November 30, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:16 PM


LCD-TV prices plunge 22% from pre-Black Friday levels (David Colker, November 30, 2009, LA Times)

The iSuppli research firm said Monday that LCD-TV prices dropped 22% for the day-after-Thanksgiving sales. But that wasn't on just occasional deals -- that was the average discount.

Some sizes offered even steeper drops, especially in smaller-sized TVs. The 26-inch models were down almost 35% to an average price of $250, compared with $384 before Black Friday, according to iSuppli.

The most commonly advertised models for the weekend were in the 32-inch size. Average price for those was down about 25% to $369.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:11 PM


Senate debate on health care bill opens with heated rhetoric (CNN, 11/30/09)

Sen. John McCain of Arizona called it a "sham" and a "2,074-page monstrosity full of measures that would impair the abilities, particularly of our senior citizens, to keep the benefits they've been promised."

McCain immediately proposed sending the bill back to committee to remove all provisions intended to bring down the costs of Medicare. He cited proposed cuts to Medicare, including $118 billion in subsidies provided to private insurers for Medicare Advantage -- an enhanced benefits program for senior citizens.

"There is no math, old or new, that gets you to no change in the benefits they have under Medicare Advantage and yet cuts $120 billion," McCain said. A vote on McCain's proposal was likely on Tuesday.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:07 PM


In South Korea, abortion foes gain ground: Though they're technically illegal, abortions are prevalent and rarely discussed in the political sphere. One doctor has become the face of a movement to change that. (John M. Glionna, November 29, 2009, LA Times)

For nearly two decades, obstetrician Shim Sang-duk aborted as many babies as he delivered -- on average, one a day, month after month.

"Over time, I became emotionless," the physician said. "I came to see the results of my work as just a chunk of blood. During the operation, I felt the same as though I was treating scars or curing diseases."

Shim, 42, eventually came to despise himself, despite the money he earned from the procedures. So, two months ago, he founded an activist group of physicians who refuse to perform abortions and advocate prosecution for doctors who continue to do so.[...]

Beginning in the 1970s, officials advocated fewer births as a way to fuel economic productivity. The policy was perhaps too successful: Birthrates in South Korea plummeted. A decade ago, officials reversed their stand, calling for residents to have more babies.

Yet the declining fertility trend has proved difficult to reverse. The country's birthrate is now among the lowest worldwide, with just 1.19 live births per woman.

Meanwhile, abortion rates have kept their pace, many say. Every year, 450,000 babies are born here; Health Ministry officials estimate that 350,000 abortions are performed each year. One politician says the number of abortions is actually four times higher -- nearly 1.5 million.

Now there are calls to strengthen a 1973 mother-child protection law, long criticized for containing loopholes and for being rarely enforced. Some lawmakers want to prosecute more physicians for performing abortions and close down underground clinics where the procedures cost as little as $70.

For the first six months of 2009, only three of 29 abortion-related cases were prosecuted, said Chang Yoon-seok, a member of the ruling Grand National Party, who supports tougher sanctions.

"Even though illegal abortions are widespread . . . it is true that everyone keeps quiet and does not say anything about it," the politician said in a statement.

Dressed in his white lab coat, the bespectacled Shim embodies a new public consciousness against abortion.

In the lobby of his Ion clinic, a sign explains his new philosophy. "Abortions, which abandon the valuable life of a fetus, are the very misery for the nation and society as well as pregnant women, families and ob-gyn doctors," it reads.

For years, Shim rarely, if ever, even used the word "abortion." Rather, he said, he sought to "erase" or "prevent" the fetus.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:29 PM


Album Review: A Hot Club Christmas: Elegant and entertaining (Joe Bendel, 11/30/09, Epoch Times)

Given his untimely death in 1953, there are many great jazz standards that Sinti jazz pioneer Django Reinhardt never had the chance to cover. He never had the occasion to record a set of Christmas carols either, leaving a void the Hot Club of San Francisco (HCSF) recently filled with Hot Club Cool Yule, a Christmas-themed release recorded in the swinging Roma-jazz style developed by Reinhardt during his tenure with French violinist Stéphane Grappelli in legendary Quintette du Hot Club de France.

The Hot Club Christmas starts on a distinctly hipsterish note with Cool Yule, a high-spirited Steve Allen ditty that was a minor hit for Louis Armstrong, performed with a cheerful playfulness fitting to the holidays. The HCSF then throw a real change-up, launching into Don Rodolfo, perhaps the most sophisticated version of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer you will hear this season, recast in a romantic Latin mold, slyly blended with the Habañera from Bizet’s Carmen.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:11 PM


Mother's Little Helper: The iPhone is the ultimate kid-pacification device. (Michael Agger, Nov. 30, 2009, Slate)

My new favorite demographic is the iPhone mom. A recent survey from a mobile-advertising company says that iPhone moms make up 25 percent of iPhone users and rely on their phone for such things as: scheduling! Store locating! Downloading coupons! All very nice, but the key stat is that 59 percent of these moms let their children use the phone. That leaves me wondering what's up with the other 41 percent. The iPhone is the ultimate kid-pacification device.

...that The Wife and Judd kids each just got an iPod Touch for Christmas?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:03 PM


Hondurans elect conservative businessman as president: U.S. backs election Other Latin countries call it illegitimate (Mary Beth Sheridan, 11/30/09, Washington Post)

Porfirio "Pepe" Lobo, of the traditional National Party, declared victory late Sunday and pledged to form a government of national unity to try to end a five-month crisis that began with the military's ouster of President Manuel Zelaya. With nearly two-thirds of the vote counted, Lobo had 56 percent. That put him well ahead of another centrist candidate, Elvin Santos, who conceded the race.

The U.S. State Department commended the elections in a statement issued at midnight Sunday, saying that Hondurans "took a necessary and important step forward" toward resolving their political crisis and months of international isolation.

One of the most important things that the Hondurans demonstrated is that there is no cost to defying Barack Obama.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:43 PM


The Sarah Palin peculiarity: The UK press can't get enough of America. Are we becoming the 51st state by online osmosis? (Peter Preston, 11/30/09, The Guardian)

The BBC Trust says BBC Worldwide must concentrate on its "international" mission. Where's that? America, of course: follow the cash and evolving culture. We celebrate when "our" stars conquer Hollywood and Broadway, when they're hired for House, The Wire, Twilight et al. We tune in to CNN and Fox on Mr Murdoch's Sky satellite – then giggle at their idiocies via Jon Stewart five times a week. We barely blink when Pamela Anderson arrives to play the genie of the lamp in Wimbledon's panto.

Our culture, in short, becomes more conflicted – not merely because of what we're receiving, but what we're dishing out. That (a question of language) sets us more apart from Europe. It also produces a weird, rootless media world which delivers countless lectures saying that crunched, broke America under a pensive, pondering Obama is a superpower no longer, dependent on Beijing, pursued by New Delhi – but then carries on saluting stars and stripes as per usual.

In London, pin-striped ex-mandarins queue up to dump on Tony Blair truckling to the White House. You can always curl Foreign Office lips for creeping too close to the Yanks. But the real problem is much deeper than that. Are you, those 10 million possible readers out there, Republicans or Democrats? Is the UK becoming the 51st state by online osmosis?

Given that globalization is just the process of making the whole world Anglo-American, how would Britain have resisted?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:07 PM


The Images Dancing in David Gelernter's Head (Evan R. Goldstein, 11/29/09, The Chronicle Review)

[David] Gelernter—technological guru, conservative polemicist, Unabomber target—had tried to locate his own identity. "I'm a misfit," he said. "Most people fit in a groove and focus on one thing, but I cut across the grain of different areas." In conversation, the eclecticism of Gelernter's mind is immediately apparent. An opinionated raconteur, he seamlessly transitions from literary criticism ("Deconstructionists destroy texts"), to trends in the art world ("Modern museums are devoted to diversity as opposed to greatness"), gender roles ("Women mainly work because of male greed"), contemporary politics ("Anti-Semitism in Europe is so intense that, I think, Hitler would have an easier time today then he did in 1933"), and earthier topics ("I am obsessed with sex and sexuality as much as anyone I have ever met").

Gelernter, a plump man with dark curly hair and a stringy beard, occupies a unique spot in American intellectual life, at the intersection of technology, art, politics, and religion. Yale University Press just published his latest book, Judaism: A Way of Being, a sweeping meditation on Jewish spirituality and belief. His career, he says, has not adhered to the "standard academic chalk lines." In 1979, as a 23-year-old graduate student, he began writing a landmark programming language that enabled multiple computers to work simultaneously on a single problem. (He named it Linda, in honor of Linda Lovelace, star of the 1972 pornographic movie Deep Throat.) In 1991, Oxford University Press published his Mirror Worlds, or the Day Software Puts the Universe in a Shoebox—How it Will Happen and What It Will Mean, which imagined a time when people would be able to peer at their computer screens and see reality. Today, Gelernter is widely credited with having anticipated the rise of the Internet. His reputation as a doyen of digital culture was cemented by the publication of Muse in the Machine: Computerizing the Poetry of Human Thought (Free Press, 1994) and Machine Beauty: Elegance and the Heart of Technology (Basic Books, 1997).

"It was wonderfully ego-boosting to become well known in computer science, but my interests were always drawing, painting, reading, and writing," Gelernter says. "I was being irresponsible to my own artistic responsibilities." He speaks amid the toppled stacks of paper, empty cans of diet soda, and haphazard piles of books that clutter his corner office. As he talks, he occasionally worries the Velcro strap on the black-and-white glove he wears on his right hand, the most visible reminder of the day in 1993 when he was almost killed by a mail bomb sent by the Unabomber.

Gelernter was emboldened by his brush with mortality. He loathes the idea of victimhood. To be a victim, he says, is "to define yourself in terms of what some random thug did to you. I would never sink so low as that." Says Leon R. Kass, the bioethicist and University of Chicago professor, "David is not embittered by the Unabomber attack. He doesn't walk around feeling sorry for himself. On the contrary, it seems to have energized him to make absolutely the most out of every grain of talent and power that he has." Neal Kozodoy, a former editor of Commentary magazine and a friend of Gelernter, says that after the attack, "David entered into the most creative period of his life. Everything became much more urgent to him."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:34 AM


The State We’re In
: When even Louisiana is better run than New York State, what’s next? California, here we come. (Chris Smith, Nov 29, 2009, New York)

[I]t’s especially depressing to read the new study by the Pew Center on the States and find New York trailing not only Louisiana but also such hotbeds of rectitude as Alaska (go, Sarah!), New Mexico (where they imported our state-pension-fund corruption scandal), and South Carolina (how is Mark Sanford still governor?). New York’s fiscal year 2010 budgetary fitness ranks lower than that of 33 other states when Pew feeds economic statistics and political grades into its magical computers.

At least we’re not as bad as California. The state that shutters its government offices three days most weeks and recently raised tuition at its public colleges by 32 percent is the standard by which Pew judges everyone else. New York is considered better off because the state’s home-foreclosure rate is one-third that of California’s, and our unemployment rate hasn’t soared quite as quickly. On the other hand, thanks to our city’s and state’s dependence on Wall Street, New York’s revenue has dropped faster than California’s, and our state-budget gap is fifth worst. “True, California’s budget is in worse shape now,” Elizabeth Lynam, a state analyst for New York’s Citizens Budget Commission, says wearily. “But we could get there yet.”

That’s because New York’s elected officials seem determined to make us No. 1 in dysfunction. Sacramento’s pols can at least point to three decades of nutty ballot initiatives tying their hands. Albany doesn’t even have that excuse. Governor David Paterson deserves credit for sounding the budget alarm, early and repeatedly. Just when you’re ready to root for the guy, though, he backs down: Paterson can’t even force New York drivers to spend $25 for spiffy new, if functionally unnecessary, license plates that would generate $260 million in revenue.

That the car-tag gimmick was even floated points to the larger problem. The state’s feckless legislators are beholden to campaign donors, particularly the unions representing teachers and health-care workers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:07 AM

60-40 NATION:

The Abortion Distortion: Just how pro-choice is America, really? (Jennifer Senior, Nov 29, 2009, New York)

Was Stupak’s truly the minority view?

According to a Gallup poll from July, 60 percent of Americans think abortion should be either illegal or “legal only in a few circumstances.” Only seventeen states pay for the procedure for poor women beyond the standards of the 1977 Hyde Amendment—meaning if the woman’s life is in danger or she’s been the victim of rape or incest. Just two months before the health-care bill’s passage in the House, a Rasmussen poll found that 48 percent of the public didn’t want abortion covered in any government-subsidized health plan, while just 13 percent did. (Thirty-two percent believed in a “neutral” approach—though what on Earth that means is hard to say.)

“I knew even some pro-choice people would vote with us,” says Stupak. “This wasn’t like opposing RU-486 or parental consent.”

To really understand the House vote on abortion, one ought not look just at Bart Stupak. As the Democratic co-chair of the pro-life caucus in Congress, he was bound to have strong feelings on the subject. More representative, perhaps, of the kind of supporter he attracted in Congress was David Obey—chairman of the Appropriations Committee and, with some exceptions, a committed Wisconsin progressive. He votes for expanding money to Pell Grants, Head Start, and stem-cell research. He was an outspoken opponent of the Iraq War and voted against a Republican-proposed ban on gay adoptions in the District of Columbia. It just so happens that he takes the pro-life doctrine of his faith quite seriously. “I agree with my church,” he wrote in a national Catholic weekly in 2004, “that abortion in most cases is wrong.”

“Because there’s a Democratic majority in Congress and the president is pro-choice,” says Nancy Keenan, the current director of NARAL, “it sometimes gets lost how truly numerically challenged we are.” That’s especially true for people in New York City, where access to abortion is plentiful and unconstrained. But it’s a very ambivalent pro-choice nation we live in. The idea that a bunch of pro-life rogue wingnuts have hijacked the agenda and thwarted the national will is a convenient, but fanciful, belief. Even with an 81-person margin in the House, and even with a passionately committed female, pro-choice Speaker, it was the Democrats who managed to pass a bill that, arguably, would restrict access to abortion more aggressively than any state measure or legal case since the Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:04 AM


The deflated Arab hopes for Obama (Jackson Diehl, November 30, 2009, Washington Post)

Arab reformers, who for most of this decade have been trying to break down the barriers to social and political modernization in the Middle East, have also begun to conclude that the Obama administration is more likely to harm than to help them.

"All Arab countries are craving change -- and many of us believed Obama was a tool for change," says Aseel al- Awadhi, a Kuwaiti member of parliament. "Now we are losing that hope."

Awadhi, one of four women elected to Kuwait's parliament this year, is part of a movement that the Bush administration loudly promoted and sporadically attempted to help -- though the effort steadily waned during George W. Bush's second term. The Obama administration, in contrast, often speaks as if it does not recognize the existence of an Arab reform movement. Bush's frequently articulated argument that political and social liberalization offer the best antidote to Islamic extremism appears absent from this administration's thinking.

"People in Jordan are beginning to understand that the United States will not play the same role as under the old administration on democracy," said Musa Maaytah, Jordan's minister of political development -- who, like Awadhi, visited Washington recently for a conference sponsored by the National Endowment for Democracy. "People think that the U.S. has many issues that for it are a priority, and they prefer to have stability in these countries more than democracy."

How good we all had it under W....

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:55 AM


The Tiger Trail (Joe Posnanski, November 29th, 2009)

This is going to sound very, very wrong … because, well, it is very, very wrong. But I’m sorry. I’ll admit this straight out: I am fascinated by this Tiger Woods accident story. I’m fascinated, and I’m paying close attention, and I will read whatever stories come out about it. Sure, I know it’s wrong. I know it’s gossip. I know it’s rubbernecking on a highway. I know. Tiger Woods and his family deserve some privacy in their lives. They should have the right to go on without having to share the most personal details of their lives. They should not have to deal with reporters and photographers stalking them. And so on. I believe these things with all my heart.

And still … I’ll read every word. I cannot help myself. I’m dying to know. But I suppose I should clarify — I’m not dying to know what really happened that night. I have a pretty good guess at that. No, I’m dying to know how Tiger Woods and his people are going to handle all this. [...]

[F]or an athlete like Tiger Woods to make billions of dollars he needs to be in the public eye, as a spokesman for a company, as a star of commercials, as a person people can believe in and even love. You would think the person would need to show a little bit of himself — even if it’s fake and just a persona. People who knew Johnny Carson would often say he was nothing at all like the person who hosted the Tonight Show. That was a character he played when the camera lights popped on, night after night after night.

But Woods — well, remarkably, he really has not even created a public character for himself. He is, instead, a blank slate.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:44 AM


Bill Cosby returns to Newfoundland: 50 years after serving there on military base (Ashley Fitzpatrick, 11/28/09, St. John's Telegram)

[Bill] Cosby was stationed at the U.S. military base in Argentia, about 120 kilometres from St. John's, N.L., as an American military corpsman in 1959. [...]

Sharing his recollections recently, he said softball was a popular pastime when he was stationed in the province. He recalled one game where he was playing at second base. The experience was true Newfoundland.

"The fog was 10 feet from the ground all the way around," he says. "So the guy hit the ball and it went up into the fog. And the outfielder would put the glove on top of his head. People were in the fetal position. And the batter was running around the bases and then all of a sudden you'd hear the ball drop (you couldn't see it until then). We'd get the ball, start throwing it to each other to catch the guy out. And that's the way we played. It was the craziest. . . . And 'tap'- up in the air again and everyone in the fetal position and there's the ball again."

The weather also plays a role in another memory Cosby holds from his time in Argentia. It took place "one night," said The Cos, falling into storyteller mode.

The night, he said, was somewhere around four months after he first arrived at the base and about eight months before he left.

"The snow was horizontal - again," said Cosby. "And drifts of 18 feet and the actual landing of the snow without drifts, blown drifts, would be about four feet. And I had night duty at the hospital, which was a one-storey building. And she came in. In the dark of night, she came in by herself."

The question comes out: Who?


He continues. "She came up to the desk. And I was the admitting corpsman, the doctor is sleeping in the back. We have wards, about four or five wards there.

"And her hair is with snow and her cheeks are very, very red and her skin is taut and cold and she must weigh about 160 pounds. And she's got scarfs up to her nose and two coats and boots and it is 9 . . . 10, it's 10:30 p.m. And the doctor is sleeping in the back room and the hospital is quiet and she lowers the scarf and she says: 'I have walked nine miles. I work on the base and I just feel that my baby is going to come soon.'

"I went back and I woke up the doctor and he came out and we called the nurse, and the nurse came, and we admitted her. I took down the paperwork, and the nurse took her, and we took her clothes - and got her into that wonderful thing with the back open.

"And at 11:15 p.m., she gave birth to a boy."

"Nine. Mile. Walk," says Cosby, pausing with each word, "in the horizontal snow. Because she knew something was going to happen. It was her first child.

"That has always raised a picture for me of 'woman.' Nine miles in the dark, walking. . . . She just walked," he says.

It was after leaving Newfoundland that Cosby began working in comedy. He started performing standup in the early 1960s; he pegs the start of the career that would make him famous around 1963.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:40 AM


In Support of Abortion, It’s Personal vs. Political (SHERYL GAY STOLBERG, November 28, 2009, NY Times)

It has been nearly 37 years since Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision that established a right to abortion, and in that time, an entire generation — including Mr. Obama, who was 11 when Roe was decided — has grown up without memories like those Ms. Slaughter says are “seared into my mind.” The result is a generational divide — not because younger women are any less supportive of abortion rights than their elders, but because their frame of reference is different.

“Here is a generation that has never known a time when abortion has been illegal,” said Anna Greenberg, a Democratic pollster who studies attitudes toward abortion. “For many of them, the daily experience is: It’s legal and if you really need one you can probably figure out how to get one. So when we send out e-mail alerts saying, ‘Oh my God, write to your senator,’ it’s hard for young people to have that same sense of urgency.”

...and having been a potential victim.

A generation of women who recognize themselves as being powerful don't need the power to kill in order to prove it to themselves.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:39 AM


Journalism Schools Can Push Coverage Beyond Breaking News (Nicholas Lemann, 11/15/09, The Chronicle Review)

In hindsight, it seems clear that just about all living journalists grew up taking the solidity of the social and economic arrangements underlying our work too much for granted. Yes, until 10 or 15 years ago, it seemed as if practically everybody was in the ambit of the mainstream media, but that didn't mean there was a loyal mass audience for news about public affairs. Newspapers were vast bundles of information—sports scores, classified ads, movie schedules, comic strips, supermarket discount coupons—no one part of which had to stand on its own economically. Television and radio news were the sole sources for a summary of the great events of the day, on the day they occurred.

But today the Internet, by doing a wonderful thing—making every component part of the news separately and instantly available to anyone with a broadband connection—has relentlessly picked apart the economic logic of news organizations. It turns out that original reporting on public affairs, unbundled from other information and untethered from high-priced retail advertising, has trouble paying for itself. So, by inexorable economic logic, fewer people are being paid to do it.

Yes, the nation's founders wrote the First Amendment, and the citizens of the early republic passed it. But with respect to the press, that represented an extension of the guarantee of free speech to printed matter, not the creation of a sanctioned professional category. Information-seeking reporters took decades to arrive on the American scene. First there had to be cities, and fast, powerful printing presses, and ways of making enough money in the newspaper business to pay for newsrooms. The big-city newsrooms of the late 20th century were a workable support system for the social function of reportorial journalism, but even then it was anomalous for such an important democratic task to be entrusted almost entirely to private businesses. Anyway, the point soon became moot because the economics of the arrangement stopped working. [...]

[J]ournalism programs in universities can work toward the ideal of an informed, engaged citizenry in other, even more urgently important ways.

The main problem in journalism today lies on the supply side, not the demand side. It is true that the unfettered, ungoverned Internet can offer up all sorts of misinformation to readers. But it is also true that, unlike traditional news media, the Internet provides a means for instant correction and counterargument. (Our leading font of durable journalistic misinformation is talk radio and television, not the Internet.) Online encyclopedias, auctioneers, and retailers have found pretty good ways of establishing trust across large communities of strangers; that is within journalism's reach, too. The Internet almost certainly has expanded the audience for genuine news more than it has expanded the audience for misleading news. The world's top news organizations have attracted enormous global readerships, far beyond what they have ever had before, and millions of secondary sites, from aggregators to one-person blogs, are heavy direct and indirect users of material produced by those organizations.

Because the barrier to entry is so low, the Internet is also a great medium for journalistic experimentation; we don't have to wait around for big, tradition-bound organizations to innovate. The real difficulty is that the Internet doesn't support the kind of journalism that covers production costs, because almost all Internet journalism is free to readers and bargain-priced, compared with print, for advertisers. Opinion journalism, of the kind invented by pamphleteers in the 1700s, thrives on the Internet. Original reporting does not. So even if every single person under 30 woke up every morning with a gnawing hunger for news, it's not at all clear that the hunger could be satisfied, especially if it's a hunger for local news.

Therefore journalism schools ought to explore, and are already exploring, the possibility of becoming significant producers of original news reporting to make up for the loss of the reporting that economically devastated news organizations can no longer afford. Journalism schools and departments are practical-minded, often to a fault; they are oriented toward sending their students out to report under faculty members' direction. The advent of the Web has made publication and distribution of the fruits of students' reporting easy and inexpensive. Anyone in the world who has a good Internet connection can log on to the Columbia School of Journalism's Web site and find at least two dozen journalistic sites operated by our students and faculty members. The efforts include local-news sites about Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and upper Manhattan; subject-matter sites on charter schools, religion, and the economic crisis; and media-related sites for magazine, radio, broadcast, and digital journalism.

What journalism and the public most need right now is serious, continuing coverage of matters of public importance: city halls, school systems, statehouses. Journalism schools are not fully equipped to provide that now, but the logistical and financial difficulty of equipping them to do so would be far less than the difficulty of creating and sustaining new news organizations built from scratch. Like teaching hospitals, journalism schools can provide essential services to their communities while they are educating their students.

Journalism schools not only can replace the original reporting capability that news organizations have lost, but also can raise the level of sophistication in the practice of journalism. Why? Because so many of them are located in research universities that are our society's leading collections of top-level expertise across all realms of knowledge. Journalism schools should be deeply involved with the other parts of their universities, not just in order to spread the word about journalism, but also to learn, and then to teach, about the substance of the issues that their students report on.

How many journalism programs are we going to have that they can replace all local newsgathering?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:37 AM


City of Choice: School reform and parent power come to Tinseltown. (RiShawn Biddle, 11/30/09, National Review)

Last week, LAUSD finished soliciting bids to hand over control of twelve of its schools to private managers. Among the bidders is Green Dot Schools, one of the nation’s most successful charter-school operators and a longtime foe of the district; two years ago, it managed the spectacular feat of forcing the district to hand over control of one of its high schools. Another 186 of LAUSD’s schools will be placed into private hands within the next three years.

LAUSD is also reversing its longstanding opposition to charter schools — the publicly funded but privately run entities that are part of Pres. Barack Obama’s own school-reform agenda. The district authorized 30 new charters last year and will approve the startup of 50 more by the 2011–2012 school year. This means some 200 charters will eventually operate in the district, making the City of Angels as much a bastion of school choice as Indianapolis, Milwaukee, or New Orleans.

An even more important win for choice advocates came earlier this month, when LAUSD enacted rules allowing parents to remove principals and teaching staffs in the district’s worst-performing schools.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:28 AM


Autism treatment works in kids as young as 18 mos. (LINDSEY TANNER, 11/30/09, AP)

The National Institute of Mental Health funded the study, which was published online Monday in Pediatrics.

Children aged 18 months to 30 months were randomly assigned to receive behavior treatment called the Early Start Denver model from therapists and parents, or they were referred to others for less comprehensive care.

The therapy is similar to other types of autism behavior treatment. It focused on social interaction and communication — which are both difficult for many autistic children. For example, therapists or parents would repeatedly hold a toy near a child's face to encourage the child to have eye contact — a common problem in autism. Or they'd reward children when they used words to ask for toys.

Children in the specialized group had four hours of therapist-led treatment five days a week, plus at least five hours weekly from parents.

After two years, IQ increased an average of almost 18 points in the specialized group, versus seven points in the others. Language skills also improved more in the specialized group. Almost 30 percent in the specialized group were re-diagnosed with a less severe form of autism after two years, versus 5 percent of the others. No children were considered "cured."

...not something you catch from a vaccine years later.

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November 29, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:25 PM


LA Times sports writer Mike Penner dead at 52 (JOHN ROGERS, 11/29/09, Associated Press)

Los Angeles Times sports writer Mike Penner, who announced two years ago he was a transsexual and was changing his name to Christine Daniels, has died at age 52, the newspaper reported Saturday. [...]

"I am a transsexual sports writer," Penner wrote. "It has taken more than 40 years, a million tears and hundreds of hours of soul-wrenching therapy for me to work up the courage to type those words."

The announcement sent shock waves through the sports world, but Penner's bosses were supportive.

As Penner himself noted, when he revealed his plans to Times Associate Editor Randy Harvey, who was then the newspaper's sports editor, Harvey "leaned back in his chair, looked through his office window to scan the newsroom and mused, 'Well, no one can ever say we don't have diversity on this staff.'"

After his vacation, Penner did indeed return as Christine Daniels, not only continuing to report on sports for the Times but also authoring a blog called "Woman in Transition," detailing his experiences.

Making public the transition, he once said, was the hardest thing he had ever done.

"How do you go about sharing your most important truth, one you spent a lifetime trying to keep deeply buried, to a world that has grown familiar and comfortable with your facade?" he asked.

At the time of his announcement he was married, and he declined to discuss his family situation. He said he was undergoing female hormone treatments but declined to say whether he planned to undergo a sex-change operation.

However, he eventually dropped the "Woman in Transition" blog and returned to writing under the name Mike Penner.

If only his bosses had given him help instead of support.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:21 PM


Climate change data dumped (Jonathan Leake, 11/29/09, Times of London)

SCIENTISTS at the University of East Anglia (UEA) have admitted throwing away much of the raw temperature data on which their predictions of global warming are based.

It means that other academics are not able to check basic calculations said to show a long-term rise in temperature over the past 150 years.

The UEA’s Climatic Research Unit (CRU) was forced to reveal the loss following requests for the data under Freedom of Information legislation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:34 PM


Jay Leno losing his audience to DVR machines (DAVID BAUDER, 11/29/09, AP)

Much of the prime-time audience lost to NBC when Jay Leno moved into prime-time has gone not to its rivals but the digital video recorder. [...]

With one-third of American TV households now equipped with DVRs like TiVo, the 10 p.m. hour is emerging as a popular time for people to catch up on what they missed earlier in the evening, or earlier in the week.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:22 AM


He Can't Take Another Bow: An icon of a White House that is coming to seem amateurish. (Peggy Noonan, 11/26/09, WSJ)

This week, two points in an emerging pointillist picture of a White House leaking support—not the support of voters, though polls there show steady decline, but in two core constituencies, Washington's Democratic-journalistic establishment, and what might still be called the foreign-policy establishment.

From journalist Elizabeth Drew, a veteran and often sympathetic chronicler of Democratic figures, a fiery denunciation of—and warning for—the White House. In a piece in Politico on the firing of White House counsel Greg Craig, Ms. Drew reports that while the president was in Asia last week, "a critical mass of influential people who once held big hopes for his presidency began to wonder whether they had misjudged the man." They once held "an unromantically high opinion of Obama," and were key to his rise, but now they are concluding that the president isn't "the person of integrity and even classiness they had thought." [...]

As I read Ms. Drew's piece, I was reminded of something I began noticing a few months ago in bipartisan crowds. I would ask Democrats how they thought the president was doing. In the past they would extol, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, his virtues. Increasingly, they would preface their answer with, "Well, I was for Hillary." This in turn reminded me of a surprising thing I observe among loyal Democrats in informal settings and conversations: No one loves Barack Obama. Half the American people say they support him, and Democrats are still with him. But there were Bill Clinton supporters who really loved him. George W. Bush had people who loved him. A lot of people loved Jack Kennedy and Ronald Reagan. But no one seems to love Mr. Obama now; they're not dazzled and head over heels. That's gone away. He himself seems a fairly chilly customer; perhaps in turn he inspires chilly support. But presidents need that rock—bottom 20 percent who, no matter what's happening—war, unemployment—adore their guy, have complete faith him, and insist that you love him, too.

They're the hard 20 a president always keeps. Nixon kept them! Obama probably has a hard 20 too, but whatever is keeping them close, it doesn't seem to be love.

Just as stinging as Elizabeth Drew on domestic matters was Leslie Gelb on Mr. Obama and foreign policy in the Daily Beast. Mr. Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations and fully plugged into the Democratic foreign-policy establishment, wrote this week that the president's Asia trip suggested "a disturbing amateurishness in managing America's power." The president's Afghanistan review has been "inexcusably clumsy," Mideast negotiations have been "fumbling." So unsuccessful was the trip that Mr. Gelb suggested Mr. Obama take responsibility for it "as President Kennedy did after the Bay of Pigs."

The Titanic took on water slower.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:24 AM


Whither Revenues? (Bob Williams, 19 Oct 2009, Tax Vox)

Federal taxes in fiscal year 2009 claimed the smallest share of GDP since 1950—14.9 percent according to the Congressional Budget Office.

The revenue drop has many causes: tax reductions in this year’s economic stimulus, the collapse of the economy, and the Bush tax cuts from earlier in the decade.

Sure, it's amusing that the UR takes so little from us in taxes, but what's noteworthy is how narrowly the percentage varies, basically within 3% on either side of the long term 18%.

Likewise, it's worth noting how minimal our overall tax burden is in global perspective:

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:43 AM


Near-Death Experiences: What happens when a person dies? (Christian Shlierkamp, 11/28/09, Epoch Times)

[Bernard] Jakoby noted that the knowledge of the dying process, death, and transition into the other world hasn’t been around for just thirty years. It has been a part of human culture throughout the ages and is the cause and reason of all shamanistic and religious interests and activities. The shaman crosses the line of death in meditation to obtain information from the other world.

The crossing-over is documented in the Taoist scriptures, as well as in the Egyptian and Tibetan books about the dead. In the Gilgamesh epic, the crossing-over into the other world by a friend of the hero is described in the same manner as reported by Moody in Life After Death—after passing through a long, dark tunnel, the deceased walks into a brilliant light and beholds wondrous, paradise-like landscapes.

Present-day reports of out-of-body experiences are also cited in the Bible—for instance, in the epistles of the apostle Paul. Jakoby concedes that these reports are certainly culturally and historically specific and are tailored to the prevailing religious beliefs. However, by removing these cultural garbs, we discover the same process and events that we are already familiar with.

According to Jakoby, the problem in our present-day society is our unwillingness to be open to these things. Once man accepts the observable processes and pays attention to the many existing reports, then consequently, he would also acknowledge the existence of life after death, the existence of a loving deity, and his responsibility for everything, including himself.

“That’s exactly what the dying process actually reflects—we will be confronted with all of the unresolved issues in our lives, and that is something people would rather not hear,” Jakoby said.

“At the moment of death, people are like an open book. The time to waffle has passed, as has the time to blame others for our shortcomings. We are completely left to ourselves, and that is also the reason why some people die easily, and others with difficulty. The more unresolved issues pile up, the harder the process of dying. Presently, one of the biggest taboos is for people in their eighties to deal with unresolved issues from World War II that surface at the time of their deaths,” he continued.

Contacts from beyond

Jakoby considers it a grave issue that despite the existing, well-documented knowledge about the death process, so many people don't translate it into their daily lives. For example, he believes that the preparation for death should not begin when a husband is already hospitalized, but much sooner. However, most of his seminar attendees come only after having witnessed death, or once they are overwhelmed by an event and can no longer deal with it.

In particular, Jakoby finds the huge number of reported after-death contacts between the departed and the living family members as an alarming sign of our times, as most of these contacts have to do with unresolved issues.

“As long as we harbor ill thoughts toward a deceased, or have negative thoughts about anyone, we are not free. That’s why forgiveness is so important, and that’s why so many dying people long for reconciliation during their last days.

“People can suddenly put the death process on hold when, for example, they are awaiting the anticipated arrival of a son from America, even if it takes three weeks. It is that important to have this conversation, and therefore, the death process is halted. This shows us the importance of forgiveness. Because life vignettes rise to the surface of one's consciousness, people are suddenly able to see the greater connections. This is truly a spiritual event, and the rigidity and hardened mentality fall away,” he said.

According to Jakoby, this experience is accompanied by a perception of a rapid transformation of things, such as an extremely fast succession of events, or an increase in spiritual/mental experiences. One may say, “I feel as if things are now happening in a week that in the past would have taken two or more years to occur.”

In his present work Principles of the Beyond (Gesetze des Jenseits), Jakoby primarily addresses such themes, which are related to man’s inner processes rather than the death event itself.

“Those are precisely the processes when people once more comprehend that they have a soul, not that they are a soul, and it is meaningful to once again seek contact with our soul from which we receive our impulses. The knowledge I disseminate is actually inherent in everyone. All of us have this inner voice, but for many, it needs re-discovering. They can really sense it when the need for it is there. That’s the focus of my present work— spiritual themes,” Jakoby said.

“We will never be able to prove with complete certainty the existence of the beyond by using scientific methods. Life and death will remain a mystery at a certain juncture. But when one studies the fundamental processes of the death event, when one has experienced it oneself, then one simply knows that this is not merely a physical thing, but that it also has a mind/spirit aspect that is far more important.

“The non-material dimension is real, and that’s basically what people have been aware of throughout the ages. I think this kind of knowledge must be taught in schools. We must include such studies in universities and hospices. If man denies the spirit or the soul, when man does not comprehend that he is a spiritual being, then nothing makes sense.

“What is it that animates us? It’s the god-spark in us. It’s love, in the form of compassion, and spirit. And the spirit is greater than the intellect. But we have completely covered our spirit up with the intellect, to the point where we can no longer perceive the spirit and, like zombies, clamor only after the outer-worldly things. This specific bond of compassion and spirit, the inner voice, is something that all of us yearn for, but are generally unable to find here," he continued.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:37 AM


As orator, Obama not always shining: President's careful word choices don't inspire listeners' passions (STEVEN THOMMA, 11/29/09, MCCLATCHY NEWSPAPERS)

Obama aspires to greatness, to be a transformational figure who changes the nation's course. He isn't yet, however, in the top rank of U.S. leaders, and he has yet to show that he can move the country his way by matching the promises of his campaign rhetoric to the thorny challenges of his ambitious agenda.

In fact, he's lost ground, as his approval ratings and support for key policies such as a health care overhaul have dropped.

There's no doubt that Obama is a skilled and sometimes exceptional orator.

• His uplifting vision of a united country in his speech to the 2004 Democratic National Convention launched him into national politics.

• A stirring late-night speech to Iowa Democrats in November 2007 helped propel him past Hillary Clinton and on his way to the Democratic presidential nomination.

• His cool, reasoned talk on race in March 2008 helped stop the political bleeding he suffered after revelations of his pastor's racially inflammatory sermons.

The short list reveals the canard at the heart of the argument:

*Even Bill Clinton's disastrous convention speech launched him into national politics.

*The Iowa speech propelled Mr. Obama to a loss in NH.

*He had to give repeated follow-ups to his race speech because he bungled the matter so badly.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:30 AM


Even Tiger can't derail ‘this’ story (Tim Sullivan, November 29, 2009, San Diego Union-Tribune)

Once a 911 call gets placed, and the police respond, and the taxpayers are footing the bill, famous people pretty much forfeit the “mind your own business” defense. So as much as Woods might wish this would all go away, and as successful as he has been at stonewalling scrutiny of his personal life, this is one story he will be hard-pressed to suppress.

Whether the whole truth eventually emerges is doubtful. There's too much at stake and too little to be gained from full disclosure. Yet if Woods' wife, Elin, has already told authorities conflicting stories, as reported by TMZ, the couple is going to need to come up with a version they can A) Agree upon; B) Repeat convincingly.

This could prove to be a tricky proposition. Since Woods' accident closely follows a National Enquirer report alleging that he has been involved in an extramarital affair with nightclub manager Rachel Uchitel (which she denies), there's liable to be a little unresolved tension in his marriage. And maybe a whole lot.

Moreover, if alcohol was not a factor in the accident, as the police have indicated, how do you weave Woods' sudden driving difficulties, the smashed rear windows of his car, his facial injuries and his wife's wielding of a golf club into a coherent, plausible and scandal-free narrative?

Windermere officials have disseminated an account in which Elin Woods smashed the car windows with a golf club in order to free her unconscious husband after hearing the accident from the couple's home in the exclusive Isleworth enclave near Orlando. Yet even if it happened exactly that way, that wouldn't explain Woods' predawn departure or his wayward work behind the wheel. Neither does it diffuse the domestic drama inherent in supermarket tabloid reports linking a married man with another woman.

When you apply the smell test to the golf club-as-jaws of life version, then, it falls somewhere between rotting grouper and rancid Gorgonzola. That Woods and his wife have twice postponed police efforts to interview them, most recently yesterday afternoon, only serves to heighten suspicion that they have yet to get their stories straight. (Reportedly, they plan to talk today.)

Bad enough to cause the scandal, you can't provide the punchlines too, TMZ: Tiger Woods said he needed a 'Kobe Special' hours after the accident and amid rumors of affair (SF Examiner, 11/29/09)
When asked what a "Kobe Special" was, Woods replied, "A house on a finger."

That was apparently in reference to Kobe Bryant giving his wife an 8-carat diamond ring worth $4 million after he admitted his infidelity.

"Kobe Special" and "gone ghetto" are enough to keep the story alive no matter what version they try to sell.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:21 AM


Indiana's Daniels offers austerity as a virtue (Ralph Z. Hallow, 11/29/09, Washington Times)

[Mitch Daniels] says he has "encouraged a few good people to run and will continue to look for other people who may be able to frame the issues important to the country."

Like what?

For one thing, "a colossally unsustainable [national] debt load — an unfair, even immoral burden we've deposited on our young people," he says.

"The threat of Islamic fundamentalism coupled with its ability to take advantage of modern technology," for another.

And then there's "our reliance on energy purchased from people who use the money in ways contrary to American interests." [...]

[H]e says, "We're the only state with a fully funded infrastructure plan. Other states can't even patch what they have. We are breaking records for infrastructure. We did it without any tax increases or any borrowing."

How did he do all this without a tax hike to which even some self-proclaimed conservative Republican governors have resorted?

"We leased the Indiana toll road for an astonishing amount of money — $3.9 billion," he says with the hint of a smile." And it's been reinvested along with our gas-tax money. We're building projects that will be there for our children and our grandchildren."

When it comes to taxes in general — and in particular property taxes, the cause of taxpayer revolts in some other states — Mr. Daniels says, "We effected the biggest tax cut in Indiana history. More than $1 billion. We cut property taxes by a third statewide. And we capped them so that we have the seventh-lowest property taxes in the country."

How about state payrolls — the necessary element of making state government work as well as the unsupportable burden that has driven other states to near bankruptcy?

