July 31, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:39 PM


Revised Data Soften View of '01 Slump (SUDEEP REDDY , 8/01/09, WSJ)

Data for the 2001 recession had shown that the nation's gross domestic product declined 0.2% from the fourth quarter of 2000 to the third quarter of 2001. On Friday, the government said GDP actually grew 0.1% during the recession.

In other words, it wasn't a recession any more than '91 was.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:35 PM


Democrats Show Strain of Heated Battles (NAFTALI BENDAVID and JONATHAN WEISMAN, 7/31/09, WSJ)

Many of the Democrats' internal disputes stem from growing friction between the party's conservative and liberal wings. Several years ago, then-Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D., Ill.), in an all-out push to retake Congress, aggressively recruited conservative Democratic candidates.

Now Mr. Emanuel, as White House chief of staff, finds the very lawmakers he courted slowing the more-progressive president's agenda. Some liberals complain Mr. Obama is overly protective of those newly elected Democrats and too willing to cut deals.

"The chickens are coming home to roost," said Rep. Maxine Waters, an outspoken liberal Democrat from California.

...you have to let your members vote Republican.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:07 PM


Sudan pleased with US envoy's remarks on terrorism (OMAR SINAN, 7/31/09, Associated Press)

Sudan's U.N. ambassador said Friday that his government was pleased with an American envoy's assertion that there is no evidence to support the U.S. designation of Sudan as a state sponsor of terrorism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:53 AM


Sotomayor, Gates And Race: Sotomayor and Gates share a habit of drawing dubious lessons about race from their own experiences. (Stuart Taylor, 8/01/09, National Journal)

Pushing for more integration of our elite institutions is a worthy goal. But, as studies show, the racial preferences used by selective colleges today are so great as to bring in academically ill-prepared students, clustering most blacks in the bottom 10th of their classes (in GPA) and most Hispanics in the bottom quarter.

The same is true at selective law schools, with the result that fewer than half of blacks entering law school (compared with 80 percent of whites) ever pass the bar. Our racial preference system thus annually produces many thousands of minorities without usable degrees but saddled by enormous educational debts.

Meanwhile, the best black and Hispanic students are stigmatized by erroneous but widespread suspicions that they owe their positions to preferences.

While Sotomayor has ignored the downside of racial preferences, Gates sees racism where there may well be none and waves aside the unprecedented racial progress that led last year to the election of a black president.

To be sure, Gates was right to complain that he should not have been arrested merely for mouthing off to a cop, and that mistreatment of blacks by police (not to mention overly punitive drug laws) remains a major problem.

But he was quite wrong to stereotype and smear as racist Sgt. James Crowley, the arresting officer -- who, as Gates himself admitted in an interview with his daughter for the Daily Beast, "obviously... didn't know it was my home" and "was terrified that I could be dangerous to him." Crowley also turns out to have an impeccable record on race.

Gates was even more wrong to suggest in subsequent interviews that America -- in which systematic oppression of blacks was once pervasive -- has not fundamentally changed, as he told The Root, of which he is editor in chief.

As Gates's Harvard colleague Orlando Patterson, also an African-American, said in 1991: "America, while still flawed in its race relations... is now the least racist white-majority society in the world; has a better record of legal protection of minorities than any other society, white or black; [and] offers more opportunities to a greater number of black persons than any other society, including all those of Africa."

Indeed, Gates himself seems to understand this in his more lucid moments. "America is the greatest nation ever founded," he told the Daily Beast.

But in much of his rhetoric, Gates has emulated the countless other academics and politicians who encourage black people to blame whites for problems that no white person alive today did much to cause or has much power to fix. As professor Amy Wax, of the University of Pennsylvania Law School, has written in a penetrating new book, Race, Wrongs, and Remedies: "Although these problems can be traced to historical mistreatment [and] although discrimination still persists, [discrimination's] role in perpetuating black disadvantage is now minimal as compared with factors that lie within the control of blacks themselves.

"Behaviors such as low educational attainment, poor socialization and work habits, criminality, paternal abandonment, family disarray, and nonmarital childbearing now loom larger than overt exclusion as barriers to racial equality."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:31 AM


Americans Spent Nearly 10 Billion Hours on Government Forms Last Year (US News, July 31, 2009)

* 9.9 billion: Number of hours Americans spent on government paperwork last year

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:14 AM


Gravity through polls for President Obama (Ben Smith, 7/31/09, Politico)

A slew of recent polls showing President Barack Obama’s job approval ratings at essentially normal levels and a partisan divide reasserting itself suggest that the political landscape was not as dramatically transformed last November as Democrats had hoped.

In House, Freshman Democrats Make a Stand (CARL HULSE, 7/31/09, NY Times)

It took Representative Dan Maffei of New York two tries, $4 million and the retirement of a Republican incumbent to win his House seat last year. After all that, he wants to avoid becoming a one-term wonder because of an unpopular vote on health care.

“We can’t afford to make enemies,” said Mr. Maffei, a former Congressional aide and a Democratic member of the freshman class that played a role this week in slowing House consideration of a health insurance overhaul, upending plans by Speaker Nancy Pelosi to meet President Obama’s goal of approving a bill before the August recess.

Of 35 first-term Democrats, Mr. Maffei, who represents the Syracuse area, and 25 others occupy suburban, small-town and rural seats they took out of Republican hands, seats Republicans are eager to take back. As a result, junior Democrats want to be sure the emerging health care plan is one they can embrace, particularly after they have already had to cast a difficult vote on climate-change legislation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:47 AM


U.S. Diplomat Urges Revised Sudan Policy: Inclusion on Terrorism List Challenged (Colum Lynch, 7/31/09, Washington Post)

President Obama's top Sudan envoy said Thursday that there was no basis for keeping Sudan on the U.S. list of states that sponsor terrorism and that it was only a matter of time before the United States would have to "unwind" economic sanctions against the Khartoum government.

Retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Scott Gration's remarks before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee represented the most forceful critique yet by a U.S. official of the long-standing American effort to put economic and political pressure on Sudan's Islamic government. Sudan, which has harbored members of al-Qaeda, including Osama bin Laden, was designated a terrorism sponsor in 1993.

Gration's comments Thursday raised concerns among activists and Sudan's critics in Congress that the administration is offering to reward Sudan without securing assurances that the government will take steps to end conflict in the Darfur region and in the south.

To his "credit," the UR is no more interested in genocide against blacks than in oppression of Koreans, Persians, Chinese, etc.

July 30, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:59 PM


House lawmakers endorse measure opposing abortion (AP, 7/30/09)

Lawmakers have amended a sweeping health overhaul bill to ensure it does not require coverage of abortions.

The anti-abortion measure was approved late Thursday in the House Energy and Commerce Committee as conservative Democrats banded with Republicans to support it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:04 PM


Barbed Wire - Low-Tech Defence Against Pirates: I dare the pirates to crawl over razor wire in the clothes they wear, Per Gullestrup, chief executive of Danish Clipper Projects said. (Javno, 7/29/09)

Razor-sharp barbed wire strung along the deck railings of vessels can be an effective, low-cost foil to pirates at sea, and shipowners should adopt it widely, a Danish shipping executive said on Thursday.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:09 PM


The Audacity of Hops (Jake Tapper, July 30, 2009, ABC News: Political Punch)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:19 AM


China concerned about abortions (BBC, 7/30/09)

There are 13 million abortions each year, compared to 20 million births, according to newly published research.

Researchers believe the real figure could be even higher because there are many abortions at unregistered clinics.

Other countries have higher rates. They include Russia - which some years has more terminations than births.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:17 AM


Iran police arrest mourners in cemetery memorial (Parisa Hafezi, 7/30/09, Reuters)

Iranian police arrested mourners who gathered at a Tehran cemetery to commemorate victims of the unrest that followed the country's disputed June presidential election, witnesses said on Thursday.

The police forced Mirhossein Mousavi, a defeated candidate at the election, to leave the cemetery.[...]

Ahmadinejad is under pressure from his hardline supporters over his initial choice of vice-president and his decision to dismiss a hardline intelligence minister who criticized the president for defying Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

...but not allowing them to be mourned?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:12 AM


Government Mail: U.S. Post Office Is Broke (Kurt Brouwer, July 29th, 2009, Fundmastery Blog)

In the past few months, the government has taken effective control of two major automobile companies (GM and Chrysler) as well as companies holding about half of all U.S. home mortgages (Fannie Mae and Fredddie Mac), not to government’s stake in major banks and insurance companies. And, Congress is debating a vast expansion of Federal government activity in huge swathes of the economy including energy (cap and trade) and healthcare (universal healthcare).

Yet, we hear from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) that the largest civilian government agency, the Post Office, is essentially broke.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:07 AM


Iran oppn leaders to visit graves of slain protesters (Times of India, 7/30/09

In a fresh act of defiance, Iranian opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi will visit today the graves of slain
protesters who opposed the re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The planned visit to a cemetery south of Tehran comes a day after Iranian authorities said they will put on trial 20 people accused of rioting in the violent aftermath of the bitterly disputed election.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:05 AM


Obama’s Great Health Scare: The president resorts to the politics of fear. (Karl Rove, 7/29/09, WSJ)

A Fox News Poll from last week shows that 84% of Americans who have health insurance are happy with their coverage. And because 91% of all Americans have insurance, that means that 76% of all Americans will be concerned about anything that threatens their current coverage. By a 2-1 margin, according to the Fox Poll, Americans want coverage from a private provider rather than the government.

Facing numbers like these, Mr. Obama is dropping his high-minded rhetoric and instead trying to scare voters. During last week’s news conference, for example, he said that doctors routinely perform unnecessary tonsillectomies on children simply to fatten their wallets. All that was missing was the suggestion that the operations were conducted without anesthesia.

This is not a healthy way to wage a policy debate. It also risks making the president look desperate at a time when his proposals are looking increasingly too expensive for Americans to accept.

The problem with politicians basing a health care campaign on fear is that people fear the government, not their doctors.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:36 AM


Obama’s empire: The 44th president of the United States was elected amid hopes that he would roll back his country’s global dominance. Today, he is commander-in-chief of an unprecedented network of military bases that is still expanding. (Catherine Lutz, 30 July 2009, New Statesman)

Unfortunately, many of the Obama administration's diplomatic efforts are being directed towards maintaining and garnering new access for the US military across the globe. US military officials, through their Korean proxies, have completed the eviction of resistant rice farmers from their land around Camp Humphreys, South Korea, for its expansion (including a new 18-hole golf course); they are busily making back-room deals with officials in the Northern Mariana Islands to gain the use of the Pacific islands there for bombing and training purposes; and they are scrambling to express support for a regime in Kyrgyzstan that has been implicated in the murder of its political opponents but whose Manas Airbase, used to stage US military actions in Afghanistan since 2001, Obama and the Pentagon consider crucial for the expanded war there.

The global reach of the US military today is unprecedented and unparalleled. Officially, more than 190,000 troops and 115,000 civilian employees are massed in approximately 900 military facilities in 46 countries and territories (the unofficial figure is far greater). The US military owns or rents 795,000 acres of land, with 26,000 buildings and structures, valued at $146bn (£89bn). The bases bristle with an inventory of weapons whose worth is measured in the trillions and whose killing power could wipe out all life on earth several times over.

But only if you won't conform to our ideals.

Regardless of what he would choose to do in a political vacuum, Mr. Obama happens to be the elected leader of the Anglosphere, so he doesn't actually have a choice.

Two cheers for the US empire!: What is historically distinct about US power is that it has quite remarkably enabled the spread of human liberty and representative government, through time and across cultures. (Thomas Donnelly, 30 July 2009, New Statesman)

The argument against US overseas military bases is almost always a surrogate argument against the exercise of US power. But you can't have one without the other. And the annoying thing about American hyperpuissance is that, compared to other probable outcomes, it produces what appears to be the least bad international system. And so, various allies continue to tolerate, and even encourage, the presence of US military installations in their countries. [...]

[T]hat there should be a liberal purpose to statecraft is a rather uniquely Anglo-American, almost Whiggish idea. What is historically distinct about US power is that it correlates quite remarkably with the spread of human liberty and representative government, through time and across cultures.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:31 AM


TVs are getting brighter, thinner -- and cheaper: Irvine's Vizio Inc. is getting ready to release its LED-backlit TV for $1,500 less than its competitors' sets. (David Colker, July 30, 2009, LA Times)

The future of television could be sitting in an Irvine laboratory.

To illuminate images, these sets use light-emitting diodes behind the screen, resulting in TVs that can be far thinner, brighter and more eco-friendly than other flat-panel models.

LED-backlit TVs -- an evolution of the standard LCD set -- have been on the market since 2004. But the sets in this lab have something that could catapult the technology into the mainstream.

A far lower price.

...my Dad only paid $300 for that black and white console that you had to hit with a hammer to get the vertical to hold, so I know there's been massive inflation and a decline in living standards!

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:09 AM


Janet Napolitano sets new tone on terrorism (JEN DIMASCIO, 7/29/09, Politico)

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on Wednesday sought to set a new tone for the department’s efforts to fight terrorism on the home front.

“For too long, we’ve treated the public as a liability to be protected rather than an asset in our nation’s collective security,” Napolitano said in a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations.

Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, agreed.

“We can’t hire enough security people, we can’t build enough fences, we can’t buy enough K9s necessary to be secure against every vulnerability,” Thompson said. “But we can put bright people in a room and come up with some protocols that will give us the level of security without as much financial investment as we have in the past.”

In more conciliatory tones, Napolitano said that “progress toward a more secure homeland doesn’t belong to any one political party,” and she adopted a mantra from Bush’s first Homeland Security chief, Tom Ridge, that “our physical U.S. borders should be our last line of defense, not our first.”

In fact, rather than new approaches, Napolitano’s address often suggested that her department is seeking to build on policies of the past, particularly in her expanded focus on international diplomacy.

It's revealing that all they can come up with is a change of tone and that Mr. Thompson still thinks it's about a roomful of smart people, but if Ms Napolitano would only follow where her tone leads she could bring back Admiral Poindexter's plan for a terrorism market and get the wider public really involved while exploiting the wisdom of the crowd.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:04 AM


U.S. shifting drones' focus to Taliban: In Afghanistan, the military is moving away from targeting Al Qaeda in favor of stabilizing the country. (Julian E. Barnes, July 30, 2009, LA Times)

U.S. military leaders have concluded that their war effort in Afghanistan has been too focused on hunting Al Qaeda, and have begun to shift Predator drone aircraft to the fight against the Taliban and other militants in order to prevent the country from slipping deeper into anarchy.

The move, described by government and Defense Department officials, represents a major change in the military's use of one of its most precious intelligence assets. It also illustrates the hard choices that must be made because the drones are in short supply.

Senior government officials say that defeating Al Qaeda remains the overriding U.S. objective. However, they have determined that the best way to do that is by strengthening and stabilizing Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan, rather than endlessly looking for important Al Qaeda figures.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:58 AM


Health deal sparks fury on the left (Mike Soraghan, Jeffrey Young and Jared Allen, 07/29/09, The Hill)

The Blue Dogs’ deal, which cut $100 billion from the healthcare reform price tag, was instantly denounced by Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.), co-chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, who said, “It’s unacceptable. We’re not going to vote for anything that doesn’t have a robust public plan.”

Liberals aimed to win 50 signatures on a letter to their leaders opposing the deal to make it clear they could defeat the healthcare bill on the floor.

“Fifty is our threshold,” said Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), a co-chairman of the caucus. “That’ll kill anything.”

Liberals gag over health deal (GLENN THRUSH, 7/29/09 , Politico)
Liberals, Hispanics and African-American members — Pelosi’s most loyal base of support — are feeling betrayed after House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) reached an agreement with four of seven Blue Dogs on his committee who had been bottling up the bill over concerns about cost.

The compromise, which still must be reconciled with competing House and Senate versions, would significantly weaken the public option favored by liberals by delinking reimbursement rates to Medicare.

“Waxman made a deal that is unacceptable,” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), one of about 10 progressives who met repeatedly with Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) on Wednesday.

Read more: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0709/25597.html#ixzz0Mk9zNdsw

...but demands more, it puts pressure on Democrats to kill the compromise themselves without obligating Republicans to vote for the current bill.

Support Slips for Health Plan (LAURA MECKLER, 7/30/09, WSJ)

Support for President Barack Obama's health-care effort has declined over the past five weeks, particularly among those who already have insurance, a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found, amid prolonged debate over costs and quality of care.

In mid-June, respondents were evenly divided when asked whether they thought Mr. Obama's health plan was a good or bad idea. In the new poll, conducted July 24-27, 42% called it a bad idea while 36% said it was a good idea.

Among those with private insurance, the proportion calling the plan a bad idea rose to 47% from 37%.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:53 AM


Leaked CEO conversation suggests electricity revolution coming (Pat Pilcher, 30 July 2009, Independent)

Transcripts and audio files of a leaked phone conversation between the secretive CEO of Texas-based EEStor, Dick Weir, and an as yet undisclosed source have been doing the rounds online for the last 24 hours creating a stir amongst technologists and environmentalists around the world.

Whilst you'd be forgiven for thinking that a leaked phone conversation on the internet was merely yawn worthy, this particular conversation saw eeStore CEO, Weir confirming that they are mere months away from launching an uber capacitor which is an electrical component that would fully charge up in minutes yet hold enough juice to power electronic gadgets for days.

Should this leaked conversation be something more than a cleverly orchestrated PR stunt, and EEStor's invention actually work, the implications are nothing short of revolutionary.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:50 AM


Sanity From the Indian Subcontinent (R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr., 7.30.09, American Prospect)

Did you see the look on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's face when during her visit to India she visited with that country's Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh? It was that frozen smile we have seen from her before when the smiling lady is, as a matter of fact, mad as hell. You saw it during her husband's impeachment. Bill has seen it practically every day of their married life. Now we have seen it during her three-day visit to India, where, among other things, she hoped to have India at least show some respect for the Obama Administration's proposed carbon limits.

Instead of respect she got rebuff. As Minister Ramesh asseverated, "There is simply no case for the pressure that we, who have among the lowest emissions per capita, face to actually reduce emissions." The pressure he alludes to has been coming from the United States to adopt some monstrous emissions regulation like our cap-and-trade bill now blessedly being euthanized in the Senate. "And as if this pressure was not enough," he went on, "we also face the threat of carbon tariffs on our exports to countries such as yours." So our cap-and-trade bill will not only impose economic costs (for Americans, $7.4 trillion in taxes, our largest tax increase ever) but it may start an international trade war by excluding imported goods from countries like India that reject our environmental diktats. China and Brazil do too.

...is that all of the allies wish W were still president but all of the enemies are happy with the Obama Administration.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:48 AM


The Republican Recovery (W. James Antle, III, 7.30.09, American Spectator)

On the heels of two disastrous election cycles, the conventional wisdom was that Republicans were doomed to wander in the wilderness for decades unless their party underwent serious changes. Even on the right, there quickly emerged a cottage industry of conservative self-help books dedicated to helping the GOP rebuild and rebrand.

The prescriptions varied depending on the authors' policy prescriptions: embrace big government or repudiate compassionate conservatism, rethink the national security policy of the Bush years or return to the approach of the first Bush term, jettison polarizing social issues or use them to build bridges into minority communities. But there was some rough consensus that the party needed to formulate an economic agenda for the middle class, come to terms with its past failures and find its voice on issues like health care.

Republicans have done almost none of these things.

July 29, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:50 PM


Poll Shows Obama’s Clout on Health Care Is Eroding (ADAM NAGOURNEY and MEGAN THEE-BRENAN, 7/29/09, NY Times)

President Obama’s ability to shape the debate on health care appears to be eroding as opponents aggressively portray the effort as a government-takeover that could limit Americans’ ability to chose their doctor and course of treatment, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.

Americans are concerned that overhauling the health care system would reduce the quality of their care, increase their out-of-pocket health costs and tax bills and limit their options in choosing doctors, treatment and tests, the poll found. The percentage who describe health care costs as a serious threat to the American economy — a central argument being made by Mr. Obama — has dropped over the past month.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:21 PM


Mozart's Forward-Looking 'Magic Flute' (Ted Libbey, 7/28/09, NPR: Classical 50)

Mozart's Die Zauberflote (The Magic Flute) belongs to the genre called singspiel, which is similar to opera, but with spoken dialogue rather than recitatives. Notwithstanding its curious blend of fairy tale, Masonic ritual and commedia dell'arte, the text fits firmly into the style and traditions of the popular Viennese theater of the day. The music, however, is of a profundity altogether outside of tradition.

The mock-solemn overture to Die Zauberflote stands as one of the most brilliant instrumental movements Mozart ever fashioned. The numbers, ensembles and set pieces that follow are extraordinary, both in their variety and in the richness of their characterization, and they exhibit that uncanny finesse of Mozart's late style. The settings range from direct and folkish (as in Papageno's opening song) to ornately old-fashioned (the first-act rage aria of the Queen of the Night) to downright anachronistic (the cantus firmus duet of the Armed Men). But there's also a strangely forward-looking romanticism to the scoring and harmony, as well as a spirituality in the choruses of the priests that anticipates Wagner's Parsifal. Mozart dearly loved Die Zauberflote, perhaps more than any of his other operatic creations. He could not have known that it would become the foundation of German Romantic opera, but he knew the value of what he had written. He died two months and a few days after the opera's first performance.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:04 PM


Why Iran's conservatives are airing their dirty laundry: In a striking move Tuesday, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei personally called for a detention center to be closed, citing mistreatment, while President Ahmadinejad sanctions repressive tactics. (Iason Athanasiadis, 7/29/09, The Christian Science Monitor )

On Tuesday, amid growing public anger about reports of torture of political prisoners following the deaths of two young protestors in regime custody last week, Iran released 140 political prisoners. Khamenei made the striking decision to personally announce the closure of a detention center, criticizing the treatment of prisoners held there.

"At this stage, there's cleavage in every part of the government," says Haleh Esfandiari, director of the Middle East program at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington. "It can be seen in the Intelligence Ministry between those who say that [presidential challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi's] green movement was part of a velvet revolution and a plot to overthrow the regime, and those who argue that this is ridiculous."

Don't defy supreme leader, hardliners warn Ahmadinejad (AFP, 30 July 2009)
Iranian hardliners warned Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Wednesday to obey the country’s supreme leader, piling further pressure on the president following his disputed re-election and a series of controversial political decisions.

In a rare gesture to Ahmadinejad’s opponents, the authorities on Tuesday freed 140 protesters detained in the wave of massive public rallies.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:34 PM


George W. Bush Still an Early Bird (Paul Bedard, 7/29/09, US News: Washington Whispers)

Retirement hasn't had any impact on former President George W. Bush's internal clock. Just as when he was in Washington, associates say he rises early and gets to his Dallas office virtually every day at 7 a.m.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:25 PM


Robert Bullard, "Military Pacification." (Tom, 7/29/09, Big Tent)

A note for all of you students of war and American history. One of the key documents in understanding historical American approaches to war, especially counterinsurgency, is Robert L. Bullard, "Military Pacification," Journal of the Military Service Institute of the United States, 46 (January-February 1910), 1-24. Bullard, who eventually commanded Second U.S. Army in World War I, served in the Philippines and Cuba and drew on his experiences in the islands and (less effectively or accurately) as a youth growing up in the Reconstruction South to shape his understanding of the issues of pacification. (Bullard is also the subject of an excellent biography by Allan Millett.) While he is wrong on several specific issues--let's just say William Dunning would blush with pride at some of the howlers in the article--his overall conception of pacification is very interesting and historically and militarily important.

For example, Andrew Birtle, author of the the best two volumes on American counterinsurgency, has used Bullard's formulation in those books and on several other occasions to help shape his overall argument.

Despite the importance of the article, no one has made it widely available...until now.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:39 PM


Spokesman denies Bibi’s ‘self-hating Jews’ remark (JTA, 7/29/09)

A spokesman for Benjamin Netanyahu denied that the Israeli prime minister used the term "self-hating Jews" to describe two top aides to President Obama. [...]

The Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz earlier this month published a story stating, without attribution, that Netanyahu called David Axelrod and Rahm Emanuel "self-hating Jews."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:08 PM


Poll Results: The Best Music Of 2009 (So Far) (Bob Boilen, 7/29/09, NPR)

NPR listeners cast thousands of votes for the year's best music (so far) and kept the race tight. In the end, Animal Collective edged out every other artist for both Best Album and Best Song. Artists like Grizzly Bear, The Decemberists and Neko Case weren't far behind. One thing was clear: that 2009 has been one of the strongest years for new music in recent memory.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:02 PM


Moby-Dick in the Desert: Unplug the phone. There’s a new William T. Vollmann book. (Sam Anderson, Jul 26, 2009, New York)

I was sitting on the train one day chipping away at William T. Vollmann’s latest slab of obsessional nonfiction when my friend Tsia, who incidentally is not an underage Thai street whore, offered to save me time with a blurby one-sentence review based entirely on the book’s cover and my synopsis of its first 50 pages. “Just write that it’s like Robert Caro’s The Power Broker,” she said, “but with the attitude of Mike Davis’s City of Quartz.” This struck me as good advice, and I was all set to take it, but as I worked my way through the book’s final 1,250 pages, I found I had to modify it, slightly, to read as follows: Imperial is like Robert Caro’s The Power Broker with the attitude of Mike Davis’s City of Quartz, if Robert Caro had been raised in an abandoned grain silo by a band of feral raccoons, and if Mike Davis were the communications director of a heavily armed libertarian survivalist cult, and if the two of them had somehow managed to stitch John McPhee’s cortex onto the brain of a Gila monster, which they then sent to the Mexican border to conduct ten years of immersive research, and also if they wrote the entire manuscript on dried banana leaves with a toucan beak dipped in hobo blood, and then the book was line-edited during a 36-hour peyote séance by the ghosts of John Steinbeck, Jack London, and Sinclair Lewis, with 200 pages of endnotes faxed over by Henry David Thoreau’s great-great-great-great grandson from a concrete bunker under a toxic pond behind a maquiladora, and if at the last minute Herman Melville threw up all over the manuscript, rendering it illegible, so it had to be re-created from memory by a community-theater actor doing his best impression of Jack Kerouac. With photographs by Dorothea Lange. (Viking has my full blessing to use that as a blurb.)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:58 PM


Death of a Doctrine: Obama Discovers Engagement's Limits (Michael Gerson, July 29, 2009, Washington Post)

[E]ven lacking an ideology, the administration does have a doctrine. The defining principle of President Obama's foreign policy is engagement with America's adversaries. Much of the president's public diplomacy has been designed to clear a path for such talks -- expressing respect for legitimate grievances, apologizing for past wrongs and offering dialogue without preconditions.

Six months on, how fares the Obama doctrine? Concerning North Korea and Iran, the doctrine is on its deathbed.

North Korea responded to administration outreach by testing a nuclear weapon, firing missiles toward U.S. allies, resuming plutonium reprocessing and threatening the United States with a "fire shower of nuclear retaliation." During congressional testimony, Clinton admitted, "At this point [it] seems implausible, if not impossible, the North Koreans will return to the six-party talks and begin to disable their nuclear capacity again."

The Iranian regime's reaction to engagement was to cut the ribbon on a nuclear enrichment facility, add centrifuges, conduct a fraudulent election, and kill and imprison a variety of political opponents. Regarding administration overtures, Clinton recently told the BBC, "We haven't had any response. We've certainly reached out and made it clear that's what we'd be willing to do . . . but I don't think they have any capacity to make that kind of decision right now."

The problem is not engagement itself -- which was, after all, attempted in various forms by the previous administration. The difficulty is that the Obama foreign policy team has often argued that the reason for tension and conflict with nations such as North Korea and Iran is a lack of adequate American engagement -- which is absurd, and which has raised absurdly high expectations.

...that when you give evil regimes what they want and don't ask anything of them they don't change their behavior for the better? We're shocked!

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:03 AM


Obama Faces Court Test Over Detainee (WILLIAM GLABERSON, 7/29/09, NY Times)

The fate of one of the youngest detainees at the Guantánamo Bay prison is emerging as a major test of whether the courts or the president has the final authority over when prisoners there are released. [...]

In the showdown over Mr. Jawad, Judge Huvelle, who was appointed by President Bill Clinton, seems poised to assert the courts’ authority to release detainees who are not legally held, while the Obama administration has suggested it can continue detention when it claims it must.

For some former Bush administration officials, the fight over Mr. Jawad’s fate is a bittersweet moment in which the new administration is wrestling with some of the arguments that were advanced for years by Bush officials about the risks of opening the courts to the detainees.

The Obama administration must decide before Thursday’s court session whether to make Mr. Jawad’s habeas suit a test case, said Charles D. Stimson, who was a Defense Department official until 2007 and is now a senior legal fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation.

“This is the Obama administration’s time to decide,” Mr. Stimson said, “what they will do when a habeas judge orders a person released, but they can’t in good conscience let him go.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:42 AM


Health Care Reform and the Unpopular T-Word (DAVID LEONHARDT, 7/29/09, NY Times)

[M]ost of those ideas have a basic flaw.

They do not raise revenue as quickly as health costs rise. The plan to impose a surtax on top earners, for instance, pays a decent chunk of the bill over the next few years. But the revenue from the tax rises only as fast (roughly) as the United States economy grows. The same is true of most taxes.

Health costs, on the other hand, are growing much more quickly than the economy. Over the last decade, the economy has expanded by about 20 percent, and health spending has ballooned 50 percent. The gap isn’t about to start closing, either.

So no matter what Congress has done to pay for its plans, it can’t keep up.

The numbers show there is only one sure way out of the problem, and, after months of roundabout discussion, that solution has re-emerged: It’s a tax on health care.

...they're pretending they'll make health care cheaper, not more expensive.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:06 AM


Backlash: Democratic dangers mount (CHARLES MAHTESIAN & JOSH KRAUSHAAR, 7/29/09, Politico)

Democrats giddy with possibilities only six months ago now confront a perilous 2010 landscape signaled by troublesome signs of President Barack Obama’s political mortality, the plunging popularity of many governors and rising disquiet among many vulnerable House Democrats.

The issue advantage has shifted as well, with Democrats facing the brunt of criticism about the pace of stimulus package spending, anxiety over rising unemployment rates and widespread uneasiness over the twin pillars of Obama’s legislative agenda: his cap-and-trade approach to climate change and the emerging health care bill.

The polls tell only part of the story. National Republicans have recently met with success in persuading a number of top recruits to commit to 2010 races that not so long ago looked considerably less attractive — the surest signal that potential GOP candidates view the playing field as less tilted against them than just a few months earlier.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:01 AM


Coldplay to appear on The Simpsons (Ben Leach, 29 Jul 2009, Daily Telegraph)

Chris Martin and the band are being turned into cartoons for an episode in the 20th anniversary series, which starts in September.

Martin is the only band member to be given a speaking role in the episode, in which Homer Simpson invites the band to his house in Springfield after he wins the lottery.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:49 AM


Seniors Air Doubts to Obama: President Tries to Allay Fears Over Cuts to Medicare Spending, Says Waste Is Target (JANET ADAMY, 7/29/09, WSJ)

Concerns from seniors about possible benefit cuts are forcing the big seniors' group AARP, which supports the House bill, to walk a tightrope as it tries to keep members on board.

The group on Tuesday sponsored a forum in which Mr. Obama took questions from a small audience of seniors, as well as by phone and Internet.

Carolyn Engers from Joliet, Ill., told the president that she had just come from an AARP meeting where seniors said cuts to Medicare spending rank as one of their top concerns. "Even if I decide when I'm 80 that I want a hip replacement, am I going to be able to get that?" she asked.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:33 AM


Health Care in Crisis: Overmedicating America: In the U.S. today, doctors are too quick to prescribe drugs that their patients don't really need and often can't afford (Ed Wallace, 7/28/09, Business Week)

[T]he expensive overmedication of America really began 12 years ago, when the Federal Drug Administration allowed drug companies to advertise their products on TV. Americans could now diagnose themselves during commercial breaks, and then "ask their doctor" to prescribe the most expensive, no-generic-available wonder drugs.

The U.S. is the only industrialized country in the world that allows this practice, and it's not without controversy here. The pro argument is that some individuals who have been quietly suffering from one malady or another can be motivated to find a doctor and obtain medical help. The con argument is that many individuals with only one symptom—which might not necessarily indicate the problem the drug in the TV ad is for—may demand that medication from a physician, who in turn may see no harm in prescribing it.

Today, TV ads encourage consumers to self-diagnose and treat potentially serious medical problems as easily as they rid themselves of dandruff with the right shampoo. Sleepless nights, diabetes, seizures, allergies, depression, chronic bronchitis, high cholesterol, dry eyes, overactive bladders, tingling in your legs, baldness, and the list goes on and on. In some cases, the commercial even suggests that the drug's manufacturer will help you find a physician to gladly write the prescription for you.

Actually, the "problem" is that we can afford them and they're just another consumer good, like chips or soda.

July 28, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:52 PM


Ahmadinejad struggles with crisis of authority: Disarray in Iran intensifying (Barbara Slavin, July 28, 2009, Washington Times)

Iran's government appears to be imploding even before President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is sworn in for a second term, with three Cabinet ministers dismissed, resigning or on their way out and the opposition vowing to continue protests over disputed presidential elections.

Iran specialists say Mr. Ahmadinejad -- who has alienated some hard-liners as well as reformists in Iran through poor economic management and an adventurist foreign policy -- is badly weakened as he heads into a second term and may not be able to complete another four years in office.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:08 PM


Memo: No health vote before recess (Glenn Thrush, 7/28/09, Politico)

Democratic leaders have apparently thrown in the towel -- telling their Republican counterparts that there will be no health care vote on the House floor before the August recess starts this Friday, according a Republican memo obtained by POLITICO.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:49 PM


Chicken Galileo (Boston Globe, July 29, 2009 )

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1/4 cup chicken stock
Salt and pepper, to taste
4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
6 sun-dried tomatoes (oil-packed)
1/2 pound fresh mozzarella, sliced about 1/2 inch thick
Handful of fresh basil leaves
1. In a medium bowl, combine the vinegar, 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, garlic, stock, salt, and pepper. Add the chicken, stir well, and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 30 minutes or for up to 2 hours.

2. Remove the chicken from marinade. With a sharp knife, cut horizontal slits in one side of each breast to form pockets. Don’t cut all the way through.

3. With your hand or the flat side of a knife, slightly flatten four of the sun-dried tomatoes. Chop the remaining 2 tomatoes. Into the pocket of each breast, insert a sun-dried tomato, a slice or two of mozzarella, some chopped sun-dried tomato, and a few basil leaves. Pinch the edges of each breast to close them.

4. In a large skillet over medium heat, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the breasts. Cook, turning once, for 7 minutes on a side or until cooked through.

5. Transfer the chicken to a cutting board. Slice them and arrange each one on a plate, fanning out the slices. Adapted from Cheryl Jost

...it just doesn't ever move.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:10 PM


Anger after Bible defaced in British gallery (AFP, Jul 28, 09)

Artist Jane Clarke, a minister at the Metropolitan Community Church, asked visitors to annotate the Bible with stories and reflections, as a way of making it more inclusive. [...]

On the first page of Genesis, the first book of the Bible, someone had written: "I am Bi, Female and Proud. I want no god who is disappointed in this."

Clarke said: "I had hoped that people would show respect for the Bible, for Christianity and indeed for the Gallery of Modern Art. I am saddened that some people have chosen to write offensive messages.

"Writing our names in the margins of a Bible was to show how we have been marginalised by many Christian churches, and also our desire to be included in God's love."

Turns out, they don't want it and they are pretty marginal.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:18 PM


Obama’s Science Czar Said a Born Baby ‘Will Ultimately Develop Into a Human Being’ (Terence P. Jeffrey, 7/28/09, CNSNews.com)

President Obama’s top science adviser said in a book he co-authored in 1973 that a newborn child “will ultimately develop into a human being” if he or she is properly fed and socialized.

“The fetus, given the opportunity to develop properly before birth, and given the essential early socializing experiences and sufficient nourishing food during the crucial early years after birth, will ultimately develop into a human being,” John P. Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, wrote in “Human Ecology: Problems and Solutions.”

Holdren co-authored the book with Stanford professors Paul R. Ehrlich and Anne H. Ehrlich.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:10 PM


Soccer playing mum on bite ban (Gemma Jones, 7/29/09, The Daily Telegraph )

A SOCCER-PLAYING mother has been banned from the sport for more than 12 months for biting another player.

Alice Paul, the No. 15 player for Queens Park, told a judiciary hearing she "snapped" when a player elbowed her in the face during a tackle.

A referee who stopped the match against Maroubra United women's over 35s on July 5 at Coral Sea Park said he could see "clear teeth and bite impressions in the skin" of the victim.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:50 PM


A "Uniquely American" Abortion Debate: The notion that tax dollars shouldn't pay for abortions is an international aberration, an example of American exceptionalism run amuck. (Dana Goldstein, July 28, 2009, American Prospect)

Right now in the United States, an individual's range of health care options -- on reproductive care or anything else -- is determined by her ability to pay, or to transport herself to the location where a certain medical procedure is legal and available. It's not that abortion is uncontroversial in other Western nations -- far from it. It's just that in Europe, government-funded health care is supported across the political spectrum, and is how almost every citizen accesses care. Even the most influential and affluent Europeans would be affected by government limits on abortion access. Unsurprisingly, then, few such limits exist.

Actually, limits wouldn't inconvenience them at all. They would however lead to more births to the poor and immigrants, which is why they fund abortion.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:20 PM


Iran, Islam and the Rule of Law: Islamic political movements have been one form of revolt against arbitrary government. (FRANCIS FUKUYAMA, 7/27/09, WSJ)

The Iranian Constitution is a curious hybrid of authoritarian, theocratic and democratic elements. Articles One and Two do vest sovereignty in God, but Article Six mandates popular elections for the presidency and the Majlis, or parliament. Articles 19-42 are a bill of rights, guaranteeing, among other things, freedom of expression, public gatherings and marches, women’s equality, protection of ethnic minorities, due process and private property, as well as some “second generation” social rights like social security and health care.

The truly problematic part of the constitution is Section Eight (Articles 107-112) on the Guardian Council and the “Leader.” All the democratic procedures and rights in the earlier sections of the constitution are qualified by certain powers reserved to a council of senior clerics.

These powers, specified in Article 110, include control over the armed forces, the ability to declare war, and appointment powers over the judiciary, heads of media, army and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Another article lays out conditions under which the Supreme Leader can be removed by the Guardian Council. But that procedure is hardly democratic or transparent. [...]

So what kind of future should we wish for Iran, in light of the massive demonstrations? My own preference would be for Iran to some day adopt a new, Western-style constitution guaranteeing religious freedom, a secular state, and sovereignty vested firmly in the people, rather than God.

But a considerable amount of anecdotal evidence (we don’t have anything better) suggests this is not necessarily the agenda of the protesters. Many of them, including opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, say they want Iran to remain an Islamic Republic. They look at the radical regime change that occurred in next door Iraq and don’t want that for themselves. What they seem to wish for is that the democratic features of the constitution be better respected, and that the executive authorities, including the Guardian Council, and the military and paramilitary organizations, stop manipulating elections and respect the law.

Iran could evolve towards a genuine rule-of-law democracy within the broad parameters of the 1979 constitution. It would be necessary to abolish Article 110, which gives the Guardian Council control over the armed forces and the media, and to shift its function to something more like a supreme court that could pass judgment on the consistency of legislation with Shariah. In time, the Council might be subject to some form of democratic control, like the U.S. Supreme Court, even if its members needed religious credentials.

Ideally the Council/Grand Ayatollah would be limited to a veto over legislation and high court rulings and a right to call national elections. Thus it would act as a final brake on the democratic portions of the Republic but be removed from daily affairs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:16 PM


Capitalism, Jewish Achievement, and the Israel Test: Israel has become one of the most important economies in the world, and is second only to the United States in its pioneering of technologies benefitting human life, prosperity, and peace. (George Gilder, July 27, 2009, The American)

Like the Jews throughout history, Israel poses a test to the world. In particular, it is a test for any people that lusts for the fruits of capitalism without submitting to capitalism’s imperious moral code. Because capitalism, like the biblical faith from which it largely arises, remorselessly condemns to darkness and death those who resent the achievements of others.

At the heart of anti-Semitism is resentment of Jewish achievement. Today that achievement is concentrated in Israel. Obscured by the usual media coverage of the “war-torn” Middle East, Israel has become one of the most important economies in the world, second only to the United States in its pioneering of technologies benefitting human life, prosperity, and peace.

But so it has always been. Israel, like the Jews throughout history, is hated not for her vices but her virtues. Israel is hated, as the United States is hated, because Israel is successful, because Israel is free, and because Israel is good.

As Maxim Gorky put it: “Whatever nonsense the anti-Semites may talk, they dislike the Jew only because he is obviously better, more adroit, and more capable of work than they are.” Whether driven by culture or genes—or like most behavior, an inextricable mix—the fact of Jewish genius is demonstrable.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:04 PM


Obama: the king of low expectations: Healthcare controversies, dumb comments about the arrest of a Harvard professor, and ‘soccer mom jeans’: is Obama losing his Midas touch? 9Sean Collins, 7./28/09, Spiked)

[T]o add insult to injury, Americans have even started to question whether Obama is cool. The big controversy about Obama for most of July has been his jeans. Yes, jeans. At the baseball all-star game, Obama came on to the field wearing faded baggy flood-lengths, complete with ironed creases down the middle; some referred to them as ‘soccer mom jeans’ (6). Many cringed at the sight of Obama revealing his inner dork, and wondered what happened to the guy who was supposed to be not just a president, but also the epitome of hipness.

So, not the best of times for Obama. But the real question is: how serious are his problems? Not very, at least in the short term. The hyperventilated talk about his demise is overblown, premature at best, and a distraction from engaging with issues. Obama still dominates the US political agenda and holds a number of advantages over his opponents.

There is no doubt that Obama’s honeymoon is over. The euphoria that greeted his victory has evaporated, and his high standing in the polls has eroded. It is true that there is a risk he will not be able to oversee the passage of his healthcare reforms. Other major items on his legislative wishlist – including ‘cap and trade’ to reduce carbon emissions, immigration reform and financial services regulation – also may not be implemented. And, no matter what Obama manages to get through Congress, if the economy does not recover, his support will be limited.

The latest setbacks are noteworthy, but not the entire picture. Upon entering the White House, Obama said his number one goal was to deal with the economic crisis. And whatever one thinks of his policies, he has been extremely active and successful in implementing a wide array of programmes to address that crisis, such as the $787billion stimulus package, bank and auto bailouts, and so on. Obama’s record of activism certainly looks favourable when compared to the paralysis of, say, the British and Japanese governments.

All the UR has ever cared about is the next line on his resume and "re-elected" is on deck. The delightful reality is that if the GOP kills his supposed signature initiatives it will prevent him from screwing up the economic rebound and, like Bill Clinton, thereby enable his re-election. What's bad for the Left is good for him, not to mention the rest of us....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:49 AM


Incan Empire Aided by Global Warming (Rossella Lorenzi, 7/28/09, Discovery News)

A 400-year warm spell helped the ancient Inca to build the largest empire ever to exist in the Americas, a new study has established.

Beginning around 1100 A.D., the increase in temperature served as a "perfect incubator" for the Inca's expansion, an international team of researchers report in the current issue of the journal Climate of the Past.

"Climate warming does not always have to be a negative issue. Our research shows that it can favor societal development, " lead author Alex Chepstow-Lusty, a palaeoecologist from the French Institute for Andean Studies in Lima, Peru, told Discovery News.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:11 AM


Key Democratic provisions fading fast (CARRIE BUDOFF BROWN, 7/27/09, Politico)

Bipartisan negotiations on the Senate Finance Committee are moving closer to eliminating two health care provisions favored by many Democrats – a mandate on employers to provide insurance or pay a penalty, and a government insurance option, a senator and health care insiders said Monday.

That could bring even greater pressure on Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), who has been challenged by more liberal senators who say he is sacrificing key Democratic priorities on health care reform to win the votes of a few Republicans. [...]

“We are working towards a way to get a bill that lowers health care costs, which provides affordable, high-quality health care to people and in a way that passes the Senate,” Baucus said. “I can’t tell you exactly what that is yet, but I can tell you we are getting very close to it.”

Democrats on the Finance Committee meet Tuesday morning, but already talk of a deal along these lines drew fire from one prominent Democrat – former national party chairman Howard Dean. If the co-op plan and free rider provision make it into the bipartisan compromise, "I fear for the future of health care reform because that is not health care reform," Dean said Monday on MSNBC's Rachel Maddow Show.

Instead, he called it “health insurance reform."

And once CBO scores it they can't argue that it'll lower costs.

Lobbyists gain upper hand in Obama battle (Bob Cusack, 07/27/09, The Hill)

Lobbying interests that President Obama campaigned against last year have gained the upper hand on the White House in recent weeks.

In stark contrast to Obama’s first few months in office, special interest groups this summer have aggressively opposed the president’s top domestic priorities. And they have succeeded in slowing legislation to revamp the nation’s healthcare system, won an essential change to climate change legislation and put off efforts to set up a consumer agency in the financial sector. [...]

An influential lobbyist who requested anonymity said Obama has “lost serious momentum and has really not played the expectations game well, especially with hard deadlines.”

A key facet of industry opposition is “creating delays” and, if negotiations break down, seizing the “opportunity to outright kill a proposal,” the lobbyist added.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:08 AM


Call for Pashtun nation is not far away (Mohan Guruswamy, 7/28/09, Rediff)

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in his infinite wisdom has put Balochistan on the Indo-Pak agenda. But why stop at Balochistan? Just as Balochistan was annexed by Pakistan in 1948, the Pashtun homelands that now make up the North West Frontier Province and the Federally Administered Tribal Agencies were annexed by the British just 70 years before they departed from the subcontinent.

It is a pity that few people in India know what really Pakistan is all about. Even today, they dare not refer to the NWFP and FATA as Pashtunistan or Pathanistan or anything that would confer upon them a sub-nationality within Pakistan, as in the case of Punjab, Sind and Balochistan. [...]

In the recent times, Afghan and Pakistani forces now in the Tribal Agencies ostensibly in pursuit of Al Qaeda, have clashed at various points along the Durand Line. It is now only a question of time before the demand for the reunification of all their people becomes a rallying call for the Pashtun nation. Even the internal dynamics within Afghanistan now demand it. There is much unfinished business here. If the Pakistanis now insist on putting self-determination for Kashmir on the agenda, let's also put self-determination for Balochistan and Pashtunistan on the same agenda.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:59 AM


Traders Blamed for Oil Spike (IANTHE JEANNE DUGAN and ALISTAIR MACDONALD, 7/28/09, WSJ)

The debate over speculators underscores the shifting nature of commodities trading in recent years. Before the mid-1990s, these markets were dominated by entities that had physical dealings with the underlying commodity, and "speculators" who often took the opposite position, providing liquidity to markets.

But a new group of investors has emerged in recent years. Those who want to bet on commodities prices have increasingly put their money in indexes that track the value of futures contracts, in which investors promise to pay a certain amount in the future for oil and other commodities. As of July 2008, financial investors had about $300 billion riding on these indexes, roughly four times the level in January 2006, according to the International Energy Agency, a Paris-based watchdog.

Separately, these investors may buy derivatives, not directly traded on futures exchanges, that let them make contrary bets to offset their risks.

Crude-oil prices surged in July 2008 to a record $145 a barrel, then dropped to about $33 in December. Oil now trades at around $68 a barrel.

...you know it wasn't classical market function.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:48 AM


Global cooling hits Al Gore's home: Nashville, the home of leading global warming prophet Al Gore, has enjoyed the coolest July 21 on record (Christopher Booker, 25 Jul 2009, Daily Telegraph)

It was delightfully appropriate that, as large parts of Argentina were swept by severe blizzards last week, on a scale never experienced before, the city of Nashville, Tennessee, should have enjoyed the coolest July 21 in its history, breaking a record established in 1877. Appropriate, because Nashville is the home of Al Gore, the man who for 20 years has been predicting that we should all by now be in the grip of runaway global warming.

His predictions have proved so wildly wrong – along with those of the Met Office's £33 million computer model which forecast that we should now be enjoying a "barbecue summer" and that 2009 would be one of "the five warmest years ever" – that the propaganda machine has had to work overtime to maintain what is threatening to become the most expensive fiction in history.

Given the size of Mr. Gore's carbon footprint you have to wonder if he believes the nonsense himself.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:40 AM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:30 AM


"A New Ethic for Medicine and Society" (National Right to Life News, March 11, 1998)

Editor's note. In the early days of abortion `reform,' pro-abortionists insisted their agenda was modest and unassuming. In contrast with this phony humility, few, if any expressions mare candidly admitted that the agenda of the pro-abortion movement, required the abandonment of the traditional Western ethic's commitment to the "equal value of every human life" than this reprint. This editorial first appeared in the September 1970 edition of California Medicine, a publication of the Western Journal of Medicine. Many younger pro-lifers have heard references to it. We reprint it in its entirety for their edification.

The traditional Western ethic has always placed great emphasis on the intrinsic worth and equal value of every human life regardless of its stage or condition. This ethic has had the blessing of the Judeo-Christian heritage and has been the basis for most of our laws and much of our social policy. The reverence for each and every human life has also been a keystone of Western medicine and is the ethic which has caused physicians to try to preserve, protect, repair, prolong and enhance every human life which comes under their surveillance. This traditional ethic is still clearly dominant, but there ia much to suggest that it is being eroded at its core and may eventually even be abandoned. This of course will produce profound changes in Western medicine and in Western society.

There are certain new facts and social realities which are becoming recognized, are widely discussed in Western society, and seem certain to undermine and transform this traditional ethic. They have come into being and into focus as the social by-products of unprecedented technological progress and achievement. Of particular importance are, first, the demographic data of human population expansion which tends to proceed uncontrolled and at a geometric rate of progression; second, an ever-growing ecological disparity between the numbers of people and the resources available to support these numbers in the manner to which they are or would like to become accustomed; and third, and perhaps most important, a quite new social emphasis on something which is beginning to be called the quality of life, a something which becomes possible for the first time in human history because of scientific and technological development. These are now being seen by a growing segment of the public as realities which are within, the power of humans to control and there is quite evidently an increasing determination to do this.

What is not yet so clearly perceived is that in order to bring this about hard choices will have to be made with respect to what is to be preserved and strengthened and what is not, and that this will of necessity violate and ultimately destroy the traditional Western ethic with all that this portends. It will become necessary and acceptable to place relative rather than absolute values on such things as human lives, the use of scarce resources, and the various elements which are to make up the quality of life or of living which is to be sought. This is quite distinctly at variance with the Judeo-Christian ethic and carries serious philosophical, social, economic, and political implications for Western society and perhaps for world society.

The process of eroding the old ethic and substituting the new has already begun. It may be seen most clearly in changing attitudes toward human abortion. In defiance of the long held Western ethic of intrinsic and equal value for every human life regardless of its stage, condition, or status, abortion is becoming accepted by society as moral, right and even necessary. It is worth noting that this shift in public attitude has affected the churches, the laws,

and public policy rather than the reverse. Since the old ethic has not yet been fully displaced it has been necessary to separate the idea of abortion from the idea of killing, which continues to be socially abhorrent. [...]

It is not too early for our profession to examine this new ethic, recognize it for what it is and will mean for human society, and prepare to apply it in a rational development for the fulfillment and betterment of mankind in what is almost certain to be a biologically oriented world society.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg's musing on the eugenic basis of abortion wouldn't have surprised anyone back in the day.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:12 AM


Blue Dogs: All Bark, No Bite: The Democrats’ self-styled fiscal conservatives don’t have a voting record to match their rhetoric. (MERRILL MATTHEWS, 7/27/09, WSJ)

So far this year, the House has seen at least four major spending bills. Here’s how the Blue Dogs voted:

• The State Children’s Health Insurance Program (Schip). One of the first things the Democratic leadership wanted the newly inaugurated President Obama to sign was a huge expansion of Schip. Democrats have been trying to pass the expansion for over a year, with some bipartisan support. President George W. Bush vetoed the legislation twice, and Congress sustained his veto both times by a hair.

Schip was created for low-income uninsured children not eligible for Medicaid. Under the old bill, children whose family incomes were 200% of the federal poverty level were covered. With the new bill, Democrats increased funding to cover children whose family incomes are up to 300% of the federal poverty level—or $66,000 a year for a family of four. The Bush administration and most conservatives thought it should remain at 200%. Did the Blue Dogs agree? Only two voted against the expansion.

• The $787 billion stimulus. The next major spending package was Mr. Obama’s stimulus bill. Not one House Republican voted for the bill. The Blue Dogs? Only 10 of 52 voted against it.

• President Obama’s 2010 federal budget. In April, Congress took a vote on the president’s $3.5 trillion budget for 2010—by far the biggest spending package in history. Again, not one House Republican voted for the bill, but only 14 Blue Dogs joined them in opposition.

• The cap-and-trade energy tax. In June, the House took an enormous step by pushing through the president’s cap-and-trade energy tax. The legislation will stifle economic growth by imposing huge new costs on every business and each American household. Eight House Republicans voted for the bill. Twenty-nine Blue Dogs voted against the legislation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:41 AM


WE ARE ALL WRITERS NOW: Blogs, Twitter, Facebook: these outlets are supposedly cheapening language and tarnishing our time. But the fact is we are all reading and writing much more than we used to (Anne Trubek, MORE INTELLIGENT LIFE)

The chattering classes have become silent, tapping their views on increasingly smaller devices. And tapping they are: the screeds are everywhere, decrying the decline of smart writing, intelligent thought and proper grammar. Critics bemoan blogging as the province of the amateurism. Journalists rue the loose ethics and shoddy fact-checking of citizen journalists. Many save their most profound scorn for the newest forms of social media. Facebook and Twitter are heaped with derision for being insipid, time-sucking, sad testaments to our literary degradation. This view is often summed up with a disdainful question: “Do we really care about what you ate for lunch?”

Forget that most of the pundits lambasting Facebook and Twitter are familiar with these devices because they use them regularly. Forget that no one is being manacled to computers and forced to read stupid prose (instead of, say, reading Proust in bed). What many professional writers are overlooking in these laments is that the rise of amateur writers means more people are writing and reading. We are commenting on blog posts, forwarding links and composing status updates. We are seeking out communities based on written words.

Go back 20, 30 years and you will find all of us doing more talking than writing. We rued literacy levels and worried over whether all this phone-yakking and television-watching spelled the end of writing.

Few make that claim today. I would hazard that, with more than 200m people on Facebook and even more with home internet access, we are all writing more than we would have ten years ago. Those who would never write letters (too slow and anachronistic) or postcards (too twee) now send missives with abandon, from long thoughtful memos to brief and clever quips about evening plans. And if we subscribe to the theory that the most effective way to improve one’s writing is by practicing—by writing more, and ideally for an audience—then our writing skills must be getting better.

While there's nothing better than a long and meandering conversation with friends, family or even new acquaintances, the tendency of electronic communication to force people to speak more directly, clearly and briefly is not a bad thing at all. In the "ditto" lies much wisdom.

July 27, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:55 PM


Utopia isn't a dirty word: As the left searches for meaning, it would do well to reflect on Christianity's utopian vision for humankind (Theo Hobson, 7/26/09, guardian.co.uk)

Modern Christianity has tried pretty hard to forget about this, but it cannot entirely. For Christians pray "your kingdom come, on earth as it in heaven", which sounds pretty utopian to me. Christian faith, properly understood, expects the transformation of everything, life's semi-imaginable perfection. This ideal cannot be translated into fully rational terms: it always veers into cosmic mythological stuff about predators turning cuddly, the defeat of death, the end of evil, the triumph of God over all contrary powers. This is not the supposedly rational utopia of Marxism. But I think "utopia" is a pretty good summary of the vision. As I explain in my forthcoming book Faith, this total utopian hope is a key part of the Christian vision. Christianity is the only grown-up utopianism. It is the only form of historical hope that is also realistic about our capacity for evil.

But isn't every account of utopia intrinsically dangerous? This assumption has recently been re-stated by John Gray, in his book Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia. He argues that Judeo-Christian hope is the source of all the destructive utopian projects of modernity. What defines the west is the "pursuit of salvation in history", and it is a poisonous mistake, for it fails to accept the reality of human nature.

From a Christian perspective, Gray is making a sort of category mistake. He is saying that utopia is impossible, on the basis of what we know about humans. But Christian utopianism takes this into account: it awaits divine action rather than seeking to force utopia into being.

Indeed, it is the rejection of rationalism combined with the understanding that utopia is beyond the human capacity to create, that insulates Judeo-Christianity, and perhaps Shi'ism, from the corrosive effect of hope. It is precisely because salvation rests outside History that we in the West can accept that History is at an End and yet Heaven is not arrived. We can't make a heaven, nevermind Heaven, only organize ourselves half decently.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:45 PM


America to the Rescue (James Kirchick, 7/27/09 , Commentary)

That Zelaya and his domestic opponents would turn to America indicates the inexorable nature of our global hegemony. American liberals may be obsessed with apologizing for our past sins, especially in Latin America, and argue that our support for a coup in Chile in 1973 disqualifies us from doing anything proactive about Honduras in 2009. Actual Latin Americans, however, appear to disagree.

What’s clear is that without the United States serving as a benevolent regional hegemon, Honduras would be in a far worse place than the fraught standoff that characterizes the situation today. Whatever America’s history in the region, we have a far better chance of resolving the crisis than do any of the other nations vying for the role of referee. Honduras’s interim government rightly feels bullied by a bloc of left-wing Latin American populists, namely Chavez, who has threatened to invade Honduras if the interim government does not reinstate his ally. Micheletti accused neighboring Nicarauga (led by the former Sandinista rebel Daniel Ortega) of amassing troops on the border. For all we know, a small-scale war could have erupted without American intervention.

As for the regional organization that prophets of American decline would point to as the natural and rightful arbitrator, the OAS has largely discredited itself over the past few years by becoming the plaything of left-wing populists like Chavez and Bolivia’s Evo Morales. Ostensibly meant to promote democracy and good governance, it has recently made way for the readmission of Cuba, which it banned nearly five decades ago after Fidel Castro turned the country into a communist dictatorship.

From the Taiwan Strait to the Persian Gulf to Eastern Europe, the projection of American power keeps the world safe, allows for free commercial exchange, and protects global liberty.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:41 PM


Grassley to vote against Sotomayor confirmation (TOM BEAUMONT, 7/27/09, dmreg.com)

Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley said today he planned to oppose the confirmation of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court when the Senate Judiciary Committee votes on her nomination Tuesday.

The vote, which Grassley announced to The Des Moines Register, marks the first time Grassley will have opposed a high-court nominee in his 29 years on the committee.

Hatch’s Rejection of Sotomayor Somewhat Puzzling to Analyst (Jeff Robinson, 7/27/09, KCPW News)
Utah Senator Orrin Hatch’s decision to vote against the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor tomorrow is somewhat puzzling to one local political analyst. Matt Burbank, chair of the political science department at the University of Utah, notes that Hatch didn’t give many reasons for why he would vote “no.”

“This is somebody who, over the years, has indeed prided himself on looking carefully at what was going on in these hearings, and being fairly careful about trying to support presidential nominees when he can, so it is a little bit different, I’m a little bit surprised by his decision, actually,” said Burbank.

In his nearly 33 years in the senate, Hatch has never before voted against a Supreme Court nominee. In fact, he voted in favor of both of former Democratic President Bill Clinton’s picks.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:51 PM


Why do so many Brits fail in America?: After clashes with his US fans, is the US odyssey of David Beckham bound to end in jeers? (Luke Leitch, 7/28/09, Times of London)

David Beckham planned to crack America. Two years after his triumphal arrival in Los Angeles, however, the suspicion is that it might be America that’s cracking him. In little more than a week England’s most famous sportsman has twice succumbed to angry confrontation with a small, but extremely vocal, group of Galaxy fans, aggrieved that the man who signed a £128 million, five-year contract to play football for them has been playing — with obvious and offensive relish — for AC Milan too.

Simon Middleton, a brand strategy expert says: “David Beckham getting booed by the LA supporters is about not understanding the American psyche. One of the things Americans value hugely is authenticity and commitment. I think what they saw in his return is that he is not absolutely committed and they are suspicious of him.”

...being lazy at a really easy job is a particularly bad idea.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:26 PM


Science Is in the Details (SAM HARRIS, 7/27/09, NY Times)

Dr. Collins is regularly praised by secular scientists for what he is not: he is not a “young earth creationist,” nor is he a proponent of “intelligent design.” [...]

What follows are a series of slides, presented in order, from a lecture on science and belief that Dr. Collins gave at the University of California, Berkeley, in 2008:

Slide 1: “Almighty God, who is not limited in space or time, created a universe 13.7 billion years ago with its parameters precisely tuned to allow the development of complexity over long periods of time.”

Slide 2: “God’s plan included the mechanism of evolution to create the marvelous diversity of living things on our planet. Most especially, that creative plan included human beings.”

Slide 3: “After evolution had prepared a sufficiently advanced ‘house’ (the human brain), God gifted humanity with the knowledge of good and evil (the moral law), with free will, and with an immortal soul.”

Slide 4: “We humans used our free will to break the moral law, leading to our estrangement from God. For Christians, Jesus is the solution to that estrangement.”

Slide 5: “If the moral law is just a side effect of evolution, then there is no such thing as good or evil. It’s all an illusion. We’ve been hoodwinked. Are any of us, especially the strong atheists, really prepared to live our lives within that worldview?”

Beginning with Slide 1 he's enunciating an intelligent design and with Slide 3 he at least borders on young earth.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:02 PM


An Incoherent Truth (PAUL KRUGMAN, 7/27/09, NY Times)

Reform, if it happens, will rest on four main pillars: regulation, mandates, subsidies and competition.

By regulation I mean the nationwide imposition of rules that would prevent insurance companies from denying coverage based on your medical history, or dropping your coverage when you get sick. This would stop insurers from gaming the system by covering only healthy people.

On the other side, individuals would also be prevented from gaming the system: Americans would be required to buy insurance even if they’re currently healthy, rather than signing up only when they need care.

...why not reduce the cost of our home and car insurance by requiring that people who don't need either buy it anyway?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:59 PM


Culture of Death: The right-wing assault on abortion reduction. (William Saletan, July 27, 2009, Slate)

A new fault line has opened in the abortion debate. The fight is no longer between pro-lifers and pro-choicers. It's between militants and pragmatists.

While some extremists have been raising hell and shooting doctors, pragmatists have been hashing out common-ground legislation.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:43 AM

LOUISVILLE PLUGGER (via Glenn Dryfoos)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:40 AM


Earth's Mantle: Untapped Oil Source? (Michael Reilly, 7/27/09, Discovery News)

For decades, though, scientists have toyed with a tantalizing alternative theory of petroleum formation: What if chemical reactions between water and minerals deep in Earth's mantle could send black gold bubbling up into the crust?

Alexander Goncharov of the Carnegie Institution of Washington in Washington, D.C and a team of researchers have shown that just such a thing is possible. They heated methane (CH4) up to 1,500 degrees Kelvin (2,240 degrees Fahrenheit) and mimicked the squeezing effect of being buried under over 100 kilometers (62 miles) of solid rock.

The results were astonishing -- methane readily transformed into butane (C4H10) and propane (C3H8), two common components of crude oil.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:36 AM


Police: 911 call didn't mention Gates' race (AP, July 27, 2009)

The 911 caller who reported a possible break-in at the home of black Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr. did not mention race in the call, according to a statement issued by her attorney and backed up by Cambridge Police Commissioner Robert Haas.

Lucia Whalen placed the 911 call July 16, saying she saw two men on Gates' front porch who appeared to be trying to force open the front door.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:33 AM


The Recession is Over (Daniel Gross, 7/26/09, NEWSWEEK)

The Great Recession, which rolled over our financial lives like one of P.J. Keating's giant pavers, is most likely over. Home sales, while still far below the levels of a year ago, have risen for three straight months—a first since 2004. The stock market has rallied 44 percent since March, thanks to renewed optimism and improving earnings from big companies like Goldman Sachs and Apple. In June, seven of the 10 indicators in the Conference Board Leading Economic Index pointed upward, including manufacturing hours worked and unemployment claims. Macroeconomic Advisers, the St. Louis–based consulting firm, says the economy is expanding at a 2.5 percent annual rate in the current quarter. Economic activity "will increase slightly over the remainder of 2009," Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke told Congress.

Irrational exuberance, it's not. But even stagnation would be an improvement over recent history. The U.S. economy shrank at nearly a 6 percent annualized rate between September 2008 and March 2009, a shocking slowdown that pitched the global economy into recession for the first time since World War II. "This looks an awful lot like the beginning of a second Great Depression," Nobel laureate Paul Krugman said in January.

Poor guy. Mr. Gross has had the "misfortune" to be an economic writer in a country that's experienced a boom for his entire adult life. No wonder he leaps to refer to what barely qualifies as a recession technically the "Great Recession." At least he's writing retrospectively, not prospectively, so he avoids looking quite as silly as the Nobel laureate.

A Nation Hard to Short (ROGER COHEN, 7/27/09, NY Times)

The other morning, I caught Warren Buffett on MSNBC. The Sage of Omaha was in sprightly form, perhaps buoyed by the market’s summer surge. He was asked where the market was headed in the next few months and he said he had no idea but he knew one thing: “It’s hard to short America in the long term.”

All the debt, personal and national, notwithstanding, I have to second that. As it happened, I’d been up very early that morning to talk to CNN’s excellent John Roberts about Iran. Waiting for the show, I looked east across Central Park to the rising sun just knotting its tie over the serried high rises of midtown and the Upper East Side.

It was a magnificent sight, the city resplendent. New York has recovered, if not its stride, at least its balance.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:23 AM


The Senate Doctors Show

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:45 AM


Iran president clashes with conservatives; 2 protesters said to die in custody: President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad angers fellow hard-liners by firing at least two ministers, but backtracks later and blames media for furor. (Borzou Daragahi and Ramin Mostaghim, July 27, 2009, LA Times)

New ruptures emerged in Iran's government Sunday when President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad angered fellow conservatives by abruptly sacking as many as four ministers who had opposed his choice for vice president.

Ahmadinejad later backtracked on his decision, saying he had fired only one minister, and blamed the media for creating the uproar. [...]

The controversy marked the second time in recent days that Ahmadinejad has faced off against fellow conservatives and been forced to back down.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:41 AM


Gitmo Woes (Michael Isikoff, 7/25/09, NEWSWEEK)

White House officials last week tried to downplay their decision to postpone by six months a key report on what to do with Guantánamo detainees when the facility is shut down. But the delay reflects the daunting political obstacles facing President Obama as he struggles to meet his pledge to close the prison by January. Only a few weeks ago, the White House had considered a grand rollout of its Gitmo plans with a joint appearance on Capitol Hill by Attorney General Eric Holder Jr., Defense Secretary Robert Gates and CENTCOM Cmdr. David Petraeus. But the president's aides concluded that a briefing would likely backfire, diverting attention from health care and giving Republicans fresh ammunition. "There was no good reason to put it out there and have it attract fire," says a senior administration official who asked not to be identified talking about the internal deliberations.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:17 AM


Obama's Insecure Slip: What led the president to wade into L’Affaire Gates? He thought he’d blown it with America on health care. (Tina Brown, 7/27/09, Daily Beast)

Obama’s unaccustomed carelessness in jumping on a racial landmine at the end of his health care press conference illustrates two things. First, his vanity as a performer. And second, his insecurity about his health care arguments.

The president, after a wordy, wonky, depressingly unconvincing briefing—one that he is pro enough to sense failed to make the sale to the press—eagerly took the question from Chicago reporter Lynn Sweet about the Henry Louis Gates affair. Obama saw it as a chance to be funny, to be real, to be his charming self—and to win back the room.

If there's one big lesson that two years in the public limelight has taught about the UR it is that he can never be allowed to go off script or the political consequences are dire.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:57 AM


In Bill O'Reilly's Sights: Run afoul of the conservative commentator, and feel the wrath of his avid Army (Rick Perlstein, 7/21/09, Newsweek)

Last week I was greeted with an uncomfortable curiosity: a brace of hate mail in my inbox, received within a 20-minute span. [...]

YouTube soon revealed all. Bill O'Reilly had run a segment on an article I published in the July 20 Newsweek, along with a picture—my author photograph—and a description of me—"this Perlstein," who had written "some book no one heard of," spit out with such venom that more than one friend of mine thought of Sasha Baron Cohen's Borat singing about throwing a Jew down a well. I was, Bill O'Reilly explained, an agent of "media corruption." In a subsequent newspaper column, O'Reilly summarized the problem thus: "Under the guise of hard news reporting, the media is pushing rank propaganda on the citizenry. Dr. Joseph Goebbels the Nazi propaganda minister, successfully developed this tactic in the 1930s."

Were I a conservative, and a fan of Sarah Palin, and a viewer of Bill O'Reilly—but not a particularly conscientious reader of Newsweek—I would have been mad at me, too.
What had I written, and what had Newsweek attempted to get away with? Here's how one friendly blogger summarized "Beyond the Palin": "Perlstein's entire article is ... a chronicle of the division within Republican ranks between the party's elites ... and its far more strident base." Any contempt present in the piece, he pointed out, came not in my own voice but those of the elite Republicans I quoted, who "treat part of the base with a certain amount of disdain, courting them with a wink and a nod when necessary, dissociating from them ... when they fail to deliver the electoral goods.... Indeed, Perlstein's article is not so much a liberal elitist sneer at the lumpen proletariat in fly-over country as much as it is a careful examination of conservative elites toward those they regard as such."

In truth the article was a little more than that. I also quoted author and former Bush speechwriter David Frum asking worriedly, "What's happening to Fox News?", and suggested that, in an era of occasional violence from the right-wing fringe, all responsible conservatives should all be asking that question. My friend David Neiwert, a Seattle-based journalist and author of the recent book The Eliminationists: How Hate Talk Radicalized the American Right, explained to me the problem thus: "I'm hearing now, from supposedly mainstream conservative pundits"—he singled out Fox's Glenn Beck, who has been entertaining the notion that Obama might not be a natural-born American citizen—"the kind of extreme rhetorical appeals that I used to hear from militia movement leaders in the early 1990s, talk about how the evil liberal president literally intends to destroy our country."

Obviously Friend Perlstein ought not be subjected to anti-Semitic and hateful personal attacks, especially not for pointing out the truth that the Beltway Right holds the religious base in the same contempt that he does. But rather than compare the way the Glenn Becks of the world talk about Barack Obama destroying the country to the militiamen talking about GHW Bush and Bill Clinton, he ought to compare them to himself, The Eve of Destruction: George Bush is getting four more years to remake the world in his image. (Too bad for us, he already started.) (Rick Perlstein, January 11th 2005, Village Voice)

After all, it was Bush Derangement Syndrome that mainstreamed this sort of demonization and lunatic talk about the president as a crypto-totalitarian.

How to Disagree Without Being Disagreeable (Jennifer Mesko, 7/22/09, CitizenLink)

s Republican Mark DeMoss and Democrat Lanny Davis ...are calling on liberals, conservatives, Democrats, Republicans and people of all faiths to take the "pledge," which reads:

I will be civil in my public discourse and behavior.
I will be respectful of others whether or not I agree with them.
I will stand against incivility when I see it.

To take the pledge, enter your first and last name and country at www.civilityproject.org.

DeMoss, president of his own public-relations firm — The DeMoss Group — said the project took shape during last year's election season.

"I had spent about two years volunteering for Mitt Romney, and I saw a lot of ugly rhetoric and behavior aimed at Mormons and then at me," he said. "And then the results of the Proposition 8 vote in California contributed to my thinking — when you saw gay activists responding to the (marriage-amendment) vote by vandalizing churches and temples.

"I decided to launch a project where I would talk not about unity, not about tolerance, not about getting along, not about compromise, but just about civility."

DeMoss' unlikely partner in the project is Lanny Davis, a longtime adviser to the Clintons who has served three terms on the Democratic National Committee.

Their paths crossed last year, as Davis was immersed in Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign. DeMoss was so impressed with Davis' civil tone that he wrote him a letter.

"I suspect that politically you and I may have nothing in common," he wrote. "But as I've watched you conduct yourself in the public arena, I've always appreciated how you handled yourself, how you handle your adversaries, how you show respect for those who disagree with you, and for modeling civility in an increasingly uncivil town."

Davis is used to getting mail — but not this kind.

"I'm getting all this hate mail, and I get this amazing letter from a perfect stranger who identifies himself as an evangelical Christian," Davis said. "I always try to give deference to somebody who disagrees with me. That is the point Mark made in his letter, that he noticed that about me, that I always try to be respectful of people who are of a different opinion.

"The letter was so beautifully written and moved me so greatly. It's now framed on my bookcase."

DeMoss invited Davis to join The Civility Project late last year.

July 26, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:39 AM


ObamaCare Dives Into End-Of-Life Debate: Medicare spends $100 billion annually on patients' final year of life. What the new bill says--and doesn't say--about treatment of the dying. (David Whelan, 07.24.09, Forbes)

Historically speaking, in the early 1980s, hospices and living wills, a type of advanced directive, became more commonplace in response to concerns about the cost of end-of-life care. The last Bush administration deliberately increased Medicare reimbursement rates for hospices to promote their use as an alternative to more expensive hospital stays. Hospices have become a big business. Chemed owns the $800 million (revenue) hospice chain Vitas. The Cincinnati company also puzzlingly owns Roto-Rooter plumbing franchises. It has one public competitor, Dallas' Odyssey, and many regional for-profit and nonprofit hospices.

Hospices, not surprisingly, support efforts in ObamaCare to promote their services. "It's a good provision," says Jon Keyserling, general counsel for the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization in Alexandria, Va. "I've seen an inference that government doctors will be steering patients to choose less care, and that's not the intent," he says, referring to some of the controversy that's emerged around this part of the bill.

Opponents of ObamaCare argue that this five-page section of a 1,000-page bill is actually an attempt to pressure senior citizens into opting out of expensive live-saving therapy.

