Salaam aleikum" (literally, peace be upon you) was greeted with applause and cheers by the audience at the university hall where the speech was delivered. The speech was widely praised by Muslims for its skillful use of Koran quotes, omission of the word "terrorist," and acknowledgement of U.S. mistakes toward the Muslim world. The NYT goes so far as to say it was structured "almost like a Friday Prayer," and the Post has good reporting on how Obama was able to achieve that level of facility with Muslim rhetorical practice, by meeting several times with American Muslim groups.

It was mainly a function of circumstances that made it seem that W was shouting when he spoke to the Arab world. The UR has the advantage of simply being not-W and of taking over once the heavy-lifting was done. So he's singing the same lyrics but with some tonal differences. Kind of like this:

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:40 AM


Bush's Determination and the Rule of Law (HARVEY C. MANSFIELD, 6/02/09, Harvard Crimson)

Let us look at the basics of the Constitution with a view to recent controversy. It is often said that the Constitution establishes the rule of law, and that is true, but only in a way. It also establishes a strong executive power, with a president elected by the people separately from Congress and with powers extending well beyond mere execution of the laws. America is the first republic to have a strong executive and much of its success is due to it. A strong executive looks like one-man rule, the very monarchy against which republics have always contested; its danger is obvious to partisans of republics and that is why before our Constitution, republics used to have weak executives.

Yet the rule of law also has defects less obvious to us. Suppose the law is bad, then the rule of law is the rule of bad law. Think of the law requiring Rosa Parks to sit in the back of the bus. And a good law, meaning good in normal circumstances, may not be good in an emergency, when the country is at war or under attack. It may not even be good in a special case in ordinary times; this defect requires what used to be called equity and is now called “empathy.” Moreover, when executing the law it is not enough to say “pretty please”—violence is sometimes necessary. Necessary: the executive deals especially with necessity as distinct from desirability.

Now the Constitution contains both the desirable and the necessary; it maintains the rule of law through Congress and the Supreme Court, and it provides for extra-legal necessity in the executive. Because the Constitution is a law, a law above ordinary law, it gives its blessing to executive power that goes beyond ordinary law but remains under the Constitution. In this way the extra-legal becomes constitutionally legal.

How do we know when to follow the rule of law and when not? The Constitution gives no answer valid for all circumstances but instead, through the separation of powers, sets up a debate between the three branches of government, each of which has its typical argument against the other two. Congress, whether Democratic or Republican, tends to support the rule of law—after all, it makes the laws. The President—and there have been strong Presidents in both parties—tends to see the defects of law, since law is always easier to make than apply. Sometimes the President wins, as did Bush in 2004; sometimes he loses, as did Bush in 2008.

The Constitution intends that this debate never end, and it is naïve to think that one side should always win. But most of the naïveté is on the side of the rule of law, whose temporary supporters today are willing to shoot amateur pirates but not rough up far more dangerous terrorists at Guantanamo.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:18 AM


Report: US to put its own sanctions on NKorea (JAE-SOON CHANG, 6/05/09, AP)

The United States will impose its own financial sanctions on North Korea apart from punishments that the U.N. has been considering for Pyongyang's latest nuclear test, a news report said Friday.

The U.S. sanctions call for blacklisting foreign financial institutions that help the North launder money and conduct other dubious deals, South Korea's Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg briefed the South Korean president on the new sanctions at a meeting Thursday, the mass-market paper said, citing an unidentified official at the presidential office. The U.S. Embassy in Seoul could not confirm the report.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:13 AM


No 10 on desperate rescue operation as Hutton and Purnell quit (Paul Waugh and Joe Murphy, 05.06.09, Evening Standard)

Defence Secretary John Hutton this morning said he would stand down at the next election. Mr Hutton cited "family reasons" for his decision.

The news came after an extraordinary night of drama in No 10. Whips were hitting the phones to backenchers through the small hours in a bid to shore up support and limit what aides called the “shrapnel damage” caused by James Purnell's resignation.

In the Downing Street “bunker”, the mood was one of shock that the former Work and Pensions Secretary had broken cover with a carefully planned strike just before the polls closed last night.

The air was thick with four-letter words when Mr Purnell's fateful email, containing his resignation letter, finally pinged into the No 10 inbox at 9.55pm — minutes after Sky News showed his resignation was already on the first edition front pages of the Sun, Guardian and Times.

...the monarch would dismiss this government and call elections.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:23 AM

A Girl's Garden (Robert Frost)

A neighbor of mine in the village
Likes to tell how one spring
When she was a girl on the farm, she did
A childlike thing.

One day she asked her father
To give her a garden plot
To plant and tend and reap herself,
And he said, "Why not?"

In casting about for a corner
He thought of an idle bit
Of walled-off ground where a shop had stood,
And he said, "Just it."

And he said, "That ought to make you
An ideal one-girl farm,
And give you a chance to put some strength
On your slim-jim arm."

It was not enough of a garden
Her father said, to plow;
So she had to work it all by hand,
But she don't mind now.

She wheeled the dung in a wheelbarrow
Along a stretch of road;
But she always ran away and left
Her not-nice load,

And hid from anyone passing.
And then she begged the seed.
She says she thinks she planted one
Of all things but weed.

A hill each of potatoes,
Radishes, lettuce, peas,
Tomatoes, beets, beans, pumpkins, corn,
And even fruit trees.

And yes, she has long mistrusted
That a cider-apple
In bearing there today is hers,
Or at least may be.

Her crop was a miscellany
When all was said and done,
A little bit of everything,
A great deal of none.

Now when she sees in the village
How village things go,
Just when it seems to come in right,
She says, "I know!

"It's as when I was a farmer..."
Oh never by way of advice!
And she never sins by telling the tale
To the same person twice.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:11 AM


Pius XII was on the right side (Conrad Black, May 30, 2009, National Post)

When he was the nuncio in Munich, Pius XII, then Msgr. Eugenio Pacelli, witnessed the attempted putsch of Hitler and Field Marshal Erich Ludendorff in 1923, following which Hitler was sent to Landsberg Prison, where he dictated Mein Kampf to his acolyte, Rudolf Hess. Pacelli strongly disapproved of the Nazis and as Pius XI's secretary of state, he was referred to in high Nazi circles as a "Jew-lover." He and the pope ostentatiously left Rome during Hitler's state visit in 1936, and he wrote the encyclical Mit Brennender Sorge ( "With Burning Sorrow", titled in German to aim it directly at the Third Reich), which strenuously criticized German violations of the Concordat with the Holy See that Pacelli had negotiated, and of human and religious rights generally.

His elevation at the conclave of 1939 was widely seen as hostile to Nazi and fascist tendencies in Europe, and to Germany's pretense to being a bulwark against communism (a few months before the signing of the Nazi-Soviet Pact). Pius XI and Pius XII both publicly condemned Mussolini's imitative antiSemitic laws. Pius XII decried all racial oppressions and super-military barbarities, most famously in his New Year's message at the end of 1942, and strenuously urged the German government not to round up and deport Italian (and other) Jews. When this request was rejected by Wilhelmstrasse, on Oct. 16, 1943, Pius immediately ordered the religious institutions of Rome to take in and shelter all Jews. The entire population of 7,000 Jews was hidden from the Germans until they were driven from Rome.

This conformed with the policy he was already pursuing, in which all fugitives from Nazism were to be assisted. His eventual successor as Pope John XXIII, Msgr. Angelo Roncalli, then pro-nuncio in Istanbul, issued visas to all who asked for them, numbering many thousands.

In 1940, Albert Einstein defended the Roman Catholic Church as the only institution in Nazi Germany that "stood squarely across the path of Hitler's campaign for suppressing truth." Rome's chief rabbi, Israel Zolli, converted to Catholicism at the end of the war. Pius received delegations of death camp survivors who came to thank him for saving lives. The founders of Israel, including Chaim Weizmann, praised him repeatedly, and when he died, Israel's foreign minister, Golda Meir, saluted him for having spoken out when "fearful martyrdom came to our people." Among those who have described Pius XII as a "righteous Christian" is distinguished historian Sir Martin Gilbert, probably the world's greatest authority on the Holocaust and the official biographer of Sir Winston Churchill.

It has recently come to light that Pius thought Hitler might seize the Vatican and imprison him, as Napoleon detained Pius VII. In that event, Pius XII would have resigned and his successor would have been chosen in a conclave of those cardinals able to attend in a non-combatant, largely Catholic country, probably in Iberia or Latin America. It has taken a long time to sort out mistaken conventional wisdoms about the Second World War, such as the consistent canard of the Yalta Myth, that Roosevelt gave Eastern Europe to Stalin at that conference.