"We have the fewest state employees since 1983," Mr. Daniels says. "We have reduced per capita state spending as measured in real [inflation corrected] dollars by 1.3 percent a year. Most states are still growing spending."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:19 AM


Minister Livnat: US administration is 'horrible' (REBECCA ANNA STOIL, 11/27/09, Jerusalem Post)

A day after Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu announced that the security cabinet had approved a partial moratorium on building in the West Bank, Sports and Culture Minister Limor Livnat launched an unprecedented attack on US President Barack Obama. Speaking at a Likud activists' meeting in Beersheba, Livnat said that Israel had "fallen into the hands of a horrible American administration."

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November 28, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:05 PM


She Wants to Reboot California: After chemotherapy, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina says taking on Sen. Barbara Boxer isn't so intimidating. (JOHN FUND, 11/27/09, WSJ)

With a 12.5% unemployment rate, the Golden State is certainly in trouble. In 2007 alone, 260,000 Californians moved to states with more opportunity. The nonpartisan Tax Foundation says only New York and New Jersey have worse business tax climates. And a new Los Angeles Times poll found that more than half of California residents think the state's major problems won't fade as the economy recovers.

Ms. Fiorina is not shy in pointing out what's to blame. "The high tax, big government, regulatory regime we see in California is the current course and speed for where the nation is headed," she warns. "California is a great test case, a factual demonstration that those programs don't work." She notes that while state spending has significantly outstripped inflation in recent years, every year government services perform more poorly and it becomes harder to open a business. "I very much doubt Hewlett Packard could be founded today as a manufacturing company in California," she adds soberly. [...]

Voters may also be in the mood for new leadership. "I'm not a professional politician, I'm a problem solver," she emphasizes, contrasting her record with that of the 69-year-old Ms. Boxer. That record is fairly stark: By most measures, Ms. Boxer has been an unbending ideologue during her three terms, as illustrated by her 95% rating from the liberal Americans for Democratic Action in 2008.

Given the deep national recession and a state economy deep in the red, Ms. Fiorina is especially critical of Ms. Boxer's opposition to "virtually every trade agreement." Ms. Fiorina also chides Ms. Boxer for the latter's lockstep support for the public employee unions that she claims enjoy "outsized political influence" in California.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:02 PM


Police: Woods, wife unavailable for interview (FRED GOODALL, 11/28/09, AP)

The mystery over Tiger Woods' car crash intensified Saturday when his agent called state troopers on their way to Woods' house and asked them to wait another day before speaking to him.

It was the second straight day Woods was unavailable to talk.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:58 AM


Hacked E-Mail Data Prompts Calls for Changes in Climate Research (ANDREW C. REVKIN, 11/28/09, NY Times)

The scientists say that the e-mail messages, which have circulated on the Internet and which disclose the inner workings of a small network of climatologists who chart the planet’s temperature, have damaged the public’s trust in the evidence that humans are dangerously warming the planet, just as many countries are poised to start reining in greenhouse gas emissions.

“This whole concept of, ‘We’re the experts, trust us,’ has clearly gone by the wayside with these e-mails,” said Judith Curry, a climate scientist at Georgia Institute of Technology.

She and other scientists are seeking more transparency in the way climate data is handled and in the methods used to analyze it. And they argue that scientists should re-evaluate the selection procedures used by some scientific journals and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the panel that in 2007 concluded that humans were the dominant force driving warming and whose findings underpin international discussions over a new climate treaty.

Why should climatology be the only discipline with meaningful peer review?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:49 AM


Mma Ramotswe's Cookbook: The No.1 book for African delicacies (Judy Vickers, 11/28/09, The Scotsman)

Having never written a book, [Stuart Brown] had no thought of doing it himself – instead he wrote to McCall Smith, suggesting the idea.

"I was surprised when he wrote back saying: 'This is a good idea, why don't you do it?'" he says.

Research included spending time in Botswana this summer, eating with and learning from villagers, including sampling some of the more exotic dishes.

"I haven't tried the termites but I have tried the worms on several occasions. They are not unpleasant, they don't have much flavour on their own – they are added to stews as they are very high in protein," Stuart explains.

Mopane worms are actually caterpillars from the Mopane emperor moth, which live on the leaves of the Mopane tree.

"They are extremely popular in Botswana. Each nation has its peculiar dish which other countries don't understand," says Stuart.

While he admits the worms aren't available at your local Asda, he insists many of the recipes can be recreated back here

"It does take a bit of searching to find the ingredients but it is possible to find most of them," he says. There are always substitutes – venison for springbok or antelope, for instance – and many of the ingredients are as much staples of the Scottish diet as the African. No cook over here would have trouble rustling up some lemon and condensed milk biscuits, while Botswana beef is highly prized. "Their beef is outstanding and has an international reputation," says Stuart.

Good, wholesome food is what you'd expect from the home country of Mma Ramotswe, a woman who prides herself on her "traditional" build – and Stuart admits it's not a book for dieters. "People are comfortable in their own skins. A larger size is a sign of prosperity and wellbeing in Botswana – and the men prefer women with larger bottoms," he laughs.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:43 AM


CRU’s Tree-Ring Circus: Who peer-reviews the peer-reviewers? (Mark Steyn, 11/2/09, National Review)

My favorite moment in the Climategate/Climaquiddick scandal currently roiling the “climate change” racket was Stuart Varney’s interview on Fox News with the actor Ed Begley Jr. — star of the 1980s medical drama St. Elsewhere but latterly better known, as is the fashion with members of the thespian community, as an “activist.” He’s currently in a competition with Bill Nye (“the Science Guy”) to see who can have the lowest “carbon footprint.” Pistols at dawn would seem the quickest way of resolving that one, but presumably you couldn’t get a reality series out of it.

Wanna bet?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:57 AM


Unlike China, India has growth with values: PM Manmohan (Chidanand Rajghatta, 11/25/09, TNN)

Bull in a China shop is not an expression one would normally use to describe India’s mild-mannered Prime Minister, but at a Washington think-tank on Monday evening Manmohan Singh was anything but delicate on India’s newly nettlesome neighbor before an audience that is largely in thrall of the Middle Kingdom’s meteoric rise on the global stage. [...]

Singh was also unexpectedly tetchy about comparisons between Indian and Chinese economic growth, saying while there is no doubt that Chinese performance is superior to India's, ''there are other values which are important than the growth of Gross Domestic Product.''

"I think the respect for fundamental human rights, the respect for the rule of law, respect for multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-religious rights, I think those have values. So, even the Indian perforce with regard to the GDP might not be as good as the Chinese, certainly I would not like to choose the Chinese path," he said in unusually blunt remarks that constituted a criticism of the Chinese model.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:52 AM


Tiger Woods: Injuries Caused by Wife, Not SUV (TMZ, Nov 28th 2009)

Tiger has yet to be formally interviewed by the Florida Highway Patrol -- that should happen this afternoon. But we're told Tiger had a conversation Friday -- with a non-law enforcement type -- detailing what went down before his Escalade hit a fire hydrant.

We're told he said his wife had confronted him about reports that he was seeing another woman. The argument got heated and, according to our source, she scratched his face up. We're told it was then Woods beat a hasty retreat for his SUV -- but according to our source, Woods says his wife followed behind with a golf club. As Tiger drove away, she struck the vehicle several times with the club.

There has to be a club endorsement deal in this for Mrs. Woods.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:46 AM


An Economist's Invisible Hand: Arthur Cecil Pigou, overlooked for decades, provides a guide to the financial crisis (JOHN CASSIDY. 11/28/09, WSJ)

Today Mr. Pigou's intellectual legacy is being rediscovered, and, unlike those of Messrs. Keynes and Friedman, it enjoys bipartisan appeal. Leading Republican-leaning economists such as Greg Mankiw and Gary Becker have joined Democrats such as Paul Krugman and Amartya Sen in recommending a Pigovian approach to policy. Much of President Barack Obama's agenda—financial regulation, cap and trade, health care reform—is an application of Mr. Pigou's principles. Whether the president knows it or not, he is a Pigovian.

Mr. Pigou pioneered the study of market failure—the branch of economics that explores why free enterprise sometimes. During the 1930s, Mr. Keynes lampooned him as a reactionary because of his suggestion that the economic slump would eventually recover of its own accord.

But while Mr. Pigou believed capitalism works tolerably most of the time, he also demonstrated how, on occasion, it malfunctions. His key insight was that actions in one part of the economy can have unintended consequences in others.

Thus, for example, a blow-up in a relatively obscure part of the credit markets—the subprime mortgage industry—can undermine the entire banking system, which, in turn, can drag the entire economy into a recession, as banks refuse to lend. "The actual occurrence of business failures will be more or less widespread according (to whether) bankers' loans. . . are more or less readily available," Mr. Pigou wrote in 1929. Today, that might seem obvious. But just two and a half years ago, when the subprime crisis began, most economists, Mr. Bernanke included, believed it would have only modest consequences. [...]

Mr. Pigou drew an important distinction between the private and social value of economic activities, such as the opening of a new railway line. The savings in time and effort that users of the railway enjoy are private benefits, which will be reflected in the prices they are willing to pay for tickets. Similarly, the railroad's expenditures on tracks, rolling stock, employee wages are private costs, which will help to determine the prices it charges. But the opening of the railway may also create costs for "people not directly concerned, through, say, uncompensated damage done to surrounding woods by sparks from railway engines," Mr. Pigou pointed out.

Such social costs—modern economists call them "externalities"—don't enter the calculations of the railroads or its customers, but in tallying up the ultimate worth of any economic activity, "[a]ll such effects must be included," Mr. Pigou insisted. In focusing exclusively on private costs and private benefits, the traditional defense of the free market misses out on a vital element of reality.

To correct the problems that spillovers created, Mr. Pigou advocated government intervention. Where the social value of an activity was lower than its private value, as in the case of a railroad setting ablaze the surrounding woodland, the authorities should introduce "extraordinary restraints" in the form of user taxes, he said. Conversely, some activities have a social value that exceeds their private value. The providers of recreational parks, street lamps, and other "public goods" have difficulty charging people to use them, which means the free market may fail to ensure their adequate supply. To rectify this shortcoming, Mr. Pigou advocated "extraordinary encouragements" in the form of government subsidies. [...]

Global warming presents perhaps the most dramatic example of what can happen if spillovers are ignored. It was the growing public concern over global warming that resurrected Mr. Pigou from obscurity. In 2006, the British government published an official report on climate change by Sir Nicholas Stern, a well-known English economist, which relied extensively on Mr. Pigou's analytical framework. "In common with many other environmental problems, human-induced climate change is at its most basic level an externality," Mr. Stern wrote. And he went on: "It is the greatest and widest-ranging market failure ever seen."

In addition to referencing Mr. Pigou's work directly several times, Mr. Stern recommended the imposition of one of his extraordinary restraints: a substantial carbon tax. This proposal remains controversial, but a number of Republican economists have endorsed it. Harvard's Greg Mankiw has founded an informal Pigou Club for economists and pundits that support a carbon tax.

The fact that oil use doesn't cause climate change doesn't mean it isn't politically destabilizing, both in producing nations and consuming.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:45 AM


U.S.-South Korea free-trade pact stalls over politics (Don Lee, 11/28/09, LA Times)

Strong opposition to the accord in the U.S. has come from organized labor. AFL-CIO policy director Thea Lee contends that the deal will end up costing American jobs and that there aren't enough protections for South Korean workers' rights. Ford Motor Co. has been a vocal critic as well. But what's really holding up the agreement is politics. [...]

Obama has come under fire from abroad and at home for protectionist moves such as slapping heavy tariffs on cheap Chinese tires, even though trade has not been a major part of his agenda in his first year as president. Besides the South Korea trade accord, which was signed in June 2007, similar pacts with Panama and Colombia have languished as well.

At the same time, Obama administration officials have repeatedly stated that the president wants to build a more export-oriented economy in the wake of the financial crisis, and a senior aide said Obama's trip to Asia was aimed in good part at doing just that.

But Obama faces an uphill challenge within his own party.

This is just one area where the GOP takeover will help him be re-elected, liberating him from his party.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:38 AM


BOOK REVIEW: 'Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong' by Terry Teachout: Satchmo loved to tape parts of his life. That record infuses 'Pops,' a new biography of the jazz great. (Scott Martelle, November 29, 2009, LA Times)

Reporting from New York - In 1947, jazz great Louis Armstrong got himself a new gadget -- a tape recorder, fresh out on the consumer market. It was a big, boxy machine that he set up in concert halls and jazz joints to record his six-piece All Stars so he could listen to each show in his hotel room and thin out the weak spots for the next gig.

Before long, however, this work tool became a plaything -- and, a couple of generations later, a treasure trove for Terry Teachout, author of the new and compelling biography "Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong" [...]

While the tapes have been available to scholars since 2002, Teachout is the first biographer to make full use of them, says Michael Cogswell, director of the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Queens, N.Y. And although Teachout says the tapes don't contain any major revelations, they infuse "Pops" with the insights of an eavesdropper.

"Armstrong, although he was very self-aware, was also a very unself-conscious man," Teachout says in his art-filled apartment on Manhattan's Upper West Side. "He knew what he was. He knew he was a very important figure in the history of American art. And so he saved everything that he could. But in making these tapes, he's entirely unself-conscious. He just records parts of his life. . . . He is the only major jazz musician who has left behind a very large volume of documents of this kind."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:29 AM


REVIEW: of Thucydides: the Reinvention of History
(A.C. Grayling, Barnes & Noble Review)

Few historians are in a better position than Donald Kagan to evaluate Thucydides' merits and achievement, which is the task he sets himself in this new book. Kagan's four-volume history of the Peloponnesian War, followed by a brilliant one-volume epitome of it, are the standard contemporary texts in the field, and he has parlayed the wisdom gleaned from his close study both of that war and Thucydides' account of it into discussions of the origins of war, the possibilities of peace, and contemporary geopolitics. When therefore he argues that Thucydides' account of the Peloponnesian War is tendentious and revisionary, and in important respects misleading, one does well to sit up and take notice. For this indeed is the burden of Kagan's striking account, which in forensic and exacting style places Thucydides in the historiographical dock.

This does not mean that Kagan is hostile to Thucydides; not a bit of it. He is an admirer -- who could not be? -- but an objective one. He reveals Thucydides as a thoroughly revisionary historian, bent on opposing the view widely held in his own day that Athens' disaster in the Peloponnesian War was the fault of Pericles, whose mistakes in foreign policy were its cause, and whose early management of it planted the seeds of defeat. Instead Thucydides wished to establish an alternative thesis: that the war was inevitable because of Sparta's fear of Athens' growing power, and that it was the decayed quality of Athenian democracy after Pericles, exemplified by the crudity of Cleon and other lesser men, that betrayed Athens to defeat. In the process Thucydides sought to defend the reputation not only of Pericles but also Nicias, leader of both the peace party and of the disastrous Sicilian campaign.

By careful argument Kagan puts the record straight. He notes that Thucydides, in order to shape his readers' interpretation of events, is very selective in reporting speeches in the Athenian assembly and very economical with the facts of what happened in various battles and campaigns, such as the loss of Amphipolis (where Thucydides himself had been in command, and whose loss resulted in his exile by his fellow Athenians). Thucydides quotes only those speeches in the assembly that bear out his version of events; because he is on the whole careful and accurate in conveying the burden of what was said (apart from his own scruples, his contemporaries would have caught him out otherwise), he chose not to give the anti-Pericleans any ammunition by presenting the case made by those whose view of events he was determined to contradict. [...]

Thucydides was not trying to mislead; as he saw it from his own partisan viewpoint, he was trying to correct. In doing so he was revising the standard view of the war held by his contemporaries. Kagan likewise is revising our view -- not of the war but of Thucydides himself; not to impugn him, but to set the record straight by revealing the great historian's bias and aim, and rescuing those he unfairly attacked. The case Kagan makes seems hard to fault, so carefully does he argue it and so copiously does he substantiate it; though doubtless among the scholars -- whose ingenuity one should never underestimate -- occasion will be found for nits to be picked.

Getting the record straight in Kagan's terms makes very little difference to the value of Thucydides' work as a textbook for politics and diplomacy. In these domains the intricacies of calculation explored by Thucydides, the dangers of weak allies drawing their stronger partners into conflict, the inevitability that suspicion and self-interest will exacerbate bad situations, and the ultimate fact that it is economics that wins wars, all remain starkly true. In an earlier book Kagan argued that the chief parallel between Thucydides' war and the recent past is with the First World War, and indeed in 1914 it was entanglements of alliances, looped round spinning axes of suspicion and self-interest, that drew each party and thereby an entire civilization into the abyss.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:22 AM


Confessions of a White jihadist (Daveed Gartenstein-Ross , 28 November 2009, Times of India)

He was a Jew who converted to Islam while in college. He went from "holding liberal ideas about Islam to conservatism to militancy". He worked for the head of a Wahabi organisation that the US government has since named a 'specially designated global terrorist entity' with alleged links to al-Qaeda and Lashkar-e-Taiba, the perpetrators of 26/11. As the FBI and the Indian investigative agencies work overtime to trace David Coleman Headley's deadly terror trail in India, and as America seeks answers to the recent killing rampage by a US army major of Palestinian origin, Daveed Gartenstein-Ross writes for TOI-Crest on why he became a radical Islamist - as well as his journey back, post 9/11. Today, he is one of America's foremost authorities on counter-terrorism and works with the FBI in its investigation of terror organisations, particularly on home-grown extremism. [...]

I had converted to Islam in college, following a period of intense illness that almost killed me. I found Islam, feeling it answered many of my spiritual questions , and practiced a moderate and progressive version of the faith. It was by chance that I ended up at Al Haramain; the charity had established its US headquarters in my hometown of Ashland, Oregon, and I was encouraged to apply for a job after I attended the Friday jummah prayers there in the summer of 1998.

During my time at Al Haramain, I progressed from holding liberal ideas about Islam to conservatism and ultimately to militancy. This by no means shows that militant Islam is the sole or best practice of the faith, but it is important to understand how militants are able to draw young Muslims into their orbit.

The peer pressure was not just related to the ideas that I held. There were also rules pertaining to virtually every aspect of our lives, many of which involved limbs. I could eat using only my right hand. I could never pet a dog or shake hands with a woman. Over time, I came to believe in all of this and more. I believed that listening to music was a transgression that believers should avoid.

Moreover, one frequently overlooked aspect of jihadist ideology is that it has considerable persuasive force. Often commentators assume that the jihadi movement is composed of the poorly educated, the broke, and the hopeless; many have stated that Osama bin Laden's interpretation of Islam is a transparent distortion.

The social science literature on radicalisation undermines these claims. The work of scholars such as Marc Sageman and Alan Krueger shows that terrorists are neither poorly educated nor economically deprived. Nor would peer pressure alone have been sufficient to make me embrace religious extremism.

Over time, I came to see religion as far deeper than that. If God exists, who is a better barometer of morality? If God believes it wrong to shake hands with a woman, who am I to argue?

It is in this context that a legalistic practice of religion makes sense. But if believers need religious guidance on eating and clothing, it is far more important that they understand God's will on issues like warfare and the proper relationship between religion and state.

For me, that framework for understanding the world opened the door to extremism. I remember reading an essay by Sheikh Abdullah bin Muhammad bin Humaid, 'The Call to Jihad in the Qur'an' , which was included as an appendix in many of the Qur'anic translations that Al Haramain distributed.

Tracing the Qur'an's view on "the fighting" chronologically, bin Humaid argues that it was forbidden during the early part of Muhammad's prophethood, then made permissible under certain circumstances (against those who fought the Muslims or unjustly expelled them from their homes).

I found this essay persuasive. It provided a logical framework for determining between conflicting Qur'anic verses, and concisely summarised the progression of the revelations that Muhammad received.

At the time, I didn't like that conclusion. It conflicted with my own moral inclinations, but what did that matter? If you have one view, and God has another, wouldn't you change your mind rather than expecting God to change His?

I once voted for a Democrat.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:09 AM


Those Who Rate U.S. Health Care System Good or Excellent Up To 49% (Rasmussen Reports, November 27, 2009)

Forty-nine percent (49%) of voters nationwide now rate the U.S. health care system as good or excellent. That marks a steady increase from 44% at the beginning of October, 35% in May and 29% a year-and-a-half ago.

The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that just 27% now say the U.S. health care system is poor.

It is interesting to note that confidence in the system has improved as the debate over health care reform has moved to center stage. The latest polling shows that only 38% favor the health care legislation currently working its way through Congress.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:00 AM


A Salsa Star Is Reborn After a Break for Politics (LARRY ROHTER, 11/28/09, NY Times)

From 2004 until this summer, Mr. Blades, who is also a lawyer with degrees from the University of Panama and Harvard, was Panama’s minister of tourism. According to government statistics, tourism generates more income for the country than does the Panama Canal, so that portfolio is an important one, and after years of criticizing those in power, Mr. Blades was eager to put his principles to the test.

“It’s not that easy to explain why I like doing so many things that seem disconnected,” he said. “But when I started writing about social issues in music and started having success with that, I felt that there was a contradiction arising from making a living out of writing about social injustice. In my mind, the only way to end that contradiction was through politics. It’s really about changing the conditions I am denouncing in my songs, and that can only be done through political work.”

That kind of willingness to veer off in unexpected directions has long been a hallmark of Mr. Blades, who manages his own career. David Maldonado, a salsa tour promoter and manager who has done business with Mr. Blades on and off for more than 25 years, said Mr. Blades was warned that he would damage his budding career when he chose in the early 1970s to go “out of sight, out of mind” and enroll at Harvard. [...]

[O]ver the years, Mr. Blades strayed further and further from that formula. He performed in Paul Simon’s failed Broadway musical “Capeman” in 1998 and early this decade recorded a pair of albums, “Tiempos” and “Mundo,” which incorporated jazz and folk elements and even, in one memorable instance, bagpipes.

“The problem with being a writer in salsa is that the genre is pretty much defined by the appeal of the music to the feet,” Mr. Blades explained. “And that’s fine. I will never put that down. That’s the way it is. But those limits, those structures, were something I was trying to break away from.”

Mr. Blades’s new CD, “Cantares del Subdesarrollo” (“Songs of Underdevelopment”) deepens that process. Many of the songs, like “Las Calles” (“The Streets”) and “Himno de los Olvidados” (“Hymn of the Forgotten”), have the politically charged lyrics for which he is famous. But the sound is stripped down and acoustic, harking back to the era before Afro-Caribbean ensembles acquired big horn sections. Mr. Blades takes a large musical role, playing guitar, tres and percussion in addition to singing.

One song attracting a lot of attention in Latin America is “País Portátil” (“Portable Country”), whose title comes from the novel of the same name by Adriano González León. The song speaks of “a place without memory/where nothing is surprising anymore/not a crime pardoned/or a charlatan as president” and laments the ascendance of “falsified heroes and mortgaged ideals.”

Because Mr. González León was a Venezuelan, there have been suggestions that Mr. Blades is writing about Hugo Chávez, the populist president of Venezuela. Mr. Blades said that, as in many of his other songs, he was describing a phenomenon common all over Latin America. But, no longer bound by the restrictions of government office, he also criticized Mr. Chávez for “insisting on adopting a system that has been demonstrably proven not to function.”

Mundo, which features the bagpipe tune also includes one of the best 9-11 tributes:

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:54 AM


Intimate Ella Fitzgerald, Rediscovered (FRED KAPLAN, 11/29/09, NY Times)

[V]erve has just released “Twelve Nights in Hollywood,” a four-CD boxed set of Ella Fitzgerald singing 76 songs at the Crescendo, a small jazz club in Los Angeles, in 1961 and ’62 — and none of it has ever been released until now.

These aren’t bootlegs; the CDs were mastered from the original tapes, which were produced by Norman Granz, Verve’s founder and Fitzgerald’s longtime manager.

They capture the singer in her peak years, and at top form: more relaxed, swinging and adventurous, across a wider span of rhythms and moods, than on the dozens of other albums that hit the bins in her lifetime.

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November 27, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:55 PM


Tiger Woods Seriously Injured in Car Crash in Florida (Fox News, November 27, 2009)

Woods, 33, is in the hospital in very serious condition after a single-car crash at 2:25 a.m. in which he hit a fire hydrant and then a tree, the Florida Highway Patrol said. [...]

Woods pulled out of his driveway in the Isleworth community when he struck the hydrant, the Orlando Sentinel reported, citing the FHP.

He then plowed into the tree on his neighbor's property. He was taken to Health Central Hospital in Ocoee, Fla.

Tiger Woods taken to hospital in 'serious' condition after car accident (Amy L. Edwards and Henry Pierson Curtis, 11/27/09, Orlando Sentinel)
FHP said the airbags in Woods' Cadillac Escalade did not deploy, which means the vehicle was traveling under 33 mph.

Orange County Fire Rescue received the call for aid at 2:28 a.m. Woods was transported from his Windermere-area neighborhood by the hospital's own ambulance.

FHP did not report the accident until just after 2 p.m. today. The agency said the crash remains under investigation and charges are pending.

Three decades of image-building gone to waste?

Police chief: Woods' wife helped after accident (Doug Ferguson, AP)

A local police chief in Florida says Tiger Woods' wife used a golf club to smash out the back window and helped get the golfer out of the car. [...]

Saylor says officers found Woods laying in the street with his wife hovering over him.

Police say Woods hit a fire hydrant and part of a tree early Friday. Saylor says Woods was in and out of consciousness when his officers arrived.

Saylor says Woods had cuts on his lips and blood in his mouth.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:23 PM


Uninvited Guests Prompt an Inquiry (HELENE COOPER and BRIAN STELTER, 11/27/09, NY Times)

The Secret Service is investigating how a couple aspiring to be reality-show celebrities managed to appear at President Obama’s first state dinner without being on the guest list, provoking questions about security at the White House.

Couldn't they ask the same of the UR and his Mrs?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:05 AM


Journalism's slow, sad death (Michael Gerson, November 27, 2009, Washington Post)

The democratization of the media -- really its fragmentation -- has encouraged ideological polarization. Princeton University professor Paul Starr traced this process recently in the Columbia Journalism Review. After the captive audience for network news was released by cable, many Americans did not turn to other sources of news. They turned to entertainment. The viewers who remained were more political and more partisan. "As Walter Cronkite prospered in the old environment," says Starr, "Bill O'Reilly and Keith Olbermann thrive in the new one. As the diminished public for journalism becomes more partisan, journalism itself is likely to shift further in that direction."

Cable and the Internet now allow Americans, if they choose, to get their information entirely from sources that agree with them -- sources that reinforce and exaggerate their political predispositions.

And the whole system is based on a kind of intellectual theft. Internet aggregators (who link to news they don't produce) and bloggers would have little to collect or comment upon without the costly enterprise of newsgathering and investigative reporting. The old-media dinosaurs remain the basis for the entire media food chain. But newspapers are expected to provide their content free on the Internet. A recent poll found that 80 percent of Americans refuse to pay for Internet content. There is no economic model that will allow newspapers to keep producing content they don't charge for, while Internet sites repackage and sell content they don't pay to produce.

It's pretty easy to imagine a day when all newsgathering will be done by public entities--NPR, PBS, BBC, etc. The Founders would be appalled.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:00 AM


Brazilian president says 'gringos' must pay to protect Amazon (Associated Press/, 27 November 2009)

President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was speaking before an Amazon summit at which delegates signed a declaration calling for financial help from the industrialised world to halt deforestation, which contributes to global warming.

"I don't want any gringo asking us to let an Amazon resident die of hunger under a tree," Lula said. "We want to preserve, but they will have to pay the price for this preservation because we never destroyed our forest like they mowed theirs down a century ago."

The Al Gore's among us want all the benefits of industrialization but to deny same to others. There ought to be a cost.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:57 AM


Iraq invasion of questionable legitimacy, says British diplomat (James Meikle, 11/27/09,

The invasion of Iraq was legal but of "questionable legitimacy" because the US and UK had failed to persuade other countries of the need for war, the then UK ambassador to the UN told the Chilcot inquiry today.

The idea that you need approval from dictatorships to enforce UN mandates and liberate an oppressed people is deeply silly.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:53 AM


Last of the Monks: Tony Shalhoub wraps up an eight-year run as 'Monk' (MICHELLE KUNG, 11/27/09, WSJ)

The Wall Street Journal: Finding Trudy's killer has been the underlying arc to "Monk." Are you satisfied by the two-part resolution?

Mr. Shalhoub: Even though these last two episodes are a little darker than what we normally do, I think it's a good send-off. At the beginning of the season, the writers asked me if I wanted to know how everything [ended] and I said, if it was okay with them, I'd rather wait. Because the less time I had with the real answers in my head, the better it would be for my performance the first half of the season. Monk gets to really lose it in one scene, which we haven't really seen before.

When I first read the scripts, the performing of it seemed like a daunting task, but once I got into the rhythm of the scene, it played itself. By which I mean, the cumulative effect of all of the character work I had done leading up to this point—building up all of Monk's inner pain and frustration and anger—burst from me like a dam.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:48 AM


Pinetop Perkins' 80-year career still going (SHELIA BYRD, 11/27/09, Associated Press)

Noisy crowds in smoky bars don't bother 96-year-old bluesman Pinetop Perkins.

It's all part of his job. Most nights, after he snuffs out his menthol cigarette, Perkins slides onto the piano bench in some club and eases into a wail about hard times and treacherous women.

Perkins is believed to be the oldest of the old-time Delta blues musicians still performing. In an 80-year career, he's traveled through juke joints, nightclubs and festival stages shared with the likes of John Lee Hooker, Sonny Boy Williamson and Muddy Waters. [...]

Perkins, whose real first name is Willie, was born in 1913 in Belzoni, Miss. He's lived the evolution of blues music, spending his early years playing in the Delta. In the 1940s, he performed with Williamson on the popular King Biscuit Time radio show broadcast daily on KFFA in Helena, Ark.

Perkins backed slide guitarist Robert Nighthawk on an early Chess Records recording and toured with Turner in the 1950s. Later, Perkins joined Muddy Waters' band to replace pianist Otis Spann in 1969.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:27 AM


Talking About Detective Fiction: Master mystery writer P.D. James dissects her craft: a review of Talking About Detective Fiction By P.D. James (Yvonne Zipp, November 27, 2009, CS Monitor)

Fans of Baroness James’s 20 novels will be rewarded by plenty of such insights into how she approaches her chosen profession, as well as some intelligent and well-read discussion of a genre that has perhaps never been more popular.

That popularity may stem from our own uncertain times, James posits, since the mystery novel surges in popularity during periods of unrest, promising a restoration of order through human reason and ingenuity. “Whether we live in a more violent age than did, for example, the Victorians is a question for statisticians and sociologists, but we certainly feel more threatened by crime and disorder than at any other time I remember in my long life,” James writes in her conclusion. “The detective story deals with the most dramatic and tragic manifestations of man’s nature and the ultimate disruption of murder, yet the form itself is orderly, controlled, formulaic, providing a secure structure within which the imaginations of writer and reader alike can confront the unthinkable.”

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:33 AM


Shining a Light On Shadow Economies: Hernando de Soto, champion of the poor, applies his insights about asset transparency to bastions of wealth. (Elisabeth Eaves, 11.26.09, Forbes Magazine)

The Peruvian economist Hernando De Soto is famous for championing property rights as an antipoverty measure. If a poor family living in a São Paulo or Manila slum could only get a deed to their living quarters, he argued, they could borrow against it to buy, say, a sewing machine. De Soto, 68, takes that message to heads of state, and he takes it out into the countryside. In recent months he has spent time in the remote Amazon jungle, talking to indigenous tribes about land ownership.

He might not, then, seem like the most obvious source of insight for what ails developed countries. But there is a connection, he insists, between the financial crisis of wealthy nations and the crisis of poverty everywhere else. The solution in both cases is transparency. Make the values of assets transparent, he says, and economies get better.

The idea that propelled De Soto onto the stage of development economics was that capitalism wasn't working for the poor because, lacking property rights, they couldn't accumulate capital. A resident of a Lima shantytown, though he might have lived on a plot for decades, had no right to sell it or borrow against it, thanks to a legal system that made it nearly impossible to obtain a clear title. Researchers working with De Soto discovered that it took 728 steps to obtain title to a piece of state-owned land in Peru. The result is that in most of the Third World, people, quite rationally, decide to operate in the shadow economy. [...]

U.S. banks went beyond simply lending to unworthy creditors. The increase in the number and kind of derivative contracts--including some, like credit default swaps, that were traded over the counter rather than on exchanges--created a new kind of shadow economy, De Soto argues. "It reminds me of the way we used to navigate on the coast of Peru," he says. He explained that you'd have close-in sailors navigating by keeping an eye on the coast, then farther-out sailors who navigated by watching the boats that were watching the coast, and so on. "Somehow you got very far away from the coast."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:15 AM


Demographic Implosion Spurs Panicked South Korea to Enforce Abortion Ban (Peter J. Smith, November 25, 2009,

The Republic of Korea has signaled its willingness to work to reverse a heavily pro-abortion culture through various measures, including beginning to enforce an abortion ban that has technically existed in the country for decades, in order to address the severe demographic implosion that threatens the country's economic stability, Korean sources report. [...]

"We have been a society that promoted abortion," Kwak Seung-jun, leader of the Presidential Council, told reporters. [...]

Official data from the Ministry of Health indicates that doctors perform 350,000 abortions per year, while they deliver on average just 450,000 babies, meaning 43.7 percent of pregnancies end in abortion.

However, the actual number of abortions may be at least five times the official estimate. According to the Korea Times, Rep. Chang Yoon-seok of the ruling Grand National Party said that a National Assembly inspection in October found that the number of illegal abortions in Korea exceeds 1.5 million a year or roughly 4,000 babies aborted per day.

If the National Assembly's estimate is correct, the nation of 48 million commits approximately the same number of abortions as the United States, which has 300 million residents. Presuming the numbers of births recorded by the Health Ministry remains the same, that would mean approximately three out of four pregnancies in South Korea end in abortion.

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November 26, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:22 AM


President Barack Obama's Thanksgiving Day proclamation, as released by the White House

What began as a harvest celebration between European settlers and indigenous communities nearly four centuries ago has become our cherished tradition of Thanksgiving. This day's roots are intertwined with those of our nation, and its history traces the American narrative.

Today, we recall President George Washington, who proclaimed our first national day of public thanksgiving to be observed "by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God," and President Abraham Lincoln, who established our annual Thanksgiving Day to help mend a fractured nation in the midst of civil war. We also recognize the contributions of Native Americans, who helped the early colonists survive their first harsh winter and continue to strengthen our nation. From our earliest days of independence, and in times of tragedy and triumph, Americans have come together to celebrate Thanksgiving.

As Americans, we hail from every part of the world. While we observe traditions from every culture, Thanksgiving Day is a unique national tradition we all share. Its spirit binds us together as one people, each of us thankful for our common blessings.

As we gather once again among loved ones, let us also reach out to our neighbors and fellow citizens in need of a helping hand. This is a time for us to renew our bonds with one another, and we can fulfill that commitment by serving our communities and our nation throughout the year. In doing so, we pay tribute to our country's men and women in uniform who set an example of service that inspires us all. Let us be guided by the legacy of those who have fought for the freedoms for which we give thanks, and be worthy heirs to the noble tradition of goodwill shown on this day.

Now, therefore, I, Barack Obama, president of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim Thursday, Nov. 26, 2009, as a National Day of Thanksgiving. I encourage all the people of the United States to come together, whether in our homes, places of worship, community centers, or any place where family, friends and neighbors may gather, with gratitude for all we have received in the past year, to express appreciation to those whose lives enrich our own and to share our bounty with others.

In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand this 20th day of November, in the year of our Lord 2009, and of the independence of the United States of America the 234th (year).

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:56 AM

61 Free Apps We're Most Thankful For (Lifehacker, 11/26/09)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:54 AM


Appetite for destruction: Audrey Kurth Cronin’s sober analysis of terrorism and its undoings, Justin Vogt writes, is a welcome change from the sweeping apocalyptic visions that pass for insight in the post-September 11 world: a review of How Terrorism Ends: Understanding the Decline and Demise of Terrorist Campaigns by Audrey Kurth Cronin (Justin Vogt, The National)

Eschewing sociological or psychological speculation about why groups opt to use terrorism, she focuses instead on the strategic consequences of their actions. The result is a refreshingly sober treatment of the subject. Cronin is no Pollyanna, but among her key findings are that only about five per cent of terrorist groups ever achieve their goals, and that the average lifespan of a modern terrorist organisation is only about eight years. Bare facts like these don’t mesh with the apocalyptic visions that dominate contemporary debates about terrorism, but they should hardly come as a surprise. After all, as Cronin writes, “killing civilians in terrorist attacks is not a promising means of achieving political ends”.

To better understand how terrorist campaigns and groups end, Cronin analysed the histories of 457 organisations active since 1968; among other things, she measured the lifespan of each group, whether and to what degree they engaged in negotiations with the states they targeted, and to what extent they achieved their own aims. This statistical analysis is complemented by case studies of a diverse group of now-defunct terrorist organisations – the nationalist Provisional Irish Republican Army, the quasi-Maoist Shining Path in Peru, the Marxist-Leninist Red Brigades in Italy, the apocalyptic Aum Shinrikyo in Japan, and the Zionist Irgun in Palestine, to name a few.

Cronin outlines six scenarios that typically characterise the end of a terrorist group: its leaders are captured or killed; it enters into a legitimate political process; it implodes due to internal conflicts or a loss of public support; it is eliminated via the brute force of military repression; it transitions away from terrorism into other forms of violence; or it succeeds in achieving its aims. It is impossible, of course, to trace the downfall of any organisation to just one of these factors. But focusing on the historical experience of terrorism allows us to treat it as a political phenomenon with observable (even predictable) characteristics, rather than a philosophical, psychological, or moral dilemma requiring us to refashion all our basic assumptions about security. And by demonstrating how similar patterns of terrorism repeat themselves in starkly different regional and cultural contexts, Cronin subtly undermines the myth of sui generis threats – highlighting, too, the ways in which counterterrorism can become a force even more volatile and dangerous than terrorism itself. [...]

[T]errorists are more likely to defeat themselves than they are to be stopped by the application of overwhelming force. A huge array of vulnerabilities make it difficult to manage a secretive group whose members are motivated by extreme views and willing to use violence: infighting and fractionalisation, a leader’s loss of operational control over members, and the constant spectre of betrayal. Perhaps most damaging of all are targeting errors that provoke a popular backlash. A particularly salient example is the 1997 killing of 62 tourists visiting ancient ruins in Luxor, Egypt, carried out by Gamaa Islamiya. In the five years prior to the attack, the group had killed 1,200 people in attacks meant to destabilise the Mubarak regime – but the widespread public disgust with the grisly massacre at Luxor stunned the group and its leaders, and their attacks ceased completely once they realised they had lost the support of their intended audience.

Of course, states cannot simply bide their time and wait for terrorist groups to implode. The trick, Cronin argues, is to figure out how to capitalise on a terrorist organisation’s inherent weaknesses, and nudge the group towards failure. Concluding her book by considering how al Qa’eda’s demise might be hastened, Cronin argues that the group has no hope of succeeding in its long-term goals, but that repression via military force – or through the “decapitation” of its leadership – is not likely to destroy it. Instead, she advocates an attempt to drive a wedge between the core al Qa’eda organisation and the various affiliates that give it a global reach, partly through negotiations with the peripheral groups – a process reminiscent of the US-backed “Awakening” movement, which enlisted former Sunni insurgents in the fight against al Qa’eda in Iraq. She also suggests that states begin offering an exit to al Qa’eda operatives, similar to the way law-enforcement agencies “turn” Mafia captains by promising leniency: just the prospect of other members taking such an exit can stir crippling distrust.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:45 AM


Separate Beds Lead to Longer-Lasting Love: He snores, she suffers. But many couples insist on sleeping together because they worry that having separate beds will lead to emotional distance. Still, scientists say, they are ignoring findings that say that being well-rested -- rather than cuddling -- might be a whole lot more important for a healthy marriage. (Bettina Musall, 11/25/09, Der Spiegel)

[T]he delicate balance of harmony in the matrimonial bed is about far more mundane things than sex. She wants to read, he wants to watch the game on TV. He prefers to sleep with the window open, even when there are icicles outside; she shivers under a goose-down quilt. One blanket or two? Should the mattress be latex, foam or feather? Whether it's shacking up, having children or getting old together, lifelong companionship is beset with hurdles that can adversely affect the traditional bed-sharing ritual.

Different sleeping habits aside, numerous studies have also concluded that one reason why sharing a bed can be so nerve-wracking is because there are genetic differences in the way men and women sleep. For example, women need more rest than men, go to bed earlier, feel cold there more often and are more inclined in the morning to want to sleep in, though they also tend to be the early risers.

Men, on the other hand, are better at keeping a constant body temperature, which is one reason why the experts in Vienna say men are so well-suited to warming their partner up. Men are typically night owls, snore more often and are better at sleeping through disturbances. Most men are blissfully unaware that their wives wake up a lot and have sleepless hours -- and continue to slumber unperturbed at their sides. Differing hormonal activity in men and women also translates into asynchronous periods of light and deep sleep, which happens to be something women have more trouble coming to terms with.