It brings to mind Boomsday, a 2007 satirical novel by ForbesLife editor at large Christopher Buckley, in which the government solves its fiscal problems by offering tax breaks to those who kill themselves before retirement age.

If the reform is genuinely about saving money then the reality is we need to use it to kill people rather than spend a lot of money on treating them when they're ill. Of course, if the public understood that it would oppose the bill.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:22 AM


Abortion and the echo of eugenics (Jeff Jacoby, July 26, 2009, Boston Globe)

WHAT DO Richard Nixon and Ruth Bader Ginsburg have in common? [...]

Nixon was meeting with an aide in the White House on Jan. 23, 1973, when the conversation - recorded on tapes newly released by the Nixon Presidential Library - turned to the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision the day before. Though generally against abortion, Nixon said it was “necessary’’ in some cases, such as interracial pregnancies. “There are times when an abortion is necessary. I know that. When you have a black and a white,’’ he explained. “Or rape.’’

Ginsburg’s words were even creepier.

“Reproductive choice has to be straightened out,’’ she said in a recent New York Times interview. She was referring to the Hyde Amendment, which bars the use of Medicaid funds for abortions - a law the Supreme Court upheld in Harris v. McRae in 1980. “Frankly, I had thought that at the time Roe was decided, there was concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don’t want to have too many of. So that Roe was going to be then set up for Medicaid funding for abortion. . . But when the court decided McRae, the case came out the other way.’’

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:12 AM


Australian Opposition To Vote Down Carbon Scheme (Javno, 7/26/09)

Australia's opposition leader reiterated on Sunday the coalition would vote against the government's proposed carbon emissions trading scheme next month unless it is changed, in a move which could trigger a snap election.

The controversial package of 11 bills is set for a vote in the upper house Senate on Aug. 13, and its progress is being keenly watched around the world. The government does not control the upper house and needs an extra seven votes to get it through.

If the scheme does not go through, the Labor government could have a trigger to call an early election, which polls suggest it would easily win. [...]

The opposition, which controls the largest Senate voting bloc, is struggling for support in polls and would prefer a late 2010 election on the issue of government debt and economic management, rather than fight early on climate change.

Climate change legislation is economic management.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:06 AM


Obama failing to make plan deficit-neutral (Matt Mackowiak, 7/26/09, Philadelphia Inquirer)

There is an important thread that connects the failed stimulus bill and current efforts to reform health care: the federal deficit. And there is only one group on Capitol Hill with the commitment, credibility, and political mind-set to block the current health-care legislation.

The Blue Dog Coalition is currently made up of 52 conservative and moderate Democratic members of Congress and has been in existence for 15 years. The organization exists, primarily, to join politically vulnerable Democrats and serve as a moderating influence on the larger and more liberal Democratic caucus.

On the organization's Web site, you'll find the following figured prominently: "Currently, the U.S. Debt is estimated at: $11,226,807,380,955.11. Your share of today's public debt is: $36,683.01." The Blue Dogs have kept a laserlike focus on the federal deficit in recent years. [...]

The question is, do regular people really care about the deficit? The answer appears to be yes. A poll released on July 20 conducted by the Washington Post and ABC News showed that public approval with President Obama's handling of the deficit is now at 43 percent, with more independents disapproving than approving (48 percent to 42). Interestingly, the public does not just disapprove of his handling of the deficit; they prefer deficit reduction to increased spending to revive the economy by 55 to 40 percent in the same poll.

...if the reason health care should be reformed is to save money then revenue neutrality represents failure anyway.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:03 AM


The Great Preventer (NOURIEL ROUBINI, 7/26/09, NY Times)

Mr. Bernanke deserves to be reappointed. Both the conventional and unconventional decisions made by this scholar of the Great Depression prevented the Great Recession of 2008-2009 from turning into the Great Depression 2.0.

Mr. Bernanke understands that in the Great Depression, the collapse of the money supply and the lack of monetary stimulus during contractions worsened the country’s economic free fall. This lesson has paid off. Mr. Bernanke’s decision to keep interest rates low and encourage lending has, for now, averted the L-shaped near depression that seemed highly likely after the financial collapse last fall.

...is that any replacement would be forced to repeat his mistake--hiking rates into the teeth of a global deflation--in order to prove their inflation hawk bona fides.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:59 AM


AP Sources: US man was 'gold mine' of terror intel (ADAM GOLDMAN and DEVLIN BARRETT, 7/26/09, AP)

While an American citizen captured in Pakistan certainly presents a unique case, the circumstances of Vinas' treatment may point to a new emphasis in the fight against terror, one that relies more on FBI crimefighters and the civilian justice system than on CIA interrogators and military detention.

"This was by the numbers. It was a law enforcement operation and it worked," said a senior law enforcement official, one of several authorities who spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to publicly discuss the case. [...]

Vinas, born in Queens and raised as a Roman Catholic on Long Island, was turned over to the FBI. Authorities have long been concerned about al-Qaida's interest in recruiting outsiders who can blend in easily. It was not the first time an American had gone to Pakistan for Jihad. Others had preceded him such as the imprisoned "American Taliban," John Walker Lindh and convicted terrorist Jose Padilla.

At first after his capture, Vinas appeared scared and dejected.

If the terrorist isn't defiant why would you need to torture him?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:52 AM


India launches nuclear submarine (BBC, 7/26/09)

India has launched its first nuclear-powered submarine, becoming only the sixth country in the world to do so.

The 6,000 tonne Arihant was launched by India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at a ceremony on the south-east coast.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:39 AM


Hillary Clinton's Iran Indiscretion (Jim Hoagland, July 26, 2009, Washington Post)

The underlying subject for today is the evolving U.S. discussion on Iran's nuclear weapons capability. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton drew attention to that subject last week with a few ill-considered words in a televised town hall meeting in Thailand. Here is the New York Times account of what she said:

"We want Iran to calculate what I think is a fair assessment, that if the U.S. extends a defense umbrella over the region, if we do even more to support the military capacity of those in the Gulf, it's unlikely that Iran will be any stronger or safer, because they won't be able to intimidate and dominate, as they apparently believe they can, once they have a nuclear weapon."

These words are ill-considered not because they are wrong or wrongheaded. The problem is that they state an obvious truth in obvious language. "Defense umbrella" is a term codified by decades of Cold War experience and theory. It is strategic shorthand for the commitment that an attack on our ally is an attack on us and will be dealt with as such -- including the use of nuclear weapons if necessary.

The United States has not extended such an explicit guarantee to its Arab allies in the Gulf. But the Carter Doctrine of 1980 hinted at such a commitment. And there was a lively, inconclusive internal debate during George W. Bush's second term about extending the U.S. nuclear umbrella to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey and other regional powers to keep them from seeking their own nuclear weapons.

I wrote approvingly of that idea then and still support it. It was also echoed during a presidential campaign debate in 2008 when Clinton said the United States "should be looking to create an umbrella of deterrence that goes much further than just Israel." Her remarks in Thailand did not come out of the blue. They are precisely what Washington should be -- and no doubt is -- considering.

But President Obama has yet to bless the thought.

There's precious little evidence that the Secretary of State or the VP care what Mr. Obama blesses.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:36 AM


Defense secretary scores big wins on weapons cuts (RICHARD LARDNER, 7/26/09, AP )

Robert Gates is on a roll. Question is, how long will it last?

The politically savvy defense secretary scored big legislative wins when the Senate voted convincingly to end production of the high-priced F-22 jet fighter and killed an aircraft engine project that he says isn't needed.

Gates, a Republican holdover from the Bush administration, is on a campaign to change the way the Pentagon does business. In his sights are unnecessary or financially troubled weapons that siphon money away from the troops and gear required for irregular wars now being fought in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Yet getting Capitol Hill to go along with further deep cuts to big-ticket programs remains a huge challenge as lawmakers claw to protect the jobs these projects create in their states and districts. Others have serious disagreements with the Obama administration's strategic choices.

...the GOP leadership should be pushing to get defense spending back under 3% of GDP.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:03 AM


Now It’s a Census That Could Rip Iraq Apart (ROD NORDLAND, 7/26/09, NY Times)

When Iraqis were drafting their Constitution in 2005, the parties could not agree on who would control Kirkuk, the prized oil capital of the north. They couldn’t even agree on who lived in Kirkuk, which is claimed by the region’s Kurds, but also by its Turkmen minority and Sunni Arabs. For that matter, they couldn’t even agree on where Kirkuk was — in Tamim, Erbil, or Sulaimaniya Province.

So the Iraqis punted, inserting Article 140, a clause that called for a national census, followed by a referendum on the status of Kirkuk, all to be held by the end of 2007. What followed were a succession of delays, against a backdrop of sectarian violence and warnings that Kirkuk could blow apart the Shiite-Kurdish alliance that has governed Iraq since the Americans invaded. [...]

The problem with settling that is the Kirkuk referendum. There can’t be a referendum until Iraqis figure out who is eligible to vote in Kirkuk, which they can’t do until there’s a census. And any attempt to hold a census in this country may well end up, all by itself, provoking a civil war.

Even now, Sunnis don’t agree that they’re a minority of the nation, and that the Shiites are the majority, though it’s patently obvious.

Where's Mookie when you need him? It took not just the initial national election results but reprisals by the Sadrists and others to scare the Sunni into acting responsibly in Central Iraq.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:01 AM


Morocco Challenges Mideast Holocaust Mind-Set (AP, 26/07/2009)

From the western edge of the Muslim world, the King of Morocco has dared to tackle one of the most inflammatory issues in the Middle East conflict — the Holocaust.

At a time when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's dismissal of the Holocaust has made the biggest headlines, King Mohammed VI has called the Nazi destruction of the Jews "one of the most tragic chapters of modern history," and has endorsed a Paris-based program aimed at spreading the word among fellow Muslims.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:53 AM


U.S., Mexico meet in Gold Cup final: Americans try to defend their Gold Cup title at home, where they thrive against CONCACAF teams. (Grahame L. Jones, July 26, 2009, LA Times)

Mexico, because of the greater experience its players, might have a slight edge, but it's not worth risking even the smallest of wagers.

The U.S., after all, is the defending champion and is 38-4-6 all time in Gold Cup play. It has also outscored its opponents by a better than 3-1 margin in the 10 editions of the 18-year-old event.

On top of that, there is the U.S. record on its own playing fields. It has not lost at home to a team from the North and Central American and Caribbean (CONCACAF) region since 2001, a stretch of 58 games.

That might have changed during this event, especially with U.S. Coach Bob Bradley electing to field essentially a second-string team after the usual starters had taken part in the Confederations Cup in South Africa.

But the backups showed their worth. [...]

Holden, 24 next Saturday, was born in Scotland and played at Clemson. He has been impressive for four seasons with two-time MLS champion Houston, and has benefited from having Dynamo Coach Dominic Kinnear as a mentor.

Kinnear, a former U.S. international, molded him into a player who made the U.S. team for last year's Beijing Olympics.

Bradley has praised the midfielder.

"Stuart is a player who has been on the verge of getting into our team for a while," he said.

If our C team does manage a win, the A team goes to Mexico with the wind in their sails. But soccer players are such delicate creatures mentally that a loss on US soil could make them jittery for the August rematch, even though the players will all be different.

July 25, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:08 PM


Iraq Plans to Send 10,000 Students to Colleges in U.S., Abroad (AP, July 25, 2009)

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki says his country plans to send up to 10,000 Iraqi students a year to colleges in the United States, Britain, Canada and Australia over the next five years as a part of a new scholarship program.

Al-Maliki says stability in Iraq has allowed the country to focus on education after years of war. [...]

The country plans to start with about 500 students in U.S. and British schools this fall.

...and now Mohammed comes to Wittenberg.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:03 PM


Biden Criticizes Russia in Move Called ‘Perplexing’ (ANDREW E. KRAMER, 7/26/09, NY Times)

Speaking on the heels of his trip to Georgia and Ukraine, Mr. Biden said flatly that the Obama administration would make no deals and accept no compromises with the Kremlin in exchange for better relations. Russia itself, he said, should find it in its own interest to repair relations.

The Kremlin immediately responded to the comments, made in an interview with The Wall Street Journal, with a demand for a clarification of the administration’s intentions toward Russia, saying essentially that it was receiving a mixed message so soon after President Obama had visited Moscow for the summit meeting.

Calling the criticism “perplexing” in light of the diplomatic overtures initiated by the United States and described as “pressing the reset button,” the chief foreign policy adviser to President Dmitri A. Medvedev told the Interfax news agency, “The question is: who is shaping the U.S. foreign policy, the president or respectable members of his team?”

Neither of which describes the VP.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:40 PM


CBO deals new blow to health plan (CHRIS FRATES, 7/25/09, Politico)

[O]n Saturday, the Congressional Budget Office said the proposal to give an independent panel the power to keep Medicare spending in check would only save about $2 billion over 10 years- a drop in the bucket compared to the bill's $1 trillion price tag.

"In CBO's judgment, the probability is high that no savings would be realized ... but there is also a chance that substantial savings might be realized. Looking beyond the 10-year budget window, CBO expects that this proposal would generate larger but still modest savings on the same probabilistic basis," CBO Director Douglas Elmendorf wrote in a letter to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer on Saturday.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:12 AM


Girl bears brunt of immigration sweep that took parents (Richard Ruelas, Jul. 23, 2009, The Arizona Republic)

Katherine Figueroa was at an aunt's house on that Saturday morning, playing a game with her cousin, when she heard the man on TV say there had been a raid at the car wash where her parents worked.

"Something came to me in my mind that they got my parents, they got them both," the 9-year-old said.

Katherine ran to the living room in time to see her father on the screen, his hands clasped with zip ties. The anchorman said deputies were arresting people suspected of being illegal immigrants. Katherine screamed, then started to cry.

"The sheriff got them working," she recalled, not bothering to wipe her tears. "They weren't doing anything. They were just working."

Katherine does not have a detailed opinion on immigration reform. Or the effectiveness of workplace raids. Or local police agencies enforcing immigration laws.

She just knows how her parents' arrests have upended her life.

Like our periodic bouts of isolationism, we ultimately recognize those of nativism as so despicable that we return to decency.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:44 AM


Irony Without Irony: Chaucer's Knight — the non-ironic version (James Bowman, June 30, 2009, The American Spectator)

When my oldest son was a Boy Scout in England 20 years ago, I once watched his troop play a game in which the boys formed a circle around a troop leader holding a soccer ball. The leader proceeded to throw the ball to the boys at random, saying as he did so either "head" or "catch." If he said "head," the boy was supposed to catch it; if he said "catch," the boy was supposed to head it. Anyone who slipped up and caught the ball when instructed to catch it or head the ball when instructed to head it, was out and had to leave the circle. Eventually, only one scout was left standing. That boy, as I have often had occasion to think since, must have been one of nature’s ironists. He and the others had certainly had an education in the central principle of all ironic — and, for that matter, non-ironic — discourse, namely that meaning depends on context. A boy who’d said that he would just love to play such a game could have meant either that he’d love to play it or that he’d absolutely hate it, and all but the most literal-minded would have been able to tell which it was on hearing the words spoken in their context.

The ability to read that context, to pick up the cues indicating irony or its absence, depends on a certain degree of social skill and experience in complex social interactions. Irony, that is, belongs to the world of face-to-face communication, even when we encounter it in a book or a movie. If we are able to recognize the irony in fictional contexts it is because we have previously experienced it, or something like it, in real ones. Maybe that’s why, as we have begun to spend more and more of our time interacting with each other remotely and electronically, rather than face-to-face, it seems that our irony-reading skills have tended to atrophy, or else to go haywire, producing, on the one hand, a leaden literalism or, on the other, the sort of paranoia which supposes that everything must mean something other than what it says. [...]

Of all the silly things to be against, irony must be among the silliest. It is like being against algebra. Irony is simply a rationalization of the way the world — in this case the rhetorical world — works, and has always worked. But people could sympathize with the sort of social insecurity that must have lain behind Mr Purdy’s attachment to puritanical plain-speaking, and, with the help of The New York Times, the book made enough of a splash that that gentleman, now a law professor at Duke University, has lately written another, even sillier book. It is called A Tolerable Anarchy and is a tract on behalf of liberal utopianism. I see it as a sort of sequel, which must have grown out of the earlier book’s implied preference for humanity in the abstract rather than all its confusing imperfections.

Two decades before his denunciation of irony and a few years before my son was inducted into the scouts, Terry Jones of Monty Python fame, a champion ironist who was also a part-time medievalist, wrote a book called Chaucer’s Knight: The Portrait of a Medieval Mercenary, which purported to show that the man described in the Prologue to The Canterbury Tales as a parfit gentil knight was in fact a brutal and cold-blood killer with nothing chivalric about him. In fact, Mr Jones was pretty sure that there was nothing chivalric about medieval chivalry itself. The arguments over his detailed evidence for this shocking proposition have gone on for nearly three decades without anyone’s thinking to ask what would have been the point of Chaucer’s encoding the truth about his knight so successfully that it took some six centuries for a TV comedian to decode it?

Given our Creation myth, it is impossible for the faithful in the West not to be ironists. After all, God hands us a Creation in which everything is very good and we proceed to screw it up utterly. indeed, we're such a disappointment to Him that He ends up drowning most of us at one point and is ultimately only reconciled to us when we kill Him instead. As religions go, it's the only one that's too absurd not to be true.

But, not surprisingly, processing the central ironic truths about Creation turns out to be vital to organizing a decent society. Only a culture which accepts the imperfectability of Man and human institutions and organizes itself around these facts has any shot at happiness. Of course, modernity is pretty much defined by the Rationalist rejection of these truths and the pursuit, instead, of perfected societies, with predictably disastrous results.

Now, not only does the failure of the secularist's utopian thinking leave them miserable, and corpses stacked like cordwood, but it compounds the irony. After all, most of us have never turned away from the truth, so we've known all along where their misbegotten beliefs are leading them. In effect, while their experiments are too often mass murderous to be enjoyable, it is as if they were conducting them to amuse us. Their rejection of truth and insistence on acting upon falsehood is essentially funny. Not that they can be expected to appreciate the joke.

Indeed, the denunciation of irony is part and parcel of the phenomenon that all humor is conservative. And it's hilarious.

Forgiveness and Irony: What makes the West strong (Roger Scruton, Winter 2009, City Journal)

What is needed is not to reject citizenship as the foundation of social order but to provide it with a heart. And in seeking that heart, we should turn away from the apologetic multiculturalism that has had such a ruinous effect on Western self-confidence and return to the gifts that we have received from our Judeo-Christian tradition.

The first of these gifts is forgiveness. By living in a spirit of forgiveness, we not only uphold the core value of citizenship but also find the path to social membership that we need. Happiness does not come from the pursuit of pleasure, nor is it guaranteed by freedom. It comes from sacrifice: that is the great message that all the memorable works of our culture convey. The message has been lost in the noise of repudiation, but we can hear it once again if we devote our energies to retrieving it. And in the Judeo-Christian tradition, the primary act of sacrifice is forgiveness. The one who forgives sacrifices resentment and thereby renounces something that had been dear to his heart.

The Koran invokes at every point the mercy, compassion, and justice of God. But the God of the Koran is not a lenient God. In His Koranic manifestation, God forgives sparingly and with obvious reluctance. He is manifestly not amused by human folly and weakness—nor, indeed, is He amused by anything. The Koran, unlike the Hebrew Bible or the New Testament, is a joke-free zone.

This brings us to another of our civilization’s gifts to us: irony. There is already a developing streak of irony in the Hebrew Bible, one that the Talmud amplifies. But a new kind of irony dominates Christ’s judgments and parables, which look on the spectacle of human folly and wryly show us how to live with it. A telling example is Christ’s verdict in the case of the woman taken in adultery: “Let he who is without fault cast the first stone.” In other words: “Come off it; haven’t you wanted to do what she did, and already done it in your hearts?” Some have suggested that this story is a later insertion—one of many that the early Christians culled from the store of inherited wisdom attributed to the Redeemer after his death. Even if that is true, however, it merely confirms the view that the Christian religion has made irony central to its message. It was a troubled, post-Enlightenment Christian, Søren Kierkegaard, who pointed to irony as the virtue that united Socrates and Christ.

The late Richard Rorty saw irony as a state of mind intimately connected with the postmodern worldview—a withdrawal from judgment that nevertheless aims at a kind of consensus, a shared agreement not to judge. The ironic temperament, however, is better understood as a virtue—a disposition aimed at a kind of practical fulfillment and moral success. Venturing a definition of this virtue, I would describe it as a habit of acknowledging the otherness of everything, including oneself. However convinced you are of the rightness of your actions and the truth of your views, look on them as the actions and the views of someone else and rephrase them accordingly. So defined, irony is quite distinct from sarcasm: it is a mode of acceptance rather than a mode of rejection. It also points both ways: through irony, I learn to accept both the other on whom I turn my gaze, and also myself, the one who is gazing. Pace Rorty, irony is not free from judgment: it simply recognizes that the one who judges is also judged, and judged by himself.

The West’s democratic inheritance stems, I would argue, from the habit of forgiveness. To forgive the other is to grant him, in your heart, the freedom to be. It is therefore to acknowledge the individual as sovereign over his life and free to do both right and wrong. A society that makes permanent room for forgiveness therefore tends automatically in a democratic direction, since it is a society in which the voice of the other is heard in all decisions that affect him. Irony—the recognition and acceptance of otherness—amplifies this democratic tendency and also helps thwart the mediocrity and conformity that are the downsides of a democratic culture.

Forgiveness and irony lie at the heart of our civilization. They are what we have to be most proud of, and our principal means to disarm our enemies. They underlie our conception of citizenship as founded in consent. And they are expressed in our conception of law as a means to resolve conflicts by discovering the just solution to them. It is not often realized that this conception of law has little in common with Muslim sharia, which is regarded as a system of commands issued by God and not capable of, or in need of, further justification.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:24 AM


In risky field, suspicion is key tool, officers say (Maria Cramer, July 25, 2009, Boston Globe)

Underestimating a seemingly routine call can be deadly. Overreacting can lead to accusations of civil rights violations, litigation, and physical harm to an innocent person.

From the busiest departments to the sleepiest towns, patrol officers, sergeants, and lieutenants all had similar stories of the times they relaxed too quickly around a suspect or after defusing a tense situation. Officers also spoke of the fear that can strike even veteran police officers when they respond to a domestic violence call or pull a vehicle over in a traffic stop. In an FBI analysis, 19 percent of the 57 officers killed by criminals in 2007 had either just pulled someone to the side of the road or were trying to.

“There is always that feeling of, ‘Is this going to be more than the soccer mom late for practice?’ ’’ said Walpole police Officer Jaclyn Hazeldine. “You don’t know who’s got what in the car, and you can’t let your guard down.’’

Terrence Cunningham was a young sergeant in Wellesley in 1995 when he spotted a stopped car on Route 9 about 2 in the morning. He saw two men inside and, thinking they had car trouble, pulled up behind them and began to walk to the vehicle. Immediately, they ran out of the car and grabbed him, punching and kicking at him. It turns out that they were the look-out guys for a third man stealing car parts from a nearby Dodge dealership. An off-duty Boston police officer rescued the sergeant, but Cunningham, now the department’s police chief, was reminded of one of the job’s most painful realities.

“You never know what’s going to happen,’’ he said. “You always have to have a plan. If this thing goes upside down, what are you going to do?’’

...that police should let their guard down where black men are involved.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:01 AM


Election 2010: California Senate: California Senate: Boxer 45%, Fiorina 41% (Rasmussen Reports, July 24, 2009)

The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey finds that Boxer attracts 45% of the statewide vote while Fiorina, her best-known possible Republican challenger, earns 41%. Seven percent (7%) say they’d vote for some other candidate, and seven percent (7%) are undecided. [...]

Twenty-one percent (21%) of voters statewide have a Very Favorable opinion of Boxer. That’s down six points since March. Thirty-six percent (36%) have a very unfavorable view of the incumbent, who has been in the Senate since 1993.

"Don't let Barbara Boxer do to America what's been done to California. Send a businesswoman to Washington who will get control of spending before it's too late."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:55 AM


Democrats’ Divide Fuels Turmoil on Health Care (ROBERT PEAR and DAVID M. HERSZENHORN, 7/25/09, NY Times)

Representative Joe L. Barton of Texas, the senior Republican on the Energy and Commerce Committee, said the discord among Democrats suggested that the bill, as now written, would face long odds on the House floor.

“If the Democrats cannot get agreement in the committee, with 36 Democrats and 23 Republicans,” Mr. Barton said, “if they can’t get an agreement with the deck stacked in committee, how in the heck are they going to get an agreement on the floor?”

On Friday morning, Mr. Waxman said there had “been a significant breakthrough” in resolving one of the Blue Dogs’ concerns, about geographic disparities in Medicare payments to doctors and hospitals. Many Blue Dogs come from rural districts that they say are underpaid by Medicare.

Under the agreement, Medicare would also take steps to “reward value,” defined as the efficient delivery of high-quality care.

Despite this agreement, Mr. Waxman sounded impatient at midday.

“We have to take up the legislation next week or acknowledge the fact that Democrats do not control the committee any longer,” Mr. Waxman said. “I will not allow Blue Dogs to turn over control of the committee to Republicans, which they have threatened to do. I am troubled that some Democrats would rather align themselves with Republicans than work out their problems with fellow Democrats.”

Pssst....they're trying to align themselves with voters because they represent Republican districts...temporarily.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:44 AM


Corruption arrests in N.J. hurt Gov. Corzine's re-election bid, thrill GOP (David Saltonstall, 7/25/09, NY DAILY NEWS)

Christie, a former U.S. attorney running a strong challenge to Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine, wasted little time putting up a new TV ad touting his suddenly spot-on law-and-order background.

"I put corrupt public officials in jail - Republicans and Democrats," Christie said in the ad. "As governor, I'll make the same tough, independent decisions."

Left unmentioned was that Christie, who left his Justice Department post seven months ago, initiated the probe that led to bribery charges against dozens of political insiders, most of them Democrats.

The sweep is unquestionably bad news for Corzine, who was not implicated, but will have to explain how such wide-ranging corruption was allowed to flourish on his watch, experts said.

"It is huge," said Steve Adubato, Jr., a Jersey political analyst and co-host of a popular public affairs show, "Inside Trenton." "It now frames the governor's race very clearly around the issue of political corruption."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:34 AM


Behind the Honduran Mutiny (JOSE DE CORDOBA, 7/25/09, WSJ)

[A] close look at Mr. Zelaya's time in office reveals a strongly antidemocratic streak. He placed himself in a growing cadre of elected Latin presidents who have tried to stay in power past their designated time to carry out a populist-leftist agenda. These leaders, led by Venezuela's Hugo Chávez, have used the region's historic poverty and inequality to gain support from the poor, but created deep divisions in their societies by concentrating power in their own hands and increasing government control over the economy, media and other sectors.

Mr. Zelaya, a 56-year-old former rancher and logger with a handlebar moustache, joined this group, which includes Mr. Chávez, Rafael Correa in Ecuador, Evo Morales in Bolivia, and Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua. This past week, Mr. Ortega laid out plans for a referendum to rewrite Nicaragua's Constitution and allow him to be re-elected indefinitely, something Mr. Chávez has already achieved in oil-rich Venezuela.

It was such a move that led to trouble in neighboring Honduras. For the past year, Mr. Zelaya led a drive to rewrite the constitution to abolish term limits. On the day of his ouster, he was planning a referendum to call a constitutional assembly, even though the vote had been declared illegal by the country's Supreme Court.

The crisis has put the Obama administration in a difficult spot. Mindful of past U.S. support of coups in Latin America, it condemned the ouster and has led efforts to find a negotiated solution. But its insistence Mr. Zelaya return to power has angered many middle-class Hondurans, who feel the ouster defended the country's institutions from a Chávez-style power grab.

"This is a showdown which will determine if the Chavista model triumphs or not," says Moises Starkman, who advised Mr. Zelaya on special projects and now works for the interim government in the same capacity. [...]

Two years into his term, Mr. Zelaya reshuffled his government, bringing into his cabinet a hard-line cadre of ministers dominated by Patricia Rodas, his foreign minister. The daughter of a famous right-wing Liberal party leader, Ms. Rodas has a reputation as a doctrinaire, hard-line Marxist from her university days.

Even as leftist associates increased their influence on Mr. Zelaya, the world economy also pushed him leftwards. In 2007, Honduras was hit hard by record high oil prices. The country imports all its fuel needs, and also has no refining capacity. That means four companies -- Chevron, Exxon Mobil, Royal Dutch Shell and the local Dipsa -- control the market, importing the fuel directly and distributing it through their own service stations. As oil prices climbed, Honduras, whose power plants run on fuel, was forced to hike electricity prices, and ration power.

At first, Mr. Zelaya, desperate for relief, tried to lower the cost of imports by buying oil products in bulk, but the plan failed because the government didn't have its own oil-storage facilities. So, in 2007, Mr. Zelaya decreed a cut in fuel prices. But this move led to fuel shortages as importers complained that the price cuts undermined revenues. By mid 2008, the oil companies threatened to halt all new investment in Honduras.

Neighboring Nicaragua, which had been getting cut-rate fuel from Caracas since 2005 under a program called Petrocaribe, had no such problems. A brainchild of Mr. Chávez, Petrocaribe sells Venezuelan oil at market prices but allows its 18 member countries to finance a part of the oil at very low interest rates. As of 2007, Petrocaribe had provided $1.2 billion in financing -- similar to the Washington-based Inter-American Development Bank's soft loans in that period.

As Mr. Zelaya fought with foreign oil companies, Mr. Chávez offered cheap oil. Few here opposed the country's entry into the Venezuelan oil pact when the Congress approved it in March of 2007. "I pushed hard for Petrocaribe," says Adolfo Facusse, the head of Honduras' industrialists' chamber and now an opponent of Mr. Zelaya. Since then, Petrocaribe has provided Mr. Zelaya's government some $126 million in savings, officials say.

Mr. Zelaya, who at first had kept his distance from Mr. Chávez, was quickly ensconced in the Venezuelan's tight embrace.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:32 AM


Ukuleles have gone viral: YouTube videos, online how-tos and social networking fuel the musical instrument's renewed popularity. (Dan Fost, July 25, 2009, LA Times)

[U]kulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro, already big in Hawaii, the uke's homeland, became a nationwide sensation with his wailin’ on Harrison’s “My Guitar Gently Weeps,” which has attracted more than 3 million hits on YouTube since 2006 and earned him tours with Jimmy Buffett, a recording session with cellist Yo-Yo Ma and various television appearances.

As with so many groups the Internet has helped to foster, Ukulele lovers have been searching for like-minded folks among isolated pockets of uke players and creating online communities. Beloff's website Flea Market Music hosts a directory of more than 3,000 ukulele players so they can find one another in their local communities. Good ukes, once hard to find, are popping up on EBay.

"There are a lot of ukulele specialty websites," uke maker Upton said. "For years, music stores didn't carry them."

The website Ukulele Underground posts YouTube videos and ukulele reviews and hosts spirited discussions about concerts, techniques, instruments and everything else a ukulele fan would want. Last year, the Underground staff posted a video lesson on how to play Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” on the uke, saying, "We're blasting [Don Ho's] 'Tiny Bubbles' right out of the water."

The novelty aspect still exists, as anyone who listens to the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain can attest. Picture eight men in tuxedos, strumming and picking the tune of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit." [...]

Ukuleles were a rage in the 1920s and again in the 1950s, when radio and television host Arthur Godfrey made the instrument a hit. But falsetto-voiced Tiny Tim turned it nearly into a joke, and ukes fell out of favor. In 1993, C.F. Martin made only four ukuleles and quit the business the next year. It resumed manufacturing in 2001 -- the year George Harrison died.

The online Ukulele Hall of Fame Museum appeared in 1996. Given the Web's role in the instrument's comeback, the museum's existence in the virtual world seems appropriate.

The Internet has certainly been kind to Shimabukuro, 32.

In 2006, he sat in Central Park in New York and played a sizzling version of Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," thinking it was only for an obscure local television show called "Ukulele Disco."

"To this day, I don't know how it got on YouTube," he said. "Because of that four-minute video clip, I've been having opportunities to travel, to record with Yo-Yo Ma, to tour with Jimmy Buffett, to record with Fleck and the Flecktones. It's just been a dream come true. It's been a real blessing."

Shimabukuro now autographs young people's ukuleles at his shows, where he plays mostly his own compositions in a variety of genres: flamenco, bluegrass, Latin jazz and even Eddie Van Halen-style hard rock. If he's a pied piper of the ukulele, it's a mantle he is happy to wear.

"If everyone owned an ukulele," he said, pronouncing it "ooh-koo-LAY-lay" in the Hawaiian fashion, "this world would be such a peaceful place."

Tough to beat Iz and John King:

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:27 AM


He Said/V.I.P. Said: A Prejudometer cranked up to eleven. (Mark Steyn, 7/24/09, National Review)

For everyone other than the president, what happened at Professor Gates’s house is not entirely clear. The Harvard prof returned home without his keys and, as Obama put it, “jimmied his way into the house.” Someone witnessing the “break-in” called the cops, and things, ah, escalated from there. Professor Gates is now saying that, if Sergeant Crowley publicly apologizes for his racism, the prof will graciously agree to “educate him about the history of racism in America.” Which is a helluva deal. I mean, Ivy League parents re-mortgage their homes to pay Gates for the privilege of lecturing their kids, and here he is offering to hector it away to some no-name lunkhead for free.

As to the differences between the professor’s and the cops’ version of events, I confess I’ve been wary of taking Henry Louis Gates at his word ever since, almost two decades back, the literary scholar compared the lyrics of the rap group 2 Live Crew to those of the Bard of Avon. “It’s like Shakespeare’s ‘My love is like a red, red rose,’ ” he declared, authoritatively, to a court in Fort Lauderdale.

As it happens, “My luv’s like a red, red rose” was written by Robbie Burns, a couple of centuries after Shakespeare. Oh, well. Sixteenth-century English playwright, 18th-century Scottish poet: What’s the diff? Evidently being within the same quarter-millennium and right general patch of the North-East Atlantic is close enough for a professor of English and Afro-American Studies appearing as an expert witness in a court case. Certainly no journalist reporting Gates’s testimony was boorish enough to point out the misattribution.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:07 AM


July 24, 2009

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House healthcare talks break down in anger (Jared Allen, Mike Soraghan and Lauren Burke, 07/24/09, The Hill)

House healthcare negotiations dissolved in acrimony on Friday, with Blue Dog Democrats saying they were “lied” to by their Democratic leaders.

The seven Blue Dogs on the Energy and Commerce Committee stormed out of a Friday meeting with their committee chairman, Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), saying Waxman had been negotiating in bad faith over a number of provisions Blue Dogs demanded be changed in the stalled healthcare bill.

You're in the wrong party fellas.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:07 PM


Iranian leader 'orders dismissal' (BBC, 7/24/09)

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has ordered President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to dismiss his choice to serve as vice-president, state TV says.

Appointing Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie was "against your interest and the interests of the government", the ayatollah wrote to Mr Ahmadinejad.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:52 PM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:18 PM


House Dems threaten floor vote to break impasse (ERICA WERNER, 7/24/09, Associated Press)

Dissension within Democratic ranks over President Barack Obama's health care initiative all but paralyzed the House Friday, typifying just how many political land mines are littering the path to enactment. [...]

Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said negotiations with fiscally conservative Democrats on his panel cannot continue indefinitely. But a floor vote would put fellow Democrats in an exposed position, having to cast a vote on a $544-billion upper-income tax increase that the Senate is unlikely to embrace to help pay for covering the millions of uninsured Americans. [...]

Two House panels have already passed legislation. Waxman is stymied because seven conservatives on his committee — part of a group called the Blue Dog Democrats — are sticking together.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:16 PM


Police unions call for apology from Obama, Patrick (Jonathan Saltzman and Andrew Ryan, 7/24/09, Boston Globe)

Police unions today called on President Obama and Governor Deval Patrick to apologize to "all law enforcement personnel," saying they "deeply resent the implication" of their comments about racial profiling and the arrest of an African-American scholar last week at his home near Harvard Square.

Speaking at a press conference at the Hotel Marlowe packed with local and national media, the union officials also said that the disorderly conduct charge should not have been dropped against professor Henry Louis Gates Jr.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:04 PM


Why Obamacare Is Sinking (Charles Krauthammer, July 24, 2009 , Washington Post)

[Y]ou can't fake it in legislation. Once you commit your fantasies to words and numbers, the Congressional Budget Office comes along and declares that the emperor has no clothes.

President Obama premised the need for reform on the claim that medical costs are destroying the economy. True. But now we learn -- surprise! -- that universal coverage increases costs. The congressional Democrats' health-care plans, says the CBO, increase costs on the order of $1 trillion plus.

In response, the president retreated to a demand that any bill he sign be revenue-neutral. But that's classic misdirection: If the fierce urgency of health-care reform is to radically reduce costs that are producing budget-destroying deficits, revenue neutrality (by definition) leaves us on precisely the same path to insolvency that Obama himself declares unsustainable.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:49 AM


Indo-US ties: The thrill is gone (Rediff, 7/24/09)

The growing uneasiness is as much the result of administration change in Washington as it is of the economic crisis affecting the US.

George W Bush, deeply suspicious of communist China, was personally keen on building strong ties with India. Hence, he was willing to sacrifice long-held US non-proliferation concerns to embrace nuclear India and acknowledge it as the primary actor in South Asia, de-hyphenated from Pakistan.

The Barack Obama administration's concern with protecting the non-proliferation regime, dealing with the immediate challenge of the growing Taliban threat in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and solving the unprecedented economic challenge have led it to a very different set of priorities and an agenda in which India has a marginal role. The only context in which Obama has mentioned India thus far was the need to resolve Kashmir so as to find a way out of the West's troubles in Afghanistan. Talk of a strategic partnership between the two democracies has all but disappeared.

It's like the 70s all over again, as the UR shafts Israel, Britain, and India to play kissy-face with Russia, the Arabs, and Pakistan.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:19 AM


Officer Tells His Side of The Story in Gates Arrest (Krissah Thompson and Cheryl W. Thompson, 7/24/09, Washington Post)

Sgt. James Crowley said Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. was combative from the moment the officer arrived at his house last week to respond to a call about a possible burglary. As the confrontation escalated, Crowley said he warned Gates that he risked arrest.

"The second warning was with me holding a set of handcuffs in my hands -- something I really didn't want to do," Crowley said in a radio interview. "The professor at any time could have resolved the issue by quieting down and/or going back inside his house." [...]

When Crowley arrived and questioned whether Gates lived in the home, the 58-year-old academic became upset, eventually demanding the officer's name and badge number so he could file a complaint. Crowley said Gates referred to Crowley's mother as a way of showing his displeasure.

When the officer repeatedly asked Gates to speak with him outside, the professor responded, "Ya, I'll speak with your mama outside," Crowley wrote in a police report.

"I'm still just amazed that somebody of his level of intelligence could stoop to such a level, and berate me, accuse me of being a racist or racial profiling," Crowley said in a radio interview Thursday with WEEI-AM. "And then speaking about my mother, it's just -- it's beyond words."

Crowley, 42, said that, when he first saw Gates, in "my mind, I'm thinking, 'He does not look like someone who would break into the house.' " At the same time, however, "from the time that he opened the door, it seemed that he was very upset, very unhappy that I was there."

Of Obama, Crowley said in an interview with Boston's WBZ-AM: "I support the president of the United States 110 percent. I think he's way off base wading into a local issue without knowing all the facts as he himself stated before he made that comment."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:17 AM


Former NFL coach Sam Wyche mulls House run in South Carolina (JOSH KRAUSHAAR, 7/23/09, Politico)

Sam Wyche, the longtime National Football League coach who led the Cincinnati Bengals to a Super Bowl, is now looking to pursue a career in congressional politics.

Wyche told POLITICO he’s exploring a campaign to succeed Rep. Gresham Barrett (R-S.C.), who is leaving his House seat to run for governor. [...]

He said he plans to reach out to Steve Largent, J.C. Watts and Tom Osborne – three other former pro football players who made the transition to Congress. But he cautioned that he’s only in the very early stages of exploring a campaign, and is just now beginning to discuss his interest with statewide party officials.

Maybe if Heath Shuler had been any good he'd have been a Republican too.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:15 AM


Presser draws 24.7 million; 14 percent drop (Michael Calderone, 7/24/09, Politico)

That's a 14 percent drop from the April 29 prime-time presser, and 50 percent less than the first one of his presidency.

The bully pulpit is a precious political resource. He wasted it.

Obama Complains About the News Cycle but Manipulates It, Worrying Some (PETER BAKER, 7/24/09, NY Times)

fter six months in office, perhaps no other president has been more attuned to, or done more to dominate, the news cycle he disparages. Mr. Obama has given roughly three times as many interviews as George W. Bush and held four times as many prime-time news conferences as Bill Clinton had by comparable points in their terms.

In the past four days, Mr. Obama gave “exclusive” interviews to Jim Lehrer of PBS, Katie Couric of CBS and Meredith Vieira of NBC. He gave two interviews to The Washington Post on one day, one to the editorial page editor and one to news reporters. He held a conference call with bloggers. His hourlong session in the East Room on Wednesday night was his second news conference of the day. And on Thursday, he invited Terry Moran of ABC to spend the day with him for a “Nightline” special.

The all-Obama, all-the-time carpet bombing of the news media represents a strategy by a White House seeking to deploy its most effective asset in service of its goals, none more critical now than health care legislation. But longtime Washington hands warn that saturation coverage can diminish the power of his voice and lose public attention.

Besides which, he's not an asset when he's speaking. The idea of Barrack Obama is compelling. The reality disheartening.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:11 AM


Love in 2-D (LISA KATAYAMA, 7/26/09, NY Times Magazine)

Nisan is part of a thriving subculture of men and women in Japan who indulge in real relationships with imaginary characters. These 2-D lovers, as they are called, are a subset of otaku culture— the obsessive fandom that has surrounded anime, manga and video games in Japan in the last decade. It’s impossible to say exactly what portion of otaku are 2-D lovers, because the distinction between the two can be blurry. Like most otaku, the majority of 2-D lovers go to work, pay rent, hang out with friends (some are even married). Unlike most otaku, though, they have real romantic feelings for their toys. The less extreme might have a hidden collection of figurines based on anime characters that they go on “dates” with during off hours. A more serious 2-D lover, like Nisan, actually believes that a lumpy pillow with a drawing of a prepubescent anime character on it is his girlfriend.

According to many who study the phenomenon, the rise of 2-D love can be attributed in part to the difficulty many young Japanese have in navigating modern romantic life. According to a government survey, more than a quarter of men and women between the ages of 30 and 34 are virgins; 50 percent of men and women in Japan do not have friends of the opposite sex. One of the biggest best sellers in the country last year was “Health and Physical Education for Over Thirty,” a six-chapter, manga-illustrated guidebook that holds the reader’s hand from the first meeting to sex to marriage.

Most 2-D lovers prefer a different kind of self-help. The guru of the 2-D love movement, Toru Honda, a 40-year-old man with a boyishly round face and puppy-dog eyes, has written half a dozen books advocating the 2-D lifestyle. A few years ago, Honda, a college dropout who worked a succession of jobs at video-game companies, began to use the Internet to urge otaku to stand with pride against good-looking men and women. His site generated enough buzz to earn him a publishing contract, and in 2005 he released a book condemning what he calls “romantic capitalism.” Honda argues that romance was marketed so excessively through B-movies, soap operas and novels during Japan’s economic bubble of the ’80s that it has become a commodity and its true value has been lost; romance is so tainted with social constructs that it can be bought by only good looks and money. According to Honda, somewhere along the way, decent men like himself lost interest in the notion entirely and turned to 2-D. “Pure love is completely gone in the real world,” Honda wrote. “As long as you train your imagination, a 2-D relationship is much more passionate than a 3-D one.” Honda insists that he’s advocating not prurience but a whole new kind of romance. If, as some researchers suggest, romantic love can be broken down into electrical impulses in the brain, then why not train the mind to simulate those signals while looking at an inanimate character?

Honda’s fans took his message to heart. When he admitted to watching human porn at a panel discussion in Tokyo in 2005, several hundred hard-core 2-D lovers in the audience booed with shock that their dear leader had nostalgia for the 3-D world. Later, in an interview with a Japanese newspaper, Honda clarified his position, saying that he was worried 2-D love was becoming an easy way out for young otaku, who might still have a shot at success in the real world. “I’m not saying that everyone should throw away hopes of real romance right away. I am simply saying that guys like me who have gotten to a point of no return can be happy living in 2-D.”

In Japan the fetishistic love for two-dimensional characters is enough of a phenomenon to have earned its own slang word, moe, homonymous with the Japanese words for “burning” or “budding.” In an ideal moe relationship, a man frees himself from the expectations of an ordinary human relationship and expresses his passion for a chosen character, without fear of being judged or rejected.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:46 AM


Umpire Cooper has a full plate of no-hitters (CHRIS DE LUCA, 7/24/09, suntimes.com)

Some umpires can work their entire careers and never find themselves behind the plate for a no-hitter. Eric Cooper has been the plate umpire for three of them, including two by White Sox left-hander Mark Buehrle, who pitched a perfect game Thursday against the Tampa Bay Rays. [...]

How's this for strange? Cooper has been behind the plate for each of Buehrle's last three shutouts -- the perfect game Thursday, the no-hitter April 18, 2007, at U.S. Cellular Field against the Texas Rangers and a 6-0 victory against the Los Angeles Dodgers on June 17, 2005, at the Cell.

Cooper, 38, also was behind the plate for Boston Red Sox right-hander Hideo Nomo's no-hitter against the Baltimore Orioles on April 6, 2001.

Does the author really think this coincidental?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:33 AM


Researchers produce cells they say are identical to embryonic stem cells
Scientists in China use cells from adult mice to breed new mice. The breakthrough results are hailed as an advance toward eliminating the need for fetal stem cells in a variety of applications. (Thomas H. Maugh II, July 23, 2009, LA Times)

Two groups of Chinese researchers have performed an unprecedented feat, it was announced today, by inducing cells from connective tissue in mice to revert back to their embryonic state and producing living mice from them.

By demonstrating that cells from adults can be converted into cells that, like embryonic stem cells from fetuses, have the ability to produce any type of tissue, the researchers have made a major advance toward eliminating the need for fetal cells in research and clinical applications.

...didn't have to watch his own family act more barbaric than the Chicoms.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:28 AM


U.S. defeats Honduras, 2-0: Clarence Goodson and Kenny Cooper each score a goal for the defending champion American team, which will face Mexico in the final on Sunday. Mexico beats Costa Rica on penalty kicks. (Associated Press, July 23, 2009)

First the big boys in South Africa, now the JV at home. No matter who the United States puts on the field these days, they're finding a way to win.

Clarence Goodson scored at the end of the first half and Kenny Cooper at the end of the second to give a young American team a 2-0 victory over Honduras on Thursday night and a spot in its third straight CONCACAF Gold Cup final. The Americans, winners of the last two Gold Cup titles, will play Mexico in Sunday's final at Giants Stadium. In the other semifinal, Mexico defeated Costa Rica, 5-3, on penalty kicks after the teams were tied 1-1 after 120 minutes. [...]

U.S. Coach Bob Bradley did a complete makeover of his roster after the Confederations Cup, letting most of his top players return to their MLS teams or take time off ahead of the European season. In their place, he brought in a bunch of youngsters, many making their first appearances with the senior national team.

While they might not have the flair of Landon Donovan, Tim Howard or Carlos Bocanegra, the kids have been more than all right.

The Americans have gone unbeaten in the tournament, and several young players have emerged who could play a role in next year's World Cup. Holden had assists on both goals Thursday, adding to the two he scored in earlier games.

While there's certainly something admirable in Coach Bradley's determination to develop a deeper squad even if it means losing the competition, one wonders if this was the best moment to play such ugly soccer--even by normal soccer standards. The team has finally won some national attention and that seems like something it would be better to build upon. Plus, he only figured out that they need to play a 4-2-2-2 (or 6-0-4, take your pick of what you call it) halfway through the South African tournament. You'd think it would make sense to get the starting players some more time in the formation before you play Mexico twice in three weeks. Winning those two games would go a long way to establishing the team as newsworthy. Of course, they also need to figure out how to get the games on tv....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:15 AM


Obama eases stance on arrest of black Harvard professor (Peter Wallsten, Peter Nicholas and Richard Simon, July 24, 2009, LA Times)

A day after saying that police "acted stupidly" in arresting a black Harvard University professor in his own home, President Obama appeared to soften his stance Thursday, spreading the blame more equally between the police and the arrested man.

Obama had previously implied during a news conference Wednesday that Henry Louis Gates Jr., his personal friend and one of the nation's preeminent African American scholars, had been a victim of racial profiling by the police.

But Thursday, the president praised police officers and couched the incident as an unfortunate clash of tempers.

All the incident did was confirm the obvious: when the UR goes off script he's a dumpster fire.

July 23, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:45 PM


Budget Deal Boosts California's Republicans (STU WOO, 7/23/09, WSJ)

Despite being decisively outnumbered in the statehouse, Republican lawmakers are emerging as the winners in California's spending plan, which contains no new taxes and implements the deep cuts and program overhauls the party had sought for years.

"They have realized Reagan's vision of a smaller state and local government," said Bruce Cain, a political-science professor at the University of California at Berkeley. "They forced [Democrats] to make very deep cuts in services, to schools and to state salaries and state benefits."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:07 PM


Waking from its sleep: A quiet revolution has begun in the Arab world; it will be complete only when the last failed dictatorship is voted out (The Economist, 7/23/09)

WHAT ails the Arabs? The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) this week published the fifth in a series of hard-hitting reports on the state of the Arab world. It makes depressing reading. The Arabs are a dynamic and inventive people whose long and proud history includes fabulous contributions to art, culture, science and, of course, religion. The score of modern Arab states, on the other hand, have been impressive mainly for their consistent record of failure.

They have, for a start, failed to make their people free: six Arab countries have an outright ban on political parties and the rest restrict them slyly. They have failed to make their people rich: despite their oil, the UN reports that about two out of five people in the Arab world live on $2 or less a day. They have failed to keep their people safe: the report argues that overpowerful internal security forces often turn the Arab state into a menace to its own people. And they are about to fail their young people. The UNDP reckons the Arab world must create 50m new jobs by 2020 to accommodate a growing, youthful workforce—virtually impossible on present trends.

Arab governments are used to shrugging off criticism. They had to endure a lot of it when George Bush was president... [...]

In almost every Arab country, fertility is in decline, more people, especially women, are becoming educated, and businessmen want a bigger say in economies dominated by the state. Above all, a revolution in satellite television has broken the spell of the state-run media and created a public that wants the rulers to explain and justify themselves as never before. On their own, none of these changes seems big enough to prompt a revolution. But taken together they are creating a great agitation under the surface. The old pattern of Arab government—corrupt, opaque and authoritarian—has failed on every level and does not deserve to survive. At some point it will almost certainly collapse. The great unknown is when.

So W was right, eh?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:25 PM


The Obama cult: If Barack Obama disappoints his supporters, they will have only themselves to blame (Lexington, 7/23/09, The Economist)

Mr Obama has inspired more passionate devotion than any modern American politician. People scream and faint at his rallies. Some wear T-shirts proclaiming him “The One” and noting that “Jesus was a community organiser”. An editor at Newsweek described him as “above the country, above the world; he’s sort of God.” He sets foreign hearts fluttering, too. A Pew poll published this week finds that 93% of Germans expect him to do the right thing in world affairs. Only 14% thought that about Mr Bush.

Perhaps Mr Obama inwardly cringes at the personality cult that surrounds him. But he has hardly discouraged it. As a campaigner, he promised to “change the world”, to “transform this country” and even (in front of a church full of evangelicals) to “create a Kingdom right here on earth”. As president, he keeps adding details to this ambitious wish-list. He vows to create millions of jobs, to cure cancer and to seek a world without nuclear weapons. On July 20th he promised something big (a complete overhaul of the health-care system), something improbable (to make America’s college-graduation rate the highest in the world by 2020) and something no politician could plausibly accomplish (to make maths and science “cool again”). [...]

All presidential candidates promise more than they can possibly deliver. This sets them up for failure. But because the Obama cult has stoked expectations among its devotees to such unprecedented heights, he is especially likely to disappoint. Mr Healy predicts that he will end up as a failed president, and “possibly the least popular of the modern era”. It is up to Mr Obama to prove him wrong.

...(1) they aren't going to blame themselves; (2) they aren't going to blame him for doing what they wanted; & (3) therefore, they aren't going to learn any more from this replay of '92-'94 than they did the first time.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:59 AM


The Unbearable Whiteness of Being Maureen Dowd (Jeffrey Lord, 7.21.09, American Spectator)

It seems the "American workplace" (to use the Times description) that is the New Haven fire department has a higher percentage of minorities than the American workplace that is…yes indeed… the New York Times editorial board its very self. To be quite specific:

• The New Haven fire department, according to press accounts, is 43% black and Latino. Or, if you prefer the term of art, 43% of the fire department is "minority."

• The New York Times editorial board, according to the information provided by The New York Times, is -- wait for it -- 12% black and Latino. Or, again, 12 % "minority" if you prefer the term.

• The New York Times Op-Ed page team of columnists, an elite group of which Ms. Dowd is a star, is 19% black and, again according to the Times listing of its Op-Ed page columnists, 0% Latino.

That's right. At the core of the beating intellectual heart of the left-wing establishment where such things are studied with the detail of Talmudic scholars, the New Haven fire department is doing more than three times better on race than the very liberal elites who have set themselves up as its sniffy critics. Perhaps instead of seething about "Firefighters and Race" the Times would have been better served by pondering "Editorial Writers and Race." Or perhaps: "Too Black to Write; New York Times Column Writing and Race."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:36 AM


Obama strives to personalize healthcare debate for Americans (Peter Nicholas, Christi Parsons and Noam N. Levey, July 23, 2009, LA Times)

During much of the hourlong news conference, Obama relied on jargon that Washington insiders embrace but that might leave the typical television viewer mystified. Discussing government spending, he mentioned "the supplemental" -- referring to a war-funding bill. He used the word "incentivize" several times.

The purpose of Obama's appearance was to regain momentum for proposals to make major changes to the healthcare system, one of his top domestic priorities.

Even fellow Democrats now say that the deadline Obama set for the House and Senate to pass a bill before their August recess is unrealistic.

And mounting opposition from powerful interest groups has been equally worrisome for the White House. On Wednesday, the American Hospital Assn. urged its members to lobby against an administration proposal for an independent agency that would set Medicare payment rates. Supporters say the agency would help control costs.

In the House, centrist Democrats have slowed progress in one key committee with complaints that the bill does not do enough to bring down healthcare costs. In the Senate, finance committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) has been working with a small, bipartisan group of senators to develop a separate proposal.

That effort was dealt a minor setback Wednesday when Utah Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, one of the Republicans in the group, said he could no longer support it.

At big moment, President Obama goes small (BEN SMITH, 7/23/09, Politico)
The president’s remarks on his chosen subject, health care, were cautious and choreographed, hemmed in on one side by the calculations of his professional wordsmiths, on the other by the delicacy of negotiations with two houses of Congress.

He never detailed his own plan, or named a single victim of America’s broken system, and he spoke largely in the abstractions of blue pills, red pills, and legislative processes. It’s not easy to turn delivery system reform into a rallying cry for change, but at times, it was as if Obama wasn’t even trying. [...]

[I]nstead of shaking the rafters, he spent most of his hour just checking rhetorical boxes, with language so poll-tested and focus-grouped, it was bleached of life.

It's not as if the UR was ever going to be able to force a Democratic health care plan on America anyway, but it doesn't help that he's the least eloquent president this side of GHW Bush and Jimmy Carter. We've been spoiled in recent years by the compelling rhetoric of Reagan and W and the salesmanship of Bill Clinton. But Mr. Obama has none of their ability.

Obama Moves to Reclaim the Debate on Health Care (SHERYL GAY STOLBERG and JEFF ZELENY, 76/23/09, NY Times)

While Mr. Obama declared, “it’s my job, I’m the president,” he did not use the appearance at the White House to make any fresh demands on Congress, which is struggling to meet his timetable for both chambers to pass legislation before members break for August recess. Mr. Obama did not repeat that demand Wednesday night.

Instead, he sounded cerebral as he delved into policy specifics for nearly an hour and tried to link them to the concerns of ordinary Americans.

As he sought to reassure the public that a new health care system would be an improvement, he also acknowledged that there would be changes that could be unsettling, a point that is often raised by critics of overhauling the health care system.

“Can I guarantee that there are going to be no changes in the health-care delivery system? No,” Mr. Obama said. “The whole point of this is to try to encourage changes that work for the American people and make them healthier.”

Health legislation is Mr. Obama’s highest legislative priority, and his success or failure could shape the rest of his presidency. But while he is under increasing pressure from leading Democrats to delve more deeply into the negotiations by taking positions on specific policy issues, he largely resisted doing so Wednesday night.

Obama brings his health care hustle to Cleveland (Kevin O'Brien, The Plain Dealer)
It's your lucky day, Cleveland.

Dr. Obama's Traveling Medicine Show is in town.

Step right up, folks. Press in close around the wagon and hear the good doctor pronounce with preternatural poise on the prodigiously potent properties of his potion, a panacea so powerful that he predicts -- nay, promises! -- that it will prevail even over the laws of economics.

But only if you believe.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:42 AM


The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli: Machiavelli’s name has long been a byword for all that is rotten in politics. Yet, Richard Reeves and Dan Leighton argue, the Florentine’s forgotten writings show him to be the founder of republican thought and a champion of democratic power (Richard Reeves and Dan Leighton - 23 July 2009, New Statesman)

Machiavelli's name has become synonymous with duplicity, cunning and the exercise of bad faith in politics. This crude caricature, however, does little justice to the subtlety and democratic potential of his thinking. Indeed, Machiavelli is a, if not the, foundational figure for the current revival of civic republican political thought, spearheaded by the historian of ideas Quentin Skinner and the political philosopher Philip Pettit. Most recently, David Marquand has shown how democratic republicanism has been a crucial component of English political identity, and an animating force at important moments of radical democratic change in our history.

Although Machiavelli gained his satanic reputation for advising princes on how to hold on to power, the contemporary republicans inspired by him know that he saved his best advice for citizens seeking to maintain their liberty. To understand this "other", republican Machiavelli, we need to look not to his infamous tract The Prince, published by Penguin in a gripping new translation by the novelist Tim Parks, but to his less well-known, yet arguably more influential, Discourses on Livy. [...]

For Machiavelli, however, good judgement relates to actions that help maintain a "free city", one in which citizens are free from the subjection of any particular individual or group, be it an external invader or a tyrant who emerges from within the community's own political system. If the city is not to fall into the hands of tyrannical individuals or groups, government must be organised in such a way that it remains in the hands of the citizen body as whole.

The biggest threat to a free life (uno vivere libero) comes from the ever-present threat of corruption. Corruption is understood here as the placing of factional or private interest ahead of that of the public. For Machiavelli, the ultimate public interest that the mass of people share is to be secure from the arbitrary interference of others. It follows that, as Skinner has pointed out, to gain maximum freedom, "we must turn ourselves into servants of the public interest".

Contemporary republicans have seized on these ideas to show that they offer a distinct concept of liberty, one more capacious than the kind provided by conventional liberal notions. To republicans, we are not free if there is a power that has the potential to interfere with us - even where that power is not, for the time being, interfering (think of an unregulated employer, in the case of an employee, or a party whip, in the case of a backbench MP). In short, those with less power will live in constant anxiety that those with more could interfere with them at any point - unless that power is removed or is held in check by a counter-power. For republicans, popular government under the rule of law is the best source of such a counterweight to arbitrary power.

As Maurizio Viroli explains:
Classical republican writers maintained that to be free means to not be dominated--that is, not to be dependent on the arbitrary will of other individuals. The source of this interpretation of political liberty was the principle of Roman law that defines the status of a free person as not being subject to the arbitrary will of another person--in contrast to a slave, who is dependent on another person's will. As the individual is free when he or she has legal and political rights, so a people or a city is free insofar as it lives under its own laws. [...]

Classical republican theorists also stressed that the constraint that fair laws impose on an individual's choices is not a restriction of liberty but an essential element of political liberty itself. They also believed that restrictions imposed by the law on the actions of rulers as well as of ordinary citizens are the only valid shield against coercion on the part of any person or persons. Machiavelli forcefully expressed this belief in his Discourses on Livy (I.29), when he wrote that if there i

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:39 AM


Osama bin Laden son 'probably killed in US drone attack': Saad bin Laden was not targeted, but likely to have been in wrong place at wrong time, US intelligence report claims (Declan Walsh, 7/23/09, guardian.co.uk)

One of Osama bin Laden's sons was probably killed in a US drone strike on a target in Pakistan's tribal areas earlier this year, according to a US report.

Saad bin Laden, who was in his late 20s, is believed to have been hit by a Hellfire missile fired by a CIA-operated Predator unmanned aircraft. [...]

Bin Laden, who is believed to be sheltering along the mountainous tribal belt along the Afghan border, is believed to have at least 12 sons. While some returned to Saudi Arabia, at least six – including Saad – stayed at his side to fight.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:16 AM


At Camp Sankaty Head, Young Caddies Learn to Carry That Weight (STACEY STOWE, 7/23/09, NY Times)

At Sankaty Head Golf Club, a circa 1923 links course that features a working lighthouse and hugs the shoreline in Siasconset, some wait a dozen years to join a membership roster that includes Jack Welch, the former chairman and chief executive of General Electric, and Bob Wright, the former chairman of NBC Universal.

But for 79 years, Sankaty has widened its circle to visitors from places as far flung as the streets of Washington Heights and the countryside of Ireland. Each June, about 60 boys, ages 13 to 19, report to Camp Sankaty Head, stationed between the 11th and 13th fairways. The club is one of the last remaining caddie camps in the nation.

“They’re trained from Day 1 how to rake bunkers, tend pins, mark balls,” said Mark Heartfield, Sankaty’s head pro for the last 22 years. “But it’s not just a caddie camp. We really have a camp to help kids mature.”

For 10 weeks, the boys rise at 7 a.m. to the clang of a brass bell. They shower, dress in gray T-shirts, khaki shorts and red caps, and assemble outside three shingled huts for flag-raising.

Chores, like weed-whacking and mopping, are assigned at the all-camp meeting known as quarters in keeping with the military-style routine followed by Norman L. Claxton, who became camp director in 1962. A former Navy captain, Claxton was, by many accounts, a beloved authoritarian who never forgot what it was like to be a boy.

The caddies work six days a week, assigned at “the bench” above Sankaty’s parking lot. Carrying one bag — a tank in camp parlance — nets $70, in addition to a tip that averages about $20. In the evenings, caddies are allowed to play the 6,670-yard course, which Golfweek magazine ranked this year among the top 100 classic, or pre-1960, courses nationwide. [...]

About a dozen boys are from poor families. Sankaty has hosted boys whose prior camp was juvenile hall. Room and board is $5 a day, but the fee is returned at summer’s end to those in need.

Money management is a cornerstone of the camp. Each evening, the caddies deposit their tips and record their loops — the number of times around 18 holes. A typed list of campers and their earnings is posted on a wall of the mailroom, a section of the dining hall that doubles as a bank. Most campers earn about $3,500 over the summer, but the best caddies earn as much as $9,000.

Room and board was also $5 a day when I went there--1976-78. My first year I earned $350 or the exact cost of having been there (10 weeks--$35 a week). The next year I made enough extra to buy a set of Wilson Staff gold clubs ($300). We got $11 for a double and there were plenty of members--especially wives--who felt like their subsidizing the camp was your tip. But you could gold every night starting at 4pm (only the back 9 and not the 14th, from caddie tees where possible) and I was an 11 handicap as a 16 year old, despite using a classic caddy's baseball grip and never taking a lesson, and still play the Staff irons though they have a sweet spot about a quarter the size of modern clubs. I'm hoping our youngest will want to go in a few years.

July 22, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:48 PM


Goldman Buys Back TARP Warrants for $1.1 Billion (Matthew Jaffe, July 22, 2009, ABC News)

When the government dished out funds from the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program to help ailing banks, the Treasury Department then received warrants to buy common stock in these banks. As banks like Goldman now pay back the bailout money, the government then has to work out deals to repurchase the warrants.

A Treasury official said today, "In just 9 months, the taxpayers have been repaid the full $10 billion that the government originally invested, along with $318 million in dividends; and Goldman is repurchasing the warrants for $1.1 billion, generating a total of $1.418 billion in payments to the government. That amounts to an annualized return of 23.15 percent on the taxpayer's investment."

"The capital infusion has helped drive greater stability in the financial system, private capital has replaced taxpayer investments at many banks, and the taxpayers have gotten a good return on their investment," the official said. "And the process we designed to value the warrants and protect the taxpayers worked well."

The House GOP threw itself on the funeral pyre rather than allow this?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:02 PM


    -OBIT: IN MEMORY OF LESZEK KOLAKOWSKI (University Diaries, July 18, 2009)

Leszek Kolakowski's death reminds us that Terry Eagleton's recent attack on the atheism of Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins is only the latest instance of a curious but now familiar trajectory, in which a left thinker in his or her latter days (think of Christopher Lasch among Americans, and, among the British, Gillian Rose) embraces, if not the truth of religion, the validity and endurance and even inescapability of its cultural power.

A formidable intellectual, Kolakowski is part of the tradition of scathing post-communist critique associated, among his Polish compatriots, with Czeslaw Milosz. In remembering him here, I'd like to focus instead on his delicate and moving embrace of religion. But I hope it will become clear that his disenchantment with various forms of radical - and even liberal - politics, and his growing appreciation of religious faith are connected.

I say delicate embrace because, like Lasch and Eagleton and, let's say, Philip Rieff, Kolakowski came to believe that communal faith and its rituals and prohibitions, as well as the personal experience of the sacred that underlies faith, was foundational to culture, and to the recognition and maintenance of human dignity; yet Kolakowski ultimately seemed to be saying something like what Freeman Dyson says, in an 2002 essay in the New York Review of Books: "I am a practicing Christian but not a believing Christian. To me, to worship God means to recognize that mind and intelligence are woven into the fabric of our universe in a way that altogether surpasses our comprehension."

    -REVIEW: TWO PRESCRIPTIONS FOR SOCIALISM: a review of A WAY OF HOPE By Lech Walesa (Leszek Kolakowski, NY Times Book Review)
THE event which in modern history came the closest to the image, once predicted in socialist theory, of a working-class revolution was the emergence and the 14-months-long struggle of Solidarity in Poland. No other upheaval - including the Bolshevik takeover in 1917 and the Chinese revolution - deserves this label. Solidarity was precisely that: a powerful revolutionary (though peaceful) social movement, triggered by the conflict between industrial workers and owners of the means of production, that is to say the state, embodied in the Communist Party, police and administrative apparatus.

And this (unsuccessful) working-class revolution, the only one that has ever occurred, was directed against a socialist state and carried out under the sign of the cross, with the blessing of the Pope. So much for the (highly scientific) Marxist historical predictions.

    -EXCERPT: "How to be a Conservative-Liberal-Socialist" (Leszek Kolakowski, Modernity on Endless Trial)
A Conservative Believes:

1. That in human life there never have been and never will be improvements that are not paid for with deteriorations and evils; thus, in considering each project of reform and amelioration, its price has to be assessed. Put another way, innumerable evils are compatible (i.e. we can suffer them comprehensively and simultaneously); but many goods limit or cancel each other, and therefore we will never enjoy them fully at the same time. A society in which there is no equality and no liberty of any kind is perfectly possible, yet a social order combining total equality and freedom is not. The same applies to the compatibility of planning and the principle of autonomy, to security and technical progress. Put yet another way, there is no happy ending in human history.

2. That we do not know the extent to which various traditional forms of social life--families, rituals, nations, religious communities--are indispensable if life in a society is to be tolerable or even possible. There are no grounds for believing that when we destroy these forms, or brand them as irrational, we increase the chance of happiness, peace, security, or freedom. We have no certain knowledge of what might occur if, for example, the monogamous family was abrogated, or if the time-honored custom of burying the dead were to give way to the rational recycling of corpses for industrial purposes. But we would do well to expect the worst.

3. That the idee fixe of the Enlightenment--that envy, vanity, greed, and aggression are all caused by the deficiencies of social institutions and that they will be swept away once these institutions are reformed-- is not only utterly incredible and contrary to all experience, but is highly dangerous. How on earth did all these institutions arise if they were so contrary to the true nature of man? To hope that we can institutionalize brotherhood, love, and altruism is already to have a reliable blueprint for despotism.

A Liberal Believes:

1. That the ancient idea that the purpose of the State is security still remains valid. It remains valid even if the notion of "security" is expanded to include not only the protection of persons and property by means of the law, but also various provisions of insurance: that people should not starve if they are jobless; that the poor should not be condemned to die through lack of medical help; that children should have free access to education--all these are also part of security. Yet security should never be confused with liberty. The State does not guarantee freedom by action and by regulating various areas of life, but by doing nothing. In fact security can be expanded only at the expense of liberty. In any event, to make people happy is not the function of the State.

2. That human communities are threatened not only by stagnation but also by degradation when they are so organized that there is no longer room for individual initiative and inventiveness. The collective suicide of mankind is conceivable, but a permanent human ant-heap is not, for the simple reason that we are not ants.

3. That it is highly improbable that a society in which all forms of competitiveness have been done away with would continue to have the necessary stimuli for creativity and progress. More equaliity is not an end in itself, but only a means. In other words, there is no point to the struggle for more equality if it results only in the leveling down off those who are better off, and not in the raising up of the underprivileged. Perfect equality is a self-defeating ideal.

    -Leszek Kolakowski (kirjasto)

    -WIKIPEDIA: Leszek Kołakowski

    -GOOGLE BOOK ARCHIVE: Leszek Kołakowski


-GOOGLE BOOK: Metaphysical horror‎
by Leszek Kołakowski

    -GOOGLE BOOK: God Owes Us Nothing: : A Brief Remark on Pascal's Religion and on the Spirit of Jansenism

    -LECTURE: The Death of Utopia Reconsidered (Leszek Kolakowski, Tanner Lectures)

    -EXCERPT: The Alienation of Reason (Leszek Kolakowski, The Culture of Logical Empiricism)

    -ESSAY: The general theory of not-gardening (Leszek Kolakowski, November 1990, Harper's)

    -OBIT: Leszek Kolakowski dies at 81; exiled Polish philosopher: After criticizing communism and falling out of favor, he taught at Western universities, including Oxford and UC Berkeley. The author of more than 30 books was also a MacArthur grant recipient. (LA Times, July 21, 2009)

Kolakowski, who had lived and taught mainly at Oxford since his expulsion from Poland as a dissident in 1968, was the author of more than 30 books, of which the most influential was "Main Currents of Marxism" (1978). The massive, three-volume work is considered the definitive history and critique of Marxism, which he branded "the greatest fantasy of the 20th century." [...]

A contrarian by nature, he was appalled by the chaos of Berkeley in the late 1960s, terming the student movement "simply barbaric." English historian E.P. Thompson and other critics on the left considered him politically incorrect, to which he issued a rejoinder, titled "My Correct Views on Everything" (1973).

Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski said Monday that Kolakowski's body would be returned to the country and buried with military honors.

    -OBIT: Professor Leszek Kolakowski: philosopher (Times of London, 7/22/09)
Kolakowski came to treat all utopian visions of society with suspicion, believing that their victory would lead to “a totalitarian nightmare and the utter downfall of civilisation”.

However, he also rejected what he considered to be their opposite, namely armchair scepticism, which he thought would condemn us to a “hopeless stagnation”. Thus utopian ideals for society such as the concept of human fraternity could be regarded as a guiding sign and a regulative rather than a constitutive idea. In light of his belief that no perfect model exists for society’s ills, the important thing was to find practical, workable solutions.

    -OBIT: Leszek Kolakowski, 1927-2009: a master figure: The great Polish intellectual was a voice for reason, truth and decency amid the deceits of the communist era, says Adam Szostkiewicz. (Adam Szostkiewicz, 21 - 07 - 2009, Open Democracy)

    -OBIT: Leszek Kolakowski, Polish Philosopher, Dies at 81 (NICHOLAS KULISH, July 20, 2009 , NY Times)

    -OBIT: Leszek Kolakowski (Daily Telegraph, 7/20/09)

    -OBIT: A Sense of Historical Irony: Leszek Kolakowski, 1927-2009. (Christopher Hitchens, July 20, 2009, Slate)

    -OBIT: Leszek Kolakowski: Outspoken Polish philosopher and one-time communist frozen out for his trenchant views (Michael Simmons, 7/22/09, guardian.co.uk)

    -PROFILE: PRIZE WINNER: Leszek Kolakowski, an anti-Communist Polish philosopher at Oxford University in England, was awarded the first $1 million John W. Kluge prize for lifetime achievement in the humanities. Jeffrey Brown reports on Kolakowski and the new honor. (Online Newshour, 11/05/03)

    -PROFILE: When Philosophy Makes a Difference (SARAH LYALL, February 14, 2004, NY Times)

    -ARCHIVES: Leszek Kolakowski (Harper's)

    -ARCHIVES: Leszek Kolakowski (FindArticles)

    -REVIEW: of MODERNITY ON ENDLESS TRIAL By Leszek Kolakowski (Arthur C. Danto, NY Times Book Review)

    -REVIEW: of THE PRESENCE OF MYTH By Leszek Kolakowski (Karsten Harries, NY Times Book Review)

    -REVIEW: of The Two Eyes of Spinoza by Leszek Kolakowski (Roger Kinball, New Criterion)

    -REVIEW ARCHIVES: Leszek Kolakowski (NY Review of Books)

    -REVIEW: of Modernity on Endless Trial, by Leszek Kolakowski (Peter L. Berger , Commentary)

    -REVIEW: of Modernity on Endless Trial (Pierre Jorgensen, National Catholic Reporter)

    -REVIEW: of Modernity on Endless Trial (Robert Royal, First Things)

    -REVIEW: of Main Currents of Marxism: The Founders, the Golden Age, the Breakdown by Leszek Kolakowski and My Correct Views on Everything by Leszek Kolakowski (Tony Judt, NY Review of Books)

-REVIEW: of Main Currents of Marxism: The Founders, the Golden Age, the Breakdown (Franklin Hugh Adler, Antioch Review)

    -REVIEW: of God Owes Us Nothing: A Brief Remark on Pascal's Religion and on the Spirit of Jansenism (Avery Dulles, National Review)

    -REVIEW: of God Owes Us Nothing (Stephen J. Duffy, Theological Studies)

    -REVIEW: of Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing?: 23 Questions from Great Philosophers by Leszek Kolakowski (John Schwenkler, Commonweal)

    -REVIEW: of Why is there Something (Nicholas Fearn, Independent)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:01 PM


Grandson of Ayatollah Khomeini 'leaves Iran to avoid presidential inauguration' (Robert Tait, 7/21/09, guardian.co.uk)

The grandson of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, father of Iran's Islamic revolution, is reported to have left the country to avoid attending Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's presidential inauguration.