Not all the evidence is in on Pius XII. What can be said is that the extreme assailants are mistaken; he detested the Nazis, and called them "Pagans." He did not, however, subscribe to Roosevelt's view, expressed in their published correspondence, that Nazism and Soviet communism were equivalent evils. He thought communism more dangerous because it was more intellectually respectable and more antagonistic to Christianity than Nazism. He preferred Roosevelt and Churchill and de Gaulle, (but not Stalin), to Hitler and Mussolini, and did not share any of the Western leaders' hopefulness that any post-war accommodation with the Kremlin would succeed.

...for the Pope to demand apologies from Jewish leaders for the aspersions cast on Pius and the Church as a condition of meeting with them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:00 AM


Econs and Humans: A review of Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness, by Richard Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein (Lawrence M. Mead, Spring 2009, Claremont Review of Books)

Economics has traditionally ignored psychology. In Nudge, Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein take a step toward greater realism about it. Thaler teaches economics at the University of Chicago and was an unofficial advisor to the Obama campaign. Sunstein is a law professor at Harvard and now the head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the Obama Administration. The authors start off by differentiating "Econs" from "Humans." The former are the efficient calculators imagined in economic theory, able to weigh multiple options, forecast all the consequences of each, and choose rationally. The latter are ordinary people, who, like the analysts on Wall Street, fall well short of homo economicus. Humans operate by rules of thumb that often lead them astray. They are too prone to generalize, biased in favor of the status quo, more concerned to avoid loss than make gains, among other shortcomings. So they often fail to manage their personal affairs to the best advantage.

Thaler and Sunstein think that ordinary folk should be "nudged" to decide more rationally. A "nudge," as they conceive it, means some change in the "choice architecture" surrounding personal decisions that will cause Humans to choose differently and better, even though an Econ would be unswayed. Often that means changing the default option—the choice made for people if they do not choose. For example, many employees save too little for their retirement because they fail to sign up for 401(k) plans offered by their employers. The authors would change the default from opt-out to opt-in-employees would be enrolled in pension plans unless they said otherwise. Workers would also be encouraged to commit now to pay higher pension contributions in future, if not today. Both steps would raise savings substantially. Another nudge would be to establish better defaults for allocating pension contributions among different investments. Also, many people say they are willing to donate their organs for transplants when they die, yet fail to sign up. Again, the authors would change the default from opt-out to opt-in-people would be presumed willing to donate unless they declined.

The authors say that for Econs, the more choices the better, but Humans should not face too many options, lest they be overwhelmed. Sweden erred in reforming its pension system so that people had to choose among myriad retirement plans on their own, something many did poorly. The authors criticize Medicare for forcing seniors to choose among multiple private plans to get prescription drug coverage. Subscribers should face only a few options based on their prior drug history.

The usual objections to such paternalism are that it is coercive and that those making choices for people can't be trusted. Thaler and Sunstein say that their paternalism is "libertarian": their nudges would allow people to deviate from recommended choices without significant cost. The authors also trust that nudging could and would be publicly justified, not secretive.

Nudge draws on behavioral economics, a branch of economics that studies the limits of rationality.

It's a basic enough idea: the architecture of public policy itself should push people into a channel that achieves the ends of that policy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:56 AM


The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: How Obama's Cairo Rhetoric Could Really Unfold: Despite the president's soaring speech on partnering with the world, one foreign-policy expert sees globalization splintering the Arab Islamic world — to the tune of an Israeli air strike, Saudi-Iranian proxy wars, more nuclear weapons, and Obama's tough re-election battle in 2012. (Thomas P.M. Barnett, 6/04/09, Esquire)

Just before President Obama's visit to Egypt today, a poll conducted there by World Public Opinion.org indicated that, while he's far more popular than George W. Bush was, there's little expectation among average Egyptians that Obama will change the overall thrust of American policy in the region.

You know what? They're right.

Obama won't change America's tactics in the Middle East, and his speech this morning reinforced that: plenty of dialing-down the rhetoric of conflict, accompanied by all the usual promises regarding long-time allies and long-held goals. "America does not presume to know what is best for everyone," he said, and I wasn't quite sure whether to believe him — or whether it mattered that I did.

In effect, Obama announced to the Arab world and its leaders that his administration will be almost as demanding the Bush team once was. He demanded — all at once — six tenets: democracy ("a single standard") and secularism ("we cannot disguise hostility") and women's rights ("it should be their choice") and no terrorists and no nukes (you know how I feel about that one) and a two-state solution (we'll get to that).

...he meant them, not us.

June 4, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:13 PM


Boeing's Dreamliner Nears Takeoff: But the 787's R&D costs, plus discounts early buyers are getting, mean Boeing won't make money on the fuel-sipping plane for several years (Joseph Weber, 6/04/09, Business Week)

When the long-delayed Boeing 787 Dreamliner finally takes wing above Washington State in its first test flight later this month, much will be riding on its sleek, carbon-fiber back. Some 56 buyers, ranging from Etihad Airways in the United Arab Emirates to Northwest Airlines, have ordered 866 of the planes—enough to keep Boeing busy for more than a decade. This state-of-the-art plane, slated to make its first commercial flights with Japan's All Nippon Airways early next year, will set the Chicago-based manufacturer apart from Airbus and other rivals for years to come.

...but no one would knowingly board a Third World plane.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:09 PM

THE UNREQUITED LOVE (via Buttercup):

The End of the Affair: The fate of Detroit isn’t a matter of economics. It’s a tragic romance, whose magic was killed by bureaucrats, bad taste and busybodies. P.J. O’Rourke on why Americans fell out of love with the automobile. (P.J. O’ROURKE, 6/04/09, WSJ))

The fate of Detroit isn’t a matter of financial crisis, foreign competition, corporate greed, union intransigence, energy costs or measuring the shoe size of the footprints in the carbon. It’s a tragic romance—unleashed passions, titanic clashes, lost love and wild horses.

Foremost are the horses. Cars can’t be comprehended without them. A hundred and some years ago Rudyard Kipling wrote “The Ballad of the King’s Jest,” in which an Afghan tribesman avers: Four things greater than all things are,—Women and Horses and Power and War.

Insert another “power” after the horse and the verse was as true in the suburbs of my 1950s boyhood as it was in the Khyber Pass. [...]

Early witnesses to the automobile urged motorists to get a horse. But that, in effect, was what the automobile would do—get a horse for everybody. Once the Model T was introduced in 1908 we all became Sir Lancelot, gained a seat at the Round Table and were privileged to joust for the favors of fair maidens (at drive-in movies). The pride and prestige of a noble mount was vouchsafed to the common man. And woman, too. No one ever tried to persuade ladies to drive sidesaddle with both legs hanging out the car door.

For the purpose of ennobling us schlubs, the car is better than the horse in every way. Even more advantageous than cost, convenience and not getting kicked and smelly is how much easier it is to drive than to ride. I speak with feeling on this subject, having taken up riding when I was nearly 60 and having begun to drive when I was so small that my cousin Tommy had to lie on the transmission hump and operate the accelerator and the brake with his hands.

That any idiot can drive a car--and that they all do--is not actually a selling point.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:28 PM


The Next Republican President: In the first in a series of posts on the 2012 landscape, former Bush and McCain strategist Mark McKinnon handicaps 11 Republicans—and explains why Obama might not be a lock for two terms. (Mark McKinnon, 6/04/09, Daily Beast)

Whatever the political dynamics may be two years from now, it is my view that any Republican who wants to run for president in 2012 or 2016 would be wise to start cranking up the machine now.

First we’ll assume that most of the candidates who ran in 2008 will run again. It’s like sex—once you do it, it’s pretty hard to stop.

Handicapper Corner’s Top 10, Plus One Longshot:

1. Mitt Romney. Republicans like orderly succession, and he’s got the $$.

2. Tim Pawlenty. Reformer, populist elected in a blue state.

3. John Thune. Central casting and liked by all factions.

4. Mike Huckabee. A national show and evangelical base.

5. Sarah Palin. The juice and interest level of an American Idol finalist.

6. Mark Sanford. Pork-busting fiscal conservative from key state (South Carolina).

7. Bobby Jindal. He seems to be saying, “Wait,” and may be one of the few who can.

8. Newt Gingrich. No one understands better how to start a revolution.

9. Jon Huntsman. Brilliant move by Obama keeping his friends close and his enemies in China. But if he solves an early crisis and comes home, look out.