Under these circumstances, it's hardly surprising that men claim to sleep more soundly when their partner is in bed than when she isn't. By contrast, women say they are woken up more often by their partner, either because the noise emanating from the other side of the bed has become intolerably loud or because the unequal weight distribution on the mattress bounces them around as if they were on a trampoline whenever their male bedfellow rolls over (which he does, by the way, up to 30 times a night).

Researchers also say that the fact that women have a harder time relaxing at night has something to do with the still typical division of household responsibilities within our society. Mothers, who predominantly play the role family caregiver -- that is, satisfying children's needs, caring for the elderly and worrying about teenagers that don't come home on time at night -- pursue their familial "air traffic control" duties at night as a way of preventing conflict and accidents. And it's not like they can just flip a switch and relax.

With age, these gender-specific sleep patterns only get more pronounced. Women suffer from restless leg syndrome, while men gradually lose the ability to sleep deeply. Those who like to take naps during the day find that they can't fall or stay asleep at night. And, despite the fact that most men are amazingly impervious to their own bodily odors, women aren't. Not even a couple sprays of Chanel No. 5 -- whose dream-evoking qualities even Marilyn Monroe cherished -- are going to be able to smother the smell emitted from wearing flannel pajamas and wool socks.

Likewise, scientists have identified almost a hundred different sleep disturbances. So, is it any wonder that couples cannot rest easy when they then pool their problems?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:36 AM


How eugenics poisoned the welfare state: A century ago many leading leftists subscribed to the vile pseudo-science of eugenics, writes Dennis Sewell, and the influence of that thinking can still be seen today (Dennis Sewell, 28 November 2009, Spectator)

Most accounts of the origin of Britain’s welfare state begin with the Minority Report of the Royal Commission on the Poor Laws, drafted by Sidney and Beatrice Webb during the first decade of the 20th century. Beneath their seemingly compassionate rhetoric, the founders of the Fabian Society were snobbish, elitist and harboured a savage contempt for the poorest of the poor. Both husband and wife were enthusiastic supporters of the eugenics movement, which held that most of the behavioural traits that led to poverty were inherited. In short, that the poor were genetically inferior to the educated middle class.

Eugenics had been the brainchild of Charles Darwin’s cousin Francis Galton, and was developed in response to Darwin’s theory of natural selection. It was taken up as a programme of political action by Darwin’s son Leonard. The eugenicists aimed to replace natural selection with a planned and deliberate selection. They were alarmed by the fact that the poorest in society bred faster than the middle class, forecasting that this trend would lead to a spiral of degeneration in the gene pool. Their aim was to encourage the rich to have more children and the poor to have fewer. They quickly got the science establishment on their side, creating a national panic about genetic deterioration that became as widespread and salient as fears of global warming are today. In this scenario, the poorest with their ‘defective’ genes were the bogeymen, a class that threatened to contaminate future generations.

For the Fabians, eugenics was not merely some eccentric hobby or sideline, but central to their social thinking. Beatrice Webb regarded eugenics as ‘the most important question’ of all, while her husband revealed the statist and dirigiste character of the movement with his declaration that ‘no eugenicist can be a laissez faire individualist… he must interfere, interfere, interfere!’ Even for George Bernard Shaw, ‘the only fundamental and possible Socialism’ was ‘the socialisation of the selective breeding of Man’.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:20 AM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:36 AM


Beer, Turkey, and Pilgrims: You need to read this article before Thanksgiving. (Maggie Dutton, November 14, 2007, Seattle Weekly)

This year I'm giving thanks that I don't have to write one of those compulsory "What wine goes with Thanksgiving?" columns. I get so sick of reading the same regurgitated tips. To me, a gluttonous meal in honor of the Pilgrims deserves an appropriate beverage, one to sip or guzzle as personal tendencies allow. When I think of the epic turkey-day meal, my brain conjures large tankards of rich ale, the kind I imagine the Mayflower passengers might have enjoyed.

But which beers? When pairing beer with food, I think of the crisp hop notes of a lager as being akin to white wines and the malt-dominated flavors associated with most ales as approximating the impact of red wines. But it's not that simple. Hops have a bitterness that I consider a stand-in for wine's acidity because it has a similar tongue-cleaning effect; hops will help cut through the heavy flavors of a mushroom gravy, sausage stuffing, or Yorkshire pudding. However, malt is essential to complement all the nutty, browned-butter flavors lurking on the holiday table. Without enough malt, your beer will taste sharp and cheaply dressed. The key is balance, with plenty of impact.

Go for a beer that's amber or light brown in style. I think an ESB—which typically has more pronounced malt to go along with its strong bitter flavors—is a natural for Thanksgiving.

We're going with the two we have in the fridge, which nicely represent people who came to the New World seeking a new life: Guinness Stout and Miller Chill.

[originally posted: 11/27/08]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:13 AM


Today, Let Us Give Thanks for Our Union (Jay Cost, 11/26/09, Real Clear Politics)

With his Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln made clear his intention that the United States would become all free - that from so much death, "this nation, under God, shall have a new birth in freedom." Less than three years after Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation, the 13th Amendment to the Constitution would abolish slavery forever. Later, the 14th Amendment would ensure that all Americans have the full rights that citizenship entails, and the 15th Amendment would secure the right of all men to vote. Future generations of Americans could thus enjoy the fresh air of Liberty and Union, as Daniel Webster said.

Tragically, Abraham Lincoln would not live to see his vision of a more perfect Union enshrined in the Constitution.

Four American presidents have been murdered while in office. Yet only one has been martyred for the cause of the American Union. Abraham Lincoln. Like the hundreds of thousands of soldiers who perished during those horrible years of Civil War, he sacrificed his own life not only to save the Union, but to strengthen it. And indeed, Lincoln's heroic efforts ensured that the notions of secession and slavery were placed on the ash heap of history, where they rightly belong. None of us need worry that the Union will come under such a threat ever again; all of us are committed to the principle that government of the people, for the people, by the people shall never perish from the earth. For that, we owe a debt of gratitude to the sacrifices of Abraham Lincoln and the soldiers who lost their lives while under his command.

So today, in the year of our Lord two thousand and nine, and of the independence of the United States the two hundred thirty-fourth, it is altogether fitting and proper that we give thanks to the Almighty for this American Union, and those whom He has guided over the centuries to secure its blessings for us. Let's give thanks for the equanimity of George Washington, for the persuasive pen of Thomas Jefferson, for the keen mind of James Madison, for the eloquence of Daniel Webster, for the political craftsmanship of Henry Clay, and for the sacrifice of Abraham Lincoln, who gave the last full measure of devotion to preserve, protect, and defend this Union against the greatest threat it has ever faced.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:05 AM


Blair 'signed in blood' support for Iraq war at Bush's Texas ranch, ex-envoy says (Nico Hines, 11/26/09, Times of London)

Tony Blair's meeting with President Bush at his Texas ranch in 2002 was probably the turning point when the Prime Minister 'signed in blood' Britain's support for the Iraq war, it was claimed today.

Sir Christopher Meyer, then British Ambassador to the US, told the Iraq Inquiry that Mr Blair would have been more influential if he had attached pre-conditions to British support at the Crawford ranch meeting - which was six months before Hans Blix began looking for weapons in Iraq.

“I think that would have changed the nature of American planning,” he said. “By the time you get to the end of the year it’s too late. . . I did say to London that we’re being taken for granted.

“To this day I am not entirely clear what degree of convergence was, if you like, signed in blood at the Crawford ranch,” Sir Christopher said. “[But] they weren’t there to talk about containment or strengthening sanctions."

If I recall correctly--not necessarily likely--the stoiry was first told in James Naughtie's book, The Accidental American of how W let Mr. Blair know that if domestic political considerations made it too difficult for his government to join in the war we'd understand and not hold him responsible. We'd be happy to do the job ourselves.

The idea that Britain had any leverage over George Bush were the removal of Saddam from power was concerned is delusional.

That Mr. Blair stood by us despite British political hysteria is a mark of what a great prime minister he was.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:02 AM


Nothing Noble About Nobel (Paul Johnson, Forbes)

What is hard to understand about President Obama is how he sees the U.S. as an ideal and as a reality. The best American Presidents, from George Washington to Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan, always saw America as an exceptional nation. To them it was the ideal nation, high-minded, prudent, democratic and benevolent, sometimes falling short in performance but always eager to be a force for good. Is this how this President sees it?

Mr. Obama ought to be measured against salient declarations of his great predecessors. Washington, for instance, in his Farewell Address, advised: "As a very important source of strength and security, cherish public credit." Is this Obama's view? Lincoln, in his Second Inaugural Address, insisted: "With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right." Are those Obama's sentiments? Theodore Roosevelt said: "There is no room in this country for hyphenated Americanism." Does Obama agree? Ronald Reagan said: "One's country is worth dying for, and democracy is worth dying for, because it's the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man." Does Obama think the same? If so, let his agreement be reflected not in speeches but in actions.

Although I detect increasing signs of hostility toward President Obama--especially among those Europeans who have been conspicuous for their loyalty to Nato and the American alliance, as well as for their personal regard for the U.S. and its values--I do not regard Mr. Obama as a failure, yet. But I wish he would refrain from high-sounding speechmaking for a time and concentrate upon the specific task of practicing statesmanship. He needs to be personally associated with a concrete proposal that is pushed through to completion, that works and is seen to work, and that benefits a wide range of ordinary people.

Otherwise, President Obama is in danger of drowning in a sea of words.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:02 AM


Birder's Journal: Giving Thanks for Wild Turkey Sightings (Robert Winkler, November 27, 2002, National Geographic News)
While most people at this time of year think about eating turkey, I think about seeing one-not the overweight, pale, domesticated bird that ends up on the Thanksgiving table, but rather its streamlined, bronzy ancestor: the wild turkey.

This ground-dwelling native of North American forests is fairly common now, but only 30 years ago it was nonexistent across much of its historic range, a casualty of overhunting and deforestation.

English naturalist John Josselyn was one of the first to note the turkey's decline. In 1672, after an extended visit to Maine, he wrote: "The English and the Indians having now destroyed the breed, so that 'tis very rare to meet with a wild Turkie in the woods."

The estimated 10 million turkeys that roamed North America before European settlement dwindled to a fragmented population of 30,000 by the early 1900s. They had been extirpated from 18 of 39 states they originally inhabited. [...]

Wild turkeys now occur in all of the lower 48 states, and their number has risen to more than 5.5 million. To most observers, however, they remain elusive. Their predators include great horned owls, bobcats, cougars, coyotes, and foxes, so wariness is in their blood. Unleashed dogs take a heavy toll, and their return has put their worst enemy-human hunters-back on their trail.

We're rotten with them around here, including a population that lives near the airport and has caused trouble on the runways. It's really neat to see them until one bolts in front of your car, then you wonder if that 5.5 million isn't more than enough. (originally posted: December 01, 2002)
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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Agreement of the Settlers at Exeter in New Hampshire, 1639

Whereas it hath pleased the Lord to move the Heart of our dread Sovereigns Charles by the Grace of God King &c. to grant Licence and Libertye to sundry of his subjects to plant themselves in the Westerlle parts of America. We his loyal Subjects Brethern of the Church in Exeter situate and lying upon the River Pascataqua with other Inhabitants there, considering with ourselves the holy Will of God and o'er own Necessity that we should not live without wholesomne Lawes and Civil Government among us of which we are altogether destitute; do in the name of Christ and in the sight of God combine ourselves together to erect and set up among us such Government as shall be to our best discerning agreeable to the Will of God professing ourselves Subjects to our Sovereign Lord King Charles according to the Libertyes of our English Colony of Massachusetts, and binding of ourselves solemnly by the Grace and Help of Christ and in His Name and fear to submit ourselves to such Godly and Christian Lawes as are established in the realm of England to our best Knowledge, and to all other such Lawes which shall upon good grounds be made and enacted among us according to God that we may live quietly and peaceably together in all godliness and honesty. Mo. 8. D. 4. 1639 as attests our Hands.

November 25, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:59 PM


The Dark Side of Darwin's Legacy: While celebrations have emphasized the British naturalist's giant role in the advancement of human progress, British political journalist Dennis Sewell is not convinced. In a new book, The Political Gene: How Darwin's Ideas Changed Politics, he highlights how often — and how easily — Darwin's big idea has been harnessed for sinister political ends. (Eben Harrell, Nov. 24, 2009, TIME)

All things considered, do you believe Darwin was a great luminary in the path of human progress?

What has the theory of evolution done for the practical benefit of humanity? It's helped our understanding of ourselves, yet compared to, say, the discovery of penicillin or the invention of the World Wide Web, I wonder why Darwin occupies this position at the pinnacle of esteem. I can only imagine he has been put there by a vast public relations exercise.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:57 PM


AP Newsbreak: Records Show WH Health Care Talks (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, 11/25/09)

) -- Top aides to President Barack Obama have met early and often with lobbyists, Democratic political strategists and other interests with a stake in the administration's national health care overhaul, White House visitor records obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press show.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:54 PM


Obama administration will not sign land mine ban (DESMOND BUTLER, 11/25/09, AP)

The Obama administration has decided not to sign an international convention banning land mines.

State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said Tuesday that the administration recently completed a review and decided not to change the Bush-era policy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:39 AM


Mithradates: Scourge of Rome: The legendary ruler of Pontus and creator of a formidable Black Sea empire was, until recently, one of the most celebrated figures of the Classical world, a hero of opera, drama and poetry. Adrienne Mayor, author of a new study of the ‘Poison King’, explains why. (Adrienne Mayor, History Today)

[D]espite his savagery, Mithradates also pursued noble ideals: he freed thousands of slaves, pardoned prisoners of war, cancelled debts, granted broad citizenship rights and shared his royal treasure with his soldiers. Such contradictions were part of his legendary aura. As a young man, Mithradates (Old Persian for ‘sent by Mithra’) had received a classical Greek education and absorbed Zoroastrian ideals of free will, responsibility and honesty. He idolised Alexander the Great and dreamed of creating a new Greco-Persian empire. A complex leader of intelligence and ambition, a descendant of Darius I of Persia and Alexander’s Macedonian aristocracy, Mithradates saw himself bridging East and West, the defender of Persian and Greek cultures against Roman barbarism. Followers revered him as the long-awaited saviour-king of the East, prophesied in ancient oracles. The Romans feared him as the eastern Hannibal.

Greek culture flourished again under Mithradates’ rule and the Athenian democracy, suppressed by the Romans since 146 BC, revived for what would prove to be the last time. But Sulla’s highly trained legions eventually overpowered Mithradates’ forces in Greece in a series of brutal sieges and battles. Archaeologists recently unearthed the three marble victory monuments erected by Sulla, who looted Delphi’s treasures and utterly destroyed Athens, slaughtering the citizens trapped in the city and executing the last democratically elected leader, the philosopher Aristion, on the sacred Acropolis. Prematurely declaring his mission accomplished, Sulla rushed back to Rome where civil war raged.

Sulla’s hastily arranged, surprisingly lenient peace terms allowed Mithradates to recover and rebuild his armies. In 83 BC the Second Mithradatic War began when Licinius Murena, a Roman commander seeking glory, invaded Pontus without Senate approval. Mithradates, now recognised in Asia as ‘King of Kings’, crushed his forces.

In the peaceful decade that followed his victory, Mithradates built 70 new fortresses, amassed enormous armies, learned two dozen languages, pursued an obsessive interest in toxicology (earning him the name the ‘Poison King’) and patronised the arts and sciences. His engineers built the first water-powered mill and created advanced siege technologies. The cryptic Antikythera Mechanism, arguably the world’s first computer, may have been one of his prized possessions: it was discovered in a Roman shipwreck loaded with treasures looted near the end of the Mithradatic Wars.

He could count as his allies the rebel leaders of the Italian tribes: the gladiator-slave Spartacus; Sertorius, the rogue Roman senator heading the insurgency in Spain; Tigranes of Armenia, ruler of vast dominions from the Caspian to the Red Sea; powerful pirate admirals whose great fleets roamed the Mediterranean; exiled Roman commanders and rebel legionaires; and nomad chiefs of regions ranging from the Danube to Central Asia.

In 75 BC, as Rome reeled from Sulla’s savage proscriptions as well as slave revolts and wars in Gaul, Italy and Spain, the Third Mithradatic War broke out. The flashpoint was the death of Nicomedes, Rome’s puppet king of Bithynia. The Romans produced his phony last will and testament to justify their renewed attempt to take over Asia Minor. The Senate sent Lucullus to finish the ‘war on terror’ that Sulla and Murena had failed to complete, but he was hobbled by undisciplined, mutinous legions; Roman soldiers had to rely on looting for pay, while Mithradates always paid his multitudes in gold.

Combined force

Lucullus was unnerved by Mithradates’ ability to surge back after defeat and elude capture.Mithradates and his ally Tigranes combined forces and turned to guerrillastyle tactics after their crushing defeat by Lucullus’s legions at Tigranocerta in 69 BC. The pair of kings melted away into the highlands of Armenia, luring Lucullus deeper into hostile lands beyond the Euphrates. Unable to engage face to face with his quarry, a humiliated Lucullus was recalled to Rome, charged with mishandling, and profiteering from, the war.

Mithradates seized the unexpected gift of a year to recruit yet another fresh army. Sweeping back into Pontus, he won a magnificent triumph against the occupying Roman legions left by Lucullus. Against the odds, the supposedly defeated king recovered his kingdom.

The following year, the great Roman commander Pompey cleared out the pirates infesting the Mediterranean and became intent on winning the victory in Asia that had eluded his predecessors. In 66 BC, in a surprise night attack, Pompey routed Mithradates’ army, trapping them in a narrow ravine, inflicting terrible casualties. But the surprise was on Pompey, as the wily king escaped yet again, disappearing into pathless hills with his companion, the horsewoman Hypsicratea, and the remnants of his cavalry. Stopping only to gather up gold hidden in a secret treasure-house, Mithradates and his ragtag army led Pompey on a wild goose chase over mountainous terrain to Armenia and vanished into the wilderness of Colchis. Finally giving up the chase at the foot of the forbidding barrier of the Caucasus Mountains, Pompey assumed that Rome’s most deadly foe was neutralised, doomed to an icy death. Seeking more conquests, Pompey set off for Jerusalem.

Meanwhile, the ever-resourceful Mithradates persevered, trekking over the high Caucasus. Arriving in the Crimea, in his Black Sea empire, he vowed to continue the war on Rome. Defiant to the end, Mithradates, now in his 70s, was planning an audacious land invasion of Italy over the Alps when he was betrayed by his son Pharnaces.Holed up in a castle in Kerch, facing certain death, Mithradates poisoned his harem and daughters. Then he drank poison hidden in the hilt of his dagger.

The ‘Poison King’ was a fitting moniker for Mithradates. His father had been murdered with poison; Mithradates himself foiled poison plots by his own mother and sister. Obsessed with making himself immune to all poisons, Mithradates devised a remarkable project, collecting deadly plant, mineral and animal substances and testing them on condemned criminals, his friends and himself. After hundreds of experiments, Mithradates concocted a daily cocktail of minute doses of poisons mixed with antidotes. Many believed that the mysterious ‘mithridatium’ was the reason for his celebrated vigour and longevity. After his death, versions of Mithradates’ trademarked elixir were eagerly swallowed by Roman emperors, Chinese mandarins and European kings and queens, inspiring a flow of scientific treatises on the Poison King’s long-lost original recipe, said to contain more than 50 ingredients.

The Romans developed a grudging admiration for their archenemy. Pompey buried Mithradates with honours in his ancestral mausoleum; Roman historians praised his courage and endurance. Pliny the Elder marvelled at his linguistic skills and scientific knowledge. Cicero called him the greatest king since Alexander, a tribute that would have thrilled Mithradates.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:36 AM


Tempest In A C-Cup: The behavioral economics of mammograms. (Sally Satel, 11.25.09, Forbes)

There is yet a more subtle and global dimension to the mammography controversy: the power of natural cognitive biases in how we judge risk. In the words of MIT behavioral scientist Dan Ariely, we are often "predictably irrational." Humans are subject to numerous kinds of distortions in decision making.

The most obvious is the so-called status quo bias. This is a tendency to reject a new paradigm in favor of an established one without considering the merits of the new proposal. This is also called the Semmelweis reflex, named after a 19th century Hungarian physician who discovered that the mortality rate from childbed-fever could be slashed dramatically if doctors would wash their hands with a chlorine solution each time they delivered a baby. The wise doctor's suggestions for maternity care were not taken seriously for at least several decades.

Also relevant is "disconfirmation bias." This refers to the tendency to be critical of new information if it contradicts prior beliefs and, conversely, to accept information without much examination if it is consistent with prior beliefs. In a culture that touts screening early and often, the new guidelines collide with conventional wisdom. We humans also engage in "availability heuristics," the tendency to overvalue dramatic, salient information that comes easily to mind, like personal anecdotes (e.g., "But I know two women who got mammograms who detected breast cancer...").

Our "selective memory" leads us to forget about friends who got mammograms and had false positive scares as well as women who did get mammograms that did not detect their breast cancer. And our tendency to fall for "the emotional reasoning fallacy" causes us to conclude that something is wrong if it provokes emotion (e.g., "the Task Force is insensitive--if it saves just one life, it's worth it," or "these recommendations get me mad.")

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:15 AM


The Heavy: Sweaty British Soul (Cheryl Waters, 11/24/09, KEXP)

After KEXP's live in-studio performance with the British band The Heavy, my mind and body was still vibrating. Those four guys packed a small room with a wall of sound that left me wanting a lot more than just the four songs they played — all from The Heavy's killer new album, The House That Dirt Built.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:11 AM


Official Charged With Closing Guantánamo Quits (ELISABETH BUMILLER, 11/25/09, NY Times)

The Defense Department official in charge of closing the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, has resigned after only seven months in the job, the Pentagon said Tuesday. [...]

Mr. Carter’s departure comes as the administration has acknowledged that it will not be able to close the prison by Jan. 22, the self-imposed deadline Mr. Obama announced immediately after taking office.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:05 AM


Obama's 'Mistakes': Way Too Early to Judge (Joe Klein, 11/25/09, TIME)

Stepping back a bit, I do see a metapattern that extends over the 40 years since Richard Nixon's Southern strategy began the drift toward more ideological political parties: Democrats have tough first years in the presidency. Of the past seven Presidents, the two Bushes rank at the top in popularity after one year, while Obama and Bill Clinton rank at the bottom, with Jimmy Carter close by. There is a reason for that. Democrats come to office eager to govern the heck out of the country. They take on impossible issues, like budget-balancing and health care reform. They run into roadblocks — from their own unruly ranks as well as from Republicans. They get lost in the details. A tax cut is much easier to explain than a tax increase. A foreign policy based in bluster — railing against an "axis of evil" — is easier to sell than a foreign policy based in nuance. Of course, external events count a lot: the ratings of Bushes I and II were bolstered, respectively, by the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the flattening of the World Trade Center. Reagan's rating — 53% and headed south — was dampened by a deepening recession.

So it is way too early to make pronouncements on Obama's fate.

Pronouncements maybe, but the metapattern he perceives in Carter and Clinton does tell us what to expect in the coming elections, no?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:38 AM


The Climate E-mails and the Politics of Science (Ivan Kenneally, 11/2/09, New Atlantis)

The evidence of scientific dishonesty supplied by these communications is so copious it’s hard to know where to begin an attempt to describe them. Many of the e-mails brazenly discuss the manipulation of scientific data either to provide the appearance of greater support for global warming science or to undermine the claims of skeptics. For example, CRU scholar Timothy J. Osborn explicitly describes how data can be reconfigured so that evidence of an apparent cooling period disappears. His colleague Tom Wigley discusses recasting the data on sea-surface temperatures so that the results seem considerably warmer but also scientifically plausible. The director of CRU, Phil Jones, brags about his use of eminent climatologist Michael Mann’s “Nature trick” which deliberately confuses scientific data to “hide the decline” in current temperatures.

Other e-mails openly encourage the suppression of data that could prove difficult to repudiate. Michael Mann provides strategic advice on how to deal with a journal, Geophysical Research Letters, that seems to be open to publishing views that dissent from climate orthodoxy. In an e-mail to Phil Jones, Mann also expresses his desire to “contain” the very inconvenient truth of the Medieval Warm Period, so important in overthrowing Mann’s classic “Hockey Stick” model of anthropogenic warming, even though he admits they don’t have an appropriate model to do that legitimately.

Public spokesmen for the global warming agenda constantly claim a near-universal consensus within the scientific community supporting their position, but these private exchanges often reveal serious personal reservations regarding what they really know and how confident they are in the statistical models they rely upon. In an e-mail to several prominent climate scientists (including Mann and Jones), Kevin E. Trenberth, one of the leading contributors to the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, offers this confession: “The fact is that we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can’t. The CERES data published in the August BAMS 09 supplement on 2008 shows there should be even more warming: but the data are surely wrong. Our observing system is inadequate.” In another e-mail, Trenberth admits climatologists have a limited understanding of where our energy ultimately goes, what the effects of cloud formation might have on the entire issue, and expresses doubts about the efficacy of geoengineering to provide any substantive relief, again saying that the gaps in the scientific knowledge amount to “a travesty.” All of this a far cry from the strident claims about unimpeachable evidence and demonstrable theory that usually emanates from these quarters.

Perhaps the most damning e-mails concern CRU deputy director Keith Briffa’s analysis of the diameter of tree rings in Yamal, Siberia. That research is a major evidentiary pillar in support of twentieth-century global warming and it helped resurrect Michael Mann’s “Hockey Stick” graph of global warming. The scientist largely responsible for challenging Mann’s work, Steve McIntyre, turned his attention to Briffa’s resurrection of it and accused him of cherry-picking samples that would confirm his politically desirable hypothesis.

The response to McIntyre’s work revealed in the CRU e-mails shows a breathtaking pattern of ideological rigidity and academic fraudulence that is simultaneously egregious and casually self-satisfied.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:31 AM


New Jersey Voters Say 3-1 Freeze State Worker Wages, Quinnipiac University Poll Finds (Quinnipiac University, 11/24/09)

New Jersey voters support 75 - 21 percent, including 70 - 26 percent among Democrats, a wage freeze for state workers to help balance the state budget, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today, three weeks after Christopher Christie toppled Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine. A wage freeze wins 75 - 20 percent support from independent voters and 79 - 16 percent backing from Republicans. Voters in union households back a wage freeze 62 - 33 percent.

Garden State voters also support 61 - 33 percent layoffs for state workers to help balance the state budget, the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University poll finds. Support ranges from 50 - 43 percent among Democrats to 65 - 29 percent among independent voters to 69 - 25 percent among Republicans. Voters in union households split 49 - 48 percent. a once in a generation chance to break public service unions permanently.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:25 AM


Dobbs Reaches Out to Latinos, With Politics in Mind (PETER WALLSTEN, 11/25/09, WSJ)

In a little-noticed interview Friday, Mr. Dobbs told Spanish-language network Telemundo he now supports a plan to legalize millions of undocumented workers, a stance he long lambasted as an unfair "amnesty."

"Whatever you have thought of me in the past, I can tell you right now that I am one of your greatest friends and I mean for us to work together," he said in a live interview with Telemundo's Maria Celeste. "I hope that will begin with Maria and me and Telemundo and other media organizations and others in this national debate that we should turn into a solution rather than a continuing debate and factional contest."

Mr. Dobbs twice mentioned a possible legalization plan for the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the U.S., saying at one point that "we need the ability to legalize illegal immigrants under certain conditions."

November 24, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:40 PM


Bob Ainsworth criticises Barack Obama over Afghanistan (James Kirkup, Thomas Harding and Toby Harnden, 24 Nov 2009, Daily Telegraph)

Bob Ainsworth, the defence secretary, has blamed Barack Obama and the United States for the decline in British public support for the war in Afghanistan.

Mr Ainsworth took the unprecedented step of publicly criticising the US President and his delays in sending more troops to bolster the mission against the Taliban.

A “period of hiatus” in Washington - and a lack of clear direction - had made it harder for ministers to persuade the British public to go on backing the Afghan mission in the face of a rising death toll, he said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:37 PM


Obama's Approval Slide Finds Whites Down to 39% (Jeffrey M. Jones, 11/24/09, Gallup)

In his first full week in office (Jan. 26-Feb. 1), an average of 66% of Americans approved of the job Obama was doing, including 61% of non-Hispanic whites and 80% of nonwhites. In the most recent week, spanning Nov. 16-22 interviewing, his approval rating averaged 49% overall, 39% among whites, and 73% among nonwhites. Thus, since the beginning of his presidency, his support has dropped 22 points among whites, compared with a 7-point loss among nonwhites.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:34 PM


Rare Darwin Book Found in Toilet (Discovery News, Nov 24, 2009)

A first edition of Charles Darwin's seminal "The Origin of Species" will be sold this week after it was found in a family's toilet in southern Britain, an auction house said Sunday.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:13 PM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:06 PM


Evolution: The Most Powerful Idea We've Ever Had (Tim Heffernan, 11/24/09, Esquire)

[T]he fact is, you don't need to dig into history to appreciate the impact of evolution on the world. You don't even have to believe in biological evolution, period. You just have to listen to yourself talk. Or your boss, or, say, Jon Gruden. Because the idea now pervades our language itself. You adapted to living with your girlfriend. Your boss's plans for the company have evolved. The Raiders have failed to adapt in the face of modern defensive schemes, which is one reason they suck.

There's nothing we enjoy more than tributes to Darwinism that refute it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:27 PM


Rating Change: NRCC Takes Spratt to the Mat (John McArdle, 11/24/09, CQ-Roll Call)

Democratic Rep. John M. Spratt Jr. is in his 14th term representing South Carolina’s 5th District and might have coasted to re-election in 2010. Then came the House vote on massive health care overhaul.

After months of talks and committee work, the chamber passed the sweeping overhaul bill (HR 3962) by vote of 220-215, with Spratt’s “yes” vote among them. [...]

Republican freshman state Sen. Mick Mulvaney announced his intention to challenge Spratt in early November. Mulvaney is a former one-term state House representative who is viewed as an up-and-comer in the state party.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:23 PM


Large Changes in Fiscal Policy: Taxes Versus Spending (Alberto F. Alesina, Silvia Ardagna, October 2009, NBER Working Paper No. 15438)

We examine the evidence on episodes of large stances in fiscal policy, both in cases of fiscal stimuli and in that of fiscal adjustments in OECD countries from 1970 to 2007. Fiscal stimuli based upon tax cuts are more likely to increase growth than those based upon spending increases. As for fiscal adjustments, those based upon spending cuts and no tax increases are more likely to reduce deficits and debt over GDP ratios than those based upon tax increases. In addition, adjustments on the spending side rather than on the tax side are less likely to create recessions. We confirm these results with simple regression analysis.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:33 PM


Can populism be liberal?: The GOP has owned it since Nixon. Democrats would have to return to the New Deal to recapture it (Michael Lind, 11/24/09, Salon)

It is touching to watch progressives lament that "their" president has the wrong advisors. "We trust the czar, we simply dislike his ministers." Obama owed his meteoric rise from obscurity to the presidency not to any bold progressive ideas -- he didn't have any -- but rather to a combination of his appealing life story with the big money that allowed him to abandon campaign finance limits. According to one Obama supporter I know, the Obama campaign pressured its Wall Street donors to make their contributions in the form of many small checks, in order to create the illusion that the campaign was more dependent on small contributors than it was in fact. Even now President Obama continues to raise money on Wall Street, while his administration says no to every progressive proposal for significant structural reform of the financial industry.

There remains the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, represented more in Congress than in Obama's White House -- and more in the House than in the Senate, a dully complacent millionaires' club. Can congressional progressives compete with conservatives to channel popular outrage? Unfortunately, progressivism in the form in which it has evolved in the last generation does not resonate with populist producerism.

To begin with, most of the moral fervor of the contemporary center-left has been diverted from the issue of fair rewards for labor to the environmental movement. In theory, environmentalism ought to fit the populist narrative of defending shared goods against special interests. Indeed, clean air and water legislation and public parks and wilderness areas are broadly popular with working-class Americans, not least hunters and fishers. But many environmentalists insist that global warming must be combated not only by low-CO2 energy technology but also by radical lifestyle changes like switching from industrial farming to small-scale organic agriculture and moving from car-based suburbs and exurbs to deliberately "densified" cities with mass transit. Whether environmentalists propose to engineer this utopian social transformation by tax incentives or coercive laws, the campaign triggers the populist nightmare of arrogant social elites trying to dictate where and how ordinary people should live.

Even if it had not been eclipsed by moralistic lifestyle environmentalism, contemporary economic progressivism would be crippled by its own priorities. New Deal liberalism was primarily about jobs and wages, with benefits as an afterthought. Post-New Deal progressivism is primarily about benefits, with jobs and wages as an afterthought. This inversion of priorities is underlined by the agenda of the Democrats since the last election -- universal healthcare coverage first, jobs later.

Try, since at least McCarthy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:28 PM


Rationing, the Unspeakable, But Honest Solution (Eugene Robinson, 11/24/09, RCP)

The uproar over the on-again, off-again guidelines on when women should have mammograms is proof of the blindingly obvious: Health care reform that actually controls costs -- rather than just pretending to do so -- would be virtually impossible to achieve.

I say "would be" because none of the voluminous reform bills being shuttled around the Capitol on hand trucks even tries to address a central factor that sends costs spiraling out of control, which is that each of us wants the best shot at a long, healthy life that medical science can offer. Just as all politics is local, all health care is personal. Skimping on somebody else's tests and procedures may be worth debating, but don't mess with mine. [...]

The honest solution is a word that cannot be spoken: rationing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:23 PM


Review: The Road: No country for all men: John Hillcoat doesn't stray from Cormac McCarthy's Road (PETER KEOUGH | November 24, 2009, Boston Phoenix)

This isn't a cautionary tale. Global warming, Mayan prophecies, giant asteroids — pondering the causes and prevention of annihilation offers no relief from the awful circumstances. Which, given the fatalistic, Biblical bent of McCarthy and Hillcoat, might well be a reductive allegory of the human condition. When you come down to it, we're all doomed wanderers in a fallen world. Why perpetuate the folly? At what point does mere survival become meaningless? Is there some innate value or goodness in human nature worth preserving?

In one of The Road's flashbacks — which intrude in the form of nightmares whenever the man sleeps or broods too long — the man's wife (Charlize Theron) says she doesn't want just to survive. The man's only answer to her despair is the son, who was conceived before the world ended. "If he is not the word of God," the man says in voiceover, "God never spoke."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:24 AM


It all starts with dessert: Try these easy and elegant versions of a classic (Donna Deane, Los Angeles Times)

Behold the pie, so perfect in its imperfection, the rustic pinnacle of the home cook's art. Pie is personal, a little tricky, but surprisingly forgiving. Its flaws reveal soul. The crimped edge is a bit uneven, the crust perfectly flaky. The surface of the custard may be cracked, the vents on the double-crust unevenly spaced, but that's the kind of beautiful imperfection a pastry chef, especially with all those years of training, could never reproduce. The pie has personality.

It must be eaten at just the right moment. Bake it the day before, and its crust becomes gluey and sodden. If it's out of the oven too close to dinner, it doesn't hold up enough to slice.

But make a couple of pies first thing in the morning and the flavors meld as they cool. There on the sill, they set the tone -- and unleash the aromas -- for Thanksgiving day.

You can flirt with huckleberry or chocolate cream, but on those occasions when you want to get back to the essence of the holiday, it has to be apple and pumpkin.

If there isn't a pecan pie on the table you may as well order out for Chinese.

(originally posted: 11/22/05)

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:37 AM


Creationism vs. atheism: It's on!: A "revised" edition of Darwin's "The Origin of Species" turns college campuses into three-ring circuses (Laura Miller, 11/24/09, Salon)

America's universities are supposed to be marketplaces of ideas, but last week they looked more like theaters of the absurd, as representatives of an evangelical group descended on an undetermined number of campuses to hand out free copies of Charles Darwin's "The Origin of Species." The catch: They used an edition of Darwin's seminal 1859 text that included an introduction by Ray Comfort, a minister who has made a specialty of arguing for creationism.

Was this stunt shrewd or moronic? From the first it's been hard to tell. The plan, innocuously named "Origin Into Schools," was announced this September in a video featuring Kirk Cameron, a former television child star who co-founded a ministry called Living Waters with Comfort. There's something almost pitiable about the way Cameron crows over the scheme; he truly seems to find it ingenious. He points out that the University of California at Berkeley cannot prevent the action because "their own Web site" dictates that "anyone is free to distribute noncommercial materials in any outdoor area of the campus." "Besides," he gleefully adds, "what are they really going to do? Ban 'The Origin of Species'? That would be big news! Especially when their own bookstore sells it for $29.99!"

But if the university has a policy permitting the distribution of any "noncommercial materials," why not just hand out straightforward religious tracts, without the risk of spreading evolutionary theory yourself?

So speaks someone who's never read the book. The best way to innoculate students against the isms is to have them read the ur-texts: Darwin, Marx, Freud, Hitler, etc.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:20 AM


90-Minute Nationalism (Muhammad Diyab, 11/24/09, Asharq alawasat)

One could say that such football conflicts are limited to the Arab world, but this would be a mistake, and this is a problem that is seen throughout the world. For example, a war between El Salvador and Honduras [known as the Football War] was ignited as a result of a football game. This war lasted four days and resulted in over 14,000 deaths and injuries. Whilst in Italy, the country that is famously mad about football, the Editor of the La Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper, Carlo Verdelli, described the hazardous atmosphere in Italian football by saying "we have reached an atmosphere of fear and terror in the stadiums that requires a police presence and police intervention to prevent violence." All too often it is the Italian police that bare the brunt of this violence, and before any important football match the Italian police seize knives, batons, axes, and firecrackers from supporters. Even Brazil has begun to suffer from some of the more unsavory aspects of football violence, with 42 fans being killed in football-related violence over the past 10 years. Whilst in Nigeria, [Abel Tador] the captain of Bayelsa United F.C. was shot and killed only hours after leading his team to the league title. Meanwhile Germany was forced to create a special task-force to deal with football riots.

The European Championships has also been the scene of many violent incidents in the past, caused by what has come to be described as the phenomenon of "90 minute nationalism." This is a phenomenon whereby feelings of fanatical nationalism that goes beyond the ordinary and rational are provided during a football match, with football being seen akin to a battle or war, and the [opposing] fans unleashing their anger at one another.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:13 AM


Setback for 'Canadian approach' in Afghanistan: Slow follow-up by CIDA jeopardizes success in villages that have been cleared of Taliban forces (Senator Colin Kenney, 11/24/09, Toronto Star)

It took the Canadian military three agonizing years to learn that the "whack-a-mole" approach to defeating the Taliban – clearing the enemy out of an area, then moving to another area, only to see the enemy move back into the locality you just left – wasn't working.

So it was decided that Canada would focus on protecting villages, one after another after another, rather than rushing off hither and thither in pursuit of the Taliban. Rather than simply occupying these villages, the idea was to stabilize them. That would involve winning local support by doing meaningful development work that villagers requested. This kind of work would require the hiring of local Afghans, who would presumably be less eager to sign on with the Taliban in order to feed their families.

I have argued recently that Canada should get on with withdrawing its military mission from Afghanistan now, rather than waiting until 2011, our official exit date. But if we are not going to withdraw now, I am in full agreement with making development a key part of our investment in attempting to stabilize the country.

Which is what seemed to be finally happening this year. The Canadian military invested about $4 million in Deh-e-Bagh, a village close to Kandahar City. The military projects included roads, irrigation and solar-powered street lights. Then the Canadian International Development Agency chipped in and invested about $1.5 million (a pittance in comparison with the overall cost of the war) to do projects that village residents put on a priority list. These included investments in new wells, more irrigation, vocational training and improving agricultural production.

Deh-e-Bagh isn't an unqualified success by any means – not enough has been invested to say that, and the Taliban haven't exactly disappeared. But I am told that Afghans are applauding. Deh-e-Bagh represents the beginning of a more intelligent approach to stabilization. It has helped cover our soldiers' backsides. It has also won Canada some badly needed friends in the heart of Taliban country.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:10 AM


Fuel fumes 'can increase anxiety and aggression' (Kate Devlin, 24 Nov 2009, Daily Telegraph)

Simply filling up a car can increase the risks of suffering from anxiety and aggression, a new study suggests.

Rats exposed to fumes from fuel became more likely to scratch and fight each other, scientists found.

They were also more likely to display signs of anxiety while the chemicals caused damage to their brain cells, a team from Cairo University have discovered.

Thus, the rat race.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:08 AM


Ways Obama can tend bonds with India (Nicholas Burns, November 24, 2009 , Boston Globe)

PRESIDENT OBAMA faces a classic diplomatic challenge in South Asia - how to balance a short-term need for progress in Afghanistan and Pakistan without losing sight of our equally important long-term ambitions with India.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:04 AM


A Tale of Six Counties: Suburban voters are cooling on the Democrats. (Jim Geraghty, 11/24/09, National Review)

Consider these six numbers: 62, 53, 54, 60, 60, 53.