Hassan Khomeini, a supporter of the defeated reformist candidate, Mir Hossein Mousavi, has travelled to an unnamed "neighbouring country" to escape official pressure to be present at next month's swearing-in ceremony, according to the pro-reformist news website, Salaamnews.

His absence would be a blow to the authorities' hopes of using the hallowed Khomeini family name to confer legitimacy on the event in the face of allegations that Ahmadinejad owes his re-election to fraud.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:56 PM


Mindless Collectives Better at Rational Decision-Making Than Brainy Individuals: New experiments show how ant colonies don't fall prey to irrational choices as humans sometimes do (Charles Q. Choi, 7/22/09, Scientific American)

Humans often make irrational choices when faced with challenging decisions. Ant colonies, however, can make perfectly rational selections when confronted by tough dilemmas. This isn't because lone ants are especially knowledgeable—they're not. Instead, when ants are grouped together, a kind of "wisdom of the crowds" avoids the kind of mistakes that individuals can make, new research shows.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:40 PM


..to climb aboard The Schweeb.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:36 AM


Health Insurance No One Needs (MATT MILLER, 7/22/09, NY Times)

EVERYONE who wants universal health coverage (me included) finds irresistible the rallying cry that all Americans should have the same health benefits that members of Congress have. But Congress’s health insurance — that is, the heavily subsidized preferred provider plan that most members have — is not an ideal model, because it is quite rich. As with other fee-for-service plans, it does little to encourage people to be smart health care shoppers.

Congress’s health plan pays for routine expenses like office visits and vaccinations, for example, which is like auto insurance covering oil changes or new windshield wipers. As a result, the premiums are steep — upwards of $13,000 a year for a family (69 percent of which is paid by the government). To provide the 50 million Americans who are now uninsured with such a plan would require scary tax increases. [...]

One approach would be to require senators and representatives, most of whom earn $174,000 a year, to maintain tax-sheltered health savings accounts, which they would use to finance their primary and preventive care. Today, families may put up to $5,950 annually in such an account — and any amount they don’t use on health care that year can remain in the account.

To make such an approach work for all Americans, we’d need to supplement the accounts of people who couldn’t afford to save the full amount, and of less healthy people, whose costs are higher.

An alternative strategy for Congress would be the new “fitness club” model offered by some doctors, in which members pay $65 a month for same-day or next-day access to primary care services. This would involve no insurance companies, so it would save administrative expenses.

We could then pair one of these primary care plans with high-deductible insurance coverage for catastrophic care, but limit total annual out-of-pocket payments to, say, 15 percent of family income. For a member of Congress whose family had no other income, that limit would be $26,000. If this kind of plan were extended to other Americans, a family earning $25,000 a year would have a limit of $3,750.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:34 AM


Our Man in Honduras: The backers of the Honduran coup have an inside man in Washington. (Roberto Lovato, July 22, 2009, American Prospect)

"If you want to understand who the real power behind the [Honduran] coup is," says Robert White, president of the Washington-based Center for International Policy, during a recent interview, "you need to find out who's paying Lanny Davis."

Davis, an ally of the Clinton family who is best known as the lawyer who defended Bill during the presidential impeachment proceedings, was recently on Capitol Hill lobbying members of Congress and testifying against exiled President Manuel Zelaya before the House Foreign Relations Committee. White, who previously served as the United States ambassador to El Salvador, thought that such information about Davis' clients would be "very difficult to find."

But the answer proved easy to find. Davis, a partner at the law firm Orrick, Herring, & Sutcliffe, openly named them -- and his clients are the same powerful Hondurans behind the military coup.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:24 AM


Dems Start To Push Back Hard To Prevent A 'Waterloo' (Anna Edney with Kasie Hunt and Peter Cohn, July 22, 2009, CongressDaily)

A telling episode recounted by Senate Finance ranking member Charles Grassley reveals the Obama administration might be more worried than they are letting on that a Republican senator's comparison of the healthcare overhaul to Waterloo might be dangerously close to the truth.

Grassley said he spoke with a Democratic House member last week who shared Obama's bleak reaction during a private meeting to reports that some factions of House Democrats were lining up to stall or even take down the overhaul unless leaders made major changes.

"Let's just lay everything on the table," Grassley said. "A Democrat congressman last week told me after a conversation with the president that the president had trouble in the House of Representatives, and it wasn't going to pass if there weren't some changes made ... and the president says, 'You're going to destroy my presidency.' "

If the Blue Dogs manage to get the UR out of the way of the economic rebound--by killing health care reform and cap-n-trade--they may still lose their seats but the President will more likely be re-elected.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:18 AM


Henry Louis Gates should skip the racial histrionics: Instead, teach kids to cooperate with cops (Michael Meyers, 7/21/09, NYDailyNews.com)

The most famous black professor at Harvard lives in a very safe neighborhood because, in part, residents look out for and report suspicious activities, and because cops respond quickly to reports of possible break-ins. Yet that's not how Henry Louis Gates Jr., director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University, took it when cops showed up at his door after a neighbor reported two black men (Gates and his driver) seemingly pushing into a vacant residence, which turned out to be Gates' home.

He was arrested for disorderly conduct, and the rest is now histrionic history. (The charges have since been dropped, but the incident is not going away.)

Gates was returning from a trip to China, and he couldn't get in through a jammed front door, so he apparently went around the back, shut off an alarm and worked with his driver to get the door open.

In any neighborhood - especially one of the safest in America - that kind of behavior would be cause for suspicion and a call to the cops, no matter the color of the guys "breaking" in.

But when police showed up, the "he said, he said" has Gates indignant and, according to the cop, refusing to present himself and his ID, then complying and at some point getting loud - with Gates saying, according to the police report, "Why, because I'm a black man in America?"

He assumes the normal rules don't apply to him, just because he's black. And the droppinbg of the disorderly conduct charges would suggest that he's right. He did get beneficial treatment because of his race.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:56 AM


REVIEW: of Bitter Spring: A Life of Ignazio Silone By STANISLAO PUGLIESE (George Scialabba, Barnes & Noble)

Though the Cold War ended less than 20 years ago, Communism now seems a distant memory. So thoroughly did the Soviet and Chinese Communists betray the ideals in whose name they seized power, and so ruthlessly did they silence nearly everyone who protested that betrayal, that the ideals themselves are in danger of being forgotten. But many of the wisest and bravest men and women of the 20th century began by embracing Communism, and some of the century's best political writing was occasioned by their efforts later in life to understand what, if anything, of that youthful commitment remained valid. [...]

Idealism without illusions, an unsentimental passion for justice -- this is Silone's legacy. He called himself "a Socialist without a Party, a Christian without a Church." What he meant by both Socialism and Christianity, he explained, was "an extension of the moral values of private life" -- generosity, solidarity, candor -- "to all of social life." It is a simple vision but still a very long way from realization. Few people in his time did more than Silone to keep it alive.

A few last, anticlimactic words must be added. In recent years, two Italian historians have accused Silone -- one of the best-known and most hated opponents of Fascism -- of having been a Fascist informer. Stanislao Pugliese reviews their case and the subsequent controversy with scrupulous fairness. The evidence is slender, but it seems clear that Silone had a correspondence with a Fascist police official.

Whether or not they were the wisest and the bravest, all of the best writing was actually either done by those who informed (Orwell, Silone, Chambers, Kazan, etc.) or, as was the case with Dashiell Hammet, justified informing.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:52 AM


Last chance saloon in Helmand (Aziz Ahmad Shafe, Mohammad Ilyas Dayee and Aziz Ahmad Tassal, 7/24/09, Asia Times)

Operation Khanjar has met very little resistance since it got under way early in July; the overwhelming firepower of the US forces doubtless had the Taliban thinking better of a face-to-face fight. But even more surprising than the lack of a counter-punch has been the reception given the troops by the Helmandis, who have been battered and let down over the past eight years.

"These Americans are very good people," said Tak Mohammad from Nawa district. "They wave and speak to us in a very friendly way. And they have helped us finally to get rid of these cruel oppressors."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:48 AM


Four League Two players suspended after betting on match (Mirror.co.uk, 22/07/2009)

Disciplinary chiefs have expressed "serious concerns" that a Football League match may have been fixed after four players were banned for between five months and a year for betting on the outcome.

The four players have been suspended and fined after betting on the outcome of the League Two match between Accrington and Bury on May 3 2008 - three of the players were with Stanley at the time and the other at Bury, who won the game 2-0.

...you end up with a game where folks lack confidence in the fairness of the results.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:41 AM


How Evolution Can Allow For Large Developmental Leaps (ScienceDaily, July 21, 2009)

According to a team led by scientists at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), in close collaboration with Patrick Piggot and colleagues from the Temple University School of Medicine, such changes may at least sometimes be the result of random fluctuations, or noise (nongenetic variations), working alongside a phenomenon known as partial penetrance. Their findings were recently published online in the journal Nature. [...]

In their Nature paper, Elowitz and Eldar, along with their colleagues, studied partial penetrance in a species of bacterium known as Bacillus subtilis. Specifically, they looked at the spores B. subtilis produces as a survival mechanism when times get tough. These spores are smaller, dormant clones of their so-called "mother cell." They're attached to the mother, but are separate entities with their own DNA.

A bacterial spore is designed specifically to do nothing but survive. "It doesn't grow, it doesn't do anything," says Eldar. "It just waits for the good times to return."

The wild-type B. subtilis bacterium always sporulates the same way: it creates a single spore, smaller than the mother cell, but with an exact single copy of the mother's chromosome.

What the scientists looked at was a "mutant in which the sporulation process was altered," Eldar explains. "Usually, these cells talk with each other, with the small spore telling the large mother cell, 'I'm here, and I'm doing OK.' In the wild-type cell, this chatter is loud; in the mutant, it's just a whisper, and the mother can't always hear."

It's the talking cure for Darwinism.

July 21, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:11 PM


Obama's disappointing secrecy: He promised openness. Instead, like Bush's, his administration wants the power to keep Congress in the dark on some intelligence activities. (Benjamin Friedman, July 21, 2009, CS Monitor)

The White House website says that citizens have a right to know what their government is doing and that accountability makes government more effective. That's absolutely right. In some areas, such as the liberalization of policy on Freedom of Information Act requests, the administration has embraced this principle.

Disappointingly though, the administration's commitment to openness and accountability does not extend to intelligence activities.

...we have to expect him to make the same mistakes too.

Meanwhile, he'll get most stuff right, Democrats irked by Obama signing statement (ANNE FLAHERTY, 7/21/09, Associated Press)

President Barack Obama has irked close allies in Congress by declaring he has the right to ignore legislation on constitutional grounds after having criticized George W. Bush for doing the same.

Four senior House Democrats on Tuesday said they were "surprised" and "chagrined" by Obama's declaration in June that he doesn't have to comply with provisions in a war spending bill that puts conditions on aid provided to the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. [...]

"During the previous administration, all of us were critical of (Bush's) assertion that he could pick and choose which aspects of congressional statutes he was required to enforce," the Democrats wrote in their letter to Obama. "We were therefore chagrined to see you appear to express a similar attitude."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:53 PM


The Obama Doctrine (Amitai Etzioni, 7/16/09, Huffington Post)

In contrast to the thesis -- much promoted by the president himself -- that he is not an ideologue but a pragmatic, Obama has laid out a strong new normative foundation for his foreign policy. He seeks to promote peace and security but leave democratization and liberalization to the people who find their regimes oppressive. This is in direct contrast to the Bush Neocon thesis that forced regime change is essential because only democracies are reliable partners in peace.

So not only are you on your own if you live in a dictatorship but we'll be happy to collaborate with your oppressors?

These bouts of isolationism and indifference to evil aren't unusual following our most interventionist periods, but we always shrug them off because we come to despise ourselves for them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:22 PM


White House declines to disclose visits by health industry executives: Citing an argument used by the Bush administration, the Secret Service rejects a request from a watchdog group to list those who have visited the White House to discuss healthcare overhaul. (Peter Nicholas, July 22, 2009, LA Times)

Invoking an argument used by President George W. Bush, the Obama administration has turned down a request from a watchdog group for a list of health industry executives who have visited the White House to discuss the massive healthcare overhaul. [...]

As a candidate, Obama vowed that in devising a healthcare bill he would invite in TV cameras -- specifically C-SPAN -- so that Americans could have a window into negotiations that normally play out behind closed doors.

Having promised transparency, the administration should be willing to disclose who it is consulting in shaping healthcare policy, said an attorney for the citizens' group. In its letter requesting the records, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics asked about visits from Billy Tauzin, president of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America; Karen Ignagni, president of America's Health Insurance Plans; William Weldon, chairman and CEO of Johnson & Johnson; and J. James Rohack, president of the American Medical Assn., among others.

"It's extremely disappointing," said Anne Weismann, the group's chief counsel. Obama is relying on a legal argument that "continues one of the bad, anti-transparency, pro-secrecy approaches that the Bush administration had taken. And it seems completely at odds with the president's commitment . . . to bring a new level of transparency to his government."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:08 AM


The Health-Care Wimps: Obama may be impervious to the demons of 1994, but his party is still haunted by the failure of Hillarycare. Eric Alterman on why the Democrats need conquer their fear to win this health-care battle. (Eric Alterman, 7/21/09, Daily Beast)

What is the problem with the Democrats? Why, with a commanding majority in the House and a fillibuster-proof 60 seats in the Senate, are they unable to make good on the Obama administration’s central political priority: a new, universal health-care system for the nation, something Democrats have been trying and failing to pass since Harry Truman proposed one in 1948?

Well, any question that begins with the phrase “What’s wrong with the Democrats…” tends to have multiple and overlapping responses. But in this case, most of them can be summed up in a single word: “fear.” Democrats fear 1994, when popular discontent with the Clinton administration, symbolized by “Hillarycare,” led to catastrophe in the midterm elections. Those who lost their seats were almost all among the most vulnerable Democrats from red or purple states—of the kind who managed to squeak out victories in 2008. Hence the Republican focus in their attacks on the districts of moderate Democrats.

Why won't our representative do what we've shown them we don't want them to do?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:59 AM


Liberal Suicide March (DAVID BROOKS, 7/21/09, NY Times)

We’re only in the early stages of the liberal suicide march, but there already have been three phases. First, there was the stimulus package. You would have thought that a stimulus package would be designed to fight unemployment and stimulate the economy during a recession. But Congressional Democrats used it as a pretext to pay for $787 billion worth of pet programs with borrowed money. Only 11 percent of the money will be spent by the end of the fiscal year — a triumph of ideology over pragmatism.

Then there is the budget. Instead of allaying moderate anxieties about the deficits, the budget is expected to increase the government debt by $11 trillion between 2009 and 2019.

Finally, there is health care. Every cliché Ann Coulter throws at the Democrats is gloriously fulfilled by the Democratic health care bills. The bills do almost nothing to control health care inflation. They are modeled on the Massachusetts health reform law that is currently coming apart at the seams precisely because it doesn’t control costs. They do little to reward efficient providers and reform inefficient ones.

The House bill adds $239 billion to the federal deficit during the first 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office. It would pummel small businesses with an 8 percent payroll penalty. It would jack America’s top tax rate above those in Italy and France. Top earners in New York and California would be giving more than 55 percent of earnings to one government entity or another.

Nancy Pelosi has lower approval ratings than Dick Cheney and far lower approval ratings than Sarah Palin. And yet Democrats have allowed her policy values to carry the day — this in an era in which independents dominate the electoral landscape.

Poll: Public losing trust in President Obama (ANDY BARR, 7/21/09, Politico)
Trust in President Barack Obama and his Democratic allies to identify the right solutions to problems facing the country has dropped off significantly since March, according to a new Public Strategies Inc./POLITICO poll.

Just as Obama intensifies his efforts to fulfill a campaign promise and reach an agreement with Congress on health care reform, the number of Americans who say they trust the president has fallen from 66 percent to 54 percent. At the same time, the percentage of those who say they do not trust the president has jumped from 31 to 42.

The president’s party has taken a similar hit since the last Public Trust Monitor poll, with only 42 percent of respondents saying that they trust the Democratic Party, compared with 52 percent who do not. The party’s numbers are nearly the inverse of March’s survey, in which 52 percent said they trusted Democrats and 42 percent did not.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:51 AM


Budget accord reached: Calling for deep cuts and avoiding broad tax hikes, Schwarzenegger and legislative leaders agree on ways to close California's $26.3-billion deficit. (Shane Goldmacher and Evan Halper, July 21, 2009, LA Times)

Their agreement, which could go before the full Legislature within days, does not include any broad-based tax increases, relying instead on deep cuts in government services, borrowing and accounting maneuvers to wipe out the deficit.

The plan has not been formally released. But as outlined by lawmakers and their staffs, the proposal would reshape some aspects of government in California, significantly scaling back many services that have been offered to residents -- particularly the elderly and the poor -- for years.

Tens of thousands of seniors and children would lose access to healthcare, local governments would sacrifice several billion dollars in state assistance this year and thousands of convicted criminals could serve less time in state prison. Welfare checks would go to fewer residents, state workers would be forced to continue to take unpaid days off and new drilling for oil would be permitted off the Santa Barbara coast.

"We've accomplished a lot in this budget," said Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, as he emerged from his office with legislative leaders shortly before 7 p.m. to announce the deal, after an all-day negotiating session of the "big five" -- the governor and legislative leaders.

That gasp you just gheard was coming from the Beltway Left. If Democrats in California have to give up that much then imagine what the GOP can demand nationally in '10 and '12.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:46 AM


Democrats Ready To Deal on Health (GREG HITT and LAURA MECKLER, 7/21/09, WSJ)

As President Barack Obama's health-care push enters a critical phase, senior Democrats in Congress are scrambling to keep their own party members on board.

Democrats are considering scaling back proposed taxes on the rich, reconsidering taxing employer health benefits, and possibly trimming the total cost of the package to make subsidies for the uninsured less generous than advocates have sought. [...]

Republicans, sensing new vulnerability in the popular president, are stepping up their health-care attacks. In a speech Monday, Michael Steele, chairman of the Republican National Committee, accused Mr. Obama of "conducting a reckless experiment with our economy." Conservatives have increasingly portrayed the Democratic plans as "rationing" by "bureaucrats," rhetoric that in the past undermined public support for health-care overhaul.

Starkly framing the political stakes, South Carolina Republican Sen. Jim DeMint told supporters last week that health care was Mr. Obama's Waterloo. If Republicans could stop the fast-moving effort, "it will break him," Mr. DeMint said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:39 AM


Interview: John Nettles on Midsomer Murders: As Midsomer Murders returns to ITV1 its star John Nettles reveals why DCI Barnaby will soon be investigating his final murder. (Clive Morgan, 17 Jul 2009, Daily Telegraph)

Television detectives of a certain age are fast becoming an endangered species. John Thaw’s Inspector Morse is gone, if not forgotten, Detective Chief Inspector Jack Frost (David Jason) is retiring and now charismatic DCI Tom Barnaby, the old-fashioned sleuth in ITV1’s Midsomer Murders, is preparing to bow out.

‘It’s the end of an era for me,’ says John Nettles, who plays Barnaby, ‘and while I’m very sad to be handing in Barnaby’s police badge, he has solved some 200 murders, which I think meets the targets of modern policing.’

However the decision to quit was not an easy one for the 65-year-old actor and former Bergerac star. ‘I suddenly realised that I’m going to be the oldest detective in the business now that David Jason has thrown off the mantle,’ he says. ‘But it was a very difficult decision to make. I’ll have been doing Midsomer Murders for 14 years by the time Barnaby leaves. I’ve formed familial ties with the people involved in the show and they will be hard to break.’

There are a few even older dogs on the very amusing New Tricks, Amanda Redman: The laughing policemen are back in New Tricks (Kate Whiting, 7/13/09, Wrexham Chronicle)
Viewing figures for repeats of the BBC One show regularly leave prime-time programmes trailing in the dust and New Tricks star Amanda Redman thinks she knows why.

Glamorous in a pale silk top with her blonde hair in a neat bob, set off by a deep tan, Redman, who turns 50 in August, explains: "We get really positive feedback from real officers, saying that out of all the police dramas on television, we're the most true to what they know happens in real life.

"They say the banter and the humour is absolutely correct as well as the police procedure - we're really strict on that."

She's right about the quality of the banter. The chemistry between the four main characters - DS Sandra Pullman (Redman) and retired police officers Jack Halford (James Bolam), Gerry Standing (Dennis Waterman) and Brian Lane (Alun Armstrong) keeps viewers entertained.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:57 AM


Stocks Are Far From Fair Value: Indicators show the economy turning around. (Brian S. Wesbury and Robert Stein, 07.21.09, Forbes)

To determine fair value for the stock market we use historical norms for the relationship between stock prices, interest rates and corporate profits. These norms suggest that with interest rates at current levels and corporate profits where they were in the first quarter of 2009, stocks today are at no more than 50% of fair value. Yes, that's right, stocks would have to roughly double from here to get to fair value.

That said, we are also forecasting higher interest rates as the economy grows robustly over the next 18 months and the inflation problem returns. But even using a 10-year Treasury yield of 5.5% suggests the stock market is at no more than 75% of fair value.

Despite this, it is unlikely that stock prices will quickly move all the way back to fair value. Investors have to remain concerned about the prospects for a huge expansion of government in the form of health care spending and regulation as well as limits on carbon emissions. But with each passing week, it appears more and more likely that our new president's legislative agenda on these issues is not going to be altogether successful.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:48 AM


Harry Reid green-lights controversial gun vote (GLENN THRUSH, 7/21/09, Politico)

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is supposed to be the protector of the Senate’s skittish Democratic flock — the guy who soothes intraparty spats and shields his 60-member majority from dangerous, career-threatening votes.

Yet Reid — whose low approval ratings in Nevada make him a tempting GOP target in next year’s midterms — put many of his members in a sticky situation when he OK’d a floor vote on a controversial GOP amendment that could significantly alter the nation’s gun control laws.

Reid says the bill deserves a hearing and reflects his commitment to supporting gun rights in a state that sanctifies the Second Amendment. Other Democrats say he approved the vote out of personal political necessity — to avoid the ire of the National Rifle Association during the 2010 elections.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:41 AM


Global swine flu deaths top 700 (BBC, 7/21/09)

H1N1 swine flu has killed more than 700 people around the world since the outbreak began four months ago, says the World Health Organization (WHO).

INTERVIEW WITH EPIDEMIOLOGIST TOM JEFFERSON: 'A Whole Industry Is Waiting For A Pandemic': The world has been gripped with fears of swine flu in recent weeks. In an interview with SPIEGEL, epidemiologist Tom Jefferson speaks about dangerous fear-mongering, misguided, money-driven research and why we should all be washing our hands a lot more often. (Der Spiegel, 7/21/09)
SPIEGEL: Do you consider the swine flu to be particularly worrisome?

Jefferson : It's true that influenza viruses are unpredictable, so it does call for a certain degree of caution. But one of the extraordinary features of this influenza -- and the whole influenza saga -- is that there are some people who make predictions year after year, and they get worse and worse. None of them so far have come about, and these people are still there making these predictions. For example, what happened with the bird flu, which was supposed to kill us all? Nothing. But that doesn't stop these people from always making their predictions. Sometimes you get the feeling that there is a whole industry almost waiting for a pandemic to occur.

SPIEGEL: Who do you mean? The World Health Organization (WHO)?

Jefferson: The WHO and public health officials, virologists and the pharmaceutical companies. They've built this machine around the impending pandemic. And there's a lot of money involved, and influence, and careers, and entire institutions! And all it took was one of these influenza viruses to mutate to start the machine grinding.

SPIEGEL: On your Italian homepage, there is a "pandemic countdown" that expires on April 1. Don't you think the situation calls for just a bit more seriousness?

Jefferson: I'm just using it ironically to expose the false certainty that we are fed. Will one-third of the world's population get swine flu? Nobody can say for sure right now. For now, at least, I don't really see any fundamental difference, no difference in the definition between this and a normal flu epidemic. Swine flu could have even stayed unnoticed if it had been caused by some unknown virus rather than an influenza virus.

SPIEGEL: Do you think the WHO declared a pandemic prematurely?

Jefferson: Don't you think there's something noteworthy about the fact that the WHO has changed its definition of pandemic? The old definition was a new virus, which went around quickly, for which you didn't have immunity, and which created a high morbidity and mortality rate. Now the last two have been dropped, and that's how swine flu has been categorized as a pandemic.

To the hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Free apps commemorate moon landing (ThriftMac)

The Mac Observer notes that Carina Software will be giving away copies of its astronomy programs on July 20 only in commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. Voyager and SkyGazer allow you to explore the heavens and the night sky from your Mac.

July 20, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:35 PM


Obama's Gitmo Task Force Blows Its Deadline (Michael Isikoff, 7/20/09, Newsweek)

An Obama administration task force set up to develop a plan for the closure of the U.S. detention facility at Guantánamo Bay will miss its first deadline this week—and put off a key report until the fall—amid continued divisions over how to resolve one of the president's thorniest policy dilemmas.

The task force, set up on Obama's second day in office, was charged with preparing a report to the president by Tuesday, July 21, outlining a long-term detention plan for detainees captured in counterterrorism operations after Sept. 11. But continued debate within the task force over the legal basis for holding detainees who are not charged with any crimes—and where to house them once they are moved from Guantánamo—has forced the task force to postpone its report by a "few months," a senior administration official told NEWSWEEK.

A separate task-force report on interrogations—also due this week—is being put off as well, said the official, who, like others quoted in this article, asked not to be named talking about private deliberations.

Remember Obama’s Promise to Cut $100 Million in 90 Days? (Jonathan Weisman, 7/20/09, WSJ: Washington Wire)
Three months ago, when President Barack Obama announced he was extracting $100 million in spending cuts from his cabinet secretaries, the reviews were not terribly kind, not with a budget well in excess of $3 trillion and a budget deficit shooting toward $1.8 trillion. [...]

Well, on this, the 91st day, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki and White House budget office spokesman Ken Baer released identical statements when queried about the results. “The recommendations have been gathered by the Cabinet Secretaries who will be reporting them to the President shortly,” they said in separate responses. When pressed, Psaki said we should see the exact cuts “in the coming days.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:49 PM


Andrew Flintoff carries England to historic Lord's victory (Times of London, 7/20/09)

Andrew Flintoff led England off the field after helping his side to wrap up the second npower Test at Lord's 15 minutes before lunch. Bowling flat out in a ten-over spell, he claimed the third five-wicket haul of his Test career - and the first since the 2005 Ashes - as England beat Australia at Lord's for the first time since 1934.

Australia began the day still 209 short of what would have been a record first-innings chase of 522 to win, but the loss of Brad Haddin to Flintoff's fourth ball in the second over of the day, ending a stand of 185 with Michael Clarke, effectively removed any prospect of a turnaround. Mitchell Johnson made 63 at No 8, but Flintoff and Graeme Swann combined to earn England a 115-run win.

Flintoff did not look like a man struggling against a career-threatening knee injury when he struck Clarke with a ball timed at 92.9mph, but it was Swann who ended the brilliant innings of the Australia vice-captain. Clarke was fooled by the flight of Swann's second ball, came forward and effectively yorked himself for 136, playing inside a ball that dipped.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:56 PM


Mali ex-rebels to tackle al-Qaeda areas (BBC, 7/20/09)

The main group of Tuareg ex-rebels in Mali has agreed to help the army tackle al-Qaeda's North African branch.

Both groups roam across the Sahara Desert and so correspondents say the deal could prove significant.

The agreement was brokered by Algeria's ambassador to Mali. Algeria is where al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb stages most of its attacks.

When Salafist Arabs can't even hide in the desert you know the rout is on.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:53 PM


Ali Khamenei warns of 'collapse' after Iran referendum calls (Julian Borger, 7/20/09, guardian.co.uk)

Iran's supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, warned today that continuing divisions would lead to the collapse of the country's ruling elite, after a former president called for a referendum on the government's legitimacy.

It's like the end of River Kwai, when Alec Guinness finally realizes what he's been doing as the structure collapses around him.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:52 PM


BET co-founder, Dem donor Johnson backs McDonnell (BOB LEWIS, July 20, 2009, AP)

A billionaire co-founder of television's Black Entertainment Television network and an important Democratic donor is endorsing Republican Bob McDonnell for governor.

Sheila Johnson of The Plains was the second-largest individual donor to Governor Tim Kaine and a benefactor to Democrats Mark Warner and Jim Webb. She arranged an appearance with McDonnell in Richmond Monday afternoon.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:32 PM


CEI Injects Suppressed EPA Global Warming Report into White House Science Proceeding (Christine Hall, July 17, 2009, CEI)

Will the federal government consider its own research on global warming as it doles out tax-funded research dollars? The Competitive Enterprise Institute today asked the US Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to do just that.

In a comment submitted today to the agency on its ocean research report, CEI Senior Fellow Marlo Lewis asks it to consider a study initially suppressed by the EPA. That study severely criticized EPA’s approach on global warming. One of the major conclusions of the suppressed report was the ocean cycles appear to be the single best explanation of global temperature variations.

“OSTP should be especially concerned about the possibility that other agencies and institutions may be so committed to certain points of view on these issues, that their procedures and assessments fail to fairly reflect new and contrary findings,” Lewis writes in the comments submitted to OSTP.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:29 PM

APPROVE THE PLACEBO (via The Other Brother):

Human Genome's Lupus drug succeeds in trial (Toni Clarke, 7/20/09, Reuters)

Human Genome Sciences Inc said on Monday that its experimental lupus drug had succeeded in a late-stage clinical trial, shocking many who had written the product off and fueling a 195 percent jump in the company's stock. [...]

Results of the 52-week trial -- the first of two requested by U.S. regulators -- showed 57.6 percent of patients taking a high dose of Benlysta experienced an improvement in their symptoms, compared with 43.6 percent who took a placebo.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:26 PM


Revisiting Obama's Riyadh meeting (Laura Rozen, 07/17/2009, FP: The Cable)

[T]wo sources, one a former U.S. official who recently traveled there and one a current official speaking anonymously, say the meeting did not go well from Obama's perspective. What's more, the former official says that Dennis Ross has told associates that part of what prompted Obama to bring him on as his special assistant and NSC senior director for the "Central Region" last month was the president's feeling that the preparation for the trip was insufficient. [...]

"The bottom line is that the Saudis were not prepared," the former official continued, for Obama to ask them to take steps toward Israel. Obama changed his trip to go to Saudi Arabia, he pointed out.

"Senior sources in the Saudi national security team," he said, "think the president's trip was poorly prepared." From their perspective, "he was coming and asking them for big favors with no preparation," but "the Saudis never give big" in that situation.

The former official said that Ross has told associates that Obama was "upset" about the meeting "because he got nothing out of it."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:22 PM


Russia Still Blue Over Moon Landing 40 Years Later (AP< July 20, 2009)

For a dozen years before the July 20, 1969, moon landing, Moscow racked up an extraordinary array of superlatives. It was the first to send a craft into orbit, with the Sputnik satellite in 1957. The first human to go into outer space was Russian Yuri Gagarin in 1961. Moscow sent the woman into space, Valentina Tereshkova in 1963; and Alexei Leonov was the first person to venture outside a spacecraft into the endless cosmos, in 1965.

Russia even got to the moon first when the unmanned Luna 2 crashed in 1959. But the drama of the first human footprint on an extraterrestrial body eclipsed everything the Soviets had worked so hard to achieve.

"Beginning with the first flight with a primitive capsule, and then getting to the moon, it was a great achievement for humanity," Russian astronaut Sergei Krikalev said.

"Of course, we would have liked to see the first man on the moon be Soviet, Russian, but that's life ... Our own achievements were very many," he told Associated Press Television News.

It isn't just that we got there first, but do you know when the first cosmonaut walked on the moon and what his name was?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:21 PM


Barack Hoover Obama (Ken Silverstein, Harper's)

Kevin Baker has an excellent piece in the July issue of the magazine (available to subscribers) about the similarities between our current president and our thirty-first, Herbert Hoover:

The comparison is not meant to be flippant. It has nothing to do with the received image of Hoover, the dour, round-collared, gerbil-cheeked technocrat who looked on with indifference while the country went to pieces. To understand how dire our situation is now it is necessary to remember that when he was elected president in 1928, Herbert Hoover was widely considered the most capable public figure in the country. Hoover—like Obama—was almost certainly someone gifted with more intelligence, a better education, and a greater range of life experience than FDR.

Mr. Roosevelt attended Groton, Harvard and Columbia Law, though he passed the NY Bar Exam without completing the last (back when it was used to exclude idiots). He was de facto Secretary of the Navy during WWI, in a time when navies still mattered. And he was governor of New York. Though Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. famously characterized him as having a "second-rate intellect but a first-class temperament," FDR obviously had precisely the sort of experience to qualify one for the presidency.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:17 PM


The Origin of Dachshunds and Other Dogs With Short Legs (US News, July 20, 2009)

A single evolutionary event appears to explain the short, curved legs that characterize all of today's dachshunds, corgis, basset hounds and at least 16 other breeds of dogs, a team led by the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), part of the National Institutes of Health, reported today. In addition to what it reveals about short-legged dogs, the unexpected discovery provides new clues about how physical differences may arise within species and suggests new approaches to understanding a form of human dwarfism.

In a study published in the advance online edition of the journal Science, the researchers led by NHGRI's Elaine Ostrander, Ph.D., examined DNA samples from 835 dogs, including 95 with short legs. Their survey of more than 40,000 markers of DNA variation uncovered a genetic signature exclusive to short-legged breeds. Through follow-up DNA sequencing and computational analyses, the researchers determined the dogs' disproportionately short limbs can be traced to one mutational event in the canine genome - a DNA insertion - that occurred early in the evolution of domestic dogs.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:49 AM


Key Latino leader considers backing Christie (Max Pizarro, 7/19/09, PolitickerNJ.com)

Martin Perez, the president of one of the state's largest Latino organizations, has stunned many of his allies with public declarations of praise for Republican gubernatorial candidate Christopher Christie.

Earlier this year, at a gala dinner celebrating the tenth anniversary of the Latino Leadership Alliance of New Jersey (LLANJ), Perez irked members of his organization with an effusive introduction of Christie, who entered the room while Gov. Jon Corzine was speaking. Some LLANJ members viewed it is a ceremonial faux pas.

But then a few weeks later, Perez was quoted in the New York Times saying Corzine was "ineffective" as governor. That caused several LLANJ members to wonder if Perez was putting his membership in an organization that supports school vouchers, E3 (Excellent Education for Everyone) ahead of the traditional political alliance between the state's Latino community and the New Jersey Democratic Party.

So he put Latino kids above Latino political activists? Shocking.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:43 AM


Don't Be So Square: Why American drivers should learn to love the roundabout. (Tom Vanderbilt, July 20, 2009, Slate)

Here is a narrative that has been playing out over the last several years in any number of American towns: Traffic engineers notice that a particular intersection has a crash problem or is moving traffic inefficiently. After a period of study, the engineers propose a roundabout. The engineers, armed with drawings and PowerPoint slides, visit a community meeting. They try to explain the benefits of their proposed design in clear language, though they may occasionally drop phrases like entry path overlap or inscribed circle diameter. Townspeople raise concerns. Roundabouts are not safe, they say. They are confusing. They are bad for pedestrians. They will hurt local businesses. They are more expensive than traditional solutions. The local newspaper reports this, adding some man-in-the-street comments from "area drivers," who profess not to like roundabouts, even making dark references to "circles of death." Then, the roundabout is built, the safety record improves, traffic congestion doesn't seem any worse than before, and the complaints begin to fade faster than white thermoplastic lane markings in the heat of summer.

According to best estimates, the United States is now home to about 2,000 "modern roundabouts"—more on that phrase in a moment—most of which were built in the last decade. As engineer Ken Sides noted in the ITE Journal, however, in 2008 Australia built its 8,000th roundabout; by Sides' calculation, the United States would need to build roughly 148,519 more roundabouts to match the Australian rate per capita. Interestingly, Australia—a country whose traffic landscape is rather similar to ours—has, since 1980, cut its traffic-fatality rate to nearly half the U.S. figure. The rise of roundabouts has no doubt played some part.

Why are Americans so suspicious of roundabouts? The simplest answer is that we have grown used to (and feel comfortable with) binary, on-off traffic control. We suspect such signals are more efficient than the "fuzzy logic" that seems to govern roundabouts. Roundabouts require drivers to make their own decisions and assess others' actions, rather than relying on third-party signals.

Of course people using such antihuman devices as cars prefer the regimentation of lights to the freedom of the circles.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:40 AM


Why Socrates Died: An original and thought-provoking examination of the trial and execution of Socrates. (Kevin Hartnett, July 20, 2009, CS Monitor)

The Peloponnesian War, like failed wars of any era, placed significant stress on Athenian society and it was over these fault lines, Waterfield argues, that Socrates stumbled. The city lost more than a quarter of its population to disease in just four years, and massacres and other wartime brutalities tested Athens’ sense of its own virtue. Dissent generally divided by age, with a cadre of grasping young aristocrats arguing that Athens’ loss to Sparta proved the inefficacy of majority rule. Many of them were known to have studied under Socrates.

Socrates himself was equally critical of both the willy-nilly democrat and the vain aristocrat. He believed that it was the job of the state to guide citizens towards knowledge and that power should be vested in the wise in order to accomplish this.

Where there are witch trials there are witches.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:48 AM


Ancient Climate-Change Event Puzzles Scientists (Phil Berardelli, 7/14/09, ScienceNOW)

Over the past couple of decades, researchers have been gathering data about a mysterious event known as the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM). The data, derived from drill cores brought up from the deep seabed in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, show that the surface temperature of the planet rose by as much as 9°C within 10,000 years during the PETM, which itself started out warmer than our current world. Temperatures stayed at this elevated level for nearly 100,000 years.

On the surface, the culprit appeared to be CO2. For reasons unknown, atmospheric concentrations of the gas rose by about 700 parts per million, from 1000 ppm to 1700 ppm--more than four times higher than today's level of 385 ppm--during the PETM. That much of an infusion of the well-established greenhouse gas should have been plenty to spike temperatures.

But a new analysis doesn't fully support this scenario. Oceanographer Richard Zeebe of the University of Hawaii, Manoa, and colleagues ran carbon-cycle simulations of the oceans and atmosphere based on the data yielded by the sediment cores. They even simulated what would happen to global temperatures when they increased the atmosphere's sensitivity to doubling CO2 levels--to 2000 ppm--during the PETM. The most they could achieve was a warming of 3.5°C, they report online this week in Nature Geoscience. That means some other phenomenon must have pushed up temperatures by as much as 5.5°C, the team says. So at present, the unexplained warming represents a gap in understanding about what causes significant and rapid climate change.

"It's possible that other greenhouse gases such as methane could have contributed to the [PETM] warming," Zeebe says. It's also possible that the models are underestimating the climate response to CO2 increases. If that's the case, it "would mean our understanding of the climate system is incomplete," he says.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:43 AM


Europe Thumps U.S., Again: First lower taxes, now freer trade. (WSJ, 7/20/09)

Last week Brussels and Seoul finished the outline of a new trade agreement, and the two sides will now write up the technical language to codify it. As for the pending U.S.-Korea trade agreement, Congress has done . . . nothing.

South Korea has made negotiating trade deals a centerpiece of its foreign and economic policy. The U.S. FTA, signed in 2007 but still not ratified, is one example. Negotiations are planned or under way with a long list of countries, including India, Canada and Australia. On the EU side, the Commission is vigorously defending the pact against domestic critics, including the European auto industry. EU approval isn't a sure thing, but Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt is aiming to finish it by December.

Compare that to the U.S., where the FTA with Korea is bogged down in Big Labor politics. Bashing the deal became de rigueur in the Democratic Party primary before last year's Presidential election. Candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton both claimed the deal wouldn't open Korea's auto market to U.S. imports, all evidence to the contrary. Now, with Democrats running both the White House and Congress, prospects are bleak for any trade deal. Colombia has also been left hanging, even though its goods already enter the U.S. duty free under the Andean preferences program.

Where's Goolsbee when we need him?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:35 AM



Candidate Barack Obama promised Americans savings of $2,500, expanded coverage and no generalized tax increase in the form of an individual mandate. Yet President Obama is endorsing the 1,000-plus-page bills working their way through this liberal Congress -- which promise to expand government while exploding costs.

In its current form, "health-care reform" will bury future generations in government debt even as politicians and bureaucrats struggle to stop the hemorrhaging by cutting back Medicare and hammering the private sector with taxes. The entire effort is a case study in exactly why politics should be kept out of the examination room.

Governors Fear Medicaid Costs in Health Plan (KEVIN SACK and ROBERT PEAR, July 19, 2009, NY Times)

The nation’s governors, Democrats as well as Republicans, voiced deep concern Sunday about the shape of the health care plan emerging from Congress, fearing that Washington was about to hand them expensive new Medicaid obligations without money to pay for them.

The role of the states in a restructured health care system dominated the summer meeting of the National Governors Association here this weekend — with bipartisan animosity voiced against the plan during a closed-door luncheon on Saturday and in a private meeting on Sunday with the health and human services secretary, Kathleen Sebelius.

“I think the governors would all agree that what we don’t want from the federal government is unfunded mandates,” said Gov. Jim Douglas of Vermont, a Republican, the group’s incoming chairman. “We can’t have the Congress impose requirements that we are forced to absorb beyond our capacity to do so.”

The governors’ backlash creates yet another health care headache for the Obama administration, which has tried to recruit state leaders to pressure members of Congress to wrap up their fitful negotiations.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:28 AM


The Most Painful Putts in Golf History (David Biderman, 7/20/09, WSJ)

At age 59, Tom Watson was one shot shy of making history Sunday in the British Open. Then his putt fell short, positioning him on the losing end of a four-hole playoff. Sure, the putt was makeable, but it will never be considered one of the worst misses in golf history -- many others have him beat.

...the first was the choke. He knew he should chip but a putt is easier to not miss badly. When pressure changes how you play for the worse it's choking.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:20 AM


Disaster fears as 'monster' eclipse looms: THE world's most populous nations will gaze skywards on Wednesday as the longest total solar eclipse of the 21st Century lays a carpet of darkness across India and China, from Mumbai to Shanghai. (AFP, 7/20/09)

The excitement this time around is largely due to the unusually long duration of the instant of greatest eclipse, or "totality" - when the sun is wholly covered.

At its maximum, this will last six minutes and 39 seconds - a duration that will not be matched until the year 2132.

The up-to-258km-wide shadow cast along the "path of totality" will first make landfall on the western Indian state of Gujarat shortly before 6:30am (11am AEST).

It then races across India, blacking out the holy city of Varanasi on the banks of the Ganges, squeezing between the northern and southern tips of Bangladesh and Nepal before engulfing most of Bhutan, traversing the Chinese mainland and slipping back out to sea off Shanghai.

Its next landfall is Japan's southern Ryukyu Islands, after which it curves southeast through the Pacific Ocean where the maximum duration of totality will occur.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:04 AM


Poll Shows Obama Slipping on Key Issues: Approval Rating on Health Care Falls Below 50 Percent (Dan Balz and Jon Cohen, 7/20/09, Washington Post)

Heading into a critical period in the debate over health-care reform, public approval of President Obama's stewardship on the issue has dropped below the 50 percent threshold for the first time, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. [...]

Since April, approval of Obama's handling of health care has dropped from 57 percent to 49 percent, with disapproval rising from 29 percent to 44 percent. [...]

Obama's approval rating on his handling of the deficit is down to 43 percent, as independents now tilt toward disapproval (42 percent approve; 48 percent disapprove).

More broadly, 55 percent of Americans put a higher priority on holding the deficit in check than on spending to boost the economy, compared with 40 percent who advocate additional outlays even if it means a sharply greater budget shortfall. This is a big shift from January, when a slim majority preferred to emphasize federal spending.

Independents, who split 50 percent to 46 percent for more spending in January, now break 56 percent to 41 percent for more fiscal discipline. But a larger shift has been among moderate and conservative Democrats, who prioritized more spending by about 2 to 1 in January and March. Now they are about evenly divided in approach.

Nearly a quarter of moderate and conservative Democrats (22 percent) now see Obama as an "old-style tax-and-spend Democrat," up from 4 percent in March. Among all Americans, 52 percent consider Obama a "new-style Democrat who will be careful with the public's money." That is down from 58 percent a month ago and 62 percent in March, to about where President Bill Clinton was on that question in the summer of 1993.

Concerns about the federal account balance are also reflected in views about another round of stimulus spending. In the new poll, more than six in 10 oppose spending beyond the $787 billion already allocated to boost the economy. Most Democrats support more spending; big majorities of Republicans and independents are against the idea.

Support for new spending is tempered by flagging confidence on Obama's plan for the economy. Fifty-six percent are confident that his programs will reap benefits, but that is down from 64 percent in March and from 72 percent just before he took office six months ago. More now say they have no confidence in the plan than say they are very confident it will work. Among independents and Republicans, confidence has decreased by 20 or more points; it has dropped seven points among Democrats.

Approval of Obama's handling of the overall economy stands at 52 percent, with 46 percent disapproving, and, for the first time in his presidency, more Americans strongly disapprove of his performance on the economy than strongly approve.

White House putting off release of budget update (TOM RAUM, 7/20/09, AP)
The White House is being forced to acknowledge the wide gap between its once-upbeat predictions about the economy and today's bleak landscape.

The administration's annual midsummer budget update is sure to show higher deficits and unemployment and slower growth than projected in President Barack Obama's budget in February and update in May, and that could complicate his efforts to get his signature health care and global-warming proposals through Congress.

The release of the update — usually scheduled for mid-July — has been put off until the middle of next month, giving rise to speculation the White House is delaying the bad news at least until Congress leaves town on its August 7 summer recess.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:59 AM


Iran`s Khatami Wants Referendum On Legitimacy: `People should be asked whether they are happy with the current situation`, ebsites on Monday quoted Khatami as saying. (Javno, 7/20/09)

"The only way out of the current situation is to hold a referendum," websites on Monday quoted Khatami as saying. "People should be asked whether they are happy with the current situation ... If the vast majority of people are happy with the current situation, we will accept it as well." [...]

The election also exposed deep rifts within Iran's ruling elite with defeated reformist candidate Mirhossein Mousavi, Khatami and Rafsanjani continuing to dispute the result even after it was endorsed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's most powerful figure who traditionally has the last word on matters of state.

Thirty-six army officers arrested in Iran over protest plan (Robert Tait, 7/19/09, guardian.co.uk)
The Iranian army has arrested 36 officers who planned to attend last week's Friday prayer sermon by former president Hashemi Rafsanjani in their military uniforms as an act of political defiance, according to Farsi-language websites. [...]

Security forces used teargas and arrested dozens of those in attendance in a sign of the authorities' nervousness over the event.

The officers were rounded up on Friday morning by army intelligence agents who had caught wind of the plan. They are said to have been arrested at their homes and taken to an unknown location.

Peiknet, a Farsi website, said the officers had agreed the action at a weekly prayer meeting the night before at the Shah Abdolazim religious shrine in Shahr-e Rey, on Tehran's southern outskirts. "They decided to attend the Friday prayer in their military clothes as a sign of protest against the cruel massacre of people by the basij and revolutionary guards and to show their objection against this process and support for the people," the site said. It named 24 of the officers, who included two majors, four captains, eight lieutenants, six sergeants and four warrant officers.

The arrests expose the authorities' sensitivity to signs of mutiny among the various branches of the security forces.

Reports last month suggested that a senior revolutionary guard commander, General Ali Fazli, had been arrested for refusing to obey orders to suppress protests against election result. The reports were later denied but some sources say Fazli remains under pressure to toe the line.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:58 AM


US and India to sign defence pact (Reuters, 7/20/09)

The United States and India are expected to sign an agreement on Monday that would take a major step towards allowing the sale of sophisticated US arms to the South Asian nation, three senior US officials said.

Known as an ”end-use monitoring” agreement and required by US law for such weapons sales, the pact would let Washington check that India was using any arms for the purposes intended and preventing the technology from leaking to others.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:51 AM


Frank McCourt; storyteller hit gold in ‘Angela’s Ashes’ (William Grimes, July 20, 2009, NY Times)

Mr. McCourt, who taught in the city’s school system for nearly 30 years, had always told his writing students that they were their own best material. In his mid-60s, he decided to take his own advice, sitting down to commit his childhood memories to paper and producing what he described as “a modest book, modestly written.’’

In it, Mr. McCourt described a childhood of terrible deprivation. After his alcoholic father abandoned the family, his mother - the Angela of the title - begged on the streets of Limerick to keep him and his three brothers meagerly fed, poorly clothed, and housed in a basement flat with no bathroom and a thriving population of vermin. The book’s clear-eyed look at childhood misery, its incongruously lilting, buoyant prose, and its heartfelt urgency struck a remarkable chord with readers and critics.

“When I look back on my childhood, I wonder how I survived at all,’’ the book’s second paragraph begins in a famous passage. “It was, of course, a miserable childhood: The happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood.

“People everywhere brag and whimper about the woes of their early years, but nothing can compare with the Irish version: the poverty; the shiftless loquacious alcoholic father; the pious defeated mother moaning by the fire; pompous priests; bullying schoolmasters; the English and all the terrible things they did to us for 800 long years.’’

“Angela’s Ashes,’’ published by Scribner in 1996, rose to the top of the bestseller lists and stayed there for more than two years, selling 4 million copies in hardback. The next year, it won the Pulitzer Prize for biography and the National Book Critics Circle Award.

Mr. McCourt seemed a decent enough fellow, but in pretending to have written a memoir rather than a coming of age novel he did terrible damage to fiction

July 19, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:49 AM


Tom Watson's historic run at the 2009 British Open is one for the ages (Mike Lupica, July 19th 2009, NY Daily News)

When Watson was young, he putted the way kids do before they know putting is supposed to be hard. He didn't care how far past the cup he rammed the birdie putts he didn't make, because whether it was six feet or eight feet or even 10 feet coming back, he seemed to make them all.

He made all the putts the rest of us miss.

Until he stopped making them. He stopped making short putts. Watson had the yips, and after a while it was as terrible watching him stand over a 3-footer as it had been once with Ben Hogan. Watson stopped making putts and he stopped winning, even though he could hit the ball like a dream, the way he has so far at Turnberry. He was driving it better than ever and hitting irons as well as he ever had, and he couldn't win.

And Watson stayed in there. He didn't quit, he didn't go to a long putter or a belly putter or a cross-handed grip or the grip known as the "claw." He was still the tough kid from Kansas City who used to beat balls in the winter when no one else was around because he wanted to be great. He would figure this out.

A friend once asked why he didn't go to the belly putter or the long putter that other shaky golfers used, and got the look that Watson used to stare down even Jack Nicklaus with.

"It's not golf," Watson said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:47 AM


Obama Loses His Cool Teleprompter troubles and All-Star gaffes (STEVE RHODES, Jul 17, 2009, NBC Chicago)

The most viewed story on the Chicago Tribune website as of this writing is a column asking if President Obama wore Mom Jeans to the mound when he threw out the ceremonial first pitch at Tuesday night's All-Star Game.

So much for the president being the coolest guy on Earth. [...]

Pundits mostly pile on Obama for a series of gaffes at the All-Star Game, but date the shaky week to the crashing of a teleprompter on Monday that left Obama "in absolute discomfort."

But Obama's series of goofs began long before this week. In March, for example, another teleprompter meltdown led to the Irish prime minister repeating Obama's statement word-for-word - while Obama thanked himself for being there.

In May, a teleprompter blew over in high winds in Colorado and Vice President Joe Biden, referring to Obama's reliance on the devices, joked, "What I am going to tell the president when I tell him his teleprompter is broken? What will he do then?!"

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:24 AM


Barack Obama feels the heat, changes the play (BEN SMITH, 7/19/09, Politico)

Finally, we’re starting to see him sweat.

President Barack Obama made his personal icy cool the trademark of his campaign, the tenor of his White House and the hallmark of an early run of successes at home and abroad. But as the glamour wears off and a long, frustrating summer wears on, he is being forced to improvise — stooping to respond to political foes and adjusting his tactics and demeanor for the trench warfare of a legislative agenda. [...]

Obama’s political operation has dispensed with its post-inauguration cocktails for Republicans – or more often, ignoring them outright — in favor of the old politics of engage, attack and cajole. Obama’s even engaging in a little Democrat-on-Democrat politics, as his ex-campaign arm is beaming TV ads into the home states of moderate fence-sitters on health care.

The tightly programmed White House also is champing at the bit, kicking off what officials say will be a relentless three-week push on health care, starting with the hastily scheduled Friday address. But its first event might have backfired a bit. Its main consequence was proving that the magnetism of Obama’s personal appearances has worn off, as it drew little media attention and a dismissive tweet from the key Senate Republican, Chuck Grassley of Iowa: “Waste of time.”

The sum has been a new sense of uncertainty and strain, and a growing murmur among Democrats in Washington nervous about the White House’s tactics, and a rising tide of concern in the states as local Democratic parties eye midterm elections that are traditionally a challenge for a new president.

If he understood politics, like W and Karl Rove do, he'd have saved those personal appearances he squandered on nothing for the past six months and a presidential speech would actually be significant.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:20 AM


Iran Following Path of Former Soviet Union- Yazdi (Manal Lutfi, 7/19/09, Asharq Alawasat)

Ebrahim Yazdi, the Secretary-General of the "Freedom Movement of Iran" which is one of the parties of Iran's reformist movement warned that Iran is following in the path of the of the former Soviet Union, being a "strong totalitarian regime with a very high effective but corrupt secret police."

Yazdi clarified to Asharq Al-Awsat that "the former Soviet Union collapsed because the leadership moved too late to respond to the demands of the people and implement reform…I believe Iran is following this same path but with two key differences; firstly Iran is not an empire that can be broken up into different republics and countries. Secondly, the collapse of the Soviet Union signaled the end of the Marxist ideology…however Islam will not disappear as Marxism did. Islam is a part of our identity and culture. I am not worried about Islam, for Islam has a God to protect it…however I am afraid for the Republic of Iran and [the fate of] democracy in my country."

He added "I know that we need Jacob's patience, Noah's longevity, and Mohamed's tact [to overcome this]."

Yazdi also informed Asharq Al-Awsat that the Reformist movement is looking at a number of different ideas to continue its protest against the results of the recent presidential elections, and that some of these ideas include forming a "consultative council" comprised of Mir Hossein Mousavi, Mehdi Karroubi, and Mohammad Khatami. He added that this consultative council "will place Ali Akber Hashemi Rafsanjani in a better position to aid the Reformists via official institutes."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:17 AM


Giuliani Would Be Strong Contender for Governor (Congressional Quarterly, July 17, 2009)

Former New York City Mayor and 2008 Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani could make a race out of the 2010 governor's contest, if early polling is any indication.

A Rasmussen poll of likely voters conducted July 14 showed that not only is Giuliani leading unpopular Democratic incumbent David A. Paterson by more than 20 percentage points, but he's also within single digits of highly popular Attorney General Andrew Cuomo.

After twenty years of Democrats telling people how mean he is and how little he cares about poor people, he has unique credibility to run on slashing government spending in a state that needs to.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:05 AM


Walter Cronkite, 92, Dies; Trusted Voice of TV News (DOUGLAS MARTIN, 7/18/09, NY Times)

Walter Leland Cronkite Jr. was born on Nov. 4, 1916, in St. Joseph, Mo., the son of Walter Leland Cronkite Sr., a dentist, and the former Helen Lena Fritsche. His ancestors had settled in New Amsterdam, the Dutch colony that became New York. As a boy, Walter peddled magazines door to door and hawked newspapers. As a teenager, after the family had moved to Houston, he got a job with The Houston Post as a copy boy and cub reporter. At the same time, he had a paper route delivering The Post to his neighbors.

“As far as I know, there were no other journalists delivering the morning paper with their own compositions inside,” he wrote in his autobiography.

When he was 16, Mr. Cronkite went with friends to Chicago for the 1933 World’s Fair. He volunteered to help demonstrate an experimental version of television.

“I could honestly say to all of my colleagues, ‘I was in television long before you were,’ ” he said in an interview with CBS News in 1996.

Mr. Cronkite attended the University of Texas for two years, studying political science, economics and journalism, working on the school newspaper and picking up journalism jobs with The Houston Press and other newspapers. He also auditioned to be an announcer at an Austin radio station but was turned down. He left college in 1935 without graduating to take a job as a reporter with The Press.

While visiting Kansas City, Mo., he was hired by the radio station KCMO to read news and broadcast football games under the name Walter Wilcox. (Radio stations at the time wanted to “own” announcers’ names so that popular ones could not be taken elsewhere.)

He was not at the games but received cryptic summaries of each play by telegraph. These provided fodder for vivid descriptions of the action. He added details of what local men in the stands were wearing, which he learned by calling their wives. He found out in advance what music the band would be playing so he could describe halftime festivities.

At KCMO, Mr. Cronkite met an advertising writer named Mary Elizabeth Maxwell. The two read a commercial together. One of Mr. Cronkite’s lines was, “You look like an angel.” They were married for 64 years until her death in 2005.

In addition to his son, Walter Leland III, known as Chip, Mr. Cronkite is survived by his daughters, Nancy Elizabeth and Mary Kathleen; and four grandsons.

In his last years, Joanna Simon, a former opera singer and sister of Carly Simon, was his frequent companion.

Mr. Cronkite had one good moment. Having taken one of his children to visit prospective college campuses he said: There are two places I wouldn't let my daughter go, the DMZ in Vietnam and Colgate during Spring Party Weekend.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:55 AM


One Giant Leap to Nowhere (TOM WOLFE, 7/19/09, NY Times)

How could such a thing happen? In hindsight, the answer is obvious. NASA had neglected to recruit a corps of philosophers.

From the moment the Soviets launched Sputnik I into orbit around the Earth in 1957, everybody from Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson on down looked upon the so-called space race as just one thing: a military contest. At first there was alarm over the Soviets’ seizure of the “strategic high ground” of space. They were already up there — right above us! They could now hurl thunderbolts down whenever and wherever they wanted. And what could we do about it? Nothing. Ka-boom! There goes Bangor ... Ka-boom! There goes Boston ... Ka-boom! There goes New York ... Baltimore ... Washington ... St. Louis ... Denver ... San Jose — blown away! — just like that.

Physicists were quick to point out that nobody would choose space as a place from which to attack Earth. The spacecraft, the missile, the Earth itself, plus the Earth’s own rotation, would be traveling at wildly different speeds upon wildly different geometric planes. You would run into the notorious “three body problem” and then some. You’d have to be crazy. The target would be untouched and you would wind up on the floor in a fetal ball, twitching and gibbering. On the other hand, the rockets that had lifted the Soviets’ five-ton manned ships into orbit were worth thinking about. They were clearly powerful enough to reach any place on Earth with nuclear warheads.

But that wasn’t what was on President Kennedy’s mind when he summoned NASA’s administrator, James Webb, and Webb’s deputy, Hugh Dryden, to the White House in April 1961. The president was in a terrible funk. He kept muttering: “If somebody can just tell me how to catch up. Let’s find somebody — anybody ... There’s nothing more important.” He kept saying, “We’ve got to catch up.” Catching up had become his obsession. He never so much as mentioned the rockets.

Dryden said that, frankly, there was no way we could catch up with the Soviets when it came to orbital flights. A better idea would be to announce a crash program on the scale of the Manhattan Project, which had produced the atomic bomb. Only the aim this time would be to put a man on the Moon within the next 10 years.

Barely a month later Kennedy made his famous oration before Congress: “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to Earth.” He neglected to mention Dryden.

INTUITIVELY, not consciously, Kennedy had chosen another form of military contest, an oddly ancient and archaic one. It was called “single combat.”

The best known of all single combats was David versus Goliath. Before opposing armies clashed in all-out combat, each would send forth its “champion,” and the two would fight to the death, usually with swords. The victor would cut off the head of the loser and brandish it aloft by its hair.

The deadly duel didn’t take the place of the all-out battle. It was regarded as a sign of which way the gods were leaning. The two armies then had it out on the battlefield ... unless one army fled in terror upon seeing its champion slaughtered. There you have the Philistines when Little David killed their giant, Goliath ... and cut his head off and brandished it aloft by its hair (1 Samuel 17:1-58). They were overcome by a mad desire to be somewhere else. (The Israelites pursued and destroyed them.)

More than two millenniums later, the mental atmosphere of the space race was precisely that.

The Economic Failure of the Space Program (Michael Mandel, July 19, 2009, Business Week)
Between 1962 and 1972, the U.S. space program spent $176 billion (inflation-adjusted in 2009 dollars). In magnitude, that comes close to the mammoth federal expenditures on building the interstate highway system over the same period (outlays from the Federal Highway Trust Fund totalled $220 billion in 2009 dollars from 1962-72).

We know what we got from the interstate highway system—fast, easy transportation, the creation of the suburbs, an entire transformation of our way of life. What did we get economically from the space program, especially the manned portion? Much, much less. Government investment in space, rather than opening up new opportunities, turned out to be a one-off. Lots of communication satellites, yes, but what else? There’s no manufacturing in space, and unless I’m wrong, there’s been little research done in space which has had great practical applications (please let me know if I’m wrong about this).

I’m sorry to be a grump about this. I don’t think the expenditures on space were a bad idea. I don’t think the moon landing was a bad idea. To the contrary—I’m glad we did it.

I’m just making the economic point that we used large amounts of scarce scientific and technical labor and money for one activity which at least up to now, has not produced big economic payoffs.

It wasn't helpful that from the start of the Space era until the election of Ronald Reagan we had an especially unthoughtful series of presidents.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:51 AM


Obama no longer stressing August deadline for passing health reform bill (JONATHAN MARTIN, 7/18/09, Politico)

In his most recent remarks, President Obama has stopped mentioning what had been his mantra — that the House and Senate finish their health-care bills by the August recess — and switched to a less specific call to fast action.

...the more likely he can save his presidency. The public will be glad they failed, the press isn't going to make a big deal of his failure, and his Republican opponent isn't going to fault him. The only danger is he might end up with a primary challenge as he drifts Right.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:46 AM


Little for Liberals in Confirmation Hearings: As Sotomayor and White House Avoid Ideology, Some on Left See Wasted Chance (Amy Goldstein and Paul Kane, 7/18/09, Washington Post)

The hearings were a moment of history that liberals had awaited for 15 years: an opportunity for a Democratic president's Supreme Court nominee to inject into the public dialogue fresh ideas about the Constitution and the law, beginning to recalibrate a court that has gravitated to the right.

Yet Sotomayor did not articulate such a vision. In answering Cardin, and in scores of other times during four intense days in the witness chair, she eluded efforts of Democrats and Republicans alike to draw out any statement of liberal thought.

Sotomayor's inscrutability last week has raised fundamental questions: about the Obama administration's approach to future nominations, the direction of the court, the way Senate Democrats are using the benefits of their majority and the influence of the American left.

At the heart of those questions is another one, which has ignited a debate among legal scholars, advocates and members of Congress. Did the hearings reveal a true absence of liberal ideas in the 55-year-old judge President Obama chose to fill his first Supreme Court vacancy? Or did they reflect sheer political pragmatism by someone, coached by White House staff members and following the model of other recent nominees, seeking to maximize support by avoiding controversy?

Either way, Sotomayor's reticence, if not her nomination, has disappointed legal thinkers on the left. The hearings "did serious damage to the cause of progressive thought in constitutional law," said Geoffrey R. Stone, a University of Chicago Law School professor who was dean there when Obama joined its faculty. Doug Kendall, president of the Constitutional Accountability Center, a liberal think tank, called them "a totally missed opportunity. . . . The progressive legal project hit rock bottom [last] week."

What should scare them is not just that she has no ideas, but that she has no family or social network. She's not unlikely to be adopted by Justice Scalia.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:42 AM


Why not try ownership?: Reform bill too ambitious for real problem (Deroy Murdock, July 19, 2009, Washington Times)

Rather than endorse such big-government overkill, pro-freedom members of Congress should promote a simple concept: Let every American own and control an individual health insurance policy that can be transported among jobs, self-employment, graduate school and life's other twists and turns. [...]

What Americans need is a thriving market in individually owned and controlled health insurance plans. When you book an airline flight, Priceline.com does not ask, "What is your group number?" You decide when and where to fly and then buy your ticket. At least with personal travel, your boss does not fund this. The same is true for car insurance, home insurance and often life insurance. Why must Americans shop for health insurance at work rather than online or through independent agents?

Health care reform should give Americans the option of using money tax-free to purchase whatever kinds of health insurance make them happy. If employers offer such plans, lovely. If not, individuals should be encouraged, through tax-free health savings accounts, to buy their own policies and maintain them throughout their careers. This dramatically would reduce the tragedy of "job lock," whereby employees put up with bosses and duties they cannot stand merely to keep employer-furnished health coverage.

As Rep. John Shadegg, Arizona Republican, has argued, Americans also should be free to buy health plans across state lines. Today, such policies usually must be purchased within consumers' own states, subject to state-level insurance regulations. If New York residents may arrange home loans through Illinois-based banks, for example, why are we allowed to buy health plans only through insurers that operate in the Empire State?

...ought to disfavor the purchase of comprehensive health coverage by the healthy, not abet it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:39 AM


The Airbus 330 - an accident waiting to happen: With its human-proof computer systems, it is the most technically advanced aircraft in the world. So why has the Airbus 330's gleaming new fleet been so dogged by technical problems... and disturbing evidence of flawed cabling been so comprehensively ignored? 9David Rose, 19th July 2009 , Daily Mail)

Eight months after QF72’s emergency, in the early hours of June 1, 2009, another A330 crashed into the Atlantic Ocean. Air France Flight 447 from Rio de Janeiro to Paris went down with the loss of all 216 passengers and 12 crew – France’s worst air disaster.

The full story may never be known. Like most of the wreckage, AF447’s black boxes – its data and voice recorders – are thought to be resting 15,000ft below the surface in an underwater mountain range. However, before it crashed the plane transmitted a series of automatic messages, from which it’s possible to determine several events leading up to the accident. These are detailed in the newly published official report. Having analysed this as well as reports on the Qantas flight and on other similar incidents, Live has found worrying parallels. Interviews with pilots, lawyers and crash investigators suggest there may be an underlying problem with A330s. It’s impossible to conclude what this is, but there are two prime suspects – either flaws in the software, or with the wiring found inside huge numbers of modern aircraft.

‘It looks to me like there’s only one reason why AF447 crashed and QF72 survived,’ says Charles-Henri Tardivat, a former crash investigator who’s now part of a team from the London law firm Stewarts Law, which represents the victims’ families. ‘On QF72, the same things started happening that preceded the Air France crash. They were able to recover control because they were flying in daylight and perfect weather. They could see what was happening, even without their instruments. But AF447 was caught in a violent storm at night. The A330 is a very well-built aircraft, but there obviously is a problem somewhere. With so many of them out there, we need to find it.’

In an A330 cockpit, everything is computerised, and when the system is working properly – under what Airbus terms ‘normal law’ – it should be impossible for the crew to make a mistake. For example, when a plane is cruising at high altitude, the window between a dangerous overspeed that might place intolerable stresses on the airframe and a stall is quite narrow – less than 70mph. In older planes, pilots discover the aircraft is at risk of stalling through cockpit alarms and when their control sticks start to shake, and they have to react very quickly. On a modern Airbus, if the airspeed falls to a dangerous level, the system will increase the engines’ thrust without human intervention.

‘Airbus think they’ve designed a computer that’s smarter than a pilot,’ one airman says. ‘If a pilot moves the controls so as to turn the aeroplane upside down, the computer will refuse.’

It’s possible for the pilots to override the computer, effectively switching to manual control – what Airbus calls ‘direct law’. But even then, they remain dependent on electronics. ‘In older aeroplanes the throttles in the cockpit are hooked to the fuel controllers on the engines by a steel throttle cable,’ another pilot says. ‘On an Airbus, nothing in the cockpit is real. Everything is electronic. The throttles, rudder and brake pedals and the side-stick are hooked to rheostats that talk to a computer, which talks to an electric hydraulic servo valve, which in turn – hopefully – moves something.’

In the Nineties, when fly-by-wire was in its infancy, several Airbuses crashed because of conditions that hadn’t been programmed into the software. A more recent incident involved a brand new A340 being tested on the ground in Toulouse in November 2007. With the engines running at high power – and, contrary to specified procedure, no wheel chocks in place – a technician was taken by surprise when the plane started to move. Instead of reducing the thrust, he released the parking brake in order to use normal braking – but failed to keep the pedals fully pressed.

Seeing a concrete blast wall straight ahead, he tried to steer away from it – but since the A340 automatically inhibits centre-wheel braking when the nose wheels are steered, he didn’t succeed. By the time the plane hit the wall, it had reached 36mph. Four people were seriously injured. The aircraft was a write-off.

Australia’s Transport Safety Bureau, which is still investigating QF72, isn’t yet sure why the aircraft plunged so violently. But the plane’s survival means the incident can be reconstructed from the cockpit – in this case, the black boxes were recovered.

The event began at 12.40, just after the first co-pilot went for his break. The first sign was the sudden disconnection of the autopilot, accompanied by a ‘master caution’ alarm which sounded almost continuously for the rest of the flight. Three seconds later, the ECAM – the Electronic Centralised Aircraft Monitor, the display panel that alerts the crew to faults – warned that a critically important system had failed. This was one of the plane’s three ADIRUs, Air Data Inertial Reference Units, which gather data from the plane’s sensors about its speed, direction, position, altitude and angle of attack. Losing the ADIRUs is the digital equivalent of flying blind.

The captain tried to re-engage both the primary and back-up autopilots, but to no avail. Messages suggested the computers were going haywire. Two minutes after the crisis began, the first downward lurch occurred, caused by an ‘uncommanded’ movement of the elevators on the tailplane. ‘The captain reported that he applied back pressure on his side-stick to arrest the pitch-down movement,’ says the Bureau report. ‘Initially this action seemed to have no effect, but then the aircraft responded.’

However, the ECAM was still going crazy, with ‘multiple’ fault warnings – including one saying that one of the three primary computers had failed. While the crew tried to reboot it, the plane lurched downwards again, and as before, it at first failed to respond to the controls. At 12.49, they issued a radio alert and made for Learmonth air base.

The ECAM was still displaying contradictory, rapidly scrolling messages about the plane’s speed and altitude, and the computers were still not functioning. Unable to rely on Airbus’s much-vaunted technology, the pilots had to position themselves for a ‘straight-in visual approach to [the] runway’ from a distance of 15 nautical miles.

Behind that bald language lies a terrifying fact: had they not been able to see the runway from that considerable distance, they might not have been able to land. No less frightening is the fact that the Bureau is still ‘evaluating’ all the data to ascertain what went wrong. Meanwhile, the plane has been cleaned, refurbished and is back in service.

QF72 isn’t the only A330 to have encountered unexplained electronic problems. On flights from Paris to Martinique in August and September last year, two planes flown by Air Caraibes Atlantique also experienced the sudden disconnection of their autopilots. Forced to proceed on ‘alternate law’ – a hybrid of manual and automatic flying in which many of the normal computerised protections are lost – the pilots also had to deal with the loss of ADIRUs, and bogus ECAM messages.

July 18, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:56 AM


The Genesis enigma: How DID the Bible describe the evolution of life 3,000 years before Darwin? (Christopher Hart, 18th July 2009, Daily Mail)

The revelation came to Professor Andrew Parker during a visit to Rome. He was in the Sistine Chapel, gazing up at Michelangelo's awesome ceiling paintings, when a realisation struck him with dizzying force.

'A Biblical enigma exists that is on the one hand so cryptic it has remained camouflaged for millennia, and on the other so obvious one cannot miss it.'

The enigma is that the order of Creation as described in the Book of Genesis, and so powerfully depicted in the Sistine Chapel by the greatest artist of the Renaissance, has been precisely, eerily confirmed by modern evolutionary science.

If Darwinism departed in any serious way from the Capitalism, Christianity, and Colonialism of mid 19th Century Britain, no one would have listened. It is precisely because he followed the evolutionary scheme of Genesis while applying capitalist mechanisms to derive a justification for Imperialism that he got a hearing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:01 AM


Alliances In Health Debate Splinter: Once-Friendly Groups Split as Details Emerge (Dan Eggen and Perry Bacon Jr., 7/18/09, Washington Post)

In one sign of the changing political climate, the Democratic National Committee this week began running cable television ads targeting many of the party's wavering senators, declaring that "it's time for health-care reform." The DNC, acting through its Organizing for America grass-roots project, has also ramped up a nationwide schedule of meetings and rallies drawing on Obama's 13 million-name campaign e-mail list.

Another leading liberal group, Health Care for America Now, announced an $800,000 ad campaign yesterday with the American Federation of State, Federal and Municipal Employees that is targeting centrist lawmakers in nine states, including Indiana, Ohio, Louisiana and North Dakota. The group is running a telephone campaign that has prompted as many as 16,000 calls a day from reform supporters to lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

Republicans, conservative groups and many business organizations have responded by accelerating efforts to derail the legislation, portraying Democratic proposals as costly and dangerous experiments that will put the country on a path to inefficient, "government-run" health care. Their main goal is to slow down the pace of the legislation in Congress in the hope of fomenting wider opposition.