10. John Ensign. A U.S senator spending time in Iowa. ’Nuff said.

Longshot: Jeb Bush. Never count out a Bush out of GOP politics (George P.’s nickname is “47”).

Mitt has exactly the same problems as last time, Dick Cheney is the succession candidate, and General Petraeus would be formidable no matter when he got in.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:24 PM

TRUTH IN TAXONOMY (via Glenn Dryfoos):

Bringing Flavor Back to the Ham (HAROLD McGEE, 6/03/09, NY Times)

Spain and Italy are renowned for the quality of their dry-cured hams, their jamons and prosciuttos, which can sell for $30 to $100 a pound. America is not so renowned, even though dry-cured hams have been made in the South since Colonial times. These country hams evolved into an inexpensive regional product whose usual fate is to be soaked in water, then poached and baked with a sweet fruit glaze.

Happily, the home ham picture began to brighten a few years ago. I recently tasted dry-cured hams from Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and Iowa, and some rival Europe’s best. Their makers are variously determined to revive country ham and to develop American versions of European classics. They have made significant progress by rediscovering the ingredients that made dry-cured ham so good in the first place, when pigs were fattened on the autumn harvest and their meat preserved for scarcer times.

Above all there’s the pig...

If it had been a Golden Sow, God would have understood.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:14 PM


“One of the largest Muslim countries in the world” (Noah Pollak, 06.03.2009, Commentary)

Obama is right — we’re one of the largest, only outranked by Indonesia, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Turkey, Egypt, Nigeria, Iran, Algeria, Morocco, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Iraq, Uzbekistan, Ethiopia, Russia, Yemen, China, Syria, Malaysia, Tanzania, Mali, Niger, Senegal, Tunisia, Somalia, Guinea, Azerbaijan, Burkina Faso, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Cote d’Ivoire, Congo, Libya, Jordan, Chad, Turkemenistan, Philippines, France, Kyrgyzstan, Uganda, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Cameroon, Thailand, Mauritania, Germany, Oman, Albania, Malawi, Kenya, Eritrea, Serbia and Montenegro, Lebanon, Kuwait, the UAE, and…well, at some point here you get to the United States, which has (estimates vary) around 1-3 million Muslims.

I’m sure when he returns to these 57 states he’ll offer a theory of what “largest” means.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:04 PM


Iran reformists hope for high election turnout (ALI AKBAR DAREINI, 6/04/09, Associated Press)

The reformists in the race are Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mahdi Karroubi. Conservative candidate Mohsen Rezaei is not seen as a serious challenger but someone who could siphon conservative votes away from Ahmadinejad and thereby boost the reformists' chances.

Karroubi, who has said he wouldn't mind meeting President Barack Obama if it would serve Iran's national interests, urged supporters at a rally Friday to show up at the polls.

"Staying away from the elections doesn't help ... If people vote in large numbers, the situation will change," he said.

His campaign manager, Gholam Hossein Karbaschi, said a high turnout can definitely unseat Ahmadinejad.

"If more than 32 million votes are cast, the possibility that Ahmadinjad will not win is over 65 percent," he said. "But if 27 million people or less vote, the likelihood of a change is less than 35 percent."

The math is based on the thinking that hard-liners traditionally have the backing of between 12 to 15 million Iranians. Any turnout over 30 million could work in favor of the reformists.

A high turnout helped a landslide victory for former reformist president Mohammad Khatami in the 1997 and 2001 elections. But in 2005, reformists lost mainly because many of their young, potential supporters abstained.

Reformists complain that state media have done little to promote the election and they accuse the government of supporting voter apathy.

Mousavi supporters also took to the streets Friday, putting up posters and handing out election pamphlets. Young men with green ribbons tied around their wrists and young women in green headscarves asked passers-by to vote for "change."

While he's doing his Middle East two-step, the UR should cite Iran as an example of Islam's democratic potential and call for massive turnout. W's decision to tamp down turnout last time really back-fired.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:53 PM


Iran's supreme leader blasts Ahmadinejad for corruption claims: As election looms, president comes under fire after heated TV debate with rival (Robert Tait, 6/04/09, guardian.co.uk)

Apparently trailing in the opinion polls, Ahmadinejad attempted to link Mousavi – the main reformist candidate – to the past governments of Rafsanjani and the reformist ex-president Mohammad Khatam, which he said had been guilty of widespread graft. Among others, he singled out Rafsanjani's sons as well as Ali Akbar Nateq-Nouri, the current head of the supreme leader's inspectorate.

Khamenei's criticisms echoed those of Mousavi, who told Ahmadinejad during the debate: "This is a sin. We are Muslims, we believe in God. We cannot name people like that and accuse them."

The most remarkable part of an acerbic encounter came when Ahmadinejad held up a file apparently referring to Mousavi's wife, Zahra Rahnavard, and questioned her qualifications. "Can I speak about the education background of a lady with you – shall I," Ahmadinejad said in a goading tone. He accused Rahnavard, who has been campaigning with her husband, of gaining two degrees illegally and starting a PhD without sitting an entrance exam.

He also said she had become a university lecturer and chancellor without the necessary qualifications.

Mousavi, taken aback, replied by telling viewers that they should vote for him "if you want to change this atmosphere of so easily accusing other people".

After the debate, pro-Mousavi students took to the streets of Tehran chanting: "Ahmadinejad, impolite person, shame on you. Leave this country alone."

They call us Satan and demand Death but he gets "impolite person"?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:45 PM


Cuba goes capitalist: Observations on private property (Graham Norwood, 04 June 2009, New Statesman)

“I can talk about cigars but I can’t talk about change,” Christina said sharply, as she showed me the Havana cigar factory where she worked. I had asked how Cuba was evolving under the leadership of Raúl Castro.

Just outside the factory gates, however, the signs of change are everywhere. The Cuban capital now boasts branches of clothing chains such as Benetton, Mango and Zara. Electrical shops sell plasma TVs, hotels advertise wifi and Cuban youths pore over mobile telephones. On every street there are scenes that would have been unimaginable two years ago.

Come July, there will be another sign of Cuba’s New Labour-style accommodation of the capitalist 21st century: wealthy foreigners will be able to buy luxury holiday homes on the island.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:35 PM


Raucous Ahmadinejad debate roils presidential race (Borzou Daragahi, 6/04/09, LA Times)

Competition in Iran's presidential election reached a boiling point Wednesday night as incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and leading challenger Mir-Hossein Mousavi squared off in an explosive no-holds-barred debate full of ad hominem attacks.

So venomous were the attacks that the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, ordered the candidates to tone it down today, and another powerful cleric, Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani, demanded time on television to rebut public allegations made by Ahmadinejad against him.

The aftershocks of the debate continued to roil Iran's political establishment today, a holiday in Iran to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the death of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, founder of the Islamic Republic.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:55 AM


Costa Rica Jumps On U.S. Early: Americans Lose Again at Saprissa in World Cup Qualifier: Costa Rica 3, U.S. 1 (Steven Goff, 6/04/09, Washington Post)

When the lineups were unveiled, Bradley offered few surprises. With Brian Ching out with a hamstring injury, Donovan and Jozy Altidore -- a three-goal scorer in the previous qualifier -- were paired on the frontline. Michael Bradley and Pablo Mastroeni manned central midfield, flanked by José Francisco Torres and Clint Dempsey.

DaMarcus Beasley, a midfielder who had performed so well in the back against Trinidad and Tobago in April, returned to that role, and Oguchi Onyewu and Bocanegra filled the middle. With veterans Steve Cherundolo and Frankie Hedjuk unavailable because of injuries, the big issue was at right back. Bob Bradley chose Marvell Wynne, whose only appearance this year was in a friendly against Sweden in January.

Wynne's attributes are his speed and experience on artificial turf as a member of MLS's Toronto FC, which plays on a synthetic surface.

From the start of this game, however, he was targeted by the Ticos, whose interplay put the Americans on the defensive. In the second minute, with the U.S. backline offering minimal resistance, Saborio launched a 22-yard shot that curled well out of goalkeeper Tim Howard's reach and settled into the far upper corner. Saprissa erupted.

Eleven minutes later, Bryan Ruiz and Esteban Sirias worked a sleek and stylish give-and-go on the left flank. Sirias carved space on the left side of the penalty area and centered to Borges for a sharp stab past the overwhelmed Howard.

"This isn't the place to roll over," said Howard. "We're down 2-0 before the game gets started -- you can't do that here and hope to have a prayer. It couldn't have started worse."