Those numbers are the percentage of voters who supported Barack Obama last year in Westchester and Nassau Counties in New York, Bergen and Middlesex Counties in New Jersey, Fairfax County in Virginia, and Bucks County in Pennsylvania, respectively.

Now, here are the percentages of the vote that the top-of-the-ticket Democratic candidates got in each of those counties this year: 43, 48, 48, 44, 49, 45. [...]

[A]s the stack of 2009’s defeated Democrats piles up to include Westchester county executive Andrew Spano, Nassau county executive Tom Suozzi (probably), and state supreme court nominee Jack Panella in Pennsylvania, with a roughly proportional slide in the Democrats’ share of the vote, perhaps that party’s problems go well beyond the flaws of any individual candidate. Perhaps the suburbs of the northeast and Mid-Atlantic states are looking at the party and concluding, to adapt a recurring phrase from Obama’s days as a candidate, “This is not the Democratic party I knew.”

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:46 AM


Hacked climate e-mails and FOI (Martin Rosenbaum., 11/23/09, BBC: Open Secrets)

Several of the e-mails suggest that Professor Jones apparently had considerable unease at the requirements of the FOI Act (although I should point out that actually the material involved would be more likely to come under the Environmental Information Regulations, which lay down similar disclosure obligations).

According to one of the hacked e-mails, Professor Jones made the following remark with reference to two of his critics who want access to his data: "If they ever hear there is a Freedom of Information Act now in the UK, I think I'll delete the file rather than send to anyone."

According to another, he advised a colleague to delete e-mails relating to the IPCC's Fourth Assessment Report.

And according to yet another, he wrote: "Think I've managed to persuade UEA to ignore all further FOIA requests if the people have anything to do with Climate Audit."

But perhaps it is the following extracts from this one which best conveys Professor Jones's apparent feelings of coming under siege from information requests:

"When the FOI requests began here, the FOI person said we had to abide by the requests. It took a couple of half hour sessions - one at a screen, to convince them otherwise showing them what CA [Climate Audit] was all about... I don't know who else at UEA may be getting them... We're away of requests going to others in the UK.

"The inadvertent email I sent last month has led to a Data Protection Act request sent by a certain Canadian, saying that the email maligned his scientific credibility with his peers! If he pays 10 pounds (which he hasn't yet) I am supposed to go through my emails and he can get anything I've written about him. About 2 months ago I deleted loads of emails, so have very little - if anything at all.

Everyone wants government money, but no one wants the corresponding regulations.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:43 AM


Barbour's 'hard stuff' budget: Proposals on education, state agencies sure to anger (Emily Wagster Pettus, 11/24/09, ASSOCIATED PRESS)

He proposed merging the eight current universities into five, reducing the number of school districts from 152 to 100 and closing some mental health centers.

He said the Mississippi School for the Arts should close shop in Brookhaven, move 200 miles north to Columbus and join the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science.

The governor also said local school districts should tap into their own financial reserves to help pay some education expenses normally paid by the state and teachers should forgo their annual "step" raises that give them more money for increased years of experience.

He said some smaller agencies should be absorbed by larger ones and all agencies should see an average 12 percent budget reduction between the current fiscal year that ends June 30 and the new one that begins July 1.

Mr. Barbour, a Republican, will begin his seventh year as governor in January. He can't seek re-election in 2011, and that might have given him the freedom to propose ideas that are, predictably, unpopular.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:06 AM


Beers for the Thanksgiving Table (The Splendid Table, November 23, 2002)

Steven Beaumont, author of The Premium Beer Drinker's Guide, suggests beer as an alternative to all the angst over which wines will go with turkey and all the trimmings.

Imagine what a soccer fan you'd have to be to defile a Thanksgiving dinner with wine?

(originally posted: October 25, 2003)

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:52 AM


Bird likes big chill (SUSAN SAMPSON, 10/04/06, Toronto Star)

"Actually, cooking a turkey from the frozen state has benefits over cooking a thawed turkey," O. Peter Synder wrote in a widely distributed and discussed research paper last year. Synder is president of the Hospitality Institute of Technology and Management in Saint Paul, Minn. [...]

Snyder points out that cooking from frozen solves another perennial problem. Normally, the white meat cooks faster than the dark meat. So by the time the thighs are done, the breast is dry. With a frozen turkey, the breast takes longer to thaw and cook, because it's bigger. It remains moist.

In a test run, the breast was indeed more tender than usual, while the dark meat was well-done. [...]

12 to 13 lb (5-1/2 to 6 kg) frozen turkey

Unwrap turkey. Place on rack in shallow roasting pan in preheated 325F oven so that turkey sits in centre.

Roast 2 hours. Begin to monitor temperature by inserting thermometer in breast or check periodically with instant read thermometer. If necessary, protect wing tips with foil.

After 3-1/2 hours, the turkey should be thawed enough to remove giblets from cavity. Reserve giblets for soup. Tilt turkey to drain juices from cavity into roasting pan. Begin to baste periodically.

Turkey should be done in 4-1/2 to 5 hours, with thigh at 175F to 185F and breast at 160F to 170F.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

More like 4 servings.

Fresh From The Garden: Apples are an all-around ingredient for this fall (ANN LOVEJOY, 10/04/06, SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER)

Braeburn or Cox's Pippin are terrific dessert apples, holding texture and flavor well when cooked. Try them baked, in quick bread and in Apple Hazelnut Upside-down Cake, a rich, buttery confection that makes a pretty party dish. [...]



# 1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
# 1/2 cup unbleached white or barley flour
# 2 teaspoons baking powder
# 1/4 teaspoon salt
# 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
# 1/2 cup sugar
# 1 egg
# 1/2 cup milk
# 1/4 cup canola or vegetable oil
# 4 tablespoons butter
# 1 cup dark brown sugar
# 1 cup hazelnuts, chopped
# 2 Braeburn or Cox's Pippin apples, cored and thinly sliced
# 1 tablespoon lemon juice
# 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a bowl, sift together the flours, baking powder, salt, nutmeg and sugar; set aside.

In a large bowl, stir together the egg, milk and oil; set aside.

In a 10-inch iron (or ovenproof) frying pan, melt butter over medium heat. Sprinkle on brown sugar evenly. Layer on hazelnuts and apples, sprinkle with lemon juice and cinnamon. Stir flour mixture into milk mixture and spoon over apples. Bake at 400 degrees until crisp and golden brown (30-35 minutes). Let stand 5 minutes, then reverse onto a large plate and serve warm.

MORE/MORE (via Pepys)
Iron Skillet Apple Pie (From Bryan Woolley, teacher at Sur La Table)
1 cup lard (I use 1/2 lard 1/2 butter) cut into pieces
3 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
¼ - 1/3 cup cold water (approx)

In a large bowl, place all ingredients and cut lard into flour using a pastry cutter.
Continue cutting fat into flour until in resembles course meal.
Add enough cold water to pull the flour mixture into a dough.
Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator until needed.

5-6 Granny Smith (I like 1/2 Fuji 1/2 Braeburn or Red Delicious) Apples peeled and sliced
1 tbsp freshly ground nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon
½ cup sugar (I like less)
½ cup firmly packed brown sugar (I like less)
½ cup flour
1 tbsp. lemon juice (as little as possible, can give a soapy taste)
pinch salt
4 tbsp butter

In a large bowl place the apples and pour the lemon juice over the apples and toss.
Add the nutmeg, cinnamon, sugar, brown sugar, flour, and salt and mix well.
Sprinkle your work surface with flour and begin to roll the pie dough into the your desired shape and size.
You may need to sprinkle flour on the dough to prevent it from sticking to the rolling pin.
Constantly turn the dough to keep it from sticking to the work surface and add additional flour as needed.
Place your bottom crust in the skillet and trim the dough as necessary.
Pour the apple filling into the dough lined skillet.
Arrange apples if necessary.
Roll out a top crust and cut a steam vent design in the crust.
Place top crust over skillet, trim and seal the edges.
Brush the top crust with a simple egg wash ( 1 egg and 1 tbsp water mix together).
Sprinkle the top crust with freshly ground nutmeg and sugar.
Bake at 350 degree's for approximately 1 hour or until done.

[originally posted: 11/23/06]

November 23, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:34 PM


Life after recount battle for Norm Coleman: Former senator may begin comeback (Donald Lambro, 11/24/09, Washington Times)

Former Sen. Norm Coleman, Minnesota Republican, who narrowly lost his bid for a second term in a bitter eight-month recount battle with Democrat Al Franken, may be poised for an improbable comeback after a new survey showed that half of all Republicans polled would support him if he enters the gubernatorial race next year.

Mr. Coleman has largely stayed out of the limelight since the state's Supreme Court unanimously ruled in June that Mr. Franken, a one-time "Saturday Night Live" comedian, had defeated him by a razor-thin 312 votes out of 2.9 million cast in the 2008 election.

State Republican officials said he has been going through a period of "decompression" since he conceded. However, they also say the former lawmaker remains popular with Republicans and with voters generally and is in a strong position if he moves quickly in the race. He has said he won't make his decision until next year.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:45 PM


Why More Favor War in Iran While Support for the Afghan Effort is Dropping (Jodie Allen, 11/23/09, Thomas Jefferson Street blog)

[E]ven as enthusiasm for involvement in Afghanistan faded, an October Pew Research survey, found that by a substantial 61 percent to 24 percent margin, Americans said that it is more important to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons than to avoid a military conflict with that country. True, the survey also found hefty support for direct negotiations—but most Americans just don't think they'll work. And when faced with the choice between a nuclear-armed Iran and military action, most Americans choose conflict.

Democracies have short attention spans.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:38 PM


Poles protest US Stalin memorial plan (, 23.11.2009)

The Polish community in the United States is outraged by a plan to honour Josef Stalin by placing his bust on a pedestal at the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Virginia.

According to William McIntosh, the director of the Bradford museum, which is coordinating the project, the Soviet dictator deserves to be acknowledged alongside Winston Churchill and Franklin Delano Roosevelt has he was an ally of the US after Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union.

U.S. Honors Stalin on Hallowed Ground, Will Saddam Hussein Be Next? (Alex Storozynski, November 18, 2009, Huffington Post)
This misguided move will haunt millions of Ukrainians, Russians, Poles, Czechs, Hungarians, Jews, etc. whose families were massacred by this Soviet tyrant. Stalin's killing machine slaughtered more people than Adolf Hitler and the Nazis did.

Hitler and Stalin were allies and started World War II in 1939 by both attacking Poland at the same time. [...]

By placing a bust of Stalin on hallowed ground, McIntosh disrespects veterans, including my father who took part in the Normandy invasion. When the war began, Dionysius Storozynski was 17 and living in Lvov, Poland. He fought in the underground against Stalin's army that invaded Poland and later joined the Polish troops in France that fought the Germans in the West. When France surrendered, he was evacuated to England and trained for the allied invasion of Normandy.

In 1944, when the beachhead was taken, Corporal Storozynski rode a motorcycle off a transport from England as part of the 24th Lancers Regiment of the 1st Polish Armored Division. It was lead by Major Jan Kanski with 47 officers, 634 men, 52 Sherman tanks, 11 Stuart tanks and six anti-aircraft tanks. My father sped ahead of these troops, and scoured the French countryside with his binoculars. He radioed the coordinates of the Germans to Polish tank commanders. Gen. Dwight Eisenhower inspected my father's regiment, which saw heavy action in Caen, Falaise and Aberville in France. They helped liberate Belgium and Holland.

During the campaign, my father lost part of his hearing when he drove over a land mine. Major Kanski lost his life.

My maternal grandfather, Sgt. Wladslaw Krzyzanowski, also fought in the Polish Army against Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany. In 1939 he was tortured and sentenced to death by Stalin's NKVD, forerunner of the KGB. His crime? He fought against Stalin's ally at the time, Hitler. My grandfather's sentence was commuted to life, and he was one of 1.5 million Poles sent to Stalin's forced labor gulags in Siberia in the years 1939-1941. He escaped and joined the army of Polish Gen. Wladyslaw Anders that fought alongside British General Bernard Montgomery. The Brits and the Poles pushed the Germans across North Africa and together with the American military liberated Italy. My grandfather won medals at the Battle of Monte Cassino.

Other Polish soldiers were not as lucky. The NKVD took 22,000 Polish officers into the Katyn Forest, tied their hands behind their backs, and one by one shot them in the back of their heads. The bodies were dumped into mass graves. Many have yet to be recovered for proper burial.

Sometimes you have to wonder why the Poles stay so loyal despite the way we treat them.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:36 PM


Puerto Rican Coffee Farms Need Workers (Steve Harrigan, 11/23/09, Fox News)

In a time of massive layoffs, there are some jobs that nobody in Puerto Rico wants.

Puerto Rico has the highest unemployment in the U.S., at 17 percent, and that number will go higher if the government carries out plans to lay off 30,000 employees. At the same time, coffee plantations are desperate for workers. When the governor recently suggested people pick coffee, many considered it an insult.

Natives are lazy. They need Mexicans.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:17 PM


Sarah Palin vs Barack Obama: The approval gap silently shrinks to a few points (Andrew Malcolm, November 23, 2009, LA Times)

Not that it matters politically because obviously she's a female Republican dunce and he's obviously a male Democrat genius.

But Sarah Palin's poll numbers are strengthening.

And Barack Obama's are sliding.

Guess what? They're about to meet in the 40's.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:11 PM


Senate health care bill: the five paragraphs you must read: Buried in the Senate's 2,074-page health reform bill are provisions that undermine your health freedom and privacy. (Sue Blevins and Robin Kaigh, 11/23/09, CS Monitor)

What most of us know about the Democratic bill is that it requires nearly all Americans to have health insurance. What most of us don't know is that it requires us to buy a minimum level of insurance approved by the federal government, and forces health plans and providers to share our personal health information with the federal government and other entities. [...]

Buried in the Senate bill's 2,074 pages are provisions that actually permit and foster such things. Freedom and privacy are often lost in the fine print – which is why we've been studying the Senate bill since it was released Nov. 19 to help uncover the facts. Here are five highly invasive provisions Americans should know...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:08 PM


Illegal Contact: Does watching football lead to domestic violence? (Ray Fisman, Nov. 23, 2009, Slate)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:03 PM


Whether intentionally or not, they demean a real tragedy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:47 PM


The Voice That Helped Remake Culture: a review of POPS: A Life of Louis Armstrong By Terry Teachout (MICHIKO KAKUTANI

With “Pops,” his eloquent and important new biography of Armstrong, the critic and cultural historian Terry Teachout restores this jazzman to his deserved place in the pantheon of American artists, building upon Gary Giddins’s excellent 1988 study, “Satchmo: The Genius of Louis Armstrong,” and offering a stern rebuttal of James Lincoln Collier’s patronizing 1983 book, “Louis Armstrong: An American Genius.”

Mr. Teachout, the drama critic of The Wall Street Journal and the chief culture critic of Commentary magazine, writes with a deep appreciation of Armstrong’s artistic achievements, while situating his work and his life in a larger historical context. He draws on Armstrong’s wonderfully vivid writings and hours of tapes in which the musician recorded his thoughts and conversations with friends, and in doing so, creates an emotionally detailed portrait of Satchmo as a quick, funny, generous, observant and sometimes surprisingly acerbic man: a charismatic musician who, like a Method actor, channeled his vast life experience into his work, displaying a stunning, almost Shakespearean range that encompassed the jubilant and the melancholy, the playful and the sorrowful.

At the same time, Mr. Teachout reminds us of Armstrong’s gifts: “the combination of hurtling momentum and expansive lyricism that propelled his playing and singing alike,” his revolutionary sense of rhythm, his “dazzling virtuosity and sensational brilliance of tone,” in another trumpeter’s words, which left listeners feeling as though they’d been staring into the sun. The author — who worked as a jazz bassist before becoming a full-time writer — also uses his firsthand knowledge of music to convey the magic of such Armstrong masterworks as “St. Louis Blues,” “Potato Head Blues,” “West End Blues” and “Star Dust.”

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:38 PM


Gitmo Detainees Intend to Plead Not Guilty in U.S. Court (Jake Tapper, November 23, 2009, ABC News: Political Punch)

The five detainees being held at Guantanamo Bay who will soon be brought to the U.S. for trial -- Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Walid bin Attash, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali , Ramzi bin al-Shibh, and Mustafa al-Hawsawi – intend to plead not guilty, an attorney for one of the defendants confirmed to ABC News’s Jason Ryan over the weekend.

The story was first reported by the New York Times to whom Ali’s attorney, Scott Fenstermaker, said the men would plead not guilty “so they can have a trial and try to get their message out.”

...why wouldn't they seize the opportunity?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:33 AM


Flowing air 'could be used to generate electricity for planes and cars' (Daily Telegraph, 11/23/09)

Scientists are working on the concept using materials known as piezoelectrics which convert the energy of motion into electricity.

The devices, which are just an inch long, could be mounted on a car roof or aircraft fuselage.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:13 AM


The Fifth War (Hendrik Hertzberg , 11/30/09, The New Yorker)

In the sixty-four years since V-J Day, the United States has fought five wars big enough to be styled “major.” Two of these, Vietnam (1962-75, by the most common reckoning) and Iraq (2003-11, with any luck), were conceived in sin. Their beginnings were fatally compromised by deceptions that congealed into lies, abetted by profound geostrategic misjudgments.

President Bush's address to the United Nations (George W. Bush, September 12, 2002)
Twelve years ago, Iraq invaded Kuwait without provocation. And the regime's forces were poised to continue their march to seize other countries and their resources. Had Saddam Hussein been appeased instead of stopped, he would have endangered the peace and stability of the world. Yet this aggression was stopped by the might of coalition forces and the will of the United Nations.

To suspend hostilities, to spare himself, Iraq's dictator accepted a series of commitments. The terms were clear to him and to all, and he agreed to prove he is complying with every one of those obligations. He has proven instead only his contempt for the United Nations and for all his pledges. By breaking every pledge, by his deceptions and by his cruelties, Saddam Hussein has made the case against himself.

In 1991, Security Council Resolution 688 demanded that the Iraqi regime cease at once the repression of its own people, including the systematic repression of minorities, which the council said threatened international peace and security in the region. This demand goes ignored.

Last year, the U.N. Commission on Human Rights found that Iraq continues to commit extremely grave violations of human rights and that the regime's repression is all-pervasive.

Tens of thousands of political opponents and ordinary citizens have been subjected to arbitrary arrest and imprisonment, summary execution and torture by beating and burning, electric shock, starvation, mutilation and rape.

Wives are tortured in front of their husbands; children in the presence of their parents; and all of these horrors concealed from the world by the apparatus of a totalitarian state.

In 1991, the U.N. Security Council, through Resolutions 686 and 687, demanded that Iraq return all prisoners from Kuwait and other lands. Iraq's regime agreed. It broke this promise.

Last year, the Secretary General's high-level coordinator for this issue reported that Kuwaiti, Saudi, Indian, Syrian, Lebanese, Iranian, Egyptian, Bahraini and Armeni nationals remain unaccounted for; more than 600 people. One American pilot is among them.

In 1991, the U.N. Security Council through Resolution 687 demanded that Iraq renounce all involvement with terrorism and permit no terrorist organizations to operate in Iraq.

Iraq's regime agreed that broke this promise.

In violation of Security Council Resolution 1373, Iraq continues to shelter and support terrorist organizations that direct violence against Iran, Israel and Western governments. Iraqi dissidents abroad are targeted for murder.

In 1993, Iraq attempted to assassinate the Amir of Kuwait and a former American president. Iraq's government openly praised the attacks of September 11. And Al Qaeda terrorists escaped from Afghanistan and are known to be in Iraq.

In 1991, the Iraqi regime agreed destroy and stop developing all weapons of mass destruction and long range missiles and to prove to the world it has done so by complying with rigorous inspections.

Iraq has broken every aspect of this fundamental pledge.

From 1991 to 1995, the Iraqi regime said it had no biological weapons. After a senior official in its weapons program defected and exposed this lie, the regime admitted to producing tens of thousands of liters of anthrax and other deadly biological agents for use with scud warheads, aerial bombs and aircraft spray tanks.

U.N. inspectors believe Iraq has produced two to four times the amount of biological agents it declared and has failed to account for more than three metric tons of material that could be used to produce biological weapons. Right now, Iraq is expanding and improving facilities that were used for the production of biological weapons.

United Nations' inspections also reviewed that Iraq like maintains stockpiles of VX, mustard and other chemical agents, and that the regime is rebuilding and expanding facilities capable of producing chemical weapons.

And in 1995, after four years of deception, Iraq finally admitted it had a crash nuclear weapons program prior to the Gulf War.

We know now, were it not for that war, the regime in Iraq would likely have possessed a nuclear weapon no later than 1993.

Today, Iraq continues to withhold important information about its nuclear program, weapons design, procurement logs, experiment data, and accounting of nuclear materials and documentation of foreign assistance. Iraq employs capable nuclear scientists and technicians. It retains physical infrastructure needed to build a nuclear weapon.

Iraq has made several attempts to buy high-strength aluminum tubes used to enrich uranium for a nuclear weapon. Should Iraq acquire fissile material, it would be able to build a nuclear weapon within a year.

And Iraq's state-controlled media has reported numerous meetings between Saddam Hussein and his nuclear scientists, leaving little doubt about his continued appetite for these weapons.

Iraq also possesses a force of SCUD type missiles with ranges beyond the 150 kilometers permitted by the U.N. Work at testing and production facilities shows that Iraq is building more long range missiles that can inflict mass death throughout the region.

In 1990, after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, the world imposed economic sanctions on Iraq. Those sanctions were maintained after the war to compel the regime's compliance with Security Council Resolutions.

In time, Iraq was allowed to use oil revenues to buy food. Saddam Hussein has subverted this program, working around the sanctions to buy missile technology and military materials. He blames the suffering of Iraq's people on the United Nations, even as he uses his oil wealth to build lavish palaces for himself and to buy arms for his country.

By refusing to comply with his own agreements, he bears full guilt for the hunger and misery of innocent Iraqi citizens. In 1991, Iraq promised U.N. inspectors immediate and unrestricted access to verify Iraq's commitment to rid itself of weapons of mass destruction and long range missiles. Iraq broke this promise, spending seven years deceiving, evading and harassing U.N. inspectors before ceasing cooperation entirely.

Just months after the 1991 cease-fire, the Security Council twice renewed its demand that the Iraqi regime cooperate fully with inspectors, condemning Iraq's serious violations of its obligations.

The Security Council again renewed that demand in 1994, and twice more in 1996, deploring Iraq's clear violations of its obligations. The Security Council renewed its demand three more times in 1997, citing flagrant violations, and three more times in 1998, calling Iraq's behavior totally unacceptable. And in 1999, the demand was renewed yet again.

As we meet today, it's been almost four years since the last U.N. inspector set foot in Iraq -- four years for the Iraqi regime to plan and to build and to test behind the cloak of secrecy. We know that Saddam Hussein pursued weapons of mass murder even when inspectors were in his country. Are we to assume that he stopped when they left?

The history, the logic and the facts lead to one conclusion: Saddam Hussein regime is a grave and gathering danger.

To suggest otherwise is to hope against the evidence. To assume this regime's good faith is to bet the lives of millions and the peace of the world in a reckless gamble, and this is a risk we must not take.

Delegates to the General Assembly, we have been more than patient. We've tried sanctions. We've tried the carrot of oil for food and the stick of coalition military strikes. But Saddam Hussein has defied all these efforts and continues to develop weapons of mass destruction.

The first time we may be completely certain he has nuclear weapons is when, God forbid, he uses one. We owe it to all our citizens to do everything in our power to prevent that day from coming.

The conduct of the Iraqi regime is a threat to the authority of the United Nations and a threat to peace. Iraq has answered a decade of U.N. demands with a decade of defiance. All the world now faces a test, and the United Nations a difficult and defining moment.

Are Security Council resolutions to be honored and enforced or cast aside without consequence?

Will the United Nations serve the purpose of its founding or will it be irrelevant?

The United States help found the United Nations. We want the United Nations to be effective and respectful and successful. We want the resolutions of the world's most important multilateral body to be enforced. And right now those resolutions are being unilaterally subverted by the Iraqi regime.

Our partnership of nations can meet the test before us by making clear what we now expect of the Iraqi regime.

If the Iraqi regime wishes peace, it will immediately and unconditionally forswear, disclose and remove or destroy all weapons of mass destruction, long-range missiles and all related material.

If the Iraqi regime wishes peace, it will immediately end all support for terrorism and act to suppress it -- as all states are required to do by U.N. Security Council resolutions.

If the Iraqi regime wishes peace, it will cease persecution of its civilian population, including Shi'a, Sunnis, Kurds, Turkemens and others -- again, as required by Security Council resolutions.

If the Iraqi regime wishes peace, it will release or account for all Gulf War personnel whose fate is still unknown.

It will return the remains of any who are deceased, return stolen property, accept liability for losses resulting from the invasion of Kuwait and fully cooperate with international efforts to resolve these issues as required by Security Council resolutions.

If the Iraqi regime wishes peace, it will immediately end all illicit trade outside the oil-for-food program. It will accept U.N. administration of funds from that program to ensure that the money is used fairly and promptly for the benefit of the Iraqi people.

If all these steps are taken, it will signal a new openness and accountability in Iraq and it could open the prospect of the United Nations helping to build a government that represents all Iraqis, a government based on respect for human rights, economic liberty and internationally supervised elections.

The United States has no quarrel with the Iraqi people. They've suffered too long in silent captivity. Liberty for the Iraqi people is a great moral cause and a great strategic goal.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:04 AM


David Beckham loses MLS shoot-out against Real Salt Lake (Evening Standard, 11/23/09)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:56 AM


Afghan Militias Battle Taliban With Aid of U.S. (DEXTER FILKINS, 11/22/09, NY Times)

American and Afghan officials have begun helping a number of anti-Taliban militias that have independently taken up arms against insurgents in several parts of Afghanistan, prompting hopes of a large-scale tribal rebellion against the Taliban.

The emergence of the militias, which took some leaders in Kabul by surprise, has so encouraged the American and Afghan officials that they are planning to spur the growth of similar armed groups across the Taliban heartland in the southern and eastern parts of the country.

The American and Afghan officials say they are hoping the plan, called the Community Defense Initiative, will bring together thousands of gunmen to protect their neighborhoods from Taliban insurgents. Already there are hundreds of Afghans who are acting on their own against the Taliban, officials say.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:53 AM

WHAT WAS EUROPE, DADDY? (via Greg Mankiw):

U.S. Share of World GDP Remarkably Constant (Mark Perry, 11/19/09, Carpe Diem)

Somewhat surprisingly, the Economic Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture has some great international historical macroeconomic datasets. According to its website:

The International Macroeconomic Data Set provides data from 1969 through 2020 for real (adjusted for inflation) gross domestic product (GDP), population, real exchange rates, and other variables for the 190 countries and 34 regions that are most important for U.S. agricultural trade.

The chart above shows the annual shares of real world GDP for four geographical regions (European Union 15, Asia/Oceania, Latin America and the combined share of Africa and the Middle East) compared to the U.S. share of world GDP between 1969 and 2009 (data here). What might be surprising is that the U.S. share of world GDP has been relatively constant for the last 40 years, and is actually slightly higher in 2009 (26.7%) that it was in 1975 (26.3%). It's also interesting that the EU15's share of world GDP has declined from about 36% of world output in 1969 to only 27% in 2009. Further, despite having a large share of the world's oil reserves, the Middle East's share of global output has increased from only 2.23% in 1969 to 3.16% in 2009 (graph shows Middle East combined with Africa).

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:50 AM


REVIEW: of Pops: The Wonderful World of Louis Armstrong by Terry Teachout (Robert Sandall, The Sunday Times of London)

Terry Teachout makes clear in this terrific biography, the world that Louis Armstrong inhabited was anything but wonderful. It was, for most of his life, both profoundly racist and astonishingly bitchy.

By the late 1950s, with his 60th birthday approaching and four decades of solid success behind him, Armstrong was still forced to sleep in a gymnasium while playing in segregated North Carolina and was denied access to a public lavatory in Connecticut. In Tennessee, dynamite was thrown at an auditorium where he and his All Stars were performing.

At the same time, he was being reviled as a sellout by younger black jazzers such as Dizzy Gillespie, the bebop trumpet ace, who called him “a plantation ­character”, and he was dismissed by James Baldwin, the leader of the so-called “Negro intellectuals”, as a purveyor of “old-time, down-home crap”. Armstrong never shook off the charge that he was a grinning ollaborator in white supremacism (an “Uncle Tom”), which tainted even messages of support from admirers such as Billie Holiday. “God bless Louis Armstrong, he Toms from the heart!” she proclaimed unhelpfully. Such was the rivalrous animosity he inspired in other band leaders that one shopped him to the police in 1932 for smoking his beloved marijuana outside a gig, an arrest that had him briefly sent to jail.

It was the way he soared above all these brickbats that was truly wonderful.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:45 AM


1919: Betrayal and the Birth of Modern Liberalism: Disillusionment with Woodrow Wilson changed the American Left forever. (Fred Siegel, 22 November 2009, City Journal)

[A] central strand of modern liberalism was born of a sense of betrayal, of a rejection of progressivism, of a shift in sensibility so profound that it still resonates today. More precisely, the cultural tone of modern liberalism was, in significant measure, set by a political love affair gone wrong between Wilson and a liberal Left unable to grapple with the realities of Prussian power. Initially embraced by many leftists as a thaumaturgical leader of near-messianic promise, Wilson came to be seen—in the wake of a cataclysmic war, a failed peace, repression at home, revolution abroad, and a country wracked by a “Red Scare”—as a Judas. His numinous rhetoric, it was concluded, was mere mummery.

One strand of progressives grew contemptuous not only of Wilson but of American society. For the once-ardent progressive Frederick Howe, formerly Wilson’s Commissioner of Immigration, the prewar promise of a benign state built on reasoned reform had turned to ashes. “I hated,” he wrote, “the new state that had arisen” from the war. “I hated its brutalities, its ignorance, its unpatriotic patriotism, that made profit from our sacrifices and used it to suppress criticism of its acts. . . . I wanted to protest against the destruction of my government, my democracy, my America.”

Making a decisive break with Wilson and their optimism about America, the disenchanted progressives renamed themselves “liberals.” The progressives had been inspired by a faith in democratic reforms as a salve for the wounds of both industrial civilization and power politics; the new liberals saw the American democratic ethos as a danger to freedom both at home and abroad.

...and the real full-mooners hate Lincoln too.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:41 AM


Take Me Back to Constantinople: How Byzantium, not Rome, can help preserve Pax Americana. (EDWARD LUTTWAK, NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2009, Foreign Policy)

I've spent the past two decades poring over these texts to compile a study of Byzantine grand strategy. The United States would do well to heed the following seven lessons if it wishes to remain a great power: [...]

IV. Replace the battle of attrition and occupation of countries with maneuver warfare -- lightning strikes and offensive raids to disrupt enemies, followed by rapid withdrawals.

We accept on an intellectual level that folks would rather govern themselves, but lack confidence that they'll effect this desire in our absence. Best to topple rotten regimes but then let the populace sort things out.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:38 AM


Roemer key to U.S.-India relationship (DANIEL LIBIT & LAURA ROZEN, 11/23/09, Politico)

[W]ell before Roemer’s arrival there were concerns in New Delhi about the news administration. Those concerns have continued, making the state visit this week of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in the words of Nicholas Burns, a high-ranking State Department official, “a very big symbolic gesture toward India” by the new administration.

Shortly before the 2008 presidential elections, Obama created considerable anxiety in New Delhi when he told Time magazine that as president he would seek to mediate the Kashmir dispute, even mentioning Bill Clinton as a possible envoy for the task. India was none too pleased, and vigorously and successfully lobbied against it.

Just last week, Indians took great offense to two speeches Obama made on his trip to Japan, China and Korea. In Tokyo, Obama gave a speech on the importance of Asia, without once mentioning India. And in a joint statement with Chinese Premier Hu Jintao Indians saw signs of Obama encouraging a larger Chinese role in mediating relations between historic rivals India and Pakistan.

While perhaps inadvertent, such slights suggest “that nobody in the Obama administration is standing up now for India,” said C. Raja Mohan, a professor of South Asian studies currently on a fellowship at the Library of Congress.

Obama’s failure to understand Indian distrust of China: "At a time when Indian public opinion was looking forward to fruitful results from the forthcoming visit of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to the US, reports from Beijing on Obama's visit to China would strengthen the impression that Obama is not India's cup of tea." (B.Raman, November 19, 2009, Sri Lanka Guardian)
The failure of President Barack Obama to understand the distrust of China in large sections of the Indian civil society has landed the US in a situation in which the considerable goodwill between India and the US created during the administration of his predecessor George Bush stands in danger of being diluted by his unthinking words and actions.

The distrust of China in the Indian civil society is much deeper than even the distrust of Pakistan. Even today, despite Pakistan's continued use of terrorism against India, there is some goodwill for the people of Pakistan in many sections of the Indian civil society. As against this, outside the traditional communist and other leftist circles, one would hardly find any section which trusts China ---its Government as well as its people.

The Indian distrust of China arises mainly from three factors. First, the Sino-Indian war of 1962. Second, China's role in giving Pakistan a military nuclear and missile capability for use against India. Third, the Chinese blockage of the pre 26/11 efforts in the sanctions committee of the UN Security Council to declare the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JUD), the parent organisation of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET), as a terrorist organisation and its subsequent opposition for a similar declaration against the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JED).

The dubious Chinese stand on the issue of Pakistani use of terrorism against India is viewed by many in India as amounting to collusion.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:36 AM


Credibility Gap (Nikolas K. Gvosdev, 11.17.2009, National Interest)

At first glance, the resignation of White House counsel Greg Craig would appear to be a domestic U.S. political issue. Yet, as the ramifications of his departure are assessed, the Obama administration will have to deal with the negative conclusions that may be drawn around the world.

Craig was the point man in charge of implementing into policy several of the promises made by candidate Barack Obama, including closing the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. However, as the New York Times reported Friday, Mr. Craig took considerable criticism for those decisions and for not doing more to build consensus within the administration or prepare the political ground in Congress. The closure of Guantanamo in the first year of Mr. Obama’s presidency is now almost certain not to happen. [...]

What foreign diplomats accredited in Washington and what foreign ministries around the world are now trying to determine is the extent to which the president means to back up rhetoric with action. If the president finds closing a U.S.-run detention facility to be too difficult, what happens with other contentious issues? As the president travels in Asia, a subtext to his meetings there are about his administration’s ability to steer free-trade agreements through Congress. Will these be sacrificed on the altar of political expediency? What sort of compromises can the president really make in terms of climate-change standards? The Russians, having heard yet another president promise to repeal the Jackson-Vanik trade amendment, aren’t holding their breath that the Obama team will actually spend any of its capital up on the Hill to get this done.

...getting used to an American president who is a follower rather than a leader.

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November 22, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:56 PM


Dirt can be good for children, say scientists (BBC, 11/23/09)

Normal bacteria living on the skin trigger a pathway that helps prevent inflammation when we get hurt, the US team discovered.

The bugs dampen down overactive immune responses that can cause cuts and grazes to swell, they say.

Their work is published in the online edition of Nature Medicine.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:52 PM


Patient trapped in a 23-year 'coma' was conscious all along (Allan Hall, 23rd November 2009, Daily Mail)

A man thought by doctors to be in a vegetative state for 23 years was actually conscious the whole time, it was revealed last night.

Student Rom Houben was misdiagnosed after a car crash left him totally paralysed.

He had no way of letting experts, family or friends know he could hear every word they said.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:47 PM


The electric revolution: Your next car may be electric. We look at the rapidly developing technologies that will see motoring turned on its head and help store renewable energy to boot. (Tim Thwaites, October 2009, Cosmos)

The demise and reorientation of the U.S. automobile industry - which saw the bankruptcy of the once-mighty General Motors in February 2009 - is just the beginning of a technological avalanche that could sweep away not only the world's major car makers, but also dependent industries such as parts manufacturers and service stations - even the neighbourhood mechanic.

In their place, a plethora of new enterprises will arise that lease cars and batteries; build and operate charge stations; design, make and program smart automotive electronics; and companies which process and recycle light metals and other new materials.

"When you consider what the new technologies that we apply to sustainable automotive engineering look like, and compare them with the current industry footprint, they are substantially different," says Barrie Finnin, manager of the Advanced Engineering Components team of Australia's national science agency the CSIRO, which works on components for automotive, defence and aerospace uses.

"The plug-in electric vehicle is utterly disruptive," says Richard Hunwick, a Sydney-based energy industry consultant. This is partly because it cannot be built on conventional production lines and would require a restructuring of the motoring industry and infrastructure.

Nevertheless, he believes the shift to plug-in electric cars is inevitable. And he's not alone. Almost every major car manufacturer - Toyota, Peugeot, General Motors, Volkswagen, Mitsubishi, Audi, Renault-Nissan, Volvo, Ford, Honda, Mercedes-Benz - has an electric vehicle either in production or slated for release over the next five years.

They have no choice, says Hunwick. "Plug-in electric vehicles are coming," he told an Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering symposium on alternative transport fuels in Melbourne in November 2008. "If any incumbents resist the trend, the demand will be met from start-up Chinese or Indian manufacturers." He points to legendary American financier Warren Buffett, who has already invested US$230 million in Chinese company BYD Auto, a battery maker headquartered in Shenzhen that has begun to manufacture plug-in electric cars.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:41 PM


Senate Democrats at odds over health care bill (ANNE FLAHERTY, 11/22/09, The Associated Press)

"I don't want a big-government, Washington-run operation that would undermine the ... private insurance that 200 million Americans now have," said Sen. Ben Nelson, a conservative Nebraska Democrat.

Nelson and three other moderates , Democratic Sens. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas and Connecticut independent Joe Lieberman , agreed to open debate despite expressing reservations on the measure. Each of them has warned that they might not support the final bill.

One major sticking point is a provision that would allow Americans to buy a federal-run insurance plan if their state allows it. Moderates say they worry the so-called public option will become a huge and costly entitlement program and that other requirements in the bill could cripple businesses.

"I don't want to fix the problems in our health care system in a way that creates more of an economic crisis," said Lieberman.

The sway held by such a small group of senators has annoyed their more liberal colleagues, who could vote against a final bill if it becomes too watered down.

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said he didn't think rank-and-file Democrats would feel compelled to go that far. At the same time, Brown warned Democratic leaders not to make too many concessions.

"I don't want four Democratic senators dictating to the other 56 of us and to the rest of the country , when the public option has this much support , that (a public option is) not going to be in it," said Brown.

...they've managed to put every member on the hook as the one who cast the deciding vote to keep the monster alive.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:22 PM


Private Climate Conversations on Display (ANDREW C. REVKIN, 11/20/09, NY Times: Dot Earth blog)

The documents appear to have been acquired illegally and contain all manner of private information and statements that were never intended for the public eye, so they won’t be posted here.

Really? That's the Times's new standard for what it sees fit to print? If you never meant it to be public they won't publish?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:02 AM


Former allies turn on Obama over his failure to deliver on campaign promises (Tony Allen-Mills, 11/22/09, The Sunday Times)

It was not just that the US media have suddenly turned a lot more sceptical about a president with grand ambitions to reshape politics at home and abroad -- even one previously friendly newspaper noted dismissively: "Obama goes to China, brings home a T-shirt." Nor was the steady decline in the President's approval ratings -- which fell below 50 per cent for the first time in a Gallup poll last week -- the main cause of White House angst. Mr Obama remains more popular than Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton a year after their elections, and both presidents eventually cruised to second terms.

The real problem may be Mr Obama's friends -- or rather, those among his formerly most enthusiastic supporters who are now having second thoughts.

The doubters are suddenly stretching across a broad section of the Democratic Party's natural constituency. They include black congressional leaders upset by the sluggish economy; women and Hispanics appalled by concessions made to Republicans on healthcare; anti-war liberals depressed by the debate over troops for Afghanistan; and growing numbers of blue-collar workers continuing to lose jobs and homes.

Mr Obama's Asian adventure perceptibly increased the murmurings of dissent when he returned to Washington, having failed to exact public concessions from China on any major issue.

For most Americans, the most talked-about moment of the trip was not the Great Wall visit but his low bow to Emperor Akihito of Japan, which Mr Obama's right-wing critics assailed as "a spineless blunder" and very deferential.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:54 AM


Jesus vs. Allah: The fight over God's secular title. (Dahlia Lithwick, Nov. 22, 2009, Slate)

Bosma questioned the practice of opening state legislative sessions with sectarian Christian prayers that included a prayer for worldwide conversion to Christianity. Hamilton found this to be a violation of the First Amendment's Establishment Clause because it was government speech that favored one religious sect over another. In a post-­judgment order, Hamilton also wrote that the "Arabic word 'Allah' is used for 'God' in Arabic translations of Jewish and Christian scriptures" and that 'Allah' was closer to "the Spanish Dios, the German Gott, the French Dieu, the Swedish Gud, the Greek Theos, the Hebrew Elohim, the Italian Dio, or any other language's terms in addressing the God who is the focus of the non-­sectarian prayers" than Jesus Christ. Hamilton, himself a Christian, also added that "if and when the prayer practices in the Indiana House of Representatives ever seem to be advancing Islam, an appropriate party can bring the problem to the attention of this or another court."