"If we're able to stop Obama on this, it will be his Waterloo," Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) said yesterday during a conference call with conservative activists. "It will break him."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:46 AM


Labour ministers plan reputation trashing of Army chief General Sir Richard Dannatt (James Kirkup, 17 Jul 2009, Daily Telegraph)

Sir Richard has publicly called for more troops and helicopters in Afghanistan, piling pressure on Gordon Brown over his support for the Armed Forces.

Visiting Afghanistan this week, he again called for more “boots on the ground” and revealed he had been forced to borrow a US helicopter because no British aircraft were available.

His words infuriated ministers, and after Sir Richard’s retirement on August 28, some Labour MPs plan to raise questions about the general’s role in recent decisions on defence policy.

One minister said: “Once he’s gone, we can have a go at him. He can write his book and talk all he wants, but he’ll be fair game then.”

In retirement, Sir Richard is likely to remain a thorn in Labour’s side.

Even England isn't so far gone that you can win political points by being anti-military.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:41 AM


If Only It Were a Tax (Lee Lane, July 18, 2009, The American)

With the current plan, government would require most sources of man-made GHG emissions to have a valid permit for each ton that they discharge into the atmosphere. Government would issue the permits and, by limiting the number it issued, would establish a cap on total U.S. emissions. The price of permits would rise to whatever level would balance the demand for permits with the supply that government has issued.

Under this system, hard-to-predict forces such as technology trends, economic growth rates, fuel prices, and even weather will determine GHG permit prices. As a result, a GHG cap can easily cost more than the price of the harm that it avoids. Former Vice President Al Gore, for example, has proposed a cap that has been calculated to cost $17 trillion more than the expected future damages from unchecked climate change. The current plan is also very likely to overshoot that mark. Further, with cap-and-trade, permit prices will fluctuate widely, and businesses will have to incur unnecessary costs to hedge against these price swings.

The carbon tax is free from these defects. With it, businesses know the current and future price for emitting a ton of GHG—at least until Congress changes the tax rate. Since the tax rate is set in advance, there will be no punishing cost spikes just because technology changed too slowly or the economy grew too fast. And since the tax rate will change slowly and predictably, hedging costs will be minimized.

This comparison casts our national discourse on climate in a somewhat ironic light. President Obama and his allies are promoting a tool for GHG control that is distinctly more costly than a simple carbon tax. Yet most Republican congressmen and conservative pundits, instead of pointing out that a tax would be a far better option, are hard at work trying wrongly to convince voters that the current plan is a tax.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:39 AM


Obama losing some support among nervous Dems (BETH FOUHY, 7/18/09, AP )

Another Democrat, Rep. Dan Boren of Oklahoma, tells his local newspaper that Obama is too liberal and is "very unpopular" in his district. [...]

Obama continues to be comparatively popular. But now recent national surveys have shown a measurable drop in his job approval rating, even among Democrats. A CBS news survey out this week had his national approval rating at 57 percent, and his standing among Democrats down 10 percentage points since last month, from 92 percent to 82 percent.

With the economy continuing to sputter and joblessness on the rise, many of Obama's staunchest Democratic supporters are anxious for his agenda to start bearing fruit.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:34 AM


‘Death to China’ heard at Rafsanjani sermon. Why?: Protesters also targeted Russia. Both countries had quickly recognized President Ahmadinejad's reelection victory last month. (Kristen Chick, 07.17.09, CS Monitor)

“Death to China!” and “Death to Russia!” chanted supporters of presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi during a sermon by influential former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, according to news reports. Mr. Rafsanjani used the speech to criticize the government’s crackdown on dissent following the contested June 12 election.

The Associated Press reports that the slogan broke out after hard-line supporters of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad yelled out the familiar “Death to America” chant during the speech. And Nico Pitney of The Huffington Post posted a YouTube video showing an outdoors rally in Tehran today, in which he says the protesters are chanting in Farsi “Russia, do us a favor and let go of our country!”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:24 AM


The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane: This debut novel blends the history of the Salem witch trials with the tale of a 1991 Harvard student who makes some surprising discoveries about her family’s past. (Marjorie Kehe, July 18, 2009, CS Monitor)

It seems an odd and disturbing question, particularly coming from a renowned Harvard scholar: “Have you not considered the distinct possibility that the accused were simply guilty of witchcraft?”

Of course, the question would be just as surprising coming from an academic if you substituted anarchist violence, communist subversion or salafist terrorism for witchcraft...

July 17, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:54 PM


Sound, Stable Indonesia: A terrorist attack can't derail a booming economy. (Ian Bremmer and David Kiu, 07.17.09, Forbes)

The resilience of Indonesia's currency and markets in the face of the terrorist attacks underscores the quiet confidence investors have developed towards Indonesia.

The country already figures among the world's top three exporters of coal, natural gas, crude palm oil and natural rubber. It is home to the world's largest gold mine and second-largest copper mine. Its 237 million people give Indonesia a larger population than Brazil or Russia. The growth of its workforce over the next two decades will likely prove more promising than for any of the four BRIC countries. Its still relatively low Internet and credit penetration give the country room to grow.

More importantly, Indonesia is a political success story. Legislative and presidential elections this year were largely free and fair--a noteworthy achievement for a country burdened little more than a decade ago with a military dictatorship that pervaded nearly every aspect of political and economic life. The Indonesian military has withdrawn from politics in recent years, a development that has eluded neighboring Thailand and the Philippines. Despite the recent bomb attacks, the first in four years, Indonesia has largely beaten back the rise of Islamist extremism and al-Qaida-inspired terrorism that have embroiled other countries like Pakistan. The peace agreement in Aceh has helped contain separatist violence.

In short, Indonesia has traveled a long way from the crossroads it faced following the Asian financial crisis and the fall of Suharto in the late 1990s.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:51 PM


Iranian protesters galvanized by sermon: They clash with security forces in Tehran after a sermon by top cleric Hashemi Rafsanjani, who criticized the election and called for rule of law, unity and dialogue. (Borzou Daragahi and Ramin Mostaghim, July 18, 2009, LA Times)

Mousavi's backers widely interpreted Rafsanjani's speech as anything but a call for unity. They chanted boisterous anti-government slogans for hours in defiance of menacing security forces and plainclothes Basiji militiamen.

Immediately after his speech, Tehran residents could be heard from rooftops and balconies in various districts shouting support for Rafsanjani.

"The main goal of Rafsanjani's sermon today was to improve his own position so that he can pressure Khamenei," said Meir Javedanfar, an Iran analyst. "He got large numbers to come to the streets and to listen to him. He showed that he is not a spent force."

Even before the speech, security forces were taking away young men in police vans. Helmeted Basiji militiamen aboard motorcycles began pushing toward crowds of young men and women brandishing eye-catching ribbons in green, the color of the opposition movement. Some women defiantly wore chadors in bright green instead of the traditional black.

After the sermon, downtown Tehran erupted in violence. Security forces attacked demonstrators, older and grayer than recent gatherings, who were chanting "Death to the dictator!" and "God is great."

Tear gas filled streets as protesters sought to enter the gates of the university, which riot police had locked. The crowds swarmed through downtown, chanting slogans, lighting cigarettes and holding them in front of their faces to counter the effects of the tear gas.

Masked demonstrators also set fire to trash in the middle of roadways to burn off the tear gas, videos posted on YouTube showed. One group shut down two highways, while a second handed flowers to smiling policemen and kissed them on the cheeks, according to witnesses.

Another large group gathered in front of the Ministry of Interior, which is under the control of Sadegh Mahsouli, a wealthy ally of Ahmadinejad.

"Mahsouli! Mahsouli! Give my vote back," they chanted, according to a video posted to YouTube.

Demonstrators also began to head north to approach the headquarters of state broadcasting, which has barely reported on the unrest and aired a cooking show on television during Rafsanjani's speech.

"Last Thursday five of my friends were arrested, and they are in . . . Evin Prison, and it's my duty to come and participate," said Nahid, a 22-year-old law student who asked that her last name not be published.

Reformist websites estimated that more than 1 million people participated. That number could not be confirmed, but even supporters of the hard-line camp who attended the prayer session to show support for Khamenei acknowledged that the crowds were huge.

"Mousavi caused all these problems," said a 50-year-old man who identified himself only by his first name, Hossein. "This is his fault."

As night fell, the boisterous roar of "God is great" could be heard from rooftops across the capital in what has become a daily gesture of protest against Ahmadinejad, who is to be sworn in for a second term early next month.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:44 PM


Soak the rich : America's House of Representatives turns its back on common sense over health care (The Economist, 7/16/09)

On Tuesday July 14th Nancy Pelosi, the speaker, unveiled a grand strategy for health reform that is so far to the left of American political discourse that even moderate Democrats in the Senate (never mind the incensed and irrelevant House Republicans) held their noses.

Put simply, the House bill hopes to achieve near-universal health coverage by soaking the rich. Unlike some earlier Senate drafts, which either did not cover most of the nearly 50m uninsured or whose costs were reckoned to be a whopping $1.5 trillion or so, this new effort is a serious runner. According to a preliminary judgment by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), which “scores” such plans, the House bill is likely to cost about $1 trillion and cover some two-thirds of the uninsured. That is a good proportion, as many of the remainder are illegal immigrants who have no chance of getting subsidised coverage under any reform.

And the plan does this in apparently “budget neutral” fashion, a requirement that everyone in Washington agrees on. The snag? Rather than finance this large expansion of coverage through savings found within the health system, as Mr Obama had prudently requested, the Democratic party’s leadership plans to pay for it by imposing an ill-advised tax on business and a steep “surcharge” on the wealthy. Companies with payrolls bigger than $250,000 per year must provide health cover for employees or face a hefty fine. The bill also plans to raise over $500 billion by increasing taxes on those making over $350,000 a year by up to 5.4%.

By embracing these two taxes, the House rejected the financing method recommended by most economists.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:17 PM


When Humor Humiliates: For gelotophobes, even good-natured laughter can sound a lot like ridicule (Susan Gaidos, August 1st, 2009, Science News)

It started as a quiet dinner conversation, punctuated with laughter. Soon, the rapid-fire “ha-ha-has” took on the tone of gunfire. Convinced it was directed at him, the young man got up to confront the noisy diners.

Naturally, the guests at the next table had no idea what the problem was. They were simply enjoying themselves and … laughing. Embarrassed by his outburst, the young man left the restaurant and never returned.

By most accounts, laughter is good medicine, the best even. But for some, such as the embarrassed diner, a good-natured chuckle isn’t funny at all. Morbidly averse to being the butt of a joke, these folks will go out of their way to avoid certain people or situations for fear of being ridiculed. For them, merely being around others who are talking and laughing can cause tension and apprehension.

Until recently, such people might have been written off as spoilsports. But in the mid-1990s, an astute German psychologist recognized the problem for what it is: a debilitating fear of being laughed at. Over the past decade, psychologists, sociologists, linguists and humor experts have examined this trait, technically known as gelotophobia. Though it sounds like an ailment involving Italian ice cream, scientists worldwide now recognize it as a distinct social phobia. Studies of causes and consequences of gelotophobia were among the topics presented in June in Long Beach, Calif., at a meeting of the International Society for Humor Studies.

Most people fear being laughed at to some degree and do their best to avoid embarrassment. One thing that sets gelotophobes apart is their inability to distinguish ridicule from playful teasing. For them, all laughter is aggressive, and a harmless joke may come across as a mean-spirited assault.

“They seem to have problems interpreting humor correctly,” says psychologist Willibald Ruch of the University of Zurich. “They probably do not understand the positive side of humor, and cannot experience it in a warm way but rather as a means to put others down

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:11 PM


The Shuffle President (MATT BAI, 7/16/09, NY Times)

Obama is the nation’s first shuffle president. He’s telling lots of stories at once, and in no particular order. His agenda is fully downloadable. If what you care most about is health care, then you can jump right to that. If global warming gets you going, then click over there. It’s not especially realistic to imagine that politics could cling to a linear way of rendering stories while the rest of American culture adapts to a more customized form of consumption. Obama’s ethos may disconcert the older guard in Washington, but it’s probably comforting to a lot of younger voters who could never be expected to listen to successive tracks, in the same order, over and over again.

In a climate where niggardly is considered a racial slur, imagine if a conservative invoked the term shuffle president in regards to the UR?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:41 PM


The Horcrux of the Matter: The Half-Blood Prince is the best Harry Potter film yet. (Thomas S. Hibbs, 7/17/09, National Review)

Thoughout the Potter series, Snape has shared freely his genuine disdain for Harry, and here he suggests more clearly than ever before his subservience to the Dark Lord — but attentive viewers will come away with more questions than answers about Snape’s true loyalty. Snape has been pressed into service by Mrs. Malfoy to watch over her son, whom Voldemort has charged with a grave and secret task. In a puzzling scene in which Snape comes upon a seriously injured Draco — who has just lost a battle he initiated with Harry — Snape heals Draco, but inexplicably issues not a word of criticism for Harry.

For his part, Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) — whose sun-starved complexion is suggestive of someone consigned to cold and dark places — manages to seem by turns odious and sympathetic. In the scene that immediately precedes his fight with Harry, Malfoy is alone, weeping. By the end of the film, it is clear that Draco’s inability to comply readily with the wishes of Voldemort has less to do with cowardice than with his residual conscience. Given these nuances in characterization, the battle here between good and evil is not as black-and-white as in the previous Potter films. The only unremittingly malevolent character in this episode is Bellatrix Lestrange — aside from Lord Voldemort himself, of course.

And here, at last, we learn of the origin of Voldemort’s turn toward evil — as being rooted in his desire for power that can overcome even death. In the scene in which Slughorn finally recalls his interactions with young Tom Riddle, the future Lord Voldemort asks Slughorn about horcruxes — objects that are enchanted with slices of the spellcaster’s soul, preserving his life force for recovery and revival. Such power comes at tremendous cost, however: A horcrux can only be created by the performance of intrinsically evil acts, such as murder. There is no moral way to overcome mortality, it turns out. Saving oneself involves destroying others — and in the process, destroying oneself. As Slughorn observes in horror, “Murder rips the soul apart; it is a violation of nature.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:25 PM


Crowe considering new Master & Commander movie (SIMON HAYDON, 7/17/09, Associated Press)

Russell Crowe is in the early stages of negotiations to reprise the role of Jack Aubrey as a British sea captain in a new movie version from the Master & Commander series of novels.

Crowe told The Associated Press on Friday that a script based mostly on the eleventh novel of Patrick O'Brian's 20-novel series, The Reverse of the Medal, had been written, but that discussions were at a very early stage.

"There's still a long way to go," the New Zealand-born actor told AP at a cricket match between England and Australia in London. He said talks had been taking place with the owner of the rights to the novels.

The first one was so good

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:06 PM


McDonald’s promises Mocha Monday madness (Boston Globe, July 15, 2009)

McDonald's is opening a new front in the ongoing java wars against such joe rivals as Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts.

To show how serious it is about its McCaf� products, McDonald's said it will give away free 7-ounce Iced Mochas and 8-ounce Hot Mocha each Monday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at participating restaurants through Aug. 3.

You don't have to buy anything else, such as an Egg McMuffin to qualify for this freebie, a local spokeswoman for McDonald's swore. Free is free, she said, and the only limit is one free product per visit per customer.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:51 PM


Rafsanjani condemns Iranian regime's handling of post-election unrest (Mark Tran, 7/17/09, guardian.co.uk)

One of Iran's most powerful clerics today attacked the Iranian government for its handling of protests and unrest that followed the disputed presidential election result. But even as Hashemi Rafsanjani made his comments, police were firing teargas and wielding batons to disperse tens of thousands of opposition supporters.

In a closely watched speech at Friday prayers, Rafsanjani abandoned his neutral stance since the 12 June poll and rounded on the regime.

"Today is a bitter day," he said at Tehran University. "People have lost their faith in the regime and their trust is damaged. It's necessary that we regain people's consent and their trust in the regime."

Rafsanjani criticised the arrest and detention of protesters, and attacked the lack of freedom of expression. He expressed sympathy for the families of dead protesters, and ended his remarks by saying: "I hope this sermon will pave a way out of this current situation. A situation that can be considered a crisis."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:54 AM


The Hurt Locker as Propaganda: For a supposedly anti-war film, Kathryn Bigelow's Hurt Locker serves as a remarkably effective military recruiting tool. (Tara McKelvey, July 17, 2009, American Prospect)

The Hurt Locker sets itself up as am anti-war film. It opens with a quote, "War is a drug," from Chris Hedges, a Nation Institute senior fellow and author of War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning. Yet for more than two hours, the film imbues Baghdad's combat zone with excitement and drama. In one scene, a bomb-defuser, Staff Sgt. William James (Jeremy Renner), searches for a detonator in a car loaded with explosives, and later he tries to save an unfortunate Iraqi man who has been forcibly strapped with homemade bombs. The tense moments are set to creepily compelling music selected by composers Marco Beltrami (he did the scores for the Scream series) and Buck Sanders, and the cinematography captures the beauty that is found in the desert landscape and even in the casing of a bullet. It is easy to understand why the soldier, William James, would take so much pleasure in his work as a daredevil bomb-defuser in Iraq, and find so little to be happy about in the difficult, messy world of America when he comes home.

Back in the United States, James finds himself in a supermarket aisle, trying to decide between Lucky Charms and Cheerios. He stares at those brands and then at dozens of others on the shelves, feeling overwhelmed by the dizzying array of breakfast cereals, in a scene of American consumerism gone amuck. He then spends part of the day cleaning soggy leaves out of the gutter of his house. It is a dull, dreary world. A moment later, however, a soldier is shown striding down a wide, dusty Iraqi road in a NASA-like bomb suit, filled with a sense of purpose, courage, and even nobility that does not exist in suburban America.

The film draws a sharp contrast between the tedium of American life, with its grocery-shopping, home repairs, and vapid consumerism, and the heart-pounding drama of the combat zone in Iraq.

No matter the politics of the artist, if they want to entertain people they make pro-war propaganda, like Dr. Strangelove.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:28 AM


50% Oppose Government Health Insurance Company (Rasmussen Reports, July 17, 2009)

Just 35% of U.S. voters now support the creation of a government health insurance company to compete with private health insurers.

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey shows that 50% of voters oppose setting up a government health insurance company as President Obama and congressional Democrats are now proposing in their health care reform plan. Fifteen percent (15%) are undecided.

In mid-June, 41% of American adults thought setting up a government health insurance company to compete with private health insurance companies was a good idea, but the identical number (41%) disagreed.

Let us suppose, despite ample evidence from other countries, that a Democrat-style health care system makes great sense and will eventually function quite smoothly and efficiently. Is there any reason for a vulnerable officeholder--which includes the President--to pass an unpopular plan where the kinks will still be in the ironing-out stage while they're running for re-election?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:32 AM


Eyebrows should be raised by Obama science czar's support for eugenics (Mark Hemingway, July 15, 2009, Washington Examiner)

Over the weekend, a blogger at Zombietime.com unearthed a book written over 30 years ago by John Holdren, President Obama's "science czar."

The book, Ecoscience, was co-written with neo-Malthusian prophet of doom and scientific laughingstock Paul Ehrlich. In it, Holdren advocates a series of bizarre and horrifying measures to deal with an overpopulation threat that never materialized.

Among the suggestions in the book: Laws requiring the abortion or adoption of illegitimate children; sterilizing women after having two children; legally requiring "reproductive responsibility" to those deemed by pointy-headed eugenicists to "contribute to general social deterioration"; and incredibly, putting sterilizing agents in the drinking water.

Naturally, these population control measures would be enforced by "an armed international organization, a global analogue of a police force." Very recently, Holdren was still listing the book on his C.V.

July 16, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:53 PM


Democrats' Rube Goldberg Healthcare Bill Could Raise Taxes to Pre-Reagan Levels (Peter Roff, 7/16/09, Thomas Jefferson Street blog)

That's just a few of the problems with the House bill which, in point of fact, makes the HillaryCare bill of the early 1990s look like a sane and reasonable approach to reform. It's almost as though the writers of the bill sat down, looked at every promise about healthcare reform that President Obama had made to date, and deliberately tried to break it for him.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:55 PM


Remember the Neediest! (Laura Miller, Jul 16, 2009, Newsweek)

Last week, as President Obama was announcing his pick for surgeon general—a Roman Catholic African-American and MacArthur "genius" award winner who has spent her career caring for the poor on Alabama's Gulf Coast—I was on the phone with the Princeton professor and public intellectual Cornel West. He was reiterating his complaint, which he had aired weeks earlier to Bill Moyers, that Obama is too much in the thrall of what he calls the "neoliberal elites" (by which he means primarily Larry Summers and Timothy Geithner) and, as such, his economic reforms have not gone far enough to help the poor. This is a disappointment to West, who campaigned avidly for the president. "The moment of euphoria is over," West told me. "We need intense pressure on [Obama]. Poor people are suffering. Working people are suffering."

One moment, two religious realities. During his campaign, Obama said he would set a new tone in the American conversation about values, and as he's governed he has artfully tapped religious leaders and believers of all persuasions to help him do that. He is nothing if not methodical and purposeful in this regard: his selection of Francis Collins, a geneticist who is also an evangelical Christian, to run the National Institutes of Health reflects an insistence that belief in God and in science are not mutually exclusive. His more recent choice of Regina Benjamin as surgeon general makes good on his pledge to support altruistic work on behalf of those the Bible calls "the least of these." In general, though, these moves appear designed—as did the selection of Rick Warren as inaugural invocator—to placate those on the right who continue to fear an insidious liberalism on the part of the president. At a recent meeting of Catholic reporters, the president addressed those fears. When asked whether he would protect health workers' rights not to perform abortions in a "conscience clause," he said he would. "I think that there have been some who keep on anticipating the worst from us, and it's not based on anything I've said or done, but is rather just a perception somehow that we have some hardline agenda that we're seeking to push."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:42 PM


'Broken Windows' Works: Crime, disorder and punishment. (George L. Kelling, 07.16.09, Forbes)

[C]ritics of Broken Windows had one good point: New York provided, at most, anecdotal and correlational evidence of a relationship between disorder and crime. There were very few experimental studies--the most certain method of establishing causality--showing that the first caused the second.

But that changed last year, when University of Groningen researcher Kees Keizer and his colleagues published a paper in Science. In six experiments in the Netherlands, Keizer observed and compared the behavior of people under artificial conditions of order and disorder. Invariably, he found that disorderly conditions encouraged further and more serious levels of disorderly behavior. In one experiment, for example, Keizer placed an envelope conspicuously containing five euros in a mailbox. When the mailbox was clean, 13% of people who passed it stole the money; when it was covered with graffiti, 27% took it.

Also in 2008, Harvard University researcher Anthony A. Braga and his colleagues published the results of a complex set of field experiments in criminology. Researchers and police identified small neighborhoods in Lowell, Mass., and randomly assigned them to experimental and control conditions. In each of the experimental areas--where police were maintaining order, Broken Windows-style--crime dropped more sharply than in the control areas and, moreover, did not simply move to adjacent neighborhoods. The article also built on an earlier experiment, with the same results, that Braga had conducted in Jersey City a decade earlier.

The notion of a right to a 'good death' undermines society: If my life has no objective value, then why should anyone else care for it ( Vincent Nichols, 16 Jul 2009, Daily Telegraph)
We have seen a significant defeat in Parliament for proposals to legalise assisted suicides, and learnt of the joint suicides at the Dignitas apartment in Switzerland of the eminent conductor Sir Edward Downes, and his wife, Lady Downes. While there are many ethical, medical and legal issues surrounding assisted suicide, at its heart lies the notion that we have an absolute moral entitlement to have whatever kind of death we choose. This is surely the triumph of the philosophy that proclaims individual rights above all other considerations and the relativist insistence that what is good is a matter of personal judgment.

The consequences of this attitude lie at the root of the weakening of social structures, including the decline of the family as the core unit, the rise of anti-social behaviour, the pursuit of profit at all cost and the increasing intolerance of non-materialist, philosophical or ethical views. It can be summarised as the age of convenience; the pursuit of what we want despite its cost and impact on others.

Time for some serious tikkun.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:32 PM


Why Japan Isn’t Rising: It's mellowing as its population ages. (Daniel Gross, Jul 16, 2009, Newsweek)

Japan's population peaked in 2004 at about 127.8 million and is projected to fall to 89.9 million by 2055. The ratio of working-age to elderly Japanese fell from 8 to 1 in 1975 to 3.3 to 1 in 2005 and may shrivel to 1.3 to 1 in 2055. "In 2055, people will come to work when they have time off from long-term care," said Kiyoaki Fujiwara, director of economic policy at the Japan Business Federation.

Such a decline is cataclysmic for an indebted country that values infrastructure and personal service. (Who is going to maintain the trains, pay for social benefits, slice sushi at the Tsukiji fish market?) The obvious answers—encourage immigration and a higher birthrate—have proved difficult, even impossible, for this conservative society. In the U.S., foreign-born workers make up 15 percent of the workforce; in Japan, it's 1 percent. And, official protestations to the contrary, they're not particularly welcome. One columnist I met compared the standard Japanese attitude toward immigrants to that of the French right-winger Jean--Marie Le Pen. In the 1990s, descend-ants of Japanese who had emigrated to South America early in the 20th century returned to replace retiring factory workers. Now that unemployment is on the rise, Japan is offering to pay the airfare for those who wish to return home.

Japan doesn't particularly want to import new citizens, but it doesn't seem to want to manufacture them, either. It's become harder to support a family on a single income, and young people are living at home for longer. And Japan isn't particularly friendly to working mothers—pre-K day care is not widely available, and the phrase "work-family balance" doesn't seem to have a Japanese translation. (The directory of the Japanese Business Federation, a showcase of old guys in suits, makes the Republican Senate caucus look like a Benetton ad.) The upshot: a chronically low birthrate. Too often, demographic change was described to me as a zero-sum game—rather than being seen as potential job creators, women and immigrants are often seen as taking jobs from men.

Chalk it up to age, or to culture, but Japan strikes me as strangely passive about the huge changes it is facing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:28 PM


What’s Safe to Fly? (Katie Paul, 7/16/09, Newsweek)

Turns out, it's not how old the plane is that determines the safety of your flight, but where the plane was made and where it's operated, according to an IATA report. The association indexes aircraft accident rates by region of manufacture and region of operation. Companies like America's Boeing, Europe's Airbus, and even Brazil's Embraer are considered Western-built jets. Makers like Tupolev are of the Eastern-built variety, which are almost all designed in the former Soviet republics or China.

The IATA data show that Western-built jets crash at a rate of .81, which means that there is one loss per 1.2 million flights; among turboprops, the number is 2.43. Eastern-built planes are not broken down among plane type (jets and props are calculated together), but in any case the crash rate is a whopping 12.11, which works out to one accident per 83,000 flights.

Obviously correlation does not prove causality (the Caspian Air flight didn't crash because it was made in Russia). And where you fly also has an even greater impact on air safety, since some countries have stricter regulations, more sophisticated aviation infrastructure, and better air-control systems than others. In fact, usually those are the very places where Eastern-built aircraft are operated, which is why parts of Africa, Southeast Asia, Latin America, the Middle East, and the former Soviet republics remain more dangerous places to fly.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:21 PM


A Braw Brawl For Tom And Jack:
It was the best two rounds of golf ever played, Watson and Nicklaus battling head to head in the British Open until youth overtook age on the next to last hole (Dan Jenkins, July 18, 1977, Sports Illustrated)

Go ahead and mark it as the end of an era in professional golf if you're absolutely sure that Jack Nicklaus has been yipped into the sunset years of his career by the steel and nerve and immense talent of Tom Watson.

You could argue that way now, in these hours after Tom Watson has become the new king of the sport in a kingly land; when Watson has already become the Player of the Year, not to mention the future; when he has done it in the most memorable way in the annals of golf; and when he has done it for the second time in this season to the greatest player who ever wore a slipover shirt—Jack Nicklaus.

You could also say it very simply with numbers. In the last two rounds of last week's British Open, Tom Watson shot 65 and 65 to beat Nicklaus by one stroke. Oh, by the way, they were playing together. Oh, yes, and another thing: Watson's 72-hole total was 268, which was a new record by only eight shots. And, incidentally, the victory gave Watson his second major title of the year (and the third of his fresh and exciting career); he had taken the Masters, of course, standing up to Nicklaus in a slightly different pressurized situation. And, let's see, the British Open gave Watson his sixth win of the year and some $300,000 in Tour earnings.

But all of that doesn't even begin to examine what the stakes were on the gorgeous links of Turnberry on Scotland's west coast in the most atmospheric, ancient and, some would argue, most treasured of golf's four major tournaments. Actually, what took place was the most colossal head-to-head shotmaking and low scoring in the history of golf.

Watson and Nicklaus started to lap the field on Friday, when their identical rounds of 68-70-65 had given them a three-stroke bulge on the nearest pursuers. But just when everyone was ready to concede that Friday's duel had outspectaculared anything ever witnessed from the days of the gutta-percha ball to those of the Apex shaft, Tom and Jack went out and did it all over again in Saturday's final round, spinning out the unbelievable drama and suspense to the very last delicate rap of Watson's putter on a two-foot birdie putt, which gave him a second consecutive 65 to Nicklaus's shabby, horrid and humiliating 66.

On each of the last two days, Watson came back from what looked to be certain doom to catch Nicklaus and finally do him in. Watson just would not go away, not in the face of Nicklaus's birdies, or his icy stare or his mighty reputation. When Watson was two behind in the third round, he fought back to tie Jack, and in so doing broke the Nicklaus rhythm and the tempo of his short putts. On Saturday, Watson came back again twice, once from three strokes down to tie, and again from two back, finishing the round with four blazing birdies over the last six holes.

Watson was two shots behind the premier player of the game with those six holes left. Who can give Nicklaus two shots over six holes and beat him by one? Who could even contemplate it? Only Tom Watson in this day and time, a Tom Watson who has the best complete game in golf and has been proving it all year. A Tom Watson who has the most reliable, solid swing around, who has the well-educated patience to hold himself in control, the strength and vigor of youth, and now the confidence and determination to make himself worthy of the No. 1 role he has seized.

Here's how it was at the most torturous time of all, out there at the par-3 15th hole in the last round after Watson had just stabbed Nicklaus through the front of his yellow sweater with a 60-foot birdie putt from the hardpan 10 feet off the green. That astonishing shot hit the flagstick and dived into the cup and brought Watson into a tie once more.

They went to the 16th tee, and Jack and Tom looked at each other. The blond and the redhead. Yesterday and today. Then and now. Dominguín and Ordóñez.

And Tom smiled at Jack. "This is what it's all about, isn't it?"

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:06 PM


The Great Awakening (Peter Wehner, 07.16.2009, Commentary: Contentions)

This would be damaging enough to any president, but it is particularly damaging to Obama. The reason is that this represents the first significant crack in his image. Obama, we were told, is the man with the golden touch, a person of Socratic wisdom and piercing intellect, the next Lincoln, a “sort of God.” He is, we were assured, a man in command of both facts and theories, at once competent and curious, urbane and sophisticated, free of dogma and drawn to experts, a public official who can see things few others do and solve problems in ways few others can. Obama’s administration, in turn, has been stocked with the best and the brightest, people of Ivy League educations and dazzling intellects. They would show us how to govern in ways that would inspire admiration, and even awe. So it is quite damaging that the one piece of legislation which, at this early date, we can make a preliminary judgment on — the stimulus package — has been an utter failure.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:36 PM


Verleger Sees $20 Oil This Year on ‘Devastating’ Glut (Grant Smith, 7/16/09, Bloomberg)

Crude oil will collapse to $20 a barrel this year as the recession takes a deeper toll on fuel demand, according to academic and former U.S. government adviser Philip Verleger.

A crude surplus of 100 million barrels will accumulate by the end of the year, straining global storage capacity and sending prices to a seven-year low, said Verleger, who correctly predicted in 2007 that prices were set to exceed $100. Supply is outpacing demand by about 1 million barrels a day, he said.

“The economic situation is not getting better,” Verleger, 64, a professor at the University of Calgary and head of consultant PKVerleger LLC, said in a telephone interview yesterday. “Global refinery runs are going to be much lower in the fall. If the recession continues and it’s a warm winter, it’s going to be devastating.”

Crude oil last traded at $20 a barrel in February 2002.

...it was $20 before speculators started taking advantage of the WoT. A return to its natural price would point up just how badly central banks biffed in fighting a non-existent inflation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:02 PM


CBO Chief: Health Bills To Increase Federal Costs (David Clarke and Edward Epstein, 7/16/09, CQ)

The health care overhauls released to date would increase, not reduce, the burgeoning long-term health costs facing the government, Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas Elmendorf said Thursday. [...]

The Democrats and President Obama have cited two goals in their overhaul proposals — expanding coverage to the estimated 47 million Americans who currently lack it and bringing down long-term costs because the growth in Medicare and Medicaid spending threatens to swamp the federal budget in coming years.

Under questioning from Chairman Kent Conrad , D-N.D., Elmendorf told the Senate Budget Committee that the congressional proposals released so far do not meet that second test.

“In the legislation that has been reported, we do not see the sort of fundamental changes that would be necessary to reduce the trajectory of federal health spending by a significant amount and, on the contrary, the legislation significantly expands the federal responsibility for health care costs,” he said.

The Democrats, making a bad system worse.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:11 AM


Sotomayor draws praise from GOP critics (JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS and MARK SHERMAN, 7/16/09, AP)

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., described Sotomayor's judicial record as "generally in the mainstream" and said he thought she would keep an open mind on gun rights. He proclaimed her "not an activist." [...]

Graham was not in the Senate when Sotomayor was confirmed for the appeals court in 1998, but several other Republican senators were.

Among them, Sens. Robert Bennett of Utah, Thad Cochran of Mississippi, Susan Collins of Maine, Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, Orrin Hatch of Utah, Richard Lugar of Indiana and Olympia Snowe of Maine all voted in favor of her confirmation.

Hatch is a member of the Judiciary Committee that is conducting this week's hearings.

On Thursday, another Republican member of the panel, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, also called Sotomayor's rulings "pretty much in the mainstream," although he said her assertions of impartiality at the hearings were strikingly at odds with her past remarks.

"You appear to be a different person almost in your speeches and in some of the comments that you've made" before the Judiciary panel, Cornyn said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:06 AM


Death of the World's Greatest Entertainer (Larry Elder, July 16, 2009, Townhall)

Jackson came up hard. Davis came up harder. Try reading Davis' best-selling (15 million copies) autobiography, "Yes I Can," written with his longtime friend and confidant, Burt Boyar. It tells the journey of an astonishingly gifted and successful performer, a highly intelligent, self-educated, voracious reader, a man both confident and insecure -- in an era of segregation, lynchings and civil rights marches.

Davis worked hard. Davis played hard. His personal life and decisions and excesses attracted and repelled both blacks and whites. Yet however Davis' audience may have felt about him, it could never question his unparalleled talent.

"Yes I Can" describes some of the horrific racism endured by the legendary performer. For example, during World War II, Davis served in one of the Army's first integrated units. Once, some white members of his unit surprisingly invited Davis, sitting alone in a bar, to come over and join them for a drink. One of the guys handed him a beer. Suspicious, Davis refused to drink it. Good thing. The liquid in the mug was not beer, but urine.

During the Jackson memorial, we heard how he brought people of different races together. While Davis headlined at The Sands in Las Vegas in the late 1950s, the NAACP threatened a strike against the casinos because they wouldn't hire blacks in more prominent, visible positions. Davis told The Sands' president, Jack Entratter, "You've got to hire more blacks up front, not hidden in the kitchen." Entratter copped out, deferring to racist owners and high rollers. Davis told him, "Then you'll be embarrassed, because I'll be right out front picketing with them." Entratter gave in, and The Sands was not struck. Davis also marched for civil rights in places like Selma and the 1963 March on Washington.

He vigorously campaigned for John F. Kennedy in 1960. At the time, Davis -- despite the danger to his career, if not his life -- was engaged to white rising-star actress May Britt. To avoid alienating voters, Davis postponed their wedding until after the election. His reward? The newly elected President withdrew Davis' invitation to the inaugural to appease those offended by the recently married high-profile interracial couple. And 20th Century Fox, to which Britt was under contract, invoked the morals clause and let her go, effectively ending her career.

A brief word about Jackson's "moonwalk." Davis performed that move -- a derivative of soft shoe -- in front of audiences long before Michael was born. Indeed, young Michael frequently visited the Davis' home to watch tapes of Davis dancing and performing. As Davis told his friend Boyar: "It's such a gas when the kids like what you do enough to copy you. It's so flattering."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:03 AM


Candidly Speaking: The case against Obama (ISI LEIBLER, 7/15/09, Jerusalem Post)

President Obama is adept at warming the cockles of the hearts of his Jewish constituents, many of whom seem as mesmerized by him as their forebears were by Franklin D Roosevelt. He repeatedly articulates his commitment to the welfare of Israel and admiration for American Jewry.

Yet if one probes beneath the veneer of bonhomie and analyzes the substance of his policies, they reflect an unprecedented downturn in relations towards Israel with hints of worse to come. This was reaffirmed by Obama in the course of his recent meeting with Jewish leaders (which included representatives of extremist fringe groups like Peace Now and J Street but excluded those likely to be critical of his approach). In an extraordinary patronizing manner with his Jewish aides beaming at him he told Israelis to "engage in self reflection" and made it clear that he believed he had a better understanding of what is best for them than their democratically elected government. Alas, with the exception of Malcolm Hoenlein and Abe Foxman, it appears that the majority of the others endorsed his position or remained silent. Yet only a few days earlier even a passionate Democrat like Alan Dershowitz had expressed concern "that the coming changes in the Obama administration's policies could weaken the security of the Jewish state".

THIS COLUMN is a response to American Jews devoted to Israel who remain under the charismatic spell of their president and challenged me to demonstrate how his policies are harming Israel.

Mr. Obama may well care as little about Jews, but does not seem to be a genuine anti-Semite like FDR.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:58 AM


‘Gay’ Penguin Flies Straight (Matt Barber, 7/15/09, Townhall)

The highly contentious “nature vs. nurture” debate over whether gay penguins choose the homosexual lifestyle or are hatched that way has reached a hard boil.

San Francisco’s Fox affiliate KTUV reports: “The San Francisco Zoo’s popular same-sex penguin couple has broken up.

“Male Magellan penguins Harry and Pepper have been together since 2003. The pair nested together and even incubated an egg laid by another penguin in 2008, but their relationship hit the rocks earlier this year when a female penguin, Linda, befriended Harry after her long-time companion died. Zookeepers say Harry and Linda are happy and were able to successfully nest this year,” reported KTUV.

It's a choice.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:53 AM


Health Care Vote Illustrates Partisan Divide (ROBERT PEAR and DAVID M. HERSZENHORN, 7/15/09, NY Times)

A party-line Senate committee vote on legislation to remake the nation’s health care system underscored the absence of political consensus on what would be the biggest changes in social policy in more than 40 years.

The bill, which aims to make health insurance available to all Americans, was approved, 13 to 10, by the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. The panel was the first Congressional committee to approve the health legislation.

“If you don’t have health insurance, this bill is for you,” said Senator Christopher J. Dodd, Democrat of Connecticut, who presided over more than three weeks of grueling committee sessions. “It stops insurance companies from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions. It guarantees that you’ll be able to find an insurance plan that works for you, including a public health insurance option if you want it.”

The bill would also help people who have insurance, Mr. Dodd said, because “it eliminates annual and lifetime caps on coverage and ensures that your out-of-pocket costs will never exceed your ability to pay.”

As Senator Dodd says, it's just about Democrats spending more money. Unfortunately for them, the theory of health care reform is that it's supposed to save money.

Wanting The Impossible On Health Care (John Zogby, 07.16.09, Forbes)

Here are some examples from the Texas/Zogby survey:

--84% are satisfied with their current health care.

--53% agree that health care is a human right.

--But only 39% would be willing to pay any more in taxes to insure every American. Opinion is split on whether taxes should be increased on families earning more than $250,000 per year as a way to accomplish that goal.
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--People also oppose cost-cutting measures such as rationing expensive care, increasing deductibles and co-pays, raising the age for Medicare from 65 to 66 and decreasing payments to doctors and hospitals. [...]

--A plurality opposes requiring everyone to purchase health insurance, with assistance for those who cannot afford it, by a 48% to 42% margin.

--However, when asked to rate the importance of insuring all, reducing costs or improving care, insuring all had the highest percentage of first-choice rankings with 42%. For both the other two, 28% ranked them first.

--Taxing employee health benefits for those who have expensive plans is very unpopular, with 52% saying it's a poor idea and just 7% saying it's an excellent one.

--There is consensus on the damage being done to our economy by health care costs, as 79% believe rising health care costs are hurting American businesses.

--As for requiring employers to offer coverage choices and paying two thirds of the costs, 16% call that an excellent idea but 32% call it poor.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:52 AM


Fetuses found to have memories (Jennifer Harper, July 16, 2009, Washington Times)

They weigh less than 3 pounds, usually, and are perhaps 15 inches long. But they can remember.

The unborn have memories, according to medical researchers who used sound and vibration stimulation, combined with sonography, to reveal that the human fetus displays short-term memory from at least 30 weeks gestation - or about two months before they are born.

"In addition, results indicated that 34-week-old fetuses are able to store information and retrieve it four weeks later," said the research, which was released Wednesday.

Well, they can now that George Tiller is gone.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:47 AM


Freshman Dems seeking action on the rising deficit (Jared Allen, 07/15/09, The Hill)

Freshman Democrats, worried that the ballooning budget deficit is stoking voter anxiety, are urging House leaders to put forward a “credible” plan this year to cut it.

They say the need is urgent and a serious deficit-reduction measure must be added by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other leaders to an already jam-packed legislative agenda.

“My constituents are very concerned about the deficit,” said freshman Rep. Dina Titus (D-Nev.), elected with 47 percent of the vote in a swing district last year. “This is really starting to resonate.”

Political Shift Among Independent Voters (Ed Gillespie and Whit Ayres, 7/15/09, Resurgent Republic)

In Rasmussen’s latest Generic Congressional Ballot, voters not affiliated with either party prefer the Republican candidate over the Democrat by a 39% to 19% margin. [...]

Independents prefer smaller government with fewer services and lower taxes. Overwhelming majorities of Independents (70%) and Republicans (90%) agree compared to Democrats (49%).

Independents have concerns about the size of President Obama’s budget and the deficit it will create. Majorities of Independents (56%) and Republicans (87%) are somewhat or strongly opposed compared to Democrats (70%) who somewhat or strongly support the President’s budget.

Independents believe that big spending programs create few private sector jobs. By a +13 margin, Independents hold this opinion over the idea that the federal government has to do more during times of economic crisis, and spending by the government stimulates the economy and creates jobs.

Independents have serious reservations about the costs of a cap-and-trade program. By a +17 margin, Independents believe raising taxes on energy while the economy is in recession far outweighs any benefits from companies that may lower energy consumption and rely on more alternative fuels.

Independents believe the “harsh interrogation of detainees” was justified. Independents (53%) believe the “harsh interrogation of detainees” was justified, while the majority of Democrats (57%) believe it was not justified.

Independents do not want a criminal investigation into harsh interrogation techniques. Two out of every three Independents (66%) agree that a criminal investigation will divide the country, criminalize policy disagreements, and have a negative impact on future efforts to keep America safe.

Independents favor a health care system where most Americans receive private insurance versus federal government coverage. Majorities of Independents (61%) and Republicans (87%) prefer a private insurance system, while a majority of Democrats (52%) prefer a federal government system.

Independents do not want health care reform to increase taxes or the deficit. Majorities of Independents (62%) and Republicans (75%) agree with the statement “reforming health care is important, but it should be done without raising taxes or increasing the deficit,” while only 38% of Democrats agreed (versus 57% of Democrats who agreed instead that “reforming health care is so important that the government should invest new resources to make sure it is done right”).

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:44 AM


Sotomayor Hits Pro-Business Note as Senate Testimony Nears End (Greg Stohr and William McQuillen, July 16, 2009, Bloomberg)

“In business, the predictability of law may be the most necessary,” Sotomayor said, pointing to her eight years representing companies in private practice.

Business lawyers said the comments signaled an appreciation of the practical needs of companies, bolstering her 17-year record as a trial and appellate judge. Sotomayor has often been receptive to business arguments, as when she voted in 2006 to block class-action status for a suit that accused banks of rigging initial public offerings.

Her testimony was “music to my ears,” said Roy Englert, a Washington appellate lawyer who has represented the U.S. Chamber of Commerce before the Supreme Court.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:42 AM


Sox fans at a loss during All-Star break (Peter Schworm, July 16, 2009, Boston Globe)

Chris Phelan watched the Home Run Derby, basically a glorified batting practice, and then the highlights. Bereft of box scores, he scoured the Web for trade rumors and midseason retrospectives, desperate for any scrap of news or analysis. He even caught some of Jon Lester’s no-hitter from May 2008, mercifully replayed in the absence of Red Sox action.

All for naught. Three drawn-out days without his beloved Sox, and the toll was starting to show.

“It’s tough right now,’’ he acknowledged, swaying from side to side as though searching for his equilibrium. “I don’t know what to do with myself. I’m just trying to stay busy, trying to suck it up.’’

The All Star break is a tool of Satan.

July 15, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:20 PM


On Hand for Space History, as Superpowers Spar (JOHN NOBLE WILFORD, 7/14/09, NY Times)

Apollo 8 proved to be a tonic at this crucial time. The astronauts — Frank Borman, James A. Lovell Jr., and William A. Anders — flew to the Moon and circled it 10 times in orbits within 60 miles of the lifeless surface. Apollo’s television camera recorded the gray plains and wide craters, one scene after another of everlasting desolation. On the fourth orbit, as Apollo emerged from behind the Moon, Borman, the commander, exclaimed: “Oh, my God! Look at that picture over there! Here’s the Earth coming up. Wow, that is pretty!”

The astronauts gasped at the sight of Earth, a blue and white orb sparkling in the blackness of space, in contrast to the dead lunar surface in the foreground. People at home saw the full Earth only in black-and-white television images. Even so, the sight moved the poet Archibald MacLeish to write in The Times on Christmas Day: “To see the Earth as it truly is, small and blue and beautiful in that eternal silence where it floats, is to see ourselves as riders on the Earth together, brothers on that bright loveliness in the eternal cold — brothers who know now they are truly brothers.”

After the mission, NASA released the color pictures the astronauts had taken of “Earthrise.” These were even more inspiring and humbling, the mission’s prized keepsake. Time magazine closed out the troubled year with the Earthrise photograph on its cover, with a one-word caption, “Dawn.”

In a 2008 book, “Earthrise: How Man First Saw the Earth,” Robert Poole contends that the picture was the spiritual nascence of the environmental movement, writing that “it is possible to see that Earthrise marked the tipping point, the moment when the sense of the space age flipped from what it meant for space to what it means for Earth.”

Another Apollo 8 surprise was in store, prepared by the astronauts. Late Christmas Eve, on one of the final orbits, Anders announced, “The crew of Apollo 8 have a message that we would like to send to you.” While a camera focused on the Moon outside the spacecraft window, Anders read the opening words of the creation story from the Book of Genesis.

“In the beginning God created the heaven and the Earth,” Anders began. “And the Earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.”

Lovell then took over with the verse beginning: “And God called the light day, and the darkness he called night.”

Borman closed the reading: “And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called He Seas; and God saw that it was good.”

At the conclusion, a hushed audience throughout the lands of Earth heard Borman sign off from the Moon: “And from the crew of Apollo 8 we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas and God bless all of you — all of you on the good Earth.”

My father and other ministers, priests, and rabbis never read the Scripture to a more rapt audience. This message, truly from on high, was like a gift of hope: There is still beauty to behold, still an aspiration to goodness and greatness. Those who believe in other gods, or no god at all, shared in the spirit of the moment, its solemnity and its evocation of wonder. And believers, if only in hope, experienced emotions of relief and an upwelling of optimism, where there had been despair.

Looking back, three of the nine Apollo lunar missions stand out from the others as especially emotional experiences. Apollo 11 made history. A bold commitment was fulfilled, and those alive then have never forgotten where they were and their feelings when humans first walked on the Moon. Apollo 13, unlucky 13, was an epic suspense unfolding in real time to a global audience. Three astronauts went forth, met disaster, faced death and barely limped back to the safety of home. And Apollo 8, as the first flight of humans beyond Earth’s low orbital confines, restored momentum and magnitude to the adventure of reaching for the Moon.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:47 PM


Chris Anderson’s Free Contains Apparent Plagiarism (Waldo Jaquith, June 23rd, 2009, VQR Blog)

"Free Lunch”

Occupying the bulk of pages 41–42, Anderson here explains the origin of the phrase “there’s no such thing as a free lunch,” writing about the nineteenth- century phenomenon of saloons offering free lunches with the purchase of alcohol. The great majority of this text exists phrase for phrase on the Wikipedia entry “Free Lunch,” including a block quote and several quotes from contemporary newspaper accounts.

Much of the text in question—though not all of it—was originally written by Wikipedia contributor Dpbsmith (Dan Smith) between November 19 and November 26, 2006.

Transcription errors are present in most of the quotes and citations within this Wikipedia entry, a result of contributors making mistakes while entering information from nineteenth-century newspaper articles. Those errors have been reproduced verbatim in Free. That includes citing an 1875 New York Times article as having been published in 1872 and omitting words and phrases from quotations. (Disclosure: I contributed to this Wikipedia entry two years ago, but my tiny modification is not included within Free.)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:41 PM


With Help, Conductor and Wife Ended Lives (JOHN F. BURNS, 7/15/09, NY Times)

The controversy over the ethical and legal issues surrounding assisted suicide for the terminally ill was thrown into stark relief on Tuesday with the announcement that one of Britain’s most distinguished orchestra conductors, Sir Edward Downes, had flown to Switzerland last week with his wife and joined her in drinking a lethal cocktail of barbiturates provided by an assisted-suicide clinic.

Although friends who spoke to the British news media said Sir Edward was not known to have been terminally ill, they said he wanted to die with his ailing wife, who had been his partner for more than half a century.

The couple’s children said in an interview with the London Evening Standard that on Tuesday of last week they accompanied their father, 85, and their mother, Joan, 74, on the flight from London to Zurich, where the Swiss group Dignitas helped arrange the suicides. On Friday, the children said, they watched, weeping, as their parents drank “a small quantity of clear liquid” before lying down on adjacent beds, holding hands.

“Within a couple of minutes they were asleep, and died within 10 minutes,” Caractacus Downes, the couple’s 41-year-old son, said in the interview after his return to Britain.

And within days he'll be have inherited. Good work if you can get it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:22 AM


Lions and Jackals: Pakistan’s Emerging Counterinsurgency Strategy (Haider Ali Hussein Mullick, 7/15/09, Foreign Affairs)

In the fall, Major General Tariq Khan, at the time commanding a squadron of the Pakistani army's paramilitary force, the Frontier Corps, realized that his troops needed to radically change tactics. With that in mind, he launched Operation Shirdil (Lion Heart) in Bajaur, a tribal area that abuts Afghanistan and was a hub of the Taliban. With the aid of junior officers, he shifted from clearing operations to population security. He ordered troops to patrol the streets and worked with tribal lashkars (militias) and jirgas (councils) to identify and capture irreconcilable Taliban. Most importantly, he worked to build troop morale and encourage camaraderie between Punjabi officers and Pashtun soldiers. What might be called the Bajaur Experiment was a success; at the same time the Pakistani government and military were signing a peace deal with the Taliban in the Swat Valley, top Taliban commanders surrendered unconditionally to the Frontier Corps in Bajaur.

But while the Bajaur Experiment was clearly effective against the Taliban and bolstered troop morale, questions remained about its sustainability and replicability. On one hand, Pakistan's army chief, General Ashfaq Kiyani, had already initiated in 2008 a decisive shift toward this kind of counterinsurgency against domestic extremists in arms procurement and military curriculum. But on the other, the top-down approach was slow and was halted by bickering among a dysfunctional Defense Ministry, a turf-conscious Interior Ministry, and ineffective parliamentary committees for defense and national security. And in practice, Central Command still faced a lack of adequate training and equipment for troops. Further, it remained unwilling to conduct a domestically unpopular counterinsurgency program against Pakistanis and sever ties with anti-India Taliban in Afghanistan.

This would change in April, when the Taliban started to surge outward from Swat Valley toward the capital. The government -- confronted with the Taliban onslaught and international pressure -- managed to build a broad political consensus for counterinsurgency. Bolstered by popular support for the war -- a recent poll by World Public Opinion put it at 81 percent -- the military was finally willing to identify the Taliban as the biggest existential threat to Pakistan. Soon, the army kicked off a 150,000-troop campaign in the tribal badlands, of which 30,000 troops were dedicated to the Swat and Malakand areas. The high-spirited Bajaur veterans were ready to share their experiences with junior officers and asked to become part of the decision-making process. With that, a counterinsurgency strategy based on the Bajaur Experiment began to spread from the bottom up.

As in Bajaur, officers decided to execute a presence-oriented approach: troops cleared areas; established small bases inside populated areas, instead of drawing back to large bases; enforced curfews; and aided fledgling local governments. Unlike past operations, where the military failed to block escape routes during actions on the Taliban's mountain hideouts, this time they applied a "corner, choke, and contain" strategy. Junior officers also built better local intelligence networks and were careful to evacuate refugees before using heavy artillery against Taliban strongholds. Due to increasing anti-Taliban sentiment and a more positive and lasting military presence on the ground, tribal lashkars were willing to help.

Encouragingly, the culture of the military was also changing. Frontier Corps officers had often been considered incompetent and compromised because of their ethnic links to the predominantly Pashtun Taliban. But now Punjabi junior officers followed Khan's lead and began reaching out to Pashtun soldiers to foster a sense of trust and goodwill. With public support for their campaign, a new presence-oriented strategy, and a more inclusive military culture that valued innovation and dissent, troop morale was on the rise and victory followed.

It is the paradoxical nature of Al Qaeda's project that "winning" just makes them easier targets and provides otherwise reluctant regimes with reason to target them. This isn't a losable war.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:15 AM


The 0% Tax Rate Solution: It's better policy, and politics, than the proliferation of tax credits. (PETER FERRARA, 7/15/09, WSJ)

[I]t was primarily Republicans who abolished federal income taxes for the working class and almost abolished them for the middle class. Now Mr. Obama has led enactment of a refundable $400 per worker income tax credit and other refundable credits, which probably leaves the bottom 60% paying nothing as a group on net.

Many conservatives are deeply troubled by this, arguing that everyone should be contributing something to the tax burden. They worry that, not paying for any of the tab, this majority will see no reason not to vote for limitless spending burdens. But are conservatives now going to campaign on increasing taxes on the bottom 60%, arguing that is good tax and social policy? Steve Lonegan recently demonstrated in the New Jersey gubernatorial primary that this is not a viable political position. He proposed a 3% state flat tax which, while very good tax policy, would increase taxes slightly for the bottom half of income earners. His victorious opponent Chris Christie pounded away in advertising on that point.

But what if Republicans proposed a federal tax reform with a 0% income tax rate for the bottom 60% of income earners? With that explicit 0% tax rate framing the issue, abolishing the refundable tax credits that actually ship money to lower income earners through the tax code would become politically viable. Trading an explicit 0% tax rate for the bottom 60% in return for eliminating the refundable tax credits would likely be at least revenue neutral, and probably result in a net increase in revenue.

...and begin the transition to taxing consumption instead of income? Just make the refund to low wage earners less than 100%.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:59 AM


In taste test, oil pie crust rises to the occasion (Devra First, July 15, 2009, Boston Globe)

We did a blind taste test of five crusts: all butter, butter and shortening, all shortening, lard, and oil. The crust with oil was the surprise victor: Two people said it was their favorite (one by a nose over the butter/shortening combo). One said it was her second favorite (just after the butter/shortening combo). And two preferred the butter crust, though it posed philosophical questions about what is really a pie. No one favored the lard or all-shortening versions. Here’s what they had to say:

Oil crust with blueberry filling (Boston Globe, July 15, 2009)
This is the original Wesson Oil pie with a few variations. The dough is so wet, you’ll think there’s been a mistake. There hasn’t. Roll it out between sheets of waxed paper.

1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup milk
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1. Set the oven at 425 degrees. Have on hand a deep 9-inch pie pan.

2. In a 1-cup measure, pour the oil just over the 1/2 cup line. Add the milk to make a good 3/4 cup of liquid.

3. In a mixing bowl, mix the flour and salt. Add the oil mixture (do not stir while pouring). When it is all added, use a rubber spatula to stir the oil in gently. The mixture looks very wet; it’s OK.

4. With a wet paper towel, wet the counter. Spread waxed paper on it. Add 2/3 of the dough. Set another piece of waxed paper on top.

5. Roll the dough into a round about 1/8-inch thick. Gently remove the top waxed paper, working from the edges to the center. Set the pie pan near you. In one steady motion, pick up the paper under the dough and quickly flip it over into the pie pan. Gently remove the remaining waxed paper sheet, working from the edges to the center.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:48 AM


George W. Bush an unexpected source of inspiration: Pakistani-born writer, political activist and filmmaker Tariq Ali thought he had switched for good from non-fiction to fiction in 1990 after the Berlin Wall fell but switched back when the United States decided to invade Afghanistan and Iraq. (Martin Roberts, Jul 15, 2009, Mindfood)

Ali had published the first three titles in his Islam Quintet of novels, which chart the encounter between Islam and western Christendom over the centuries, when 9/11 happened and the U.S. government led by then President George W. Bush took the decision to invade both countries.

"George Bush was quite an inspiration to me to start writing non-fiction again," Ali told a news conference at the Semana Negra book festival in Gijon, northern Spain, which draws one million people a year.

"My publishers would ask me, 'When are you going to finish the Quintet?' and I would say, 'Ask George Bush. Is he going to make a war on a third country?"

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:45 AM


Ruth Bader Ginsburg and a Question of Eugenics: Does Ginsburg see eugenic culling as a compelling state interest? (Jonah Goldberg, 7/15/09, National Review)

Here’s what Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine: “Frankly I had thought that at the time [Roe v. Wade] was decided,” Ginsburg told her interviewer, Emily Bazelon, “there was concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don’t want to have too many of.”

The comment, which bizarrely elicited no follow-up from Bazelon or any further coverage from the New York Times — or any other major news outlet — was in the context of Medicaid funding for abortion. Ginsburg was surprised when the Supreme Court in 1980 barred taxpayer support for abortions for poor women. After all, if poverty partly described the population you had “too many of,” you would want to subsidize it in order to expedite the reduction of unwanted populations.

Left unclear is whether Ginsburg endorses the eugenic motivation she ascribed to the passage of Roe v. Wade or whether she was merely objectively describing it. One senses that if Antonin Scalia had offered such a comment, a Times interviewer would have sought more clarity, particularly on the racial characteristics of these supposedly unwanted populations.

...is that her comments aren't scandalous. The Times apparently took them as a simple statement of fact, which they are. Roe exists to kill black babies.


A new Benedict for a new Dark Ages
: The Pope's latest encyclical is another skirmish in his war on the moral relativism which undermines our culture. (Thaddeus J. Kozinski, Tuesday, 14 July 2009, MercatorNet)

We tend to associate barbarism with images of primitive savages looting and pillaging villages, razing the walls of cities, and enslaving women and children. However, the Holy Father is suggesting here an entirely new kind of barbarism, one with a distinctly spiritual character. Civility is the quality of soul and society by which we recognize not only that other people exist, but also that they have the right to our courtesy, dignity, and respect. Civilization, then, as the opposite of barbarism, is founded upon the recognition of the dignity and rights of the other. Thus, a culture in which "the highest goals [are] one’s ego and one’s own desires" is the very definition of barbaric.

G.K. Chesterton notes, "The simple sense of wonder at the shapes of things, and at their exuberant independence of our intellectual standards and our trivial definitions, is the basis of spirituality." Today’s barbarism is of a distinctly spiritual nature. It is not so much a physical as a philosophical barbarism that has overtaken Western culture, a barbarism of the soul that is camouflaged by a quite "civilized" bodily façade. Fr John Courtney Murray observed:

The barbarian need not appear in bearskins with a club in hand. He may wear a Brooks Brothers suit and carry a ball-point pen with which to write his advertising copy. In fact, even beneath the academic gown there may lurk a child of the wilderness, untutored in the high tradition of civility, who goes busily and happily about his work, a domesticated and law-abiding man, engaged in the construction of a philosophy to put an end to all philosophy, and thus put an end to the possibility of a vital consensus and to civility itself.

The most dangerous philosophical barbarians today are not the relatively few fanatical atheists and dogmatic relativists in academe, the courts, the government, and the media, but the much more prevalent "practically minded" sort. These do not deny the existence of other people, but live as if they didn’t exist or had no worth compared to their own; they are not certain that God does not exist, or that the true, the good and the beautiful are illusions; yet if He did happen to exist, and if transcendentals were real, it wouldn’t really matter much to their lives.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:43 AM


California could lose a House seat after 2010 census: Experts think the size of the state's delegation will probably remain unchanged, but even that would break a historical pattern. The population is growing at a slower pace than in some other states. (Richard Simon, July 14, 2009, LA Times)

Here's yet another result of the bad economy: California's congressional delegation is unlikely to grow and could even lose a seat after next year's census for the first time since stagecoach days.

If the state loses a seat, it could weaken California's clout in Washington and reduce the amount of federal money flowing to the state. It could also set off a game of political musical chairs, forcing two incumbents to run against each other.

As if that weren't enough, the state that stands to gain the most new seats is California's longtime rival, Texas, the second most populous state.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:30 AM


Where Did Sotomayor's Empathy Go? (Stephanie Mencimer, 7/15/09, Mother Jones)

America finally got to hear from President Obama's first Supreme Court nominee on Tuesday and she turned out to be...kind of dull. [...]

Kyl did elicit one noteworthy tidbit from Sotomayor when he asked what she thought of Obama's argument that the last five miles of judging are determined by what's in the judge's heart. Sotomayor was having none of that mushy stuff. "It's not what's in the heart that compels conclusions in cases. It's the law," she said briskly.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:49 AM


Reflective roof paint repels the heat: Hyperseal paints can reduce the costs and energy needed for cooling by lowering the amount of heat a building absorbs from the sun. White roofs may be the new green. (Tiffany Hsu, July 15, 2009, LA Times)

On bright days, the rooftop of the Anaheim Hilton is so blindingly white that it looks like a mirror positioned directly at the sun. That dazzling glare might just be the greenest thing to happen to the top of a building since solar panels.

The white coating deflects nearly 85% of the heat that hits it, reducing the surface temperature by as much as 50 degrees. That means less energy is needed to cool the hotel's interior, cutting air-conditioning costs and carbon emissions.

This is no ordinary coat of paint. Designed by an 82-year-old former military scientist from the Inland Empire, the tinted topcoat is filled with tiny hollow glass balls that deflect heat, layered over a waterproof undercoat made of recycled rubber.

The Hilton spent more than $150,000 on the project, which was completed in March. That's $300,000 less than the cost of a conventional repair to the old, leaky roof, said Jerome Annaloro, director of property operations at the hotel. If the reflective material cuts utility costs this summer the way management anticipates it will, Annaloro said, he will recommend white roofs for the entire Hilton chain.

"I was skeptical at first . . . but the product spoke for itself," he said. "It's a win-win."

Americans spend about $40 billion a year to cool buildings, according to U.S. government figures. So-called cool roofs are being touted as a simple, inexpensive way of lowering surface temperatures on the tops of structures by as much as 100 degrees, cutting operating costs and slowing climate change.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:44 AM


Obama's Fiats Anger Lawmakers (JONATHAN WEISMAN, 7/15/09, WSJ)

With $108 billion in International Monetary Fund loan guarantees in jeopardy last month, White House economic officials begged, cajoled and cut deals with Democrats to secure passage of legislation boosting the fund's power. Days later, President Barack Obama announced he wasn't bound by any of the agreements.

The ensuing flap over the president's June 24 signing statement is the latest in a series of clashes between the White House and Congress over an issue Mr. Obama once fought against himself: presidential fiat.

As a candidate, Mr. Obama pledged that he wouldn't abuse the presidential signing statement, a declaration issued by the president when he signs a bill to give his interpretation of that law. President George W. Bush used so many signing statements -- more than 750 -- that the American Bar Association criticized it as an abuse of power.

After Mr. Obama's issuance of his second signing statement last month, even some Democrats say he isn't keeping his word on reining in unilateral presidential actions.

Though he is upholding the Constitution in this one regard.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:38 AM


DNC Targets Democratic Senators on Health Care (Rick Klein, July 15, 2009, ABC News)

The Democratic National Committee is launching a new television advertisement today to press Congress to support President Obama’s health care plan -- and is targeting moderate Democrats to come on board. [...]

The ad -- placed by the DNC’s Organizing for America arm, the offshoot of the Obama campaign’s lists of supporters -- uses the voices and images of five people who shared their stories with the DNC in the hopes of pressuring Congress to act.

More interesting than the message is who it’s being aimed at. One version of the ad will be placed in Washington, DC, and on news and information Websites -- a typical strategy to reach opinion leaders.

A slightly different version -- ending with a request for viewers to “call your senators” -- will air in Florida, Nebraska, Indiana, Louisiana, North Dakota, Arkansas, Maine, and Ohio, according to a Democratic Party official.

With the exception of Maine and Ohio, each of those states is home to at least one moderate Democratic senator whose vote on health care is in question. Maine is represented by two moderate Republicans who top the list of potential GOP votes on health care reform; Ohio has one such Republican senator, in addition to a liberal Democrat.

The national party is running ads against its own reps?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:36 AM


Nancy boys call off England tour in fear of "swine flu" (ESPN Soccer Net, July 15, 2009)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:14 AM


All-Star Game proves national pastime a unifying event: Presidents, All-Stars remind us why America loves baseball (Phil Rogers, July 15, 2009, Chicago Tribune)

Wearing a White Sox jacket, blue jeans and sneakers, Obama softly tossed a pitch that Albert Pujols caught just as it was about to hit the ground in front of home plate.

As a pitch, it wasn't much. But as a symbolic gesture, this ceremonial pitch before the All-Star Game, a 4-3 American League victory on the strength of Curtis Granderson's eighth-inning triple and Adam Jones' sacrifice fly, spoke louder than the roar from the pregame flyover.

So, too, did the joy with which Obama carried himself for his few minutes on the green grass, when he greeted Stan Musial and other St. Louis Hall of Famers, at one point trading salutes with Lou Brock.

During his half-inning in the Fox television booth, Obama said that the experience was "such a reminder of what's great about our country."

In regard to its role within the framework of America, baseball gets it. And perhaps more to the point, America still gets baseball.

All five living presidents were happy to participate in a pregame video tribute honoring exceptional work in public service.

Bush was cheered so loudly by the crowd of 46,760 that his words were practically drowned out.

Okay, so that first pitch was a lollipop, suggesting a dangerous lack of testosterone and wearing a Sox jacket was a transparent way to pass off the booing (which shouldn't occur to begin with). The President nevertheless carried himself with class and got off one great self-deprecating line. When he was discussing why the NL is the inferior league with Tim McCarver and Joe Buck, the latter asked: But no bailout for the National League, right?

The President: We're out of money.

Meanwhile, that opening with all the presidents was very moving, but I was surprised by the depth of one reaction. First, Mr. Obama came on. He's a hard guy to not like, even if awfully hollow, and there's still a certain pride in electing our first black president. Then W, and he's done such a good job of leaving the stage to his successor that he already induces nostalgia. Then Bill Clinton and it's sort of like, hey, randy Uncle Billy showed up! Then GHWB and he seemed especially appropriate to the occasion, having played 1b at Yale, met Babe Ruth, and played in a Cracker Jack Old-Timers game. Then Jimmy Carter....and waves of revulsion....

July 14, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:58 PM


Tip for Casey: To Swing a Faster Bat, Lighten Up That Lumber: With Major League Baseball's All-Star game taking place tonight, a researcher explains why, when it comes to swinging a baseball bat, heavier isn't necessarily better (Adam Marcus, 7/15/09, Scientific American)

Tune into tonight's baseball All-Star game and you'll see a familiar ritual: Batters standing in the on-deck circle will swing a weighted bat (or even a heavy, pipelike club) while they wait to hit. The exercise is intended to improve players' bat speed, with the idea being that the regular bat feels lighter after taking cuts with the heavier one. But a new study suggests batters who add ounces to their practice swings may be making an error.

Practicing with a heavier bat significantly slows down the velocity of the bat head—depriving the batter of slugging power, exercise researchers at California State University, Fullerton, say. Swinging light or normal weight lumber just before stepping up to the plate helps players become accustomed to swinging fast, repetition that is key to athletic training, the researchers say.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:01 PM


Obama preps for the pitchers mound (Kristi Keck, 7/15/09, CNN)

Asked about plans to practice before the game, Obama said Tuesday, "I want to loosen up my arm a little bit."

"The last time I threw a pitch was at the American League championship series, and I just wanted to keep it high," the president said of his opening pitch at the 2005 Chicago White Sox-Anaheim Angels game.

Aiming high is a good strategy, says St. Louis Cardinals scout Matt Blood, but it takes more than on-point aim to make the perfect pitch.

"Throw it with some force, don't lob it in there. Try to get a good downhill plane. Try to keep it in the strike zone," said Blood, who will be at the game Tuesday.

HLN sports anchor Larry Smith, who has thrown out a few first pitches, says Obama has to be careful to "not try to overpower it."

"There's no speed gun on this. Just make it a nice solid throw to the catcher," Smith said. "The one thing he doesn't want to do is bounce it home. Mr. Obama is pretty athletic, so I think he'll ace this."

Overpowering it shouldn't be an issue for the president, who joked Tuesday that he'd be surprised if his 2005 pitch exceeded 30 miles per hour. [...]

But the opening pitch isn't always a light-hearted moment. President Bush described his opening pitch at Yankees stadium during the 2001 World Series as "the most nervous moment" of his presidency so far. The game came less than two months after the September 11 terrorists attacks.

Bush wore an FDNY jacket to pay tribute to the New York City Fire Department. He stepped onto the pitchers mound, and before a cheering crowd of nearly 60,000, he threw a strike. The crowded erupted in chants of "U-S-A, U-S-A."

The brick wall:

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:19 AM


Goldman Reports Big Profit, Beating Forecasts (GRAHAM BOWLEY, 7/15/09, NY Times)

Comfortably beating analysts’ forecasts, Goldman Sachs earned second-quarter profits of $3.44 billion, or $4.93 a share, the bank announced on Tuesday.

The results continue a robust turnaround for the firm since it rode out the final tumultuous months of 2008 with the help of a federal rescue. They come just one month after it paid back its $10 billion in federal aid.

No thanks to the House GOP.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:18 AM


Microsoft plans free, online version of Office: The technology titan tries to stop Google Docs from encroaching on its turf. (Alex Pham, July 14, 2009, LA Times)

Everyone predicted Microsoft Corp. wouldn't take long to fire back against Google Inc.'s latest foray into its home turf.

It took less than a week.

On Monday, Microsoft said it would offer a free version of its popular Office software suite that would run on the Internet.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:10 AM


Holden, USA's tartan treasure (FIFA.com, 14 July 2009)

The game in Foxborough, a suburb of Boston, was Holden's second start in a rotating and highly experimental USA side competing at the 2009 CONCACAF Gold Cup. His long-range strike in the 91st minute, which assured the Americans a 2-2 draw and sole ownership of top spot in their group, capped a performance justly rewarded with the man of the match award. It also helped preserve an unbeaten home run for the US in competitive games stretching all the way back to 2001.

"We scored early, maybe too early" said Holden, who set up the first goal in the sixth minute. "But we conceded two right after the break and then we had to battle and keep them under pressure. When the chance fell to me I just tried to keep it on target."

Holden, born in Aberdeen, Scotland, moved to Texas at age 10 and is eager to admit he had more than just excitement on his mind after securing the draw. "I really wanted to get the ball back to the centre circle because I felt like we could have grabbed another one and won the game."

It is just this type of youthful exuberance and unbridled enthusiasm that is driving Bob Bradley's new-look side as they defend their regional crown. Holden, who won an MLS title with the Dynamo in 2006 and was recently named a 2009 league all-star, has shared locker-rooms with many of his current teammates, and gone head to head with them in the American top flight. "These guys are all familiar to me from MLS or the U-20s or the Olympic team," said Holden, who scored once for the US at last year's Olympic finals in Beijing. "It's a great opportunity for us to get some games, impress the coaches too. It's a competitive atmosphere."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:03 AM


India-born Pirates farmhand gets win (The Associated Press Tuesday, July 14, 2009)

Pirates farmhand and reality show contestant Rinku Singh earned his first win Monday in the second game of a Gulf Coast League doubleheader.

Singh struck out the only batter he faced in the Bradenton Pirates' 10-5 victory over the Detroit Tigers' affiliate. He's believed to be the first India-born player to win a professional baseball game in the United States.

Singh and Dinesh Patel were signed by the Pirates last fall after appearing on an Indian reality TV show called "Million Dollar Arm" that drew about 30,000 contestants in a country where baseball is almost unknown.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:01 AM


China demands Turkish retraction (BBC, 7/13/09)

China has demanded that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan retract his accusation that Beijing practised genocide against ethnic Uighurs.

Mr Erdogan made the claim after riots in the Uighur heartland of Xinjiang during which 184 people were killed.

Exactly the sort of tension we should be stoking.

July 13, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:08 PM


Murderers' Makeover (Michael Young, 07.13.09, Forbes)

In the annals of Western cretinism on Syria, I reserve a special place for one Olivia Sterns. The country has gotten a bad rap, she wrote in an article last May, and President Obama should recognize it has a softer side. "One look at the country's first lady Asma al-Assad should help prove so to disbelievers. The British-born, jeans-wearing wife of the current President Bashar represents a radically more modern regime."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:04 PM


Secret CIA Program Planned Assassinations of Top Al-Qaeda Leaders (Joby Warrick, 7/13/09, Washington Post)

The secret CIA program revealed to members of Congress late last month involved a series of planned attempts to assassinate top al-Qaeda leaders -- efforts that never progressed to an operational stage, according to current and former intelligence officials.