The shellshocked Americans were as messy on the attack as they were defensively. Donovan missed badly from 20 yards, but the bigger problem was the team's failure to adapt to the rock-hard artificial turf. Gentle passes that would reach their destination on grass skipped harmlessly away here.

Howard was the least of the U.S. problems on the goals, but in the 18th minute, he nearly extended the deficit by fumbling Saborio's header at the near post. Saborio threatened again in the 38th with a powerful drive that streaked over the crossbar.

A goal before the half would have left the Americans in decent shape, but they barely tested goalkeeper Keilor Navas.

Bradley made a change at the start of the second half, replacing Torres with Sacha Kljestan, and although the energy level was sufficient, the attack remained tame against a Costa Rican backline that made few mistakes and seemed to anticipate every American idea. Pass attempts in tight space faltered repeatedly and scoring opportunities never materialized.

"We didn't play the way we should have in this environment, in this situation, playing on [artificial] turf, playing away," lamented Donovan. "We just didn't play the way we wanted to and that's disappointing because we have a lot of players who know better."

Even Ricky Hatton wasn't beaten that badly.

Beasley and Torres settled down, but they looked horrific on the first two goals and the entire defensive scheme was marred by a determined failure to close on the guy with the ball and a seeming inability -- or unwillingness on turf? -- to tackle anyone.

And while the speed of the surface did mean that what might have been nice little outlet passes to the flanks ended up rolling off the field, there's no excuse for not knowing that ahead of time or adjusting. Meanwhile, the strategy itself reveals the great weakness of Coach Bradley's offensive set.

Let us accept, for the sake of argument, that Landon Donovan is our best player. He is, nonetheless, awfully short and slender to occupy the center of the offensive zone. In the EPL, not entirely dissimilar players--Dirk Kuyt, Carlos Tevez, Yossi Benayoun, etc.--are left to run around on the edges and cut into the middle when they see openings, with or without the ball. Donovan seems better suited to such a role. You could move the significantly larger Jozy Altidore into a central position where he'd create real difficulties for the central defenders. Then you pull Clint Dempsey back a bit but keep him in the center in a sort of Frank Lampard/Steven Gerrard role. There you exploit both his big foot and his ability to find the two forwards (giving you a kind of 4-3-1-2). And that Marvell Wynne cat is so fast and covers so much ground he's basically your other wing when you're attacking, since none of the midfielders appear to relish the opportunity (Hejduk's absence really showed there).

As it was, we looked like we had no clue what it was we even supposed to be doing when we had the ball. Beasley played back towards his own keeper half the night and no one really tried driving through the middle of the field. Drifting the ball out to the corners might make some sense if you were then going to cross it into the middle for Altidore (and Onyewu when he moves up), but if he's out on the wing who exactly is the ball supposed to be going to when it comes back in?

Our pudding had no theme.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:25 AM


President Obama Address in Cairo (Barrack Obama, 6/04/09)

I am honored to be in the timeless city of Cairo, and to be hosted by two remarkable institutions. For over a thousand years, Al-Azhar has stood as a beacon of Islamic learning, and for over a century, Cairo University has been a source of Egypt's advancement. Together, you represent the harmony between tradition and progress. I am grateful for your hospitality, and the hospitality of the people of Egypt. I am also proud to carry with me the goodwill of the American people, and a greeting of peace from Muslim communities in my country: assalaamu alaykum.

We meet at a time of tension between the United States and Muslims around the world – tension rooted in historical forces that go beyond any current policy debate. The relationship between Islam and the West includes centuries of co-existence and cooperation, but also conflict and religious wars. More recently, tension has been fed by colonialism that denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims, and a Cold War in which Muslim-majority countries were too often treated as proxies without regard to their own aspirations. Moreover, the sweeping change brought by modernity and globalization led many Muslims to view the West as hostile to the traditions of Islam.

Violent extremists have exploited these tensions in a small but potent minority of Muslims. The attacks of September 11th, 2001 and the continued efforts of these extremists to engage in violence against civilians has led some in my country to view Islam as inevitably hostile not only to America and Western countries, but also to human rights. This has bred more fear and mistrust.

So long as our relationship is defined by our differences, we will empower those who sow hatred rather than peace, and who promote conflict rather than the cooperation that can help all of our people achieve justice and prosperity. This cycle of suspicion and discord must end. (Read on)

I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world; one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect; and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles – principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.

I do so recognizing that change cannot happen overnight. No single speech can eradicate years of mistrust, nor can I answer in the time that I have all the complex questions that brought us to this point. But I am convinced that in order to move forward, we must say openly the things we hold in our hearts, and that too often are said only behind closed doors. There must be a sustained effort to listen to each other; to learn from each other; to respect one another; and to seek common ground. As the Holy Koran tells us, "Be conscious of God and speak always the truth." That is what I will try to do – to speak the truth as best I can, humbled by the task before us, and firm in my belief that the interests we share as human beings are far more powerful than the forces that drive us apart.

Part of this conviction is rooted in my own experience. I am a Christian, but my father came from a Kenyan family that includes generations of Muslims. As a boy, I spent several years in Indonesia and heard the call of the azaan at the break of dawn and the fall of dusk. As a young man, I worked in Chicago communities where many found dignity and peace in their Muslim faith.

As a student of history, I also know civilization's debt to Islam. It was Islam – at places like Al-Azhar University – that carried the light of learning through so many centuries, paving the way for Europe's Renaissance and Enlightenment. It was innovation in Muslim communities that developed the order of algebra; our magnetic compass and tools of navigation; our mastery of pens and printing; our understanding of how disease spreads and how it can be healed. Islamic culture has given us majestic arches and soaring spires; timeless poetry and cherished music; elegant calligraphy and places of peaceful contemplation. And throughout history, Islam has demonstrated through words and deeds the possibilities of religious tolerance and racial equality.

I know, too, that Islam has always been a part of America's story. The first nation to recognize my country was Morocco. In signing the Treaty of Tripoli in 1796, our second President John Adams wrote, "The United States has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Muslims." And since our founding, American Muslims have enriched the United States. They have fought in our wars, served in government, stood for civil rights, started businesses, taught at our Universities, excelled in our sports arenas, won Nobel Prizes, built our tallest building, and lit the Olympic Torch. And when the first Muslim-American was recently elected to Congress, he took the oath to defend our Constitution using the same Holy Koran that one of our Founding Fathers – Thomas Jefferson – kept in his personal library.

So I have known Islam on three continents before coming to the region where it was first revealed. That experience guides my conviction that partnership between America and Islam must be based on what Islam is, not what it isn't. And I consider it part of my responsibility as President of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear.

But that same principle must apply to Muslim perceptions of America. Just as Muslims do not fit a crude stereotype, America is not the crude stereotype of a self-interested empire. The United States has been one of the greatest sources of progress that the world has ever known. We were born out of revolution against an empire. We were founded upon the ideal that all are created equal, and we have shed blood and struggled for centuries to give meaning to those words – within our borders, and around the world. We are shaped by every culture, drawn from every end of the Earth, and dedicated to a simple concept: E pluribus unum: "Out of many, one."

Much has been made of the fact that an African-American with the name Barack Hussein Obama could be elected President. But my personal story is not so unique. The dream of opportunity for all people has not come true for everyone in America, but its promise exists for all who come to our shores – that includes nearly seven million American Muslims in our country today who enjoy incomes and education that are higher than average.

Moreover, freedom in America is indivisible from the freedom to practice one's religion. That is why there is a mosque in every state of our union, and over 1,200 mosques within our borders. That is why the U.S. government has gone to court to protect the right of women and girls to wear the hijab, and to punish those who would deny it.

So let there be no doubt: Islam is a part of America. And I believe that America holds within her the truth that regardless of race, religion, or station in life, all of us share common aspirations – to live in peace and security; to get an education and to work with dignity; to love our families, our communities, and our God. These things we share. This is the hope of all humanity.

Of course, recognizing our common humanity is only the beginning of our task. Words alone cannot meet the needs of our people. These needs will be met only if we act boldly in the years ahead; and if we understand that the challenges we face are shared, and our failure to meet them will hurt us all.

For we have learned from recent experience that when a financial system weakens in one country, prosperity is hurt everywhere. When a new flu infects one human being, all are at risk. When one nation pursues a nuclear weapon, the risk of nuclear attack rises for all nations. When violent extremists operate in one stretch of mountains, people are endangered across an ocean. And when innocents in Bosnia and Darfur are slaughtered, that is a stain on our collective conscience. That is what it means to share this world in the 21st century. That is the responsibility we have to one another as human beings.