For these words of clarification, Hamilton has been pilloried for months as a judge determined to chase Christians out of the public square in order to make more space for Muslims. In an interview last spring with Christianity Today, former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich said Hamilton had ruled that "saying the words Jesus Christ in a prayer is a sign of inappropriate behavior, but saying Allah would be OK." That's factually true... [...]

The real problem here isn't Hamilton but the fiction, built into the Supreme Court's religion jurisprudence, that there can be such a thing as a neutral, non­sectarian religious invocation that will make everyone present feel both included and respected.

Congressional Chaplains Being Challenged in Court (VOA News, 28 November 2002)
When the members of the first U.S. Congress convened in New York City in March of 1789, one of the very first actions they took was to approve the first amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees that Congress will not make any laws regarding the establishment of a national religion. Yet, just one week after approving that amendment, the Congressmen also voted to hire two chaplains, one for the House, and one for the Senate.

Presidential Prayers: To Whom It May Concern (Maggie Gallagher, 1/14/09, Real Clear Politics)

The granddaddy of all inaugural prayers took place in September 1774 at the First Continental Congress. It was a New Yorker (even back then!) who, according to John Adams, first objected to a proposal to open with prayer, saying, "We were so divided in religious sentiments -- some Episcopalians, some Quakers, some Anabaptists, some Presbyterians, and some Congregationalists -- that we could not join in the same act of worship."

Then something wonderfully and distinctively American happened: "Mr. Samuel Adams arose and said that he was no bigot and could hear a prayer from any gentleman of piety and virtue who was at the same time a friend to his country."

So the next morning America's founding fathers bowed their heads as an Episcopal clergyman prayed fervently "for America, for the Congress, for the Province of Massachusetts Bay, and especially the town of Boston" (then under attack).

"It was enough," said John Adams, "to melt a heart of stone. I saw the tears gush into the eyes of the old, grave, pacifist Quakers of Philadelphia."

A prayer isn't a law, nevermind an Establishment.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:27 AM


Visceral Has Its Value (MAUREEN DOWD, 11/22/09, NY Times)

On Friday, for the first time, his Gallup poll approval rating dropped below 50 percent, and he’s losing the independents who helped get him elected.

He’s a highly intelligent man with a highly functioning West Wing, and he’s likable, but he’s not connecting on the gut level that could help him succeed.

The animating spirit that electrified his political movement has sputtered out.

People need to understand what the president is thinking as he maneuvers the treacherous terrain of a lopsided economic recovery and two depleting wars.

Like Reagan, Obama is a detached loner with a strong, savvy wife. But unlike Reagan, he doesn’t have the acting skills to project concern about what’s happening to people.

Even besides his long career as an actor, Reagan had run the actors' union, been GE's spokesman under Lemuel Boulware, and been governor of California. The UR was president of Harvard Law Review.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:19 AM


Odysseus's Scar (Eric Auerbach, Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature)

The Homeric poems, then, though their intellectual, linguistic, and above all syntactical culture appears to be so much more highly developed, are yet comparatively simple in their picture of human beings; and no less so in their relation to the real life which they describe in general. Delight in physical existence is everything to them, and their highest aim is to make that delight perceptible to us. Between battles and passions, adventures and perils, they show us hunts, banquets, palaces and shepherds’ cots, athletic contests and washing days—in order that we may see the heroes in their ordinary life, and seeing them so, may take pleasure in their manner of enjoying their savory present, a present which sends strong roots down into social usages, landscape, and daily life. And thus they bewitch us and ingratiate themselves to us until we live with them in the reality of their lives; so long as we are reading or hearing the poems, it does not matter whether we know that all this is only legend, “make-believe.” The oft-repeated reproach that Homer is a liar takes nothing from his effectiveness, he does not need to base his story on historical reality, his reality is powerful enough in itself; it ensnares us, weaving its web around us, and that suffices him. And this “real” world into which we are lured, exists for itself, contains nothing but itself; the Homeric poems conceal nothing, they contain no teaching and no secret second meaning. Homer can be analyzed, as we have essayed to do here, but he cannot be interpreted. Later allegorizing trends have tried their arts of interpretation upon him, but to no avail. He resists any such treatment; the interpretations are forced and foreign, they do not crystallize into a unified doctrine. The general considerations which occasionally occur (in our episode, for example, v. 360: that in misfortune men age quickly) reveal a calm acceptance of the basic facts of human existence, but with no compulsion to brood over them, still less any passionate impulse either to rebel against them or to embrace them in an ecstasy of submission.

It is all very different in the Biblical stories. Their aim is not to bewitch the senses, and if nevertheless they produce lively sensory effects, it is only because the moral, religious, and psychological phenomena which are their sole concern are made concrete in the sensible matter of life. But their religious intent involves an absolute claim to historical truth. The story of Abraham and Isaac is not better established than the story of Odysseus, Penelope, and Euryclea; both are legendary. But the Biblical narrator, the Elohist, had to believe in the objective truth of the story of Abraham’s sacrifice—the existence of the sacred ordinances of life rested upon the truth of this and similar stories. He had to believe in it passionately; or else (as many rationalistic interpreters believed and perhaps still believe) he had to be a conscious liar—no harmless liar like Homer, who lied to give pleasure, but a political liar with a definite end in view, lying in the interest of a claim to absolute authority.

To me, the rationalistic interpretation seems psychologically absurd; but even if we take it into consideration, the relation of the Elohist to the truth of his story still remains a far more passionate and definite one than is Homer’s relation. The Biblical narrator was obliged to write exactly what his belief in the truth of the tradition (or, from the rationalistic standpoint, his interest in the truth of it) demanded of him—in either case, his freedom in creative or representative imagination was severely limited; his activity was perforce reduced to composing an effective version of the pious tradition. What he produced, then, was not primarily oriented toward “realism” (if he succeeded in being realistic, it was merely a means, not an end); it was oriented toward truth. Woe to the man who did not believe it! One can perfectly well entertain historical doubts on the subject of the Trojan War or of Odysseus’ wanderings, and still, when reading Homer, feel precisely the effects he sought to produce; but without believing in Abraham’s sacrifice, it is impossible to put the narrative of it to the use for which it was written. Indeed, we must go even further. The Bible’s claim to truth is not only far more urgent than Homer’s, it is tyrannical—it excludes all other claims. The world of the Scripture stories is not satisfied with claiming to be a historically true reality—it insists that it is the only real world, is destined for autocracy. All other scenes, issues, and ordinances have no right to appear independently of it, and it is promised that all of them, the history of all mankind, will be given their due place within its frame, will be subordinated to it. The Scripture stories do not, like Homer’s, court our favor, they do not flatter us that they may please us and enchant us—they seek to subject us, and if we refuse to be subjected we are rebels.

Let no one object that this goes too far, that not the stories, but the religious doctrine, raises the claim to absolute authority; because the stories are not, like Homer’s, simply narrated “reality.” Doctrine and promise are incarnate in them and inseparable from them; for that very reason they are fraught with “background” and mysterious, containing a second, concealed meaning. In the story of Isaac, it is not only God’s intervention at the beginning and the end, but even the factual and psychological elements which come between, that are mysterious, merely touched upon, fraught with background; and therefore they require subtle investigation and interpretation, they demand them. Since so much in the story is dark and incomplete, and since the reader knows that God is a hidden God, his effort to interpret it constantly finds something new to feed upon. Doctrine and the search for enlightenment are inextricably connected with the physical side of the narrative—the latter being more than simple “reality”; indeed they are in constant danger of losing their own reality, as very soon happened when interpretation reached such proportions that the real vanished.

If the text of the Biblical narrative, then, is so greatly in need of interpretation on the basis of its own content, its claim to absolute authority forces it still further in the same direction. Far from seeking, like Homer, merely to make us forget our own reality for a few hours, it seeks to overcome our reality: we are to fit our own life into its world, feel ourselves to be elements in its structure of universal history.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:07 AM


Obama Blunders Through Asia: Undoing Bush's years of deft diplomacy. (Ross Terrill, 11/30/2009, Weekly Standard)

Much dire rhetoric has been unleashed in liberal quarters about the damage done by George W. Bush's foreign policy. The alleged damage, however, is not evident in Asia. When Ken Lieberthal, a respected China specialist and Democratic loyalist, spoke at Harvard early this year, I asked him to name a single year in memory when Washington had as good relations with India, Japan, and China as under Bush. He changed the subject.

The White House stated as Obama left Asia for home last week: "Overall, American leadership was absent from this region for the last several years.'' Nonsense. Bush left office with U.S. relations with Asia's big four--China, India, Japan, and Indonesia--taken together, better than ever in history.

Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh many times remarked that President Bush was popular in India, and so was the United States. U.S.-Japan relations were excellent under Bush, in partnership with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and two successors. Nor were U.S. relations with Australia ever as good as in the years when Bush presided in Washington and John Howard in Canberra. In Southeast Asia after 9/11 the U.S. position improved sharply with Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Thailand. And Bush drew Vietnam and, after 2007, South Korea, under its new president Lee Myung Bak, closer to the United States.

As for China, in his second Inaugural Address and his oration at Kyoto en route to Beijing in 2005, Bush treated the Chinese with respect but also as laggards in world-historical terms. "Free nations are peaceful nations," he said in Japan. "Free nations do not threaten their neighbors, and free nations offer their citizens a hopeful vision for the future."

Speaking hours before he was to reach Beijing, Bush was more explicit, yet still positive: "We encourage China to continue down the road of reform and openness, because the freer China is at home, the greater the welcome it will receive abroad.     As China reforms its economy, its leaders are finding that once the door to freedom is opened even a crack, it cannot be closed."

The irony is large. "Cowboy" Bush pulled off the feat of speaking boldly to Beijing about American values while also achieving a productive relationship with China. He secured solid support from Japan over Iraq, Afghanistan, and other issues without bowing down before the emperor.

Barack Obama was so ill-prepared for the presidency he was only ever likely to compare favorably to other s who were promoted over their heads--Harding, Truman, JFK, LBJ, Ford---but he is particularly unfortunate to follow Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, two of the more successful presidents in our history.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:50 AM


The Architect as Totalitarian: Le Corbusier’s baleful influence (Theodore Dalrymple, Autumn 2009, City Journal)

Le Corbusier was to architecture what Pol Pot was to social reform. In one sense, he had less excuse for his activities than Pol Pot: for unlike the Cambodian, he possessed great talent, even genius. Unfortunately, he turned his gifts to destructive ends, and it is no coincidence that he willingly served both Stalin and Vichy. Like Pol Pot, he wanted to start from Year Zero: before me, nothing; after me, everything. By their very presence, the raw-concrete-clad rectangular towers that obsessed him canceled out centuries of architecture. Hardly any town or city in Britain (to take just one nation) has not had its composition wrecked by architects and planners inspired by his ideas.

Writings about Le Corbusier often begin with an encomium to his importance, something like: “He was the most important architect of the twentieth century.” Friend and foe would agree with this judgment, but importance is, of course, morally and aesthetically ambiguous. After all, Lenin was one of the most important politicians of the twentieth century, but it was his influence on history, not his merits, that made him so: likewise Le Corbusier.

Yet just as Lenin was revered long after his monstrosity should have been obvious to all, so Le Corbusier continues to be revered. Indeed, there is something of a revival in the adulation. Nicholas Fox Weber has just published an exhaustive and generally laudatory biography, and Phaidon has put out a huge, expensive book lovingly devoted to Le Corbusier’s work. Further, a hagiographic exhibition devoted to Le Corbusier recently ran in London and Rotterdam. In London, the exhibition fittingly took place in a hideous complex of buildings, built in the 1960s, called the Barbican, whose concrete brutalism seems designed to overawe, humiliate, and confuse any human being unfortunate enough to try to find his way in it. The Barbican was not designed by Le Corbusier, but it was surely inspired by his particular style of soulless architecture.

At the exhibition, I fell to talking with two elegantly coiffed ladies of the kind who spend their afternoons in exhibitions. “Marvelous, don’t you think?” one said to me, to which I replied: “Monstrous.” Both opened their eyes wide, as if I had denied Allah’s existence in Mecca. If most architects revered Le Corbusier, who were we laymen, the mere human backdrop to his buildings, who know nothing of the problems of building construction, to criticize him? Warming to my theme, I spoke of the horrors of Le Corbusier’s favorite material, reinforced concrete, which does not age gracefully but instead crumbles, stains, and decays. A single one of his buildings, or one inspired by him, could ruin the harmony of an entire townscape, I insisted. A Corbusian building is incompatible with anything except itself.

The two ladies mentioned that they lived in a mainly eighteenth-century part of the city whose appearance and social atmosphere had been comprehensively wrecked by two massive concrete towers. The towers confronted them daily with their own impotence to do anything about the situation, making them sad as well as angry. “And who do you suppose was the inspiration for the towers?” I asked. “Yes, I see what you mean,” one of them said, as if the connection were a difficult and even dangerous one to make. [...]

The most sincere, because unconscious, tribute to Le Corbusier comes from the scrawlers of graffiti. If you approach the results of their activities epidemiologically, so to speak, you will soon notice that, where good architecture is within reach of Corbusian architecture, they tend to deface only the Corbusian surfaces and buildings. As if by instinct, these uneducated slum denizens have accurately apprehended what so many architects have expended a huge intellectual effort to avoid apprehending: that Le Corbusier was the enemy of mankind.

Le Corbusier does not belong so much to the history of architecture as to that of totalitarianism, to the spiritual, intellectual, and moral deformity of the interbellum years in Europe.

It's not architecture, just construction.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:43 AM


A Dangerous Paradigm Shift Among Western Intellectuals (D.J. McGuire, 11/21/09, Epoch Times)

True, the obsequiousness of the president is deeply disturbing, but that’s not just for anti-Communists. America’s allies are starting to notice the trend in other areas, too, and are not happy. Moreover, while “engagement” has become a standard lunacy among American presidents over the last two decades, the Obama version is so bad that even “engagement” luminaries such as the Financial Times (also UK) are telling the president that he “need not—and must not—kowtow.”

In fact, the FT even goes so far as to detonate the myth of the CCP’s power as American creditor: “Contrary to common perception, China’s huge holdings of U.S. treasuries are not a sign of great strength. They are evidence of how dependent Chinese growth has been on the U.S. consumer.” I take a somewhat different angle in my view on the subject, but any comments that steer clear of unnecessary pessimism is welcome at this point.

Indeed, the recent election results in New Jersey hint at a second, and still underemphasized, reason for optimism: India. Even the FT took note of India’s role as “a potential regional counterweight to China.” Now, I’ve been talking about the geopolitical importance of India for years, but if what Michael Barone says in the Washington Examiner is any indication, Indian-Americans may be shifting to the Republicans. This will give the GOP more reason to emphasize India’s role in the world.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:32 AM


Afghan tribes to the rescue? (David Ignatius, November 22, 2009, Washington Post)

The paper by Maj. Jim Gant, "One Tribe at a Time," has been spinning around the Internet for a month. It contends that in an Afghanistan that has never had a strong central government, "nothing else will work" than a decentralized, bottom-up approach. "We must support the tribal system because it is the single, unchanging political, social and cultural reality in Afghan society," he insists.

Gant recounts his experience leading a Special Forces "A-team" in Konar province in 2003. His soldiers briefly became part of the Pashtun tribal family, fighting alongside a local leader whose followers straddled the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. It's a passionate story that evokes an Afghan warrior culture that has enticed foreign adventurers for 150 years.

But will this tribal strategy work? The United States thought so in 2003 and 2004, when Gant and many others were sent out with small teams to chase al-Qaeda and Taliban insurgents. Back then, I'm told, the Special Forces teams had more than 5,000 tribal fighters under arms.

But U.S. officials began to worry that by arming the tribes, they were encouraging Afghanistan's old curse of warlordism. So after Hamid Karzai's election as president in 2004, they focused instead on developing Afghanistan's national army and police. They persuaded the Tajik tribal militia known as the Northern Alliance, a key ally against al-Qaeda, to lay down its weapons.

Unfortunately, this top-down strategy left the tribes vulnerable to the Taliban, which was rebuilding its networks. As the Taliban's influence spread, U.S. strategists looked again to the tribes as a counterinsurgency force. They were encouraged by the example of Iraq, where the Sunni tribal movement had stopped al-Qaeda's advance.

Render the fictional states of Afghanistan and Pakistan into their constituent nations and stop pretending.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:26 AM


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

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

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

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

No, researchers say.

Death rates are not perfect — no measure is. But they are considered the purest measure. That is one reason groups like the American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute use death rates rather than something else, like the number of people living with cancer, to assess progress in fighting the disease.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:20 AM


A budget-buster in the making (David S. Broder, November 22, 2009, Washington Post)

[L]ess than one-fifth of the voters -- 19 percent of the sample -- think he will keep his word. Nine of 10 Republicans and eight of 10 independents said that whatever passes will add to the torrent of red ink. By a margin of four to three, even Democrats agreed this is likely.

That fear contributed directly to the fact that, by a 16-point margin, the majority in this poll said they oppose the legislation moving through Congress.

I have been writing for months that the acid test for this effort lies less in the publicized fight over the public option or the issue of abortion coverage than in the plausibility of its claim to be fiscally responsible.

This is obviously turning out to be the case. While the CBO said that both the House-passed bill and the one Reid has drafted meet Obama's test by being budget-neutral, every expert I have talked to says that the public has it right. These bills, as they stand, are budget-busters.

No wonder Harry Reid is so mad at him.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:31 AM


Into the West: a review of A COUNTRY OF VAST DESIGNS: James K. Polk, the Mexican War, and the Conquest of the American Continent By Robert W. Merry (Sean Wilentz, NY Times Book Review)

His triumphant record once led historians to call Polk’s presidency an impressive success. In the post-Vietnam era, however, he has come under heavy fire for his greatest feat — winning the war with Mexico and acquiring the territory that now comprises the states of California, Nevada and Utah, as well as parts of New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Wyoming. Sometimes reviving the old arguments of Polk’s political foes, contemporary historians describe the war as a shameful act of imperialist plunder, ginned up by the president himself, with the not-so-hidden intention of spreading slavery into new lands. Inside the academy, Polk is not a nobody; he is a cunning champion of slaveholding Manifest Destiny.

Robert W. Merry’s book is a refreshing challenge to the new conventional wisdom. Polk, in Merry’s view, certainly was an ambitious expansionist, but in this he merely reflected the electorate’s passionate desire to push the country ever westward. Enlarging and then consolidating the United States as a transcontinental nation would, by the lights of Polk and his supporters, greatly enhance the wealth, power and legitimacy of what was still, in 1845, the lone democratic republic in a world ruled by monarchs, despots and aristocrats.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:09 AM


Will Gov. John Hoeven run against Sen. Byron Dorgan? (Associated Press, 11/02/09)

North Dakota Republican state legislators and officials have had no better luck than anyone else in prodding Gov. John Hoeven for hints about whether he'll run against Democratic Sen. Byron Dorgan next year.

Four GOP lawmakers who raised the subject in a meeting with Hoeven in his Capitol office last week said the governor gave them no hints about his plans, although one participant said he believes Hoeven will make the race.

"I think he feels a responsibility to do it," said Rep. Craig Headland, R-Montpelier. "Maybe I'm a little optimistic in my thinking, but I do believe he's giving it serious consideration." [...]

Republican activists say Hoeven may be following the playbook of South Dakota Republican Sen. John Thune, who delayed announcing his successful 2004 campaign against incumbent Democrat Thomas Daschle, the Senate's Democratic leader, until January 2004.

North Dakota GOP activists say a Hoeven-Dorgan fight could rival the Thune-Daschle campaign in spending and national attention.

And result.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:04 AM


In the trenches on climate change, hostility among foes: Stolen e-mails reveal venomous feelings toward skeptics (Juliet Eilperin, 11/22/09, Washington Post)

In one e-mail, the center's director, Phil Jones, writes Pennsylvania State University's Michael E. Mann and questions whether the work of academics that question the link between human activities and global warming deserve to make it into the prestigious IPCC report, which represents the global consensus view on climate science.

"I can't see either of these papers being in the next IPCC report," Jones writes. "Kevin and I will keep them out somehow -- even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is!"

In another, Jones and Mann discuss how they can pressure an academic journal not to accept the work of climate skeptics with whom they disagree. "Perhaps we should encourage our colleagues in the climate research community to no longer submit to, or cite papers in, this journal," Mann writes.

"I will be emailing the journal to tell them I'm having nothing more to do with it until they rid themselves of this troublesome editor," Jones replies.

Patrick Michaels, a senior fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute who comes under fire in the e-mails, said these same academics repeatedly criticized him for not having published more peer-reviewed papers.

"There's an egregious problem here, their intimidation of journal editors," he said. "They're saying, 'If you print anything by this group, we won't send you any papers.' "

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:00 AM


Report: Patrick Kennedy barred from communion by bishop (Associated Press, November 22, 2009)

Rep. Patrick Kennedy says Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas Tobin has barred him from receiving communion because of his support of abortion rights.

The Providence Journal reports on its Web site Sunday that Kennedy said in an interview that Tobin issued the order during discussions with the Democratic lawmaker, further escalating a simmering ideological dispute between the two men.

He's pro-choice, so choose: God or Moloch?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:54 AM


'Useless stay-at-home men' a female myth: Working women who claim partners don't pull their weight do so to feel more feminine and in charge in the home (Amelia Hill, 11/22/09, The Observer)

[R]esearch to be published this week reveals that men are being unfairly accused and working women are advancing the myth of the "useless man" so they can feel more feminine. "Working women who provide the majority of the household's income to the family continue to articulate themselves as the ones who 'see' household messes and needs as a way to retain claims to an element of a traditional feminine identity," said Dr Rebecca Meisenbach, whose research paper, The Female Breadwinner, will be published this week in the journal Sex Roles.

But Meisenbach said the trend of the female high achiever and the male slacker is a tall story that women tell each other to compensate for the fact that most career-orientated women feel an "overwhelming sense of guilt" over their role and less of a mother and a wife.

"These women are struggling with the intersections of their status as the breadwinner and other gendered societal expectations," she said. "By highlighting stories of how men have to be told or asked to do specific chores in the home, these female breadwinners are making sure they still fit gender boundaries of a wife as someone who manages the home and children.

"By directing the housework done by their husbands, they maintain a sense of control over the traditionally feminine sphere of the home," she added. "This path of expressing control of and responsibility for both home and paid work may be essential for working mothers to manage competing discourses of ideal worker and intensive mothering."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:50 AM


REVIEW: of THE LEXICOGRAPHER’S DILEMMA: The Evolution of “Proper’’ English, from Shakespeare to South Park By Jack Lynch (Barbara Fisher, November 22, 2009, Boston Globe)

The English language changes. People complain about the changes, but the complaints have very little effect. [...]

Lynch recognizes that grace, clarity, and precision of expression are paramount. His many well-chosen and entertaining examples support his conclusion that prescriptions and pedantry will always give way to change, and that we should stop fretting, relax, and embrace it.

Appropriate for a book on language to use the term evolution properly.

November 21, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:52 PM


Where conservatives have it wrong (Jeff Jacoby, November 22, 2009, Boston Globe)

A couple from Brazil, seeking a better life for themselves and their 2-month-old daughter, enter the United States unlawfully. They settle in Massachusetts, where 18 years later the girl graduates from a public high school, as assimilated and acculturated an American as her classmates in every respect - except that they are US citizens, and she, by virtue of a decision made when she was a baby, is not. Her classmates can attend the University of Massachusetts, paying $9,704 a year in tuition, the price tag for Massachusetts residents. She can attend only if she pays the out-of-state rate of $22,157; if that’s more than she can afford, she’s out of luck.

How is that a rational public policy? How is Massachusetts improved by making it impossible for an accomplished high-school graduate, a lifelong resident of the state, to gain a university degree? Who benefits when her education - along with the higher earning potential it would lead to - is cut short? She doesn’t. You don’t. Massachusetts taxpayers certainly don’t.

Those taxpayers, remember, include illegal immigrants. More than two-thirds of illegal immigrants pay Social Security and income taxes. Between 1996 and 2003, payments from tax filers using Individual Taxpayer Identification numbers - a nine-digit substitute issued by the IRS for taxpayers ineligible for Social Security - totaled $50 billion. More than 35,000 such taxpayers, most of them illegal immigrants, annually file returns in Massachusetts.

If Republicans really believe, as Baker says, that “it doesn’t make any sense’’ to allow illegal immigrants to enjoy the same benefits as other state residents, why stop with in-state tuition? Why not bar them from driving on state highways? From camping in state parks? From using libraries?

Of course illegal immigration is a problem. But it can only be solved by overhauling our dysfunctional immigration laws, not by demonizing or scapegoating illegal immigrants. Those immigrants didn’t come here in order to be lawbreakers; they broke a law in order to come here. That’s a distinction with a crucial difference - one that sensible and principled conservatives should be able to understand.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:48 PM


A game of two halves: cheating and whining (Dominic Lawson , 11/22/09, Times of London)

I am grateful to all the many football pundits and even politicians who have declared that France’s qualification for the World Cup finals after a disputed goal “casts doubt on the integrity of the beautiful game”. In these recessionary times we need all the laughter we can get; and what could be more comical than this concerted pretence that professional football has for years been anything other than an inordinately well funded assembly of inveterate whingers and cheats?

...they could play three periods or four quarters.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:17 PM


Hacked Emails Show Climate Science Ridden with Rancor (KEITH JOHNSON , 11/21/09, WSJ)

The picture that emerges of prominent climate-change scientists from the more than 3,000 documents and emails accessed by hackers and put on the Internet this week is one of professional backbiting and questionable scientific practices. [...]

A partial review of the emails shows that in many cases, climate scientists revealed that their own research wasn't always conclusive. In others, they discussed ways to paper over differences among themselves in order to present a "unified" view on climate change. On at least one occasion, climate scientists were asked to "beef up" conclusions about climate change and extreme weather events because environmental officials in one country were planning a "big public splash." [...]

Fellow scientists who disagreed with orthodox views on climate change were variously referred to as "prats" and "utter prats." In other exchanges, one climate researcher said he was "very tempted" to "beat the crap out of" a prominent, skeptical U.S. climate scientist.

In several of the emails, climate researchers discussed how to arrange for favorable reviewers for papers they planned to publish in scientific journals. At the same time, climate researchers at times appeared to pressure scientific journals not to publish research by other scientists whose findings they disagreed with.

One email from 1999, titled "CENSORED!!!!!" showed one U.S.-based scientist uncomfortable with such tactics. "As for thinking that it is 'Better that nothing appear, than something unacceptable to us' … as though we are the gatekeepers of all that is acceptable in the world of paleoclimatology seems amazingly arrogant. Science moves forward whether we agree with individual articles or not," the email said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:05 PM


Where’s the poetry, Mr. President?: Obama’s oratorical magic is oddly missing. (Neil Swidey, November 22, 2009, Boston Globe Magazine)

[R]ecite an unforgettable line from an Obama speech since he became president. A lot tougher, isn’t it?

Barack Obama is among the most talented public speakers and most gifted writers ever to have occupied the Oval Office. Yet by my count he has delivered exactly one speech worthy of his talents since taking office. What in the name of Lincoln is going on here?

The reality is that the only speeches he's given that weren't immediately forgotten were the ones where he's had to clarify what he meant several times, like that awful race speech after the Reverend Wright debacle.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:41 PM


Barack Obama: the politics of hypocrisy and cynicism: It was supposed to be all about the end of politics as usual. But while President Barack Obama has been happy to bring about change while abroad by doing all he can to diminish the superpower status of the United States, at home it's been the same old (Toby Harnden, 11/21/09, Daily Telegraph)

Bowing to the wishes of Hillary Clinton, who blocked him from his preferred field of foreign policy, Craig was made White House Counsel.

He was charged with closing Guantanamo Bay, overhauling interrogation rules and translating Obama's high-minded campaign ideals into workable policy.

Having issued a directive on his second full day in office that Guantanamo Bay would close "no later than one year from the date of this order", Obama soon came up against reality. Last week, he lamely conceded that he would miss his own deadline but "would anticipate" the jail shutting in 2010.

Faithfully implementing Obama's wishes, Craig drew up plans for the release of photos of American troops engaging in the abuse of prisoners.

Faced with fierce opposition from generals and former CIA chiefs the President then changed his mind.

Before you could whisper "change we can believe in", Craig became the designated scapegoat for Obama's photos U-turn and the Guantanamo debacle. The campaign had been free of leaks but Craig was knifed by Team Obama in time-honoured Washington. He was toast, confided anonymous officials who portrayed him as an incompetent in the thrall of bed-wetting human rights types.

On the record, officials flatly denied Craig might be fired and airily dismissed reports of the authorised leaks as "typical Washington parlour games". A bemused Craig wondered who his enemy might be, realising too late that it was Rahm Emanuel, the chief of staff, operating with Obama's blessing.

White House officials were demonstrably lying to reporters when they said Craig was not under threat. With breathtaking chutzpah, they briefed last week that his departure had been on the cards "for months".

In the Clinton era it was OK to lie about sex. Under Obama, it seems, it's just fine to lie about running the country. [...]

One of this White House's flaws is that it is packed with campaign operatives like Axelrod at senior levels or other refugees from the Windy City like Emanuel, who delight in the dark arts of Washington and Chicago-style hardball.

W staffed his Cabinet and White House with governors and CEOs because he was primarily interested in running the country effectively. The UR chose ciphers and political operatives because he is exclusively interested in re-election. Of course, the problem is that when no one on your team understands governing you may do it so poorly as to make yourself unre-electable.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:33 PM


Birth of New Species Witnessed by Scientists (Brandon Keim, November 16, 2009, Wired)

This miniature evolutionary saga is described in a paper published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It’s authored by Peter and Rosemary Grant, a husband-and-wife team who have spent much of the last 36 years studying a group of bird species known collectively as Darwin’s finches.

The finches — or, technically, tanagers — have adapted to the conditions of each island in the Galapagos, and they provided Darwin with a clear snapshot of evolutionary divergence when he sailed there on the HMS Beagle. The Grants have pushed that work further, with decades of painstaking observations providing a real-time record of evolution in action. In the PNAS paper, they describe something Darwin could only have dreamed of watching: the birth of a new species.

The species’ forefather was a medium ground finch, or Geospiza fortis, who flew from a neighboring island to the Grants’ island of Daphne Major, and into their nets, in 1981. He “was unusually large, especially in beak width, sang an unusual song” and had a few gene variants that could be traced to another finch species, they wrote. This exotic stranger soon found a mate, who also happened to have a few hybrid genes. The happy couple had five sons.

In the tradition of finches, for whom songs are passed from father to son and used to serenade potential mates, the sons learned their immigrant father’s tunes. But their father’s vocalizations were strange: he’d tried to mimick the natives, but accidentally introduced new notes and inflections, like a person who learns a song in a language he doesn’t understand.

These tunes set the sons apart, as did their unusual size. Though they found mates, it may only have taken a couple generations for the new lineage to ignore — or be ignored by — local finches, and breed only with each other. The Grants couldn’t tell for certain when this started, but they were certain after four generations, when a drought struck the island, killing all but a single brother and sister. They mated with each other, and their children did the same.

No exact rule exists for deciding when a group of animals constitutes a separate species. That question “is rarely if ever asked,” as speciation isn’t something that scientists have been fortunate enough to watch at the precise moment of divergence, except in bacteria and other simple creatures. But after at least three generations of reproductive isolation, the Grants felt comfortable in designating the new lineage as an incipient species.

The future of the species is far from certain. It’s possible that they’ll be out-competed by other finches on the island. Their initial gene pool may contain flaws that will be magnified with time. A chance disaster could wipe them out. The birds might even return to the fold of their parent species, and merge with them through interbreeding.

Of course, the ease with which they interbreed with other finches means they aren't a separate species by any common understanding. Not for nothing do even fellow Darwinists joke that only God and the Grants can tell his finches apart from each other.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:57 AM


Let’s give children the ‘store of human knowledge’: In flattering kids as ‘digital natives’ for whom the past is irrelevant, we degrade a vital adult mission: transmitting knowledge. (Frank Furedi, 11/18/09, spiked)

Although education is celebrated as one of the most important institutions of society, there is a casual disrespect for the content of what children are taught. Curriculum engineers often display indifference, if not contempt, for abstract thought and the knowledge developed in the past. Both are criticised for being irrelevant or outdated; only new information that can be applied and acted on is seen as suitable for the training – and it is training and not teaching – of digital natives.

In policy deliberations about education, the acquisition of subject-based knowledge is often dismissed as old-fashioned. Typically, an emphasis on the intellectual content of classroom subjects is labelled an outdated form of scholasticism that has little significance in our era. Policymakers often represent change as an omnipotent force that renders prevailing forms of knowledge and schooling redundant. In such circumstances, education must transform itself to keep up with the times. From this perspective, educational policies can be justified only if they can adapt to change.

Since they are likely to be overtaken by events, classroom innovations by definition have a short-term and provisional status. The instability that afflicts the education system is turned into the normal state of an institution that needs to be responsive to the uncertain flow of events. Although fads come and go, the constant feature of today’s throwaway pedagogy is a deep-seated hostility to teaching academic subjects to young people, especially to those who come from disadvantaged socioeconomic groups. So-called modernisers regard the subject-based curriculum as far too rigid for a school system that must adapt to a constantly changing world. The dramatisation of change in Anglo-American education-speak renders the past irrelevant. If indeed we continually move from one new age to another, then the practices of the past have little relevance for today.

Sadly, the ceaseless repetition of the idea that the past is irrelevant desensitises people from understanding the influence of the legacy of human development on their lives. The constant talk of ceaseless change tends to naturalise it and turn it into an omnipotent autonomous force that subjects human beings to its will. This is a force that annihilates the past and demands that people learn to adapt and readapt to new experiences. From this standpoint, humans do not so much determine their future as adapt to forces beyond their control.

In the worldview of the educational establishment change has acquired a sacred character that determines what is taught.

Indeed, everything our schools do other than teach the rudiments of our culture and prepare students for citizenship is a waste.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:42 AM


Rating Change: Iowa GOP Gets Serious About Boswell Challenge (Greg Giroux, 11/21/09, CQ-Roll Call)

After passing on a vigorous campaign against Rep. Leonard L. Boswell in 2008, Republicans in Iowa are signaling that they are more serious about challenging the seven-term congressman next year.

The 2010 campaigns of Republicans Brad Zaun, a state senator and former suburban mayor, and Jim Gibbons , a financial adviser who previously coached the wrestling team at Iowa State University, have prompted CQ Politics to change the rating of the race in Iowa’s 3rd district from Safe Democratic to the more competitive classification of Democrat Favored.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:14 AM


The Runaway Senate: When Democrats can't even agree to debate the health care bill, the president is no longer in charge of his party. (Matt Miller, 11/21/09, Daily Beast)

[T]his entire debacle was really a test of whether Barack Obama can throw a punch. And on that, the verdict is still out. Fresh from the president’s humility tour with our Chinese bankers, it’s a fair question. Everyone knows Obama is intelligent, visionary and articulate. But no one fears him. The shocking “maybe I will, maybe I won’t” behavior of Nelson, Lincoln and Landrieu this week underscores this perception that bucking the president has no consequences.

If Barrack Obama were 100% white he'd be Dan Quayle.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:11 AM


The GOP's New Hope? (Reihan Salam, 11/21/09, Daily Beast)

The hope among conservatives is that Chris Christie and Bob McDonnell, the newly elected governors of New Jersey and Virginia, are a harbinger of major Republican victories in gubernatorial races next year. Both candidates won in states that President Obama won in 2009, suggesting that at least some independent voters have soured on the expansive and expensive Democratic agenda. Next year, the RGA is paying particular attention to races in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida, all Obama states that have been hit particularly hard by rising unemployment. It's easy to see how a governor with a proven track record and a focus on bread-and-butter issues could do well. There are at least four sitting Republican governors who are considered potential presidential contenders. But only Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota is doing the hard work of gathering his forces, hiring consultants, and raising his national profile.

On paper, Tim Pawlenty's appeal is clear. As the two-term governor of Minnesota, he has a demonstrated ability to win the votes of Democrats and independents. To defeat Barack Obama, Republicans will have to break out of their demographic box, and that means winning races in the Upper Midwest and other regions that have proven inhospitable terrain for at least the last decade. As the first member of his working-class family to graduate from college, Pawlenty has a compelling personal story. Pawlenty also has a reputation as a likable and even gentle campaigner, who isn't inclined to use scorched-earth tactics against his opponents, a break with the anger to tea-party activists who've energized the conservative base but who might also turn off swing voters who like their leader even-tempered.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:08 AM


Obama Calls for More U.S. Exports to Asia (JUDITH BURNS, 11/21/09, WSJ)

U.S. President Barack Obama, fresh from his first presidential trip to Asia, called for the U.S. to increase exports to that region, saying even small gains would help put many unemployed Americans back on the job.

"As we emerge from the worst recession in generations, there is nothing more important than to do everything we can to get our economy moving again and put Americans back to work, and I will go anywhere to pursue that goal," Mr. Obama said in his weekly radio address to the nation.

Go to the Hill.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:04 AM


The Henry Ford of Heart Surgery: In India, a Factory Model for Hospitals Is Cutting Costs and Yielding Profits (GEETA ANAND, 11/21/09, WSJ)

Dr. Shetty, who entered the limelight in the early 1990s as Mother Teresa's cardiac surgeon, offers cutting-edge medical care in India at a fraction of what it costs elsewhere in the world. His flagship heart hospital charges $2,000, on average, for open-heart surgery, compared with hospitals in the U.S. that are paid between $20,000 and $100,000, depending on the complexity of the surgery.

The approach has transformed health care in India through a simple premise that works in other industries: economies of scale. By driving huge volumes, even of procedures as sophisticated, delicate and dangerous as heart surgery, Dr. Shetty has managed to drive down the cost of health care in his nation of one billion.

His model offers insights for countries worldwide that are struggling with soaring medical costs, including the U.S. as it debates major health-care overhaul.

"Japanese companies reinvented the process of making cars. That's what we're doing in health care," Dr. Shetty says. "What health care needs is process innovation, not product innovation."

Modern medicine, as we've seen in the cancer scan hysteria, has a mystique around it that it completely unjustified by the results it achieves. Hygiene, sanitation, nutrition, vaccination and periodic hackwork are all that's required.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:05 AM


Where has the world headed after 1989? (Ian Buruma, 21 November 2009, Times of India)

Twenty years ago, when the Berlin Wall was breached and the Soviet empire was collapsing , only die-hard believers in a communist utopia felt unhappy. [...]

Democratic idealism was once the domain of the left, including social democrats and liberals. But, in the late twentieth century, it became more important to many leftists to save "Third World" culture, no matter how barbaric, from "neocolonialism ," than to support equality and democracy. People on the left would defend brutal dictators (Castro, Mao, Pol Pot, Khomeini, et al) simply because they opposed "Western imperialism."

As a result, all politics that were derived, no matter how loosely, from Marxism, lost credibility, and finally died in 1989. This was naturally a disaster for communists and socialists , but also for social democrats, for they had lost an ideological basis for their idealism. And, without idealism, politics becomes a form of accounting, a management of purely material interests.

This explains why Italians, and later Thais, chose business tycoons to lead their countries. They hoped that men who managed to accumulate so much personal wealth could do the same for their voters.

Yet the rhetoric of idealism has not quite disappeared. It merely shifted from left to right. Once the left abandoned the language of internationalism - democratic revolution, national liberation, and so forth - it was taken up by neoconservatives . Their promotion of American military force as the strong arm of democracy may have been misguided, crude, arrogant, ignorant, naïve , and deeply dangerous, but it was indisputably idealistic .

The allure of revolutionary élan has drawn some former leftists to the neo-conservative side. But most liberals were deeply alarmed by the neo-cons , without being able to find a coherent answer .

Having lost their own zest for internationalism, a common response among liberals to neo-con radicalism has been a call for "realism," non-interference in others' affairs, and withdrawal from the world. This may be the wiser course in many cases, but it is hardly inspiring.

Coincidentally, I just found and read a copy of Jedediah Purdy's infamous polemic against irony, For Common Things, not coincidentally published shortly after the End of History. Early on, he says the following, in trying to define irony and describe what's wrong with it:
It is a fear of betrayal, disappointment, and humiliation, and a suspicion that believing, hoping, or caring too much will open us to these. [...]

In roughly the past twenty-five years, politics has gone dead to the imagination. It has ceased being the site of moral and historical drama. It has come to seem petty, tedious, and parochial.

This change would signify less if politics had mattered less than it has in recent decades. However, for more than two hundred years, politics has been among the great sources of inspiration and purpose, giving shape to many lives. From the radical period of the French Revolution onward there has stood the promise that politics can change the human predicament in elemental ways. Politics, on this promise, could erase all the foolish, cruel, maddening accretions of history and replace them with fair and humane arrangements where for the first time people would live as free as they are born. For both the revolutionaries whose ambitions convulsed the world and the crusading reformers of Britain and America, politics was the fulcrum on which women and men could move the lever of history. They needed only a firm place to stand to take up Archimedes' old boast and move the world.