The CIA has long possessed the authorization, granted by President George W. Bush in a secret 2001 directive, to use lethal force against a small group of top al-Qaeda leaders whenever they were located. Although the agency's attacks on terrorist camps using pilotless aircraft is well documented, the CIA's program involved operatives "striking at two feet instead of 10,000 feet," a current intelligence official said.

Neither the officials nor the CIA would elaborate on the program or explain how it differed from other, well-understood attempts to destroy the group's senior leadership. But one current U.S. intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the program was small, intermittent and "exactly the kind of work people would expect the agency to be doing."

...just to get the Democrats on record as opposing killing al Qaedists.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:24 PM


We have had enough of con artists: In art as in politics, people have begun to see through the charade to the emptiness that lies beneath (Janet Daley, 11 Jul 2009, Daily Telegraph)

Over in Trafalgar Square, the growing disgust that is now enveloping Antony Gormley's inflated absurdity of an "artwork" has an air of resigned contempt. The relentless parade of exhibitionists who have been licensed to disport themselves like talentless buskers in one of Britain's most magnificent commemorative spaces, is the least of it. The accompanying panoply of building site structures, wire fencing and safety netting, security and broadcasting paraphernalia has taken over roughly a quarter of the square that was Charles Barry's memorial to a great moment in this nation's history of defying foreign tyranny. And what is this ugly travelling circus celebrating? The logically nonsensical idea that there is no distinction between art and life: a proposition which, were it actually believed, would put an end to the possibility of making art at all. (If everything is art, then nothing is.)

For many who have been simply bemused or faintly exasperated by the defiant narcissistic vacuity of contemporary art, the Gormley project, with its appropriately inane title, One and Other, is a step too far. It is the defiling of a civic space that belongs to the country – which stands for something which many people suddenly feel, perhaps to their surprise, should be treated with dignity and respect. It is not fanciful to suggest that across the minds of many of those onlookers who have hurled sarcastic epithets at the occupants of the fourth plinth, may be running the thought: what sort of country have we become that we allow our national monuments to be treated in this way? Does such an absence of historical pride and dignity possibly bear some connection to the collapse of national self-belief? And a further corollary: is it any wonder that we have so much difficulty persuading the children of immigrants that they should feel proud to be British?

...but that there are extraordinarily few artists.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:14 PM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:47 AM


Questions for Judge Sotomayor: Judge Sonia Sotomayor, President Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court, is scheduled to appear today at a confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. The Op-Ed editors asked seven legal experts to pose the questions they would like to hear the nominee answer. (NY Times, 7/12/09)

2. The Supreme Court has issued four major decisions since 9/11 invalidating the president’s and Congress’s efforts to detain and try “enemy combatants” according to procedures that depart from traditions of military justice and the rule of law. [...]

— KATHLEEN M. SULLIVAN, a professor of law at Stanford

...that should read "In a departure from traditions of military justice and the rule of law."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:43 AM


The Consequences of Big Government (Robert J. Samuelson, July 13, 2009, Washington Post)

For the past half-century, federal spending has averaged about 20 percent of GDP, federal taxes about 18 percent of GDP and the budget deficit 2 percent of GDP. The CBO's projection for 2020 -- which assumes the economy has returned to "full employment" -- puts spending at 26 percent of GDP, taxes at a bit less than 19 percent of GDP and a deficit above 7 percent of GDP. Future spending and deficit figures continue to grow.

What this means is that balancing the budget in 2020 would require a tax increase of almost 50 percent from the last half-century's average. Remember, that average was 18 percent of GDP. To get from there to 26 percent of GDP (spending in 2020) would require an additional 8 percentage points. In today's dollars, that would be about $1.1 trillion, a 44 percent annual tax increase. Even these figures may be optimistic, because CBO's projections for defense and "nondefense discretionary" spending may be unrealistically low. This last category covers much of what government does: environmental regulation, aid to education, highway construction, law enforcement, homeland security.

Whatever the case, the major causes of the budget blowout are well-known: an aging population and rapid increases in health spending. In 2000, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid -- the main programs providing income and health care for those 65 and over -- totaled nearly 8 percent of GDP. In 2020, CBO projects that will reach almost 12 percent of GDP. But the deeper source of our predicament is a self-indulgent political culture that avoids a rigorous discussion of government's role.

Everyone favors benefits and opposes burdens (taxes). Republicans want to cut taxes without cutting spending. Democrats want to increase spending without increasing taxes, except on the rich. The differences between the parties are shades of gray. Hardly anyone asks the hard questions of who doesn't need benefits, which programs are expendable and what taxes might cover remaining deficits.

What long sustained this system was falling defense spending and routine, though usually modest, deficits. As defense spending declined -- from 9 percent of GDP in the late 1960s to 3 percent in 2000 -- social spending could rise without big tax increases.

There's enormous room for a Mitch Daniels to run as Ross Perot and make wonkishness his strength rather than a weakness.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:39 AM


A Russian Economy In Reverse Gear (David Ignatius, July 12, 2009, Washington Post)

Russia today often seems to combine the worst aspects of a free market and a command economy. It has the dealmaking and corruption of the new capitalism, and the top-heavy bureaucratic inefficiency of the old communism. The result is an economy that seems stuck in second gear, even as those of the nations Russia sees as its peers -- Brazil, India and China -- continue to accelerate.

Konstantin Remchukov, a former industrialist who is now publisher and editor in chief of the newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta, says that the economic mess reminds him of the lyrics of a rock song by the Russian band DDT, which was popular in the last days of the Soviet Union: "We fight to the death Tuesday for Wednesday, without understanding Thursday."

Russia's basic economic problem is that it is a developing economy trying to pretend that it is a developed one. "Nobody in the West really understands how deep is the abyss we have to overcome," says a top Kremlin adviser who also runs one of the country's biggest companies. Communism turned people into "aliens," he explains, and the economy won't really be modern until it's run by a generation that has no memory of the old system. That's more than a decade away.

What generation?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:27 AM


Facing Torture (Roger Scruton, July 2009 - August 2009, American Spectator)

The debate over the use of torture has taken a new and disturbing turn, as prominent Democrats seek to bring criminal charges against key members of the previous U.S. administration. More over, Baltasar Garzón, who has for several years been using his position as a Spanish judge to further leftist causes, has now seen an opportunity to open criminal investigations against America, joining the Islamists in their strategy of “lawfare” against the Great Satan.

Of course, politicians can commit crimes and should be held to account for them. But policies that run counter to this or that UN convention are not necessarily crimes within the jurisdiction of a state, and when these policies are adopted by the organs of government after due deliberation and with sincere regard to the public interest it is only in exceptional circumstances that those who execute them could be regarded as criminal. The correct response in those exceptional circumstances is to put an entire government and its supporting network on trial, as the Allies put the Nazi regime on trial at the end of World War II, and as Eastern European governments have tried in vain to put the Communist Party on trial in recent decades.

If we don’t follow those principles, then just about every government in the world today could be charged with crimes, and each administration could be hauled before the courts by its successor.

It's a democracy. We'd need to put ourselves on trial. The governors were just representing us.

July 12, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:06 AM


Ambassadorships for sale (LA Times, July 12, 2009)

When candidate Barack Obama spoke of change, we thought he meant a new way of doing business, but apparently he also meant coinage. Because President Obama has kept the unsavory tradition of doling out some of the cushiest ambassadorial posts to fundraisers who brought in some of the biggest chunks of change to his campaign. Fifteen of the 62 ambassadors nominated so far were money "bundlers" for the campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, among them Pittsburgh Steelers owner Daniel M. Rooney, retired Chicago investment banker Louis B. Susman and Los Angeles entertainment executive Charles H. Rivkin.

...that the 30 pieces he owed Doug Kniec were paid in an ambassadorship.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:01 AM


Survey Shows Gap Between Scientists and the Public (CORNELIA DEAN, 7/12/09, NY Times)

[W]hile almost all of the scientists surveyed accept that human beings evolved by natural processes and that human activity, chiefly the burning of fossil fuels, is causing global warming, general public is far less sure.

Almost a third of ordinary Americans say human beings have existed in their current form since the beginning of time, a view held by only 2 percent of the scientists. Only about half of the public agrees that people are behind climate change, and 11 percent does not believe there is any warming at all.

According to the survey, about a third of Americans think there is lively scientific debate on both topics; in fact, there is no credible scientific challenge to the theory of evolution and there is little doubt that human activity is altering the chemistry of the atmosphere in ways that threaten global climate.

The survey, by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world’s largest scientific organization, involved about 2,000 members of the public and 2,500 scientists drawn from the rolls of the science advancement association, which includes teachers, administrators and others involved in science as well as researchers.

Ms Dean has confused Science with science.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:57 AM


The end of Obamania: On his overseas trip, the president was met with a lot less cheering and a lot more tough talk. (Doyle McManus, July 12, 2009, LA Times)

Barack Obama has fallen back to Earth.

When he ran for president, Obama said his election would be "the moment the rise of the oceans began to slow." And when he made his first big foreign trip in April, he was hailed by adoring crowds -- and almost-as-adoring politicians -- in Britain, Germany, France and the Czech Republic.

But last week, in Russia and Italy, Obamania was little more than a pleasant memory. Yes, his international polling numbers are still high, but the president encountered hardly any adulation in the streets of Moscow or anywhere else. Instead, Russian strongman Vladimir Putin reportedly gave him a tongue-lashing over a two-hour breakfast, and the tent-bound refugees from Italy's April earthquake mostly wanted to know whether he could rebuild their homes. ("Yes, we camp," their banner said, pointedly.)

And the oceans are still rising too.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:54 AM


Lawmakers knew of surveillance, ex-CIA chief says: An angry Michael V. Hayden insists that top members of Congress were kept informed and supported the post-9/11 program. (Associated Press, July 12, 2009)

In an interview with the Associated Press, Hayden said that top members of Congress were kept well informed all along the way, notwithstanding protests from some that they were kept in the dark.

"One of the points I had in every one of the briefings was to make sure they understood the scope of our activity," said Hayden, who also previously headed the National Security Agency.

"At the political level, this had support," said Hayden, jumping into an escalating controversy that has caused deep political divisions and lingering debate about the Bush administration's counter-terrorism policies.

One of the strangest aspects of BDS is the Democrats insistence that George W. Bush won the WoT by himself.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:17 AM


Pea shooters fight it out for world championships (William Langley, 12 Jul 2009, Daily Telegraph)

George Hollis's opening volley flew across the village green like machine gun fire. Puff-puff. Ping! Ping!

The crowd at Saturday's World Peashooting Championship looked on in wonder as George, 58, the sport's reigning superstar, languidly lowered his laser-guided shooter. This was no kiddie toy. This was a weapon of mass peastruction.

In an age of advanced ballistics, it's tempting to scoff at the humble peashooter – essentially a lung-powered piece of pipe – but technology prospers in improbable places, and there was enough of it at Witcham, Cambridgeshire, to impress the Pentagon.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:11 AM


Rumbles on the Rim of China’s Empire (EDWARD WONG, 7/12/09, NY Times)

[M]any Uighurs, a Turkic race of Muslims that is the largest ethnic group among the 20 million people of Xinjiang, have their own competing historical narrative. In it, the region is cast as the Uighurs’ homeland, and the ethnic Han, who only began arriving in large numbers after the Communist takeover in 1949, are portrayed as colonizers.

Mechanisms typical of colonial control — the migration of Han, who are China’s dominant race, and government policies that support the spread of Han language, culture and economic power — provided tinder, some scholars say, for the conflagration of the past week in Xinjiang.

The fighting quickly turned into the deadliest outbreak of ethnic violence in China in decades, and has forced Uighurs and Han across the region to question not only their relations with each other, but also the relationship of the Chinese state to the frontier, or, as some would put it, the imperial power to the colony.

The upheaval began with young Uighurs marching last Sunday in this regional capital to protest a case of judicial discrimination. That exploded into clashes with riot police and Uighurs rampaging through the city and killing Han civilians. Then, for at least three days, bands of Han vigilantes roamed Urumqi, attacking and killing Uighurs. The government said at least 184 people were killed and 1,100 injured in the violence, with most of the dead being Han, a statement that Uighurs dispute.

One Uighur university graduate told of hiding in her apartment for most of the last week. “This is Xinjiang,” she said. “This is our homeland. Where are we going to live if we leave this city? Where are we going to go?”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:08 AM


Is Obama's vow of public debate on health care fading? (DAVID LIGHTMAN AND MARGARET TALEV, 7/12/09, McClatchy Newspapers)

Campaigning for president, Barack Obama said repeatedly that any overhaul of the health care system should be negotiated publicly and televised for all to see. Throughout this year's negotiations, however, the big deals have been struck in secret.

With tax increases and limits on what's covered among the possible ways of offsetting perhaps $1 trillion over a decade in expenses, neither the administration nor Congress is willing to give up its right to do the most sensitive talking in private, as it's always been done.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:03 AM


Why the #$%! Do We Swear? For Pain Relief: Dropping the F-bomb or other expletives may not only be an expression of agony, but also a means to alleviate it (Frederik Joelving, 7/12/09, Scientific American)

The study, published today in the journal NeuroReport, measured how long college students could keep their hands immersed in cold water. During the chilly exercise, they could repeat an expletive of their choice or chant a neutral word. When swearing, the 67 student volunteers reported less pain and on average endured about 40 seconds longer.

Although cursing is notoriously decried in the public debate, researchers are now beginning to question the idea that the phenomenon is all bad. "Swearing is such a common response to pain that there has to be an underlying reason why we do it," says psychologist Richard Stephens of Keele University in England, who led the study. And indeed, the findings point to one possible benefit: "I would advise people, if they hurt themselves, to swear," he adds.

How swearing achieves its physical effects is unclear, but the researchers speculate that brain circuitry linked to emotion is involved. [...]

There is a catch, though: The more we swear, the less emotionally potent the words become, Stephens cautions. And without emotion, all that is left of a swearword is the word itself, unlikely to soothe anyone's pain.

In other words, like the pain, it's all in your head.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:39 AM


Exposing the Language of the Culture of Death | An Interview with William Brennan, author of John Paul II: Confronting the Language Empowering the Culture of Death (Ignatius Insight, July 10, 2009)

Ignatius Insight: How did Pope John Paul II define the culture of death?

Dr. Brennan: He defined the culture of death as a lethal mentality possessing an unlimited capacity for engulfing a wide range of victims and employed an inclusive perspective for highlighting "whatever is opposed to life itself," such as genocide, abortion, euthanasia, suicide, experimental exploitation of human beings, slavery, torture, mutilation rituals, and a host of other infamies. An ominous feature of this increasingly monolithic mindset, the pope revealed, is "a war of the powerful against the weak: a life which requires greater acceptance, love and care is considered useless, or held to be an intolerable burden, and is therefore rejected in one way or another." He called this phenomenon "a truly alarming spectacle, if we consider not only how extensively attacks are spreading but also their unheard-of numerical proportion, and the fact that they receive widespread legal approval and the involvement of certain sectors of health-care personnel."

Besides the numerous forms of devastation brought about by the death culture, John Paul singled out another casualty—the demise of conscience itself. Through the manipulation of language, the forces of death have proven extraordinarily successful in numbing the moral sensitivities of many to the horrors actually taking place. This process leads to an "extremely dangerous crisis of the moral sense" in which conscience is rendered increasingly indifferent, blind, and impotent in the face of the evils being perpetrated.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:36 AM


Holden Stunner Gives United States Late Draw: The result put the United States top of Group B with seven points from three games (Javno, 7/12/09)

A spectacular injury-time equaliser from Stuart Holden saved the United States' blushes as they drew 2-2 with Haiti on Saturday to clinch a quarter final berth in the Gold Cup. [...]

The U.S. took the lead in the sixth minute when Scottish-born midfielder Holden threaded a delightful pass to Davy Arnaud who finished confidently with a left-foot strike.

Holden was then denied by the under-side of the cross-bar after launching a thundering drive from 30 yards out.

But the game was transformed just a minute after the break when Vaniel Sirin squared the ledger with a diving header at the back post after accepting a fine cross from Leonel Saint-Preux. Three minutes later, a rocketing strike by Mones Chery from over 25 yards whistled past Luis Robles in the U.S. goal.

The U.S., fielding a weaker side than the team that reached the final of the Confederations Cup, struggled to break down Haiti's defence until Holden produced another rocket which flew into the top corner of the net.

July 11, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:49 PM


'Keep God out of football' - Fifa tells Brazil's soccer superstars (Daniel King, 12th July 2009, Daily Mail)

Football’s governing body has sparked controversy after disciplining the Brazilian team for overt displays of Christianity during a match.

Stars including £56million Real Madrid forward Kaka and captain Lucio revealed T-shirts with devout slogans such as ‘I Belong to Jesus’ and ‘I Love God’ during the Confederations Cup final last month.

Now Fifa has risked accusations of being ‘anti-religious’ by reminding Brazil of its guidelines banning players from making displays of a personal, religious or political nature on the football pitch.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:19 PM


The Place of Women on the Court (EMILY BAZELON, 7/12/09, NY Times Magazine)

Q: If you were a lawyer again, what would you want to accomplish as a future feminist legal agenda?

JUSTICE GINSBURG: Reproductive choice has to be straightened out. There will never be a woman of means without choice anymore. That just seems to me so obvious. The states that had changed their abortion laws before Roe [to make abortion legal] are not going to change back. So we have a policy that affects only poor women, and it can never be otherwise, and I don’t know why this hasn’t been said more often.

Q: Are you talking about the distances women have to travel because in parts of the country, abortion is essentially unavailable, because there are so few doctors and clinics that do the procedure? And also, the lack of Medicaid for abortions for poor women?

JUSTICE GINSBURG: Yes, the ruling about that surprised me. [Harris v. McRae — in 1980 the court upheld the Hyde Amendment, which forbids the use of Medicaid for abortions.] Frankly I had thought that at the time Roe was decided, there was concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don’t want to have too many of. So that Roe was going to be then set up for Medicaid funding for abortion.

On occasion, the eugenic truth about how we got "abortion rights" rears its ugly head.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:59 PM


Are Conditions Right For Gas Tax Hike? (Shawn Zeller, 7/11/09, CQ)

[W]ith the industry’s reputation in free fall, carmakers are looking to project an image of greater openness to change. And their chief point man on that mission is Dave McCurdy, a Democrat who represented Oklahoma’s 4th District in Congress from 1981 to 1995. He now leads the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the trade group for both U.S. and foreign carmakers, as its president and chief executive.

His job will be easier than it might be, at least: McCurdy’s group takes no position on the controversial auto bailout plans — meaning that he hasn’t even met with the Obama administration’s automobile task force, which oversees the rescue effort.

Instead, the main focus of the industry’s new agenda is to reverse its recent notoriety and rebrand automakers as environmental stewards and cutting-edge innovators. McCurdy, who from 1998 to 2007 headed the Electronic Industries Alliance, a technology trade group, says he wants consumers to start thinking about carmakers the same way they think of Google Inc. or Apple Inc.

“We need to be at the table on climate change and energy independence. We have to be at the table on safety. We need to be at the broader table on innovation,” he says. “It’s incredible, the amount of innovation in this industry, and I’m not sure people understand that.” [...]

But McCurdy also stresses that he’s about to put the group on an unfamiliar lobbying offensive: enlisting support in Congress for an increase in the federal gas tax to expand the market for compact vehicles, which he says would help manufacturers meet the new fuel economy rules.

It’s certainly not every day that an industry petitions lawmakers to increase costs for consumers of its product. But McCurdy says the auto industry recognizes that it has to take its medicine, adding that the aim is to set a floor on the price of gas while permitting supply and demand to set prices above the floor. The optimal base price, McCurdy suggests, could be $4, where automakers say they first saw a big shift in consumer buying habits.

“We want to spur that conversation,” he says. “Any legislation needs to make sure there is a price signal, because regulation is not going to accomplish the objective” of enhancing efficiency standards by itself.

Industry support for a higher gas tax isn’t new. Ford began talking about it four years ago, and the industry has long had an official position supporting it. What’s different, says Dan Becker, director of the Safe Climate Campaign, an environmental advocacy group, is McCurdy’s pledge to lobby for it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:56 PM


Poll Positions (John Cranford, 7/11/09, CQ)

From the minute that Democrats in Congress used their superior numbers to pass the $787 billion economic stimulus package in February, Republicans have been hammering away that it was a wasteful, misdirected mess. They had no choice. Only three GOP lawmakers voted for the measure — it was against their ideological principles to use government spending to give the economy a boost, and it was against their political principles to assist the Democrats.

It was in the minority’s interest to set up Obama and the majority for a fall. And the Democrats, naturally, have played right into the Republican’s hands.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:59 AM


"this Is The Way It's Supposed To Be": The son of a Naval Academy coach, Bill Belichick grew up in the game: listening to Joe Bellino, catching balls thrown by Roger Staubach and waiting for a sideline to call his own (Peter King, February 16, 2005, SI)

Even at age nine Bill Belichick had football on the brain. He was devoted to his father, a longtime assistant coach and scout at Navy. Son joined Dad whenever he could. If Steve had to drive to the Baltimore airport to pick up films on that week's opponent, Bill rode with him. Once home, Bill not only watched the films but also saw how his father diagrammed plays. When Bill was nine or 10, he tagged along to the weekly Monday-night meeting, at which players were given the scouting report for the next game.

"He'd sit in the back of the room, maybe for 90 minutes a session," says Steve, now 85. "I never had to say a word to him about his behavior. He'd stare at the front of the room and not say a word."

When Bill was 10 or 11, the assistant in charge of the offensive game plan, Ernie Jorge, sent him an envelope every Thursday night. BILL'S READY LIST was written on the envelope, and inside was the game plan for the week, including all the plays. Before he was a teenager, Bill knew terminology, formations, schemes. He also knew bona fide football stars from the time he spent at Midshipmen practices. When he was seven, Navy's biggest standout was running back Joe Bellino, the 1960 Heisman Trophy winner. "That was his first hero," Steve says. "Joe was the hero of a lot of kids in America then, and Bill was his friend."

To this day Bellino, now an auto-auction executive in the Boston area, remembers playing catch on the practice field with Bill. "Imagine what Bill must have absorbed," says Bellino. "He'd sit in the back of the room listening to his father give the scouting report. He's a youngster hanging out at the Naval Academy. Midshipmen in uniform, parades, the brass, the visiting presidents, the football team with two Heisman winners [Bellino and 1963 recipient Roger Staubach]. And he saw his father's work ethic. He saw everyone in that room soak up what his dad was telling us, believing if we did what he said, we could beat anybody."

As he got older and the Staubach era began, Belichick was able to do more. If Staubach wanted to work after practice on a pass he knew he'd be using that week, Belichick often served as his receiver. "Say Roger would be working on a sprint-out, throwing to the sideline," recalls Belichick. "I'd go to the spot on the sideline and practice the throw. Not a few. I'm talking 20, 30 of them. People ask me now why I do things a certain way. Look at the way I grew up. I grew up thinking, This is the way it's supposed to be."

Bill got a taste of the real world when Annapolis High was integrated before his freshman year, in 1966. It was also then that he began playing for the second influential football coach in his life, Al Laramore. "There was no individuality on his team, other than the number you wore," says Belichick, who worked his way up to first-string center as a senior. "I learned a lot about the team concept and about toughness from him. We used to have one bucket of water at practice. Everyone drank from it. If he didn't like the way we were practicing, he'd walk to the bucket, kick it over and say, 'You guys ain't gettin' a water break today.'"

Actually, Belichick was better at lacrosse than he was at football. But what he did best was organize. After a year at Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., he enrolled at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn. Turned off by the poor facilities at Wesleyan, Belichick got permission from the Naval Academy athletic director for the Cardinals to hold lacrosse spring training on the Navy practice fields, and during consecutive spring breaks the team practiced in Annapolis. The players bunked at the Belichicks'.

When he graduated with a bachelor's degree in economics in the spring of 1975, Belichick wasn't sure what he wanted to do. He thought working in virtually any capacity for the coaching staff of a college or professional team would be the best way to build his r�sum� for a full-time graduate assistant's job in college football, which sounded like fun to him. So he wrote letters to 250 coaches. The Baltimore Colts hired him as a special assistant. He made $25 a week, and he hitched a ride to and from work with head coach Ted Marchibroda. Belichick's duties included telling players who were about to be released that the coach wanted to see them in his office. On NFL teams that individual is known as the Turk, but Belichick inspired another nickname: Bad News Bill.

From Baltimore he moved on to assistant jobs with the Detroit Lions and the Denver Broncos, and then for 12 years with the New York Giants, first as the special teams coach, then linebackers coach, then defensive coordinator. He worked under Bill Parcells for the last eight years, six as coordinator. "Bill gave me a lot of latitude to do my job," Belichick says. "There was probably never a week where he wouldn't adjust something in the defensive game plan, but he had a lot of respect for the coaches' doing their jobs." Because Parcells was a domineering presence with a strong defensive reputation, it took a while for Belichick to be seen by NFL owners as his own man. But Browns owner Art Modell hired him after the Giants won their second Super Bowl, in January 1991.

From the beginning in Cleveland, Belichick was more demanding of the players than any of his recent predecessors. With reporters he was notoriously uncommunicative. His monosyllabic answers became so legendary ("Sitting through his press conferences was like putting a sharp pencil into your eye," says Tony Grossi, who covered the team for The Plain Dealer in Cleveland) that when Patriots owner Robert Kraft was thinking of hiring Belichick in 2000, an executive from one NFL team sent him a tape of one of the coach's media sessions and said, "Are you serious about hiring this guy?" [...]

"That's the thing about Bill," says former Browns player personnel director Mike Lombardi, now an Oakland Raiders executive. "He was always 'in search of.' When the salary cap and free agency were coming into the league, I told him I thought we should go see Jerry West, because he'd done such a great job managing the Lakers. We met [West] in Chicago at [the NBA] summer camp for draftees, and we spent three hours talking." West's advice: Develop your own players so you can manage salaries, and don't buy into the one-player-at-any-cost mentality.

That was tough when you worked for Modell. "Around the office," says one Browns staffer, "we used to say our organizational philosophy was, 'Ready, fire, aim.'" In the spring of 1995, following an 11--5 season and a playoff win over Parcells's Patriots, Modell signed troubled but talented free-agent wideout Andre Rison to a five-year, $17 million deal. Rison lasted one season. Following a chaotic 5--11 season in '95--the one during which Modell announced he was moving the franchise to Baltimore--Belichick was fired.

"I didn't walk away from there saying I did a bad job," says Belichick, who was 36--44 in five seasons. "It just wasn't a good mix between Art and me."

No one except those closest to him realizes it, but it was because of his experience with Modell that Belichick walked away from the Jets' job. Belichick knew he might get only one more chance to be an NFL head coach, and he didn't want that to be under the thumb of an owner he didn't know (the Jets were up for sale); with a club president he viewed as a know-nothing (Steve Gutman); and, to a much lesser degree, a director of football operations he felt he had outgrown (Parcells). If he was going to be a head coach again, he would do it on his terms.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:39 AM


Independents begin to edge away from President Obama (BEN SMITH, 7/9/09, Politico)

[A] source of the shift appears to be independent voters, who seem to be responding to Republican complaints of excessive spending and government control.

“This is a huge sea change that is playing itself out in American politics,” said Democratic pollster Doug Schoen. “Independents who had become effectively operational Democrats in 2006 and 2008 are now up for grabs and are trending Republican.

“They’re saying, ‘Costing too much, no results, see the downside, not sure of the upside,’” he said. [...]

A Quinnipiac University poll of voters in economically troubled Ohio, released Tuesday, showed Obama’s approval rating slipping 8 points, to below 50 percent, from a poll two months earlier, with a plurality of 48 percent of independent voters disapproving of his job performance. A Public Policy Polling survey in Virginia found Obama’s approval and disapproval numbers effectively tied, with independents disapproving of the president’s job performance, 52 percent to 38 percent.

“That is fairly consistent with all our polling around the country — Obama tends to be really well-liked personally, but he’s starting to lose a majority of the independents,” said Public Policy’s Dean Debnam. Democrats have “had long enough in some voters’ minds that they’re getting blame for nothing happening, and Republicans are scaring them around health care and tax increases.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:31 AM


Democrats For a Flat Tax?: Some California legislators realize revenue from the rich is too volatile. (JOE MATHEWS, 7/11/09, WSJ)

Karen Bass is an unlikely tax cutter. She's the Democratic speaker of the California State Assembly, a fierce defender of the labor movement, and an advocate for repealing a constitutional provision that requires that tax increases pass the state legislature with a two-thirds majority.

But as California faces a budget crisis that defies efforts to resolve it, there is a woman-bites-dog story developing with Ms. Bass at its center. By the end of the month, a commission she pushed to create is expected to recommend that the state adopt a flat (or at least flatter) personal income tax and cut or repeal corporate and sales taxes.

Normally, such proposals would be dead on arrival in Sacramento. But now many Democrats, including the speaker, are realizing that what they need is a tax base that will provide steady funding for their programs. In other words, they need a tax base that doesn't count on a large slice of revenue from taxes on a relatively small number of wealthy residents who can flee the state or who are themselves vulnerable to losing a substantial portion of income in a recession.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:11 AM


When China Rules by Martin Jacques: review: Adrian Michaels examines When China Rules the World: the Rise of the Middle Kingdom and the End of the Western World by Martin Jacques, an account of the emerging superpower (Adrian Michaels, 11 Jul 2009, Daily Telegraph)

How will the newly restored China look, and how will other countries interact with it? Will the West be undermined fatally, or will the astonishingly successful Western models for the economy, state and society be adopted by China? No one knows the answers to these questions, so that makes it an alluring subject for writers. We have had, among the most lauded of recent books, The Writing on the Wall by Will Hutton, the Left-leaning journalist and economist, and China Shakes the World by James Kynge, a former Beijing correspondent of the Financial Times.

Those titles were scary enough. Now comes Martin Jacques with When China Rules the World: the Rise of the Middle Kingdom and the End of the Western World. Jacques is the former editor of Marxism Today, co-founder of the think tank Demos, Guardian columnist and visiting academic at numerous institutions.

Jacques’s thesis stands as a rejoinder to US triumphalism at the collapse of Communism in Europe. It is an implicit attack on Hutton’s views that Enlightenment values and institutions – competition, elected government, balance of powers, promotion of inquiry, openness, an independent judiciary and press – are a requirement for China to continue its current success. Where Hutton sees huge contradictions in China and troubles ahead, Jacques says “Western hegemony… will come to an end” and sees China continuing to prosper. Moreover, Jacques imagines that many other countries in China’s orbit will be pulled into China’s way of doing things, turning away from the methods advocated by a dying West.

Jacques agrees with Hutton that something has to give. He understands that China cannot grow at its current rate without consuming all the world’s resources.

Grow? They have a fertility rate under 1.8. They're declining.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:28 AM


Heat Wave: A Summertime Mix (NPR.org, June 17, 2009)

No season gets romanticized in song quite like summertime: You could be swarmed by mosquitoes on a humid 102-degree day in August, and you'd still want to blare music that celebrates the beach, convertible cars, barbecue, ill-conceived summer romances and long days spent unburdened by school and other responsibilities.

And why not? Summer is when we're most inclined and emboldened to step outside and show ourselves to the world, whether we're exercising outdoors, walking to work or baring our translucent bellies on a family vacation in the Wisconsin Dells. Shouldn't our music reflect that freedom, that rebellion, that so often regrettable element of self-display?

That's where Heat Wave comes in, with hours of summer-themed music to help you soak in the spirit of the season. If your computer has a strong battery (or a long extension cord) and a way to obtain wireless Internet, why not haul it outside and listen while you frolic? [...]

• "Constructive Summer," The Hold Steady, Stay Positive [The Current]

• "Magpie to the Morning," Neko Case, Middle Cyclone

• "Body Heat," Jazz at the Movies Band, Body Heat, Jazz at the Movies [WDUQ]

• "Vivaldi: Summer - Concerto 2," Sarah Chang, violin; Orpheus Chamber Orchestra (EMI 9443) [WGUC]

• "Beethoven: Symphony No. 6 - Pastorale," Berlin Philharmonic/Claudio Abbado (Deutsche Grammaphon 471489) [WGUC]

Insiders - Ghost On The Beach (Official Music Video) - For more amazing video clips, click here

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:17 AM


The MAD Legacy of Robert McNamara: It's badly in need of rethinking. (Michael Anton, 07/20/2009, Weekly Standard)

"No single public figure," wrote British historian Lawrence Freedman in his exhaustive (and exhausting) study The Evolution of Nuclear Strategy, "has influenced the way we think about nuclear weapons quite as much as Robert S. McNamara." Penned in 1981, those words remain true. Whether the ideas McNamara helped put in place fit the world we now inhabit--whether they made sense at the time--are eminently debatable questions. And, incidentally, ones that no one is debating. [...]

With the advent of nuclear weapons, the military's youngest branch--the Air Force--became its de facto "senior service," the one whose budgets were never questioned, whose every request was treated as urgent. The Air Force had the bomb, and the bomb was the guarantor of peace. The Air Force was also the home of the Strategic Air Command, by far the most important military unit in the U.S. armed forces, and the personal fiefdom of General Curtis LeMay for nine years--a tenure whose length has never been equaled in the modern military.

Famous for his bombing campaigns against Japan--which destroyed half the developed areas of more than 60 cities--LeMay had absolute faith in the value of strategic bombing to win wars by destroying enemy infrastructure and industry and undermining morale. The war plan cooked up by his staff officers--jokingly nicknamed "Operation Sunday Punch," after a WWII bombing campaign in Normandy--was nothing more complex or discriminating than an all-out attack on every significant target in the Soviet Union (later expanded to include Eastern Europe, China, and North Korea). Whatever card the Soviets might play, this was the only one the U.S. military was prepared to play in response.

The Air Force's predilection for indiscriminate strategic bombing was implicitly endorsed by the Eisenhower administration, though for entirely different reasons. Ike wanted to keep military spending down and had no interest in trying to keep up with Soviet conventional forces. So he sought to balance Soviet conventional superiority with American nuclear superiority. The doctrine came to be called "massive retaliation" and was laid out in a speech and article by Secretary of State John Foster Dulles in 1954. Dulles argued that since the United States could not possibly defend every frontier that the Soviets could threaten, and since the West did not wish forever to remain on the defensive as the Communists nibbled away the free world's perimeter, any Soviet provocation risked the full might of the American arsenal.

McNamara was convinced that, even with budgetary concerns, by crunching the numbers in the right way, he could arrive at the optimal force. To the uniformed planners, "counterforce" required an ever growing nuclear arsenal, to match the potentially limitless number of Soviet military targets. Not prepared to give way, McNamara set arbitrary numbers of weapons "needed"--he capped ICBMs at 1,054, a level that remained in force until the Reagan years--and redesigned strategy around those numbers. He found the answer in "assured destruction"--later immortalized as "mutual assured destruction" or MAD. Here was a strategy eminently suited to systems analysis. Simply calculate the destructive power needed to assure the destruction of the other side, leave a little margin for error, and build just that much and no more.

A number of policy implications followed--among them the abandonment of any attempt at civil defense and the demonization of missile defense as inherently destabilizing to the system.

Ronald Reagan abhorred MAD and tried valiantly, if unsuccessfully, to sweep it into the dustbin of history.

Bad enough that hawks believed the Soviets were a threat in the 60s, the notion that the Russians, Chinese or NorKs are now is just silly. No one flies Aeroflot.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:57 AM


Diversity before wicket: When Pakistani journalist Abid Shah visited Sri Lanka, everyone wanted to talk to him about the attack on their national cricket team in Lahore, and Shah began to see South Asia’s differences through the prism of the sport. (Abid Shah, 7/11/09, The National)

Flashing my press pass, I reached the cricket stadium just as the Sri Lankan team was being airlifted by army helicopter to the airport (they flew to Sri Lanka that day). The team bus was standing at the stadium, as was the bullet-ridden, bloodstained umpire’s van, its front seat covered with shattered glass. Incredibly, the van and its passengers had been abandoned in the middle of Liberty Circle, forgotten by the gunmen; the umpires and officials escaped by crouching on the floor, listening to the sounds of gunshot, nursing their wounds as their driver died.

The attack brought cricket to the forefront of any discussion I had in Sri Lanka; from analysing conspiracy theories about the attackers, to comparing the merits of different players, I started seeing Sri Lanka through the prism of cricket.

The Sinhala Sports Club is Colombo’s main cricket ground. It is pretty and lush green. With only 10,000 seats, it’s smaller than I expected. The scoreboard dominates the view, and club members have a good, intimate view of the pitch.

Nabeel, a member of the club, took me along. He is a young man who works at an office during the day and unwinds at the club’s bar. We ordered drinks, chicken and a cheese concoction. Outside the bar’s windows, the shadows were lengthening and a three-day, school cricket game was in its final stretch. Alumni guzzled drinks in the stands, children cheered and parents clapped. Spectators with no connection to either school watched. At the finish, an announcer distributed prizes.

School matches are regularly played in the national stadium, several schools end their season with a match there, giving schoolboys the opportunity to dream.

I don’t know of a similar practice in Pakistan.

At the wood-panelled offices of the Sri Lankan Cricket Board, I met Nasantha Ranatunga, the secretary. A press officer told me that I was the first Pakistani journalist to visit the Board in Colombo since the Lahore attacks. Colombo had been crawling with Indian journalists looking for that all-important newsbite. None of the 21 or so Pakistani news channels made the trek.

I told him I wanted to talk cricket, not politics.

And so Ranatunga talked to me about the latest Sri Lankan grassroots initiative. The Sri Lankan Cricket Board is distributing free cricket kits around rural Sri Lanka – bats, balls, pads and wickets. Board members travelled across the country, identified weaknesses in rural facilities, and planned to introduce more children to playing cricket with kits, including professional hard leather balls, unlike the soft tennis balls I used to play street cricket with.

In fact, Colombo has a soft ball cricket association too, which organises tennis ball matches.

I never managed to visit the soft ball cricket association, but I desperately wanted to play soft ball cricket. Somewhere, on this island.

Arriva deSilva had scoffed at Pakistan’s low literacy levels and told me that Sri Lanka had good infrastructure. I thought of him when I met Sunila Galappatti because she disagreed with him.

“There is a lot of rubbish on the streets,” she said.

I met Sunila in the leafy courtyard of Colombo’s Barefoot Café. Sunila is the co-ordinator of the Galle Literary Festival, and was grilling me for the names and contacts of Pakistani writers she could invite to the southern city this winter. And so, discussing our countries, I had asked why there was no rubbish on Colombo streets. Of course there was rubbish on the streets, but the small piles of human discard I saw did not compare to the mountains of refuse in Pakistani cities, towns and villages. Sunila was surprised; I was surprised.

Here is a society that has been at war for a quarter of a century, with a high military budget, with a capital city where security is so high it seems to be under siege, and yet basic services such as rubbish collection are delivered adequately and the literacy rate is more than 90 per cent.

Compare that to Pakistan: a society fighting a low-level war and civil insurgencies, with a high military budget, but with relatively lax security in the cities, and where basic services such as rubbish collection are just that: rubbish, and where the literacy rate is a joke.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:51 AM


Gaia’s Right: Environmentalism seeks to return us to the age of kings. (Mark Steyn, 7/11/09, National Review)

I always enjoy it when the masks slip and the warm-mongers explicitly demand we adopt a massive Poverty Expansion Program to save the planet. “I don’t think a lot of electricity is a good thing,” said Gar Smith of San Francisco’s Earth Island Institute a few years back. “I have seen villages in Africa that had vibrant culture and great communities that were disrupted and destroyed by the introduction of electricity,” he continued, regretting that African peasants “who used to spend their days and evenings in the streets playing music on their own instruments and sewing clothing for their neighbors on foot-pedal powered sewing machines” are now slumped in front of Desperate Housewives reruns all day long.

One assumes Gar Smith is sincere in his fetishization of bucolic African poverty, with its vibrantly rampant disease and charmingly unspoilt life expectancy in the mid-forties. But when a hereditary prince starts attacking capitalism and pining for the days when a benign sovereign knew what was best for the masses, he gives the real game away. Capitalism is liberating: You’re born a peasant but you don’t have to die one.

You can work hard and get a nice place in the suburbs. If you were a 19th-century Russian peasant and you got to Ellis Island, you’d be living in a tenement on the Lower East Side, but your kids would get an education and move uptown, and your grandkids would be doctors and accountants in Westchester County. And your great-grandchild would be a Harvard-educated environmental activist demanding an end to all this electricity and indoor toilets.

Environmentalism opposes that kind of mobility. It seeks to return us to the age of kings, when the masses are restrained by a privileged elite. Sometimes they will be hereditary monarchs, such as the Prince of Wales. Sometimes they will be merely the gilded princelings of the government apparatus — Barack Obama, Barney Frank, Nancy Pelosi. In the old days, they were endowed with absolute authority by God. Today, they’re endowed by Mother Nature, empowered by Gaia to act on her behalf. But the object remains control — to constrain you in a million ways, most of which would never have occurred to Henry VIII, who, unlike the new cap-and-trade bill, was entirely indifferent as to whether your hovel was “energy efficient.” The old rationale for absolute monarchy — Divine Right — is a tough sell in a democratic age. But the new rationale — Gaia’s Right — has proved surprisingly plausible.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:48 AM


Algeria Sponsors Sufism To Fight Extremism: Sufism places a greater focus on prayer and recitation and its followers have tended to stay out of politics. (Reuters, July 08, 2009)

The government of this North African oil and gas producer is promoting Sufism, an Islamic movement that it sees as a gentler alternative to the ultra-conservative Salafism espoused by many of the militants behind Algeria's insurgency. [...]

Salafism has its roots in Saudi Arabia and emphasises religious purity. Adherents act out the daily rituals of Islam's earliest followers, for example by picking up food with three fingers and using a "Siwak" -- a toothbrush made out of a twig.

Officials believe Sufism could help bring peace to Algeria, a country still emerging from a conflict in the 1990s between government forces and Islamist rebels that, according to some estimates, killed 200,000 people.

"I disagree with the Salafi ideology because it doesn't take into consideration the particular nature of Algeria," said Mohamed Idir Mechnane, an official at the Ministry of Religious Affairs.

"We are doing a lot to encourage people to come back to our traditional Islam: a peaceful, tolerant and open-minded Islam. And thanks to God, people are much more attracted by our message than by the Salafi message," he told Reuters. [...]

During one "Dhikr" ritual at a Sufi zaoui just outside Algiers last month, about 60 men sat in a circle in a large room and began chanting. After a few minutes, some of the elders rocked from side to side, deep in what appeared to be a trance.

"For over 14 centuries, Islam has been present in this country," said Hadj Lakhdar Ghania, a member of the influential confraternity, Tidjania Zaouia.

"We used to live ... in peace and in harmony. But the day the Salafists said we should implement a new Islam in Algeria, problems and troubles started," he told Reuters.

July 10, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:49 PM


House Democrats Plan to Tax the Wealthy to Pay for Health Care Reform (David M. Herszenhorn, 7/10/09, NY Times)

To pay for a sweeping overhaul of the health care system, House Democrats will propose a surtax on individuals earning $280,000 and up and couples earning more than $350,000, the chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee said on Friday.

In all, the proposal is projected to generate roughly $550 billion over 10 years, which would cover about half of the estimated cost of the $1-trillion-plus health care legislation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:01 PM


John Kerry Will Hold Oversight Hearings on Obama’s Afghanistan Surge (John Aloysius Farrell, 7/10/09, Thomas Jefferson Street blog)

Kerry, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, disclosed that he's decided to hold oversight hearings on the Obama administrations handling of the war. You can read about it at GlobalPost.

Kerry is one of the few top government officials who can impact U.S. policy to have fought in Vietnam. He soured on the war, and came home and enlisted in the antiwar movement, which made him a hero to American liberals.

Liberals today are wary of Obama's decision to boost the number of troops in Afghanistan, and even though he is a Democratic president, several dozen members of the House have refused to vote for appropriations to fund his escalation.

Who can ever forget the incisive question he asked of his generation: how do you ask a man to be the last one to die so that colored peoples can enjoy the same freedoms we do?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:59 PM


Health reform in jeopardy as House delays action (Jeffrey Young, 07/10/09, The Hill)

House Democrats will not unveil their full healthcare reform package on Friday nor begin committee work on the bill next week as planned, the latest sign that President Obama’s signature domestic initiative is in trouble.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:20 AM




MLB 411

The Tolkien Professor

World Soccer Daily



Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:51 AM


Francis Collins as Culture War Statement (STEVEN WALDMAN, 7/10/09, WSJ)

President Obama's appointment of Francis Collins to run the National Institutes of Health is significant as a culture war statement. A devout Christian, Collins is one of the foremost advocates for the notion that science and faith are compatible. The former head of the Human Genome Project, Collins is also the author of The Language of God. He's a strong believer but he doesn't let that weaken his scientific rigor (for instance, he's been critical of Creationism and Intelligent Design).

In Science and the Sacred, a blog on Beliefnet published by Collins and his foundation, Biologos, Mr. Collins wrote:

"Suppose God chose to use the mechanism of evolution to create animals like us, knowing this process would lead to big-brained creatures with the capacity to think, ask questions about our own origins, discover the truth about the universe and discover pointers toward the One who provides meaning to life." [...]

Mr. Collins was mocked by Bill Maher in his movie Religulous, so perhaps Mr. Collins' appointment will generate suspicion among secularists. And because he's advocated "theistic evolution" -- the idea that God set in motion the laws of the universe, including natural selection -- there are some more fundamentalist Christians who may sniff at Mr. Collins.

The problem with Mr. Collins' attempt to reconcile Science and Religion is that his belief in theistic evolution represents a rejection of Nature and natural selection and supplants it with the intelligently designed determinism of the Creator. He is a creationist/IDer. He just disputes the particulars with his peers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:47 AM


Crude oil supply far outstrips motorist demand, analysts say: California could see $2.75 a gallon -- and the nation $2.50 a gallon or less -- before July is over. Supplies are growing as people stay off the road even with the summer driving season underway. (Ronald D. White, July 10, 2009, LA Times)

The supply of gasoline in the U.S. was climbing, beating the volume that had built up before prices crashed last year, according to the Energy Department's analysis released this week.

The low demand "was most noticeable in states like California, Nevada and Arizona," said Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst for the Oil Price Information Service, or OPIS, in Wall, N.J., who was predicting the big drop in retail gasoline prices. [...]

Crude oil supplies in the U.S. were running 53.4 million barrels ahead of last year, with 347.3 million barrels on July 3, the Energy Department said. Gasoline inventory rose 1.9 million barrels to 213.1 million barrels.

Here's another opportunity to replace the natural decline in prices with taxes so that we can both hold down consumption and derive revenue from it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:45 AM


Swat Taliban chief 'near death' (Syed Shoaib Hasan, 7/09/09, BBC News)

The leader of Taliban militants in Pakistan's Swat district has been critically wounded and is close to death, the BBC has learned.

The information about Maulana Fazlullah confirms statements from senior government and security officials.

A former village cleric, he founded the branch of the Taliban movement which eventually took over the Swat valley.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:45 AM


G-8 Day Two: President Obama Calls for Nations to Take Action to Fight Climate Change (JAKE TAPPER and KAREN TRAVERS, July 9, 2009, ABC News)

[T]he MEF acknowledged the presiding scientific view that the increase in global average temperature above preindustrial levels ought not to exceed 2 degrees Celsius, but described no concrete steps the attendees would take to prevent a rise of more than 2 degrees from happening.

The leaders of many developing nations, including India and China, have balked at the "robust aggregate and individual reductions" in greenhouse gases that the MEF Declaration called for countries to implement before the December United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Copenhagen.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:33 AM


Obama Caught Eyeing Up A Minor`s Backside (Javno, 7/09/09)

American President Barack Obama cannot resist a pretty girl, which is evident from the photos taken at the G8 summit in Italy, where Obama was caught eyeing up a young girl`s behind.

According to the media, a 16-year-old Brazilian was the object of his admiration, a junior delegate at the summit. Obama took his family to Italy, and wife Michelle clearly did not spot the moment of his weakness.

The Brazilian girl walked past him in a clingy dress and Obama, whose mouth dropped, did not notice his French counterpart Sarkozy observing him with a smile on his face.

W would have high-fived him.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:24 AM


The Stimulus Trap (PAUL KRUGMAN, 7/10/09, NY Times)

For the past 30 years, we’ve been told that government spending is bad, and conservative opposition to fiscal stimulus (which might make people think better of government) has been bitter and unrelenting even in the face of the worst slump since the Great Depression. Predictably, then, Republicans — and some Democrats — have treated any bad news as evidence of failure, rather than as a reason to make the policy stronger.

Hence the danger that the Obama administration will find itself caught in a political-economic trap, in which the very weakness of the economy undermines the administration’s ability to respond effectively. [...]

But there’s a difference between defending what you’ve done so far and being defensive. It was disturbing when President Obama walked back Mr. Biden’s admission that the administration “misread” the economy, declaring that “there’s nothing we would have done differently.” There was a whiff of the Bush infallibility complex in that remark, a hint that the current administration might share some of its predecessor’s inability to admit mistakes.

The GOP actually ought to be considered the stimulus party. For thirty years now it's been Republican dogma to give money back to the tax payers on a massive scale. The trap the UR fell into is trying to stimulate via spending instead.

A Second Stimulus Package? Yikes!: India, Japan and the U.S. repeatedly deliver unaffordable and ineffective spending proposals. (Alan Reynolds, 07.10.09, Forbes)

A major study of 18 large economies by Alberto Alesina of Harvard and three colleagues appeared in the 2002 American Economic Review. This paper, "Fiscal Policy, Profits and Investment" found that the surest way to make economies boom can be through deep cuts in government spending--the exact opposite of the "fiscal stimulus" snake oil.

Ireland, for example, slashed government spending by more than 7% of GDP from 1986 to 1989--nearly as much as the 8.4% of GDP the U.S. spends on Social Security and Medicare combined. The Irish economy suddenly switched from a 0.2% pace of economic growth in the early 1980s to annual real GDP growth of 7.2% from 1989 to 2001. With GDP doubling every decade, government debt dropped from 125% of GDP to less than 40%.

By contrast, Japan spent trillions on Keynesian "stimulus" schemes after 1991, doubling the ratio of national debt to GDP. Amazingly, they are doing it still. Japan's "lost decade" of economic stagnation is now approaching two decades with no end in sight.
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Spending cuts ensured much lower tax rates in Ireland, including substantial cuts in personal income and payroll tax rates and the VAT, as well as the famed 12.5% corporate tax. Similar fiscal restraint in India, while it lasted, facilitated cutting the top income tax rate to 30% from 60% at the start of yet another "economic miracle."

By contrast, because of the huge debts piled up by "fiscal stimulus" schemes, Japan felt compelled to add new taxes on consumer spending, land, securities trading and capital gains.

The Alesina study acknowledges that spending cuts were conducive to pro-growth tax policies, but that same study also found that big government spending is inherently bad for economic growth. The authors noted that government hiring lures skilled workers away from private businesses, and so private employers are forced to raise wages even if that means reduced hiring. Artificially boosting labor costs per employee, in turn, depresses profits and investment. They also found that a reduction of 1 percentage point in the ratio of government spending to GDP leads to an immediate increase in the ratio of private investment to GDP, which adds up to 0.8 percentage points after five years. In other words, government spending (regardless of whether it is financed by borrowing, taxing or printing money) will eventually "crowd out" private investment on nearly a dollar-for-dollar basis.

The authors (Alesina, Ardagana, Perotti and Schiantarelli) concluded that fiscal policies that "have led to an increase in growth consist mainly of spending cuts, particularly in government wages and transfers, while those associated with a downturn in the economy are characterized by tax increases."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:44 AM


Down the Mississippi: Rush Limbaugh speaks to conservative America from its heart: Cape Girardeau is the proud hometown of Rush Limbaugh the undisputed king of conservative talk radio. (Toby Harnden in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, 10 Jul 2009, Daily Telegraph)

Once best known as the site of a Civil War battle or the biggest Mississippi port between St Louis and Memphis, Cape Girardeau is now renowned for one thing – it is the home town of Rush Limbaugh.

With more than 14 million listeners a week, Limbaugh, 58, is the undisputed king of conservative talk radio and probably the most powerful voice of opposition to President Barack Obama.

The local Salvation Army Thrift Store keeps its radio tuned to talk radio and yesterday there was a familiar voice emanating from it--New Hampshire's own Mark Steyn is apparently guest-hosting the show this week.

July 9, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:17 PM

JIMMY FREAKIN' QUALLS (via Glenn Dryfoos):

Forty years ago, little-known Qualls spoiled Seaver's bid at perfection (Michael Bamberger, 7/08/09, SI)

If you happened to be thumbing through the Newsday sports section on Thursday, you may have noticed an unusual box score: Mets 4, Cubs 0, in New York. Time of game: 2 hours, 2 minutes. Then you read the not-so-fine print: the game -- a Tom Seaver one-hitter -- was played 40 years ago, when the Mets were becoming the Miracle Mets, winners of the '69 World Series. Newsday is paying tribute to the team.

That game was more than a one-hitter. Shea Stadium was packed and the Cubs were in first place, but the Mets were coming on strong. I was a nine-year-old kid that summer, listening to the game on a transistor radio in a backyard tent at my parents' house in Patchogue, L.I., in the heart of Mets country. Seaver retired the side -- and you need all this to understand the rising tide of tension -- in the first inning, the second, the third, the fourth, the fifth, the sixth, the seventh and the eighth. He retired the first batter in the ninth. Seaver was two outs away from perfection.

In sports, as in life, there's not much that's perfect. The 300-game in bowling, hard to improve on that. The '72 Miami Dolphins, who won 14 games and never lost, people call that "The Perfect Season," although it wasn't like every game was shutout. There's Nadia Comaneci and all those 10s she piled up at the '76 Olympics. I happen to be sympathetic to the argument about whether human beings (the judges) can put the stamp of perfection on what another person does, but if you want to call that performance perfection, enjoy. That's all a long time ago now.

As you get older, you stop holding up perfection as some sort of ideal, or I have, anyway. The legendary golfer Ben Hogan once had a dream, or a nightmare, in which he recorded 17 consecutive holes-in-one then lipped out on the last. Maybe he did himself a favor. What are you going to do for an encore after shooting 18? But at age nine, I had one and only one dreamy notion of perfection: a pitcher recording 27 consecutive outs. I grew up on the World Book encyclopedia, and right in it, under Baseball, was a picture from Don Larsen's perfect game in the '56 World Series, Yogi Berra leaping in his arms, when it was over. That picture has legs.

And here was Seaver on a summer night in '69, one out in the ninth, the Mets leading, 4-zip. And up comes Jimmy Qualls. You know Ron Santo, Ernie Banks, Billy Williams. Jimmy Qualls? Jimmy Qualls. He lines a clean one-out single to the left-center. Jimmy Qualls. I probably hated the guy. Forty years later, I was on the phone with the man.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:02 PM


Daily Presidential Tracking Poll (Rasmussen Reports, July 09, 2009)

The Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll for Thursday shows that 30% of the nation's voters now Strongly Approve of the way that Barack Obama is performing his role as President. Thirty-eight percent (38%) Strongly Disapprove giving Obama a Presidential Approval Index rating of –8. [...]

Overall, 51% of voters say they at least somewhat approve of the President's performance so far. Forty-eight percent (48%) now disapprove.

Senate delays climate bill until September (Edward Felker, July 9, 2009, Washington Times)
The Senate does not plan to make any serious moves toward approving a climate change bill until September, a month later than its leaders' previous expectation.

Sen. Barbara Boxer today told reporters that she will not draft a climate change bill in her Environment and Public Works Committee until September, throwing the timetable for action in the chamber into doubt on one of President Obama's top legislative goals.

Healthcare overhaul bill stalls in Congress: Cost concerns raise doubts on August goal (Lisa Wangsness and Susan Milligan, July 9, 2009, Boston Globe)
Last spring Democratic leaders set an aggressive timetable for passage of universal healthcare coverage, agreeing to vote before the Aug. 8 recess, return in September to work out the differences between House and Senate versions, and send a bill to the president before the end of the year. The schedule reflected a widespread belief among Democrats that they must move quickly to take advantage of the popular new president’s political momentum, and to avoid the political distraction of the midterm elections in 2010.

But in recent weeks progress has slowed dramatically. Moderate Democrats and Republicans are balking at the idea of creating a government insurance option, which more liberal Democrats insist is crucial if insurance will be affordable. Many Democrats also are resisting the idea of taxing a portion of health benefits for employees with the most generous insurance plans.

Moderates in both parties are also worried about the costs of expanded healthcare coverage - it is likely to exceed $1 trillion - at a time when deficits are soaring and the economy is weak.

Sure, it's a failed presidency, but on the bright side we got a do-nothing president and crossed "elect a person of color" off our to-do list.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:54 PM


Dems regain control of Senate, Espada named majority leader (Richard A. D'Errico, Albany Business Review)

Sen. Pedro Espada Jr. has returned to the fold, giving the Democrats a 32-30 majority in the state Senate—again—and taking the title majority leader.

Espada (D-Bronx) said during a news conference this afternoon that his disagreement with fellow Democrats on June 8, which led to a Republican-led coup, “has never been about titles,” though he received the title of temporary president as a result of the coup.

“Today I stand here with another title,” he said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:06 PM


PROMISES, PROMISES: Obama tax pledge unrealistic (STEPHEN OHLEMACHER, 7/08/09, Associated Press)

President Barack Obama promised to fix health care and trim the federal budget deficit, all without raising taxes on anyone but the wealthiest Americans. It's a promise he's already broken and will likely have to break again. Obama and the Democratic-controlled Congress have already increased tobacco taxes — which disproportionately hit the poor — to pay for extending health coverage to 4 million children in working low-income families.

Now, lawmakers are looking for more revenues to help pay for providing medical insurance to millions more who lack it at a projected cost of $1 trillion over the next decade.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:01 PM


Conservative Dems rebel on health bill (ERICA WERNER, 7/09/09, AP)

The fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition plans to present a letter to House Democratic leaders Thursday raising concerns about costs and other issues and asking for more time, members of the group tell The Associated Press.

Democratic Rep. Mike Ross of Arkansas says that if the Democrats' liberal legislative plan came to the floor as proposed, an "overwhelming majority" of his group would oppose it. The Blue Dogs claim 52 members so that could endanger the bill.

The move comes just as House Democratic leaders are trying to finalize the proposed legislation and unveil it Friday.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:19 AM


A legacy of repression: The clashes in Xinjiang are yet another reminder of the fragility of the Chinese state. How much longer can the superpower hold together? (Isabel Hilton, 09 July 2009, New Statesman)

The violence has broken a cherished thread in Beijing’s contemporary narrative: that Xinjiang, like Tibet, has been part of that elastic and untranslatable entity we know as China for 2,000 years, and that its one million Kazakhs and ten million Uighurs are citizens, like any other, of the great motherland, united in a love of the party and, today, of the neo-Confucianism that Han China now wishes to substitute for Maoism as the state ideology.

Most Uighurs do not subscribe to China’s assimilationist state mythologies. Why should they? Like the Tibetans, when Uighurs travel

to the capital they are regarded with suspicion and hotels routinely deny them entry. (Even Uighur government officials have trouble finding lodgings in Beijing.) They know that they are suspected of acts of terrorism at home and abroad, subjected to special measures and repressive campaigns against everything from their historic memory to their language and religion.

The state project that Uighurs are expected to support continues to treat them, like the Tibetans, as backward peoples to whom the Han have extended the benefits of civilisation. Han Chinese saw the militia units (bingtuan), which spearheaded the Han colonisation of Xinjiang in the 1950s, as exemplars of heroic self-sacrifice, “opening up” the frontier, and the continuing ingratitude of the Uighurs and other minorities remains puzzling to many Han.

But the people of Xinjiang (the name means new frontier) see things differently. Only in very modern times has a Han Chinese government in Beijing attempted to rule over this distant part of central Asia. It was conquered in the 18th century by the Manchu, who had also conquered China, and the 19th and 20th centuries were punctuated by repeated uprisings and armed incidents. Xinjiang was incorporated into the People’s Republic of China in 1949, after decades of local power struggles and the deaths, in a mysterious plane crash, of the entire leadership of the putative independent state of East Turkestan. Since then, there has been a continuing rumble of discontent, with intermittent serious episodes, some encouraged by the Soviet Union, others (in the Cultural Revolution, for instance) a reflection of China’s own chaotic politics.

What The Riots In China Really Mean: Ethnic conflict has exposed the Communist Party's vulnerabilities. (Gordon G. Chang, 07.08.09, Forbes)
The disturbances are accurately portrayed as ethnic conflict--Turkic Uighurs against the dominant Hans--but they also say much about the general stability of the modern Chinese state.

That state says the Uighurs are "Chinese," but that's not true in any meaningful sense of the term. The Uighurs are, in fact, from different racial stock than the Han; they speak a different language, and they practice a religion few others in China follow. Of the 55 officially recognized minority groups in China, they stand out the most.

The Uighurs are a conquered people. In the 1940s, they had their own state, the East Turkestan Republic, for about half a decade. Mao Zedong, however, forcibly incorporated the short-lived nation into the People's Republic by sending the People's Liberation Army into Xinjiang.

As much as the Uighurs deserve to govern themselves again--and they most certainly do--almost no one thinks they will be able to resurrect the East Turkestan state. They have even lost their own homeland, as Beijing's policies encouraged the Han to populate Xinjiang. In the 1940s, Hans constituted about 5% of Xinjiang's population. Today, that number has increased to about 40%. In the capital of Urumqi, more than 70% of the residents are Hans. In short, the Uighurs are no match for the seemingly invincible Han-dominated state.

Yet the riots of the last few days show just how vulnerable that Chinese state is, even in the face of apparently weak opponents.

When the 60% tell the 40% to go they will.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:33 AM


An Iranian Icon on Today's Protests
: A decade before the massive demonstrations of the last month, a young Iranian became a symbol of student protests—and spent years in prison for it. Ahmad Batebi, now 32 and living in Washington, talks to The Daily Beast’s Reza Aslan on the 10th anniversary of the uprising known as 18 Tir. (Reza Aslan, 7/08/09, Daily Beast)

Early on the morning of 18 Tir—the date according to the Iranian calendar—while most of the students were asleep, Basij forces raided the dorms of Tehran University, indiscriminately beating and arresting people. In the melee, a bullet whizzed by the ear of Ahmad Batebi, a young university student, and lodged itself in the chest of his friend. Batebi took his friend’s shirt off and used it to put pressure on the wound, but to no avail. He then ran to the front of the protests and held the shirt aloft for all to see, a witness to the massacre that had just taken place.

A photographer in the crowd snapped his picture. The next day, the image was splashed across the cover of The Economist and instantly became a symbol of the uprising: It was the lonely Chinese man standing before a phalanx of tanks at Tiananmen Square, or, more perhaps more fittingly, it was Neda Agha-Soltan slowly bleeding to death on the streets of Tehran, blood pouring from her mouth and nose.

The day after Batebi’s picture appeared, the police arrested him. He spent the next 10 years in prison, most of it in solitary confinement, in a cell the size of a bathtub. He was repeatedly tortured and forced to undergo a mock execution. The government wanted him to sign a statement saying the blood on the shirt was not blood at all—it was tomato sauce. Batebi refused.

After suffering two strokes, Batebi was temporarily released from prison in 2007 to receive medical attention. With the help of Kurdish militants, he fled Iran, smuggled first by car, then by donkey, through the mountains of Kurdistan into Iraq. He was granted asylum by United States in 2008 and now lives in Washington, D.C.

For 10 years, the government of Iran has allowed no commemoration of the events of 18 Tir. But this year, despite the brutal crackdown on protests, mass demonstrations have been planned, not only all over Iran, but all over the globe.

On the eve of the 10th anniversary of the day that changed his life forever, and may yet prove a catalyst for change in Iran, The Daily Beast sat down with Ahmad Batebi. [...]

How do you see the current crisis playing out?

The one thing history has taught us is that no government can defy the will of its people for long. The whole world is moving toward greater human rights and democracy. All people want these things. No one wants dictatorship. No government is powerful enough to stand against the will of the people forever. Chile, Argentina, Yugoslavia, etc. All of these dictatorships eventually collapsed, and the same thing will happen in Iran.

The people of Iran have turned on a light. The flame may dim a bit now and again, but it will never die. This is a long war, a gradual process. It may take another 30 years, but freedom and democracy will come to Iran.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:57 AM


Obama's new NIH chief links God, science (LAURAN NEERGAARD, 7/08/09, AP)

President Barack Obama is choosing an influential scientist who helped unravel the human genetic code - and is known for finding common ground between belief in God and science - to head the National Institutes of Health. [...]

The folksy Collins led the Human Genome Project that, along with a competing private company, mapped the genetic code - or, as he famously called it, "the book of human life."

"It is humbling for me, and awe-inspiring, to realize that we have caught the first glimpse of our own instruction book, previously known only to God," he said at a 2000 White House ceremony marking release of the genome's first draft.

For that work, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award. But he may be more widely known for his 2007 best-selling book, "The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief."

If you wonder what makes us exceptional, we have a chief scientist who's a Creationist whereas the leaders of Europe's established religions aren't.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:26 AM


Thousands beheaded in French Revolution named online (Daily Telegraph, 7/08/09)

The names of thousands of people beheaded during the French Revolution are going online for the first time on Wednesday through Ancestry.co.uk. [...]

Among the 'French Deaths by Guillotine, 1792-1796' detailed to mark Bastille Day are King Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette.

Olivier Van Calster, managing director of genealogy website Ancestry.co.uk which is publishing the names, said: "The French Revolution was a brutal and gruesome period of history, with repercussions that were felt both in France and across the world socially, culturally and politically.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:17 AM


Meet the man who has exposed the great climate change con trick: James Delingpole talks to Professor Ian Plimer, the Australian geologist, whose new book shows that ‘anthropogenic global warming’ is a dangerous, ruinously expensive fiction, a ‘first-world luxury’ with no basis in scientific fact. Shame on the publishers who rejected the book (James Delingpole, 8th July 2009, Spectator)

So go on then, Prof. What makes you sure that you’re right and all those scientists out there saying the opposite are wrong? ‘I’m a geologist. We geologists have always recognised that climate changes over time. Where we differ from a lot of people pushing AGW is in our understanding of scale. They’re only interested in the last 150 years. Our time frame is 4,567 million years. So what they’re doing is the equivalent of trying to extrapolate the plot of Casablanca from one tiny bit of the love scene. And you can’t. It doesn’t work.’

What Heaven And Earth sets out to do is restore a sense of scientific perspective to a debate which has been hijacked by ‘politicians, environmental activists and opportunists’. It points out, for example, that polar ice has been present on earth for less than 20 per cent of geological time; that extinctions of life are normal; that climate changes are cyclical and random; that the CO2 in the atmosphere — to which human activity contributes the tiniest fraction — is only 0.001 per cent of the total CO2 held in the oceans, surface rocks, air, soils and life; that CO2 is not a pollutant but a plant food; that the earth’s warmer periods — such as when the Romans grew grapes and citrus trees as far north as Hadrian’s Wall — were times of wealth and plenty.

All this is scientific fact — which is more than you can say for any of the computer models turning out doomsday scenarios about inexorably rising temperatures, sinking islands and collapsing ice shelves. Plimer doesn’t trust them because they seem to have little if any basis in observed reality.

‘I’m a natural scientist. I’m out there every day, buried up to my neck in sh**, collecting raw data. And that’s why I’m so sceptical of these models, which have nothing to do with science or empiricism but are about torturing the data till it finally confesses. None of them predicted this current period we’re in of global cooling. There is no problem with global warming. It stopped in 1998. The last two years of global cooling have erased nearly 30 years of temperature increase.’

Plimer’s uncompromising position has not made him popular. ‘They say I rape cows, eat babies, that I know nothing about anything. My favourite letter was the one that said: “Dear sir, drop dead”. I’ve also had a demo in Sydney outside one of my book launches, and I’ve had mothers coming up to me with two-year-old children in their arms saying: “Don’t you have any kind of morality? This child’s future is being destroyed.’’’ Plimer’s response to the last one is typically robust. ‘If you’re so concerned, why did you breed?’

This no-nonsense approach may owe something to the young Ian’s straitened Sydney upbringing. His father was crippled with MS, leaving his mother to raise three children on a schoolteacher’s wage. ‘We couldn’t afford a TV — not that TV even arrived in Australia till 1956. We’d use the same brown paper bag over and over again for our school lunches, always turn off the lights, not because of some moral imperative but out of sheer bloody necessity.’

One of the things that so irks him about modern environmentalism is that it is driven by people who are ‘too wealthy’. ‘When I try explaining “global warming” to people in Iran or Turkey they have no idea what I’m talking about. Their life is about getting through to the next day, finding their next meal. Eco-guilt is a first-world luxury. It’s the new religion for urban populations which have lost their faith in Christianity. The IPCC report is their Bible. Al Gore and Lord Stern are their prophets.’

Who’s afraid of billions of people?: In the run-up to the UN’s World Population Day, spiked argues against all attempts to cajole, coerce or convince people into having fewer kids. (Brendan O’Neill, 7/08/09, spiked)
[O]ur attitudes to the population level fundamentally reflect our attitudes to human ingenuity. The population debate is frequently dressed up in demographic and scientific clothing, but really it is a political issue, reflecting different political attitudes. Where you stand on population today tells us a lot about where you stand on the idea of progress, of civilisation, and of humanity itself.

It’s worth asking what drives the population-control and population-reduction lobby. These people have been around for a few centuries and their arguments have changed over time. For one of the first population scaremongers, Thomas Malthus in the eighteenth century, the main problem was that if too many people were born then there wouldn’t be enough food to feed them. He vastly underestimated the ability of industrialised society to create more and more food.

In the early twentieth century there was a racial and eugenic streak to population-reduction arguments: some claimed that there were too many Africans and Asians, who might weaken the power of white European nations.

More recently, the population-control lobby has adopted environmentalist arguments. It now says that too many people are demanding too much of Mother Earth, using up all of her resources and destroying her biodiversity. Some greens even refer to humans as a ‘plague on the planet’ and a ‘pathogenic organism’. In other words, humanity is a disease making the planet Earth sick.

The fact that the presentational arguments of the population-reduction lobby can change so fundamentally over time, while the core belief in ‘too many people’ remains the same, really shows that this is a political outlook in search of a social or scientific justification. It is an already-existing prejudice, held by certain kinds of people, which looks around for the latest trendy or respectable ideas to clothe itself in.

It is time we questioned, if not demolished, some of the supposedly respectable ideas that today’s Malthusians surround themselves with.

As many of the poor as they'll tolerate they want to keep backwards.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:53 AM


The Uighurs’ cry has echoed round the world: The deaths in northwest China are, sadly, the inevitable result of the repression of Turkic peoples over six decades (Rubiya Kadeer, 7/08/09, Times of London)

The massacre of Uighur demonstrators in the cities of Urumqi and Kashgar has been reported in every language, from English to Chinese to Portuguese to Arabic. While the intense repression against Uighurs is normally ignored by both the Chinese Government and the international media, the deaths of hundreds of protesters and the injuries of hundreds more has exposed the brutality of Chinese government actions toward Uighurs in a way that cannot be ignored.

Instead of taking action to recognise the cause of Uighurs’ demonstrations, or to acknowledge that the problems in East Turkestan [known by the Chinese as Xinjiang] derive from the Chinese Government’s inability to resolve discontent, Chinese officials have resorted to blaming “outside forces”, including me and one of the organisations I lead, the World Uighur Congress. Just as Chinese officials placed the blame for widespread demonstrations in Tibet on the Dalai Lama, they claim that overseas Uighur organisations “instigated” the demonstrations in East Turkestan. I in no way organised or called for any demonstrations.

I condemn the violence that has been carried out against the Uighur people. I also condemn the violence some Uighur demonstrators have committed. I am absolutely opposed to all forms of violence, and believe it is only through dialogue and attempts at mutual understanding that we may achieve peace.

There'll be peace when the Chinese acknowledge that Uighurstan is a separate nation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:53 AM


Democrats shy away from health care tax: Rifts threaten Obama deadline (Jennifer Haberkorn, July 9, 2009, Washington Times)

Cracks in President Obama's health care reform plan formed Wednesday as his August deadline appears to be slipping away amid angst from Democrats over taxing employer benefits to help pay for the $1 trillion makeover.

Top Democrats, including Sen. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut, who is helping craft the measure, and Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York said the idea isn't politically viable.

"Fifty-three percent of my constituents would be taxed under that proposal in Connecticut," said Mr. Dodd, who is acting chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:47 AM


United States 2 - 0 Honduras: Quaranta, Ching break deadlock for U.S. (ESPN SoccerNet, 7/08/09)

Quaranta was one of several new players on the U.S. roster for the Gold Cup. The Americans have a nearly entirely different roster from the U.S. team that made a surprise run to the Confederations Cup championship game last month; most regulars were given a rest for the Gold Cup.

The Americans last played Honduras on June 6 in a World Cup qualifying match, but the only American who was dressed for that game and Wednesday's match was Benny Feilhaber, who came on in the 64th minute.

"There were times in the game we couldn't find the right rhythm," U.S. coach Bob Bradley said. "But I think there was still a good understanding of pushing the tempo. When we push the game for 90 minutes, we think that's an advantage for us."

Both squads had several opportunities before the United States broke through.

In the 15th minute, Quaranta had a header go wide left of the goalpost. Adu started the sequence with a nifty heel kick to Robbie Rogers, who took the ball deep into the left side of the penalty area before sending a cross to Quaranta in the middle. He dived and sent the header toward the post.