This is a difficult responsibility to embrace. For human history has often been a record of nations and tribes subjugating one another to serve their own interests. Yet in this new age, such attitudes are self-defeating. Given our interdependence, any world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will inevitably fail. So whatever we think of the past, we must not be prisoners of it. Our problems must be dealt with through partnership; progress must be shared.

That does not mean we should ignore sources of tension. Indeed, it suggests the opposite: we must face these tensions squarely. And so in that spirit, let me speak as clearly and plainly as I can about some specific issues that I believe we must finally confront together.

The first issue that we have to confront is violent extremism in all of its forms.

In Ankara, I made clear that America is not – and never will be – at war with Islam. We will, however, relentlessly confront violent extremists who pose a grave threat to our security. Because we reject the same thing that people of all faiths reject: the killing of innocent men, women, and children. And it is my first duty as President to protect the American people.

The situation in Afghanistan demonstrates America's goals, and our need to work together. Over seven years ago, the United States pursued al Qaeda and the Taliban with broad international support. We did not go by choice, we went because of necessity. I am aware that some question or justify the events of 9/11. But let us be clear: al Qaeda killed nearly 3,000 people on that day. The victims were innocent men, women and children from America and many other nations who had done nothing to harm anybody. And yet Al Qaeda chose to ruthlessly murder these people, claimed credit for the attack, and even now states their determination to kill on a massive scale. They have affiliates in many countries and are trying to expand their reach. These are not opinions to be debated; these are facts to be dealt with.

Make no mistake: we do not want to keep our troops in Afghanistan. We seek no military bases there. It is agonizing for America to lose our young men and women. It is costly and politically difficult to continue this conflict. We would gladly bring every single one of our troops home if we could be confident that there were not violent extremists in Afghanistan and Pakistan determined to kill as many Americans as they possibly can. But that is not yet the case.

That's why we're partnering with a coalition of forty-six countries. And despite the costs involved, America's commitment will not weaken. Indeed, none of us should tolerate these extremists. They have killed in many countries. They have killed people of different faiths – more than any other, they have killed Muslims. Their actions are irreconcilable with the rights of human beings, the progress of nations, and with Islam. The Holy Koran teaches that whoever kills an innocent, it is as if he has killed all mankind; and whoever saves a person, it is as if he has saved all mankind. The enduring faith of over a billion people is so much bigger than the narrow hatred of a few. Islam is not part of the problem in combating violent extremism – it is an important part of promoting peace.

We also know that military power alone is not going to solve the problems in Afghanistan and Pakistan. That is why we plan to invest $1.5 billion each year over the next five years to partner with Pakistanis to build schools and hospitals, roads and businesses, and hundreds of millions to help those who have been displaced. And that is why we are providing more than $2.8 billion to help Afghans develop their economy and deliver services that people depend upon.

Let me also address the issue of Iraq. Unlike Afghanistan, Iraq was a war of choice that provoked strong differences in my country and around the world. Although I believe that the Iraqi people are ultimately better off without the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, I also believe that events in Iraq have reminded America of the need to use diplomacy and build international consensus to resolve our problems whenever possible. Indeed, we can recall the words of Thomas Jefferson, who said: "I hope that our wisdom will grow with our power, and teach us that the less we use our power the greater it will be."

Today, America has a dual responsibility: to help Iraq forge a better future – and to leave Iraq to Iraqis. I have made it clear to the Iraqi people that we pursue no bases, and no claim on their territory or resources. Iraq's sovereignty is its own. That is why I ordered the removal of our combat brigades by next August. That is why we will honor our agreement with Iraq's democratically-elected government to remove combat troops from Iraqi cities by July, and to remove all our troops from Iraq by 2012. We will help Iraq train its Security Forces and develop its economy. But we will support a secure and united Iraq as a partner, and never as a patron.

And finally, just as America can never tolerate violence by extremists, we must never alter our principles. 9/11 was an enormous trauma to our country. The fear and anger that it provoked was understandable, but in some cases, it led us to act contrary to our ideals. We are taking concrete actions to change course. I have unequivocally prohibited the use of torture by the United States, and I have ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed by early next year.

So America will defend itself respectful of the sovereignty of nations and the rule of law. And we will do so in partnership with Muslim communities which are also threatened. The sooner the extremists are isolated and unwelcome in Muslim communities, the sooner we will all be safer.

The second major source of tension that we need to discuss is the situation between Israelis, Palestinians and the Arab world.

America's strong bonds with Israel are well known. This bond is unbreakable. It is based upon cultural and historical ties, and the recognition that the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied.

Around the world, the Jewish people were persecuted for centuries, and anti-Semitism in Europe culminated in an unprecedented Holocaust. Tomorrow, I will visit Buchenwald, which was part of a network of camps where Jews were enslaved, tortured, shot and gassed to death by the Third Reich. Six million Jews were killed – more than the entire Jewish population of Israel today. Denying that fact is baseless, ignorant, and hateful. Threatening Israel with destruction – or repeating vile stereotypes about Jews – is deeply wrong, and only serves to evoke in the minds of Israelis this most painful of memories while preventing the peace that the people of this region deserve.

On the other hand, it is also undeniable that the Palestinian people – Muslims and Christians – have suffered in pursuit of a homeland. For more than sixty years they have endured the pain of dislocation. Many wait in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, and neighboring lands for a life of peace and security that they have never been able to lead. They endure the daily humiliations – large and small – that come with occupation. So let there be no doubt: the situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own.

For decades, there has been a stalemate: two peoples with legitimate aspirations, each with a painful history that makes compromise elusive. It is easy to point fingers – for Palestinians to point to the displacement brought by Israel's founding, and for Israelis to point to the constant hostility and attacks throughout its history from within its borders as well as beyond. But if we see this conflict only from one side or the other, then we will be blind to the truth: the only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security.

That is in Israel's interest, Palestine's interest, America's interest, and the world's interest. That is why I intend to personally pursue this outcome with all the patience that the task requires. The obligations that the parties have agreed to under the Road Map are clear. For peace to come, it is time for them – and all of us – to live up to our responsibilities.

Palestinians must abandon violence. Resistance through violence and killing is wrong and does not succeed. For centuries, black people in America suffered the lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of segregation. But it was not violence that won full and equal rights. It was a peaceful and determined insistence upon the ideals at the center of America's founding. This same story can be told by people from South Africa to South Asia; from Eastern Europe to Indonesia. It's a story with a simple truth: that violence is a dead end. It is a sign of neither courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up old women on a bus. That is not how moral authority is claimed; that is how it is surrendered.

Now is the time for Palestinians to focus on what they can build. The Palestinian Authority must develop its capacity to govern, with institutions that serve the needs of its people. Hamas does have support among some Palestinians, but they also have responsibilities. To play a role in fulfilling Palestinian aspirations, and to unify the Palestinian people, Hamas must put an end to violence, recognize past agreements, and recognize Israel's right to exist.

At the same time, Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel's right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine's. The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop.

Israel must also live up to its obligations to ensure that Palestinians can live, and work, and develop their society. And just as it devastates Palestinian families, the continuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza does not serve Israel's security; neither does the continuing lack of opportunity in the West Bank. Progress in the daily lives of the Palestinian people must be part of a road to peace, and Israel must take concrete steps to enable such progress.

Finally, the Arab States must recognize that the Arab Peace Initiative was an important beginning, but not the end of their responsibilities. The Arab-Israeli conflict should no longer be used to distract the people of Arab nations from other problems. Instead, it must be a cause for action to help the Palestinian people develop the institutions that will sustain their state; to recognize Israel's legitimacy; and to choose progress over a self-defeating focus on the past.

America will align our policies with those who pursue peace, and say in public what we say in private to Israelis and Palestinians and Arabs. We cannot impose peace. But privately, many Muslims recognize that Israel will not go away. Likewise, many Israelis recognize the need for a Palestinian state. It is time for us to act on what everyone knows to be true.

Too many tears have flowed. Too much blood has been shed. All of us have a responsibility to work for the day when the mothers of Israelis and Palestinians can see their children grow up without fear; when the Holy Land of three great faiths is the place of peace that God intended it to be; when Jerusalem is a secure and lasting home for Jews and Christians and Muslims, and a place for all of the children of Abraham to mingle peacefully together as in the story of Isra, when Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed (peace be upon them) joined in prayer.

The third source of tension is our shared interest in the rights and responsibilities of nations on nuclear weapons.