This extraordinary promise attracted the people with the greatest capacity and need for hope, the ones with the keenest sensitivity to suffering and cruelty and the strongest impulse to work against them. Politics was the means by which those who were most keenly aware of what should be could turn that moral truth into historical reality. Politics in effect took over the role of religion for many people in both this century and the last. It gave purpose to individual lives. Its aim of remaking the world carried the promise of redemption, both of whole societies and of the long labors of the individuals who worked to change them. Politics was the way to service, to heroism, and to sainthood.

There's something spine-chilling about a guy who laments the end of the mass-murderous period of ideology that the French Revolution ushered in and complains that liberal democracy has triumphed, ending the "drama." Sure, America is generally pretty boring. But our dramatic periods have come when we've been forced to crush chattel slavery, Imperialism, Nazism, Communism, Islamicism, all the isms that tried to replace religious morality with utopian politics.

We were fortunate to avoid most of the damage from these cancers of the Age of Reason here in the Anglosphere, precisely because our culture of irony immunized us to the delusions of the true believers:

[W]hat emerged was a re-articulation of a great American theology: the ironic strain of Protestant faith. In 1952, Reinhold Niebuhr described this part of American religious-political character in his book, The Irony of American History. Irony, as Niebuhr described, is not humor. Rather, it is an understanding that American history was full of unexpected twists, that the most innocent political intentions had often undermined virtue.

“If virtue becomes vice through some hidden defect in the virtue; if strength becomes weakness because of the vanity to which strength may prompt the mighty man or nation; if security is transmuted into insecurity because too much reliance is placed upon it; if wisdom becomes folly because it does not know its own limits - in all such cases, the situation is ironic.”

Irony runs deep in the Protestant soul, finding its original voice in St. Paul, who said, “We know that the law is spiritual, but I am flesh, sold into slavery under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”

    The Rebirth of Irony (Diana Butler Bass)

It was thanks to our distrust of merely human ideas and our recognition of human frailties that we didn't get sucked into the great Rationalist experiments upon mankind. (A people whose God so badly screwed up His own Eden are hardly likely to make the mistake of believing they can create paradise themselves.) Indeed, it was the uniquely ironic disposition towards Reason itself that saved us.

While it is easy enough to understand why "Progressives" should be so disappointed that political thought has made no significant progress in hundreds of years and that the stuff we have right derives from accepting non-rational truth, that's no reason to take their whingeing seriously.

Turns out, Judeo-Christian theology is progressive; progressivism is retardant. Move on...

N.B.: Note too that it is the inability of the Left to accept the irony inherent in Creation that makes all humor conservative.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:57 AM


'Carbon tax' is sensible, and perhaps inevitable, advocate says: Dieter Helm of Oxford says climate change policy should focus not on carbon production, but carbon consumption. A tax on carbon-heavy activities places the emphasis where it belongs, he says.(Henry Chu, November 21, 2009, LA Times)

Do you feel a carbon tax is politically possible in the U.S.?

First of all, every major developed country faces the question of raising more taxes. So the question isn't, in the United States, do you have a carbon tax or not? It's, given possible taxes you could increase, is this a sensible one? It almost certainly is.

Secondly, is everybody else doing it? That's a very good protection for politicians. The answer is yes, they are.

And finally, does it deal with the China question? Yes, if it's also a border tax. The objection to climate change policy is you'll just lose your industry and you'll give competitive edge to China and other countries. Well, the border tax solves that problem. And that's politically very important here in Europe and, I suspect, even more politically important in the U.S.

So my hunch is yes.

...lies in not making the alternatives to oil more economically viable. But consumption taxes in America will replace, not augment, income taxes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:57 AM


Soccer hooliganism reflection of despair (The Daily Star, November 21, 2009)

To evaluate the Algeria-Egypt brouhaha, we can go beyond sports and national identity. There’s the lack of a sound state system in the Arab world, namely the performance of individual political entities or their ability to function as a cohesive group. The Arab League’s secretary general has strongly urged calm, but such calls are commonplace. The point is, why is this happening and what can be done about it?

While we read about the Algeria-Egypt attacks and riots, we should remember that Egypt has seen hooliganism recently in its own national club league. This widening of the picture points toward the more general factor of the average person’s level of despair and disgust at the system in which he or she lives. There’s a bitterness with the lack of political participation in our Arab regimes, while the powers-that-be might feel that by trying to “divert” people’s attention from our massive problems through the spectacle of sports, they can somehow buy themselves some legitimacy. In our case, sports and cultural activities aren’t a substitute for political opportunity and healthy economies. We have to act, like other regions in the world have; in our case, we need to build states that are capable of defusing these kinds of tensions, instead of stoking them, by giving people more means to express themselves, so fewer will turn to excuses like soccer matches.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:50 AM


Assessing the China Trip (NY Times, 11/21/09)

We were especially disappointed that China made no discernible move to join with the United States and other major powers in threatening tougher sanctions if Iran fails to make progress on curbing its nuclear weapons program. [...]

It was also dispiriting that Mr. Obama agreed to allow China to limit his public appearances so markedly. Questions were not permitted at the so-called press conference with Mr. Hu, and his town hall meeting with future Chinese leaders in Shanghai not only had a Potemkin air, it was not even broadcast live in China. It’s obvious that the last thing Mr. Hu wanted was to get questions about issues like his brutal repression in Tibet and Xinjiang. That doesn’t explain Mr. Obama’s acquiescence in such restrictions.

Mr. Obama did not meet with Chinese liberals. In Shanghai, he spoke of the need for an uncensored Internet and universal rights for all people, including Chinese, and at the press conference he called for dialogue between Beijing and the Dalai Lama. He delayed a meeting with the Dalai Lama until after the China summit and should schedule it soon.

President Obama was elected in part because he promised a more cooperative and pragmatic leadership in world affairs. We support that. The measure of the success (or failure) of his approach won’t be known for months, and we hope it bears fruit. But the American president must always be willing to stand up to Beijing in defense of core American interests and values.

Did you hear what happened to the Realists who get what they theoretically wanted? It caused them moral revulsion in practice.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:43 AM


Nigel Lawson: Thatcher's Chancellor takes on the planet alone: As he challenges conventional wisdom on climate change, Kate Weinberg visits Lord Lawson at his French home (Kate Weinberg, 21 Nov 2009, Daily Telegraph)

To spend a day with Lord Lawson is to spend a day with someone who is used to being on his own. For the man who kept his distance from his colleagues in the Conservative Cabinet, who fell out publicly and bitterly with Margaret Thatcher over Europe, and who won at best the respect, but never the love, of the British people, it seems that being unpopular is both a fact of life and an article of faith.

"A popular Chancellor is not doing his job," he says. "Chancellors have to take tough decisions, and I frequently had to be prepared to say something that I knew would mean large numbers of people would vilify me and say the most appalling things. If you are confident enough to face a barrage of hostility you can make things happen."

On Monday, Lord Lawson will once again place himself squarely in the minority. Two weeks before the international climate change summit in Copenhagen, he is establishing a think-tank that will act as a check on sweeping environmental reform.

He is not, like George Bush, a "climate change denier" (although he believes that the science is far from certain). His point is less about the fact of climate change, than our response to it – he believes we should not "slow down economic growth" by spending billions in trying to prevent what might be happening, but rather wait until it happens and respond more economically then.

Which, of course, makes him indistinguishable from W on the question.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:39 AM


Cancer screening: What could it hurt? A lot, actually: Routine cancer testing saves lives, but it also leads to biopsies, surgeries, radiation, even deaths that otherwise would not have occurred. But experts' reevaluations are met with public angst. (Karen Kaplan, November 21, 2009, LA Times)

In 1984, Japan began screening the urine of 6-month-old infants for neuroblastoma, the most common type of solid tumor in young children. The test was simple and could show signs of cancer long before clinical symptoms arose.

Hundreds of infants went through the ordeal of diagnosis and treatment, but it didn't reduce the number of tumors, including deadly ones, found later. Almost none of the tumors caught by screening turned out to be dangerous -- and more of the screened children died from complications of surgery and chemotherapy than from the cancer itself.

In 2004, health officials ended the program.

The United States is grappling with the same type of problem today. After decades of focus on the upside of cancer screening, public health experts are increasingly reevaluating the wisdom of administering routine cancer screening tests to millions of asymptomatic people.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:26 AM


Children on atheist billboards 'are actually Evangelical Christians' (Matthew Moore, 21 Nov 2009, Daily Telegraph)

Two smiling child models featured on an atheist billboard are actually Evangelical Christians, it has been claimed.

The boy and girl can currently be seen next to the slogan "Don't Label Me" on adverts funded by the British Humanist Association (BHA) and endorsed by Prof Richard Dawkins, the scientist and prominent atheist.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:24 AM


Up front: Madeleine Peyroux (Gary Flockhart, 11/20/09, The Scotsman)

SULTRY songstress Madeleine Peyroux, it's fair to say, has a history of erratic behaviour.

When on the brink of international stardom following the release of her 1996 debut album, Dreamland, the French-American folk-jazz chanteuse did what no one – least of all her record company – expected her to do.

Rather than hanging around to do the usual rounds promoting the new album, Peyroux took herself off to Paris to busk for seven years. [...]

Her record company must have breathed a huge sigh of relief when Peyroux finally resurfaced, but she would soon take to her heels again, this time just weeks after an impressive performance on Top of the Pops had brought her to mainstream attention in the UK.

Her disappearance prompted her record company into hiring a private detective to hunt for her, but when Peyroux was eventually tracked down in New York City, her manager asked the record company to "go away and leave her alone."

She may still get itchy feet more often than her label would like, but the smoky-voiced singer has nevertheless managed three albums in fours years, the latest being Bare Bones, which is described both as an extension of 2004's Careless Love and 2006's Half the Perfect World and a bold step into previously unexplored psychological terrain.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:16 AM


Eddy Grant rolls back into Electric Avenue after a 20-year break Gary Flockhart, 11/20/09, The Scotsman)

"It all started last year when I performed at a Mandela Concert, Glastonbury and Womad," smiles the affable singer, who plays a solo show at Studio 24 to warm-up for his forthcoming UK tour with soft-reggae legends UB40.

"As a result (of those gigs], I decided that having sold all of these records all of these years and not having played to a significant number of the people who bought them, I should really go make their acquaintance.

"I've missed the fantastic times of being on the road with the band and stuff," he adds.

Now 61, and with four decades of musical experience, Guyana-born Grant, who first found fame in the late 60s with chart-topping group The Equals, says he has never thought about retiring.

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November 20, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:07 PM


Indian officials wary after perceived White House slights: Concerns arise days before Prime Minister Singh makes first state visit (John Pomfret, 11/21/09, Washington Post)

Indian officials note that in a speech on U.S. relations in Asia, Obama did not mention India. Although the speech, delivered in Tokyo, focused on the Asia-Pacific region and not South Asia, Indian officials and analysts said they were concerned that Obama did not recognize India's broader regional aspirations -- something that the Bush administration had encouraged.

Indian officials have also raised concerns that in a joint statement issued by the United States and China on Tuesday, Obama appeared to open the door for Beijing to act as a mediator of sorts in the long-term rivalry between India and Pakistan. China and the United States, the statement said, "are ready to strengthen communication, dialogue and cooperation on issues related to South Asia and work together to promote peace, stability and development in that region."

Since the early 1960s, when China and India fought a border war, China has maintained close ties with Pakistan and, according to a recent Washington Post report, is even said to have supplied Islamabad with a blueprint for a nuclear device and the raw materials to explode one.

Vishnu Prakash, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry in New Delhi, said in response to the joint statement that "a third-country role cannot be envisaged nor is it necessary" to solve the troubles between India and Pakistan. "Obama's China (credit) card casts shadow on PM's US visit," read a headline in the influential Times of India, referring to the $800 billion in U.S. Treasury securities held by China.

...or does he really favor the totalitarian dictatorship over the Anglospheric democracy?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:05 PM


The Vacuum Of American Leadership (MARK STEYN, 11/20/09, Investors Business Daily)

Along with his choreographic gaucherie goes his peculiar belief that all of human history is just a bit of colorful back story in the Barack Obama biopic — or as he put it in his video address on the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall: "Few would have foreseen on that day that a united Germany would be led by a woman from Brandenburg or that their American ally would be led by a man of African descent."

Tear down that wall . . . so they can get a better look at me!!!

Is there no-one in the White House grown-up enough to say, "Er, Mr. President, that's really the kind of line you get someone else to say about you"?

And maybe somebody could have pointed out that Nov. 9, 1989, isn't about him but about millions of nobodies whose names are unknown, who lead dreary lives doing unglamorous jobs and going home to drab accommodations, but who at a critical moment in history decided they were no longer going to live in a prison state.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:02 PM


Adding insult to infamy: 26 years after attack on Marine barracks in Beirut, families stymied again in bid for restitution (Bryan Bender, November 14, 2009 , Boston Globe)

On Veterans Day, Christine Devlin stood in the cold in Westwood for the unveiling of a new memorial to local soldiers lost overseas, including her son Michael, one of the 241 servicemen killed in the bombing of the US Marine barracks in Lebanon in 1983.

Devlin is among 30 Massachusetts relatives of victims of the Beirut attack who have been fighting for more than a decade to get compensation for what many consider the first major terrorist attack against the United States. After a federal judge ruled in 2007 that Iran was liable for $2.65 billion in damages to be shared by 150 families seeking restitution, they believed they were on the cusp of victory.

But now, the Obama administration is going to court to try to block payments from Iranian assets that the families’ lawyers want seized, contending that it would jeopardize sensitive negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program and establish a potentially damaging precedent.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:50 PM


'Europe has shown it wants to be a supersize Switzerland': The mood in Brussels is bleak as experts agree politicking has triumphed over ambition in the appointment of two new leaders (Ian Traynor, 11/21/09, The Guardian)

Europe's hopes of translating its economic power into global political clout have suffered a severe setback as a result of the timid choices on new leadership made this week, analysts, officials, and diplomats conceded on Friday. [...]

Thursday's EU summit in Brussels, at which leaders made the two appointments, had been preceded by weeks of argument and contest for the highly coveted posts. The ferocious manoeuvring meant there was no consensus, portending a lengthy and acrimonious summit.

But in the end, it appeared EU leaders did not have the stomach for the fight. The decisions were taken by consensus in record quick time by agreement on obscure figures, neither of whom have the standing or experience to threaten EU national leaders or the European commission chief, Jose Manuel Barroso.

The main criticism was the failure to aim high, instead settling for two leaders seen by many as decent, respectable mediocrities.

A dying continent can hardly afford bold leaders.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:15 PM


Keane savages 'mentally weak' Ireland players (Sam Wallace, 21 November 2009, Independent)

Roy Keane yesterday launched a savage attack on the Republic of Ireland players and the Irish football establishment for their complaints about Thierry Henry's handball and told them they were just sympathy-seeking, "mentally weak" hypocrites who should "get over it". [...]

Ahead of Ipswich's game against Sheffield Wednesday today Keane said that his former team-mates only had themselves to blame. "Ireland had chances at Croke Park and in Paris but didn't take them," he said. "France were there for the taking but Ireland never grabbed it – as usual.

"They were afraid of that next step and were mentally not strong enough. They can complain all they want. That is not going to change anything. France are going to the World Cup – get over it. They want sympathy as usual. It is the usual carry on and it is boring."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:43 PM


Climategate: Stunning Deception and Misconduct at UK Warming Research Center Revealed (Jason Mick, November 20, 2009, Daily Tech)

Some of the emails seem merely cruel, but do not indicate misconduct. For example CRU director Phil Jones cheers the death of leading climate skeptic John Daly stating, "In an odd way this is cheering news." In another email he fantasizes about physically assaulting a climate skeptic, stating, "Next time I see Pat Michaels at a scientific meeting, I’ll be tempted to beat the crap out of him. Very tempted."

Other emails are far more damning. Writes Phil Jones:

I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trick of adding in the real temps
to each series for the last 20 years (ie from 1981 onwards) amd from
1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline. Mike’s series got the annual
land and marine values while the other two got April-Sept for NH land
N of 20N. The latter two are real for 1999, while the estimate for 1999
for NH combined is +0.44C wrt 61-90. The Global estimate for 1999 with
data through Oct is +0.35C cf. 0.57 for 1998.

The email reads like a flat out confession of academic misconduct and deception. Obviously hiding data and doctoring values is the kind of thing that gets you expelled from graduate school, but here these seasoned researchers seemed to have engaged in such practices and gleefully got published.

The emails also contain passages concerning the center's attempts to hide the Medieval Warm Period (MWP). Writes a colleague of Mr. Jones:

……Phil and I have recently submitted a paper using about a dozen NH records that fit this category, and many of which are available nearly 2K back–I think that trying to adopt a timeframe of 2K, rather than the usual 1K, addresses a good earlier point that Peck made w/ regard to the memo, that it would be nice to try to “contain” the putative “MWP”, even if we don’t yet have a hemispheric mean reconstruction available that far back….

Still other emails reveal that the Phil Jones and others at the center engaged in campaigns of trying to silence skeptics, removing them from the journal peer-review process. Not all of the researchers at the center seemed to be onboard with the deceit, though. Some expressed doubts about the theory of anthropogenic (manmade) global warming and refused to support some of the center's actions, putting their own careers in jeopardy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:38 PM


EDITORIAL EXCLUSIVE: On terrorists, Justice recused (THE WASHINGTON TIMES, 11/20/09)

The Obama Justice Department is having problems prosecuting terrorist cases because top department attorneys have conflicts of interest. [...]

Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, made waves Nov. 18 when he demanded that Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. provide a list of all the suspected-terrorist detainee cases from which current Justice Department political appointees have had to recuse themselves. The extent of the conflicts at the department is still unclear. [...]

This is an important topic. Even if each official who did prior work on detainee cases has indeed properly recused himself from those cases while at the Justice Department, there could be such a large number of affected officials that the department's prevailing ethos could be tilted strongly in the detainees' favor. Mr. Grassley's inquiry is pressing because it could ferret out any instance in which a department official should have been recused but wasn't.

When the senator publicly requested information from Mr. Holder, the attorney general merely promised to "consider" the request. After some hemming and hawing and dodging, Mr. Holder eventually said he needed to make sure there was no "attorney-client privilege" involved before disclosing the list of recusals. This is absurd. Attorney-client privilege may extend to the substance of lawyers' discussions with detainees, but not to the mere question of whether the lawyers are doing such work.

So the UR's Justice Department is too closely tied to the enemy to try them?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:30 PM



1 12- to 14-pound turkey

2 large yellow onions, cut into wedges

1 ½ pounds sliced bacon

1/2 cup white wine

Salt and ground black pepper, to taste

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

¼ cup water

Heat oven to 325 F. Place the turkey on a roasting rack set in a large roasting pan. Fill the pan with the onions.

Carefully separate the turkey's skin from the flesh, trying to avoid breaking the skin. Work strips of bacon under the skin, running them along the tops of the breasts. Three to 4 slices should fit on each breast. Pat the skin back into place over the bacon.

Place several strips of bacon inside the cavity of the bird, unless you plan to stuff it. Wrap several strips of bacon around each leg, interlacing them to keep them in place. Lay strips across the top of the whole bird, weaving them, if desired.

Roast for 3-to 3-1/2 hours, or until the breast registers 160 F and the thickest part of the thigh reaches 170 F. Allow the turkey to rest in the pan for 10 minutes. Transfer the turkey to a serving platter and let it rest another 10 minutes.

Add the white wine to the roasting pan and place over medium heat on the stovetop. Heat, using a silicone spatula to scrape up any bits stuck to the bottom. Strain the mixture into a small saucepan. Season with salt and pepper.

In a small bowl, mix the flour and water.

Bring the drippings in the saucepan to a boil over medium-high. Slowly pour in half the flour mixture, whisking constantly. Return to a boil and simmer for 3 minutes. Adjust the thickness of the gravy with more of the flour mixture or water until you get the desired consistency. Be sure to simmer for several minutes after each addition of flour.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:44 PM


Egypt-Algeria in football spat (Aljazeera, 11/20/09)

Egypt has recalled its ambassador to Algeria after World Cup qualifying football matches between the two countries resulted in a number of outbreaks of violence.

Cairo called the ambassador back home on Thursday for "consultations" after earlier summoning the Algerian ambassador to express "extreme displeasure" at attacks on Egyptian fans.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:30 PM


CT Scans May Not Lower Lung Cancer Death Rate (HealthDay News, 3/06/07)

CT scans for lung cancer may increase the rate of diagnosis and treatment of the disease, but they may not help lower the numbers of patients with advanced lung malignancies or related deaths.

So concludes a new study in the March 7 Journal of the American Medical Association. [...]

[T]he prior studies looked at survival -- how long people lived after their lung cancer diagnosis -- whereas this trial compared the actual number of deaths.

"We believe, as do most experts in cancer prevention, that in order to assess properly a screening intervention, you have to measure the number of deaths from cancer in relation to all of the people who were screened," Begg said. "That is the mortality rate. And when we do that and benchmark it against the expected death rate in people of this age and smoking history, we find there's no difference."

"This is important, because it comes from an institution that's been promoting this stuff," Edelman said. "But they said that when they look at mortality, they can't show a positive effect."

The new results call into question the advisability of operating on these early cancers, if most of them are unlikely to progress rapidly. Surgery on its own can carry significant risks, Begg noted.

"Our study, although preliminary, provides no evidence whatsoever that screening is reducing mortality," he said.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:51 PM


Free books used as tools to fight evolution (Marjorie Kehe, 11.20.09, CS Monitor)

Hundreds of college students were surprised on Wednesday when they were handed free copies of Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species” as they walked across campus. But they were perhaps even more surprised when they opened the book and discovered that it contained a 50-page forward by a Christian minister who questions the validity of Darwin’s theories. [...]

The book, advertised as a new edition of the 150th anniversary of the 1859 publication of Darwin’s book, was put together by Ray Comfort, a Christian evangelical minister who espouses creationism and argues that Americans need to be made to understand that evolution is only a theory. The massive giveaway of Comfort’s edition of Darwin’s book is part of his “Origin into Schools” project. that Creationists think you should read what Darwin actually said but Darwinists are furious you might read the critiques.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:54 PM


Kenny Gamble Honors Veterans With 'I Am an American' (Dan Reilly, 11/10/09, Spinner)

Shocked to learn how many veterans end up homeless, Gamble decided to spread awareness by recording 'I Am an American,' a song originally written "in the '30s or '40s" by a member of the International Peace Mission charitable movement named Happy Victoria Love. "It says that we all should be very proud of our country because America has shown tremendous growth and it's still a baby, it's still developing compared to other countries," Gamble says. "There's no better time for us as citizens to be more patriotic and pay attention to the greatest of Americans: the veterans, those who risk their lives and some who give their lives so that others might be able to enjoy the freedoms we have here."

After originally hearing the song in 1980 at a dinner held by the Peace Mission, it wasn't until the late '90s that Gamble started working on a modern arrangement with the Temple University Orchestra and Choir. "We recorded it live and when I listened to it, I said, 'Well, it really sounds great. It's sort of classical in a way, but it needs a little hot sauce to it.' So, I called my good friend Patti LaBelle and asked if she would sing it," Gamble, who's produced several of LaBelle's albums, says. "She came and put the little hot sauce on it. With the power of Patti's voice and her spirit on it, I think it really makes it a new song to uplift the spirit of Americans all over this country and around the world."

Just in time for Veterans Day, Gamble has released a CD/DVD combo called 'I Am an American: The Making of an Anthem,' which chronicles not only the making of the song but his work visiting veterans. "We've been working with the Veterans Administration and part of the proceeds from this will go to homeless veterans," Gamble says. "I think it comes at a great time because the morale of the country is a little low because of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, health care and the economy. This song speaks about how America is every race, every creed, every color, every nationality. There's never been a country like America. We must support it in every way that we can as citizens."

Kenny Gamble's 'I Am An American' CD fights Veteran homelessness (April MacIntyre Nov 18, 2009, Monsters & Critics)
In honor and loving support of our nation’s veterans, legendary music pioneer and co-creator of “The Philadelphia Sound” Kenny Gamble is releasing a new DVD/CD commemorative package of his acclaimed new symphonic ode to patriotism, “I Am An Am American,” on November 10, 2009 to help raise funds and awareness for battling homelessness among veterans.

I Am An American: The Making of An Anthem, a documentary revealing the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer’s behind-the-scenes work to bring modern relevance to this traditional song through his lifelong friend Patti LaBelle and the Temple University Symphony & Choir, includes a CD featuring new edits of the recording project that has been a personal labor of love and commitment from Mr. Gamble.

His brother, Carl also served the country as a Vietnam War veteran.

A portion of proceeds from sales of I Am An American: The Making of An Anthem are being donated to the Veterans Administration, to help raise money for homeless veterans and awareness for this vital issue.

Even had he not written a great train song, Mr. Gamble's effort would be eminently worthwhile.


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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:46 PM


The Blind Side
(Brandon Fibbs, 11/20/2009, Christianity Today)

I confess I was prepared to dislike The Blind Side—not only for its potential schmaltz, but also for its potential to seem like another White Man to the Rescue flick. (My friend Tim Gordon, former film critic for Black Entertainment Television, calls these "Mighty Whitey" films, where a white protagonist saves people of color without whose "superior intervention" they would surely have been lost.) While not necessarily exempt because of it, a film based on real events complicates this dynamic. But The Blind Side never falls into this trap because it respects its characters, including Michael, too much to become an unsavory cliché. The whiteness and blackness of the characters is traded instead for a look at those things that lie beneath the skin. Leigh Anne is not driven by liberal guilt or "white supremacy," but by a heart that is far softer than her exterior would suggest, one that breaks to see another person in pain. Period. (The real-life Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy are devout Christians.) Likewise, Michael is shown to be someone who is willing to sacrifice anything, including himself, to protect those he loves. In a truly colorblind society, these characters' race would be irrelevant and we would focus instead on one human being unconditionally loving another human being.

This stance benefits the film in another way. While The Blind Side is the sort of story that traditionally degrades into sentimentality, the film remains grounded, avoiding easy, emotional potshots. If it draws tears, it earns them. Much of this anti-maudlin mentality is a result of identifying with a mama bear too ornery to shed a tear for just anything. When Leigh Anne is told she is changing Michael's life and she replies, "No, he's changing mine," we don't laugh at the sappiness of the line because it is delivered with such utter earnestness.

Leigh Anne Tuohy is unique in a Hollywood film—a non-stereotypical Christian. Christians used to portrayals of themselves as close-minded bigots or spaced-out nut jobs will see instead someone who is humble, down to earth, and instantly relatable. If Leigh Anne adheres to certain clichés, particularly those at the intersection of faith and southern Republican politics, we must remind ourselves that certain stereotypes are, after all, based on truths. While the film never uses her faith as a bludgeon, it is not shy whatsoever with letting its audience know that it is because of her beliefs that Leigh Anne acts the way she does.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:33 PM


Electricity for Cars Costs Much Less than Fossil Fuels (Iceland Review, 11/20/09)

Ólafur Bjarnason, director of transport for the City of Reykjavík, stated at a meeting yesterday that if the half of the capital’s inhabitants would use electricity instead of fossil fuels to power their cars, up to ISK 5.4 billion (USD 43 million, EUR 29 million) would be saved each year.

Bjarnason explained that electricity only costs ten percent of what fossil fuels will cost, around ISK 600 million (USD 4.8 million, EUR 3.2 million) instead of ISK 6 billion (USD 48 million, EUR 32 million), Fréttabladid reports.

The government announced its plans for a new taxation system on Wednesday, which include an increase in the price of gasoline and diesel oil.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:17 PM


Hacked: Sensitive Documents Lifted from Hadley Climate Center (Keith Johnson, 11/20/09, WSJ)

Well, this should get interesting.

The Hadley Climate Research Unit in Britain was hacked yesterday, apparently by Russian black hats, and thousands of sensitive documents, including emails from climate scientists dating back a decade, were posted online. More here.

Officials at Hadley, a leading global-warming research center, have apparently confirmed to an Australian publication that the documents are genuine.

From: Phil Jones
To: ray bradley ,,
Subject: Diagram for WMO Statement
Date: Tue, 16 Nov 1999 13:31:15 +0000
Cc: k.briffa@xxx.xx.xx,

Dear Ray, Mike and Malcolm,
Once Tim’s got a diagram here we’ll send that either later today or
first thing tomorrow.
I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trick of adding in the real temps
to each series for the last 20 years (ie from 1981 onwards) amd from
1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline. Mike’s series got the annual
land and marine values while the other two got April-Sept for NH land
N of 20N. The latter two are real for 1999, while the estimate for 1999
for NH combined is +0.44C wrt 61-90. The Global estimate for 1999 with
data through Oct is +0.35C cf. 0.57 for 1998.
Thanks for the comments, Ray.


Prof. Phil Jones
Climatic Research Unit Telephone +44 (0) xxxxx
School of Environmental Sciences Fax +44 (0) xxxx
University of East Anglia
Norwich Email

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:35 AM


Europe rocked by fresh match-fixing scandal (Javno, November 20, 2009)

Around 200 football matches in nine European countries including at least three Champions League games are implicated in a new match-fixing scandal, German prosecutors said on Friday.

UEFA expert Peter Limacher told a press conference in Germany that the revelations represented "clearly" the worst ever match-fixing scandal in European football.

Between the fixes and the officiating it is a game in which one can have little confidence that better team will prevail.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:16 AM


Deutsche Bank Life Insurance Fund in Hot Water (Anne Seith, 11/20/09, Der Spiegel)

Gerhard Strate, a well-respected lawyer based in Hamburg, has seen a lot of things over the years. But he still has a hard time believing the story of the Deutsche Bank funds db Kompass Life 1 and 2, calling it "unbelievable" and "absurd." The closed-end funds buy life insurance policies from Americans and assume responsibility for paying their future premiums. When the original policy-holder dies, the entire payout goes to the fund. It is like short-selling US life expectancy.

Deutsche Bank collected some €500,000 ($750,000) from customers for its macabre money-making scheme. But the fund quickly turned into a mega-flop. So far, not one investor has received even a single dividend payment and some may lose their entire principal.

You have to know better than to listen to Democrats describe the American health care system.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:58 AM


The Death of the Cool: Cool was once associated with reticence, savoir-faire, and irony, none of which is much practiced or regarded these days. (Robert McHenry, November 20, 2009, American)

Who and what was cool? Cary Grant was cool, and of course Steve McQueen. Thelonious S. Monk (anybody remember when Time captioned a picture of him “Melodious Thunk”?) and Horace Silver, Fairfield Porter, E.E. Cummings (bear in mind that that “e.e.” business was the bright idea of his publisher), Bob Cousy, P.G. Wodehouse, Philip Marlowe, Gus Grissom … a list is pointless except to suggest the breadth of the concept. For contrast, here are some more or less parallel non-cool types: James Dean, Chet Baker, Andy Warhol, Allen Ginsberg, Kobe Bryant, Norman Mailer, Howard Roark, Frank Borman.

Cool is not dependent on achievement, or vice versa. Cool is how you get there. Cool is just doing the job; not-cool is making sure, while you’re at it, that everyone sees just how tough the job is and thus how cool you are to be doing it. Cool is self-direction, self-possession, self-sufficiency, capability, discretion, and a bit of wit. Not-cool is angst, conspicuous display, disdain, tropisms toward bright lights, crowds, and media—in short, all those adolescent traits that so many people fail to grow out of.

One need only consider the copious pathologies associated with these men to recognize that the cool was just a pose put on by guys utterly estranged from their true selves and from the morality of the culture. No one was ever less cool than "the cool."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:54 AM


Notions of 'fairness' should not dictate fiscal policy (JIM O'LEARY, 11/20/09, Irish Times)

[T]he first point to make is that the State’s solvency must be paramount: a bankrupt state is no use to anyone, not least those who rely on it for their incomes. When solvency is threatened, fairness (even assuming that it could be objectively assessed) becomes a matter of second-order importance.

Beyond that, notions of fairness must cede some ground, if not priority, to considerations of what works best.

On this question, analysis of the large reservoir of experience in dealing with fiscal crises, accumulated by governments worldwide over the past four decades, is unambiguous: adjustments based on spending cuts are more effective and more likely to boost economic activity than those based on tax increases.

The large corpus of research on this question has recently been added to and its main conclusions reiterated by Harvard economists Alberto Alesina and Silvia Ardagna (Large Changes in Fiscal Policy: Taxes Versus Spending (October 2009)).

One of their findings is that successful and expansionary fiscal adjustments are associated with cuts in transfer payments, whereas unsuccessful and contractionary adjustments are associated with increases in transfers.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:43 AM


Giuliani Leaning Toward Run for Senate, Advisers Say (SUZANNE SATALINE, 11/20/09, WSJ)

Rudy Giuliani, the former New York City mayor who has been widely rumored to be interested in running for governor, is weighing "a real possibility" of seeking a U.S. Senate seat next year, a former Giuliani campaign aide said.

Mr. Giuliani has made no final decision, this person said, but said that the Republican is "more interested in running for Senate." He would seek the New York seat currently held by Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who was appointed to the post last winter.

The interesting drama would be his judiciary votes once he got there.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:41 AM


Addicted to Mammograms (ROBERT ARONOWITZ, 11/20/09, NY Times)

Why do we keep coming around to the same advice — but never comfortably follow it? The answer is far older than mammography itself. It dates to the late 19th century, when society was becoming increasingly disappointed, pessimistic and fearful over the lack of medical progress against cancer. Doctors had come to understand the germ theory of infectious disease and had witnessed the decline of epidemic illnesses like cholera. But their efforts against cancer had gone nowhere.

In the 1870s, a new view of the disease came to be developed. Cancer had been thought of as a constitutional disorder, present throughout the body. But some doctors now posited that it begins as a local growth and remains so for some time before spreading via the blood and lymph systems (what came to be understood as metastasis).

Even though this new consensus was more asserted than definitively proved by experimental evidence or clinical observation, it soon became dogma, and helped change the way doctors treated cancer. Until this time, cancer surgery had been performed only rarely and reluctantly. After all, why remove a tumor, in a painful and dangerous operation, when the entire body is diseased?

The new model gave doctors reason to take advantage of newly developing general anesthesia and antiseptic techniques to do more, and more extensive, cancer surgery. At the turn of the 20th century, William Halsted, a surgeon at Johns Hopkins, promoted a new approach against breast cancer: a technically complicated removal of the affected breast, the lymph nodes in the armpit and the muscles attached to the breast and chest wall.

Doctors widely embraced Halsted’s strategy. But they seem to have paid little attention to his clinical observations, which indicated that while the operation prevented local recurrence of breast tumors, it did not save lives. As Halsted himself became aware, breast cancer patients die of metastatic, not local, disease.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:39 AM


LETTER: It's a myth that mammograms offer all benefit, no harm (John Lynch, 11/19/09, Boston Globe)

Those condemning this decision insist on perpetuating the myth of mammography screenings as offering all benefit and no harm. With only 1 in almost 2,000 women in their 40s benefiting from screening mammography and hundreds subjected to unnecessary biopsies and surgeries, this is an exceedingly injudicious use of medical resources, particularly in the middle of a cultural and political donnybrook about unsustainable health care spending.

The shameful behavior in all this is the misleading trading on fear that occurs in the cancer screening industry. Women are led to overestimate their risk of dying from cancer - they’re far more likely to die from heart disease - as well as the benefit from mammography screenings.

Much of what is accurately detected with mammography resides in a gray area of “predisease,’’ much like that found in early-stage prostate cancer. While early-stage prostate cancer is now generally treated conservatively with “watchful waiting,’’ women are falsely led to believe that all cancers need to be treated, even when toxic chemotherapies that cause disease are involved. In short, disease risk is overstated while treatment risk is understated.

Of course, when the "cure" kills you via organ failure you survived the cancer.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:32 AM


Angry Congress lashes out at Obama (Brady Dennis, Zachary A. Goldfarb and Neil Irwin, 11/20/09, Washington Post)

President Obama's allies in the Congressional Black Caucus, exasperated by the administration's handling of the economy, unexpectedly blocked one his top priorities, using a legislative maneuver to postpone the approval of financial reform legislation by a key House committee.

Two buildings away, at a session of the Joint Economic Committee, Republicans escalated their attacks on Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, including a call for his resignation.

"Conservatives agree that as point person, you failed. Liberals are growing in that consensus as well," said Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Tex.). "For the sake of our jobs, will you step down from your post?"

Rep. Michael C. Burgess (R-Tex.) took a different tack. "I don't think that you should be fired," he told Geithner. "I thought you should have never been hired."

Even Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), a friend of the administration, suggested that Geithner had been inconsistent in addressing China's practice of keeping its currency low against the dollar.

And Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) said Wednesday on MSNBC that he thinks Geithner should step down, pointing to his handling of the aftermath of American International Group's meltdown.

Across Capitol Hill, senators signaled their opposition to rushing regulatory reform. While some Democrats voiced reservations about parts of the bill, Republicans went further, faulting Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) for pushing ahead before the roots of the crisis were understood.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:26 AM


Married couples face extra tax in Senate health care bill (Stephen Dinan and David M. Dickson, 11/20/09, THE WASHINGTON TIMES)

Senate Democrats' health care bill would create a new marriage penalty by imposing a tax on individuals who make $200,000 annually but hitting married couples making just $50,000 more.

That's one of 17 new taxes imposed by the bill, which also creates a levy on elective plastic surgery - some call it "botax" - and places a 40 percent excise tax on those who have generous health care plans.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:18 AM


GOP governors eye big 2010 gains (JONATHAN MARTIN, 11/20/09, Politico)

While heaping praise on what they said were issued-oriented campaigns from their two new governors-elect, New Jersey’s Chris Christie and Virginia’s Bob McDonnell, Republicans said their comeback was being ushered in by a series of policy excesses by President Barack Obama and the Democratic-controlled Congress.

“I think the American people believe that the folks in Washington are overreaching, that the pendulum is swinging too far,” said Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas in an interview.

A sometimes-ally to the White House, Douglas added: “President Obama is a great guy, I like him personally, spent time with him and his election is historic – and that’s great.”

But, he said, voters are “increasingly concerned about the overspending, about the increasing role of government and the fact that we’re not progressing out of this recession as quickly as we need to.”

...the UR is essentially a captive of congressional Democrats. W was such a strong leader that he avoided letting the congressional GOP set the agenda until 2006, when they similarly imploded the party.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:11 AM


President Obama's trip: Style over substance (MIKE ALLEN, 11/19/09, Politico)

Obama’s minimalist approach was most consequential in China, where he did not meet with Christians, dissidents or bloggers, or directly challenge his hosts for repressive tactics that are again on the rise.

The Chinese in turn rebuffed longstanding U.S. concerns – whether on human rights, Iran or currency policy – in a heavily stage-managed visit where China, not Obama, clearly sought the upper hand.

It’s an approach that carries great risk for Obama – playing straight into his critics’ accusations that his new, more multilateral style isn’t paying dividends, and worse, is making him look weak and ineffectual abroad.

...then why are they critics accusations rather than facts?

Just friends: President Obama’s Asia agenda steered clear of any tough talk on human rights abuses | Jamie Dean, World)

If Obama went to Asia to be friendly, he didn’t disappoint. After breaking protocol with an awkward bow to the emperor of Japan, the president yielded in China: Obama steered clear of any public remarks aimed at rebuking Chinese officials for their terrible human rights record. Administration officials reportedly said the president spoke with President Hu in private about conditions for dissidents, but Obama didn’t meet publicly with any group facing government repression, including Christians or independent journalists.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:08 AM


Guidelines Push Back Age for Cervical Cancer Tests (DENISE GRADY, 11/20/09, NY Times)

[Dr. Cheryl B. Iglesia, the chairwoman of a panel in the obstetricians’ group that developed the Pap smear guidelines] said the argument for changing Pap screening was more compelling than that for cutting back on mammography — which the obstetricians’ group has staunchly opposed — because there is more potential for harm from the overuse of Pap tests. The reason is that young women are especially prone to develop abnormalities in the cervix that appear to be precancerous, but that will go away if left alone. But when Pap tests find the growths, doctors often remove them, with procedures that can injure the cervix and lead to problems later when a woman becomes pregnant, including premature birth and an increased risk of needing a Caesarean. that modern medicine is a consumer good. People just don't care what makes medical sense. Just because a procedure has no health benefit and is a dangerous waste of money doesn't mean patients won't demand it.

Culture Clash in Medicine (KEVIN SACK, 11/20/09, NY Times)

“This represents a broader understanding that the efforts to detect cancer early can be a two-edged sword,” said Dr. H. Gilbert Welch, a professor of medicine at Dartmouth who is among the pioneers of research into the negative effects of early detection. “Yes, it helps some people, but it harms others.”