The Americans had another chance in the 22nd minute. Kyle Beckerman passed to Ching in the box. Ching chipped the ball over goalkeeper Donis Escobar, but he couldn't regain his footing as he chased down the ball and Honduras cleared off the goal line. Ching had another chance in the 51st minute when he took a cross right in front of the net and his shot went over the bar.

Honduras had a golden opportunity in the 30th minute. Walter Martinez had a breakaway with only goalkeeper Troy Perkins to beat, but his shot was just wide, hitting the right side of the goal netting.

The substitutions of Davies and Feilhaber in the 64th minute seemed to re-energize the American offense.

This was supposed to be Freddy Adu's big chance to show what he can do, but he was awful in the game against tiny Grenada and was the first man substituted for in this one, which, perhaps not coincidentally, was immediately followed by the two goals. At least at this point in time, if you're trying to win you can't have Feilhaber on the bench and Adu in the game.

Quaranta Finds Net, and Finds His Way Back, for U.S.: United States 2, Honduras 0 (Paul Tenorio, 7/09/09, Washington Post)

Santino Quaranta charged toward one of the few corners of RFK Stadium where there were more red-clad fans than those in blue and white and slid on his knees, arms flexed out to the side, "a million things" rushing through his head.

The moment could not have been more perfect.

Making his return to the U.S. national team for the first time since 2006, and marking yet another inspiring step in his comeback from a drug addiction that nearly derailed his career and his life, Quaranta had just buried a blistering shot from the top of the 18-yard box to give the United States the lead over Honduras -- turning this already special night into the ideal memory.

With his first goal ever for the United States, in front of his hometown crowd, Quaranta, the 24-year-old D.C. United midfielder, turned a previously scoreless game to the Americans' favor and eventually into a 2-0 victory in the first round of the CONCACAF Gold Cup.

"It was a very special night for me, personally, but to be back wearing the [U.S.] jersey was probably more special," Quaranta said. "Just to be back on the field with the team and to listen to the anthem was very emotional for me. Because it has been such a fun and long road back."

On Tuesday at training, Quaranta said it would be difficult to hold back the emotions of returning to the field in a U.S. jersey in front of his home crowd. During the anthem, Quaranta clenched his eyes tightly shut and stared at the ground, trying to contain those feelings.

But after the goal, the emotions overflowed.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:44 AM


Economy could make Obama, Democrats vulnerable in 2010 (Christine Romans, 7/08/09,
CNN's American Morning)

They are two presidents from different parties but have striking similarities.
President Obama maintains that investing in key areas such as health care will help stabilize the economy.

Former President Ronald Reagan and current President Obama are incredibly popular, and both faced rising unemployment early on.

Reagan's experience could be instructive for Democrats today; the GOP lost 26 seats in the 1982 elections. Reagan's popularity could not trump double-digit unemployment.

"If we look back at 1982, as soon as the unemployment rate hit 10 percent, there was a political dynamic that changed significantly ... and it became much harder for the incumbent party to be able to make their case," said Daniel Clifton, head of policy research at Strategas, an investment strategy and policy research firm.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:36 AM


Mourn on the 4th of July: Liberals say that the United States is once again a “nation of moral ideals”, but behind the façade little has changed. With his government of warmongers, Wall Street cronies and polluters from the Bush and Clinton eras, Barack Obama is merely upholding the myths of a divine America (John Pilger, 09 July 2009, New Statesman)

Barack Obama is the embodiment of the “ism”. From his early political days, Obama’s unerring theme has been not “change”, the slogan of his presidential campaign, but America’s right to rule and order the world. Of the United States, he says, “we lead the world in battling immediate evils and promoting the ultimate good . . . We must lead by building a 21st-century military to ensure the security of our people and advance the security of all people.” And: “At moments of great peril in the past century our leaders ensured that America, by deed and by example, led and lifted the world, that we stood and fought for the freedoms sought by billions of people beyond their borders.”

Since 1945, by deed and by example, the US has overthrown 50 governments, including democracies, crushed some 30 liberation movements and supported tyrannies from Egypt to Guatemala (see William Blum’s histories). Bombing is apple pie. Having stacked his government with warmongers, Wall Street cronies and polluters from the Bush and Clinton eras, the 45th president is merely upholding tradition. The hearts and minds farce I witnessed in Vietnam is today repeated in villages in Afghanistan and, by proxy, Pakistan, which are Obama’s wars.

In his acceptance speech for the 2005 Nobel Prize for Literature, Harold Pinter noted that “everyone knew that terrible crimes had been committed by the Soviet Union in the postwar period, but “US crimes in the same period have been only superficially recorded, let alone documented, let alone acknowledged, let alone recognised as crimes at all”. It is as if “It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening, it wasn’t happening . . . You have to hand it to America . . . masquerading as a force for universal good. It’s a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.”

As Obama has sent drones to kill (since January) some 700 civilians, distinguished liberals have rejoiced that America is once again a “nation of moral ideals”, as Paul Krugman wrote in the New York Times. In Britain, the elite has long seen in exceptional America an enduring place for British “influence”, albeit as servitor or puppet. The pop historian Tristram Hunt says America under Obama is a land “where miracles happen”. Justin Webb, until recently the BBC’s man in Washington, refers adoringly, rather like the colonel in Vietnam, to the “city on the hill”.

Europeans "reacted" to George W. Bush's moralism by electing leaders just like him--Merkel, Sarkozy, Harper, etc.. Did they really expect that America would elect someone less like him?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:21 AM


The Darwin Myth: Charles Darwin was a kind and polite man, but his take on evolution led to social Darwinism and the Nazis. (Bill Muehlenberg, 9 July 2009, MercatorNet)

Wiker also highlights the major disconnect between Darwin and Darwinism. Darwin the man was kind, polite, humane, a great husband and father, and a gentleman. He was a philanthropist, and keenly supportive of the abolition of slavery movement. But his take on evolution ran directly counter to all of this, for it led of necessity to social Darwinism and the logic of the Nazis.

According to Wiker, social Darwinism is not the misapplication of Darwinism, “it is Darwinism”. While the first 85 pages of The Darwin Myth provide the biographical details, the last 85 pages make the case for this intrinsic connection between Darwinism and social Darwinism. To make this case, Wiker reminds us that Darwin’s two most famous works are really one book in two volumes. His famous 1859 volume, The Origin of Species, which dealt with evolution as applied to plants and animals, was followed up by its 1871 sequel, The Descent of Man, which took evolutionary theory and applied it to humans. The two go together and should be read as such.

The end result is a worldview that totally contradicts Darwin as a person, including his passionate abolitionism. In his earlier book he had written about the “slave-making instinct” found in nature. He used the example of how little black ants were enslaved by big red ants. This was how nature – and evolution – worked. It was neither right nor wrong – it just was, as is everything in a purely naturalistic evolutionary account of things.

So, when he penned his next volume, he sought to show that mankind operates in the very same manner as the rest of the biological world. Man is merely an animal, and he too proceeds by principles of natural selection just as other animals do.

Morality itself is simply a product of evolution. Morality thus becomes whatever helps one tribe or race to survive over against another tribe or race. Therefore that which is “good” is whatever helps a particular race or people to survive. If survival is the ultimate “goal” of evolutionary processes, then the stronger species will win out and rule over the weaker, and that is just the way it goes.

But how could an abolitionist like Darwin promote a view which seems to provide a fixed biological rationale for slavery?

It meant that he had to step back from the obvious implications of his own theory.

...that even he found his ideology appalling.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:18 AM


In Iran, a Struggle Beyond the Streets (MICHAEL SLACKMAN, 7/08/09, NY Times)

Most telling, and arguably most damning, is that many influential religious leaders have not spoken out in support of the beleaguered president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, or the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Indeed, even among those who traditionally have supported the government, many have remained quiet or even offered faint but unmistakable criticisms.

According to Iranian news reports, only two of the most senior clerics have congratulated Mr. Ahmadinejad on his re-election, which amounts to a public rebuke in a state based on religion. A conservative prayer leader in the holy city of Qum, Ayatollah Ibrahim Amini, referred to demonstrators as “people” instead of rioters, and a hard-line cleric, Grand Ayatollah Nasser Makarem-Shirazi, called for national reconciliation.

Some of Iran’s most influential grand ayatollahs, clerics at the very top of the Shiite faith’s hierarchy who have become identified with the reformists, have condemned the results as a fraud and the government’s handling of the protests as brutal. On Saturday, an influential Qum-based clerical association called the new government illegitimate. [...]

To understand the nature of the conflict, it is essential to look back to the founding of the republic. Ayatollah Khomeini built on two different and often contradictory principles, one of public accountability and one of religious authority. To tie it all together, Ayatollah Khomeini imported a centuries-old religious idea, called velayat-e faqih, or governance of the Islamic jurist. Shiite Muslims believe that they are awaiting the return of the 12th Imam, and under this religious concept the faqih, or supreme leader, serves in his place as a sort of divine deputy.

From the start, there were intense disagreements over how this idea should work. Those conflicts, though, were muted partly by Ayatollah Khomeini’s exalted status, and by a unity forged by an eight-year war with Iraq. When the war ended and Ayatollah Khomeini died, the conflicts erupted. On one side, many clerics once close to Ayatollah Khomeini, including former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, wanted to emphasize the republican aspect of the state without eliminating the special role of the supreme leader. Mohammad Khatami, a midlevel cleric, was elected president on a reform platform.

But Mr. Khatami’s ability to carry out his policies was blocked by hard-liners who saw his vision of Iran as a threat to their interests.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:15 AM


GOP’s Baker leaps into race against Patrick: Healthcare executive’s entry alters 2010 dynamic (Andrea Estes and Matt Viser, July 9, 2009, Boston Globe)

Charles D. Baker Jr. announced yesterday that he will resign as chief executive of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care to seek the Republican nomination for governor, a move that infused more drama into an already chaotic political week and paved the way for a potentially momentous 2010 campaign.

Baker, who has been seen by many of the party faithful as the leading Republican challenger, is planning to run a campaign that leverages his strong background in state government and his firsthand knowledge of the state’s healthcare system. He intends to challenge Governor Deval Patrick’s approach to the fiscal crisis and his collaboration with the Legislature to raise the sales tax. [...]

Though largely unknown to the general public, and without a compelling story like Mitt Romney’s performance running the Salt Lake City Olympics, Baker has an almost cultlike following among Massachusetts political insiders and the business elite. He is often cited for his low-key but firm approach to problems and a legendary grasp of complicated issues. Baker served as a senior aide to two Republican governors, Weld and Paul Cellucci, before taking the helm of Harvard Pilgrim, which he helped navigate from the brink of insolvency earlier this decade and put on solid financial footing.

“I consider myself a Baker Republican,’’ Weld said yesterday from New York, where he is in a private law practice. “When I was in office, I would turn to him in private after virtually every meeting and say, ‘What do you think we should do?’ I don’t recall he and I ever disagreeing. He knows more about government than I do or ever did.’’

Weld added: “I think I’m not taking anything away from any other candidate . . . but I think Charlie Baker is different. People with that much ability and that much devotion and that much sand and gravel don’t come along all that often.’’

Whether admiration among the powerful elite is enough to propel Baker into office is not clear. While his announcement injected new life into the dwindling ranks of a state GOP hoping to recapture the governor’s office, Baker faces significant hurdles. Among them: building a campaign fund large enough to overcome his low name recognition and persuading voters to elect someone to the highest office in Massachusetts whose sole electoral experience is as a one-term Swampscott selectman. In that last regard, there is precedent: Patrick had never held elective office, and neither had Weld.

Baker is far more likely to run on his experience with healthcare and his ability to run a major organization than anything else. He will also point to his time as state secretary of administration and finance under Cellucci and Weld, and as state secretary of health and human services under Weld, to highlight his ability to understand the workings of state government and the budgets that fund them.

Baker’s announcement was but one major event in another frantic day in Massachusetts politics. Earlier, state Treasurer Timothy Cahill stopped by Quincy City Hall to change his party affiliation from Democrat to unenrolled, a first step toward his own gubernatorial campaign.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:52 AM


July 8, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:20 PM


Man dies after falling into vat of chocolate in NJ (AP, 7/08/09)

Authorities say a man has died after falling into a vat of melted chocolate in a New Jersey processing plant.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:25 PM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:58 PM


Gold Cup Preview: United States-Honduras: Who: United States vs. Honduras What: Gold Cup Group B When: 9:00 ET, Wednesday, July 8 (Noah Davis, 7/08/09)

These two squads faced off almost exactly a month ago, with the Stars and Stripes defeating the Catrachos 2-1 courtesy of Carlos Bocanegra's late goal. It was a vital victory for the U.S. squad, which came into the match reeling after a resounding defeat in Costa Rica. That team, however, shares little in common with the outfit that will play in RFK Stadium. Not a single member of the Starting XI that took the pitch in Chicago is even on the 23-man Gold Cup roster (although Conor Casey, Jonathan Bornstein, Jozy Altidore, and Ricardo Clark could be called in). Instead, Bob Bradley will turn to Stuart Holden and Robbie Rogers to pace the American attack as they did over the weekend and rely on Columbus Crew stalwart Chad Marshall to organize the U.S. defensive corps.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:33 PM


Jeb Bush: The Future of the Republican Party: With no obvious candidate to lead the Republican party (and one having just stepped down), some are looking to Jeb Bush. Which is news to him. (Tucker Carlson, 7/08/09, Esquire)

How have Republicans alienated Hispanics?

The people that are on television are the loudest on the immigration issue. The emotion, the anger, is a signal. Put aside the substance, but just in terms of the language. It makes it sound like them and us. And the evidence is that after [the GOP] making major inroads, Hispanics have turned toward the Democratic party in the last two election cycles. Big time. Compare that to how my brother did and how I did and how other Republican candidates have done in the past and you can see a trend line that's quite disturbing. [...]

Why has the party gotten so unpopular?

I don't think there's any seismic shift. The Democrats have won on tactics. Barack Obama would not have gotten elected if he'd let us in on his secret plan prior to the election. He would not have gotten elected if he'd said, "My idea is to create a $1.8 trillion deficit for the next fiscal year. My idea is to spend $750 billion [the president's budget estimate puts this figure at $630 billion] over the next ten years on a government-sponsored, government-subsidized health-care policy. My idea is to create a massive cap-and-trade system [based on the idea] that CO2 is [a] pollutant and we need to tax it in a massive way to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions." Those ideas, which are now embedded in his budget, and the ideas in the stimulus package, weren't central in his campaign. In fact, he basically won the tax debate, which is breathtaking if you think about it. Cutting taxes is generally considered a center-right idea, not a center-left or left idea. He made it appear like McCain was going to raise taxes, which was unfair, but there was no response back. When there was an ideological component, it was generally centrist or even center-right. Had he said what he was going to do as a candidate, [Obama] would have lost. [...]

Does the party need to change or de-emphasize its positions on abortion or gay marriage?

No. No, I think those are important issues to not shy away from. And I don't think that's the reason why suburban voters have migrated to the Democrats. I think it's the economic issues. We have not been able to explain why these timeless conservative principles matter in 2009.

I think the economic issues drove the 2008 elections, and to a certain extent the 2006 election. The last big election was the presidential race in 2008. Senator McCain, in spite of his life experiences, his worldview, the kind of man he is — I think he was far more qualified to be president than President Obama — he could not connect to people's anxieties and fears about the economy. He could not take our timeless principles, he could not take conservative values and express them in a way that drew people toward the belief that while we're living in these tumultuous times, the solution is not bigger and stronger government, that we shouldn't migrate toward the collectivist response and feel comforted on one level because government is there to take care of us, that there are dangers to that, number one, and, number two, the alternative is to use these basic institutions that are the hallmark of our philosophy we need to strengthen. We need to strengthen the family, we need to empower people, give them the tools to be successful. We need to reform the things that right now make it harder for families to be successful.

If his last name was Smith he'd be president today.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:35 AM


Toasted Quinoa, Walnuts, Parmesan and Baby Spinach Leaves (Marie Simmons, 07/08/2009, Contra Costa Times)

1 cup quinoa

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 garlic clove, grated or crushed

1¾ cups hot water

½ teaspoon coarse salt

½ to 1 cup broken walnuts

4 cups packed (about 6 ounces) baby spinach leaves

1 basket small cherry tomatoes

½ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more to taste

Torn basil leaves (optional garnish)

1. Place the quinoa in small bowl, add water to cover, swish to rinse, pour into fine mesh strainer and drain.

2. Heat oil in medium skillet with lid. Add quinoa and cook, stirring over medium heat, until grains are dry and golden, about 12 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring, for one minute. Add water and salt and heat to boiling. Cook, covered, over medium low heat, until all of the water is absorbed and the quinoa has burst open and is fluffy, 18-20 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, spread walnuts in a small skillet stir over medium low heat until toasted, about 5 minutes. Set aside.

4. When quinoa is cooked, add spinach and tomatoes to the skillet. Cook, stirring constantly, over medium heat until spinach is almost wilted and tomatoes are warmed, about 1 minute. Stir in walnuts and cheese. Garnish with basil and serve with more cheese sprinkled on top, if desired.

Note: Remember to rinse the quinoa before cooking. A naturally occurring bitter substance on the surface acts as a repellent to birds. Some quinoa is pre-rinsed, but when buying in bulk, it is difficult to be certain this is the case.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:24 AM


The artifice of the 'lawn' (The Ottawa Citizen, July 8, 2009)

In the Victorian era, to be seen in public with disheveled hair or clothing was considered a mark of insanity. In the 20th century, an unmowed lawn was, if not a mark of insanity, then at least a sign of a bad citizen.

Times have changed. The patch of lawn still has its place; anyone with a croquet set or a family of young children can appreciate it. But it's no longer the only respectable landscaping option. Indeed, the attempt to maintain a pristine, green square of grass has many ecological and even cultural disadvantages, when it's done to the exclusion of anything else. The cookie-cutter suburban dream of identical green postage stamps has been found wanting.

The lawn represents our establishing dominion over Nature. Though I acknowledge that a recent threat to have a crop duster Turf Build several slacker neighbors may have been excessive.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:09 AM


The Bush Doctrine Is Still Working (Peter Ferrara, 7.8.09, American Spectator)

A central theme of President Bush's administration was to promote democracy in the Middle East. He argued that establishing a full fledged democracy in Iraq in the heart of the Middle East would have transforming effects throughout the Muslim World. Even though the promotion of human rights and democracy had been a central theme of liberal foreign policy for decades, the Left ridiculed Bush's policy as hopelessly naïve. Even some on the right echoed this criticism.

But recent trends throughout the Middle East show that this policy is now producing a growing, very powerful effect in countering Islamic extremism and terrorism, just as Bush originally envisioned.

...the point is that it doesn't matter much what we do. The End of History won't be skipping Arabs any more than it did Slavs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:57 AM


Treaty gives GOP weapon (Alexander Bolton, 07/07/09, The Hill)

Senate Republicans see a new agreement forged between President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev as an opportunity to force Democrats’ hand on a major security issue: missile defense.

Sixty-seven senators, or two-thirds of those present, must agree to ratify any deal seeking to reduce nuclear weapons between the two nations, giving Senate Republicans, who only control 40 seats, rare leverage.

The high bar for ratifying treaties will put pressure on Obama to finish construction of a missile shield in Eastern Europe. At the very least, it will make it very difficult for the president to limit that shield in exchange for Russian concessions on the size of its nuclear stockpile.

Republicans are already demanding that Obama press Russia into allowing a missile defense system in Eastern Europe in return for the U.S. agreeing to reduce its nuclear arsenal to between 1,500 and 1,675 warheads.

...just reduce the stockpile unilaterally. Who cares what Russia does?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:55 AM


Palin's new pressure and potential payoff (Mark Davis, July 7, 2009, Dallas Morning News)

Talk about nerve. The very notion of leaving an elected office occupied for barely two years. Even if it is to run for president, that makes it even more peculiar in view of the candidate's lightweight résumé of political experience.

I refer, of course, to Barack Obama.

Cheap stunt, but it makes my point. [...]

One difference is that Obama did it on the public dime, while still technically a U.S. senator. Palin at least has the decency to pursue her "higher calling" without the necessary long stretches away from her actual job.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:50 AM


Iran Opposition Finds New Ways to Protest (FARNAZ FASSIHI, 7/08/09, WSJ)

Opposition candidates Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, joined by former President Mohamad Khatami, met to plot strategy and issued their first-ever joint statement, calling for an end to the government's arrests and what they called "savage, shocking attacks" on their advisers and supporters.

Meanwhile, hundreds of opposition supporters quietly flocked to mosques or retreated to their homes to begin an unusual form of three-day strike boycotting workplaces, banks and the baazar.

In a novel attempt to outflank government restrictions, opposition supporters alerted one another to take advantage of an Islamic tradition rarely practiced in Iran called Etekaf. It calls for a retreat from worldly activities during these three days in the month of Rajab in the Islamic calendar.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:03 AM


Resolution honoring Jackson faces GOP opposition (SUZANNE GAMBOA, 7/08/09, AP)

Jackson Lee, a Texas Democrat, took the stage Tuesday at the Staples Center in Los Angeles and hoisted a framed copy of the resolution, embossed with a gold seal. The measure will be debated on the House floor, she said.

For that framed, embossed resolution to be completely legit, it must first get past some opposition.

Rep. Peter King, a New York Republican who called Jackson a "pervert, child molester, pedophile" in a video he posted on YouTube this week, vowed Tuesday to do "whatever I have to do" to oppose honoring Jackson.

Of course, the Right had its own bout of
Pedophilia Chic when Pim Fortuyn was killed.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:46 AM


U.S.-Russian Summit Ends With Mixed Results (JONATHAN WEISMAN, GREGORY L. WHITE and ALAN CULLISON, 7/08/09, WSJ)

Following some tough talk before his trip, Mr. Obama's visit to Moscow is likely to fuel criticism from some in the U.S. who see the "reset" he has proposed for relations with Russia as a series of concessions by Washington.

Whether Mr. Obama will profit from his efforts to make Russia a stronger ally depends in part on the magnanimity of Moscow, which has been skeptical of his administration. With a tight lock over all the major television channels, the Kremlin has in recent years relied on a steady anti-American message to stoke national pride and shore up its control in the country.

Cordial talks with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Monday were followed on Tuesday by what appears to have been a much tougher working breakfast with Mr. Putin, in which both sides stood their ground. [...]

Russian officials said Mr. Putin did most of the talking.

This is one of those areas where the shallowness of the UR's thought and his lack of any strategic vision matters. Realistically, there are only three facts about Russia that matter: demographically, it's dying; geographically, it's located near several regimes we are at de facto war with; and, militarily, it has nukes. Add these three factors together and you realize that its usefulness to us is basically limited to the threat it poses to mutual enemies it might take with it in a sort of murder/suicide pact. Note that it really makes no difference whatsoever what kind of relationship we have with them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:06 AM


In Health Reform, a Cancer Offers an Acid Test (DAVID LEONHARDT, 7/08/09, NY Times)

[L]et’s talk about prostate cancer. Right now, men with the most common form — slow-growing, early-stage prostate cancer — can choose from at least five different courses of treatment. The simplest is known as watchful waiting, which means doing nothing unless later tests show the cancer is worsening. More aggressive options include removing the prostate gland or receiving one of several forms of radiation. The latest treatment — proton radiation therapy — involves a proton accelerator that can be as big as a football field.

Some doctors swear by one treatment, others by another. But no one really knows which is best. Rigorous research has been scant. Above all, no serious study has found that the high-technology treatments do better at keeping men healthy and alive. Most die of something else before prostate cancer becomes a problem.

“No therapy has been shown superior to another,” an analysis by the RAND Corporation found. Dr. Michael Rawlins, the chairman of a British medical research institute, told me, “We’re not sure how good any of these treatments are.” When I asked Dr. Daniella Perlroth of Stanford University, who has studied the data, what she would recommend to a family member, she paused. Then she said, “Watchful waiting.”

But if the treatments have roughly similar benefits, they have very different prices. Watchful waiting costs just a few thousand dollars, in follow-up doctor visits and tests. Surgery to remove the prostate gland costs about $23,000. A targeted form of radiation, known as I.M.R.T., runs $50,000. Proton radiation therapy often exceeds $100,000.

And in our current fee-for-service medical system — in which doctors and hospitals are paid for how much care they provide, rather than how well they care for their patients — you can probably guess which treatments are becoming more popular: the ones that cost a lot of money.

Use of I.M.R.T. rose tenfold from 2002 to 2006, according to unpublished RAND data. A new proton treatment center will open Wednesday in Oklahoma City, and others are being planned in Chicago, South Florida and elsewhere. The country is paying at least several billion more dollars for prostate treatment than is medically justified — and the bill is rising rapidly.

You may never see this bill, but you’re paying it. It has raised your health insurance premiums and left your employer with less money to give you a decent raise. The cost of prostate cancer care is one small reason that some companies have stopped offering health insurance. It is also one reason that medical costs are on a pace to make the federal government insolvent.

These costs are the single most important thing to keep in mind during the health care debate. Making sure that everyone has insurance, important as that is, will not solve the cost problem. Neither will a new public insurance plan. We already have a big public plan, Medicare, and it has not altered the economics of prostate care.

In Retooled Health-Care System, Who Will Say No?: Questions About Cost And Limits Linger (Alec MacGillis, 7/08/09, Washington Post)
The question came from a Colorado neurologist. "Mr. President," he said at a recent forum, "what can you do to convince the American public that there actually are limits to what we can pay for with our American health-care system? And if there are going to be limits, who . . . is going to enforce the rules for a system like that?"

President Obama called it the "right question" -- then failed to answer it. This was not surprising: The query is emerging as the ultimate challenge in reining in health-care costs that now consume $2.5 trillion per year, or 16 percent of the economy. How will tough decisions be made about what to spend money on? In a country where "rationing" is a dirty word, who will say no? blockquote>
...but Democrats only support it because they want us to spend more.

Rahm raises eyebrows; Obama repeats favor of ‘public option’ (Jeffrey Young, 07/07/09, The Hill)

After his chief of staff raised some eyebrows on Capitol Hill, President Obama on Tuesday issued a statement from halfway across the world reiterating his support for the creation of a government health insurance plan.

Obama has repeated time and again that he backs the so-called public option in healthcare reform, but he decided he needed to reassure liberal groups and congressional Democrats once again. Obama, who is in Russia this week, weighed in after White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel told The Wall Street Journal that Obama would consider a proposal that would “trigger” a public option only if private plans failed to cover the uninsured under reform.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:53 AM


Blahnik: Forget About Shoes, Turn To Hats! (Javno, 7/08/09)

Shoes are so strange, so vulgar, the king of shoes Manolo Blahnik said, telling women to turn to hats.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:30 AM


Did the Toppling of Saddam Hussein Lead to Recent Events in Iran?: Given the connections between Iraq and Iran, it's not as unlikely as it sounds. (Christopher HitchensPosted Monday, July 6, 2009, Slate)

The most exciting and underreported news of the past few weeks in Iran has been that the emerging challenger to the increasingly frantic and isolated "Supreme Leader" Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. And Rafsanjani has recently made a visit to the city of Najaf in Iraq to confer with Ayatollah Ali Husaini Sistani, a long-standing opponent of the Khamenei doctrines, as well as meeting in the city of Qum with Jawad al-Shahristani, who is Sistani's representative in Iran. It is this dialectic between Iraqi and Iranian Shiites that underlies the flabbergasting statement issued from Qum last weekend to the effect that the Ahmadinejad government has no claim to be the representative of the Iranian people.

One of the apparent paradoxes involved in visiting Iran is this: If you want to find deep-rooted opposition to the clerical autocracy, you must make a trip to the holy cities of Mashad and Qum. It is in places like this, consecrated to the various imams of Shiite mythology, that the most stubborn and vivid criticism is often to be heard—as well as the sort of criticism that the ruling mullahs find it hardest to deal with.

But only apparent.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:27 AM

STAYING RED (via The Other Brother):

NH's Ayotte Is A Worry For Democrats (Jennifer Skalka, July 7, 2009, Hotline)

NH AG Kelly Ayotte's entry into the NH Senate contest as the GOP establishment's candidate of choice has the potential to resuscitate the state's languid Republican Party, according to activists of both parties.

Ayotte, 40, announced today that she would leave the AG's office to explore a run for Sen. Judd Gregg's seat, and by all accounts, a bid is a forgone conclusion. Sources tell On Call that Ayotte was wooed by Gregg's longtime coterie of advisors, including his former chief of staff, Joel Maoila.

"I think she's a very, very able person, and we're going to see whether she's a good candidate," said GOP lawyer Tom Rath, a former state AG . "I think it's exciting. I think it's not business as usual for us. Business as usual for us wasn't going so good." [...]

Hodes' statewide favorable rating was 32%, his unfavorable review 23%, with 8% of voters neutral and 37% responding that they didn't know enough to say. Ayotte, who has served two governors of different parties as AG, rates favorably at 45%. Her unfavorables were at 8%, with 7% neutral and 40% who said they didn't know enough about her to weigh in.

So Hodes has a net positive rating of 9 points, while Ayotte's net favorables are 38 points.

"Hodes doesn't look that well in his numbers," said Andy Smith, director of the UNH Survey Center. "Here's a guy who's been a two-term congressman. His statewide favorability isn't what it should be."

Ayotte Resigns, Plans Senate Run (WMUR, July 7, 2009)
A New Hampshire native and Penn State University graduate with a Villanova Law Degree, Ayotte was with a private firm for a short time before joining the Attorney General's Office in 1998.

The state's first female attorney general, Ayotte has served in the post for five years. In perhaps her most high-profile case, Ayotte oversaw the death penalty case against Michael Addison in the shooting death of Manchester Officer Michael Briggs.

"That is an experience that will be with me forever," Ayotte said.

She served as lead prosecutor in the murder case of Dartmouth College professors Half and Susanne Zantop, a case that gained national attention.

She has not run a major campaign before, but there had been word that she was being highly recruited for the race.

Ayotte Case Could Dramatically Weaken Roe (Jennifer Dalven, 11/22/05, WOMENSENEWS)
An abortion case coming before the U.S. Supreme Court on Nov. 30 from the State of New Hampshire could vastly reshape and curtail women's right to choose, according to legal reproductive rights advocates.

The key question before the Supreme Court is whether anti-abortion laws passed by states may be challenged in court as unconstitutional before they take effect. Bringing these challenges, as currently happens, prevents many restrictions passed by anti-abortion legislatures from interfering with a woman's right to choose, whether bans on abortion procedures, spousal notification and others.

By changing the legal standard for when an abortion restriction can be challenged in court, anti-abortion laws could quickly entangle women across the country, without directly overturning Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court case that held that states could not criminalize abortion in all circumstances.

"This is an incredibly important case. Depending on how the court rules, this could be a really critical moment for the pro-choice movement," said Jennifer Dalven, deputy director of the New York-based Reproductive Freedom Project of the American Civil Liberties Union, which represents a doctor and three clinics challenging abortion restrictions passed in New Hampshire.

The case, Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, lies far below the radar of the general public and even many pro-choice activists. Those who are aware of it think of it as a case about parental notification on abortion. But its implications, said Dalven, go far beyond.

"Women seeking abortions would be forced to fight court battles while they are facing emergency medical needs," said Nancy Northup, president of the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights, author of a friend-of-the-court brief on this point on behalf of 30 health, research and women's organizations.

Ayotte's high-profile, high-pressure cases (KATHRYN MARCHOCKI, 7/08/09, New Hampshire Union Leader)
Current and former prosecutors said Ayotte's legacy extends far beyond the public sphere of the courtroom to her behind-the-scenes work in promoting cooperation among law enforcement agencies.

"One way she made a significant contribution was much less conspicuous. The last several years have seen unprecedented contact and cooperation between the AG's office and its federal counterpart," said U.S. District Judge Joseph N. Laplante, a former state and federal prosecutor.

He credited Ayotte for her work in promoting initiatives to crack down on crystal methamphetamine production, child cyber crime and in pursuing New England Organized Crime Drug Task Force investigations and prosecutions.

"That kind of effective collaboration doesn't happen on its own; it takes an openness at the top, a lack of �turf consciousness,' and just plain keeping in touch," Laplante said.

Others said Ayotte's role in helping pass tougher child protection laws and improving child protection programs also stand among her achievements.

"She has been a wonderful example of courage in some very difficult cases, of which Addison is one," Sullivan County Attorney Marc B. Hathaway said.

Ayotte also will be known for defending the state's parental notification law on abortions for minors before the U.S. Supreme Court. The court sent the case, Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, back to the appeals level for a second review of the Legislature's intent. Lawmakers repealed the law before that could happen. Throughout the case, Ayotte refused to discuss her views on abortion.

U.S. Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., said Ayotte has made significant contributions to the state while at the Attorney General's Office.

"Kelly was appointed first by a Republican governor and then reappointed by a Democratic governor, a bipartisan testament to her credentials and effectiveness in the office. Kelly's steadfast commitment to promoting law enforcement efforts and ensuring the safety of everyone has helped to keep New Hampshire a great place to live and raise a family. " Gregg said in a statement.

July 7, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:04 PM


Numbers Adding Up Against Obama's "Cap and Trade" Bill in the Senate (Peter Roff, 7/07/09, US NEWS: Thomas Jefferson Street blog)

Now the bill heads to the U.S. Senate, where it may face an even tougher time, according to an analysis of the vote by Phil Kerpen, of the pro-taxpayer group Americans for Prosperity. Having crunched the numbers, Kerpen points out that out of 50 state delegations, 28 voted "No" and only 22 voted "Aye" on the House bill, and that more than a quarter of the votes in came from just two states: New York and California. Additionally:

- A majority of House Democrats in Indiana (3 of 5) and Arkansas (2 of 3) voted "No."

- Both Democrats in the West Virginia delegation (Rahall and Mollohan) voted "No."

- The lone Democrat from Louisiana (Melancon) voted "No."

- The at-large Democrats from North and South Dakota (Pomeroy and Herseth Sandlin) voted "No."

- Out of the remaining 44 states, a majority of the state's total congressional delegation (Democrats plus Republicans) voted "No" in nine that have at least one Democrat in the Senate.

This presents opponents of the House-passed bill with a target rich environment for their lobbying activities. The votes in the House will help provide political cover to those Senate Democrats who choose to take advantage of it—as the American people appear to sour on the costs of the House-passed bill.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:52 PM


Preventive Care is a Sick Idea (David Harsanyi | June 24, 2009, Reason)

[A] government policy that prods people into incessantly visiting medical offices for checkups, screenings, and tests will only raise costs even further. According to studies, preventive medicine thwarts little, though it does mean early diagnoses for relatively harmless ailments—and treatments for them.

As H. Gilbert Welch, a professor of medicine at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy, contends: "Recent expansions in the definitions of diabetes, high cholesterol and osteoporosis defined millions more as suddenly needing therapy. A new definition of 'abnormal bone density' ... turned 6.8 million American women into osteoporosis patients literally overnight."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:09 PM


Honduras' ousted president fails to get the message (Philip Sherwell, 7/07/09, Daily Telegraph)

As the executive jet carrying Manuel Zelaya swooped low over Honduras's main airport, the deposed president turned to the television crew he had invited along for the ride, who were broadcasting his observations to the cheering supporters a few hundred feet below. "If I had a parachute, I would immediately jump out of this plane," he declared.

It was a typically vainglorious gesture from a man who, earlier in the flight from Washington, had already compared himself to Jesus. "The blood of Christ is coursing through my veins," proclaimed the mass-going Roman Catholic. "Soon I will be with you all to raise the crucifix." [...]

Mr Zelaya had initially persuaded many Hondurans, even members of the business community, that he was merely signing up for the economic aid and subsidised fuel that Mr Chavez lavishes on friendly states. But over the past two years it became increasingly clear that Mr Zelaya had bought into the political package, too. Earlier this year, during a pilgrimage to Havana, he was pictured listening reverentially to Fidel Castro. It was an image that sent shivers down the spine of many Hondurans.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:53 PM


The Heavy performs in The Current studio (Mary Lucia, July 7, 2009, Minnesota Public Radio)

The core members of the English indie rock band, The Heavy are Kelvin Swaby and Dan Taylor, who have known each other for a decade while growing up in a little town just outside Bath called Noid.

Their sound combines guitar and funky horns and their style has been called a hip-hop soul music.

The Heavy performs live from SXSW (Bill DeVille, March 15, 2008, Minnesota Public Radio)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:23 PM


Obama Dines In, to Some Russians’ Distaste (PETER BAKER, 7/07/09, NY Times)

After passing on dinner with the French president to go on a date in the City of Light with his wife last month, President Obama took leave of his Russian hosts on Tuesday night to seclude himself in his Moscow hotel with his wife, Michelle, and their daughters. [...]

Mr. Obama has seemed tired here, several times fumbling the pronunciation of Mr. Medvedev’s name and Mr. Putin’s title. Beginning a speech here, he mistakenly said he first met his wife in school instead of at the law firm where they actually met. And he misstated his younger daughter’s age.

Ever get the feeling that Angela Lansbury is about to appear and show him the Queen of Diamonds?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:28 AM


Ignatieff might win if he runs as Stephen Harper (Kelly McParland, 7/07/09, National Post))

Here's an idea for Michael Ignatieff if he's still looking for an excuse to bring down the Tories: The Liberal leader should force an election on the basis that the country needs a conservative government.

We don't seem to have one at the moment. If Parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page is right, what we have is a deficit-crazed pack of wild spendomaniacs, who have drunk so deeply at the well of the God Stimulus that we'll be $160 billion in the hole by 2014, with a permanent $12 billion structural shortfall and no way out other than to cut spending or raise taxes.

...the point of making an Ignatieff party leader is that he can run to the Right.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:25 AM


More from Quinnipiac's July Ohio Poll (TIME: The Page, 7/07/09)

Overall approval rating: 49% approve, 44% disapprove

On May 6, 62% approve, 31% disapprove

Obama's handling of the economy: 46% approve, 48% disapprove

On May 6, 57% approve, 36% disapprove

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:13 AM


Is the 'Third Way' the right way? (Peter Gibilisco, 7 July 2009, Online Opinion)

A dominant political and social debate confronting societies around the world concerns the form and content of social democracy. The collapse of communism, the advent of globalisation, the transformation of social life experience for all citizens, along with profound social, political and economic changes, have together created a need within social democratic circles to rethink the policies and theories of social empowerment. Social democratic policy is thus in a state of critical self-reflection.

Former Australian Labor Party (ALP) leader and prominent “Third Way” author, Mark Latham, argued in his 2001 book The Enabling State that it is no longer sensible to subject economic markets to government planning and control. Nor are trade unions and working class solidarity still in good shape. He doubts that electoral majorities still support a concentration of political power at parliamentary and party levels. Somewhere between right and left, social democrats need a “Third Way”.

Anthony Giddens, a key influence on the Blair Labour government in the UK and prominent international author concerning the “Third Way” as a distinctive political viewpoint, argued that the political philosophy opens an escape from the burdens of history by capturing the best of both left and right politics. It promotes the neo-liberal ideal of the supposed self-sufficiency of the market, while also seeking to develop the social democratic ideal, and means, of social inclusion.

Adding to the political debate, Alex Callinicos in his 2001 book Against the Third Way argues that it is a continuation of the conservative market-driven policies which have dominated western societies since the late 1970s, and are themselves held together by good public services and state regulation.

Nobel Lauriate in Economic Science (1998) Amartya Sen wrote in his 1999 book Development and Freedom:

The intellectual climate has changed quite dramatically over the last few decades, and the tables are now turned. The virtues of the market mechanism are now standardly assumed to be so pervasive that qualifications seem unimportant. Any pointer to the defects of the market mechanism seems to be, in the present mood, strangely old-fashioned and contrary to contemporary culture (like playing an old 78 rpm record with music from the 1920s).

Central to the “Third Way” is its support of the neo-liberal belief that unfettered markets will benefit all of society. This belief has a profound effect on social policy processes. It is argued that neo-liberals believe that the attainment of social and public good is a by-product of an unhindered approach to markets. Latham, however, sees no reason for the marketisation of services essential for human conditioning, such as education, health and welfare. He argues that they should be provided on the basis of social justice. The challenge for the “Third Way”, in his view, becomes one of balancing the market and social justice.

However, the “Third Way” is much more market friendly than earlier forms of social democracy. Latham in his book argued that "[o]nly the political equivalent of Austin Powers could believe that government intervention achieves better results than market forces" and that the antiquated traditions of post World War II social democracy fail to meet the complex economic and social needs of globalisation.

It is evident that some of the theoretical objectives of the “Third Way” justify social democratic recognition. For example, the “Third Way” argues for the need to reconfigure the operation of public goods and services. The theory acknowledges the need to question how the public sector is owned, operated, funded and delivered, so that its services can generate an abundance of socially driven values in the communities they serve.

Amitai Etzioni in his 2001 book Next: the road to the good society, argues that a modern form of liberal politics that incorporates elements of communal and socialist political principles is the best form of political system to create a more inclusive society. Etzioni’s style of communitarian politics is closely aligned to principles outlined in the “Third Way”. He argues that liberal ideology can enhance individual freedom and respect, while ensuring and maintaining equality of opportunity for all people. For Etzioni, a system based on open market exchanges will allow the maintenance of economic freedom of choice, while also creating equality of access, according to merit, to areas such as education and training.

According to Hugh Collins' article “Is there a Third Way in Labour Law” published in the 2001 book The Global Third Way Debate, it is not the agenda of the “Third Way” to argue that competition is best served by deregulation. Collins believes the “Third Way” views regulation as seeking to improve the operation of the market, “not to replace, or impede it”. This is consistent with Giddens' support for the “Third Way” as a search for the correct balance between regulation and deregulation.

...it would be the First Way.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:40 AM


Morales gives Angels taste of persistence (Mark Whicker, 7/06/09, The Orange County Register)

He tried to get out eight times, overall. They kept catching him.

"Seventy-two hours in jail, each time," Kendry Morales said. "But I kept telling them, you might as well let me go. Because I'm going to try it again."

In June 2004, he took a small boat and took it maybe 15 miles off Cuba's coast, to the bigger boat that would usher him to the Dominican Republic. Three times Morales and his friends had to turn around for shore because the waters were too rough. Nobody spotted him. This time he made it.

So no, spending another Triple-A year in Salt Lake wasn't really going to bother Kendry Morales.

The defector has solved what was supposed to be an Angels defect.

He is playing first base and hitting .285 with an .870 OPS and 14 homers, which is tied for second on the ballclub. His 44 RBIs are third.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:37 AM


Milan sign Onyewu (ESPN SoccerNet, July 7, 2009)

AC Milan have quickly wrapped up a deal for United States centre back Oguchi Onyewu on Tuesday in a bid to quell supporter unrest over their transfer policy.

The 27-year-old, who impressed in the U.S. side's run to the Confederations Cup final last month, has joined on a free transfer from Standard Liege and penned a three-year contract.

The club announced the signing on their website and pointed out he holds a Belgian passport, which means Onyewu will not count as one of only two non-EU players Italian sides are allowed to sign each season.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:28 AM


Centrists threaten Obama's agenda (Alexander Bolton, 07/06/09, The Hill)

Half a dozen members of the Senate Democratic Conference pose the biggest threat to President Obama’s agenda, giving Senate Republicans a fighting chance to block the administration’s major expansions of government. [...]

Leading the pack of potential defectors are Sen. Ben Nelson, a pro-business Democrat from Nebraska; Sen. Joe Lieberman, a self-described Independent Democrat from Connecticut; and Sen. Mary Landrieu, a Louisiana Democrat who represents a conservative state.

All three have expressed concerns about the core element in Obama’s healthcare proposal: a government-run insurance program that would compete with the private sector. The three also worked together this year to successfully cut more than $100 billion from Obama’s economic stimulus package.

The other Democrats who are expected to voice the most serious objections to either or both of the administrations top priorities are: Sens. Evan Bayh (Ind.), Blanche Lincoln (Ark.) and Mark Pryor (Ark.).

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:26 AM


Congressman blasts Jackson, media (Foon Rhee, July 6, 2009, Washington Post)

Representative Peter King might have spoken for some of his constituents sick and tired of wall-to-wall coverage of Michael Jackson's death.

But the New York congressman, who is thinking about running for the US Senate, certainly didn't mince any words -- and that is drawing quite a bit of attention itself.

In a video shot Sunday outside an American Legion hall in his district and then posted on YouTube, King railed against all the attention given to Jackson -- a "lowlife," he called him -- in contrast to the real heroes: members of the military, police officers, firefighters, and teachers.

"This guy was a pervert," King says. "He was a child molester. He was a pedophile. And to be giving this much coverage to him, day in and day out, what does it say about us as a country?"

...except for those who want to mainstream pedophilia?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:00 AM


Seattle doctors try flat-rate no-limit primary care (David Lawsky, 7/07/09, Reuters)

A Seattle clinic for people fed up with insurance, started by doctors fed up with insurance, has gotten $4 million in private venture capital money to expand, it announced on Monday.

Qliance says it has a profit-making solution to the problems of long waits, rushed doctors and cursory care that bother patients, at the same time that it eliminates the paperwork and pressure that plague primary care doctors. [...]

More than 50 noninsurance clinics operate in 18 U.S. states, based on different business models, Wu noted.

The backers believe Qliance can grow very profitable, and the clinic uses stock options to attract new doctors. The next step is to open a suburban office.

Qliance says it is a private alternative to the failures of insurance, which have made health care President Obama's top legislative priority in Congress, with a price tag of $1 trillion or more.

Qliance customers pay $99 to join, then a flat monthly rate of $39 to $119, depending on age and level of service. Patients can quit without notice and no one is rejected for pre-existing conditions.

Patients must go to outside brokers and qualify medically to buy catastrophic care. One broker said a 30-year-old could expect to pay $133 per month for such care, and a 60-year-old nearly $400, plus substantial deductibles.

Qliance patients get unrestricted round-the-clock primary care access and 30-minute appointments.

...how can you help but make money when you get to dun them every month?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:57 AM


U.S. denies approving Israeli attack on Iran (Maktoob, Jul 07, 2009)

U.S. President Barack Obama's administration denied on Monday that it is giving Israel the green light to attack Iran or that it is reconsidering plans to engage diplomatically with the Islamic Republic.

Iranian parliament speaker Ali Larijani, formerly the country's top nuclear negotiator, warned Tehran would hold Washington responsible for any such strike after Vice President Joe Biden said Washington would not dictate how Israel deals with Iran's nuclear ambitions.

But State Department spokesman Ian Kelly poured cold water on suggestions that Biden could be seen as giving the Jewish state a green light to attack Iran, which it views as an existential threat.

If nothing else, you have to marvel at a man who can make you nostalgic for Spiro Agnew.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:53 AM


Khamenei ordered Iran election fraud (Maktoob, 7/07/09)

Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is personally behind the alleged fraud in the June 12 presidential election, former Iranian president Abolhassan Banisadr claimed in Vienna late on Monday.

"Khamenei ordered the fraud in the presidential elections and the ensuing crackdown on protestors," Banisadr said at a symposium marking the 20th anniversary of the murder of three Kurdish opposition leaders in Vienna.

"The regime is edging closer to the abyss and is holding on to power solely by means of violence and terror," said Banisadr, who was Iran's first elected president following the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Mousavi Promises To Continue Protests (Thomas Erdbrink, July 7, 2009, Washington Post)

Opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, appearing in public for the first time in nearly three weeks, vowed Monday that protests against the disputed reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad "will not end" and predicted that the new government would encounter problems because it lacks legitimacy.

But the former presidential candidate, who maintains he was denied victory in the June 12 election by massive vote-rigging on behalf of Ahmadinejad, stopped short of calling for new street demonstrations, which the government has declared illegal and largely crushed in a massive crackdown. Instead, Mousavi indicated that the opposition would adopt new tactics, pursuing protest "within the framework of the law."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:49 AM


Chinese Han mob marches for revenge against Uighurs after rampage (Jane Macartney, 7/07/09, Times of London)

Thousands of Han Chinese roamed the streets of the western city of Urumqi today looking for vengeance after Sunday's deadly riots as China's leaders struggled to regain control of the country's only Muslim-majority region.

Men and women of all ages, girls in high heels and young men in smart white shirts, brandished wooden staves, billiard cues, iron bars and even machetes as they surged towards the main city bazaar.

They were determined to attack the business heart of the Muslim Uighur minority blamed for the carnage in which 156 were killed and more than 800 injured.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:44 AM


Palin's speech had shades of Nixon, circa '62 (Andrew Malcolm and Johanna Neuman, July 5, 2009, LA Times)

The announcement by Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin that she was bowing out of Alaska politics on the eve of the Fourth of July left a lot of people scratching their heads. Palin's friends report that she is genuinely sick of the attacks that seem to be part of the fabric of national politics these days.

But Palin's hastily announced news conference also had all the earmarks of Richard Nixon's famous concession speech in 1962, after he lost the campaign for California governor to Democrat Pat Brown. Nixon's rant was also a last-minute affair. Reporters had been told that Nixon -- a former congressman and senator who served as Dwight D. Eisenhower's vice president from 1952 to 1960 and lost the 1960 presidential race to John F. Kennedy -- would not be making a public appearance.

Instead, Nixon surprised even his staff by taking the microphone and, at the end of a rambling, 16-minute discourse on national and state politics, he dramatically left the stage:

"I leave you gentleman now and you will write it. You will interpret it. That's your right. But as I leave you I want you to know -- just think how much you're going to be missing. You won't have Nixon to kick around anymore because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference, and it will be one in which I have welcomed the opportunity to test wits with you."

Except that Richard Nixon had just suffered two extremely disappointing losses, whereas Ms Palin is walking away from the job people elected her to do before finishing even one term. Meld that with her attendance at six different colleges and her opponents can easily impose a narrative regarding her lack of stick-to-it-iveness, even unreliability or instability.

Palin’s Jackpot: Why did Alaska’s ambitious governor ditch a lame-duck $125,000 job? Between a $4 million book deal, speeches, and a possible TV gig, The Daily Beast’s Duff McDonald calculates up to 20 million reasons a year. (Duff McDonald, 7/07/09, Daily Beast)

Lost in the debate over why Sarah Palin resigned—whether she’s tired of it all or because she’s a Machiavellian genius—is the most American of ideas: This woman is poised to turn her fame into some cold, hard cash.

She’s already got a book deal, agents in both New York and Los Angeles are scrambling to line up some sort of talk show for her, and you can bet if the journalism major-turned-governor decides to write a column, that thing would practically syndicate itself.

What does the brand of Palin Inc. stand to make in the next year? More than most liberals would care to know.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:20 AM


How the US Is Blocking Progress on Climate Change: As the predictions for global warming get more and more alarming, talks on a worldwide climate treaty have stalled --largely due to the United States. (Christian Schwägerl, 7/07/09, Der Spiegel)

[E]ven as leaders around the globe insist that they want to do everything possible to prevent such a temperature increase, international negotiations have been bogged down for months. The United States and many resource-rich nations are blocking progress, so much so that no breakthroughs are expected to emerge from the G-8 summit in L'Aquila. [...]

The United States has taken the most adverse stance, even though President Barack Obama campaigned on a platform to save the climate and has assembled what could be described as a dream team when it comes to environmental policy. Energy Secretary Steven Chu is a Nobel laureate in physics and an advocate of action against global warming, presidential science adviser John Holdren is a noted professor at Harvard University, and the deputy special envoy for climate change, Jonathan Pershing, was a brilliant environmental lobbyist before assuming his new post.

But the Obama administration is realizing that ordinary Americans are adamantly opposed to their country becoming the global leader in a radical new green movement. A majority of Americans do not consider the climate crisis to be particularly important. The US oil and coal industries' experienced lobbyists are hard at work. And when a member of the House of Representatives recently referred to climate change as a "hoax," his comments were met with applause. Although Obama is allocating billions and recruiting top scientists nationwide for climate protection, he has deliberately not yet given a strong speech on the environment directed at the rest of the world.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:06 AM


USA a team of extremes (When Saturday Comes, 7/06/09)

The traditional soccer narrative of the United States, dating to the 1970s, highlights the country’s supposedly enormous potential. But rather than waiting another few decades for the US to become a power, why not embrace its unpredictable, quirky side?

True, the current edition of this team is infuriatingly inconsistent. But at least it’s a marvel of inconsistency. Whereas Mexico always lose in the second round of the World Cup – yawn – the United States’ sheer unpredictability makes the team worth following. In June alone, Team USA was routed by Costa Rica in World Cup qualifying, then confidently snapped Spain’s three-year unbeaten run.

While all teams have peaks and valleys over time, the US frequently packs them into 90 minutes. Consider the World Cup campaign. In El Salvador in March, the US played a horrible 75 minutes to fall behind 2-0, before a frantic rally produced two late goals and further untaken chances. At home to Honduras in June, the US fell behind within five minutes before scratching out a victory – an uneven performance personified by Carlos Bocanegra, who headed in the winner, then immediately got taken off with an injury after the restart. With these guys, good and bad are intertwined.

Impressively, the United States can produce these trademark half-good, half-dismal efforts against anyone. And they don’t always involve late rallies. Against Brazil and Italy in the Confederations Cup, fast starts and half-time leads were followed by three-goal second-half meltdowns. The excitement of sport comes from its uncertainty, does it not?

July 6, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:36 PM


Special Report: Ideologically, Where Is the U.S. Moving?: Nearly 4 in 10 Americans say their views have grown more conservative (Lydia Saad, 7/06/09, Gallup)

Despite the results of the 2008 presidential election, Americans, by a 2-to-1 margin, say their political views in recent years have become more conservative rather than more liberal, 39% to 18%, with 42% saying they have not changed. While independents and Democrats most often say their views haven't changed, more members of all three major partisan groups indicate that their views have shifted to the right rather than to the left.

These findings, from a June 14-17 Gallup Poll, somewhat conform to Gallup's annual trends on Americans' self-defined political ideology. Thus far in 2009 (from January through May), 40% of Americans call themselves conservative, up from 37% in 2007 and 2008, and the highest level since 2004.

Which is why rebuilding the GOP isn't even heavy-lifting. The fact of Democratic governance alone will fuel the GOP's return to power.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:24 PM


The Man Who Crashed the World: Almost a year after A.I.G.’s collapse, despite a tidal wave of outrage, there still has been no clear explanation of what toppled the insurance giant. The author decides to ask the people involved—the silent, shell-shocked traders of the A.I.G. Financial Products unit—and finds that the story may have a villain, whose reign of terror over 400 employees brought the company, the U.S. economy, and the global financial system to their knees. (Michael Lewis, August 2009, Vanity Fair)

Here is an amazing fact: nearly a year after perhaps the most sensational corporate collapse in the history of finance, a collapse that, without the intervention of the government, would have led to the bankruptcy of every major American financial institution, plus a lot of foreign ones, too, A.I.G.’s losses and the trades that led to them still haven’t been properly explained. How did they happen? Unlike, say, Bernie Madoff’s pyramid scheme, they don’t seem to have been raw theft. They may have been an outrageous departure from financial norms, but, if so, why hasn’t anyone in the place been charged with a crime? How did an insurance company become so entangled in the sophisticated end of Wall Street and wind up the fool at the poker table? How could the U.S. government simply hand over $54 billion in taxpayer dollars to Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch and all the rest to make good on the subprime insurance A.I.G. F.P. had sold to them—especially after Goldman Sachs was coming out and saying that it had hedged itself by betting against A.I.G.? Since I had him on the phone I asked Jake DeSantis for what Congressman Grayson had asked Edward Liddy: names. He obligingly introduced me to his colleagues in London and Connecticut, and they walked me through what had happened—all of them speaking to someone from the outside for the first time. All, for obvious reasons, were terrified of seeing their names in print, and asked not to be mentioned by name. That was fine by me, as their names are not what’s interesting. What’s interesting is their point of view on the event closest to the center of the financial crisis. For while they disagreed on this and that, they all were fairly certain that if it hadn’t been for A.I.G. F.P. the subprime-mortgage machine might never have been built, and the financial crisis might never have happened.
The Soul of a New Machine

A.I.G. F.P. was created back in 1987 by refugees from Drexel Burnham, led by a trader named Howard Sosin, who claimed to have a better model to trade and value interest-rate swaps. Nineteen-eighties financial innovation had all sorts of consequences, but one of them was a boom in the number of deals between big financial firms that required them to take each other’s credit risks. Interest-rate swaps—in which a party swaps a stream of income from a floating rate of interest for one from a fixed rate of interest—was one such innovation.

Once upon a time Chrysler issued a bond through Morgan Stanley, and the only people who wound up with credit risk were the investors who had bought the Chrysler bond. Now Chrysler might sell its bonds and simultaneously enter into a 10-year interest-rate-swap transaction with Morgan Stanley—and just like that Chrysler and Morgan Stanley were exposed to each other. If Chrysler went bankrupt, its bondholders obviously lost; depending on the nature of the swap and the movement of interest rates, Morgan Stanley might lose, too. If Morgan Stanley went bust, Chrysler along with anyone else who had done interest-rate swaps with Morgan Stanley stood to suffer. Financial risk had been created, out of thin air, and it begged to be either honestly accounted for or disguised.

Enter Sosin, with his supposedly new and improved interest-rate-swap model (even though Drexel Burnham was not at the time a market leader in interest-rate swaps).

There was a natural role for a blue-chip corporation with the highest credit rating to stand in the middle of swaps and long-term options and the other risk-spawning innovations. The traits required of this corporation were that it not be a bank—and thus subject to bank regulation and the need to reserve capital against the risky assets—and that it be willing and able to bury exotic risks on its balance sheet. There was no real reason that company had to be A.I.G.; it could have been any AAA-rated entity with a huge balance sheet. Berkshire Hathaway, for instance, or General Electric. A.I.G. just got there first.

In a financial system that was rapidly generating complicated risks, A.I.G. F.P. became a huge swallower of those risks. In the early days it must have seemed as if it was being paid to insure against events extremely unlikely to occur—how likely was it that all sorts of companies and banks all over the globe would go bust at the same time? Its success bred imitators: Zurich Re F.P., Swiss Re F.P., Credit Suisse F.P., Gen Re F.P. All of these places were central to what happened in the last two decades; without them the new risks being created would have had no place to hide, but would have remained in full view of bank regulators. All of these places have been washed away by the general nausea now felt in the presence of complicated financial risks, but there was a moment when their existence seemed cartographically necessary to the financial world. And A.I.G. F.P. was the model for them all.

The division’s first 15 years were consistently, amazingly profitable—there wasn’t the first hint that it might be running risks that would cause it to lose money, much less cripple its giant parent. Its traders were able to claim that they were “hedged,” and even if the term was misleading, they never sold exactly the same thing as the thing they had bought—there was always some slight difference. The risks it ran were probably trivial in relation to its capital, because the risks that the financial system wanted to lay off on it were, in fact, not terribly risky. One indication of this is that, even in the middle of the calamity, the 95 percent of A.I.G. F.P. that had nothing to do with subprime-mortgage bonds continued to generate profits. By 2001, A.I.G. F.P. could be counted on to generate $300 million a year, or 15 percent of A.I.G.’s profits.

Meanwhile, the people who worked at A.I.G. F.P. got rich. Exactly how rich is hard to say, but there are plenty of hints. One is that a company lawyer—a mere lawyer!—took home a $25 million bonus at the end of one year. Another is that in 2005, when Howard Sosin and his wife divorced, she received more than $40 million of an estate valued at $168 million—and Sosin had left A.I.G. in 1993, receiving $182 million from the company! He had been replaced that year as C.E.O. by a gentler soul named Tom Savage, who had allowed Hank Greenberg to take some of the sugar out of F.P., but even then the small band of traders had, arguably, a sweeter deal than any money managers in the world. The typical hedge fund kept 20 percent of profits; the traders at A.I.G. F.P. kept 30 to 35 percent. The typical hedge fund or private-equity fund has to schlep around and raise money all the time, and post collateral with big Wall Street firms for all the trades they do. The traders at A.I.G. F.P. had essentially unlimited capital on tap from the parent company, along with the AAA rating, rent-free. For the people who worked there, A.I.G. F.P. was a financial miracle. They were required to leave 50 percent of their bonuses in the company, but they were happy to do so; many of them, viewing it as the best way to grow their own savings, invested far more than the minimum back in the company. When it collapsed, the employees lost more than $500 million of their own money.

How and why their miracle became a catastrophe, A.I.G. F.P.’s traders say, is a complicated story, but it begins simply: with a change in the way decisions were made, brought about by a change in its leadership. At the end of 2001 its second C.E.O., Tom Savage, retired, and his former deputy, Joe Cassano, was elevated. Savage is a trained mathematician who understood the models used by A.I.G. traders to price the risk they were running—and thus ensure that they were fairly paid for it. He enjoyed debates about both the models and the merits of A.I.G. F.P.’s various trades. Cassano knew a lot less math and had much less interest in debate.

Mr. Lewis rather easily identifies the answer he claims we don't have: derivatives were used to disguise risk downwards.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:53 PM


To Catch a Tiger: Sri Lanka's brutal suppression of the Tamil Tigers offers an object lesson in how to defeat an insurgency. Or does it? (Robert D. Kaplan, 7/01/09, The Atlantic)

The war was won using techniques like the following, which the United States could and should never employ.

The insurgents are using human shields? No problem. Just keep killing the innocent bystanders until you get to the fighters themselves. There is no comparison between the few civilians that have been killed by American Predator drones in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region, and the many that were killed by the Sri Lankan government. The Americans have carefully targeted select al-Qaeda members and, in the process, killed a few—at the most, dozens—of civilians among whom the fighters were surrounded. By contrast, the Sri Lankan military indiscriminately killed large numbers of civilians—as many as 20,000 in the final months of fighting, according to the United Nations.

Bad media coverage is hurting morale and giving succor to the enemy? Just kill the journalists. That's what the Sri Lankan authorities did. Precisely because insurgencies are unconventional, there are no easy-to-follow infantry advances and retreats, so the media holds the power to shape a narrative for the public. Aware of the need for a compliant media to aid the war effort, the Sri Lankan government struck fear into the ranks of journalists. There were hundreds of disappearances of top opinion leaders.

“Murder has become the primary tool whereby the state seeks to control the organs of liberty,” wrote journalist Lasantha Wickramatunga in a self-penned obituary that anticipated his own assassination in early 2009. Sources told me that he was killed by having iron rods with sharp points driven through his skull. “If Lasantha, with all of his connections, could be killed in broad daylight, then they could do this to anybody,” one journalist in the capital of Colombo told me. This journalist told me stories about reporters being beaten black and blue, leading to an atmosphere of extreme self-censorship—“the worst and most insidious kind.” Another journalist told me: “Lasantha’s fate really scared us. People like me decided it was more important to stay alive than to report the news.” No journalist I met in Colombo was willing to cross the line and publicly attack the government.

The international community disapproves of your methods and cuts off military aid because of the human rights violations you've committed? Again, no problem. Get aid from China, whose assistance comes without moral lectures. That’s just what the Sri Lankan Government did. In return, the Chinese got the right to help construct a deep water port in Sri Lanka, close to world shipping lanes.

So is there any lesson here? Only a chilling one. The ruthlessness and brutality to which the Sri Lankan government was reduced in order to defeat the Tigers points up just how nasty and intractable the problem of insurgency is. The Sri Lankan government made no progress against the insurgents for nearly a quarter century, until they turned to extreme and unsavory methods.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:54 PM


Health Care’s Infectious Losses (PAUL O’NEILL, 7/06/09, NY Times)

Let’s consider that $1 trillion of waste. If we could capture all of it, the savings over 10 years would be five times what President Obama has said he will extract from insurance companies over the same period. The president’s vision of bringing down health care inflation by 1.5 percent a year over the next decade would not be a victory, but a capitulation to the enormous waste in the delivery of medical care.

The president says he likes audacious goals. Here is one: ask medical providers to eliminate all hospital-acquired infections within two years. This is hardly pie in the sky: doctors and administrators already know how to do it. It requires scrupulous adherence to simple but profoundly important practices like hand-washing, proper preparation of surgical sites and assiduous care and maintenance of central lines and urinary catheters. With these small steps, we would no longer have the suffering and death associated with infections acquired in hospitals and we would save tens of billions of dollars every year — money we should have in hand before new health-care entitlements are enacted.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:36 PM


McNamara's 'other' crimes: the stories you haven't heard (Myra MacPherson, June 1995, Washington Monthly)

In 1966, McNamara initiated the "Moron Corps," as they were piteously nicknamed by other soldiers. Billed as a Great Society program, McNamara's Project 100,000 lowered military enlistment requirements to recruit 100,000 men per year with marginal minds and bodies. Recruiters swept through urban ghettos and southern hill country, taking some youths with I.Q.s below what is considered legally retarded.

In all, 354,000 volunteered for Project 100,000. The minimum passing score on the armed forces qualification test had been 31 out of 100. Under McNamara's Project 100,000, those who scored as low as 10 were taken if they lived in a designated "poverty area." In 1969, out of 120 Marine Corps volunteers from Oakland, California, nearly 90 percent scored under 31; more than 70 percent were black or Mexican. Overall, 41 percent of Project 100,000 volunteers were black, compared to 12 percent of the rest of the armed forces. Touted as providing "rehabilitation," remedial education, and an escape from poverty, the program offered a one-way ticket to Vietnam, where these men fought and died in disproportionate numbers. The much-advertised skills were seldom taught.

McNamara called these men the "subterranean poor," as if they lived in caves. In a way they did; their squalid ghettos and Appalachian hill towns were unseen by affluent America. All the better for McNamara and his president Lyndon Johnson. Unmentioned in Project 100,000's lofty sounding goals was the fact that - as protest became the number-one course of study at America's universities - the men of the "Moron Corps" provided the necessary cannon fodder to help evade the political horror of dropping student deferments or calling up the reserves, which were sanctuaries for the lily-white.

Officials denied that the members of the "Moron Corps" were dying in higher numbers, but the irrefutable statistics embraced by mathematical whiz kid McNamara tell another story. Forty percent of Project 100,000 men were trained for combat, compared with 25 percent of general service. In one 1969 sampling of Project 100,000, the Department of Defense put the attrition-by-death rate at 1.1 percent. By contrast, the overall rate for Vietnam era veterans was only 0.6 percent.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:15 PM


Mullahs on My Mind: Iran's clerics strike a monumental blow to Ali Khamenei's position as Supreme Leader. (Reuel Marc Gerecht, 07/06/2009 , Weekly Standard)

Khamenei just cannot escape from the religious roots of his political office, the vilayat-e faqih. He is, to put it politely, a standing joke as a faqih, a religious scholar, in Qom, in Mashhad, where Khamenei controls Iran's richest religious foundation and uses that money energetically to promote himself, and in Najaf, Iraq's Shi'ite clerical headquarters where the Iranian-born and enormously influential Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani resides. One suspects that even highly accomplished legal scholars who are philosophically allied to Khamenei and his office--for example, Ayatollah Muhammad-Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi, president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's so-called spiritual advisor--have a hard time getting excited about Khamenei as the Supreme Leader. This constant clerical tension, which degrades the legitimacy of Khamenei's right to rule among the most important constituency of the Islamic Republic, has now gone hyper because of the crisis of the June 12th presidential elections.

Although Qom has become enormously wealthy since the 1979 Islamic revolution, and its cultural and political influence extends throughout the country, the reverse is also true. The big, bustling, increasingly secularized megalopolis of Tehran, which is a quick drive north on a super highway, has spread its influence into Qom in ways nearly unthinkable under the Shah, when the physical, technical, and social divide between conservative Qom and imperial, Occident-adoring Tehran was far less permeable. Always attentive to the mood of their flock, Iran's clerics today are plugged in by cell phone and the Internet, as well as their incomparable traditional grapevine, to what's happening throughout the country. And more than ever before, the clerics have become urbanized. Ordinary Iranians may not know what's going on because of the regime's control of the media. But the clerics do.

Qom's clerics know all too well how unpopular theocracy has become in the country. This popular distaste--and that isn't too strong a word--with clerical rule amplifies many clerics' long-standing anxiety about the philosophical rectitude of the whole enterprise that Khomeini set up. Undreamed of wealth and influence has at times quieted these anxieties, but they are always there, just below the surface. They have now exploded into open dissent that guts the religious attacks of Khamenei's most powerful allies--the Revolutionary Guard Corps and their baton-wielding thuggish appendage, the Basij--against Mir-Hussein Mousavi, the leader of the opposition. To use an Iraqi parallel: what the clerics of Qom just did to Khamenei is similar to what Ayatollah Sistani did to the Bush administration's original idea of caucus balloting in Iraq (if we recall, the Bush administration came up with this plan since it feared both the demands and the results of a free election). Qom has shown itself to be the worthy inheritors of the more progressive clergy of the 1905-11 Iranian revolution, when ideas about representative government began to seep into traditional clerical views about the need for independent religious scholars to supervise the ethics of government. Qom has clearly said that the June 12th elections were fraudulent and therefore null and void; most of the city's religious scholars have now implied, more openly than ever before, that Khamenei is an illegitimate ruler, who has betrayed the faith as well as the people. This is the stuff that in-house, counter-revolutions are made of.

Now, we will get to see where the Guard Corps is.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:19 AM


MLB’s greatest game ever (Chris Jaffe, July 06, 2009, Hardball Times)

Thus for me the best game should be a meaningless regular season affair. I know whenever I go to the ballpark, I always think to myself that something really cool could happen there that day. Maybe a great back-and-forth contest, or a furious comeback or a no-hitter will occur. Again, I doubt I'm the only one who feels this way. Best of all, perhaps something that never happened before in baseball history will occur that day. That would be the ultimate baseball fan experience.

If you want to talk about something unprecedented happening, one game stands alone.

Baseball's greatest game: Braves-Mets, July 4-5, 1985

Which, however belatedly, brings me to the topic of this column. When you look solely at what happened on the field before the fans, the pinnacle of baseball-dom happened in Atlanta almost exactly 23 years ago. It had no impact on any pennant race and no greater importance beyond what happened on the field that day. From my perspective, that's perfect.

This had a very unpromising start. It was raining all day in Atlanta, and though the skies eventually cleared up, the game's start had been pushed back by more than a little bit. Another rain delay early on kept everyone milling about even later. Ultimately, the ninth inning didn't arrive until the wrong side of midnight.

The field conditions sucked. A ground ball single died in shallow center because the ground was so wet. So much water squirted up with every roll of the ball it looked like a slip'n'slide out there. In fact, a slip and slide is exactly what happened in right field at one point. When Atlanta's Claudell Washington went to get one ball, he planted his foot only to find out there was too much water to stay planted. He went "Wheee!" away from the ball, and his slide allowed at least one Met run to score.

Frankly, if it weren't for the waterlogged conditions, the first seven-and-a-half innings would be eminently forgettable, as the Mets took a 7-4 lead. This was the prologue.

Atlanta's offense was offensive that year—tenth in runs despite playing in the Launching Pad—but it suddenly sparked in the bottom of the eighth. After loading the bases, Met reliever Jesse Orosco issued an RBI walk to shortstop Rafael Ramirez. Normally averse to taking pitches, that was only the second time in 2,785 plate appearances that Ramirez had walked in a run. Immediately afterward, Dale Murphy doubled home three more runs to give Atlanta a sudden 8-7 lead. The few fans hardy enough to sit through all the rain went crazy.

With Bruce Sutter relieving for the home team, the game appeared over. Though the future Hall of Famer tied the existing MLB record with 45 saves the year before, he didn't have it this night. With three successive singles, the Mets tied the game, 8-8. Extra innings beckoned. It was a good game so far, but nothing special. Oh, how that would change.

After three innings of offensive deadlock, the Mets went ahead in the 13th inning, when Howard Johnson went deep with a man on first to put the Mets up 10-8, a difficult lead for the offensive-impaired Braves to overcome or even meet.

Despite allowing a leadoff single to Ramirez in the bottom of the inning, Met reliever Tom Gorman fanned the next two batters. Atlanta's last out was Terry Harper, who hit .157 the year before. This, however, was another year. They say anything can happen on any given day, and Harper seemed determined to prove that notion true. To the surprise of the Mets, he blasted a ball off the left field foul pole to tie the game, 10-10.

And so it remained for the next several innings as neither side could push another run across the plate as the hours dragged on. Since the NL had no curfew, that game set the record as the latest contest in MLB history.

In the 17th inning, home plate umpire Terry Tata ejected Met star Darryl Strawberry and manager Davey Johnson for arguing a called third strike. When asked about it after the game, Tata responded with the words later engraved at the Tomb of the Unknown Umpire: "At three o'clock in the morning, there are no bad calls."

Next inning, a light appeared at the end of the tunnel. The Mets capitalized on Brave reliever Rick Camp's throwing a would-be double play ball into the outfield, and scored the go-ahead run for an 11-10 lead.

Atlanta had the bottom of their order due up. The hitters looked as weary as they must have felt. In a handful of pitches, the first two batters each feebly grounded out. At 3:30 a.m, the Braves were down to their last man; not only was it the pitcher's slot in the order, but they had no more position players left to pinch hit.

Thus Rick Camp strode to the plate, representing Atlanta's last and least hope. Even for a pitcher, he was never much of a hitter in his decade-long career. A few years earlier he'd gone 1-for-41 on the season. Now a reliever, he rarely even hit. This would be his eighth plate appearance on the year, and he hadn't had a hit all season. As he faced Tom Gormon at 3:30 a.m. on what was now July 5, 1985, his lifetime batting average was .060.

Gorman, now in his sixth inning of work, saw no need to mess around with Camp. He quickly got two quick strikes on the hapless "hitter." Brave fans still in attendance—and one truly had to be a fan to stay in attendance this late through all that rain and time—could at least console themselves that it had been a hard fought battle, even if Atlanta was doomed before the better team.

Ah, but here is where the game became something for the ages. Part of the appeal of sports is that you never know what will happen next. What has just happened and what ought to happen merely serve as indicators for what could and should happen, not what will. The next moment was so ridiculous, that it defied all logic and a damn good chunk of all illogic. An ape on a typewriter would have a better chance typing out the complete works of William Shakespeare by sheer happenstance than a repetition of this at-bat.