This issue has been a source of tension between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran. For many years, Iran has defined itself in part by its opposition to my country, and there is indeed a tumultuous history between us. In the middle of the Cold War, the United States played a role in the overthrow of a democratically-elected Iranian government. Since the Islamic Revolution, Iran has played a role in acts of hostage-taking and violence against U.S. troops and civilians. This history is well known. Rather than remain trapped in the past, I have made it clear to Iran's leaders and people that my country is prepared to move forward. The question, now, is not what Iran is against, but rather what future it wants to build.

It will be hard to overcome decades of mistrust, but we will proceed with courage, rectitude and resolve. There will be many issues to discuss between our two countries, and we are willing to move forward without preconditions on the basis of mutual respect. But it is clear to all concerned that when it comes to nuclear weapons, we have reached a decisive point. This is not simply about America's interests. It is about preventing a nuclear arms race in the Middle East that could lead this region and the world down a hugely dangerous path.

I understand those who protest that some countries have weapons that others do not. No single nation should pick and choose which nations hold nuclear weapons. That is why I strongly reaffirmed America's commitment to seek a world in which no nations hold nuclear weapons. And any nation – including Iran – should have the right to access peaceful nuclear power if it complies with its responsibilities under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. That commitment is at the core of the Treaty, and it must be kept for all who fully abide by it. And I am hopeful that all countries in the region can share in this goal.

The fourth issue that I will address is democracy.

I know there has been controversy about the promotion of democracy in recent years, and much of this controversy is connected to the war in Iraq. So let me be clear: no system of government can or should be imposed upon one nation by any other.

That does not lessen my commitment, however, to governments that reflect the will of the people. Each nation gives life to this principle in its own way, grounded in the traditions of its own people. America does not presume to know what is best for everyone, just as we would not presume to pick the outcome of a peaceful election. But I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn't steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. Those are not just American ideas, they are human rights, and that is why we will support them everywhere.

There is no straight line to realize this promise. But this much is clear: governments that protect these rights are ultimately more stable, successful and secure. Suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away. America respects the right of all peaceful and law-abiding voices to be heard around the world, even if we disagree with them. And we will welcome all elected, peaceful governments – provided they govern with respect for all their people.

This last point is important because there are some who advocate for democracy only when they are out of power; once in power, they are ruthless in suppressing the rights of others. No matter where it takes hold, government of the people and by the people sets a single standard for all who hold power: you must maintain your power through consent, not coercion; you must respect the rights of minorities, and participate with a spirit of tolerance and compromise; you must place the interests of your people and the legitimate workings of the political process above your party. Without these ingredients, elections alone do not make true democracy.

The fifth issue that we must address together is religious freedom.

Islam has a proud tradition of tolerance. We see it in the history of Andalusia and Cordoba during the Inquisition. I saw it firsthand as a child in Indonesia, where devout Christians worshiped freely in an overwhelmingly Muslim country. That is the spirit we need today. People in every country should be free to choose and live their faith based upon the persuasion of the mind, heart, and soul. This tolerance is essential for religion to thrive, but it is being challenged in many different ways.

Among some Muslims, there is a disturbing tendency to measure one's own faith by the rejection of another's. The richness of religious diversity must be upheld – whether it is for Maronites in Lebanon or the Copts in Egypt. And fault lines must be closed among Muslims as well, as the divisions between Sunni and Shia have led to tragic violence, particularly in Iraq.

Freedom of religion is central to the ability of peoples to live together. We must always examine the ways in which we protect it. For instance, in the United States, rules on charitable giving have made it harder for Muslims to fulfill their religious obligation. That is why I am committed to working with American Muslims to ensure that they can fulfill zakat.

Likewise, it is important for Western countries to avoid impeding Muslim citizens from practicing religion as they see fit – for instance, by dictating what clothes a Muslim woman should wear. We cannot disguise hostility towards any religion behind the pretence of liberalism.

Indeed, faith should bring us together. That is why we are forging service projects in America that bring together Christians, Muslims, and Jews. That is why we welcome efforts like Saudi Arabian King Abdullah's Interfaith dialogue and Turkey's leadership in the Alliance of Civilizations. Around the world, we can turn dialogue into Interfaith service, so bridges between peoples lead to action – whether it is combating malaria in Africa, or providing relief after a natural disaster.

The sixth issue that I want to address is women's rights.

I know there is debate about this issue. I reject the view of some in the West that a woman who chooses to cover her hair is somehow less equal, but I do believe that a woman who is denied an education is denied equality. And it is no coincidence that countries where women are well-educated are far more likely to be prosperous.

Now let me be clear: issues of women's equality are by no means simply an issue for Islam. In Turkey, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia, we have seen Muslim-majority countries elect a woman to lead. Meanwhile, the struggle for women's equality continues in many aspects of American life, and in countries around the world.

Our daughters can contribute just as much to society as our sons, and our common prosperity will be advanced by allowing all humanity – men and women – to reach their full potential. I do not believe that women must make the same choices as men in order to be equal, and I respect those women who choose to live their lives in traditional roles. But it should be their choice. That is why the United States will partner with any Muslim-majority country to support expanded literacy for girls, and to help young women pursue employment through micro-financing that helps people live their dreams.

Finally, I want to discuss economic development and opportunity.

I know that for many, the face of globalization is contradictory. The Internet and television can bring knowledge and information, but also offensive sexuality and mindless violence. Trade can bring new wealth and opportunities, but also huge disruptions and changing communities. In all nations – including my own – this change can bring fear. Fear that because of modernity we will lose of control over our economic choices, our politics, and most importantly our identities – those things we most cherish about our communities, our families, our traditions, and our faith.

But I also know that human progress cannot be denied. There need not be contradiction between development and tradition. Countries like Japan and South Korea grew their economies while maintaining distinct cultures. The same is true for the astonishing progress within Muslim-majority countries from Kuala Lumpur to Dubai. In ancient times and in our times, Muslim communities have been at the forefront of innovation and education.

This is important because no development strategy can be based only upon what comes out of the ground, nor can it be sustained while young people are out of work. Many Gulf States have enjoyed great wealth as a consequence of oil, and some are beginning to focus it on broader development. But all of us must recognize that education and innovation will be the currency of the 21st century, and in too many Muslim communities there remains underinvestment in these areas. I am emphasizing such investments within my country. And while America in the past has focused on oil and gas in this part of the world, we now seek a broader engagement.

On education, we will expand exchange programs, and increase scholarships, like the one that brought my father to America, while encouraging more Americans to study in Muslim communities. And we will match promising Muslim students with internships in America; invest in on-line learning for teachers and children around the world; and create a new online network, so a teenager in Kansas can communicate instantly with a teenager in Cairo.

On economic development, we will create a new corps of business volunteers to partner with counterparts in Muslim-majority countries. And I will host a Summit on Entrepreneurship this year to identify how we can deepen ties between business leaders, foundations and social entrepreneurs in the United States and Muslim communities around the world.

On science and technology, we will launch a new fund to support technological development in Muslim-majority countries, and to help transfer ideas to the marketplace so they can create jobs. We will open centers of scientific excellence in Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia, and appoint new Science Envoys to collaborate on programs that develop new sources of energy, create green jobs, digitize records, clean water, and grow new crops. And today I am announcing a new global effort with the Organization of the Islamic Conference to eradicate polio. And we will also expand partnerships with Muslim communities to promote child and maternal health.

All these things must be done in partnership. Americans are ready to join with citizens and governments; community organizations, religious leaders, and businesses in Muslim communities around the world to help our people pursue a better life.

The issues that I have described will not be easy to address. But we have a responsibility to join together on behalf of the world we seek – a world where extremists no longer threaten our people, and American troops have come home; a world where Israelis and Palestinians are each secure in a state of their own, and nuclear energy is used for peaceful purposes; a world where governments serve their citizens, and the rights of all God's children are respected. Those are mutual interests. That is the world we seek. But we can only achieve it together.

I know there are many – Muslim and non-Muslim – who question whether we can forge this new beginning. Some are eager to stoke the flames of division, and to stand in the way of progress. Some suggest that it isn't worth the effort – that we are fated to disagree, and civilizations are doomed to clash. Many more are simply skeptical that real change can occur. There is so much fear, so much mistrust. But if we choose to be bound by the past, we will never move forward. And I want to particularly say this to young people of every faith, in every country – you, more than anyone, have the ability to remake this world.

All of us share this world for but a brief moment in time. The question is whether we spend that time focused on what pushes us apart, or whether we commit ourselves to an effort – a sustained effort – to find common ground, to focus on the future we seek for our children, and to respect the dignity of all human beings.