Dr. Welch said this week’s recommendations could mark a turning point in public acceptance of that notion. “Now we’re trying to negotiate that balance,” he said. “There’s no right answer, but I can tell you that the right answer is not always to start earlier, look harder and look more frequently.”

That concept is proving easier to swallow in the halls of Dartmouth Medical School than in the halls of Congress

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November 19, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:02 PM

TURNS OUT... (via Bryan Francouer):

Women 'bearing brunt' of climate change (Simon Hooper, 11/18/09, CNN)

In a report released on Wednesday, UNFPA warns that it is women in the developing world such as Quispe who are bearing the brunt of the worsening and accelerating impact of climate change.

"Women are on the front lines of many societies buffeted by climate change -- and research indicates they tend to be more vulnerable to these impacts," said the report's lead author, Robert Engelman.

According to the report, women in poorer societies are most at risk because they make up a larger share of the agricultural workforce and have fewer income-earning opportunities. They also shoulder the burden of caring for other family members and household management, limiting their mobility and trapping them in a cycle of deprivation, poverty and inequality.

"For many people, especially poor women in poor countries, climate change is here and now," said UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya Ahmed Obaid. "Poor women in poor countries are among the hardest hit by climate change even though they contributed the least to it."

...if you live at the margins you lead a marginal existence.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:56 PM


What the Law Commands (Linda Greenhouse, 11/19/09, NY Times)

“I don’t understand the concept of extraordinary success,” Chief Justice Roberts objected. “The results that are obtained are presumably the results that are dictated or commanded or required under the law.” The chief justice said the outcome of a case “should be what the law requires, and not different results because you have different lawyers.” Could a district judge really suppose, he wondered, that “if it weren’t for how good you are I would have made a mistake?” [...]

What was most striking about the chief justice’s invocation of the law’s commands was how similar he sounded to his newest colleague, Justice Sonia Sotomayor. At her Senate confirmation hearing in July, Judge Sotomayor opened her testimony by intoning the mantra that “the task of a judge is not to make the law — it is to apply the law.” She then went on to elaborate: “My personal and professional experiences help me listen and understand, with the law always commanding the result in every case.”

Can it be that the chief justice and the junior justice have more in common than we might have supposed? More than progressives — among whom Judge Sotomayor’s testimony evoked considerable dismay — feared, and more than conservatives dared to hope? Indeed, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. took the occasion of a speech to the conservative Federalist Society last week to praise his new colleague’s testimony at the confirmation hearing and to take a few digs at liberals who had criticized it.

It's not that Justice Sotomayor is the next Whizzer White, but that she isn't the next Thurgood Marshall. For liberals, she was a wasted pick.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:44 PM


'Like the Book of Job': Cormac McCarthy wanted spiritual metaphors portrayed throughout the film adaptation of his book, The Road, says director John Hillcoat (Brett McCracken, 11/24/2009, Christianity Today)

Your last film, The Proposition, seems to share some of the same tone and spirit as The Road. Both explore dark, bleak, apocalyptic depths. Do you see a correspondence between the two films?

The Proposition was actually inspired by Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian, or at least very influenced by it. I had the idea for an Australian western for a long time, but that book was a huge influence. In both The Proposition and The Road, the landscape is sort of primeval and ancient, which becomes a metaphor that I like. It creates such pressure for the characters that tests them all the time. It becomes almost like a third character. That's what I love about McCarthy's writing. And if you've ever been to the Australian outback, it really is like some ancient, primeval land. [...]

Is it true that some of the only direction McCarthy gave to you was to make sure the film kept as many of the book's references to God as possible?

Yes, that's right. Cormac is very intrigued by grace under pressure and a higher spiritual element than man. He's also interested in the struggle of faith. In many ways The Road is like a biblical tale or a parable. It's very simple: A man struggling to survive, haunted by all these memories, who then has a son born into this world. They come across all these obstacles that test them. So in that sense it feels almost like a biblical tale, and it certainly has an incredible moral to tell.

That leap of faith that the boy makes at the end is what it's all about. The boy is the one who saves the man. The man is under pressure, which we completely understand, and under great duress we see his humanity slipping away. It's actually the boy who saves him. He's the one with humanity. But where does the boy get this from? He's born into this God-forsaken place. Where does his "fire" come from? I think it's great that McCarthy sort of leaves this open to interpretation. It works on so many levels. For a lot of people, this idea of "carrying the fire" is clearly a spiritual thing. But for other people it might just mean "the higher power of humanity." But it's definitely also about faith.

Cormac and I did a long interview with the Wall Street Journal recently and it was about all this stuff. Cormac talked about how he was really struck and moved by people like Mother Teresa, who was always struggling with her faith, even at that level. To him that was incredibly profound. For him, The Road is about the struggle of faith, the obstacles on the journey. He created the world of The Road to challenge these people, like the book of Job. It's about the way that these characters react under duress. Under extreme pressure, the essence of humanity comes out. We can all put ourselves in the shoes of the man—because we see step by step with each challenge how he slides a little bit and loses a bit of his humanity. In the end it's the boy who gives back the humanity to the man. Cormac sees it as a spiritual lesson—about "carrying the fire," which is the spirit. He's basically saying, there is something else here.

The great question that Christianity answers is why God has faith in Man.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:30 PM


HarryCare is a Rotten Deal (Philip Klein, 11.19.09, American Spectator)

To pay for the bill, Reid would impose $371.9 billion of new taxes over 10 years, including $67 billion on health insurers; $23 billion in on drug companies; and $20 billion on medical device makers. All of these taxes are likely to be passed directly on to consumers in the former of higher health care costs.

In addition, the bill would tax employer health care plans that cost more than $8,500 for individuals and $23,000 for families. And, during a time of double-digit unemployment, it would hike payroll taxes by 0.5 percent on individuals earning more than $200,000 or couples making $250,000.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:08 PM


Climatologists Baffled by Global Warming Time-Out: Global warming appears to have stalled. Climatologists are puzzled as to why average global temperatures have stopped rising over the last 10 years. Some attribute the trend to a lack of sunspots, while others explain it through ocean currents. (Gerald Traufetter, 11/19/09, Der Spiegel)

The Earth's average temperatures have stopped climbing since the beginning of the millennium, and it even looks as though global warming could come to a standstill this year.

Ironically, climate change appears to have stalled in the run-up to the upcoming world summit in the Danish capital, where thousands of politicians, bureaucrats, scientists, business leaders and environmental activists plan to negotiate a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Billions of euros are at stake in the negotiations.

There are lots of good reasons to make gas consumption prohibitively expensive. The delusion that you'll change the climate isn't one of them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:04 PM


Too many people? No, too many Malthusians: Since 200 AD, scaremongers have been describing human beings as ‘burdensome to the world’. They were wrong then, and they’re still wrong today. (Brendan O’Neill, 11/19/09, spiked)

What this potted history of population scaremongering ought to demonstrate is this: Malthusians are always wrong about everything.

The extent of their wrongness cannot be overstated. They have continually claimed that too many people will lead to increased hunger and destitution, yet the precise opposite has happened: world population has risen exponentially over the past 40 years and in the same period a great many people’s living standards and life expectancies have improved enormously. Even in the Third World there has been improvement – not nearly enough, of course, but improvement nonetheless. The lesson of history seems to be that more and more people are a good thing; more and more minds to think and hands to create have made new cities, more resources, more things, and seem to have given rise to healthier and wealthier societies.

Yet despite this evidence, the population scaremongers always draw exactly the opposite conclusion. Never has there been a political movement that has got things so spectacularly wrong time and time again yet which keeps on rearing its ugly head and saying: ‘This time it’s definitely going to happen! This time overpopulation is definitely going to cause social and political breakdown!’

There is a reason Malthusians are always wrong. It isn’t because they’re stupid… well, it might be a little bit because they’re stupid. But more fundamentally it is because, while they present their views as fact-based and scientific, in reality they are driven by a deeply held misanthropy that continually overlooks mankind’s ability to overcome problems and create new worlds.

The language used to justify population scaremongering has changed dramatically over the centuries. In the time of Malthus in the eighteenth century the main concern was with the fecundity of poor people. In the early twentieth century there was a racial and eugenic steak to population-reduction arguments. Today they have adopted environmentalist language to justify their demands for population reduction.

The fact that the presentational arguments can change so fundamentally over time, while the core belief in ‘too many people’ remains the same, really shows that this is a prejudicial outlook in search of a social or scientific justification; it is prejudice looking around for the latest trendy ideas to clothe itself in. And that is why the population scaremongers have been wrong over and over again: because behind the new language they adopt every few decades, they are really driven by narrow-mindedness, by disdain for mankind’s breakthroughs, by wilful ignorance of humanity’s ability to shape its surroundings and its future.

...but that the science they believe in depends on the truth of Malthusianism.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:58 PM


A special form of disrespect: Barack Obama’s increasing disregard for Britain’s views is no way to treat an ally whose troops have fought side by side with America since September 11 (Con Coughlin, 11/19/09, Spectator)

We all had a good giggle when Brown was reduced to chasing the Leader of the Free World through the subterranean kitchen complex at the UN’s New York headquarters in September. One can understand why Obama can think of a million better ways to spend his time than talking to our obsessive, nail-chewing and electorally doomed prime minister. But given that Britain and America are currently fighting a war together, one would hope that the true statesman would overcome any personal reservations — and deal with Mr Brown because of the country he represents.

What really troubles British policymakers is that the collapse in the relationship is institutional, not personal, and that the president has little interest in listening to what Britain has to say on many world issues, even at a time when British servicemen and women are sacrificing their lives in what is supposed to be a common cause.

The astonishing disregard with which Mr Obama treats Britain has been made clear by his deliberations over the Afghan issue. As he decides how many more troops to send to Afghanistan — a decision which will fundamentally affect the scope of the mission — Britain is reduced to guesswork. The White House does not even pretend to portray this as a joint decision. It is a diplomatic cold-shouldering that stands in contrast not just to the Blair–Bush era, but to the togetherness of the soldiers on the ground. long before the pundits realize that the next president has to repair all the key alliances that W left in uniquely strong shape but that the UR has damaged?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:33 PM


Leahy: No need to interrogate bin Laden (Michael O'Brien - 11/19/09, The Hill)

If the U.S. captures Osama bin Laden, there's no need to interrogate him, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee said Thursday.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the chairman of that committee, said that arguments raised by Republican senators about whether bin Laden would be afforded Miranda rights if he were captured amount to a "red herring." [...]

"For one thing, capturing Osama bin Laden — we've had enough on him, we don't need to interrogate him," Leahy added.

One hesitates to point this out, given that a herring could figure it out, but we interrogate to discover what they have planned, not to obtain confessions.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:30 AM


Dartmouth research examines the value of cancer screening (Dartmouth Medical School news release, February 2002)

As people consider the merits or drawbacks of cancer screening, a Dartmouth Medical School study weighs in with some new observations, based on a statistical analysis of past trials, that may help put cancer screening in better perspective.

The conventional way deaths were classified may have caused misclassifications that biased study results in favor of screening, Dartmouth researchers demonstrated. They suggest an additional method of tallying all deaths to help avoid the misinterpretations that can lead investigators to overestimate or underestimate the value of cancer screening.

The findings are reported in the Feb. 6 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute by Dartmouth Medical School professors William C. Black, MD, of radiology and of community and family medicine, and H. Gilbert Welch, MD, of medicine and of community and family medicine, and former medical resident David Haggstrom, MD.

Classifying the cause of death by specific disease is the most widely accepted procedure in randomized trials that assess cancer screening. However, two biases--sticky-diagnosis bias and slippery-linkage bias--affect such classification and can alter the assessment of screening value, the researchers found.

The validity of disease-specific mortality assumes that the cause of death can be accurately determined. An alternative end point, all-cause mortality, depends only on an accurate determination of deaths and when they occur; therefore it is unaffected by misclassifications in the cause of death.

People making decisions about screening want to have pertinent information about what it means for them, explained Black, a member of a national expert panel that assesses cancer evidence. He uses the shark analogy popular among his peers. Instructions and aids to protect yourself from a shark attack are meaningless if you don't go in the water.

Similarly, people have to understand how likely they are to be at risk for certain cancers when they decide to be screened for them. "They should be asking their physicians if this screening intervention is likely to increase their life expectancy," Black says. And their physicians hope screening studies take as much information as possible into account.

He and his colleagues compared the two mortality groups in 12 randomized studies of cancer screening for which both disease-specific and all-cause mortality could be determined. These trials involved screening for cancer of the breast, colon or lung.

In five of the 12 trials, the two mortality end points suggested opposite effects of screening. The researchers attributed these discrepancies to the two forms of bias that affect cause of death classifications. In one form, called sticky-diagnosis bias, deaths from other causes in the screened group are falsely attributed to cancer because that cancer was detected by screening. This type of misclassification influences the disease-specific mortality results against screening.

In the second form, called slippery-linkage bias, deaths from the screening process or subsequent treatment are falsely attributed to other causes. For example, if an invasive evaluation causes a patient to have a fatal heart attack, the death may be attributed to a heart attack rather than to the disease being tested for. This misclassification tilts the disease-specific mortality results in favor of screening.

Both forms of bias affected the randomized screening trials, according to the analysis, but the Dartmouth researchers argue that slippery-linkage bias had a larger effect. The concept of "slippery linkage" has been hinted at before but never previously defined, notes Black, who says he and his colleagues are among the first to investigate the impact of this bias.

Integrating both types of mortality classification can help avoid flaws in screening assessment, according to the researchers. They conclude that all-cause mortality should always be analyzed and reported along with disease-specific mortality to ensure that major harms or benefits of screening are not missed due to misclassification in the cause of death. "All-cause mortality also puts the magnitude of expected benefit from screening into an appropriate perspective for prospective decision making," they say.

It would be worth your requesting a complimentary copy of this month's edition of the publication Dartmouth Medicine just for the profile of these two guys, Are We Hunting Too Hard? (Jennifer Durgin, Summer 2005, DartmouthMedicine), and their heretical work on cancer screening. It's an article of faith for folks that science has liberated us from religion and superstition and extended our lives immeasurably, but skeptics, like Richard Lewontin, have no trouble demonstrating that such is not the case. Indeed, simple improvements in hygiene and caloric intake likely account for nearly all of our improvements in longevity and mortality.

Here is how Ms Durgin explains the work Dr. Black has done:

All cancers are not created equal. Some grow rapidly and invade other tissue, others grow slowly and remain noninvasive, and some don't grow at all or may even recede. Many of the cancers that doctors are finding and treating today, says Black, are what's called "pseudodisease"--tumors that will never cause harm, let alone death. The trouble is that pseudodisease is nearly impossible to identify for sure in an individual who is still living, because the medical community doesn't know enough about some cancers to predict how they will behave over time. So it's safer, they reason, to label a questionable abnormality as "cancer" and to treat it, than it is to risk its growing out of control. Only after an untreated person dies from other causes can a cancer be declared pseudodisease. Only then is it clear that treatment of the cancer would have provided no benefit, only potential harm. in other words, you can't tell an "overdiagnosed," or overtreated, person from a person who has been cured. "One of the biggest downsides to cancer screening is overdiagnosis, but you don't know which people have been overdiagnosed," says Black. "And so a person who has been overdiagnosed will think they've been cured."

Meanwhile, as Ms Durgin tells us, early on in his book, Should I Be Tested for Cancer?: Maybe Not and Here's Why, Dr. Welch "takes on the concepts of overdiagnosis and pseudodisease, using prostate cancer as an example."
"The most compelling evidence that pseudodisease is a real problem comes from our national experience with prostate cancer," Welch writes. Prostate cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer-related death in American men, and over the last 30 years, more and more of it has been found. In 1975, about 100,000 new cases were diagnosed; in 2003, about 220,000. Atfirst glance, one might conclude that prostate cancer is on the rise. However, if cancer is "really increasing," says Welch, "you'd expect death rates to rise."

And that hasn't happened with prostate cancer. The death rate has remained more or less constant, hovering around 30,000 deaths per year in the U.S., with a slight decline in recent years. [...] Regardless of the small changes in the death rate, Welch believes that most of the new cases represent "nothing more than pseudodisease: disease that would never progress far enough to cause syptoms--or flat-out would never progress at all.

"But what, you might ask, is the harm in finding all this pseudodisease?" Welch writes. "Simply put: unnecessary treatment. Most of the million men whose prostate cancer is found because of superior screening have to undergo some sort of treatment, whether radical surgery or radiation. ... [A]nd many experience significant complications: 17% need additional treatment because they have difficulty urinating following surgery; 28% must wear pads because they have the opposite problem--they cannot hold their urine; and more than half are bothered by a loss of sexual function."

In addition to causing harm from unneeded treatment, overdiagnosis can distort our perceptions of how well certain cancer treatments work, says Black. Because very slow-growing and potentially harmless cancers are relatively easy to control and eliminate, finding and treating more of them makes therapies seem more effective. "We see that [such cancers] behave well when we treat them, and we falsely attribute their good behavior to our treatment," explains Black. "By definition, survival only pertains to people who are diagnosed with the disease. So when you have overdiagnosis, survival is very, very misleading. Survival is going to be very long in people who are overdiagnosed," as well as in people whose cancers are found very early. For these reasons, Black, Welch, and others at DMS are critical of using survival rates--such as the oft-cited five-year survival rate--as a measure of the effectivewness of screening. Looking at death rates is a better way of evaluating screening, they argue, but even that approach has problems.

"You can't just look at disease-specific mortality, because we're not sure what causes death in a lot of people," Black explains. "There are a lot of deaths that are difficult to determine the cause of, and you can bias your results strongly in one direction or the other with disease-specific mortality."

The best measure of cancer screening technique, Black and Welch contend, is total deaths--known as all-cause mortality. [...]

For example, among the trials Black and Welch examined was the well-known 1989 Swedish Two-County mammography study, which reported that mammography reduces breast-cancer mortality. But when Black and Welch looked at the number of deaths from all causes in the screened group and the non-screened group, they found that there were actually slightly more deaths in the screened population.

Such work has earned the doctors and Dartmout a reputation as "the center of antagonism for screening" and produced much angst in the medical community, but as Dr. Welch says, there is:
"...a real theology here...and I understand where it comes from. The idea is so appealing; earlier is better. Prevention is better than cure. Finding small, bad breast cancers must be good." But the closest Welch can come to the "truth" about cancer screening, he says, is that "the effects of screening are probably mixed in general. Very few are helped. And very few are hurt. And most [screenings] have no effect."

Of course, it's precisely because they're arguing with the theology of sciencism that their message is so unwelcome.

[originally posted: 7/11/05]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:15 AM


QUINNIPIAC OBAMA POLL (The Page, 11/19/09)

Three-quarters of American voters – 74 percent – like President Barack Obama as a person, but only 47 percent like most of his policies, and voters disapprove 51 – 35 percent of the health care overhaul passed by the House of Representatives which he has endorsed, according to a Quinnipiac University national poll released today. supposed to pass the policies?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:10 AM


The Golden State isn't worth it: Our high-benefit/high-tax model no longer works, especially compared with low-tax states like Texas. (William Voegeli, November 1, 2009, LA Times)

In America's federal system, some states, such as California, offer residents a "package deal" that bundles numerous and ambitious public benefits with the high taxes needed to pay for them. Other states, such as Texas, offer packages combining modest benefits and low taxes. These alternatives, of course, define the basic argument between liberals and conservatives over what it means to get the size and scope of government right.

It's not surprising, then, that there's an intense debate over which model is more admirable and sustainable. What is surprising is the growing evidence that the low-benefit/low-tax package not only succeeds on its own terms but also according to the criteria used to defend its opposite. In other words, the superior public goods that supposedly justify the high taxes just aren't being delivered. [...]

According to a report issued earlier this year by the consulting firm McKinsey & Co., Texas students "are, on average, one to two years of learning ahead of California students of the same age," even though per-pupil expenditures on public school students are 12% higher in California. The details of the Census Bureau data show that Texas not only spends its citizens' dollars more effectively than California but emphasizes priorities that are more broadly beneficial. Per capita spending on transportation was 5.9% lower in California, and highway expenditures in particular were 9.5% lower, a discovery both plausible and infuriating to any Los Angeles commuter losing the will to live while sitting in yet another freeway traffic jam.

In what respects, then, does California "excel"? California's state and local government employees were the best compensated in America, according to the Census Bureau data for 2006. And the latest posting on the website of the California Foundation for Fiscal Responsibility shows 9,223 former civil servants and educators receiving pensions worth more than $100,000 a year from California's public retirement funds. The "dues" paid by taxpayers in order to belong to Club California purchase benefits that, increasingly, are enjoyed by the staff instead of the members.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:46 AM


Help The Afghans Defeat The Taliban (Cheryl Benard and Edward O'Connell, 11.19.09, Forbes)

et behind the Afghans, rather than in front of them--to help them fight their own battle. This requires us to identify, mobilize, fortify and build up those (many) forces within Afghanistan that oppose renewed Taliban rule and that desire progress, practice clean governance and are intent on moving forward into the global community. [...]

This time, our effort needs to have two strands. On the military side, we should consider mobilizing a new generation of "freedom fighters." Afghanistan has no lack of energetic young men in search of something to do; they should not be left to the Taliban recruiters. Rather, and in addition to the national army, we should consider standing up a kind of popular militia similar to the minutemen of the U.S.'s own war of independence. Suited to the Afghan mindset and history, and familiar with local circumstances and the terrain, they will give the Taliban a run for its money.

Meanwhile, on the civil side, we need to tap into and amplify the many important things that have been growing up over the past years--those that have largely remained unnoticed by us in our singleminded focus on the problems and travails of the Afghan central government. In the meantime, civil society, progressive media, incipient political parties and movements, mid-level professionals and local governance across the country have all made impressive strides. They just need to be unleashed.

As just one small example, we can cite the CDC, the Community Development Councils. Locally elected and spanning a network of 22,000 villages, these are truly democratic grassroots institutions. Arrive in one of these villages--often after hiking for a few hours across rough terrain--and there is no predicting what you will find. It could be an elderly granny or a young woman, a former tribal elder, a resolute middle-aged lady or a local businessman--whoever the community felt would best manage its interests.

The true Afghan democracy is happening on those levels--by people following television debates and sending in their votes by cellphone, by young people teaching themselves English because they so badly want to be part of the global modern world, by turbaned villagers offering articulate denunciations of IED attacks to the local newscaster. These people--not the same-old musical-chairs elite in Kabul--are our true counterparts. They are capable and willing to fight, to administer and to take their country forward.

If you were trying to establish a central Afghan state you wouldn't arm new decentralized groups.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:35 AM


The GOP's no-exit strategy (E.J. Dionne Jr., November 19, 2009, Washington Post)

Normal human beings -- let's call them real Americans -- cannot understand why, 10 months after President Obama's inauguration, Congress is still tied down in a procedural torture chamber trying to pass the health-care bill Obama promised in his campaign.

Last year, the voters gave him the largest popular-vote margin won by a presidential candidate in 20 years. They gave Democrats their largest Senate majority since 1976 and their largest House majority since 1992.

Obama didn't just offer bromides about hope and change. He made specific pledges.

New Obama ad hits McCain on health care reform (Martina Stewart, October 17th, 2008, CNN)
Barack Obama launched a new television ad Friday that echoes his latest campaign trail attack on John McCain’s health care proposal: that the Republican nominee’s plan would major cuts to Medicare and Medicaid.

“It Gets Worse,” a 30-second spot, follows up on a string of recent Obama ads about health care - all of which highlighted the tax implications of McCain’s plan.

The new ad suggests that, in addition to changing the historical tax treatment of employer-provided health care benefits, McCain’s plan would also involve significant cuts to Medicare and Medicaid, two of the federal governments largest entitlement programs. “Eight hundred and eighty-two billion from Medicare alone,” the ad says. new taxes and no cuts to existing services, which is how he got in this much trouble in the first place.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:23 AM


Corn ethanol maker Poet says it could compete with gasoline in two years (Steven Mufson, November 18, 2009, LA Times)

The nation's largest producer of corn-based ethanol said it has slashed the cost of producing cellulosic ethanol from corncobs and that it would be able to compete with gasoline in two years.

Poet LLC, which currently produces 1.5 billion gallons a year of ethanol from corn, said its 1-year-old pilot plant has reduced the cost of making ethanol from corncobs to $2.35 a gallon from $4.13 by cutting capital costs and using an improved "cocktail" of enzymes.

Moreover, the company said it could use a byproduct called lignin as fuel and that it would provide all the energy needed for the cellulosic plant as well as 80% of the energy that would be needed by a conventional corn-based distillery making twice the amount of ethanol.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:17 AM


Susan Boyle album breaks global record with biggest pre-order in Amazon history (Alastair Jamieson, 19 Nov 2009, Daily Telegraph)

'I Dreamed a Dream', the first album of Britain's Got Talent contestant Susan Boyle, has become the most pre-ordered CD in the world history of online retailer, Amazon.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:14 AM


D.C. Schools Chief Targets Tenure (NEIL KING JR. and JOHN HECHINGER, 11/19/09, WSJ)

The chancellor of Washington's school system, Michelle Rhee, is wrestling with one of the most expensive, worst performing school systems in the country. The dropout rate has hit 40%, and the cost per student is $14,000 a year. Buildings are crumbling and thousands of parents have abandoned the system, which serves about 45,000 students. [...]

In September, the 39-year-old Ms. Rhee, citing a looming budget gap, laid off nearly 400 school employees, including 266 teachers. The dismissals came weeks after Ms. Rhee finished hiring 934 new teachers over the summer. Ms. Rhee said she was initiating the layoffs based on "quality, not by seniority."

The Washington Teachers' Union filed a grievance and a lawsuit against the district over the layoffs, calling them "a blatant violation" of the union contract and a pretext for dismissing veterans without proper cause, which the district denies.

The feud has turned into a grudge match between Ms. Rhee and Randi Weingarten, head of the 1.4 million-member American Federation of Teachers, which has intervened directly in the local contract dispute. Ms. Rhee "has so poisoned the environment that I am not sure that we can ever get back to a good situation here," said Ms. Weingarten.

Ms. Rhee said the union fears the district's layoffs based on job performance will set a precedent for changes nationally. "If you ask any urban school superintendent, they would wish they could to exactly the same thing," she said.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:04 AM


Choir Of Young Believers: Stripped Bare At CMJ ( John Richards, 10/27/09, NPR)

I wasn't sure how many people were in this "choir," or even how the many voices on the album would translate to live radio, but I was pretty sure that more than two were required — even though that's about all that would fit in this space anyway. As the duo warmed up on cello, guitar and two mics, I could already tell that something special was about to happen. But nothing prepared me for the four songs they would perform live on KEXP.

From beginning to end, Makrigiannis' vocals were in perfect harmony with the music. It wasn't hard to compare him to Jim James of My Morning Jacket or Robin Pecknold of Fleet Foxes. The 10 people in the control room all fell silent with jaws dropping, and the owner of the Cutting Room and I sat there lost in the songs, trying to hold back tears from the utter beauty of what we were hearing. The smaller studio turned out to be a blessing: It picked up every bit of noise they made, from the haunting sound of Makrigiannis backing away and singing a few feet from the mic to even the slightest whisper in the words and music.

Afterward, emails came flooding in from listeners all over the world, as well as from our staff back in Seattle.

-REVIEW ARCHIVE: This Is For The White In Your Eye by Choir Of Young Believers (Metacritic)

November 18, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:11 PM


California -- The Next Great Hope for Conservatives? (Christian Whiton + Greg Jenkins Greg Jenkins, 11/17/09, ,

It is easy to forget that California was once the leading edge of conservative progress. Taxes, hippies and a burgeoning welfare state in the 1960s and 70s gave rise to voters striking back through two terms of Ronald Reagan as governor and small-government laws like 1978’s Proposition 13, which curbed property taxes, and 1979’s Gann Limit, which capped the growth in state spending. The decade that followed was as prosperous for California as it was for the rest of America: aerospace, farming, technology and energy industries thrived, and the state’s population grew 26 percent to 30 million residents.

Today, California has fallen so far so fast that the ground could be ripe for a conservative resurgence—another generational pullback from the brink. Things are not just bad in the Golden State; they are appalling. And the state’s political class shows little sign of reticence or reserve even as the state has lurched further into the red.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:51 PM


Pirates Attack Maersk Alabama Again (ALAN COWELL, 11/19/09, NY Times)

Seaborne raiders in a high-speed skiff tried again on Wednesday to commandeer the Maersk Alabama, the American-flagged ship seized by pirates in April, the United States Navy said. [...]

But a security team on board the Maersk Alabama responded with small-arms fire, long-range acoustical devices painful to the human ear and evasive maneuvers to thwart the attack, the Navy said in a statement.

“Due to Maersk Alabama following maritime industry’s best practices such as embarking security teams, the ship was able to prevent being successfully attacked by pirates,” said Vice Adm. Bill Gortney, the commander of the Central Command. “This is a great example of how merchant mariners can take pro-active action to prevent being attacked.”

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:47 PM


The Critical U.S-India Relationship: At the upcoming state visit, the challenge for President Obama is to make sure that the United States works closely with India on the issues of mutual concern. (Neena Shenai, November 18, 2009, American)

While President Obama has expounded on the importance of U.S.-India ties, the administration’s actual prioritization of India remains at best unclear. President Obama’s foreign policy agenda is dominated by the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and climate change policy. The latter two issues are also significant priorities for India and are areas ripe for bilateral cooperation. Yet the United States and India have not always seen eye-to-eye and significant differences remain. The challenge for President Obama is to make sure that the United States works closely with India on these critical issues of mutual concern so that this bilateral relationship is in fact a strong and enduring strategic partnership. Without this effort, the strategic partnership will amount to naught.

Until the next Republican administration.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:44 PM


Ben Franklin on Global Warming (BEN GELBER, 11/18/09, NY Times)

FEW would argue that the debate on global warming engenders a lot of emotion. What else are we to make of comments that “within the last 40 or 50 years there has been a very great observable change of climate,” that “a change in our climate ... is taking place very sensibly” and that “men are led into numberless errors by drawing general conclusions from particular facts”?

That these comments were actually tossed around back in the late 18th century by the Pennsylvania doctor Hugh Williamson, Thomas Jefferson and Noah Webster reminds us that history has a tendency to repeat itself.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:47 PM


Obama wrong to be muted on human rights during China trip (Winifred C. Chin, November 18, 2009, The Progressive)

Today in China, the underground church is suffering major persecution. Thousands of pastors are on Beijing’s “wanted list” for opposing government policies on abortion and birth control. Hundreds of laity and clergy are under arrest and undergoing “re-education” in labor camps, and hundreds more are beaten and tortured daily, and their properties destroyed or confiscated for adhering to their religion.

Practitioners of Falun Gong suffer the same fate, as the history of their persecution marks its 10th year.

Obama, with all his good intentions of promoting democracy, steered clear of such controversial topics, and tactfully evaded talk of the recent unrest in the province of Xinjiang, as well.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:33 PM


Behind the Mammogram Controversy (Ruth Conniff, November 18, 2009, The Progressive)

[O]verscreening and overtreatment are as much of a plague in the U.S. medical system as cost-cutting measures. And looking at breast cancer screening rationally, as the federal panel has done, makes a lot of sense.

Just because it gives people a feeling of psychological empowerment to do something does not mean promoting the hell out of dubiously effective screening is the right thing to do.

Aside from an irrational avoidance reflex, it turns out there are good reasons women might not be inclined to get mammograms.

"Routine screening mammograms are the major goal of 'awareness,'" Barbara Ehrenreich wrote in Harper's back in 2000. Yet the effect of all this early screening is "a vanishingly small impact on breast cancer mortality," Ehrenriech wrote. For every cancer detected, two to four biopsies turn out negative, putting a lot of women through a lot of needless stress. Despite what seems like widespread consensus that you'd have to be crazy not to get an annual mammogram starting at age 40, Ehrenreich quoted eminent doctors including David Plotkin, director of the Memorial Cancer Research Center of Southern California, and Alan Spievack of Harvard Medical School--saying the benefits of early screening were dubious if not, as Spievack and the British surgeon Dr. Michael Baum put it, "one of the greatest deceptions perpetrated on the women of the Western World."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:23 PM


Obama’s China kowtow: Why didn't the President of the free world raise sensitive human rights issues in Beijing? Because he couldn't afford to. (Constance Kong | Wednesday, 18 November 2009, MercatorNet)

The pity is that while America has considerable life and potential left in it, President Obama seems to have given up. He came to China not only cap-in-hand but also on bended knee. Americans who have been concerned at seeing their President bow before Saudi royalty and the Japanese Emperor should be more concerned about seeing him kowtow to China’s Communist rulers.

Even before his visit signs were that Mr Obama might act deferentially towards China. He declined a meeting with the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader, in June to avoid offending Beijing ahead of the visit. While President Obama might have thought he was giving face (gei mianzi) to China’s government by deferring the meeting, it could be construed by many in China as a backdown -– something that would entail significant loss of face (diu mianzi) for America –- a sure sign of its weakness.

This visit made comparisons of him with President Kennedy finally ring hollow. No “ich bin ein Beijinger” speech was heard on this trip, not even when President Obama told university students in Shanghai that China should make the internet freer.

Indeed, President Obama lost more than just face by not raising a number of key issues, or not raising them loudly enough, during his visit. He squandered an opportunity to speak truth to power -– as John F. Kennedy and other presidents have done.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:55 PM


Betty Davis: A 'Nasty Gal' Ahead Of Her Time (Meredith Ochs, 10/28/09, All Things Considered)

Funk and R&B singer Betty Davis was influenced by close friends like Jimi Hendrix and her ex-husband, jazz legend Miles Davis. In 1975, visionary music mogul Chris Blackwell signed her to his Island Records label, which released her groundbreaking album Nasty Gal; it's just been reissued on CD.

Davis' sexy growl conjures images of her the way she looked onstage in the '70s — thigh-high silver boots, hot pants, massive afro. Davis was Sly Stone, Mick Jagger and The Jimi Hendrix Experience all rolled into one woman. Sly Stone bassist Larry Graham once said that, although Davis didn't play anything, her mind, body and spirit were her instruments. In this album's title track, you can hear that her singing doesn't just represent a voice; it's a supernatural force she's using to break social conventions, push funk to the extreme and propel herself as an artist.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:48 PM


Dems alarmed as independents bolt party (ALEX ISENSTADT | 11/18/09 , Politico)

[A] flurry of new polls makes clear that Democrats are facing deeper problems with independents—the swing voters who swung dramatically toward the party in 2006 and 2008 but who now are registering deep unease with the amount of spending and debt called for under Obama's agenda in an era of one-party rule in Washington.

A Gallup Poll released last week offered a disturbing glimpse about the state of play: just 14 percent of independents approve of the job Congress is doing, the lowest figure all year. In just the past few days alone, surveys have shown Democratic incumbents trailing Republicans among independent voters by double-digit margins in competitive statewide contests in places as varied as Connecticut, Ohio and Iowa.

Obama’s own popularity among independents has fallen significantly, too. A CBS News poll Tuesday showed the president’s approval rating among unaligned voters falling to 45 percent — down from 63 percent in April.

“We withdrew from the accounts of voters and now we need to pay them back,” said Nathan Daschle, executive director of the Democratic Governors Association.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:11 PM


So I'm driving to work today, which requires cutting through the Dartmouth campus and a bunch of students are on the corners with signs saying

"Charles Darwin 150th Anniversary
Free copy of Origin of Species"

Got stuck at a light so I asked for one. And by the time the light turned green I knew it was a hoax. For one thing, this version lists the full subtitle of the original ""...or the Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life." No one who believes in Darwinism advertises its racialist origins, especially not in a supposedly promotional copy of the book.

But then the Introduction, though not overtly anti-Darwin, starts pointing out weaknesses that the theory has never managed to overcome. ISo I googled it when I got home. Here's a bit of an explanation from the author of the Intro, Ray Comfort, about what's going on Why I Published a New Origin:

When I discovered that the famous On the Origin of Species was public domain, I decided to publish it myself and write an Introduction and give away copies of the book to university students, in honor of the book's 150th year of publication.

But when Kirk Cameron (my TV cohost on The Way of the Master) and I produced a short video clip explaining what I wanted to do and posted it online, we kicked a hornet's nest. A big one.

Why are many atheists so angry? Why are they talking about book burnings, threatening to resist the giveaway and rip out the Introduction, etc.? Why was encouraging people to collect copies and rip out the Introduction? Professor Dawkins himself said that even though "a lot of people seem to be very worried about this," he wasn't at all worried. Why did he then tell Toronto university students to tear out the Introduction? There have been more than 140 different editions of On the Origin of Species, many with special Introductions, so what's the big deal with this one? If I am (as Professor Dawkins says) "an ignorant fool," why are so many feeling threatened by what I've written? Surely, the Introduction will be ignorance and foolishness, and simply confirm the students' presuppositions that intelligent design isn't worthy of even a first look.

There's a reason that they are deeply concerned.

The Introduction quotes Charles Darwin saying that blacks are closer to gorillas than whites and that natural selection has left men more intelligent than women. It also has quotes from Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf showing Hitler's undeniable links to evolution. Of course, Hitler also used Christianity to further his political agenda, but my point is that Nazi Germany was the natural outcome of what Darwin called "one general law." Darwin said the law of natural selection is "Let the strongest live and the weakest die" (Chapter Seven, "Instinct"). Adolf Hitler put the theory of Darwinism into practice.

The Introduction also defines an atheist as someone who believes that nothing created everything—which is a scientific impossibility. Professor Dawkins believes that nothing created everything, and his belief is a big intellectual embarrassment to his followers. Now, anyone can get their own copy of the book on and read the Introduction, but don't be fooled by the comments. No doubt they will be hijacked by atheists. When my book You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence But You Can't Make Him Think bumped Richard Dawkins's The God Delusion on in the atheist category, hundreds of angry atheists left scathing comments on and gave my book the lowest rating.

So, is this book going to be a backward step for science, as some have maintained? Of course not. Science is a wonderful discipline, to which we are deeply indebted. It will, however, be a backward step for the pseudo science of Darwinian evolution, of which there is no empirical proof.

As campus stunts go, this one's priceless.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:31 AM


What They Really Believe (THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN, 11/18/09, NY Times)

My argument is simple: I think climate change is real. You don’t?

...when you try to boil an issue down to its most basic point and you miss.

There really are two divergent views on climate change. Mr. Friedman and company believe that the natural status of the Earth's climate is stasis, that change to it is a function of human activity, and that this change must, therefore, be detrimental to life on the planet. Opponents believe that climate change is Natural, that steps to control human activity won't have much effect on that change, and that the change is unlikely to be catastrophic.

The sweet irony here is that it is obviously the Left that generally holds to the ideological viewpoint, while it is the Right that holds to the more scientific one. The Darwinists reject the idea that the climate evolves while the Creationists accept it blithely.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:14 AM


3 Democrats Could Block Health Bill in Senate (CARL HULSE, 11/18/09, NY Times)

Senator Ben Nelson, Democrat of Nebraska, says he is not sure he is ready to help a Democratic health care proposal clear even the most preliminary hurdle: gaining the 60 votes his party’s leaders need to open debate on the measure later this week.

Two of his fellow Democrats, Senators Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, are proving tough sells as well, raising the prospect that one or perhaps all three of them could scuttle the bill before the fight over it even begins on the Senate floor.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:13 AM


How Hitler's Nazi propaganda machine tried to take Christ out of Christmas (Daily Mail, 18th November 2009)

Nazi Germany celebrated Christmas without Christ with the help of swastika tree baubles, 'Germanic' cookies and a host of manufactured traditions, a new exhibition has shown.

The way the celebration was gradually taken over and exploited for propaganda purposes by Hitler's Nazis is detailed in a new exhibition.

Rita Breuer has spent years scouring flea markets for old German Christmas ornaments.

She and her daughter Judith developed a fascination with the way Christmas was used by the atheist Nazis, who tried to turn it into a pagan winter solstice celebration.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:03 AM


The Republican Alternative (Peter Ferrara, 11.18.09, American Spectator)

The Republican plan would further reduce costs by enhancing Health Savings Accounts (HSAs), which are themselves a Republican reform fundamentally changing health care by introducing market incentives to reduce costs. Individuals with HSAs keep most of their money for health care in a savings account, earning tax-free interest, with the rest going to purchase a high-deductible, catastrophic insurance policy. The premium cost for such catastrophic coverage, with deductibles generally ranging from $2,000 to $6,000 a year, is much lower than for standard, low-deductible health insurance, allowing the savings in the account to grow quickly to cover the entire deductible. Patients with HSAs are free to use the money in their accounts for any health care, including preventive care, check-ups, prescriptions, dental care, eye care, and the full range of alternative medicine. Nothing could do more to increase consumer freedom of choice and to put patients in control of their own health care.

Money kept in HSAs can be used for health care in later years, or for anything in retirement. So patients are effectively using their own money for non-catastrophic care. That provides powerful incentives to avoid overly costly or unnecessary care and to look for doctors and hospitals that can provide quality care at lower cost, creating real market competition to reduce costs.

The Republican House alternative would allow consumers to use funds saved in HSAs to pay for the catastrophic insurance covering costs above the deductible. Broadly expanding HSAs across the entire health system, including Medicare and Medicaid, would essentially solve the health cost problem.