For whatever reason, a lot of folks have developed McCarver Derangement Syndrome, but this game occurred in his early years as a Mets broadcaster, when he'd revitalized Ralph Kiner just in time for the great Doc/Straw run of the team. Between the two of them they knew pretty nearly every story in baseball (Kiner used to tell a story about a joke he heard from Honus Wagner) and they meshed wonderfully. At any rate, one wishes the telecast of this game was available because by the time the game ended, at 4 in the morning, they were pretty punch drunk and for the last few hours they were hilarious.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:04 AM


Cancer Screening: Does It Really Save Lives? (Dr. Julian Whitaker, 7/06/09, Natural News)

For more than 15 years, I've been warning patients about the downside of mammograms, PSA testing, and the overall concept of cancer screening. It hasn't been a popular position. Today, however, there's a small but growing band of researchers, clinicians, and expert panels who are speaking out against the unbridled use of these tests. One of them, H. Gilbert Welch, MD, a professor at Dartmouth Medical School, has laid out very persuasive arguments in an aptly titled book, Should I Be Tested for Cancer? Maybe Not and Here's Why. In this straightforward and well-referenced book, Dr. Welch raises several concerns about cancer screening. [...]

Even worse than the sound and fury created by false positives is unnecessary treatment. Yes, some lives are saved due to early detection and treatment. But not all cancers are the same. Some are deadly, treated or not; others are not fatal regardless of treatment. Dr. Welch calls the latter pseudodisease-small, slow-growing or nonprogressive cancers that you'd never know existed were it not for screening tests. Yet all too often, these innocuous tumors are attacked with a vengeance, often to the detriment of patients.

A prime example is prostate cancer. Since 1975, its incidence has more than doubled. But rather than having an epidemic of prostate cancer, what we have is an epidemic of detection. Although many more men are being diagnosed and treated, the death rate from prostate cancer has held steady at 3 percent.

It's human nature, when given a diagnosis of cancer, to want to get rid of it. But prostate cancer treatment is not benign. Surgical complications include difficulty urinating (17 percent), urinary incontinence (28 percent), and inability to have an erection (more than 50 percent). Radiation damages the rectum and can cause diarrhea and bowel urgency. Side effects of androgen suppression range from sexual dysfunction to risk of diabetes and heart disease.

Much of this treatment is completely unwarranted. Remember, the majority of prostate cancer is pseudodisease. Most men die with it, not of it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:38 AM


Beckhams spend anniversary on Thunderbirds' Tracy Island (Chris Irvine, 7/06/09, Daily Telegraph)

David and Victoria Beckham are spending their wedding anniversary on an island used as the Thunderbirds' headquarters, Tracy Island, according to reports.

The England midfielder, 34, reportedly spent £100,000 so that they could have North Island in the Seychelles to themselves to celebrate their tenth anniversary.

...but it does buy some wicked cool stuff.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:36 AM


More Swedes buying private insurance: report (The Local, 7/06/09)

More and more Swedes are purchasing private insurance for income protection as a result of the economic crisis.

The number who have chosen to supplement unemployment insurance with private insurance has increased from 18 to 32 percent in the last year, according to a study from Synovate for the Folksam insurance company.

The number of people signing up for private health insurance has also increased from last year, from [25] to [32] percent, according to Folksam's annual report “Welfare trends” (Välfärdstendenser), presented on Monday in the Dagens Nyheter newspaper.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:28 AM


Politics of delay on Colombia pact (VICTORIA MCGRANE, 7/6/09 , Politico)

President Barack Obama keeps punting on the touchy issue of free trade — and it’s driving both opponents and supporters just a little bit crazy.

The mixed message on the Colombia Free Trade Agreement is a case in point. [...]

The Obama administration seems to have settled on a policy of delay on the Colombia pact and the trade deal with Panama, despite sending strong signals during the Summit of the Americas in April that it wanted to move forward on both deals.

Obama’s remarks after meeting with Uribe on June 29 were essentially what he said about Panama in April. And that means the administration hasn’t spent much time crafting the benchmarks and other changes to the deal that it was supposed to be working on, business lobbyists say.

“I have instructed Ambassador [Ron] Kirk, our United States trade representative, to begin working closely with President Uribe’s team on how we can proceed on a free trade agreement,” Obama said. “There are obvious difficulties involved in the process, and there remains work to do, but I’m confident that, ultimately, we can strike a deal that is good for the people of Colombia and good for the people of the United States.”

But the reality is there has been little action — frustrating all sides.

...if the pragmatic thing economically is to pass the deals and the pragmatic thing politically is to kill them, then the pragmatist is rendered indecisive.

July 5, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:40 PM


'learned In All The Lore Of Old Men': Hiawatha was Sault Ste. Marie's first legend, but nowadays the town hero is a teen-aged hockey phenom named Wayne Gretzky, who plays with a maturity far beyond his years (E. M. Swift, 2/20/78, Sports Illustrated)

More than 7,000 people—the largest hockey crowd of the season in Canada's capital—came to the Ottawa Civic Center one night last month to get to the bottom of a 16-year-old wunderkind who plays for the Sault Ste. Marie ( Ont.) Greyhounds. His name is Wayne Gretzky. That's with a Zed-K-Y, please. The immigration guy fouled it up when his grandfather came over from Russia. In Peterborough the next night, the same thing happened: largest crowd of the year even though the last-place Greyhounds provided the opposition. The night after that, it was the same story in Hamilton: first sellout of the year for a Junior A game, and in a blizzard to boot, everyone out getting stuck in the snow to see some kid called The Great Gretzky, whom every paper in Ontario has hailed as the next Bobby Orr since he was eight years old, 4'4" and 70 pounds.

Gretzky is not just another star of the future. He is there, Canada's answer to Steve Cauthen and Nadia Comaneci, one of those rare youths who leapfrogs the stage where they speak of potential, whose talent is already front and center, which, incidentally, is the position he plays for the Greyhounds. Gretzky is only a rookie in the Ontario Junior A Major Hockey Association (OHA), a league in which the players range in age from 16 to 20, but he has exploded onto the Junior scene like no one since Guy Lafleur—and before that Orr. If Wayne Gretzky were never to play another hockey game, thousands of Canadian kids would remember him into their dotage. He is the stuff of their dream—that, lacking size, lacking strength, lacking speed, they, too, can somehow make it.

Gretzky did. He now is a wiry (read "skinny") 155 pounds spread over 5'11", but he should fill out enough to keep the pros happy. Gretzky describes his speed as "brutal"—meaning slower than slow. All the speed in the family went to his 14-year-old sister Kim, the Ontario Dominion champion in the 100-, 200-and 400-meter dashes and a good bet to represent Canada in the 1980 Olympics. Gretzky's shot is accurate, but far from overpowering. And if you expect to see him mucking it up in the corners, forget it. Still, without question, he is the most exciting Junior hockey player since Lafleur left Quebec City in 1971.

"They compare me to Orr and Lafleur, and that's very flattering," says Gretzky in his best "shucks, who, lil-ol-me? tone. "But basically, my style is different from anyone else's." True. Nevertheless, despite the qualifier, Gretzky lives quite comfortably with comparisons involving himself and Orr, Lafleur or any other superstar who comes to mind, including Cauthen. "We're both little runts who get a lot of publicity," Gretzky says of the latter.

Gretzky's talent is all in his head. "He's the smartest kid I've ever seen," says Fred Litzen, Sault Ste. Marie's one-eyed head scout who has seen a passel of talent over 40 years, even if he has missed half, as his friends suggest. Gretzky knows not only where everyone is on the ice, but he also knows where they're going. Uncanny anticipation, people call it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:20 PM


Uighur Muslims riot as ethnic tensions rise in China (Tania Branigan in Urumqi and Jonathan Watts in Beijing, 7/05/09, guardian.co.uk)

The western Chinese region of Xinjiang experienced the biggest display of ethnic unrest in recent memory today as thousands of Muslim Uighurs took to the streets in protest.

The protesters smashed up buses, threw stones through shop windows and assaulted Han Chinese passers-by, according to a witness, who said the spark was the recent killing of Uighur migrant workers in Guangdong, southern China.

Xinhua, the state news agency, reported that vehicles were set on fire and traffic guard rails overturned. Bloodied victims were rushed to hospital in the regional capital, Urumqi, as armed riot police moved in to restore order with tear gas, armoured vehicles and road blocks, according to a foreign student in Xinjiang.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:44 AM


Films about human dignity: Here's a selection of some great films about human dignity. Help us to add more -- comments, please! (Michael Cook, 5 July 2009, MercatorNet)

Human dignity is an idea which is hard to pin down. If you try to define it, it melts away. It's best conveyed through stories. That's why we present here some nominations for great films about human dignity. These are a few which have impressed me. Surely you will have others. We'd like your comments. Hopefully we can incorporate them into future installments!

How about two by David Lynch: Elephant Man and Straight Story.

Most are familiar with the former, but not with the latter:

This is not just the true story of very determined man named Alvin Straight, it is also a truly straightforward story, an unusual thing in modern movies and a real surprise coming from David Lynch. With his own mortality staring him in the face, Alvin Straight, 73 years old, decides to go visit the once beloved brother, Lyle, from whom he has been estranged for ten years, their quarrel a product of sibling rivalry as old as the Bible and the baleful influence of liquor. What might have been a simple enough five hour car ride becomes an epic journey when he decides to travel the 300 miles from Laurens, Iowa to Mt. Zion, Wisconsin on a riding lawnmower:

I've got to go see Lyle, and I've got to make the trip on my own.

Along the way he meets a young runaway girl; a woman who plows into a deer in front of him, apparently a near daily occurrence for her; a couple who allow him to spend a few days with them after he fries a motor on a steep downhill grade; a fellow WWII vet tending bar; and finally a pastor in whose cemetery he stops overnight. Over the course of the six week sojourn he slowly reveals himself and his regrets for his part in the feud that has separated him from his brother. As he tells the pastor:

I want to sit with him and look up at the stars, like we used to, so long ago.

When finally he gets to Lyle's place, his penance done, the two do indeed sit in comfortable silence on the front porch, as the stars come up overhead. It's the kind of speechless togetherness that only people who truly love one another are capable of maintaining and enjoying.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:55 AM

NOIR GUITAR (via Steve Martinovich):

First Listen: 'Wilco (The Album)': Hear The Band's Impressive New Album In Its Entirety (Bob Boilen, 6/24/09, NPR.org)

It starts off sounding more like a Velvet Underground record, perhaps a version of "I'm Waiting for the Man." There are similar chord progressions and distorted guitars. And though they often wear some of their influences outwardly — there is a Beatles-esque song and a Television song for sure — the new Wilco record is all about a great band playing great original music on an album filled with great songs.

The band's seventh record, with the simply funny title Wilco (The Album) and the hilarious cover art showing a camel with an orange party hat standing beside an orange cake, was recorded at Neil Finn's (Split Enz, Crowded House) studio in New Zealand. Overdubs came later, and those were recorded back in Chicago and mixed in California, with longtime Wilco engineer Jim Scott. The record will be released on Tuesday, June 30.

Wilco (The Album) features a duet with Feist, called "You and I," some remarkable guitar playing by the insane Nels Cline, strong singing by Jeff Tweedy, and all around good performances from the rest of Wilco: John Stirratt on bass; Glenn Kotche, percussion; Mikael Jorgensen, keyboard; and Pat Sansone, a lot of everything.

Wilco's latest is a graceful note (LA Times, July 1, 2009)
The music promises "the comfort of a kiss" for the defeated boxer in "Deeper Down," swathed in a lovely, chamber-pop arrangement augmented by harpsichord and sighing lap-steel guitar. In the soul ballad "Country Disappeared," the troubled lovers "turn our faces up to the sun."

"You and I" explores a fragile bond, as voiced by Tweedy and guest vocalist Feist. The song's sparse simplicity contrasts with the orchestral flourishes of "Everlasting," which surges with quiet conviction and finishes with a bird-song guitar solo.

Amid these small, gracefully executed moments, two polar-opposite songs define the album. One is a stomach-churning wake-up call:

"It's in my hair, there's blood in the sink/I can't calm down, I can't think," Tweedy blurts on "Bull Black Nova." Locked inside a funnel cloud of guitar turbulence, he screams like a trapped animal. It is among the most harrowing songs Wilco has ever recorded.

"Wilco (The Song)" is its antidote, a boisterous shot of reassurance. Tweedy sings over a chugging guitar line, "Put on your headphones before you explode/Wilco, Wilco, Wilco will love ya, baby." It's both a tongue-in-cheek wink and a blast of feel-good sincerity, riding a wave of guitar drone and punctuated with bell tones. It is that rare thing: an anthem with a sense of humor, a grand statement that doesn't sound like a grand statement. Listen to it, and try not to smile.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:17 AM


Wal-Mart's good-guy stance on healthcare reform: It's not clear what the retailer's motives may be, nor does it truly matter. Wal-Mart is to be commended for taking a stand -- something far too many businesses have been reluctant to do. (David Lazarus, July 5, 2009, LA Times)

Whatever the company's motive, retail behemoth Wal-Mart Stores Inc. made healthcare reform significantly more likely last week by throwing its weight behind a requirement that all employers provide health coverage.

The company made its position known in a letter to President Obama, who has said an employer mandate is vital to helping cover the roughly 46 million people in the United States who lack medical insurance.

Although it wasn't in the letter, Wal-Mart also says it supports a mandate for all uninsured people to buy reasonably priced coverage -- another key element of the healthcare debate.

Obviously you can't have both employer coverage and national health.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:14 AM


U.S. Overpowers Grenada in Gold Cup (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, 7/05/09)

Freddy Adu gave the United States a 1-0 lead in the seventh minute and Stuart Holden added a goal in the 31st, both set up by Robbie Rogers.

Rogers scored in the 60th minute and Charlie Davies, one of the few players who also played in the Confederations Cup, finished the scoring in the 68th.

The United States, ranked 12th in the world, is seeking its third straight Gold Cup title. The team outshot No. 88 Grenada, 25-3.

Seven of the United States starters entered the match with a combined 11 international appearances; goalkeeper Troy Perkins was playing in only his second match for the national team.

They could have built some momentum if these games were on tv.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:09 AM


Reality TV winners notch Ks in pro debuts (Houston Chronicle)

Two former aspiring cricket players who won a reality show in India made their professional baseball debuts.

LHP Rinku Singh and RHP Dinesh Patel each got a strikeout for the Pirates’ Rookie-level minor league team in Bradenton, Fla. Singh allowed one run and two hits in one inning of work. Patel threw seven of nine pitches for strikes in a scoreless inning.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:06 AM


Patient lived with cancer for 50 years before dying of bedsore (Ian Johnston, 05 Jul 2009, Daily Telegraph)

Pamela Goddard had great faith in the NHS. It had, after all, kept her alive for more than half her 82 years.

The piano teacher first contracted breast cancer in the 1960s and had survived a series of recurrences of the disease over the years.

So when it returned last year, this "completely vital" woman, who was still working up to 30 hours a week, was fully expected survive.

The cancer did not kill her, but a bedsore did.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:05 AM


Bernie Ecclestone says Hitler was a man who got things done (Guardian.co.uk, Saturday 4 July 2009)

Ecclestone, who has been fighting recently to prevent a damaging breakaway by formula one's leading teams, said: "In a lot of ways, terrible to say this I suppose, but apart from the fact that Hitler got taken away and persuaded to do things that I have no idea whether he wanted to do or not, he was in the way that he could command a lot of people, able to get things done," he said.

He added: "I prefer strong leaders. Margaret Thatcher made decisions on the run and got the job done. She was the one who built this country up slowly. We've let it go down again. All these guys, Gordon and Tony are trying to please everybody all the time ... Max would do a super job, he's a good leader." Apparently referring to the fact that the president of the FIA, the sport's ruling body, was the son of Sir Oswald Mosley, leader of the British Union of Fascists, he added: "I don't think his background would be a problem."

He continued: "Politicians are too worried about elections. We did a terrible thing when we supported the idea of getting rid of Saddam Hussein, he was the only one who could control the country. It was the same with [the Taliban.]"

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:59 AM


Saudis give nod to Israeli raid on Iran (Uzi Mahnaimi in Tel Aviv and Sarah Baxter, 7/05/09, Times of London)

The head of Mossad, Israel’s overseas intelligence service, has assured Benjamin Netanyahu, its prime minister, that Saudi Arabia would turn a blind eye to Israeli jets flying over the kingdom during any future raid on Iran’s nuclear sites.

Earlier this year Meir Dagan, Mossad’s director since 2002, held secret talks with Saudi officials to discuss the possibility.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:48 AM


Leading Clerics Defy Ayatollah on Disputed Iran Election (MICHAEL SLACKMAN and NAZILA FATHI, 7/05/09, NY Times)

The most important group of religious leaders in Iran called the disputed presidential election and the new government illegitimate on Saturday, an act of defiance against the country’s supreme leader and the most public sign of a major split in the country’s clerical establishment.

A statement by the group, the Association of Researchers and Teachers of Qum, represents a significant, if so far symbolic, setback for the government and especially the authority of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, whose word is supposed to be final. The government has tried to paint the opposition and its top presidential candidate, Mir Hussein Moussavi, as criminals and traitors, a strategy that now becomes more difficult — if not impossible.

“This crack in the clerical establishment, and the fact they are siding with the people and Moussavi, in my view is the most historic crack in the 30 years of the Islamic republic,” said Abbas Milani, director of the Iranian Studies Program at Stanford University.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:37 AM


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A Coup for Democracy? (Edward Schumacher-Matos, July 3, 2009, Washington Post)

Honduras is guilty of two sins: impatience and size. The rest of the world is committing two more: hubris and hypocrisy.

It is now clear that if the Honduran Supreme Court or Congress had used legal means such as impeachment before asking the army to remove President Manuel Zelaya, we would be calling events there a constitutional crisis rather than a coup d'etat.

This would be especially true if Honduras were a larger country such as Brazil or Pakistan and its court, Congress, attorney general, human rights ombudsman and electoral commission were all saying afterward, as they do in Tegucigalpa, that the army moved legally in alliance with them. The Honduran army never took political control.

Perhaps the Honduran leaders were constitutionally "lazy," as Chilean political scientist Patricio Navia mused. Certainly, they were being forced to act quickly by a president pushing to carry out an illegal referendum this Sunday in defiance of those constitutional institutions and his own party.

But small countries are easy to punish in order to send messages, as Peter Hakim of the Inter-American Dialogue notes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:03 AM


Glut of oil could push gasoline prices back down below $2 a gallon . (Ronald D. White, July 4, 2009, LA Times)

A year after oil hit a record closing price, the commodity's price is way down -- and may fall significantly further as supply continues to dwarf demand.

Downward pressure on oil prices is so great that crude could trade for as little as $20 a barrel by the end of the year -- less than a third of what it traded for this week and an 86% drop from its peak last year, analysts said.

That could push gasoline prices back down to $2 a gallon, prices last seen this March after last fall's slide slammed retail gasoline to its lowest value in four years.

July 4, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:27 PM


It's the Tribes, Stupid (Steven Pressfield)

This five-part series is about war in Afghanistan, ancient and modern. I'm not doing this for money or politics. I'm a Marine and I don't want young Marines and soldiers going into harm's way without the full arsenal of history and context.

What's my thesis? That the key to understanding Afghanistan today is not Islamism or jihadism. It's tribalism. The tribal mind-set (warrior pride, hostility to outsiders, codes of honor and resistance to change) permeates everything. Think of these videos as a mini-course in tribalism. I invite discussion. Tell me I'm crazy, tell me I'm wrong. If you agree, tell me too.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:51 AM


From Blogger Pictures

Caption this photo and win a book.

Two early favorites:

(1) No, Orrin, I've never actually given any thought to whose prison wife I could tolerate being.

(2) No, Orrin, I don't really have the power to tear up the Interstate Highway System and replace it with train tracks.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:18 AM


AUDIO: A Mix For America (NPR.org, June 25, 2009)

Whether you're a constitutional scholar, someone who yells "USA! USA! USA!" at sporting events, or both, you'll agree that America — the country, not the soft-rock band behind "A Horse With No Name" — is pretty freaking awesome. From representative democracy and free speech to the ingenuity that gave the world deep-fried cheese and Slankets, America has proven itself worthy of a continuous music mix extolling her virtues.

As Flag Day gives way to July 4 festivities, it's the finest time of the year to hoist a flag, ignite some shoddily manufactured fireworks (imported, of course) and sit at your computer while streaming a whole bunch of music that sings the praises of our great land. [...]

• "America The Beautiful," Charlie Haden, American Dreams [WDUQ]

• "Traditional: Shenandoah (arr. Marshall Bartholomew)," Cantus Vocal Ensemble (Cantus 1206) [WGBH]

• "4th of July," X, See How We Are [KUT]

[originally posted: 7/01/09]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:11 AM


Behind the Times: There’s nothing cool about Obama. (Mark Steyn, 7/04/09, National Review)

A week ago, the House of Representatives passed some gargantuan “cap-and-trade” bill designed to “save” “the environment.” Paul Krugman, the Nobel Prize–winning economist, accused those Neanderthals who voted against the bill of committing “treason against the planet.” By that standard, most of the planet is guilty of treason against the planet. I don’t mean just in the sense that China, already the world’s Number One CO2 emitter, and India and other rising economic powers have absolutely no intention of doing what the Democrats have done, no way, no how — because they don’t see why they should stay poor just because New York Times columnists think it’s good for them.

No, I mean that most of the developed world has already gone down the paved road of good intentions and is now frantically trying to pedal up out of it. New Zealand was one of the few western nations to sign on to Kyoto and then attempt to abide by it — until they realized they could only do so by destroying their economy. They introduced a Dem-style cap-and-trade regime — and last year they suspended it. In Australia, the Labor government postponed implementation of its emissions-reduction program until 2011, and the Aussie Senate may scuttle it entirely. The Obama administration has gotten to the climate-change hop just as the glitterball’s stopped whirling and the band’s packing up its instruments.

The Congressional cap-and-trade shtick would be tired even if it weren’t the familiar boondoggle of tax hikes, big-government micro-regulation, and pork-a-palooza pay-offs to preferred clients of the Democratic party. Granted that carbon credits were already a dubious racket equivalent to the sale of “indulgences” in medieval Europe, the decision by Congressional power-brokers to give away credits to well-connected Democratic party interests surely represents the environmental movement’s formal Jumping of the Endangered Great White Shark.

Back at the New York Times, Thomas Friedman agreed the bill “stinks” and says “it’s a mess” and he “detests” it, but nevertheless says we need to pass it because his “gut” tells him to.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:07 AM


Iraqis in America: How the newest wave of U.S. immigrants is faring in their adopted homeland. (Katie Paul, 7/04/09, Newsweek)

NEWSWEEK caught up with five Iraqis whose decision to work with U.S.-affiliated organizations in Baghdad ultimately drove them from their homes and landed them in America. Their experiences are as diverse as their backgrounds. Some can't believe their good luck in resettling to the States, while others have a more complicated relationship with their new American home. Their stories are funny, heart-wrenching, frustrating, and inspiring; in other words, they are human. No matter how the history books cast the circumstances under which they arrived, what is undeniable is that they are now a permanent part of the American cultural mosaic.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:40 AM


Carbon tariffs proposal is causing unease in the global community: China and India lash out at a U.S. bill aimed at imports from countries that pollute, saying that it would 'hurt the interests of developing countries' and 'disrupt the order of international trade.' (Reuters, July 4, 2009)

China and India on Friday lashed out at the possibility of the United States slapping so-called carbon tariffs on goods imported from countries that pollute, even though analysts said proposed U.S. measures were years away and would be hard to implement.

"Green" protectionism is likely to cause unease at next week's G-8 meeting in Italy and at a separate 17-member Major Economies Forum gathering. It is also a growing concern in U.N. talks that aim to seal a broader climate pact at year's end in Copenhagen.

...but they're an awful signal.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:15 AM


[originally posted: 7/04/09]

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The Americanism of Washington (Henry Van Dyke, 1906)
Among these men whose union in purpose and action made the strength and stability of the republic, [George] Washington was first, not only in the largeness of his nature, the loftiness of his desires, and the vigor of his will, but also in that representative quality which makes a man able to stand as the true hero of a great people. He had an instinctive power to divine, amid the confusions of rival interests and the cries of factional strife, the new aims and hopes, the vital needs and aspirations, which were the common inspiration of the people's cause and the creative forces of the American nation. The power to understand this, the faith to believe in it, and the unselfish courage to live for it, was the central factor of Washington's life, the heart and fountain of his splendid Americanism.

It was denied during his lifetime, for a little while, by those who envied his greatness, resented his leadership, and sought to shake him from his lofty place. But he stood serene and imperturbable, while that denial, like many another blast of evil-scented wind, passed into nothingness, even before the disappearance of the party strife out of whose fermentation it had arisen. By the unanimous judgment of his countrymen for two generations after his death he was hailed as Pater Patriae; and the age which conferred that title was too ingenuous to suppose that the father could be of a different race from his own offspring.

But the modern doubt is more subtle, more curious, more refined in its methods. It does not spring, as the old denial did, from a partisan hatred, which would seek to discredit Washington by an accusation of undue partiality for England, and thus to break his hold upon the love of the people. It arises, rather, like a creeping exhalation, from a modern theory of what true Americanism really is: a theory which goes back, indeed, for its inspiration to Dr. Johnson's somewhat crudely expressed opinion that "the Americans were a race whom no other mortals could wish to resemble"; but which, in its later form, takes counsel with those British connoisseurs who demand of their typical American not depravity of morals but deprivation of manners, not vice of heart but vulgarity of speech, not badness but bumptiousness, and at least enough of eccentricity to make him amusing to cultivated people.

Not a few of our native professors and critics are inclined to accept some features of this view, perhaps in mere reaction from the unamusing character of their own existence. They are not quite ready to subscribe to Mr. Kipling's statement that the real American is

"Unkempt, disreputable, vast,"

but they are willing to admit that it will not do for him to be prudent, orderly, dignified. He must have a touch of picturesque rudeness, a red shirt in his mental as well as his sartorial outfit. The poetry that expresses him must recognize no metrical rules. The art that depicts him must use the primitive colors and lay them on thick.

I remember reading somewhere that Tennyson had an idea that Longfellow, when he met him, would put his feet upon the table. And it is precisely because Longfellow kept his feet in their proper place, in society as well as in verse, that some critics, nowadays, would have us believe that he was not a truly American poet.

Traces of this curious theory of Americanism in its application to Washington may now be found in many places. You shall hear historians describe him as a transplanted English commoner, a second edition of John Hampden. You shall read, in a famous poem, of Lincoln as

"New birth of our new soil, the first American."

That Lincoln was one of the greatest Americans, glorious in the largeness of his heart, the vigor of his manhood, the heroism of his soul, none can doubt. But to affirm that he was the first American is to disown and disinherit Washington and Franklin and Adams and Jefferson. Lincoln himself would have been the man to extinguish such an impoverishing claim with huge and hearty laughter. He knew that Grant and Sherman and Seward and Farragut and the men who stood with him were Americans, just as Washington knew that the Boston maltster, and the Pennsylvania printer, and the Rhode Island anchor-Smith, and the New Jersey preacher, and the New York lawyer, and the men who stood with him were Americans.

He knew it, I say: and by what divination? By a test more searching than any mere peculiarity of manners, dress, or speech; by a touchstone able to divide the gold of essential character from the alloy of superficial characteristics ; by a standard which disregarded alike Franklin's fur cap and Putnam's old felt hat, Morgan's leather leggings and Witherspoon's black silk gown and John Adams's face ruffles, to recognize and approve, beneath these various garbs, the vital sign of America woven into the very souls of the men who belonged to her by a spiritual birthright.

For what is true Americanism, and where does it reside? Not on the tongue, nor in the clothes, nor among the transient social forms, refined or rude, which mottle the surface of human life. The log cabin has no monopoly of it, nor is it an immovable fixture of the stately pillared mansion. Its home is not on the frontier nor in the populous city, not among the trees of the wild forest nor the cultured groves of Academe. Its dwelling is in the heart. It speaks a score of dialects but one language, follows a hundred paths to the same goal, performs a thousand kinds of service in loyalty to the same ideal which is its life. True Americanism is this:

To believe that the inalienable rights of man to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are given by God.

To believe that any form of power that tramples on these rights is unjust.

To believe that taxation without representation is tyranny, that government must rest upon the consent of the governed, and that the people should choose their own rulers.

To believe that freedom must be safeguarded by law and order, and that the end of freedom is fair play for all.

To believe not in a forced equality of conditions and estates, but in a true equalization of burdens, privileges, and opportunities.

To believe that the selfish interests of persons, classes, and sections must be subordinated to the welfare of the commonwealth.

To believe that union is as much a human necessity as liberty is a divine gift.

To believe, not that all people are good, but that the way to make them better is to trust the whole people.

To believe that a free state should offer an asylum to the oppressed, and an example of virtue, sobriety, and fair dealing to all nations.

To believe that for the existence and perpetuity of such a state a man should be willing to give his whole service, in property, in labor, and in life.

That is Americanism ; an ideal embodying itself in a people; a creed heated white hot in the furnace of conviction and hammered into shape on the anvil of life; a vision commanding men to follow it whithersoever it may lead them. And it was the subordination of the personal self to that ideal, that creed, that vision, which gave eminence and glory to Washington and the men who stood with him.

Henry van Dyke is a fascinating fellow, who also wrote one of Harry's Yuletime favorites, The Other Wise Man, and the hymn Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee, which most of us sing when we hear Beethoven's Ninth. [originally posted: 7/12/03]
Zemanta Pixie

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:26 AM


How a Revolution Saved an Empire (MICHAEL ROSE, 7/05/07, NY Times)

If the Whig opposition, led by Lord Rockingham, had not had the moral courage and vision to accept defeat by the American colonists, and had not been able to persuade the king and his ministers to do likewise, Britain would likely have lost its position in the world, and today the people of the largest democracy in the world, India, would be speaking either French or Portuguese. By ending the unnecessary war in North America, Britain was able rapidly to rebuild its army and navy, eventually take on and defeat Napoleon, and become the unquestioned pre-eminent global power.

Few saw this in 1781. During the cruel years of the war, George III had followed a hopelessly flawed strategy and had failed to commit adequate resources to the mission. He had never understood the character or nature of the American people and he had greatly underestimated their determination to throw off the yoke of British rule. The War of Independence had never just been about “taxation without representation.” It had been about the freedom for Americans to develop their own society in the way that they wished.

Americans still spoke the same language and had the same respect for God as the English, but they no longer thought the same way. They wanted to engage in free trade and expand their empire to the West. The radical element of New England led by men like Samuel Adams and James Otis, in particular, had had enough of kings and bishops, the corruptions of the legal system, the vice admiralty courts and the British Navy’s press gangs. It was fortunate for the world that the American Revolution succeeded — for under British rule America would never have become the great country, the force in the world for good, that it ultimately became.

George III was oblivious to the changed mindset in the colonies, and through a combination of hubris and a conviction that as the leader of the world’s premier military power he could bear no challenge to his authority, he had determined in 1775 to teach a sharp lesson to the radicals in North America: “Blows must decide.”

Unfortunately for Britain, he attempted to fight a conventional war against insurgents, and sent far too few troops across the Atlantic to accomplish the mission. Although they initially took New York and Philadelphia, the British subsequently failed to adjust to a counterinsurgency strategy against the “war of the posts” that George Washington adopted after his defeat at Germantown, Pa., in October 1777.

No number of troops could have prevented Americans from creating their own state, however, had George sided with America against the unrepresentative Parliament that state could have remained part of the Empire.

[originally posted: 7/04/07]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:25 AM

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:22 AM


The Sunday Mixtape - The Almost July4th Mix (Some Velvet Blog, 7/01/07)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:09 AM


-AUDIO: The Founding Documents of the United States of America (Learn Out Loud)

LearnOutLoud.com is proud to present this audio collection entitled The Founding Documents of the United States of America. Starting with Patrick Henry's "Give Me Liberty Or Give Me Death" speech which helped to spark the American Revolution, and ending with the First Inaugural Address of President George Washington, these documents represent key points in the founding of the U.S. government. Each document featured here also includes a brief introduction which summarizes the context and significance of the document in American history.

Here are the documents featured in the order of their historical progression:

# Patrick Henry's "Give Me Liberty Or Give Me Death" Speech
# The United States Declaration of Independence
# The Articles of Confederation
# The Virginia Plan
# The Constitution of the United States
# Federalist Paper No. 51
# United States Bill of Rights
# Subsequent U.S. Constitutional Ammendments
# First Inaugural Address of President George Washington

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[originally posted: 7/04/07]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:01 AM


Why Was The Vilna Gaon Fasting On July 4, 1776?: Finding The Lesson In A Convergence Of Dates (Rabbi YERACHMIEL SEPLOWITZ, 6/30/2004, Jewish Press)

The signing of the Declaration of Independence was, I believe, one of the great moments in post-Talmudic Jewish history. The concept of religious freedom is truly an anomaly in Jewish (and world) history. Imagine a country where the law of the land gives us the right to take off from work on Saturday. If your boss insists that you show up for work on Saturday, you can take him to court — a far cry from other lands, such as America’s "ally" Saudi Arabia where the practice of any religion other than Islam is banned.

A few years back I was wondering about the 4th of July in the context of the Jewish calendar. I was curious as to the Hebrew date of July 4, 1776. I wondered, what was going on in the Jewish world while Thomas Jefferson sat in Philadelphia penning the immortal words of the Declaration of Independence?

What were the Chasam Sofer (14 years old) and the Vilna Gaon (56 years old) doing “by the dawn’s early light” on that first Fourth of July? You may be surprised by the answer; I certainly was. They were fasting. You see, our Founding Fathers created the miracle of democracy and religious freedom on 17 Tammuz, 5536.

The seventeenth of Tammuz? Could it be that the Founding Fathers gave the gift of America to the world on a day that Jews were fasting? On the 17th of Tammuz we commemorate several sad events. Among the misfortunes that occurred on that date were the Babylonian breach made in the defense wall surrounding Jerusalem in 586 B.C.E and the shattering of the first tablets of the Ten Commandments.

I couldn`t believe it. The United States of America is a bastion of freedom where Torah has grown exponentially. There are yeshivas all over the country. Kosher food is available everywhere. A religious Jew has opportunities that are denied to him elsewhere. A Sabbath- and kashruth-observing Jew came within a few hundred chads of the vice presidency! How could it be that the United States was founded on one of the saddest days on the Jewish calendar?

On further reflection, I think I found the answer. Freedom is a double-edged sword. Yes, in America, we Jews (and others) have the right to observe the faith of our ancestors. We are entitled to be accommodated in our needs to follow the dictates of our religion. However, we also have the right to throw it away.

Is America so Jewish that Jews don't need to be?

[originally posted: 2004-07-09]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


The Concord Hymn (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

Sung at the Completion of the Concord Monument, July 4, 1837

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April's breeze unfurled;
Here once the embattled farmers stood;
And fired the shot heard round the world.

The foe long since in silence slept;
Alike the conqueror silent sleeps,
And Time the ruined bridge has swept
Down the dark stream that seaward creeps.

On this green bank, by this soft stream,
We place with joy a votive stone,
That memory may their deeds redeem,
When, like our sires, our sons are gone.

O Thou who made those heroes dare
To die, and leave their children free, --
Bid Time and Nature gently spare
The shaft we raised to them and Thee.

[originally posted: 2005-07-04]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Alexander the Great: Hamilton saved America from the Founding Fathers' economic ignorance. (RICHARD BROOKHISER, July 4, 2005 , Opinion Journal)

Cleaning up the American mess had to start with political reform. The Constitution, which Washington, Hamilton and both Morrises signed, gave the United States a revenue stream by allowing Congress to tax imports and products, such as whiskey and salt. (Income taxes were unconstitutional.) This change alone began to boost the value of American securities even as Hamilton took office. Hamilton strengthened American credit further by taking over the states' debts and announcing that all creditors would be paid at a common rate. To make good on that pledge, he had to overcome congressional resistance to rewarding speculators who had bought up debt. But Hamilton knew that if the United States started picking and choosing among its creditors, its credit would go back into the outhouse.

By paying America's debts responsibly, Hamilton made American IOUs valuable. "It is a well known fact," he wrote, "that in countries in which the national debt is properly funded . . . it answers most of the purposes of money." He thus monetized a cash-strapped, backwater economy. To handle the government's funds, and to regulate the money supply, Hamilton asked Congress to charter the Bank of the United States. America would join Holland and Britain in the vanguard of the financial revolution. The Bank had to overcome the objections of Secretary of State Jefferson, and Virginia's Rep. James Madison, who thought chartering such a corporation was unconstitutional. Madison's opposition pained Hamilton, since he and Madison had worked together in the struggle to ratify the Constitution. Madison, he concluded, was a "clever man," but "very little acquainted with the world." The world recognized Hamilton's knowledge. When he stepped down as Treasury secretary in 1795, American securities were trading at 110% of face value.

Blessed debt.

[originally posted: 2005-07-04]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


The Soul of Man Under Federalism (Wilfred M. McClay, June/July 1996, First Things)

At its heart, federalism is an attempt to reconcile opposites, to find a balance between the considerable advantages of national combination and the equally considerable virtues of autonomy and small-scale organization, without having to choose finally between one and the other. But the specific terms in which that balance can be struck have varied widely, for "federalism" has not always meant what Americans take it to mean today. I am not using federalism here in its strict sense, as designating a confederation of sovereign constituent states. Instead, I use it in its modern and American sense, designating a government that James Madison accurately presented in Federalist 39 as a "composition" of federal and national elements. Such an arrangement differs dramatically from the minimalist federalism of the premodern world, in which the federal entity was not regarded as a true unit of government since it did not deal directly with the internal character of the polity, or the governing of its citizenry. It may be more accurate to call the American system a form of "decentralist- federalism" (as Martin Diamond suggested) to indicate the independent dignity and ultimate primacy of the national union.

Nevertheless, the ambiguities and historical resonances that complicate the word "federalism" have their uses. They preserve the awareness that this new American federal union did not entirely reject an older conviction-associated with Montesquieu, but also rooted deeply in classical antiquity-that the small, autonomous community is the proper seedbed of republican virtue. The U.S. Constitution was born in fundamental political debate, and its final form shows the impress of the contending factions it was designed to reconcile. Indeed, as Herbert Storing rightly emphasized, the views of the Constitution's opponents faithfully trail the Constitution's path like the tail of a comet. The opposition was worried about the Constitution's inattention to the question of the sources of republican virtue, fearing that moral declension would befall any community that based itself solely upon the pursuit of self-interest, however cleverly channeled and controlled. They believed, as Storing put it, that "the American polity had to be a moral community if it was to be anything" and they feared that the Constitution took for granted the perpetuation of a virtuous citizenry actively involved in civic life.

This exalted conception of citizenship is central to the classical understanding of republicanism, and entails a view of human nature completely at odds with Wilde's premises of modern life. It presumes that human life has a proper end, and that for an individual to realize his human nature in all its fullness, he must involve himself intensively in the affairs of civic life. Indeed, it seems anachronistic to speak of the "individual" or the "self" in this context, since the deepest sources of one's identity were social. The republican ideal was, as J. G. A. Pocock succinctly explains it, "a civic and patriot ideal in which the personality was founded in property, perfected in citizenship, but perpetually threatened by corruption." In this vision, civic life is not only the soul's true end, but an arena in which it is instructed in its higher nature.

It is well to remember, however, some less pleasant things about classical republicanism. Pocock himself observes that "the ideal of virtue is highly compulsive," for it "demands of the individual, under threat to his moral being, that he participate in the res publica." The soul of man under classical republicanism forswears Wildean vices, but forswears a great deal of liberty besides. The pleasures and satisfactions of commerce, of the arts and sciences, of luxury, of entrepreneurship, of religious devotion, of private life, of cultivating one's own garden-all these must give way to a vision that, taken to its extreme, makes virtuous political activity the alpha and omega of existence. Denying us sanctuary for reflection and space for enterprise, such a regime seems to condemn us to a hellish round of school-board meetings and Kiwanis breakfasts, sewers and landfills-to constant attention to the indoor plumbing. If it is a grave error to assume that human beings are by nature pure and unencumbered individuals, it is equally an error to assert that their life in the polity exhausts who and what they are.

The proper federal settlement, then, needs to find a way to give scope to individual ambition, to economic energy and dynamism, to the "bourgeois" virtues of a liberal democracy, while respecting and upholding the role that acts of citizenship, and public life in general, play in the deepening and elevation of the soul. This was one of the chief preoccupations of Tocqueville, who explored whether self-interest, rightly understood, could be made to take the place of virtue. He was confident it could; at any rate, he thought we had no choice but to try to make it work. But he also never ceased worrying about what might happen if it didn't. It is sometimes not sufficiently appreciated that Tocqueville's famous critique of American individualism refers not to individualism as we today might understand the term, but to privatism, to the wholesale withdrawal of the individual from public life-the strong tendency in democratic societies for "each member of the community to sever himself from the mass of his fellows and to draw apart with his family and his friends." Such individualism was in Tocqueville's view an even more ominous threat to a civilized and self- governing polity than was the tyranny of the majority.

Tocqueville too, then, greatly exalted the title of "citizen," and saw political life as an indispensable school of the soul, where individuals are gradually drawn out of themselves through immersion in public life and grow into more enriching and elevating connection with their fellows. Eventually, he believed, the habit of virtuous behavior, even if initiated for entirely self-interested reasons, could take hold and in due course give rise to something very similar to the original virtue itself. But he did not make the mistake of thinking that behavior and attitude could be compelled by exhortation alone. There must be an institutional framework of rewards and reinforcements. There must be arenas for meaningful acts of citizenship. Fortunately, he believed, the American framers took care to "infuse political life into each portion of the territory in order to multiply to an infinite extent opportunities of acting in concert for all the members of the community."

In other words, Tocqueville saw in the federal idea a way that Americans could retain the spirit of republican citizenship even when embracing the self-interested dynamism of liberal individualism. In so doing, Americans were in effect reconciling the essential principles of both classical and modern political thought. This did not mean that Tocque- ville took a doctrinaire view of precisely how political authority should be subdivided; and it certainly did not mean that he opposed an energetic national government with broad responsibilities. But he did understand that political communities, if they are to have any real moral vitality, must find ways to spur their inhabitants on to the free exercise of their highest natures and provide them public spaces in which they can do so. It must permit them-and require them-to be citizens. This need not mean, to be sure, turning foreign affairs over to the plowman, who was never very interested in them anyway. Indeed, the federal principle has little in common with the growing plebiscitary tendency in American politics, since it favors the careful discrimination of appropriate spheres of responsibility and esteems solid local knowledge over pseudo-cosmopolitan "opinion"-particularly the ill-informed opinions generated by mass media and measured by pollsters. By permitting citizens maximum freedom and scope in the administration of minor and local affairs, one draws them into public life by giving them a genuine, palpable stake in it.

Writers from Aristotle to Montesquieu insisted that a republic had to stay relatively small, because only a small polity could possess sufficient social and moral commonality to be self-governing. And though James Madison argued that an "extended republic" could more effectively control the tendency toward faction in popular governments, he also insisted that the jurisdiction of the central government be "limited to certain enumerated objects," with the states and localities retaining "their due authority and activity." Indeed, he speculated that were the Constitution to abolish the states, the general government would soon be "compelled, by the principle of self-preservation, to reinstate them." He did not assume that a large and diverse nation could offer the same sense of moral community as a small and relatively homogeneous republic (though he did assume that the national perspective would usually be the more elevated and dispassionate one). Rather, he assumed that "a judicious modification and mixture of the federal principle" could combine the advantages of both.

For today's politicians to fulfill the spirit of Madison's words, they may now have to move in the opposite direction-away from the relentless centralizing trends of the past century and toward institutional arrangements that seek to multiply the opportunities for public association. Acts of public association take place within a sphere that is clearly delimited and contained, making of citizenship a sustained and re-ciprocal activity. The challenge is to find ways of restoring the sense of accountability and belonging offered by smaller, more human- scale institutions, institutions that can serve as schools of citizenship while retaining the benefits of national government. This is precisely the promise of federalism. It does not require us to renounce a national government, only to specify and enforce its limits. And it does so not only to limit the power of national government-though that was clearly one of the Framers' chief intentions-but to preserve kinds of association, and therefore qualities of soul, that are beyond the power of nationalism to sustain.

There are, however, plenty of hard questions to be asked. Perhaps the hardest one, a question that immediately arises when one contemplates the elimination or reform of certain national entitlements, is: Does devolution have the capacity to generate civic virtue where it does not currently exist? Or, instead, does civic virtue have to be already present in order for devolution to be successful, or for it to make any sense at all? Can devolution energize the virtue that is already there and transform the lives of those who had lacked virtue? Or will it simply produce even more suffering, squalor, and moral chaos than we already have? And are we really prepared to make the sacrifices entailed in the exercise of civic virtue? Or have we as a people become so habituated to a thousand forms of pleasant (and unpleasant) dependency that we are now incapable of this kind of austere moral assertion and have entirely lost our taste for self-governance?

Perhaps, however, an excessive emphasis upon republicanism exaggerates the role of citizenship, and diminishes the role of religion, in the inculcation and perpetuation of virtue. Most of the Founders were convinced of the indispensability of religion as a bulwark of public and personal morality, and they frequently used the word "virtue" in ways that did not necessarily suggest an allusion to strictly classical antecedents. Indeed, one of the remarkable features of the Founders' discourse is the ease with which they employed a variety of political vocabularies-republican, liberal, and Protestant Christian, ancient and modern-in expressing their convictions on issues of civic virtue. They had an enviable and quintessentially American eclecticism, an ability to extract and incorporate whatever was valuable in a political language or system of ideas without being imprisoned by its totality. The case for public virtue could, in their view, be argued as persuasively on grounds of religious piety or of educated self-interest as it could on grounds of civic obligation. Indeed, one could do all three, and sometimes did, without feeling the least incompatibility among them.

There are considerable advantages inherent in such a mixed moral discourse, including a built-in Madisonian defense against the excesses to which any one language might be susceptible in isolation. And these very advantages offer us a clue to one of the most salient features of the soul of man under American federalism. By attempting to accommodate within a single overarching structure what are in fact different principles of government, traceable ultimately to different views of human nature, the federal system demands of its adherents extraordinary powers of discrimination. They will need a highly developed ability to distinguish what laws and actions are appropriate to each given sphere, an ability to distinguish between and among different spheres of possible activity-and in so doing, to grasp and distinguish the different axial principles appropriate to each.

Although this description suggests that federalism should be understood as part of the great tendency toward functional differentiation so characteristic of modernity-and in a sense it is-in fact the federal idea owes its distinctiveness to a different source. Liberalism rests upon the principle of separation of spheres of activity: religious, social, political, economic, cultural, familial. (We owe, for example, our conception of "the market" as an independent economic institution standing outside the network of social, kinship, religious, and cultural ties to such pluralism.) But to the extent that American federalism manages to keep its republican component alive, it contains within itself a holistic countercurrent and counterargument to this very pluralism-an institutionalized recognition of the fact that, when we act as citizens, we refine and fulfill something in our nature that can be touched in no other way.

If this is right, then federalism entails a very complex vision of the human soul, one that requires us to be forever balancing not only contending external interests, but competing understandings of what it means to be most fully human. And there is every reason to believe that these dualities will be unstable and shifting, rather than resting once and for all in a grand equipoise, or even as "a machine that will run of itself." Individuals in a federal system must have the ability to operate mentally on more than one track, recognizing sometimes the principle of virtue, sometimes the principle of interest (or of maximizing utility), sometimes the principle of liberty, and sometimes the principle of pious obedience-disdaining none, but granting none a trump of all the others.

There is something in all this that does not come naturally, that goes against the grain. It is not for nothing that the word "integrity" has such a high standing in our language; by and large, we trust singleness of mind and purpose, and distrust multiplicity, which we often reduce to duplicity. Purity of heart, said Kierkegaard, is to will one thing. But it is precisely that wish to be devoted to only one thing-that passion for unity, that yearning for the consecrated life-that the federal idea requires us to resist, though, paradoxically, it also requires that we leave a respectful space for such needs.

In a superficial sense, the federal idea would seem to be oddly in tune with the mood of postmodernism, with its antagonism to "totalizing" systems of thought and its hostility to unitary ideas of human agency and personality. But that similarity is only seeming. Any modern federalism will ultimately be reliant upon the structure of a sturdy constitutionalism, which clearly fixes the very boundaries and spheres within which the play of contending forces is allowed to take place. It will emphasize the importance of sturdy institutions, as vessels designed to contain and direct the plural forces that federal arrangements unleash.

Indeed, federalism inevitably places an extraordinarily high premium upon something that has gotten a bad press from all directions in recent years: procedure. Not only does it assert that it makes a great deal of difference whether we do the right things in the wrong ways. It even calls into question the easy distinction that is so often made between procedure and substance-for in a federal system, in many cases procedure is substance. The Latin roots of the word "federalism" suggest this, since they point to the element of trust, embodied in the making of contracts, treaties, leagues, and compacts. At the heart of a federal system is the willingness to entrust some portion of governance to those to whom it is delegated or assigned-recognizing that the opportunity for citizenship is itself a political good of the highest order.

Yet for all the sturdiness of such constitutionalism, there is in federalism a recognition of a kind of restlessness and mystery and indecisiveness at the heart of American political life-as if many of the most important questions remain open and unsettled. To express this, I can hardly improve on the words of political scientist Martin Diamond, one of the most thoughtful students of American federalism, in his essay "The Ends of Federalism":

The distinguishing characteristic of federalism is the peculiar ambivalence of the ends men seek to make it serve. The ambivalence is quite literal: Federalism is always an arrangement pointed in two contrary directions or aimed at securing two contrary ends. . . . Hence any given federal structure is always the institutional expression of the contradiction or tension between the particular reasons the member units have for remaining small and autonomous but not wholly, and large and consolidated but not quite. The differences among federal systems result from the differences of these pairs of reasons for wanting federalism.

There is wisdom in this ambivalence. And the fact that such wisdom emerged out of an intensely political process takes not a thing away from it. Historians are prone to the genetic fallacy, to believe that an account of something's origin is a full account of its nature. It is particularly easy, when looking at the U.S. Constitution, to see only the seams and fault lines of compromise-large states against small states, North against South, landed wealth against personality, and so on. It is also easy to see those compromises as mere way stations on the inevitable path to a powerful national union, of a sort that the Articles of Confederation-an example of old-style federalism-could never have produced.

But there is more to the story of the Constitution than an understanding of it as an attempt to produce a powerful national union, which was held back for a while in certain respects by various bands of nervous nellies and self-interested parties. The American style of federalism, for all of its ad hoc qualities, tried to do something very grand by attempting to balance virtue and interest and arrive at a form of liberty that incorporates both ancient and modern understandings of political life. In an age that pretends to worship diversity, that should be reason enough to look to the federal idea with new respect as an idea that attempts to accommodate and reconcile the respective strengths of a variety of ideas about human nature and human society.

It does not necessarily require us to turn back the clock, as critics so often charge, and undo the past century and a half. A fairer criticism, however, might be that it attempts something akin to squaring the circle, or reconciling the incompatible. That may well be so. But it is equally true that the soul of man under nationalism (or Wilde's socialism) leaves a great deal to be desired, quite as much-to move to the opposite end of the spectrum-as does the soul of man under pure localism, or pre-political tribalism. Federalism proposes an avenue of escape from the constrictions of this dilemma. But it does so at the cost of imposing a high order of complexity in thought and action upon its citizenry. To be sure, in political life everything has its price, and every live option has its problematic dimensions. What is not clear is whether Americans are prepared to pay the price of such complexity. If not, then there will no doubt be other prices to be paid. Indeed, we are already paying them.

It's all to easy to forget that the nation they Founded was a means, not an end:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. --That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Religion, Nationalism, and Civil Society (Conor Cruise O'Brien, February 1998, National Humanities Center)

By the 1760s, then, the educated public in France was undergoing a crisis of identity, as we would now call it. The old certainties, the guiding lights for generations of French people over hundreds of years, had gone. The heart no longer responded to the appeal of faith in the Catholic Church, loyalty to the Most Christian King. What would fill the vacuum? The answer, eventually, was nationalism. The French nation, soon to define itself as la grande nation, took the place of God and the King. There was nothing, any longer, above the nation.

The hinge of eighteenth-century history, and of world history in that epoch, was the Seven Years War. (The germs both of the American Revolution and of the French Revolution were in that conflict.) The Seven Years War represents the moment when religion and nationalism, hitherto closely associated, flew apart in France, and also the moment when the interests of the nation came to be seen as in conflict with the existing institutions of the State. The point about the Seven Years War is that France lost it spectacularly, and lost it in extremely bad company, by the standards of the French educated class of the period. In that war, two Protestant powers--Britain and Prussia--were seen as aligned against two Catholic powers, France and Austria, and the Catholic side, if you can call it that, lost decisively. French nationalism was humiliated (and there is nothing more dangerous in history than humiliated nationalism) and laid its humiliation at the door of the French Monarchy and the Catholic Church. Many historians have been myopic about that turning point in history, but General de Gaulle for one saw its significance clearly. In a penetrating historical insight, de Gaulle wrote: "The fall of the ancien régime began with the battle of Rossbach." Rossbach in 1760 was the battle at which the French Army underwent a major defeat at the hands of a minor power: upstart Prussia.

Although most historians have tended to minimize the fact, the French Revolution was, in all its phases, an explosion of nationalism. The decisive political event that opened the Revolution was the conversion of the old States General into an entirely new, unprecedented institution, the National Assembly. Revolutionary France awarded itself the title la grande nation. "The Marseillaise" is the greatest of nationalist anthems. The petition that prepared the way for the King's deposition called for the punishment of "those who have blasphemed against the nation," the only entity that can be blasphemed against. And when Louis XVI was executed, on 23 January 1793, the cry that followed his decapitation consisted of just three words: Vive la Nation!

Le Roi est mort. Vive la Nation.

As far as surfaces are concerned, French Revolutionary nationalism is entirely secular, purged of all religious content. In reality, French Revolutionary nationalism is a new form of religious upheaval, and a progenitor of other forms of religious upheaval, in secular and often nationalist guise.

In December of 1791, Edmund Burke wrote a memorandum, "Thoughts on French Affairs," to be read by William Pitt, then chief minister of the Crown. The memorandum was never published in Burke's lifetime, and has been little noticed since, but it contains the most profound of all Burke's profound insights into the French Revolution. Burke sees that the French Revolution was a revolution of an entirely new kind, different from any previously brought about in Europe, as he says, "upon principles merely political." Burke went on, "It is a revolution of doctrine and theoretical dogma." (Burke italicized those nine words, then added, "The last revolution of doctrine and theory which has happened in the world is the Reformation." Had Burke been able to contemplate the processes which led to the revolutions of the twentieth century, I believe he would have concluded that the vanity of intellectuals has constituted the most destructive force in human history.

Burke saw the French Revolution as the first secular (or apparently secular) "revolution of doctrine and theoretical dogma." The twentieth century has seen three major revolutions of the same breed--the Russian Revolution of 1917, with a dogmatic system around the idea of class; the German revolution of 1933 to 1944, with a dogmatic system around the ideas of race and nation [Volkstum]; and the Chinese revolution with roughly the same dogmatic system as the Russian one.

The key word in that Burkean diagnosis is the word dogma. The philosophers of the Enlightenment had thought they were putting an end to the world of dogma and priestcraft. But they had not destroyed dogma, only opened the way to new sets of dogmas, all the more plausible because they were apparently secular and scientific. They had brought down a feeble and somnolent priesthood, and had ushered in a far more dangerous breed of priests in plain clothes, using secular discourse to promote millenarian schemes. The new dogmas were enforced, as the dogmas of the ages of faith had been, by torture and terror.

Within the revolutionary system of secular dogma we can distinguish two versions of the secular Apostolic Succession. First is the left-wing version from Rousseau to Marx to Lenin. Second is the right-wing one from Gobineau through Houston Stewart Chamberlain to Adolf Hitler. Both lines of succession, of course, led to disaster on historically unprecedented scale.

Edmund Burke believed that the vanity of intellectuals, especially the vanity of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, was among the main causes of the French Revolution. Had Burke been able to contemplate the processes which led to the revolutions of the twentieth century, I believe he would have concluded that the vanity of intellectuals has constituted the most destructive force in human history.

It is not, however, on that side that the main dangers now seem to lie. The secular dogmatists have been comprehensively discredited by the ghastly failure of their confident experiments. It is true that they may well manage to pop up again in some new guise--they're a versatile crew. For the present, however, the dangers are not coming from the pretensions of intellectuals, but from the visceral side of human nature.

Two hundred years ago the vacuum left in France by the collapse of Catholicism was filled by nationalism. Today, throughout the former Soviet Empire, various forms of nationalism, in association or contention with various forms of religion, are contending to fill the gap left by the collapse of Communism.
Aroused and competing nationalisms in a disintegrating supranational polity represent a formidable threat to the emergence of democracy and of anything like a recognizable civil society.

It may be said that democracy and its associated values, the values of civil society, are also contenders. But I think on the whole that would be a misleading formulation. The contenders are collective emotional forces that move hearts and minds, and these forces include nationalism and religion. For people who have never experienced it--as is the case with most of the peoples of the Soviet Union--democracy is not a force that moves hearts and minds. It is merely a condition to which people aspire. And whether they can get there or not depends very largely on the emotional forces at work, as well as on the economic and political conditions under which they work. Aroused and competing nationalisms in a disintegrating supranational polity represent a formidable threat to the emergence of democracy and of anything like a recognizable civil society.

Under nothing?

[originally posted: 2005-05-16]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Coolidge restored confidence in White House (THOMAS ROESER, September 4, 2004, Chicago Sun-Times)

Today a campaign poster occupies a central place in my study; a gift from my friend Ray Soucek. Bush-Cheney? No, Coolidge-Dawes, the team that won a landslide election 80 years ago this fall. Only two 20th century presidents rate four stars in my revisionist's history: Ronald Reagan and Calvin Coolidge. Why Coolidge, who next to Reagan was anything but showy, a taciturn New Englander; laconic, not voluble, and phenomenally tight with a buck?

Because in addition to being a spectacular economic and foreign policy success, Coolidge was the last president to fulfill the ideal of the founders not to usurp the Congress, overpromise or pander. He truly was The Man who took over from the underappreciated Warren Harding, who died mid-term. On his own, Coolidge cut taxes in 1924 and '26, ending Wilson's excise taxes, which unleashed private investment to produce a solidly robust economy -- yet was not a supply-sider, insisting his tax cuts be accompanied by reductions in spending -- wisely cut the immigration quota to 150,000 yearly -- brilliantly restored confidence in the White House's integrity through innovation, by naming two special counsels (a first) -- a Democrat and a Republican -- to investigate and prosecute scandals hanging over from the Harding administration (with which history shows Harding had no connection).

Choosing a vice president is the president's great task. Coolidge picked one of the greatest of all time, Evanston's Charles G. Dawes (a self-made multimillionaire banker who lost his fortune in the panic of 1893, then re-made it; a brilliant administrator who ran the first budget bureau, whereby he turned a deficit into a surplus that lasted through the Coolidge years). Coolidge was the last president to completely write his own speeches.

Mr. Coolidge's reputation is diminished only by the fact that he governed in relative quiet rather than in time of crisis. You'd think that would raise it instead.

[originally posted: 2004-09-06]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


The Patriot's Flag: An excerpt from Making Patriots by Walter Berns

It is important to understand that America is the result of the coming together of theory and practice, and nowhere is this more evident than in the men who founded it. They were both political theorists and political practitioners, or, to put it differently, there was not then, as there is now, a division between intellectuals and politicians. The Declaration of Independence was drafted by Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin, men who had distinguished political careers, but who also wrote books and scientific papers, and founded universities (Jefferson, the University of Virginia; and Franklin, the Philadelphia Academy, which became the University of Pennsylvania). Not only that, but Franklin was one of the founders of our first so-called learned society (the American Philosophical Society), and Jefferson served as one of its first presidents. As for James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay, they combined to write The Federalist (or Federalist Papers), which has been described in our own time as "the most important work in political science that has ever been written, or is likely ever to be written, in the United States."

But where there was once a unity there is now a division. Our politicians typically know nothing about what is going on in the world of political theory, and our theorists typically do not believe it part of their job to promote the cause of republican government. Some do—those who are not Marxists or "postmodernists"—but even they are likely to teach a version of republicanism different from that espoused by the Founders. There are no citizens in this new version, not in any meaningful sense, and no common good, only "autonomous" individuals, each with his own idiosyncratic view of the good. It follows—or is said to follow—that government may not put the weight of its authority behind any particular view of the good. On all such matters, it must be neutral or, as the current cant would have it, nonjudgmental.

This new republican theory made its first public appearance in the dissenting opinion written by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes in a free speech case decided by the Supreme Court of the United States in 1925. Holmes said, and among libertarians became famous for saying, "If, in the long run, the beliefs expressed in proletarian dictatorship are destined to be accepted by the dominant forces of the community, the only meaning of free speech is that they should be given their chance and have their way." This view was repeated, again in a dissenting opinion, by Justice Hugo Black in a Communist Party case in 1961. As he put it, "education and contrary argument" may provide an adequate defense against communist (or fascist) speech, but if that "remedy is not sufficient," he added, echoing Holmes, "the only meaning of free speech must be that the revolutionary ideas will be allowed to prevail." First expressed by dissenters, this is now the accepted or prevailing view. The only meaning of free speech turns out to mean that it is worse to punish the advocacy of Stalinism or Hitlerism than to be ruled by a local Stalin or Hitler. This, quite obviously, could not have been the view held by James Madison and the other members of the Congress who drafted the First Amendment in 1789. They were sensible republicans.

Among other things, they knew what the Founders generally knew, and what they emphatically say in Federalist 2, namely, when instituting a government, the people are expected to surrender "some of their natural rights, in order to vest [the government] with requisite powers." But Holmes and Black are unmindful of this. Unlike Madison and the other authors of the First Amendment, they treat the constitutional right of freedom of speech as if it were a natural right, the right men possessed in the state of nature; there, as autonomous individuals, men might speak (and do) as they please without regard to political consequences because, there being no political community, nothing said (or done) could have political consequences. But, as the Founders made clear, that ceased to be the case when men entered civil society and formed a political community.

Under what is now the prevailing view of the First Amendment, however, men retain the right to speak as they please, regardless of the consequences of their speech, because the government is forbidden to weigh those consequences or take them into account. Just as Congress may not make any law favoring religion, especially one religion over another, so it may not favor, or put the weight of its authority behind, one or another view of republican government. Accordingly, while Americans, out of habit, might continue to "pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands," the Republic itself stands for nothing in particular, which means that the flag stands for nothing in particular. This, of course, was not the view of those who designed it. For them the flag, and its ceremonies, was one of the means of promoting patriotism.

The flag carried by the Continental army in January 1776 had thirteen stripes and the British ensign in the upper left-hand corner; but, after we declared our independence in July of that year, the Continental Congress resolved that "the flag of the thirteen United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white: that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation," which is to say, a new and different kind of country. Congress later declared the "Star-Spangled Banner" to be the national anthem, and June 14 to be Flag Day, and, later still, John Philip Sousa's " Stars and Stripes Forever" was designated the national march. As Madison indicated, republican government especially requires public-spiritedness, and Congress obviously intended the celebration of the flag—on Flag Day, for example—to be one of the means of promoting it.

In due course, the governments of the United States and forty-eight of the fifty states enacted statutes forbidding the burning (and, generally, the desecration) of the flag. They saw it as the symbol of this new country, this novus ordo seclorum, a country dedicated to the principles set down in the Declaration of Independence: liberty, equality of opportunity, and religious toleration. Its friends pledge allegiance to it and salute it, and its enemies burn it. (What better way to express contempt for the country than by burning its flag, or otherwise showing disrespect for it, for example, by spitting on it or by wearing it attached to the seat of one's trousers?) And when a person was tried and convicted under one of those statutes, the Supreme Court upheld the conviction, saying, "The state [of Nebraska] may exert its power to strengthen the bonds of Union, and therefore, to that end, may encourage patriotism and love of country among its people."

But this was said in 1907, before the new political theory took hold. In 1984, with his friends chanting, "America, the red, white, and blue, we spit on you," one Gregory Lee Johnson burned the American flag and was convicted under a Texas statute forbidding the desecration of a venerated object; and in 1989 the U.S. Supreme Court, by the narrowest of margins, declared the statute a violation of the First Amendment. Writing for the five-justice majority, Justice William Brennan said that Johnson's act was a form of expression, that the First Amendment protects the freedom of expression, that the Texas statute was not neutral insofar as it was aimed at this particular kind of expression, and, therefore, was unconstitutional.

This was sufficient to dispose of the case, but Brennan went on for another five pages to argue that Johnson was convicted for exercising the "freedom that this cherished emblem represents." Like the American Civil Liberties Union, Brennan believes that the flag stands, above all, for freedom of expression, which implies that, by prohibiting Johnson from expressing himself, the state of Texas, not Johnson, had committed an offense against the flag. His argument, although not stated as such, takes the form of a syllogism: the flag stands for the Republic, the Republic stands for freedom of expression, therefore the flag stands for freedom of expression.

But the First Amendment protects freedom of speech, not expression, and, whereas all speech may be expression of a sort, not all expression is speech, and there is good reason why the framers of the First Amendment protected the one and not the other. A person can express himself in isolation, or (and it amounts to the same thing) by burning the flag or a draft card, by denouncing Catholics, or by marching through a Jewish neighborhood brandishing swastikas. But speech implies a listener—one speaks to someone—and, as well, the willingness to be a listener in return. In a word, speech implies conversation and, in the political realm especially, deliberation. It is a means of arriving at a decision, of bringing people together, which requires civility and mutual respect; and in a polity consisting of blacks and whites, Jews, Muslims, and Christians, liberals and conservatives, and peoples from every part of the globe, civility and mutual respect are a necessity. So understood, speech is good, which is why the Constitution protects it.

Even so, the flag and country obviously stand for more than freedom of speech (to say nothing of freedom of expression). Even Johnson knew this. He was part of a group gathered "to protest the policies of the Reagan administration and of certain Dallas-based corporations," which, of course, he was entitled to do; indeed, he would not have been arrested—not under the statute involved—had he burned an effigy of Ronald Reagan. (Reagan may be venerated in some quarters, but he is not a "venerated object.") Instead, he burned the flag, evidently because he wanted to show his contempt for it and, therefore, what it stands for. If, however, the right to speak freely, or even to express oneself, is all it stands for, he could not have shown his contempt for it by exercising the freedom for which it stands. In that circumstance, he would be paying tribute to it; and that, surely, is not what he intended to do.

I do not mean to belittle the importance of freedom of speech; as I suggested above, it is an essential feature of republican government. I mean only to say that the flag stands for everything the country stands for, and, therefore, that Brennan's understanding of it is partial or incomplete. As such, it cannot explain why it is, as Brennan said it was, a "cherished emblem." It cannot explain why, for example, the marines on Iwo Jima, where some six thousand of them died fighting for their country, raised the flag on Mount Suribachi, in fact (as we know from the famous photograph, and especially from the Marine Corps Memorial in the Arlington National Cemetery), struggled to raise it on the only staff available to them, a piece of battlefield pipe. Nor can it explain why it was thought appropriate to drape the flag over the body of the marine sergeant killed in the 1998 bombing of our embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, or why the embassy staff—I'm quoting the Marine Corps report—"stood erect and silent as the body was removed from the rubble and placed in a waiting vehicle." The fact is, the flag is used to express what is in the hearts and minds of most Americans on such occasions. The chief justice said as much when, in his dissenting opinion in the Johnson case, he spoke of "the deep awe and respect for our flag felt by virtually all of us." We are, as the chief justice suggests, emotionally attached to it.

For it is our emotions, more than our rational faculties, that are triggered by the sight of the flag, not when it is used (or abused) for commercial purposes, but when it is waved and flown on Flag Day and the Fourth of July, and displayed at the various war memorials on the Mall in Washington or, for that matter, in towns and cities around the country, and on the battlefields at Bull Run, Antietam, and Gettysburg, and at the cemeteries where those who fought and died are buried, not only at Arlington and Gettysburg, but in the faraway places we sometimes visit, among them, Manila in the Philippines, Cambridge in England, Château-Thierry in the north of France, and, perhaps most famously, above Omaha Beach in Normandy. The sight of it, especially in these places, evokes memories of past battles and of those who fought them, and to whom we are indebted. They served our country and were the better for it; by honoring them, as we do, we pay a service of our own and are the better for it. I can make this point with an analogy: not every American can be a Lincoln, but all Americans are made better by reading his words and coming to love him and the cause for which he gave his life.

To the end that we remember him, and by remembering, come to love him, the government authorized the building of the Lincoln Memorial; and no one, I think, not even the most zealous civil libertarian, would argue that the Johnsons among us are free to express themselves by spraying it with graffiti. There is something about the memorial that forbids its desecration, and, because it, too, causes us to remember, the same ought to be true of the flag.

The idea that anything within the four corners of the Constitution requires the protection of those who would destroy it is ludicrous and obviously contradicts its own stated purpose:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquillity, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

The Constitution creates a Republic, not the means of getting rid of one.

[originally posted: 2004-07-29]

July 3, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:35 PM


Our First Revolution (MICHAEL BARONE, July 3, 2007, NY Sun)

[T]his First Revolution turned out to be a giant step forward for representative government, guaranteed liberties, global capitalism, and an anti-tyrannical foreign policy. That was not necessarily the intention of the actors in this drama, but it was the result they produced. We are its fortunate beneficiaries.

The story has a special resonance for New York. It was James II who, as Duke of York and Lord High Admiral, in 1664 ordered the British fleet to oust the Dutch from Nieuw Amsterdam, and when the city was captured it was renamed in his honor.

But five years later James decided to become a Catholic. This was a problem: he was the heir to the throne — his brother, Charles II, had no legitimate children — and most Englishmen were Protestants who regarded Catholicism as tyrannical. When James became king, he claimed the right to dispense with the law blocking Catholics from serving in the army or civil government. He also dissolved Parliament and set out to secure the election of one that would be a rubber stamp. This was in line with the move toward absolutism in Europe, where monarchs like Louis XIV of France were abolishing ancient assemblies as medieval anachronisms and ruling directly through bureaucracies.

The moment of truth came in June 1688, when James's second wife gave birth to a son who would take precedence over his two Protestant daughters, Mary and Anne. Into action stepped Mary's husband , William of Orange, Stadholder of the Netherlands, and, as James's nephew, fourth in line for the throne himself.

In secret William procured an invitation from seven English lords to come over to England, assembled an army of 25,000 men and a navy of 500 ships, and printed and smuggled into England 50,000 copies of a pamphlet setting forth his intention to seek a "free parliament."

After agonizing delays, his forces crossed the Channel in November — not the ideal season for a Channel crossing — and landed in southwest England and marched toward London. James, deserted by his leading general, John Churchill, who later became the Duke of Marlborough, ordered his army not to fight and fled the country, throwing the Great Seal into the Thames. William's Dutch army occupied London.

William could have declared himself king. Instead he ordered elections for a new parliament and conspicuously avoided influencing them. That parliament, after debating whether James had abdicated or was still king, voted to make William king and Mary queen. It also passed a Declaration of Right and effectively required that Parliament must meet every year.

While it's good to recall, the Glorious in particular and the Snglo nature of the American Revolution in general, both just follow naturally from Magna Carta, like Simon de Montfort's and the Puritan.

[originally posted: 7/04/07]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:05 PM


The War of Independence Was Hell (Froma Harrop, 6/30/07, Real Clear Politics)

[T]he War of Independence was horrific, according to John Ferling, a leading historian of early America. It was a grinding conflict that rivaled, and in some ways exceeded, the Civil War in its toll on American fighters when looked at on a per-capita basis. Ferling chronicles the suffering in his new book, "Almost a Miracle: The American Victory in the War of Independence" (Oxford University Press).

"There's a sense that there was a great deal of gallantry," Ferling told me, "and the Revolution was a war unlike modern wars." Not so.

Ferling offers a gritty, boots-on-the-ground account of a war that subsequent generations had melted into a patriotic story suitable for children. The reality was that combatants on all sides committed atrocities and the body count turned ghastly.

One in four men who served in the Continental Army lost his life, a higher percentage death toll than in the Civil War, where one regular in five perished. In World War II, one in 40 American servicemen died.

Almost half the American rebels taken prisoner died, mainly from disease and malnutrition. The mortality rate among Union soldiers held at the infamous Andersonville POW camp in Georgia was a far lower 37 percent.

Ferling challenges other misconceptions about the period.

With attrition rates like that the Democrats would have surrendered on the 5th of July

[originally posted: 7/04/07]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:00 PM


US 'flag epidemic' reaches peak on Fourth of July (Chantal Valery, Jul 4, 2006, Agence France Presse)

It's a true epidemic: the red, white and blue, stars-and-stripes banners are everywhere in the United States - on house facades, front lawns, cars and clothes. [...]

"Old Glory," as the US flag is affectionately called, can be seen in abundance through the year in the American heartland and the South, and to a lesser extent in cities like New York and Los Angeles. [...]

An official federal government code sets very specific rules on how the US flag should be handled. The national banner cannot be thrown on the ground, hung upside down, torn or allowed to become dirty.

It must be illuminated in nighttime and, the code says, cannot be used as a prop for advertising activities.

However, there is no sanction for violating these rules. The Supreme Court ruled in 1989 that freedom of expression guaranteed by the US constitution includes the right to burn the flag, an act frequently observed during protests against the Vietnam War.

Last week, the US Senate barely rejected a proposed constitutional amendment that could have led to criminal penalties for desecrating of the flag.

"I doubt very much that it is the end of the story," said William Galston, an analyst with the Brookings Institution.

"Global public opinion surveys regularly put Americans at the top of the patriotism index," Galston told AFP. "The US flag is the visible symbol of that strong sentiment... Even our national anthem is about the flag."