It is easier to start wars than to end them. It is easier to blame others than to look inward; to see what is different about someone than to find the things we share. But we should choose the right path, not just the easy path. There is also one rule that lies at the heart of every religion – that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. This truth transcends nations and peoples – a belief that isn't new; that isn't black or white or brown; that isn't Christian, or Muslim or Jew. It's a belief that pulsed in the cradle of civilization, and that still beats in the heart of billions. It's a faith in other people, and it's what brought me here today.

We have the power to make the world we seek, but only if we have the courage to make a new beginning, keeping in mind what has been written.

The Holy Koran tells us, "O mankind! We have created you male and a female; and we have made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another."

The Talmud tells us: "The whole of the Torah is for the purpose of promoting peace."

The Holy Bible tells us, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God."
The people of the world can live together in peace. We know that is God's vision. Now, that must be our work here on Earth. Thank you. And may God's peace be upon you.

It is a compliment, not a criticism, to say that: once you strip away the chaff, the wheat here is a basic Reagan/Bush message to Islam that it too is arrived at the End of History and has little choice about its future. If it is easier for the Arab world to accept that only democratic regimes are legitimate, that they have to provide religious freedom (protestantism) and that they have to be capitalist to thrive, when the message comes from Barrack Obama than from George W. Bush, then this is all to the good. Particularly sage here was the invitation to the Muslim Brotherhood and other opponents of the Egyptian regime to attend the speech. They are our allies in this endeavor, not the Mubarak's. And the UR's next step ought to be to travel to Tehran--before the election--to deliver the same message.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:23 AM


Spitting in the eye of mainstream education: Three no-frills charter schools in Oakland mock liberal orthodoxy, teach strictly to the test -- and produce some of the state's top scores. (Mitchell Landsberg, May 31, 2009, LA Times)

Not many schools in California recruit teachers with language like this: "We are looking for hard working people who believe in free market capitalism. . . . Multicultural specialists, ultra liberal zealots and college-tainted oppression liberators need not apply."

That, it turns out, is just the beginning of the ways in which American Indian Public Charter and its two sibling schools spit in the eye of mainstream education. These small, no-frills, independent public schools in the hardscrabble flats of Oakland sometimes seem like creations of television's "Colbert Report." They mock liberal orthodoxy with such zeal that it can seem like a parody.

School administrators take pride in their record of frequently firing teachers they consider to be underperforming. Unions are embraced with the same warmth accorded "self-esteem experts, panhandlers, drug dealers and those snapping turtles who refuse to put forth their best effort," to quote the school's website.

Students, almost all poor, wear uniforms and are subject to disciplinary procedures redolent of military school. One local school district official was horrified to learn that a girl was forced to clean the boys' restroom as punishment.

Conservatives, including columnist George Will, adore the American Indian schools, which they see as models of a "new paternalism" that could close the gap between the haves and have-nots in American education. Not surprisingly, many Bay Area liberals have a hard time embracing an educational philosophy that proudly proclaims that it "does not preach or subscribe to the demagoguery of tolerance."

It would be easy to dismiss American Indian as one of the nuttier offshoots of the fast-growing charter school movement, which allows schools to receive public funding but operate outside of day-to-day district oversight. But the schools command attention for one very simple reason: By standard measures, they are among the very best in California.

There are two ways to run schools: for the teachers or for the students.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:14 AM


Free market faith: Globalisation is leading to more belief, not less. Caspar Melville talks to the editor of The Economist about his new book tracing the rise and rise of religion (Caspar Melville, May/June 2009, New Humanist)

The challenge is threefold. First in line is the secularisation thesis, the argument that religion simply fades away as a natural consequence of modernisation. Not true, argue Micklethwait and Wooldridge. Modernity doesn't usher in secularisation, it actively promotes religious pluralism. They then train their sights on the equally popular notion that religion contaminates all those who subscribe to its bogus myths and stories. Not true, argue Micklethwait and Wooldridge. Religion brings out both the best and worst in man, and secularists need to come to terms with the positive role religions have played in providing meaningful care and support for the oppressed as well as in the nurturing of aspirations for political freedom from Poland to Burma to El Salvador. Secularists should therefore recognise the corollary of these two facts. While it is perfectly appropriate to demand that religionists should accept the separation of church and mosque from state as a guarantee of freedom of conscience for all, secularists should play their part by accepting that religion is here to stay.

Consider the United States. It is both the most modern and one of the most religious countries in the world. It also provides solid evidence of how religions can provide a commendable array of social services in the absence of an effective welfare state. But it is also a perfect example of how religion can be kept separate from the state. If we could all become more like America, the book argues, we could all get along famously.

I met up with John Micklethwait in a spacious office on the 13th floor of the tallest building in West London's Economist Plaza. He sipped from a can of Coke as he apologised in a friendly, youthful manner for the mess on his very noticeably tidy antique desk. I began by pressing him on his objections to the well-known secularisation thesis. Were he and his co-author really saying that Durkheim, Weber, Marx, Freud and generations of sociologists had got it wrong?

"Well, I'm not sure we are the first people to say it - after all the distinguished sociologist Peter Berger changed his mind about it a while ago, which was a pretty seismic event, and sociologists have been arguing about it ever since. The difference is that as reporters we have gone out into the world and seen the evidence. We have seen that religion is not going away, that it is in many ways a partner with modernity and not in conflict with it. Many people in Europe, ourselves included, missed the signs that religion was coming back. It took 9/11 for us to take notice, but as a phenomenon it started well before. Even as a Catholic I grew up in an environment which completely accepted the notion that modernity and religion are incompatible - we all thought that if religion did survive it would be a kind of subtle Anglicanism, some version of a doubting Graham Greeneish religion. The evidence shows we were wrong."

And, he went on to claim, it wasn't only the classical academics who'd got it wrong. The political class, across the West, was almost wilfully blind to the return of the sacred. "Take the CIA looking at the Shah of Iran, just before the revolution. Someone wrote a report saying that religion was an important factor in what might happen, and someone else scribbled a dismissive note on it that it was 'mere sociology'. Or when Hezbollah first appeared in Lebanon and people were trying to fit them into the old left-right spectrum - I mean this was a group calling itself 'the party of God'. When the Americans were preparing to invade Iraq it was clear that no one in the State Department knew anything about the differences between Shia and Sunni - they just didn't think it mattered. In Europe there was this same pattern. Immigrants from all over the world moved to the UK and set up organisations like the Muslim Council of Britain, and the secular British state kept trying to reinterpret them as national or ethnic groups - they didn't understand the significance of religious identity at all. History does not record the dwindling importance of religion. Instead it's a story of people trying to push the issue aside - until September 11."

There was also the compelling evidence of the emergence of new forms of Christianity in China and Nigeria, the growth of Islam across the Arab world and in Asia, and the proliferation of different strands of belief in the USA. And all of this was happening while modernisation proceeded apace.

At this point we were "joined" by Micklethwait's co-author Adrian Wooldridge, on the phone from Washington. His voice emerged, loud and clear and disconcertingly, from a golf-ball-shaped speaker in the ceiling. (It crossed my mind that it was not unlike interviewing the Archbishop of Canterbury and having God join the conversation.)

Wooldridge took up the question of what we can learn from American religious pluralism: "European secularists assume that the church is on the side of the ancien régime, of the establishment, that it's against reason and democracy and liberal emancipation, and there is a lot of evidence for that in Europe. But in America the evangelical movement advanced alongside democracy and liberal enlightened values. They were not oppositional forces but comrades in arms. If you give people more freedom and more democracy they will talk about what they want to talk about and obviously for many people that is God. Religion itself has also been important for advancing democracy - it's an example of the little platoons of civil society. Churches nurture certain civic values, that's why the Chinese government, and all totalitarian governments, have been very suspicious of them and have tried to crush them."

Micklethwait was quick to provide reinforcement. "In Eastern Europe religion has served as a battering ram for opening up the post-communist world because it serves as a focus for discontent. In Poland or Latin America even the Catholic Church has been a focus for dissent. The church can act as a barrier to democratisation, as the Catholic Church did for a long time in Europe, but it can also inspire democratisation."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:00 AM


Opinions on torture, closing Gitmo pose political problems (Liz Sidoti, 6/03/09, The Associated Press)

Just more than half of Americans say torture is at least sometimes justified to thwart terrorist attacks, and the country is evenly divided over whether to close the Guantanamo Bay prison, according to a poll that underscores President Barack Obama’s challenges in selling his terrorism-fighting policies. [...]

The poll also shows potential areas of political vulnerability for Obama, indicating he must walk a fine line as he seeks to both protect the country and turn the page on Bush’s national security policies.

Fifty-two percent of people say torture can be at least sometimes justified to obtain information about terrorist activities from suspects, an increase from 38 percent in 2005, when the AP last asked the question. More than two-thirds of Republicans say torture can be justified compared with just more than a third of Democrats.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:46 AM


A case for celibacy for priests: The scandal surrounding the Rev. Alberto Cutie has raised questions in the minds of many concerning the Catholic Church's discipline of priestly celibacy. (FATHER ROBERT BARRON, May 15, 2009, CNN)

Genesis tells us that God found each thing he had made good and that he found the ensemble of creatures very good. Catholic theology, at its best, has always been resolutely, anti-dualist -- and this means that matter, the body, marriage and sexual activity are never, in themselves, to be despised.

But there is more to the doctrine of creation than an affirmation of the goodness of the world. To say that the finite realm in its entirety is created is to imply that nothing in the universe is God. All aspects of created reality reflect God and bear traces of the divine goodness -- just as every detail of a building gives evidence of the mind of the architect -- but no creature and no collectivity of creatures is divine, just as no part of a structure is the architect.

This distinction between God and the world is the ground for the anti-idolatry principle that is reiterated from the beginning to the end of the Bible: Do not turn something less than God into God.

Isaiah the prophet put it thus: "As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my thoughts above your thoughts and my ways above your ways, says the Lord." And it is at the heart of the First Commandment: "I am the Lord your God; you shall have no other gods besides me." The Bible thus holds off all the attempts of human beings to divinize or render ultimate some worldly reality. The doctrine of creation, in a word, involves both a great "yes" and a great "no" to the universe.

Now there is a behavioral concomitant to the anti-idolatry principle, and it is called detachment. Detachment is the refusal to make anything less than God the organizing principle or center of one's life.

Anthony de Mello looked at it from the other side and said "an attachment is anything in this world -- including your own life -- that you are convinced you cannot live without." Even as we reverence everything that God has made, we must let go of everything that God has made, precisely for the sake of God.

This is why, as G.K. Chesterton noted, there is a tension to Christian life. In accord with its affirmation of the world, the Church loves color, pageantry, music and rich decoration (as in the liturgy and papal ceremonials), even as, in accord with its detachment from the world, it loves the poverty of St. Francis and the simplicity of Mother Teresa.

The same tension governs its attitude toward sex and family. Again, in Chesterton's language, the Church is "fiercely for having children" (through marriage) even as it remains "fiercely against having them" (in religious celibacy).

...God, Hisownself, said: It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him. Thus is celibacy incompleteness.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:42 AM


The Very Different Legacies of Two Court Decisions: Americans Show Themselves at Odds With Roe v. Wade (Carl Anderson, JUNE 1, 2009, Zenit.org)

Of the many U.S. Supreme Court decisions of the 20th century, two are perhaps the best known: Brown v. Board of Education, and Roe v. Wade.

So important are these two cases that it was no accident that in a recent speech to graduates at Notre Dame University, President Obama based much of his remarks on their legacies.

But the legacies of these two decisions, and their level of acceptance by the American people, couldn’t be more different.

In 1990, as a member of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, I had an opportunity to gauge the degree to which America had embraced the legacy of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. Board of Education: the decision that ended the legal sanction of racial segregation in the United States.

At that time, three and a half decades after Brown, the embrace of the ideal of racial equality had grown steadily, and was clearly embraced by the vast majority of Americans. That is even more the case today.

But if Brown was almost universally accepted by the American people, the opposite is true of Roe v. Wade: the decision that legalized abortion.

Today, three and a half decades after Roe, the consensus among the American people is increasingly -- and overwhelmingly -- opposed to its legacy. As much as Americans have embraced the legacy in Brown, they have moved further and further away from that of Roe, which has been interpreted to allow abortion without restrictions.

And opposition to Roe’s legacy by Americans is a fact: one made very clear by several recent polls.

How would one--rationally, nevermind theologically--justify the notion that you can't keep a black kid out of your school but can kill him?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:31 AM


Queen of Blues Koko Taylor dies, aged 80 (AFP, June 04, 2009 )

Born Cora Walton on a sharecropper's farm outside of Memphis, Tennessee, she earned the nickname Koko for her love of chocolate.

She moved to Chicago in 1952 with her soon-to-be-husband the late Robert “Pops” Taylor and nothing but “thirty-five cents and a box of Ritz Crackers”.

Taylor settled on the city's south side, haunting blues clubs by night and cleaning houses by day.

Encouraged by her husband, Taylor soon began to sing and got her big break in 1963 when composer Willie Dixon came up to her after a particularly fiery performance and told her, “I never heard a woman sing the blues like you sing the blues”.

Dixon helped her land a recording contract with Chess Records, producing two of her albums and penning her million-selling 1965 hit “Wang Dang Doodle”.

She moved to Chicago's Alligator Records in 1975 where she recorded nine more albums, her most recent in 2007.

Taylor's final performance was on May 7 in Memphis, Tennessee, after receiving her 29th Blues Music Award.

She received the National Endowment for the Art's National Heritage Fellowship Award in 2004, which is among the highest honours given to an American artist, and won a Grammy Award in 1984.

I saw her in a little club on the Jersey Shore in the mid-80s and she was electric. Bought an album and had her sign it, but realized the next morning that she'd signed the cellowrap that we tore off and threw away. Idiots...

-Remembrances: Blues legend Koko Taylor Dies (NPR)
-ARCHIVES: Koko Taylor (NPR)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:23 AM


Tolkien out-Wagners Wagner: The most unexpected of Tolkien’s posthumous publications is his poetic response to the gap in the Nibelung legend (Tom Shippey, 6/04/09, Times Literary Supplement)

Many years ago William Morris declared that the legend of Sigurd and Gudrún, the Völsungs and the Nibelungs, deserved to become the Northern Homer, and he was right. It has everything: the dragon Fáfnir and the valkyrie Brynhild, werewolves and dwarves, mysterious interventions by a one-eyed deity, a sword broken and reforged, a fabulous treasure-hoard and, above all, a magic ring with a curse on it. It also has – and this may have prevented it from realizing its potential, at least in Morris’s long verse retelling of 1876 – many lurking embarrassments: incest, child-murder, human sacrifice, what looks very like ceremonial female suicide or suttee. Yet even more alluring and provoking than what is in the legend, is what might have been there once but is there no more.

The relationship between the various forms of the Nibelung legend was recognized in the nineteenth century as the Königsproblem of Germanic philology, which has never been solved. We still possess four main ancient sources, two Norse (the Völsunga saga and a brief epitome in Snorri Sturluson’s Prose Edda), one in German (the Nibelungenlied), and one in Norse but derived from German, in the legendary compendium of the Þiðrekssaga. There is a fifth, for the legend gave rise to over half (fifteen out of twenty-nine) of the poems contained in the main manuscript of Eddic poetry surviving, the Codex Regius. However, some of those poems concern later additions to the cycle, several deal only with the complaints of Gudrún after all is over, and where the heart of the story should be, there is a gap. Before the manuscript was rediscovered in Iceland, some medieval vandal tore out the eight pages dealing (probably) with the centre of the tragedy. Both Snorri and the author of Völsunga saga seem to have known the poem(s) we have lost, but in crucial matters their reports do not agree. None of our extant ancient sources gives a completely credible narrative.

The gap has been a standing temptation for writers, like Morris and Wagner, as also a puzzle for scholars, best restated by Theodore Andersson’s The Legend of Brynhild (1980). Scholars of an older generation furthermore made no bones about reconstructing works they knew were lost. Axel Olrik wrote his long Danish version of the lost Old Norse Bjarkamál, based on the two surviving stanzas and a paraphrase in Latin by Saxo Grammaticus, and not many years later J. R. R. Tolkien followed suit, writing the two poems in the volume reviewed here, in English but in the original Old Norse metre, sometime (his son Christopher believes) in the early 1930s. They are sure of a wider readership than Morris ever received. Can they match Wagner – whom, let it be said at once, Tolkien regarded as at best a gifted amateur, and whose libretti, Christopher Tolkien says firmly, “In spirit and purpose . . . bear no relation” to his father’s poems?

What did Tolkien aim to do? In his own words, he meant “to unify the lays about the Völsungs from the Elder Edda . . . to organise the Edda material dealing with Sigurd and Gudrún”. These are perhaps understatements.