What makes the American flag unique is that it is in fact a symbol that represents ideas. You can't symbolize France because being French is a matter of blood. You are French or you aren't. Anyone can be American.

After 9/11 highs, America's back to good ol' patriotism (Linda Feldmann, 7/05/06, The Christian Science Monitor)

In Monitor interviews conducted during the July 4 weekend, words such as "love" and "loyalty" toward America flow easily, as do expressions of belief in the ideals of freedom and democracy. Perhaps it should come as no surprise, then, that the latest global survey on "national pride," a close cousin of patriotism, found that Americans ranked No. 1 among the 34 democracies polled. [...]

Of the 10 areas the survey gauged, the United States ranked highest in five - pride in its democracy, its political influence, economy, science, and military. (The other five areas were history, sports, arts/literature, fair and equal treatment of groups, and social security system.)

[originally posted: 7/04/06]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:50 PM


For those of you who may not realize it, the best show in the history of television also has the most complete archive of its past shows. The Booknotes website has print transripts and viewable Video of many shows back to 1989. Here are links to some that have dealt with the Founding, the Founders, the Revolution, and the Declaration. I starred (*) a few that are particularly worthwhile. :
Roger Kennedy : Orders From France: The Americans and the French in a Revolutionary World (1780-1820)

William Lee Miller : The Business of May Next: James Madison & the Founding

Richard Norton Smith : Patriarch: George Washington and the New American Nation

Joseph Ellis : Passionate Sage: The Character and Legacy of John Adams

Willard Sterne Randall : Thomas Jefferson: A Life

Clare Brandt : The Man in the Mirror: A Life of Benedict Arnold

David Hackett Fischer : Paul Revere's Ride

Alan Ryan : Introduction Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America

Lance Banning : The Sacred Fire of Liberty: James Madison & the Founding of the Federal Republic

Lloyd Kramer : Lafayette in Two Worlds: Public Cultures and Personal Identities in an Age of Revolutions

Jack Rakove : Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution

*Pauline Maier : American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence

Brian Burrell : The Words We Live By: The Creeds, Mottoes, and Pledges That Have Shaped America

*Thomas West : Vindicating the Founders: Race, Sex, Class and Justice in the Origins of America

*Paul Johnson : A History of the American People

Annette Gordon-Reed : Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy

Alfred Young : The Shoemaker and the Tea Party: Memory & the American Revolution

*Winston Churchill : The Great Republic: A History of America

Howard Zinn : A People's History of the United States, 1492-Present

Joyce Appleby : Inheriting the Revolution: The First Generation of Americans

*Harvey Mansfield : Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America

*Robert Scigliano : The Federalist Papers

Roger Wilkins : Jefferson's Pillow: The Founding Fathers and the Dilemma of Black Patriotism

Walter Berns : Making Patriots

Irvin Molotsky : The Flag, The Poet and The Song

*Michael Novak : On Two Wings: Humble Faith and Common Sense at the American Founding

*Gordon Wood : The American Revolution: A History

James Srodes : Franklin: The Essential Founding Father

[originally posted: 2002-07-01]
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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:27 PM


GET THEE TO A VIDEO STORE:In addition to Independence Day, this is the anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, so memorably recounted in The Killer Angels (1974)(Michael Shaara 1929-1988) (Grade: A+). Several years ago,TNT made a pretty good movie version of the book, called just Gettysburg, and they used to show it on the 4th (I don't know if it's on tomorrow, but rent the movie or buy the DVD at Borders for $15). If you can watch it without choking up when Joshua Chamberlain orders the men on Little Round Top to fix bayonets, you're one tough cookie.

Another flick you could bring home, though it has its flaws, is Mel Gibson's The Patriot. Just the cinematography, by the great Caleb Deschanel, is worth the price of admission.

Harder to find, but a better Revolutionary War film, is The Devil's Disciple, with one of those great pairings of Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster. [originally posted: July 3, 2002]
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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:39 PM


Palin to Resign as Governor of Alaska (Mitchell L. Blumenthal, 7/03/09, NY Times)

Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska announced Friday that she would step down by the end of the month and not seek a second term as governor, which would allow her to seek the Republican nomination for president in 2012.

Was Mark Sanford cornering the screwball vote?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:47 PM


Der Indianer: Why do 40,000 Germans spend their weekends dressed as Native Americans? (Noemi Lopinto, Alberta Views)

Blackbird’s fame springs from a remarkable cultural phenomenon: some 40,000 German “hobbyists” who spend their weekends trying to live exactly as Indians of the North American plains did over two centuries ago. They recreate tepee encampments, dress in animal skins and furs, and forgo modern tools, using handmade bone knives to cut and prepare food. They address each other by adopted Indian-sounding names such as White Wolf. Many feel an intense spiritual link to Native myths and spirituality, and talk about “feeling” Native on the inside.

Their fascination with Native culture is due in large part to Karl May, the best-selling German author of all time. In 1892, May published the first of many books about a fictional Apache warrior named Winnetou and his German blood brother, Old Shatterhand. The two men roamed the North American plains, using their nearly superhuman powers to fight off the land-hungry government and thuggish, violent pioneers. (Fans of the stories included Albert Einstein and Adolf Hitler.) In the 1960s the duo was immortalized in five popular films, and hobbyist groups began forming across Europe. There are now more than 400 clubs in Germany alone.

Some Natives do take issue. When he first traveled to Germany, David Redbird Baker, an Ojibwe, thought adults playing cowboys and Indians were cute. But when the hobbyists began staging sacred ceremonies like ghost and sun dances and sweat lodges, Baker was offended.

“They take the social and religious ceremonies and change them beyond recognition,” says Baker, who believes that hobbyists, in claiming the right to improvise on the most sacred rituals, have begun to develop a sense of ownership over Native culture. They’ve held dances where anyone in modern dress is barred from attending—even visiting Natives. They buy sacred items like eagle feathers and add them to their regalia. They’ve even allowed women to dance during their “moon time,” which is, according to Baker, the equivalent of a cardinal sin.

...that all the women who celebrate the "spirituality" of the Indians were aware of how they treated their women during "moon time".

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:10 PM


The new Conservatism can create a capitalism that works for the poor: State expenditure and redistribution has done little to end dependency. We need a fresh approach that gives assets to all (Phillip Blond, 7/02/09, guardian.co.uk)

David Cameron recognised all of this and spoke at Davos early this year of the need to recapitalise the poor and create a capitalism that works for all. The key political aim of this truly transformative conservatism must be the generation of an asset effect for the decapitalised bottom half of society. Assets must, however, come from somewhere, and since redistribution and expenditure via the state has such a poor record in alleviating dependency, a fresh approach is required. Welfare or public expenditure should move from a spending to an investment model. The aim must be to free the poor from welfare subsidy through the generation of asset independence. The following are some ideas as to how this might be achieved: [...]

2 The capitalisation of welfare streams. The only real viable source for welfare capitalisation is housing and child benefit. Councils have used their housing stock to generate cash income for benefit dependency for generations. By constantly raising rents, councils have created housing that the working poor cannot afford. Some sort of redress is required – a capital or asset credit, financed by a council bond, should be applied to those whose long-term benefit has, in effect, subsidised council receipts. This credit should be a tradable asset that, when conjoined with other new ventures such as community shares or social investment, can generate an asset effect for those whose routes out of poverty are presently so curtailed.

Similarly, child benefit should be means-tested, and the savings applied to a government matching programme for child trust funds for the lowest income groups. Studies by the Children's Mutual show that if the government matches the deposits of the poorest families, at age 18 the values of those funds for the poorest will be at the national average – currently £10,000. [...]

5 Create a more dynamic and self-managed universal pension. In order to encourage earlier saving, let people access their pension fund to buy a first house or fund education – let the pension become a multi-applicable vehicle to generate other non-speculative and carefully constrained assets. Initiate a good advice service for general public pensions: this would enable people to eliminate management costs and self-manage their own provision, producing a pension pot on average 75% higher than current returns..

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:40 AM


Try JibJab Sendables® eCards today!

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:02 AM


At the Movies (Michael Wood, 7/09/09, London Review of Books)

North by Northwest? Witty, stylish thriller where a man can almost get killed in the middle of nowhere and later scramble about the face of Mount Rushmore? Film where the notion of real-life probability is not just abandoned but lampooned, Hitchcock’s finest attack on the very notion of cause and motive? ‘Here, you see’, he said to Truffaut, speaking about this movie, ‘the MacGuffin has been boiled down to its purest expression: nothing at all!’ He is saying that the espionage that drives the plot does just that: it drives the plot. We don’t have to know what the spies are after or what’s at stake, even if there is a flicker of a mention of the Cold War in the movie. Do the stolen secrets matter? In the world of actual espionage that would probably be a secret too, but in Hitchcock the answer is a revelation. Of course they matter, even in the entire absence of any content for them. They are the way the film pretends it’s about something.

We can think of all this, or of as much of it as we care to, under very good conditions, since a new print of North by Northwest is showing at the BFI, and will doubtless soon appear on DVD – the old DVD is discontinued and can be found only at enterprising or out-of-the-way shops. The film starts in a way that defines its terms with extraordinary elegance, asking us to think about design and daily reality together, as if we could just fade from one to the other and back. Well, we can, can’t we? Saul Bass’s abstract credit sequence – green screen, credits running across multiple diagonal lines – dissolves into Hitchcock’s (briefly, at the start) realistic movie as the lines become the floors of a glass skyscraper full of reflections of cars on a New York street: Madison Avenue, as it happens, in those days the world headquarters of advertising, and crowded with people, including Hitchcock himself narrowly missing a bus. This busy city feeling continues as Cary Grant, playing the ad man Roger Thornhill, appears dictating notes to his secretary. They start to walk uptown, then take a taxi. He gets out at the Plaza, meets some business associates in the Oak Room.

Then everything shifts into an entirely different register, apparently for plot reasons but really because we are beginning to leave all ordinary ideas of plot behind, the pure MacGuffin kicking in. Getting up to send a telegram, Thornhill is mistaken for a man who is being paged, one George Kaplan. Thornhill is promptly kidnapped, and taken off to a palatial pad on Long Island, where after failing to reveal to his interrogators what he is supposed to know, he is filled with bourbon and dumped in a car rolling downhill. Half-asleep and fully drunk he drives the car most of the way off a cliff and back again, narrowly misses hitting several cars coming the other way on a very winding road (distinctly more like somewhere in California than anywhere on Long Island, and even more like a bit of studio superimposed on some footage of the sea), has a bad fit of double vision, and finally brakes hard in order to avoid an elderly cyclist. The police car that has been following him for a while crashes into him, and another vehicle crashes into the police car. Thornhill is taken off to the police station, miraculously unharmed but still very drunk. When he tells the story of his kidnapping, no one believes him, not even (or least of all) his mother, played by the admirable Jessie Royce Landis, almost repeating her role in To Catch a Thief. This is the kind of movie where an arrested man makes his one phone call not to his lawyer but to his mother. He tells her to bring his lawyer.

So far so random, and so mystifying. Hitchcock says that at this point in the shooting of the film even Grant didn’t know what was going on. He was Roger Thornhill.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:55 AM


Communiste et Rastignac: a review of Le Monde selon K. by Pierre Péan (Christopher Caldwell, 7/09/09, London Review of Books)

It is Kouchner, more than anyone, who has eroded the distinction between philanthropy and combat. As a young gastroenterologist and self-described ‘mercenary of emergency medicine’, he helped launch Médecins sans frontières in the early 1970s. He broadcast the plight of the Vietnamese boat people in the late 1970s, advised Mitterrand in the 1980s, roused public indignation over events in Somalia, Bosnia and Rwanda in the 1990s, and served as interim governor of Kosovo after Nato’s attack on Serbia; more recently he has become the most prominent of several socialists in Sarkozy’s cabinet. Kouchner may not have invented the concept of ‘humanitarian intervention’, but he has been its symbol for decades.

Most French people would say this is a good thing. In a country that is cynical about politics and elites of all sorts, Kouchner has been consistently beloved, with approval ratings above 60 per cent. He is both a dashing man of adventure and a political idealist – the closest thing present-day France has to a Malraux. His reputation even survived his support for the invasion of Iraq.

In February, however, the country’s most celebrated investigative journalist published an exposé accusing Kouchner of various intellectual, political and financial misdeeds. Pierre Péan is best known for having revealed that the dictator Jean-Bédel Bokassa, of the Central African Republic, had given diamonds worth millions of francs to Giscard d’Estaing, and for uncovering the extent of Mitterrand’s work for the Vichy government as a young man. In Le Monde selon K., Péan considers a number of uncomfortable moments in Kouchner’s career as a consultant. More important, if less controversially, he argues that Kouchner’s transnational humanitarianism has made France’s foreign policy interests subservient to those of the United States – indeed, that humanitarianism as he practises it is just a larval form of neoconservatism. [...]

Kouchner has spent the last three decades trying to translate his humanitarian reputation into political, military and diplomatic influence of a more traditional kind. In 1988, Mitterrand created a post for him as secretary of state for humanitarian affairs. Kouchner’s great achievement at the time was to theorise (with the help of the international lawyer Mario Bettati) the droit d’ingérence – the right to disregard national sovereignty and intervene in countries experiencing humanitarian crises – and to get it codified, in UN Resolution 43/131. There was something sneaky about the way the measure was implemented: it calls for intervention in case of ‘natural disasters and similar emergency situations’. Political turmoil turned out to be similar enough to storms or earthquakes, and in 1990 and 1991 the UN Security Council invoked 43/131 to open a ‘humanitarian corridor’ for Kurds fleeing Iraq.

This changed everything. It rendered national sovereignty conditional....

In a presidency with no shortage of significant achievements, perhaps George W. Bush's least recognized is the way the three Western leaders who opposed him--Chirac, Chretien, and Schroeder--were dispatched by their respective leaders and replaced by American allies.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:45 AM


To become an extremist, hang around with people you agree with: Cass Sunstein — co-author of the hugely influential Nudge and an adviser to President Obama — unveils his new theory of ‘group polarisation’, and explains why, when like-minded people spend time with each other, their views become not only more confident but more extreme (Cass Sunstein, 1st July 2009, New Statesman)

Political extremism is often a product of group polarisation and social segregation is a useful tool for producing polarisation. In fact, a good way to create an extremist group, or a cult of any kind, is to separate members from the rest of society. The separation can occur physically or psychologically, by creating a sense of suspicion about non-members. With such separation, the information and views of those outside the group can be discredited, and hence nothing will disturb the process of polarisation as group members continue to talk. Deliberating enclaves of like-minded people are often a breeding ground for extreme movements. Terrorists are made, not born, and terrorist networks often operate in just this way. As a result, they can move otherwise ordinary people to violent acts. But the point goes well beyond such domains. Group polarisation occurs in our daily lives; it involves our economic decisions, our evaluations of our neighbours, even our decisions about what to eat, what to drink and where to live.

So why do like-minded people go to extremes? The most important reason for group polarisation, which is key to extremism in all its forms, involves the exchange of new information. Group polarisation often occurs because people are telling one another what they know, and what they know is skewed in a predictable direction. When they listen to each other, they move.

Suppose that you are in a group of people whose members tend to think that Israel is the real aggressor in the Middle East conflict, that eating beef is unhealthy, or that same-sex unions are a good idea. In such a group, you will hear many arguments to that effect. Because of the initial distribution of views, you will hear relatively fewer opposing views. It is highly likely that you will have heard some, but not all, of the arguments that emerge from the discussion. After you have heard all of what is said, you will probably shift further in the direction of thinking that Israel is the real aggressor, opposing eating beef, and favouring civil unions. And even if you do not shift — even if you are impervious to what others think — most group members will probably be affected.

When groups move, they do so in large part because of the impact of information. People tend to respond to the arguments made by other people — and the pool of arguments, in a group with a predisposition in a particular direction, will inevitably be skewed in the direction of the original predisposition. Certainly this can happen in a group whose members tend to support aggressive government regulation to combat climate change. Group members will hear a number of arguments in favour of aggressive government regulation and fewer arguments the other way. If people are listening, they will have a stronger conviction, in the same direction from which they began, as a result of deliberation. If people are worried about climate change, the arguments they offer will incline them toward greater worry. If people start with the belief that climate change is a hoax and a myth, their discussions will amplify and intensify that belief. And indeed, a form of ‘environmental tribalism’ is an important part of modern political life. Some groups are indifferent to environmental problems that greatly concern and even terrify others. The key reason is the information to which group members are exposed. If you hear that genetically modified food poses serious risks, and if that view is widespread in your community, you might end up frightened. If you hear nothing about the risks associated with genetically modified food, except perhaps that some zealots are frightened, you will probably ridicule their fear. And when groups move in dangerous directions — toward killing and destruction — it is usually because the flow of information supports that movement.

Those who lack confidence and who are unsure what they should think tend to moderate their views. Suppose that you are asked what you think about some question on which you lack information. You are likely to avoid extremes. It is for this reason that cautious people, not knowing what to do, tend to choose some midpoint between the extremes. But if other people seem to share their views, people become more confident that they are correct.

As a result, they will probably move in a more extreme direction. What is especially noteworthy is that this process of increased confidence and increased extremism is often occurring simultaneously for all participants. Suppose that a group of four people is inclined to distrust the intentions of the United States with respect to foreign aid. Seeing their tentative view confirmed by three others, each member is likely to feel vindicated, to hold their view more confidently, and to move in a more extreme direction. At the same time, the very same internal movements are also occurring in other people (from corroboration to more confidence, and from more confidence to more extremism).

But those movements will not be highly visible to each participant. It will simply appear as if others ‘really’ hold their views without hesitation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:34 AM


Independence, British-Style (ADAM FREEDMAN, 7/03/09, NY Times)

The English Bill of Rights, like the Declaration, emerged at a moment of crisis. In 1689, the exiled James was raising an army to recapture the throne (he ultimately failed). To keep parliamentary opinion firmly against the old king, the Bill of Rights sets forth a long list of grievances against the crown.

The Declaration follows the same template and, in many cases, recites the same grievances. The very first complaint listed in the 1689 document, that the king had suspended laws and the execution of laws “without consent of Parliament,” is closely echoed in the Declaration’s opening gripe, that the king had “refused his assent to laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.”

Likewise, the Declaration’s defense of the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” conveyed nothing more radical than established British law. Much ink has been spilt arguing that those concepts came from the English philosopher John Locke, or perhaps the Scottish enlightenment, or even American Indian tradition. In reality, the drafters were probably inspired by dowdy old common law, which had long before recognized life, liberty and property as an Englishman’s “absolute rights.” Even Jefferson’s reference to “the pursuit of happiness” was founded on British constitutional principles.

And yet, the Declaration of Independence makes no explicit claim to British pedigree, but appeals to “the laws of nature and of nature’s God” and “the supreme judge of the world” to support its argument. That turned what otherwise would have been a mere restatement of English law into an invitation to the world to recognize certain “self-evident” truths about equality and freedom.

The world would be a better place today had the King granted them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:26 AM


Our Founders the Realists: The Constitution succeeded because its authors had a clear-eyed view of human nature. (Rich Lowry, 7/03/09, National Review)

The Revolution was institutionalized in the Constitution, an inspired exercise in leveraging human failings against one another — “ambition counteracts ambition” — to create a stable structure of liberty.

“It may be a reflection on human nature,” Madison wrote in a famous passage in Federalist No. 51, “that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: You must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.”

How did the Founders come to know man as they did? They had broad practical experience that exposed them to humanity in its glory and its folly: as lawyers, military officers, and — especially important — legislators. Some knew hardship. Try, like Alexander Hamilton, making your way as a penniless, orphaned bastard from the West Indies and see if you don’t pick up a few hard-boiled lessons about how the world works.

They read widely, knew the classics, and soaked up history. John Adams studied and wrote a book about the French civil wars of the 16th century, concluding of human affairs: “Reason holds the helm, but passions are the gales.” Madison undertook a yearlong study of the history of republics and confederacies prior to the writing of the Constitution. Believing “experience is the oracle of truth,” he endeavored to learn from this long, unrelieved record of failure.

They didn’t let their view of reality get obscured by abstruse theories or sunny abstractions of the sort that perverted the French Revolution. No philosophes need apply. Instead, a residual Calvinism tinged their worldview. They admired the “country” tradition in England, characterized by a deep distrust of the crown and support for republican reforms to preserve English liberties. In this tradition, the late historian Martin Malia writes, “men were neither rational nor naturally good,” and “human government therefore invariably tended toward corruption and despotism.”

What the Constitution institutionalizes is the Fall.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:15 AM


Health Care: Costs And Reform (Bruce Bartlett, 07.03.09, Forbes)

Americans widely believe that while the our health system is expensive it is nevertheless the best in the world. However, a new report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development suggests otherwise.

According to the OECD, the U.S. spends 5% of GDP more on health than France, the nation with the second highest level of health spending among the 30 wealthy countries in the organization. The average for all OECD countries is 8.9% of GDP.

We spend $7,290 per person on average versus $2,964 among all OECD countries. Norway, the nation with the second most expensive health system on a per capita basis, spends $4,763. (Currency conversions based on purchasing power parity.)

Of course, Americans know that they pay a lot for health; the rising cost of health insurance for employers is the main reason why wages have been stagnant for years. [...]

Nor has the U.S. bought significantly better health with its vastly higher health spending. Life expectancy at birth is probably the best general measure of a population's health. This statistic has increased by 8.2 years in the U.S. since 1960, but has risen more in most other OECD countries. In Canada, life expectancy has risen 9.4 years and more than 10 years in both Germany and France. Life expectancy rose by almost 15 years in Japan over the same time.

Infant mortality is another good general measure of the quality of a health system. In 2006, 6.7 infants died per 1,000 live births in the U.S.--a sharp decline from 26 deaths in 1960. But the infant mortality rate is lower in every other OECD country except Turkey and Mexico. The average rate for all OECD countries is 4.9 deaths per 1,000 live births.

The U.S. does excel at one thing: the amount of highly expensive medical equipment per capita. In 2007, there were 26 MRI machines per 1 million population here versus an OECD average of less than 10. But our lead in high-tech equipment is shrinking. A few years ago we had far more CT scanners per capita than any other country; now our lead is much less and several countries have more scanners per capita.

As an economist, Mr. Bartlett ought to know that modern health care is just a consumer good, like chips and salsa. Analyzing it as if its effects mattered to the consumer makes little sense.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:01 AM


As American as…Cricket: Cricket and baseball are twin brothers, separated at birth. (Roger Bate, July 3, 2009, The American)

I cannot remember the first time I heard an American say “cricket is so boring: it lasts for days and still ends in a draw.” Let’s just say it was not this decade or the one before that. I am not going to try and explain cricket—the rules are too complex for a short article. Or to persuade you that cricket is a great game—hundreds of millions of Indians, Pakistanis, South Africans, Zimbabweans, Sri Lankans, Australians, New Zealanders, Bangladeshis, West Indians, Kenyans, Dutch, Welsh, Scots, and English, like me, know it is.

It is fair to say if you do not like baseball, then you will not like cricket. But if you do, read on a little longer.

There are many similarities between baseball and cricket. They are duels of batter (batsman) and pitcher (bowler). They showcase highly individualized, skillful players striving for a collective goal. They are slow, staccato games with plenty of pauses for the audience (and indeed players) to consider what could happen next. Both can move from the seemingly pedestrian to vibrant excitement in less than a second.

They are sports with tremendous history and fabulous rivalries. While there is no love lost between Red Sox Nation and Yankees fans, India and Pakistan almost went to war over cricket (and who knows, they still might). Both sports boast legendary players who elevated the game to new heights. Born at roughly the same time as Babe Ruth, Australian great Don Bradman dominated cricket for nearly 20 years. When Bradman told Ruth that a batter did not have to run on contact in cricket the Babe barked “Just too easy!” Yet Babe Ruth eventually became fascinated by cricket.

Good sports can be enjoyed at many levels. The casual observer enjoys soaking up the atmosphere and beer; the serious fans obsess over the minutiae.

Freshman year at Colgate, an Anglophile in our dorm organized a cricket match. We used a sawed off hockey goalie stick, a tennis ball wrapped in tape and the wickets were stacked milk cartons. We dressed in such whites as we had and mixed up vats of gin and whatever. At one point, two professors had to cut across the Quad in mid-game and one was heard to say to the other: "At least we're importing a better brand of ruffian these days."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:57 AM


Highway fatalities decrease in U.S. (Kristi Jourdan, 7/03/09, THE WASHINGTON TIMES)

There's a bright spot among the dark news cast by the nation's economy -- the recession is keeping drivers off the road and setting record lows for the number of highway fatalities nationwide.

So House Republicans do deserve some credit.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:47 AM



The Archdiocese of New York's 132 city elementary schools continue to outperform public schools by leaps and bounds in reading, and to a lesser extent in math, new statistics show.

Seventy-eight percent of Catholic-school eighth-graders aced the state reading exam -- 21 percentage points higher than the public-school kids -- and 82 percent passed the math test, 9 percentage points better than their public-school counterparts.

In fourth grade, 85 percent of Catholic-school kids met or surpassed state benchmarks in reading -- 16 percentage points above the public schools -- while 88 percent did so in math, 3 percent higher than the public-school youngsters.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:43 AM


European Commission Outlines Derivatives Revamp Plan (CAROLYN HENSON and NEIL SHAH, 7/03/09, WSJ)

The European Commission Friday outlined measures it is considering to improve the safety and transparency of Europe's over-the-counter derivatives trade.

The measures include broadening the standardization of derivatives products and extending the collection of data on the number of transactions and the size of outstanding positions.

...but what riskk each derivative contains.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:38 AM


Survival of the less fit: The mystery of Scotland’s shrinking sheep may have been solved (The Economist, 7/03/09)

Tim Coulson of Imperial College, London, and his colleagues examined the weights of about 2,000 female sheep that lived on the island in the two decades of their study. They combined this information with detailed histories of individual animals. They found that daughters were, on average, lighter than their mothers had been at the same age. Their legs were shorter, too, suggesting that the breed really was shrinking.

Why is this happening? The researchers, who published their results in the current issue of Science, suspected that it might have something to do with climate change.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:35 AM


Rogue trader sends oil to year-high on $10m gamble (Susan Thompson and Miles Costello, 7/03/09, Times of London)

PVM Oil Futures, a London-based division of the world’s biggest broker of over-the-counter derivatives, has lost almost $10 million (£6 million) after falling foul of a rogue trader. [...]

The rogue trades are widely believed to have caused global crude oil prices to spike to their highest level in more than eight months – a leap that traders and analysts had struggled to explain.

...it's a three-card monty game.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:09 AM


Capture the Flag (Timothy Egan, 7/01/09, NY Times)

Traveling in California and New York over the last couple of weeks, I noticed something in the summer landscape of these two deeply blue states that is more reminiscent of rural America this time of year – a surfeit of American flags.

Among the offerings of street vendors in Harlem and outdoor stalls near the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the flag is often fused with the image of President Obama, a burst of color against a bleak wall, sometimes with a Superman motif. In California, I saw Old Glory on bicycles in the Bay Area, on backpacks in Yosemite and at campgrounds under the redwoods.

It’s not unusual to see a flag in liberal provinces, of course. But in the Bush years of sanctioned torture and war built on deceit, many Americans withdrew from overt displays of patriotism. Some said they were ashamed of their country.

While following the length of the Lewis and Clark Trail several years ago, I was struck by the huge number of flags in places like rural Missouri, Iowa, South Dakota and Montana. On Indian reservations, the same thing – though often with tribal symbols superimposed. But in the major cities along the trail, St. Louis and Portland among them, I was hard-pressed to find a flag in front of a home.

I wondered whether urban Americans, overwhelmingly Democratic, had something against the flag, or if they felt the country was no longer theirs. Now you can ask the same question of the other side of the political spectrum.

...we Republicans don't actually stop loving our country just because a Democrat gets to govern it once in awhile. We're funny that way. Patriotism is bigger than politics for us.

July 2, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:23 PM


TAKING LIBERTIES: WE ARE BEING WATCHED: Britan has quietly become the most spied-upon nation in Europe. How? Why? And does it matter? Charles Nevin goes to Manchester, London, Berlin and Bucharest to compare, contrast and discuss ... (Charles Nevin, Summer 2009, INTELLIGENT LIFE Magazine)

The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, 2000 (RIPA), one of a series of laws introduced to combat modern terrorism, sets out the conditions for surveillance by the police and security services. It has also been used by other public bodies for electronic and manual surveillance aimed at exposing lesser threats to society. In Cambridge last year the council used hidden CCTV cameras to check whether punt operators were using unauthorised landing places. In Poole the council followed a family, day and night, who were suspected of lying about their address on a school application form. In all, some three-quarters of Britain’s local authorities have used the act as a weapon in the unceasing fight against dog fouling and putting the rubbish out too early, enjoying a 9% success rate in prosecutions, cautions or fixed penalties.

The flavour of Ealing comedy accompanying so many British activities is absent at the other end of the operation, where the Control Order is surveillance made easy by house arrest and electronic tagging without the necessity for a charge or open testing of evidence. In between lie the fruits of the new electronic technology, enticing to the authorities, evil to increasing numbers in Britain, from the robust inheritors of Tom Paine and John Wilkes to such establishment figures as a former Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, a former director of public prosecutions, a former director general of MI5, and the current information commissioner of the United Kingdom. The last of these, Richard Thomas, has been loud in warning. His soundbite “sleepwalking into surveillance” has been opposition shorthand since 2004. The former MI5 boss, Dame Stella Rimington, has matched it with talk of “a police state”. The former Lord Chief Justice, Lord Bingham, doesn’t deal in soundbites but is no less compelling, as we shall see.

Sleepwalkers should feel free to scan our information (below) on surveillance by numbers. One feature meriting special notice concerns DNA, a seemingly miraculous aid to order brought into disrepute by the mechanics of its operation: the indefinite retention by the police of DNA samples taken not only from convicted criminals, but from 1m people, including perhaps 100,000 children, who have committed no offence and have in many cases only been witnesses to one. Lovers of renowned dystopian visions of state control will appreciate the attendant language. A 2006 report on reforming public services speaks of “transformational government”, “the totality of the relationship with the citizen”, and, best of all, the establishment of “a single source of truth” on each individual. In April 2009 that fantasy came close to reality, when the home secretary, Jacqui Smith, published a white paper proposing a central government database tracking all electronic communications—every e-mail, every phone call, every text. Smith then backed down from a single database, but went ahead with plans to force mobile-phone companies and internet-service providers to keep these records, at a cost to the taxpayer of £2 billion.

I watch a lot of British mysteries and the other night happened to be watching an older one. I kept wondering why they didn't just use the CCTV surveillance to solve the crime, but it was just old enough that they wouldn't have had systematic coverage yet. Made you wonder why we didn't start surveilling earlier.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:20 PM


A 'coup' in Honduras? Nonsense.: Don't believe the myth. The arrest of President Zelaya represents the triumph of the rule of law. (Octavio Sánchez, July 2, 2009 , CS Monitor)

These are the facts: On June 26, President Zelaya issued a decree ordering all government employees to take part in the "Public Opinion Poll to convene a National Constitutional Assembly." In doing so, Zelaya triggered a constitutional provision that automatically removed him from office.

Constitutional assemblies are convened to write new constitutions. When Zelaya published that decree to initiate an "opinion poll" about the possibility of convening a national assembly, he contravened the unchangeable articles of the Constitution that deal with the prohibition of reelecting a president and of extending his term. His actions showed intent.

Our Constitution takes such intent seriously. According to Article 239: "No citizen who has already served as head of the Executive Branch can be President or Vice-President. Whoever violates this law or proposes its reform [emphasis added], as well as those that support such violation directly or indirectly, will immediately cease in their functions and will be unable to hold any public office for a period of 10 years."

Notice that the article speaks about intent and that it also says "immediately" – as in "instant," as in "no trial required," as in "no impeachment needed."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:31 PM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:59 PM


Dead end: Mankind’s biggest mistake: a review of The Rise and Fall of Communism. By Archie Brown (The Economist, 7/02/09)

Archie Brown’s new history of communism identifies three big questions, perhaps even the biggest, of the past century. [...]

Communism’s first big advantage was that it played on two human appetites—the noble desire for justice and the baser hunger for vengeance. Mr Brown, emeritus professor of politics at Oxford University, traces communism’s idealistic roots in the struggle against feudal oppression and beastly working conditions. The moral weight of Karl Marx’s criticisms of 19th-century capitalism even won him praise from the high priest of Western liberalism, Karl Popper, a Viennese-born philosopher who emigrated to London. But the intoxicating excitement of revolutionary shortcuts attracted the ruthless and dogmatic, who saw the chance to put into practice Marx’s muddled Utopian notions—and settle some scores on the way. “The more representatives of the reactionary clergy and reactionary bourgeoisie we succeed in killing, the better,” wrote Lenin in 1922. Even so, many still resist the idea that the founding fathers of communism were murderous maniacs. Revolutions against corrupt and ossified regimes in countries such as Russia and China stoked a steamy enthusiasm that took decades to dissipate.

The communist block also had two bits of good fortune. The economic slump of the 1930s discredited democracy and capitalism. Then came Hitler’s disastrous attack on the Soviet Union. The victory over fascism in Europe gave the Soviet Union, an ally of America and Britain, renewed moral weight. Given what had happened in Russia under Stalin in the 1930s, that hardly seemed deserved. As Mr Brown notes, Stalin trusted the Nazi leader more than he trusted his own generals. The Soviet Union killed more top German communists than Hitler’s regime did. Yet in some countries, Czechoslovakia for example, Soviet forces were initially welcomed as liberators, and Stalinist regimes took power with a degree of popular consent. In other countries, such as Poland and the Baltic states, it looked different: one occupation gave way to another.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:55 PM


A Pitch on Health Care To Virginia And Beyond (Michael D. Shear and Jose Antonio Vargas, 7/02/09, Washington Post)

In the stage-managed event, questions for Obama came from a live audience selected by the White House and the college, and from Internet questions chosen by the administration's new-media team. Of the seven questions the president answered, four were selected by his staff from videos submitted to the White House Web site or from those responding to a request for "tweets."

The president called randomly on three audience members. All turned out to be members of groups with close ties to his administration: the Service Employees International Union, Health Care for America Now, and Organizing for America, which is a part of the Democratic National Committee. White House officials said that was a coincidence.

...if he doesn't know the questions ahead of time there's no evidence he can answer them coherently.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:44 PM


Post Publisher Cancels Plans for Off-the-Record 'Salons' (Howard Kurtz, 7/02/09, Washington Post)

Washington Post Publisher Katharine Weymouth today canceled plans for a series of policy dinners at her home after learning that marketing fliers offered lobbyists access to Obama administration officials, members of Congress and Post journalists in exchange for payments as high as $250,000. [...]

The fliers, circulated by the paper's parent company, offering an "intimate and exclusive Washington Post Salon, an off-the-record dinner and discussion at the home of CEO and Publisher Katharine Weymouth." The fliers, which said participants would be charged $25,000 to sponsor a single salon and $250,000 to underwrite an annual series of 11 sessions, were reported this morning by Politico. [...]

One such flier said: "Bring your organization's CEO or executive director literally to the table. Interact with key Obama Administration and Congressional leaders . . . Spirited? Yes. Confrontational? No. The relaxed setting in the home of Katharine Weymouth assures it." That flier said a July 21 session would involve "Health-care reporting and editorial staff members of The Washington Post . . . An exclusive opportunity to participate in the health-care reform debate among the select few who will actually get it done."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:29 PM


USA Gold Cup Additions (Steven Goff, 7/02/09, Soccer Insider: WP)

Given permission by CONCACAF to supplement its Gold Cup roster, the USA national team has added forwards Jozy Altidore and Conor Casey, midfielders Ricardo Clark, Benny Feilhaber and Sacha Kljestan, defender Jonathan Bornstein and goalkeeper Brad Guzan. However, according to the USSF, not all seven will be present for each Gold Cup match. The schedule for each player will be announced in the days leading to the matches. Of the pool of 30 players, only 18 will be in uniform.

It's good that some new guys are getting a chance in the Gold Cup and that Freddy Adu will get a chance to show what he can do once and for all, but it seems like a golden opportunity to get Guzan some game time, to play Altidore and Brian Ching together--a front line with such size and physicality (for soccer) that few countries can match up with them--to see if Feilhaber can be our main playmaker in an attacking midfielder role, and to see if Bornstein and Marvell Wynne (who I believe still isn't on this squad) can develop into effective wing backs to give our attack some width.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:23 PM


Bay to become US citizen on Thursday (Alden Gonzalez, 7/02/09, MLB.com)

Jason Bay can now call himself an American.

The Red Sox's left fielder, a native of Canada, will officially become a U.S. citizen on Thursday afternoon in a ceremony at Boston's historic Faneuil Hall, according to The Associated Press.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:31 AM


Finding What Works in Health Care (William C. Weldon, July 2, 2009, Washington Post)

Congress took an important step for health care when it provided $1.1 billion to fund "comparative effectiveness research" as part of the stimulus legislation this year.

This research promises to help America's doctors better target treatments to patients who can benefit from them as well as cut unnecessary health-care spending. [...]

Many patient groups, physicians and developers of treatments fear that comparative effectiveness research will be used to restrict access to a broad range of treatments, some of which may be precisely what particular patients need. As the head of Johnson & Johnson, a global pharmaceutical and device company, I have seen technology assessments make it more difficult for patients to access some lifesaving treatments.

But that doesn't have to be what happens here.

Of course it does. Once you do the comparisons you can't justify most health care on medical grounds.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:52 AM


Christie Makes Inroads Among NJ Democrats Against Corzine (Congressional Quarterly, 7/01/09)

Republican gubernatorial candidate Chris Christie is leading New Jersey Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine 45 percent to 39 percent with 15 percent undecided, according to a Fairleigh Dickinson University poll conducted June 22-29. [...]

Christie’s favorable-to-unfavorable ratio is 34 percent to 25 percent with another 28 percent saying they had not formed an opinion. Fifty-four percent see Corzine unfavorably compared to 31 percent who express a positive view of him. Among Democrats, 48 percent view Corzine favorably and 37 percent view him unfavorably. Only 66 percent support him for re-election while Christie gets 20 percent of Democratic votes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:50 AM


Obama Quizzed at Health Care Town Hall: On Taxing Benefits, Single Payer System, and Costs (Yunji de Nies and Sunlen Miller, 7/01/09, ABC News)

President Obama got personal with one audience member Debbie Smith, 53, who through tears, described struggling to pay for cancer treatments without insurance, without a job, and living on food stamps. The President hugged Smith, and promised to have his staff look into helping her, within the existing law. On a broader level, the President said her predicament is an example of why the system needs to change.

“Debbie, you are Exhibit A, and we appreciate you serving -- sharing our story,” he said.

...around the aberrations.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:47 AM


To Critics, New Policy on Terror Looks Old (CHARLIE SAVAGE, 7/02/09, NY Times)

Civil libertarians recently accused President Obama of acting like former President George W. Bush, citing reports about Mr. Obama’s plans to detain terrorism suspects without trials on domestic soil after he closes the Guantánamo prison.

It was only the latest instance in which critics have argued that Mr. Obama has failed to live up to his campaign pledge “to restore our Constitution and the rule of law” and raised a pointed question: Has he, on issues related to fighting terrorism, turned out to be little different from his predecessor? [...]

“President Obama may mouth very different rhetoric,” said Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union. “He may have a more complicated process with members of Congress. But in the end, there is no substantive break from the policies of the Bush administration.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:40 AM


'What can they do except kill people?': Poll shows Pakistanis have turned against Taliban, Al Qaeda (The Associated Press, July 1st 2009)

The survey showed that 81%of Pakistanis believe the activities of the Taliban and other Muslim extremists were a "critical threat" to the country, up from the 34% polled on the same question in September 2007. Eighty-two percent said Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda was also a critical threat, exactly twice as many who thought so two years ago.

The poll was carried out by Socio-Economic Development Consultants in Islamabad on behalf of WorldPublicOpinion.org. It questioned 1,000 people across Pakistan from May 17 to 28 and had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points.

The results mirror anecdotal accounts of a shift in the public mood in recent months, as well as among government leaders, politicians and army officers.

The Taliban's violation of a peace deal in Swat, a widely circulated video showing a militant allegedly beating a women in public and an uptick in suicide attacks around the country over the last year have contributed to the shift in public opinion.

Political analyst Rasul Bakhsh Rais said he thought the anti-Taliban sentiment was "irreversible."

"Some people had this feeling that Taliban were good people and very religious and they have good intentions and they're nationalist," he said. "But today the sentiment against the Taliban is very strong because they are a disruptive force. They don't present an alternative to the modern nation-state. They don't have any vision for the economy.

"Can the Taliban generate electricity? Can they give you cheaper oil? What can they do except kill people?"

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:25 AM


Alexis Arguello: Classy guest, man without a home: Ex-boxing champ Alexis Argüello found dead in Nicaragua (DAVID J. NEAL, 7/01/09, MiamiHerald.com)

For most of Alexis Argüello's life as a three-division world champion, ''home'' was a foreign concept. Yet few knew a classier guest, whether as a Nicaraguan exile living in Miami or as a boxer beating people up in places where ''hostile environment'' meant winning the fight only started the battle for survival.

That's the tidy summary. That covers much of what boxing fans in the 1970s and '80s knew of Argüello. Those Argüello memories spur today's coverage, including what you're reading now.

Few people are so two-dimensional. Almost by definition, such neatness falls incomplete when discussing a 57-year-old man who made and lost at least two fortunes; flip-flopped like a fish on the bottom of a hot canoe when it come to politics; had several marriages; and reportedly almost committed suicide in a 20-year span.

So, as it is with many athletes and entertainers whose public lives bleed over into the messy worlds of politics or crime, it comes down to if you separate or how you separate. What do you choose to remember best? Or do you remember it all and accept it for what it is?

It Was A Pryor Engagement (Pat Putnam, 11/22/82, SI)
Alexis Arguello's 38-foot yacht lay at its berth at the King's Bay Yacht Club near Miami, its name, The Champ, lettered in gold on its transom. Also in gold were three crowns painted beneath the name. "You notice how the crowns are centered," Bill Miller, Arguello's agent, pointed out last week. "There's room for two more, one on each side."

But last Friday night before 23,800 in Miami's Orange Bowl and a Home Box Office TV audience, WBA junior welterweight champion Aaron Pryor made sure there would be no more crowns for Arguello, at least not now. In one of the fiercest title fights in recent memory, he stopped Arguello's bid for the immortality of a fourth title at 1:06 of the 14th round with an attack so furious it left the 30-year-old WBC lightweight champ unconscious for four minutes.

In so doing, Pryor, a 27-year-old Cincinnatian, established a beachhead of respectability for himself. He has been something of a conundrum, a brooding, irascible man. Though he was 31-0 with 29 knockouts, Pryor felt he had been denied his full due.

In the meantime Arguello had become renowned for his boxing skills, his knockout punch and his gentlemanly behavior. Now he was trying to do what no one—not Henry Armstrong, Tony Canzoneri, Bob Fitzsimmons, Barney Ross or Wilfred Benitez—had done: attain the distinction of having won titles in four different weight classes. Of course, Armstrong had held the featherweight, lightweight and welterweight titles simultaneously. For that, Arguello, in exile from his native Nicaragua and living now in a Miami suburb, had dedicated this fight to the 69-year-old Armstrong, who was in the Miami crowd.

As planned, Arguello, who was getting $1.5 million to Pryor's $1.6 million, came out cool and composed, but like a snarling wolf Pryor was upon him. Stunned, Arguello did what he had warned himself not to do: He joined Pryor in the trenches. Early in the round Arguello caught Pryor coming in with a snapping straight right that met an iron chin. Slowed but for a moment, Pryor hammered Arguello with a flurry of rights. At the end of the first three minutes Pryor had thrown 130 punches, Arguello 108. It would prove to be Arguello's best round of the fight, and he had lost it.

There is an adage in boxing as familiar as the smell of liniment: When a puncher moves up in weight he can't bring his punch with him. Arguello had been devastating as a featherweight (126 pounds), a junior lightweight (130) and, of course, as a lightweight (135). But at 138� pounds to Pryor's 140, he may have made one jump too many. Time and again his right-hand rockets never fazed Pryor.

Moreover, Arguello was fighting Pryor's fight; his vaunted body attack was all but forgotten in his obsession with Pryor's head. Pryor's seemingly reckless style makes his head appear to be vulnerable, but he never stops bobbing and weaving. And his nonstop punching never permits his opponent to get set. If there's a better chin in the world than Pryor's, it has to be on Mount Rushmore. Twice Arguello caught him with crushing right hands in the second round. The first one caused Pryor to take a half-step back; the second, of the thunderbolt variety that had laid out so many of Arguello's 80 opponents, didn't even buy a blink. "That punch," Miller said later, "would have decapitated anybody else."

After the second round, Panama Lewis, Pryor's trainer, reached for one of two bottles in the corner and gave Pryor a slug. Later, Artie Curley, Pryor's cutman, would admit that the bottle contained peppermint schnapps.

"Aaron ate a big steak at 5:30," Curley said, "and then he took a nap. It made him burp all night. The schnapps was just to settle his stomach."

...than to be remembered for even his losing role in the Pryor/Arguello fight.

Lowering The Boom Boom: Lightweight champ Alexis Arguello was too classy, too cunning and too much for 20-year-old Ray Mancini, who may have learned a valuable boxing lesson (E.M. Swift, 10/12/1981, SI)

Arguello is one of six men to have held world championships in three weight classes. At 29, he's at his peak: He's 16-1 in title fights—with 16 wins in a row—and has a 72-4 record. Still, last Saturday afternoon in an overcrowded ballroom in Bally's Park Place Casino Hotel in Atlantic City, Mancini gave Arguello all he could handle.

"I'm just glad it's over," Mancini said. "It takes a lot out of you—these championship fights." It had been a tense, emotional few days, and it showed. "The disappointment's going to hurt longer than these wounds. I wanted to win it for my father...." Mancini's voice cracked, and his eyes filled with tears. "I'm sorry I'm not acting like a professional," he said, trying to smile.

In a few minutes, Arguello arrived. He is a strikingly handsome man, a slim Omar Sharif, but now there was a cut on his left eyelid and a purple crescent beneath it. "It was the best fight so far this year, my friend," he said to Mancini. Then, to the press: "I think my heart is special. But his heart is bigger than I have."

Arguello is a gentleman as well as an estimable champion, and he knew Mancini's story well—how Mancini wanted to win the championship for his father, Lenny (Boom Boom) Mancini, who was drafted in 1942 before he could fight for the lightweight title and then sustained a shrapnel wound in WW II that ended any hope for a title. The elder Mancini attended Saturday's fight in a wheelchair because he was convalescing from a heart-bypass operation three weeks before. "After the fight I saw Mancini's father," Arguello said, "and I felt bad." Then, as if he needed to explain the thundering right hand that dropped Mancini and obliged Referee Tony Perez to stop the bout, Arguello added, "But it's my job." He sounded apologetic.

Shortly afterward, Mancini excused himself to be with his father, pausing to say, "This isn't the end of the story. This is the standard first chapter. I'll be back. I'm just sorry that...sorry for all the people...." His voice began to crack again.

Which was when the champion put an arm around Mancini and spoke to him as one would to a younger brother: "You don't have to be sorry. This is a better experience than any fight you've ever had. You'll be better for this." Mancini nodded, and with a roomful of eavesdroppers, Arguello told the kid about his first title fight, how he had lost by decision to Ernesto Marcel in February 1974 and had cried afterward, how he now drew on that experience and was a better boxer because of it. This took place about 15 minutes after Arguello had nearly taken Mancini's head off. When the champ was through, Mancini thanked him and everybody clapped. Quite a show.

Arguello was born in Nicaragua, but has lived in Coral Gables, Fla. the past three years because of political strife in his homeland. He held the WBA featherweight title from 1974 to 1976 and the WBC junior lightweight title from 1978 to 1980, and last June he won the WBC lightweight championship from Jim Watt of Scotland. He has designs on Aaron Pryor's WBA junior welterweight title, which would make him the first to win championships in four divisions. He has even talked about moving up two divisions to fight Sugar Ray Leonard for the welterweight crown. "I don't need $10 million or $20 million," he concedes. "Just one million." The $400,000 he made fighting Mancini was his largest purse. " Mancini's strengths are that he's in great shape, he throws a lot of punches, and he's very aggressive," said Eddie Futch, Arguello's trainer, before the fight. "He makes fighters hurry their punches. But it's hard to hurry Arguello. Mancini's never been hit by a fellow that hits as hard as this guy."

The key to the fight, according to both men, was whether Arguello's left jab could keep Mancini from moving inside, where he's most effective. Said Arguello: "I have the equipment to fight him any way he wants, but I know if I get close to him, I'm in trouble."

The other question was whether Mancini, who fights best at a whirlwind pace, would have the stamina to go 15 rounds. " Arguello has won most of his title fights in rounds 10 to 15," Mancini said before the bout. "I'm a 15-round fighter, he's a 10-round fighter," Arguello would explain after the fight. And to his great pain, Mancini was proof of that assertion.

His Pryorities Are In Order: Alexis Arguello KO'd Kevin Rooney and now has a date with Aaron Pryor (William Nack, 8/09/82)
The warning flags were out last Saturday afternoon, and no one in Atlantic City got the message more clearly than Aaron Pryor, the WBA junior welterweight champion. Pryor was at Bally's Park Place Casino Hotel because he has signed to defend his 140-pound title against WBC lightweight champion Alexis Arguello in late October or early November and wanted to study Arguello against Kevin Rooney.

Pryor got an eyeful as Arguello knocked out Rooney with a straight right hand so powerful that Rooney's head didn't clear until he got back to his hotel room almost an hour later. "What round?" Rooney asked his wife in the dressing room. "The second," she said.

"Better watch out for that right hand!" Roger Leonard, Sugar Ray's brother, called to Pryor after the fight.

"He better watch out for my right hand," Pryor said.

Teddy Brenner, who made this fight for Top Rank, said mischievously, "Aaron, you might have to train for this fight." Replied Pryor, "If I get hit with one of those right hands, I can forget it. But it'll be a challenge for him to make my bell ring."

Rooney was no challenge for the 135-pound champion, and for him the bell tolled loud and dolorously.

The Champion Of Confusion: WBA junior welterweight titleholder Aaron Pryor has everything in order in the ring, but outside of it, his life is a mess (Pat Putnam, 11/08/82, Sports Illustrated)
Pryor was born out of wedlock in Cincinnati on Oct. 20, 1955. Subsequently, his mother, Sarah Adams, married a man named Pryor, and Aaron took his stepfather's name. "Look," says Harold Weston, the Madison Square Garden matchmaker, "I've known Aaron a long time and he's a very warm, nice guy. But his whole world has always been right out there on the street corner. People look at Ray Leonard and say, 'Gee, he's got class.' But they look at Aaron Pryor and say, 'Christ, why does he act like that?' It's not his fault. It's the way he was brought up. He's reaching out for love and attention and so he does crazy things to get them."

Pryor would have you believe that his life began at age 13, the day he first walked into a gym. But at Great Gorge he cracked open the door to his earlier years. "I had four brothers and two sisters," he said, "but I had a different father from the others. I was the kid nobody paid any attention to. I was neglected and completely lost. Some nights I just said to hell with it and slept in a doorway somewhere. Wasn't anything at home for me anyway."

He was roaming the streets in 1968 when he wandered into a gym at the corner of 14th and Republic. Phil Smith, who trained amateur fighters, remembers, "He was just a scrawny little thing, but he said he wanted to be a boxer. I told Aaron to get in with a kid named John Howard. I wanted to see what Aaron had. Well, Howard knocked him out of the ring. But Aaron climbed back and took off after Howard. I knew I had something special.

"I never wanted him to knock anybody out. He was a beautiful boxer, beautiful moves, but he just couldn't help it, he kept knocking guys out. I told him, 'Aaron, if you keep knocking all these guys out you'll only get fights in the tournaments when they can't avoid you.' He was a great little kid, he really was. His only problems are girls and telling time."

Later Smith moved his boxers to Lincoln Center in downtown Cincinnati. "Our first night there some kid who had fought in the Golden Gloves the year before challenged Aaron," says Smith. "I told them, 'No, that's honky-tonk stuff. We don't need that in the gym.' So they went outside. Five minutes later Aaron came in. The supervisor came over and said, 'Hey, what's going on? One of your kids just beat up a guy outside.' So I told Aaron, 'Hey, cut that stuff out. You can go to jail for that.' Right then he quit street fighting altogether."

Frankie Sims was once Pryor's best friend, roommate and assistant trainer. "Aaron loves a challenge," Sims says. "I remember the time a girl where we lived was locked out of her apartment on the fourth floor, but she had left one of her windows open. To get up there you had to climb between two pillars and then swing over to reach a window. I went up but said there was no way I was going to let go of that pillar to swing to the window. So Aaron went up. I kept yelling for him to get down because if he fell he'd sure as hell break something. He yelled down, 'I'll be O.K. if you just let me alone.' Sure enough, he got in the window. It was just something he wanted to do because it was a challenge."

As Pryor's amateur career flourished, he was offered the challenge of international competition. His first trip was to Moscow. He had to lie about his age, change it from 16 to 17 to qualify. As an opponent he drew Valery Solomin, then rated No. 1 in the world at 132 pounds. The 29-year-old Solomin was considerably taller than the 5'6" Pryor and had had more than 300 fights with a 90% knockout ratio. During one round Solomin forced Pryor into a corner and fired a volley of 20 punches, all of which missed their bobbing and weaving target. The crowd stood and gave Pryor an ovation. He won the fight.

This is the contradiction in Pryor's life: erratic, antisocial behavior outside the ring and professionalism inside it. Rollie Schwartz, who supervised many of the U.S. teams' trips abroad, has followed Pryor's career almost from its start. "I've heard all the stories about him," says Schwartz. "But I have a great feeling for him because he represented the United States 21 times in international competition, always with honor and dignity. And he won all but one fight, and in that one he got shafted."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:05 AM


Massive US assault to seize Taleban heartland (Tom Coghlan, 7/02/09, Times of London)

Thousands of US Marines stormed into an Afghan river valley by helicopter and land early today, launching the first major military offensive of Barack Obama's presidency with an assault deep into Taleban-held territory.

Operation Khanjar, which the Marines call simply "the decisive op", is intended to seize virtually the entire lower Helmand River valley, a heartland of the Taleban insurgency and the world's biggest heroin producing region.

It is the biggest operation launched by the US Marines Corps since the retaking of Fallujah in 2004 and seeks to break the grinding stalemate between Nato forces and the Taleban in the province.

US commanders stressed this morning their desire to move quickly and decisively with overwhelming force to seize the entire southern Helmand River valley from Taleban control ahead of the delayed Afghan Presidential elections on August 20.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:02 AM


FBI says Saddam's weapons bluff aimed at Iran (JoAnne Allen, July 2, 2009, Reuters)

Saddam Hussein believed Iran was a significant threat to Iraq and left open the possibility that he had weapons of mass destruction rather than appear vulnerable, according to declassified FBI documents on interrogations of the former Iraqi leader.

"Hussein believed that Iraq could not appear weak to its enemies, especially Iran," FBI special agent George Piro wrote on notes of a conversation with Saddam in June 2004 about weapons of mass destruction. [...]

The FBI reports, released on Wednesday, said Saddam asserted that he was more concerned about Iran discovering Iraq's weaknesses and vulnerabilities than the repercussions of the United States for blocking the return of UN weapons inspectors who were searching for WMD.

...it doesn't matter why he didn't comply with the UN resolutions. The failure to do so was enough for us to remove him.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:52 AM


Bullies booted me out of England, says ex-Manchester United star Cristiano Ronaldo (Sportsmail, 7/02/09)

Cristiano Ronaldo claims he was kicked out of the Premier League by players who couldn't cope with him on the pitch. [...]

He said: 'There are some teams who know they can't compete with you on a football level, so they just kick you.

'It's frustrating and something needs to be done to protect the skilful players because one day someone will get seriously hurt. I think more could be done to protect us but that is up to the referees to decide.'

As soon as refs started calling him on his dives his EPL career was over. Moving to the Spanish league gives him a fresh start, but they'll catch up to him there too. And if he can't get free kicks by diving he's mostly useless.

July 1, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:58 PM


Honduras Defends Its Democracy: Fidel Castro and Hillary Clinton object (MARY ANASTASIA O'GRADY, 6/30/09, WSJ)

That Mr. Zelaya acted as if he were above the law, there is no doubt. While Honduran law allows for a constitutional rewrite, the power to open that door does not lie with the president. A constituent assembly can only be called through a national referendum approved by its Congress.

But Mr. Zelaya declared the vote on his own and had Mr. Chávez ship him the necessary ballots from Venezuela. The Supreme Court ruled his referendum unconstitutional, and it instructed the military not to carry out the logistics of the vote as it normally would do.

The top military commander, Gen. Romeo Vásquez Velásquez, told the president that he would have to comply. Mr. Zelaya promptly fired him. The Supreme Court ordered him reinstated. Mr. Zelaya refused.

Calculating that some critical mass of Hondurans would take his side, the president decided he would run the referendum himself. So on Thursday he led a mob that broke into the military installation where the ballots from Venezuela were being stored and then had his supporters distribute them in defiance of the Supreme Court's order.

The attorney general had already made clear that the referendum was illegal, and he further announced that he would prosecute anyone involved in carrying it out. Yesterday, Mr. Zelaya was arrested by the military and is now in exile in Costa Rica.

It remains to be seen what Mr. Zelaya's next move will be. It's not surprising that chavistas throughout the region are claiming that he was victim of a military coup. They want to hide the fact that the military was acting on a court order to defend the rule of law and the constitution, and that the Congress asserted itself for that purpose, too.

Mrs. Clinton has piled on as well. Yesterday she accused Honduras of violating "the precepts of the Interamerican Democratic Charter" and said it "should be condemned by all." Fidel Castro did just that. Mr. Chávez pledged to overthrow the new government.

Honduras is fighting back by strictly following the constitution.

The American Left will always imagine it's doing the good work of the Lincoln Brigades, without considering how much better Spain fared than those nations where authoritarians lost and totalitarianism won.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:49 PM


'This Iranian Form of Theocracy Has Failed': In a SPIEGEL interview, Iranian theologian and philosopher Mohsen Kadivar discusses Tehran's path towards a military dictatorship, how the country's religious leaders abuse Islam and opportunities for reform. (Der Spiegel, 7/01/09)

SPIEGEL: Tehran appears quiet at the moment, at least compared with the mass protests of the week before last. Are we currently seeing the beginning of the end of the resistance -- or the end of the Iranian regime?

Kadivar: This Iranian form of theocracy has failed. The rights of the Iranian peoples are trampled upon and my homeland is heading towards a military dictatorship. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad behaves like an Iranian Taliban. The supreme leader, Mr. Ali Khamenei, has tied his fate to that of Ahmadinejad, a great moral, but also political mistake.

SPIEGEL: What has your counsel been for opposition leader Mousavi in recent days? Is he truly the undisputed head of the movement?

Kadivar: Yes, he is the leader. All reformists now support Mousavi, my friend from our days at Tarbiat Modares University in Tehran. He was a professor of political science and I was professor of philosophy and theology. I believe he should insist on new elections and continue calling for non-violent protests ...

SPIEGEL: ... which would then be violently squashed by the security forces of the regime, the Basij and the Pasdaran.

Kadivar: In the long term, a regime can hardly oppose millions of peaceful protesters -- unless it opts for a massacre and, in doing so, completely loses its legitimacy. We should again and again point to the rights granted by the Iranian constitution. In Article 27, it is clearly pointed out that every citizen has the right to protest. Our protest is non-violent, legal and "green" -- thoroughly Islamic.

SPIEGEL: That's what you say.

Kadivar: Article 56 of our constitution includes the right of God that is give to all Iranian citizens. The citizens then elect their leader, president and parliament. The constitution is very clear on that: The leader must be elected and not selected by those claiming to know God's will.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:39 PM


Karl Malden, Everyman Actor, Dies at 97 (ROBERT BERKVIST, 7/01/09, NY Times)

In many ways, Mr. Malden was the ideal Everyman. He realized early on that he lacked the physical attributes of a leading man; he often joked about his blunt features, particularly his crooked, bulbous nose, which he had broken several times while playing basketball in school. But he was determined “to be No. 1 in the No. 2 parts I was destined to get,” he once said.

He wound up playing everything from a whiskey-swigging cowboy to a prison warden, from an Army drill sergeant to a combative priest.

On Broadway, he appeared with Marlon Brando in a legendary production of Tennessee Williams’s “Streetcar Named Desire,” then repeated the role in a film version that brought him an Oscar. On film he won memorable parts in major productions like “On the Waterfront,” “Ruby Gentry” and “Patton.”

And on television he found broad popularity as Lt. Mike Stone in “The Streets of San Francisco” and as a long-running pitchman for American Express travelers’ checks in the 1970s. His signature line, “Don’t leave home without them” — delivered as he peered intently from under the brim of his “San Francisco” fedora — entered the popular lexicon as a catch phrase. [...]

Mr. Malden was born Mladen Sekulovich in Chicago on March 22, 1912, one of three sons of Petar Sekulovich, a Serbian immigrant who worked in a steel mill and later delivered milk, and the former Minnie Sebera, who came from Bohemia, later to become part of Czechoslovakia. As a young man, Mladen helped his father deliver milk in Gary, Ind., and spent three years working in the same mill.

At 22, having acquired a taste for the theater and determined to make his own life far from the mills, he set off for Chicago with a few hundred dollars in savings to study acting at the Goodman Theater. He earned tuition by building sets and eventually met the woman he would marry, an aspiring actress named Mona Greenberg.

He graduated from the Goodman in 1937 but found himself back in Gary driving a milk delivery truck, much as his father had. Luck came along in a letter from Robert Ardrey, a playwright he had met at the Goodman. Ardrey invited him to New York to try out for a part in his latest play. The play was never produced, but Mr. Malden also auditioned for the director Harold Clurman and Mr. Kazan, who were casting “Golden Boy” for the Group Theater. He wound up with “four lines in the third act,” he later wrote, but it was a significant initiation.

The Group Theater and “Golden Boy” began a half-century friendship between Mr. Malden and Mr. Kazan. It was Mr. Kazan, in fact, who persuaded the young actor to change his baptismal name to something less daunting. So Mladen became Malden, and he took the name Karl from one of his grandfathers.

He also took classes with the Group Theater in the early 1940s and later with the Actors Studio, but he did not regard himself as one of the studio’s Method actors. “I do have a method, of course,” he wrote in his 1997 autobiography, “When Do I Start?” He said it was “any method that works.”

After serving in the Army in World War II, Mr. Malden played a drunken sailor in a Clurman and Kazan production of Maxwell Anderson’s 1946 play “Truckline Cafe.”

The play was a flop, but Mr. Malden got good notices. The reviews also took note of another young actor who had made the most of a small role: Mr. Brando. The two actors became friends, and little more than a year later, they and Mr. Kazan collaborated on “Streetcar.”

...he ought to be remembered for his role in the great anti-Communist film.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:45 PM


Iraq Shiite cleric hopeful about US pullback (SAMEER N. YACOUB, 7/01/09, Associated Press)

Anti-U.S. Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose followers have been blamed for some of Iraq's worst violence, said the pullback left him "filled with hope." But he expressed concern because some Americans will remain in urban areas as trainers and advisers.

"If the occupation forces breach the claimed withdrawal even with the government's cover, then the people have the right to express their opinion by peaceful means and the right of self-defense in a way that does not harm the Iraqi people or security forces," he said.

Al-Sadr's militiamen fought fierce battles with U.S. forces in 2004 and were believed responsible for brutal retaliatory sectarian attacks against Sunnis.

Which laid the groundwork for Sunni acceptance of the surge.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:23 AM


Rhapsody In Blue: Gershwin At His Greatest (Ted Libbey, NPR.org, June 30, 2009)

On June 23rd, 1959, Leonard Bernstein and the Columbia Symphony took their places at the St. George Hotel in Brooklyn, N.Y. and made a landmark recording of Gershwin's 'Rhapsody in Blue.' To celebrate the event, Ted Libbey adds the album to our list of 50 essential classical recordings.

Rhapsody In Blue, the first "serious" composition by George Gershwin (1898-1937), is likely to remain his most popular work in any form, more for its prodigious melodic richness rather than for any deeper expressiveness or structural brilliance.

In the hands of another composer, Rhapsody In Blue could easily have turned into a disjointed exercise in symphonically dressed up jazz rhythms, melodic figures and quasi-improvisatory instrumental licks. Instead, Gershwin's uncanny sense of timing, and a gift for memorable melody unparalleled in the 20th century, turned the Rhapsody into an embodiment of the Jazz Age's upbeat lyricism and dance-driven vitality. The roaring Twenties had a soul, and this was it.

The piece was composed in considerable haste, for a concert on February 12th, 1924, organized by jazz bandleader Paul Whiteman. It took place at New York's Aeolian Hall, billed as an "Experiment In Modern Music." The piece was scored for jazz band by Whiteman's arranger, the multitalented Ferde Grofé, and Gershwin himself played the piano solo — though at the time of the premiere he had not yet written it out. Grofé also scored the work's orchestral version.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:29 AM


Clinton urged Obama to talk tough on Iran (Nicholas Kralev, July 1, 2009, Washington Times)

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton urged President Obama for two days to toughen his language on Iran before he did so, and then was surprised when he condemned Iran's crackdown on demonstrators last week, administration officials say.

At his June 23 news conference, Mr. Obama said he was "appalled and outraged" by Iranian behavior and "strongly condemned" the violence against anti-government demonstrators. Up until then, Mr. Obama and other administration officials had taken a softer line, expressing "deep concern" about the situation and calling on Iran to "respect the dignity of its own people."

Behind the scenes, the officials, who spoke on the condition that they not be named because they were discussing internal deliberations, said Mrs. Clinton had been advocating the stronger U.S. response, but the president resisted. When he finally took her advice, the aides said, he did so without informing her first.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:26 AM


America's Bacon Addiction: Three signs of a fad: bacon-flavored coffee, chocolate-covered bacon and, of course, the Bacon Explosion. Bacon has never been trendier, but it’s the things you didn’t know about it that hold the secret to porcine perfection. (Sarah Whitman Salkin, 7/01/09, Daily Beast)

Bacon, a favorite of American carnivores (and noncarnivores—vegetarians dub it the “gateway meat”) for centuries, has become a breakout fad over the past few months. Besides designer bacon in supermarkets, chocolate-covered bacon, bacon-flavored coffee and bacon-flavored vodka, the heart attack-inducing Bacon Explosion emerged from the pages of The New York Times as a phenomenon that spawned a six-figure book deal.

With bacon-mania cresting, the question must be asked: What were we thinking? This whole bacon trend started simply because bacon is delicious—and it is perhaps most delicious when it’s cooked simply. [...]

4. Cleanup. No one likes cleaning up after cooking, especially when it involves disposing of a cup of hot rendered bacon grease. Throwing hot fat into your trash can will melt the bag, and pouring it down the sink will corrode the pipes. The path of least effort in bacon grease disposal is to let the fat cool and harden in the pan, then scrape it out and toss it. But if the sight of two inches of hardened, white fat isn’t what you want to battle with after breakfast (or lunch or dinner), line a bowl with heavy-duty aluminum foil, pour in the hot grease, and when the grease has cooled and hardened lift the foil out of the bowl and into the trash.

Pour the left over fat into an empty can and keep it in your freezer until full, then take it to the dump.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:22 AM


Ahmadinejad: Obama Has Removed His Mask (Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu, 7/01/09, IsraelNN.com)

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told Iranians that U.S. President Barack Obama has “removed his mask” and has revealed “the real face of the American people.” He charged that President Obama offered to negotiate with Iran but has not kept true to his word.

...would be pressed against the rangefinder of the Enola Gay as it flew over Tehran. He's lucky the president is only being dragged kicking and screaming behind the American people.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:16 AM


Korea’s population crisis: Korea is suffering from a national crisis of super-low fertility. The head of the Korean affiliate of Planned Parenthood explains why. (MercatorNet, 7/01/09)

The head of the Korean affiliate of the International Planned Parenthood Federation recently pleaded with his countrymen and women to have more children. Choi Seon-jeong, president of the Planned Population Federation of Korea, warned in the JoongAng Daily that his government must combat a "national crisis of super-low fertility", or Korea will disappear. MercatorNet asked him to explain how this has happened and how he proposes to increase birth rates.

MercatorNet: The latest statistics show that the fertility rate in the Republic of Korea is one of the lowest in the world. You have described this as a "national crisis of super-low fertility". What do you fear will happen?

Choi Seon-jeong: Nowadays South Korea has the lowest fertility rate and the quickest ageing rate in the world. Experts are worrying that these will seriously affect the sustainable development of Korean society. If the current trends continue, the total population will decrease after reaching 49,340,000 in 2018. It is expected that after reaching 0% in 2019, the growth rate of the population will get slower and turn into negative growth. The working–age population (between 15 and 64 years) will decrease after reaching 36,190,000 in 2019. The 25 to 49 age group will decrease after reaching 20,660,000, slowing the rate of economic growth.

MercatorNet: Korea now faces rapid population ageing. Will this have economic consequences?

Choi Seon-jeong: It will take only 18 years for an ageing society (7% over 65) to become an aged society (14% over 65) and only 8 years for an aged society to become a super-aged society (20% over 65). If the preparation to meet the situation of aged society and super-aged society is not well done, many social problems are inevitable. The working-age population will bear heavier burdens of tax and social security because it has to support the aged population. Conflict between different generations will probably get severe.

In 2007 it took 7 persons among the working-age population to support one aged person. In 2020 it will take 4.5 persons and in 2050 it will take 1.4 persons.

The theory has always been that the majority in a democracy can oppress the minority, so it oughtn't matter that you're basixcally making that 1.4 into your servants. But when the minority is young and virile and, by definition, fills all the armed jobs in your country, why should they accept being enslaved by the decrepit?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:11 AM


TAP Talks to P.J. O'Rourke: In his new collection of essays, the libertarian political satirist skewers all things government. TAP Online sat down with him to talk about being an avowed ring-winger in the Age of Obama. (Asawin Suebsaeng | July 1, 2009, American Prospect)

Considering the recent takeover of General Motors, at what point, if ever, do you see an imperative for government intervention in the private sector? I once heard you say that you were ready to nationalize the airline industry.

That was just an excuse to see all those executives sent to the Gulag. I really didn't expect any improvement in the airline industry. I just wanted the executives of the airlines sent to a prison camp for giving me one $15 package of peanuts. The airlines have been doing everything they can to destroy America's faith in free enterprise.

Is there any situation involving the economy, transportation, or even cars that warrants more significant government regulation?

Well, sure. Regulation's another matter entirely. It's a fundamental paradox of freedom: Freedom functions only within a structure of law. I mean, anyone who tells me they're anarchist, I tell them, "Go to Somalia." Any sort of Ron Paul, super-anti-government people. Timothy McVeigh, I wouldn't have executed him; I would have sent him to Mogadishu. The effect would have been the same.

You have to have a structure of law, and that includes a structure of regulatory law as well. You want to keep that regulatory law minimal and transparent, which is something I don't think the Democrats understand at all. What may be more important from a business and business-planning point of view is you want to keep it predictable. Probably the biggest sin the Democrats commit from a regulatory point of view is that they're always changing the regulations.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:09 AM


Pesto and potato pizza (Necee Regis, July 1, 2009, Boston Globe)

Olive oil (for the sheet)
Flour (for sprinkling)
1 pound pizza dough
1/3 cup basil pesto
3/4 pound red potatoes, sliced paper-thin
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan
Salt and pepper, to taste
Fresh basil leaves, coarsely chopped (for garnish)

1. Set the oven at 500 degrees. Lightly oil a baking sheet.

2. On a lightly floured counter, roll the dough surface into a 12-inch round. Place the dough on the sheet.

3. Spoon pesto to within 1 inch of the edge. Overlap potatoes in concentric circles. Sprinkle with Parmesan, salt, and pepper.

4. Bake on the bottom shelf of the oven for 15 minutes or until the crust is golden brown. Sprinkle with basil.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:07 AM


In Morocco, an Alternative to Iran (Anne Applebaum, June 30, 2009, Washington Post)

If you want an antidote to the photographs of police officers beating demonstrators and girls dying on the streets of the Iranian capital, take a drive through the streets of the Moroccan capital. You might see demonstrators, but not under attack: On the day I visited, a group of people politely waving signs stood outside the parliament. You might see girls, but they will not be sniper targets, and they will not all look like their Iranian counterparts: Though there is clearly a fashion for long, flowing headscarves and blue jeans, many women would not look out of place in New York or Paris.

Welcome to the kingdom of Morocco, a place which, in the light of the past two week's events in Iran, merits a few minutes of reflection. Unlike Turkey, Morocco is not a secular state: The king claims direct descent from the prophet Mohammed. Nor does Morocco aspire to be European: Though French is still the language of business and higher education, the country is linguistically and culturally part of the Arabic-speaking world. But unlike most of its Arab neighbors, the country has over the past decade undergone a slow but profound transformation from traditional monarchy to constitutional monarchy, acquiring along the way real political parties, a relatively free press, new political leaders -- the mayor of Marrakesh is a 33-year-old woman -- and a set of family laws that strive to be compatible both with sharia and international conventions on human rights.

The result is not what anyone would call a liberal democratic paradise.

But getting there--a monarchical republic is the ideal.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:04 AM


High-speed rail line planned in Midwest (ASSOCIATED PRESS, July 1, 2009)

When it comes to trains, there's fast and there's really fast.

Advocates on Tuesday unveiled an $11.5 billion plan for a Chicago-St. Louis high-speed line that could cut travel times to two hours from the current five. If built, it would be among the fastest U.S. lines and would rival high-tech systems already in place in Europe and Asia.

Under the proposal, electric-powered trains would cover the nearly 300 miles between Chicago and St. Louis at speeds up to 220 mph - more than 100 mph faster than diesel-powered trains to be used in a comparatively modest plan already advocated by eight Midwestern governors.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:01 AM


Chicken BLT Panini (Recipe fro