CBO confirms that this Republican alternative plan would reduce health insurance costs, exactly the opposite of the Pelosi/Obama plan that CBO confirms would increase health insurance costs. The CBO analysis shows that for millions of families health insurance premiums would be almost $5,000 per year less under this GOP plan than the cheapest health insurance under the Pelosi bill.

The real "Nixon to China" moment would come after the Republicans win the midterms and the UR embraces such a plan with the proviso that it be universal.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:00 AM


Obama on terror trials: KSM will die (JOSH GERSTEIN, 11/18/09, Politico)

“I don't think it will be offensive at all when he's convicted and when the death penalty is applied to him,” Obama told NBC’s Chuck Todd.

When Todd asked Obama if he was interfering in the trial process by declaring that Mohammed will be executed, Obama, a former constitutional law professor, insisted that he wasn’t trying to dictate the result.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:54 AM


What would victory look like in Afghanistan?: How can the British and Americans win the war in Afghanistan? By redefining “victory” of course. (Duncan Gardham, 18 Nov 2009, Daily Telegraph)

My guess is that one idea of victory for the Taliban would be watching foreigners leave their country.

Then they will hope to consolidate their power bases in Pashtun areas and attempt, at some point, to retake Kabul.

So what would victory look like for us?

The answer must be a regime in Kabul that is strong enough to withstand that attack and retain some influence over areas beyond the capital.

An alternative would be an acceptance of the notion, rejected in the aftermath of the 2001 invasion, that Afghanistan is more suited to a federal set-up of states controlled by local strong-men with the power to keep the Taliban at bay.

Either way we will not be there to hold the Afghan National Army by the hand as they are asked to fight to the death in areas that are often hundreds of miles from their homes.

In his wonderful book, The Places in Between, Rory Stewart makes it abundantly clear just how little interest the average Afghan outside the cities has in what's even happening in the next village (unless they're waging a vendetta against it). So the idea that they can all be united under one central government that they consent to and will governed by is pretty silly. But it's just as silly for the Taliban as for us.

So just use its tribalism.

Break up the artificial states of Afghanistan and Pakistan and devolve power to the local level. E unum pluribus.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:41 AM


Obama's Bad Trip
: He bowed to Japan. He treaded lightly with China. And then Israel thumbed its nose at Obama’s calls to freeze settlements. Richard Wolffe on why the president can’t wait to come home. (Richard Wolffe, 11/18/09, Daily Beast)

To the president’s critics, this week’s White House trip to Asia has largely failed because of excessive deference. Obama bowed to the Japanese emperor, and he metaphorically genuflected to the Chinese leadership by refusing to confront them publicly about human rights.

Yet the president’s biggest foreign-policy setback of the week—by several orders of magnitude—came on the other side of Asia. And its negative impact was worsened by an administration policy that started with public confrontation, not compromise.

That setback came in the Middle East, where Israel ignored once again White House pressure to freeze settlements. Israel also ignored the much more positive message from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who recently offered effusive praise of the country’s offer to curb settlement growth.

Should have just stayed home and done acid.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:33 AM

Maple-Pecan Pie (Denver Post, 11/18/09)

1/2 cup sugar
4 tablespoons butter, melted
4 large whole eggs
1 cup dark corn syrup
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons bourbon or dark rum (optional)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups pecan halves
9-inch unbaked pie crust

Place a rimmed baking pan on lowest oven rack. Heat oven to 400 degrees.

In a medium bowl, whisk sugar, butter, 4 eggs, corn syrup, maple syrup, salt, bourbon and vanilla. Stir in about three-fourths of the pecan halves. Pour filling into pie crust; arrange remaining pecan halves on top of pie.

Chill the pie for 30 minutes.

Bake 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 degrees. Keep an eye on the crust — if it gets too brown, cover with foil. Bake until a knife tip comes out clean, about 1 hour 15 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:30 AM


Floreana mockingbird saved by stuffed specimen brought back by Charles Darwin (Daily Telegraph, 11/18/09)

[W]ithin 50 years of the great naturalist's voyage on HMS Beagle, the tame little birds had been wiped out on their native island because of the dogs and rats introduced by Darwin himself.

However specimens remained at the Natural History Museum in London and with the California Academy of Sciences. Now thanks to DNA samples taken from the stuffed birds naturalists have been able to find mockingbirds with a similar genetic make up to return to Floreana island for the first time in 120 years.

Just to prove that survival is a function of intelligent design?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:24 AM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:19 AM


How Copenhagen died during Barack Obama's Asia trip (STEVE CLEMONS, 11/18/09, Politico)

Given expectations and Obama’s own early declarations of its importance, Copenhagen is now dead. But what killed it is a fundamental error of the Obama White House: that it can be all things to all causes.

Obama’s attentions are spread too thin. It is vital for the White House to demonstrate an ability to accomplish goals, be they in reorienting Iran’s course, establishing a Palestinian state, ending the embargo of Cuba, creating a new global management pact with China, establishing a Manhattan Project for the next generation or developing renewable energy — anything that might create a “Nixon goes to China” strategic leap out of the incrementalism and inertia driving America’s course now.

But Obama has pulled off nothing big yet, and until he shows an ability to change the way gravitational forces have pulled global affairs out of equilibrium, then the world will resist America’s most benign entreaties to collectively solve problems that face all of us — particularly climate change. a Nixon to China moment.

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November 17, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:39 PM

Roasted broccoli with pine nuts and raisins (Sheryl Julian, 11/18/09, Boston Globe)

3 large broccoli crowns or 2 heads broccoli, stems removed
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/2 cup golden raisins

1. Cut the broccoli crowns lengthwise into 1/2-inch-thick slices.

2. In a large deep saucepan fitted with a steamer rack and filled with several inches of boiling water, steam half the broccoli in a covered pan for 3 minutes or until it is no longer raw but not yet tender (it will cook more later). Remove from the pan and transfer to a large rimmed baking sheet in one layer. Steam the remaining broccoli in the same way and transfer to the sheet. Let the broccoli cool. Brush with vegetable oil. (Prepare ahead 1 day up to this point; cool, cover, and refrigerate.)

3. Set the oven at 400 degrees.

4. Sprinkle the broccoli with salt and pepper. Roast it for 15 to 18 minutes or until it is tender but still has some bite.

5. Meanwhile, in a skillet, heat the olive oil until hot. Add the pine nuts and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute or until they are golden. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the raisins.

6. Arrange the broccoli on a platter, spoon the pine nuts and raisins on top. Sprinkle with more salt and pepper.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:00 PM


Finding the laws that govern us (Google Blog, 11/17/2009)

As many of us recall from our civics lessons in school, the United States is a common law country. That means when judges issue opinions in legal cases, they often establish precedents that will guide the rulings of other judges in similar cases and jurisdictions. Over time, these legal opinions build, refine and clarify the laws that govern our land. For average citizens, however, it can be difficult to find or even read these landmark opinions. We think that's a problem: Laws that you don't know about, you can't follow — or make effective arguments to change.

Starting today, we're enabling people everywhere to find and read full text legal opinions from U.S. federal and state district, appellate and supreme courts using Google Scholar. You can find these opinions by searching for cases (like Planned Parenthood v. Casey), or by topics (like desegregation) or other queries that you are interested in. For example, go to Google Scholar, click on the "Legal opinions and journals" radio button, and try the query separate but equal. Your search results will include links to cases familiar to many of us in the U.S. such as Plessy v. Ferguson and Brown v. Board of Education, which explore the acceptablity of "separate but equal" facilities for citizens at two different points in the history of the U.S. But your results will also include opinions from cases that you might be less familiar with, but which have played an important role.

...when I was graduating from law school, they were just showing us how to use WestLaw to look up cases instead of roaming through the stacks.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:57 PM


A centrist in health-care debate, Lincoln hears it from all sides: GOP and liberals put pressure on Democrat as Senate vote nears (Shailagh Murray, 11/17/09, Washington Post)

An Arkansas Poll published Nov. 5 found that Lincoln's job-approval rating had dropped to 43 percent, from 54 percent a year ago. At least seven Republicans are vying to challenge her bid for a third term; Baker raised $500,000 in his first month as a candidate. And if she does not embrace the party line on the health issue, Lincoln could also face a Democratic primary challenger, along with a Green Party opponent in the general election.

"In some ways, there's not a good vote on this," said Sen. Mark Pryor (D), Arkansas's junior senator, who coasted to reelection last year. "You're going to have detractors on either side, no matter what you do. So I think in the end you have to what you think is right. And I think that's what we're all going to have to do."

The first test for Lincoln could come as early as Friday, when the Senate will vote on whether to bring the bill to the floor. Lincoln told party leaders she would study the final product before committing either way.

"What people want is for us to take our time and not rush into something that we haven't thought completely through," she said, shrugging off the pressure as she hurried back to her office after a Senate vote last week.

Although Pryor supports the reform effort, another prominent Arkansan, Rep. Mike Ross (D), voted against the House bill.

"Most people support the need for health-insurance reform; they just think we can do it for less," Ross said. "They really, as I do, support more choices. They're just skeptical of a bill that takes 2,000 pages to accomplish that."

Ross was reluctant to offer Lincoln advice, but acknowledged her predicament. "She represents the whole state. I just represent one-fourth of the state. I'd just be guessing." But he added: "I think people fear the unintended consequences in a bill this massive."

Democratic leaders expect Lincoln to stick with them on key procedural votes, but are less confident about winning her support on critical amendments -- particularly on the contentious public option.

Posted by sjudd at 1:47 PM


Finding the laws that govern us (Official Google Blog, 11/17/2009)

Starting today, we're enabling people everywhere to find and read full text legal opinions from U.S. federal and state district, appellate and supreme courts using Google Scholar.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:32 AM


Blood Brother: a review of Trotsky: A Biography By Robert Service (Christopher Orlet on 11.17.09, American Spectator)

For decades, Western intellectuals have judged him the Good Marxist. His assassination by Joseph Stalin's agents was further proof -- if further proofs were needed -- of his honorable intentions. If only Leon Trotsky, rather than Stalin, had emerged as Vladimir Lenin's successor, how differently the history of the Soviet Union, indeed, the whole history of communism, might have read.

Trotsky's estrangement and exile from Stalin's Soviet Union has been the stuff of romantic legend, a myth largely fashioned by Trotsky himself. In his many volumes of autobiography, and in works like The Stalin School of Falsification, Trotsky used his considerable rhetorical skills to disguise his political closeness to Stalin and thereby retain the admiration of thinkers in the West, including some on the right. When H.L. Mencken heard Trotsky's library had burned, he wrote offering to send the exile some books. (Trotsky rudely declined.) Lionel Trilling, Mary McCarthy, Edmund Wilson and Saul Bellow admired Trotsky both as a man of ideas and a man of action, one who, with the great surrealist AndréBreton, could write A Manifesto for a Free Revolutionary Art, when not leading the Red Army into battle against the White Russians, the Ukrainians, and the Poles.

Trotsky's latest biographer, Robert Service (author of acclaimed biographies of Lenin and Stalin), suggests it is foolish to take Trotsky at his word. If there is one overarching theme in Service's study, it is that there was very little difference in philosophy between Trotsky and his nemesis Stalin. "The basic agenda of the two men was much more similar than it was dissimilar," he says.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:09 AM


The Left Fights Itself: In his new book, Michael Bérubé says the left is torn between radical politics and cultural studies. The loser, naturally, is its relevance. (Alexandra Gutierrez, November 17, 2009, American Prospect)

The Manichean Left, as Bérubé describes it, is vanguardist and reductionist. It is a "leftism of style." The Manichean Left wears "Free Mumia" shirts and listens to bands like Capitalist Casualties. This faction would probably be innocuous, even valuable, if it didn't practice a politics of negation: It knows how to organize rallies, culture jam, build police-thwarting lock-boxes, and generally attract media attention. Bérubé identifies the Manichean Left with linguist-cum-political dissident Noam Chomsky -- it defends figures like Serbian nationalist Slobodan Milosevic and Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad while dismissing any atrocities they have committed as minor compared to the crime of American imperialism. Because the United States is by definition bad, anything opposed to it is good. Conservatives and liberal hawks alike had no trouble characterizing this brand of reactionary leftism as representative of the left at large.

As a foil to Chomsky, Bérubé offers British theorist and former Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies director Stuart Hall. In particular, Bérubé devotes considerable attention to Hall's rejection of Thatcherism, "a historical moment in which Americans can recognize a distant mirror of the early years of the twenty-first century: an energetic right wing at the helm of the state; a befuddled and demoralized 'opposition' party not offering much in the way of opposition; and a doctrinaire out-of-touch 'left' repeating shopworn slogans."

What made the British Left relevant again was its embrace of Thatcherism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:07 AM


Deep divisions linger on health care (Dan Balz and Jon Cohen, November 17, 2009, Washington Post)

As the Senate prepares to take up legislation aimed at overhauling the nation's health-care system, President Obama and the Democrats are still struggling to win the battle for public opinion. A new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows Americans deeply divided over the proposals under consideration and majorities predicting higher costs ahead.

But Republican opponents have done little better in rallying the public opposition to kill the reform effort. Americans continue to support key elements of the legislation, including a mandate that employers provide health insurance to their workers and access to a government-sponsored insurance plan for those people without insurance.

Employers have to provide HSA's/catastrophic and we'll give them to the poor.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:04 AM


Cost fears drive down car usage (Jill Insley, 11/17/09,

Cash-strapped motorists are cutting back on their driving costs by using their car less, downsizing their car and running just one vehicle per family, the RAC said today.

Forget cap and trade. Tax gas.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:41 AM


Obama Has Failed the World on Climate Change (Christian Schwägerl, 11/17/09, Der Spiegel)

US President Barack Obama came to office promising hope and change. But on climate change, he has followed in the footsteps of his predecessor George W. Bush. Now, should the climate summit in Copenhagen fail, the blame will lie squarely with Obama.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:20 AM


China turns to Adam Smith (Daily Telegraph, 11/16/09)

Smith’s first masterpiece, the Theory of Moral Sentiments, has been translated into Chinese for the first time, and Chris Berry, professor at Glasgow University, where Smith wrote the book, will next week deliver lectures on it at Fudan University in Shanghai.

China’s Premier, Wen Jiabao, has said he often carries the work – which preceded his more famous work The Wealth of Nations – in his suitcase when he goes abroad. Prof Berry said the earlier book emphasised the importance “not only [of] their material prosperity but also their moral welfare”.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:18 AM


Fighting the Taliban from half a world away (BORYS KRAWCZENIUk, November 16, 2009, Times Tribune)

U.S. Rep. Chris Carney, also known as Navy Reserve Cmdr. Chris Carney, is one of the military's remote operators of unmanned Predator, Reaper and Global Hawk drones that fly and spy over the Middle East countries.

"I want to be on the cutting edge of our national defense and our defense technology," Mr. Carney said. "And this is it."

The drones look like smaller, thinner planes.

From thousands of feet in the air, they often just hover a day or more without refueling. Their high-resolution cameras silently send live video to their U.S. military operators who warn ground troops in Afghanistan and Iraq about the presence of enemy combatants who could be planting improvised explosive devices, known as IEDs.

Operators such as Mr. Carney manage them through remote controls from thousands of miles away in a room at Langley Air Force Base in Langley, Va. These remote controls are far more sophisticated than but not entirely unlike the push-button devices a pro football fan uses to switch between games on a Sunday afternoon.

The difference is changing channels never killed anyone.

Predators and Reapers sometimes fire deadly missiles at enemy combatants or terrorists in Afghanistan, Iraq and sometimes Pakistan. In August, a CIA drone killed Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Taliban there and a major suspect in the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

Commander Carney was not in on that one, but he has been in on a few kills.

November 16, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:43 PM


Delay routine mammograms until age 50, US panel says (Stephen Smith, 11/16/09, Boston Globe)

The US Preventive Services Task Force, established by the federal government to set standards on disease prevention and primary care, concluded that mammography saves relatively few lives in women 40 to 49, and that this benefit is eclipsed by the risks, including tests that erroneously detect tumors when none exist.

The task force used a similar analysis to determine that women from 50 to 74 -- when breast cancer becomes increasingly common -- should be screened, but that little was gained by performing mammograms on a yearly schedule. The panel also found that breast self-examinations are not useful, at any age. [...]

The mammography revisions come amid an intensifying debate about the merits of cancer screening in general. Screening is based on the notion that finding tumors early, when they are most treatable, saves lives. But many of the cancers identified are slow-growing and non-lethal, critics say, raising the question whether the tests identify enough life-threatening cancers to justify the anxiety and sometimes unnecessary surgeries prompted by inaccurate results; and the financial cost. [...]

[A] Dartmouth researcher who has challenged the reflexive orthodoxy that cancer screening is always desirable hailed the Preventive Services Task Force recommendations.

"Even if you don't care about money, you have to consider the trade-off of benefits to harms, and all screening has harms," said Dr. H. Gilbert Welch, professor of medicine at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice. "The recognition that this is a trade-off has become more broadly understood, and that's a really good thing."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:41 PM


Is Ultimate Fighting Gay?: The head of the Ultimate Fighting Championship recently became the first head of a major sports league to welcome gay athletes. (Thaddeus Russell, 10/31/09, Daily Beast)

I had heard the accusations and innuendo. And just two minutes into the first preliminary fight of last week's Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) event I saw something that confirmed them. I was in a sports bar in the San Gabriel Valley, a predominately working-class suburban area just east of Los Angeles that has produced a disproportionate number of mixed martial-arts (MMA) fighters and is home to some of the sport's most committed fans. Malls in the area are filled with men wearing gothic-inspired MMA t-shirts and baseball hats, and the parking lots often become mock battlegrounds for teenage boys acting out the punches, kicks, and grappling moves of the fastest-growing and what many believe is the most macho sport in the United States.

Spokesmen for professional boxing, which has seen a large share of its fan base gravitate toward MMA, have been quick to accuse their rivals of promoting gay porn. Boxing promoter Bob Arum described MMA as "guys rolling around like homosexuals on the ground."

But when Chase Gormley threw Stefan Struve to the mat and mounted him between his legs, a young woman in the corner of the bar yelled "that is so hot!" A minute later, Struve turned the tables with his own throw and mount, then clasped Gormley's head, neck, and shoulder between his legs in what is called a "triangle choke hold." At this point the woman, who was sitting with two quiet and increasingly embarrassed men, moaned lustfully then turned to her companions and told them she was "getting ideas" for things to do with her boyfriend. A man wearing skull-and-bones MMA gear sitting near me slammed down his Bud Lime and shouted at her that she was "ruining the fight."

I found out later that the two men sitting with the aroused women were among a growing gay MMA fan base. They told me that they were just as turned on by the action as their female friend but contained themselves for fear of retribution from the "hyper-macho" crowd. "She says what we can't when we watch the fights in public," one said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:26 PM


Judge Dredd 'Black Box' recorder/spy kit for guns unveiled (Lewis Page, 16th November 2009, The Register)

A major weapons manufacturer has exhibited a so-called "Black Box" which could be fitted to small arms - for instance rifles or submachine guns - and record details of every shot fired, potentially including location, target and even user identity.

The Black Box has been developed by Belgian-headquartered company FN Herstal, a famous name in the gun world. The new gizmo goes on show tomorrow at the MILIPOL securo-expo in Paris.

The idea is that the Black Box electronics would be installed internally in a void space such as the pistol grip of an assault rifle. (It "fits in any weapon type", apparently.) The gadget would run on a non-replaceable battery lasting ten years or 100,000 shots - covering the weapon handily between major overhauls.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:21 PM


Millions may have to repay part of Obama tax credit (Jim Puzzanghera, November 16, 2009, LA Times)

For more than 15.4 million people, the Making Work Pay tax credit enacted as part of the $787-billion economic stimulus package could turn out to be a Making You Pay Back tax credit.

That's the finding of a government watchdog report out today about the credit, which provides as much as $400 for individuals and as much as $800 for joint filers. It is the signature tax cut that President Obama promised in his campaign and was delivered with much fanfare in February.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:14 PM


Going For It (Joe Posnanski, November 16th, 2009)

[I] fully understand Bill Belichick’s decision to go for it on 4th and 2 in Sunday’s night’s remarkable Patriots-Colts game. You already know the situation: The Patriots led by 6, they were deep in their own territory — the first down marker was at their own 30 — and there were just a few ticks more than two minutes left.

The conventional choice there is to punt. In fact, “conventional choice” does not begin to describe it. It was the obvious choice. The incontestable choice. I suspect 29 31 other NFL coaches would have punted there without even thinking twice about it. I suspect that had Belichick decided to punt there, nobody — not one interviewer, not one talk show host, not even one radio caller — would have second guessed him there (and anyone who would second guess him there would have been mocked and told to learn about football). I simply cannot remember any team going for it in a similar situation. You punt the ball and make Peyton Manning and the Colts go 70 yards to try and score the game-winning touchdown. It’s as obvious as bringing Mariano Rivera in the game in the 9th.

But … Belichick went for it. And here’s the reason: He doesn’t care about any of that stuff. He doesn’t care about sentiment or history or what every other coach would do. He doesn’t care about anything at all except winning the game. The best explanation I’ve read of the decision so far this morning comes from Brian Burke in the New York Times fifth down blog. Burke was a Navy pilot, and now he writes the Advanced NFL Stats blog.

His explanation is simply this: A team picks up fourth and two about 60 percent of the time — and we all know that a fourth down conversion in this case means certain victory. On the flip side: A team would score a game-winning touchdown from the 30 about 53 percent of the time. This leads to this formula — the first part is the 60% multiplied by 1 (1 signifying the certain victory if the play is converted). The second part is 40 percent multiplied by the chance of winning the game if the 4th down play fails:

(.60 *1) + (.40*(1-.53)) = 78.8% chance of winning.

There you go. Burke then estimates the chance of winning if Belichick punts — that is the chance of a team going 66 yards for a touchdown in the final two minutes. He says, historically, teams get that about 30% of the time. So a punt gives the Patriots a 70% chance of winning.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:31 PM


Register Poll Has Bad News For Dems (Reid Wilson, November 16, 2009, Hotline)

It's not a good day to be a Dem in IA. Gov. Chet Culver (D) trails the two most likely GOP nominees, while Sen. Chuck Grassley (R) could be cruising to a sixth term, according to a new poll for the state's largest paper.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:30 AM


Equalizer Actor Edward Woodward Dies (Sky News, 11/16/09)

His agent Janet Glass released a statement praising his "brave spirit and wonderful humour".

It said he was admired through his "unforgettable roles" and was "equally fine and courageous in real life, never losing his brave spirit and wonderful humour throughout his illness".

"He was further sustained by the love of his wife, Michele, children, Tim, Peter, Sarah and Emily, his grandchildren and numerous friends," the statement added.

"His passing will leave a huge gap in many lives."

His greatest role was as Breaker Morant.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:22 AM


Obamacare: Buy now, pay later (Robert J. Samuelson, November 16, 2009, Washington Post)

Their far-reaching overhaul of the health-care system -- which Congress is halfway toward enacting -- would almost certainly make matters worse. It would create new, open-ended medical entitlements that threaten higher deficits and would do little to suppress surging health costs. The disconnect between what President Obama says and what he's doing is so glaring that most people could not abide it. The president, his advisers and allies have no trouble. But reconciling blatantly contradictory objectives requires them to engage in willful self-deception, public dishonesty, or both.

The campaign to pass Obama's health-care plan has assumed a false, though understandable, cloak of moral superiority. It's understandable because almost everyone thinks that people in need of essential medical care should get it; ideally, everyone would have health insurance. The pursuit of these worthy goals can easily be projected as a high-minded exercise for the public good.

It's false for two reasons. First, the country has other goals -- including preventing financial crises and minimizing the crushing effects of high deficits or taxes on the economy and younger Americans -- that "health-care reform" would jeopardize. And second, the benefits of "reform" are exaggerated. Sure, many Americans would feel less fearful about losing insurance; but there are cheaper ways to limit insecurity. Meanwhile, improvements in health for today's uninsured would be modest. They already receive substantial medical care. Insurance would help some individuals enormously, but studies find that, on average, gains are moderate. Despite using more health services, people don't automatically become healthier.

The pretense of moral superiority further erodes before all the expedient deceptions used to sell Obama's health-care agenda.

...universal HSAs which would build wealth for the poor rather than make them dependents of the state?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:56 AM


Impact on humanities: Researchers must take a stand now or be judged and rewarded as salesmen (Stefan Collini, 11/13/09, TLS)

In many respects, the REF will be quite like the RAE, and will require similar kinds of evidence in the submissions (selected publications, information about research environment, etc). But one very significant new element has been introduced. In this exercise, approximately 25 per cent of the rating (the exact proportion is yet to be confirmed) will be allocated for “impact”. The premiss is that research must “achieve demonstrable benefits to the wider economy and society”. The guidelines make clear that “impact” does not include “intellectual influence” on the work of other scholars and does not include influence on the “content” of teaching. It has to be impact which is “outside” academia, on other “research users” (and assessment panels will now include, alongside senior academics, “a wider range of users”). Moreover, this impact must be the outcome of a university department’s own “efforts to exploit or apply the research findings”: it cannot claim credit for the ways other people may happen to have made use of those “findings”.

As always, the reality behind the abstractions which make up the main guidelines emerges more clearly from the illustrative details. The paragraphs about “impact indicators” give some sense of what is involved. The document specifies that some indicators relate to “outcomes (for example, improved health outcomes or growth in business revenue)”; other indicators show that the research in question “has value to user communities (such as research income)”; while still others provide “clear evidence of progress towards positive outcomes (such as the take-up or application of new products, policy advice, medical interventions, and so on)”. The document offers a “menu” of “impact indicators” that will be accepted: it runs to thirty-seven bullet points. Nearly all of these refer to “creating new businesses”, “commercialising new products or processes”, attracting “R&D investment from global business”, informing “public policy-making” or improving “public services”, improving “patient care or health outcomes”, and improving “social welfare, social cohesion or national security” (a particularly bizarre grouping). Only five of the bullet points are grouped under the heading “Cultural enrichment”. These include such things as “increased levels of public engagement with science and research (for example, as measured by surveys)” and “changes to public attitudes to science (for example, as measured by surveys)”. The final bullet point is headed “Other quality of life benefits”: in this case, uniquely, no examples are provided. The one line under this heading simply says “Please suggest what might also be included in this list”.

The priorities indicated by these phrases recur throughout the document. For example, in explaining how the “impact profile” of each department will be ranked as “four star”, “three star”, and so on, it provides “draft definitions of levels for the impact sub-profiles”. That for “three star” reads: “highly innovative (but not quite ground-breaking) impacts such as new products or processes, relevant to several situations have been demonstrated”. (Sentence-construction is not a forte of the document.) And there is also a rather chilling paragraph which reads: “Concerns have been raised about the indirect route through which research in some fields leads to social or economic impact; that is, by influencing other disciplines that are ‘closer to market’ (for example, research in mathematics could influence engineering research that in turn has an economic impact). We intend to develop an approach that will give due credit for this”.

Clearly, the authors of this document, struggling to give expression to the will of their political masters, are chiefly thinking of economic, medical, and policy “impacts”, and they chiefly have in mind, therefore, those scientific, medical, technological, and social scientific disciplines that are, as the quoted phrase puts it, “closer to market”.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:50 AM


New Prison at Bagram Points to Shift in Approach (MIKE GUDGELL, Nov. 15, 2009, ABC News)

The U.S. military is starting over in Afghanistan. "It's a new world -- a new war," one senior officer told ABC News, yelling over the sound of jet engines and helicopter rotors. [...]

The old Bagram will soon close and a new detention facility will open, on the same base, in the next few weeks. Bagram is a huge air base and military complex next to a village named Bagram.

Just change its name to Club Obama.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:47 AM


American dream needs repair (Clive Crook, November 15 2009, Financial Times)

The book confirms a finding well established in the literature, that transition to the middle class is all but guaranteed for poor children if they do three things: finish high school, work full time and marry before having children. The US underperforms as an opportunity society because so many of its young people fail at one or more. The book focuses on these areas.

Education, as the Obama administration recognises, is pivotal. The book calls for gradual increases in spending on early education programmes for the poor, an exceptionally productive investment according to all the research.

The authors also suggest policies to improve schools, such as adopting national standards (a strengthening of the state-based standards of the No Child Left Behind law); new federal incentives (like those being introduced by the Obama administration) to encourage the hiring and retention of good teachers; and support for “paternalistic” schools that stress order, good attendance, basic skills and frequent assessment. Teachers’ unions find plenty to object to here.

Incentives to find and stay in work could be improved by extending the earned-income tax credit, say the authors, and through support for vocational training. But work requirements under the 1990s welfare reforms should be maintained or tightened, they say. At this many liberals will bridle, as they will at the claim that the “success sequence” of school, employment, and children after marriage requires firmer pro-family suasion and incentives. “To those who argue that this goal is old-fashioned or inconsistent with modern culture, we argue that modern culture is inconsistent with the needs of children.” So there.

The cost of these new and expanded interventions, net of savings from schemes the book wants trimmed, would be about $20bn (€13.4bn, £12bn) a year. This seems modest by current standards, but, as good fiscal conservatives, the authors think the country cannot afford its present commitments, let alone new ones. Here, therefore, they make their boldest suggestion of all. The US social contract needs to be revised, so that the elderly, many of whom are comparatively well off, receive less so that the poor can get more.

...and their parents vote for a party that dances to the tune of teachers, anti-family activists, and the entitlement lobbies.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:42 AM


No matter which way you dissect it, Bill Belichick made a bad call (Peter King, 11/16/09, SI)

Let's start with 2:23 left in the game, New England up 34-28 with two timeouts left. The Colts had three timeouts left, plus the two-minute warning stoppage, so New England needed at least one first down to bleed much of the clock, and two to run the clock out entirely. As Tom Brady got to the huddle and saw the play clock winding down, he noticed the wrong personnel group on the field for the play that was called. A very uncharacteristic mistake by the Patriots, and Brady signaled for a timeout. One left for New England, which really was only important in case the Patriots wanted to challenge an officials' call in the next few seconds.

Kevin Faulk up the middle for no gain; Indianapolis timeout. Brady eight-yard pass to Wes Welker; Indy timeout. On third-and-two, Brady, pressured, threw a ball for Welker that was nearly picked off by Colts rookie cornerback Jerraud Powers. Incomplete. Fourth-and-two.

New England timeout, 2:08 left. The Patriots' last one.

Why? I wondered. Get the punt team on the field, try to pin Peyton Manning back as far as you can, and make him drive 70 or so yards. The New England punter, Chris Hanson, hadn't had any of his four punts returned, and he'd averaged a 44-yard net. So if he did what he'd done all night, the Colts would start at their own 28 at the two-minute warning with one timeout left.

Belichick was talking to Brady on the sidelines. I was sure they were talking about trying to draw the Colts offside with a hard count; there was no way he'd be authorizing going for it on fourth down. But back went Brady to the field, and he lined up in the shotgun, and started calling signals without the head-bob you normally associate with trying to draft a team offside.

"My God,'' I thought, "he's going for it!''

Two things had to factor in here. One: Belichick didn't want to give Manning the ball with two minutes to go; he'd just seen Manning take the Colts 79 yards in six plays for a touchdown. Two: He trusted Brady to get two yards. Let's place the odds of Brady getting two yards at 60, 65 percent. The odds of Manning going 72 yards to score a touchdown in less than two minutes ... that's maybe 35 percent.

They had two downs to go two yards. If two run plays outside the Red Zone can't get them then you aren't an NFL team.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:39 AM


Obama's judicial confirmations are slow going (David G. Savage, November 15, 2009, LA Times)

Despite a solid Democratic majority in the Senate, President Obama is on pace to set a record for the fewest judges confirmed during a president's first year in the White House.

So far, only six of Obama's nominees to the lower federal courts have won approval. By comparison, President George W. Bush had 28 judges confirmed in his first year in office, even though Democrats held a narrow majority for much of the year.

The fewer he seats the less chance of embarrassing rulings to defend when he's running for re-election.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:39 AM


Troop Morale Drops in Afghanistan, Army Study Says (RACHEL MARTIN, Nov. 15, 2009, ABC News)

[Barbara ] Van Dahlen points to yet another major stress factor for U.S. troops in Afghanistan: the president's long-awaited decision on what strategy to pursue in Afghanistan and how to redefine the mission.

In the absence of a decision, morale can decline.

"It has nothing to do with the politics; it's, 'What do you expect of me? Is this mission valued? And are we going to move forward as we were trained or are we not? Are we going to keep pulling back?' That uncertainty -- it puts into the mix unease. And yes, that affects people psychologically.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:21 AM


Apocalypse Now: Amid fire and torment, a man and his son endure the end of the world as we know it.: a review of The Road by Cormac McCarthy (Ron Charles, Washington Post)

Among his thinly plotted novels, The Road is McCarthy's most thinly plotted of all, as there's literally nowhere to go, no sense in going, just the inexorable impulse to move. The plot, such as it is, comes down to this father's existential need to keep his son alive and hopeful in a world that offers no life or hope. Day after day, month after month, they're starving and freezing, pushing along a cart with the few provisions they scavenge from decrepit homes looted bare years ago. "The boy was all that stood between him and death," McCarthy writes. "He saw for a brief moment the absolute truth of the world. The cold relentless circling of the intestate earth. Darkness implacable. The blind dogs of the sun in their running. The crushing black vacuum of the universe."

But against that lifeless state, the man clings to a raw faith in his mission: "My job is to take care of you," he tells his son. "I was appointed to do that by God. I will kill anyone who touches you." With everything scraped away, the impulse to sanctify, to worship, to create meaning remains. "All of this like some ancient anointing," the man thinks after washing his son's hair in an icy dead lake. "So be it. Evoke the forms. Where you've nothing else construct ceremonies out of the air and breathe upon them."

Concurrent with keeping his son alive is the more metaphysical challenge of sustaining his son's innate goodness while forcing him to witness the corruption of all moral behavior. "Are we still the good guys?" the boy asks in moments of confusion and shock. His father insists they are. "This is what good guys do," he tells him. "They keep trying. They dont give up." Why, then, his son asks, won't he help the stragglers they run across instead of running from them or shooting at them? "We should go to him, Papa. We could get him and take him with us. . . . I'd give that little boy half of my food." How to explain the necessity of abandoning others to certain death (or worse, in one particularly terrifying scene) while maintaining that they're "the good guys," the ones "carrying the fire"?

Under these singularly bleak conditions, the boy's nature -- his impulse to help, his anxiety about stealing others' food -- is, of course, naive. But even when fighting for their lives, his father knows that it's a naiveté inspired by the boy's goodness that makes their fight worthwhile, that allows him to resist the age-old temptation "to curse God and die."

The encounter that illumines the final moments of the novel will infuriate McCarthy die-hards who relish his existential bleakness, but the scene confirms earlier allusions that suggest the roots of this end-of-the-world story reach far past the nuclear age to the apocalypse of Christian faith. The book's climax -- an immaculate conception of Pilgrim's Progress and "Mad Max" -- is a startling shift for McCarthy, but a tender answer to a desperate prayer.

The book allows for a number of readings--though all of them Christian. A fable of the love between Father and Son can't help but be read as a Christian allegory, especially when the boy is referred to as a tabernacle and proclaims: "I am the one."

But I was struck throughout by the obvious way in which the author was challenging existentialism. This is the sort of book the mature Camus would have written to rebut his younger self. In particular, Mr. McCarthy makes the direct argument that the man's love for the boy justifies existence and the selflessness of this love is made apparent by the man's sacrifice. Meanwhile, despite a situation of literal lawlessness, the two characters are continuously bothered by whether their actions conform to objective standards of good. The boy is even more insistent on this point than the man, functioning as a prick to his conscience. In a world where existence has been boiled down to little more than the individual and utter freedom seemingly reigns--the ideal condition for the Existential anti-ethos--our heroes reject individualism and freedom, choosing love and the Law instead.

The unrecognized money shot of the book though come when the man is remembering a special night on the beach with his wife and recalls that: "he said if he were God he would have made the world just so and no different." The suggestion is that this moment of beauty and love justifies Creation. Perhaps too the love of the man and the boy does, no matter the circumstances under which it occurs. Or, maybe the story alone does. Were you God, wouldn't the capacity of man for such love justify your Work to you? Despite all the awfulness and evil we're likewise capable of?

November 15, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:32 PM


Headley mapped all ‘26/11 targets’: US suspect posed as Jew: Police (SAMYABRATA RAY GOSWAMI, 11/15/09, The Telegraph)

David Coleman Headley personally visited every target site of the 26/11 terror strikes last year, carrying out a recce on behalf of the Lashkar-e-Toiba, a police source said today.

Posing as a Jew, he even visited Nariman House, the Jewish Chabad centre, in July 2008.

The Mumbai police today carried out raids in Bandra, its adjoining suburb Khar and BPO hub Goregaon in search of Headley’s local acquaintances and contacts. [...]

The source said Headley, a Pakistani-born US national, and his associate Tahawwur Hussain Rana stayed in Hotel Outram, a seedy motel in Mumbai’s Fort area, for about a fortnight in July 2008.

Born Daood Gilani, Headley, who changed his name and passport in 2006, posed as a Jewish American during his Mumbai stay. A source close to Rahul too confirmed that Headley had claimed to be a Jew.

“It is a mystery how he got into that building (Nariman House) just posing as a Jew. We are probing if he had anybody helping him locally. The FBI seized a book called How to Pray Like a Jew from him at the time of his arrest in Chicago. He had prepared himself thoroughly to pose as a Jew,” the officer said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:23 PM


Immigration brings real and tangible benefits (Jacob Varghese - posted Monday, 16 November 2009, Online Opinion)

The population pessimists make three important claims: that immigration is unsustainably quick; that a growing population threatens our quality of life; and that it threatens the environment. All three claims are dubious.

As for the pace of immigration, reaching 35 million in 40 years will actually represent a slowing down from our historical rates of population growth. It means adding an extra 60 per cent on today’s 22 million. If you take any other 40-year period staring at federation in 1901 and ending at 2007, the lowest rate of growth you’ll find is 78 per cent, which occurred between 1967 and 2007. In our first 40 years of nationhood we grew 88 per cent, from 3.8 million to 7.1 million. Our 40-year growth rate peaked at 115 per cent, from 1947 to 1987.

In its historical context, 60 per cent over 40 years looks pretty modest. Australia has a history of very fast immigration growth, managed with remarkably little disruption or antagonism. Our economy, amenity and social services have grown with the population, each wave of immigrants quickly paying for themselves. Given this track record, there is every reason to be optimistic about more population growth.

Concerns for quality of life are similarly misplaced. Only the most reactionary would argue that the Australia of 1969, population 12.5 million, was a better place to live than the Australia of 2009.

Immigrants have added so much since. They have helped our economic life, not just in providing labour and consuming goods and services but also by adding dynamism and entrepreneurial vigour. In cultural terms, immigration has helped to make Australia a more vibrant and interesting place where ideas from around the world combine to inspire creativity. Propelled by this energy, both Sydney and Melbourne have grown into globally-recognised cities of cultural significance.

Even with our continuous population growth, or possibly because of it, our economy and public services continue to provide for the well-being of our residents. Australia is ranked second only to Norway on the Human Development Index, a rounded index of human welfare that takes into account education and life expectancy as well as wealth. We can always do better to guarantee the welfare of our citizens, but by relative standards we are doing very well.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:14 PM


From Blogger Pictures

My penance is done.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:13 PM


Billions for state, but where are jobs?: Majority of stimulus awards have brought little help (TODD SPANGLER, 11/15/09, Detroit FREE PRESS)

Seven months into the massive federal stimulus program, the vast majority of government grants, contracts and loans in Michigan so far have created or retained virtually no jobs, a Free Press analysis shows.

The analysis also revealed that others who have been promised or have received stimulus money have overstated -- in some cases greatly -- the number of jobs created or protected. [...]

• Three of every four stimulus grants, contracts and loans approved in Michigan created or retained one job or less.

• Fewer than 700 awards had received some money, and nearly half of those -- 327 -- had created one job or less, at a cost per job of $2.7 million.

• Some job estimates were wrong: General Motors Co., for instance, reported 105 jobs saved or created for a government purchase of 5,000 vehicles but later said no jobs were saved or created. The City of Detroit reported 342 jobs it now says were projections -- not jobs already created or retained.

Peter Morici, a University of Maryland economist, said the results suggest the stimulus won't deliver promised results.

"All those claims," he said, "are ridiculous."

...Democrats could have just given every Michigander a debit card to spend.

And Georgians.... AJC: # of stimulus jobs in Ga. overstated (The Associated Press, 11/15/09)

An analysis suggests recipients of federal stimulus dollars have overstated the number of jobs created or saved in Georgia.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution analyzed several public records and concluded the jobs saved may have been overestimated by more than 1,500.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:10 PM


Dems at risk of losing Obama's old Senate seat (LYNN SWEET, 11/15/09, Chicago Sun-Times)

Democratic Party leaders in Washington -- and the Obama White House -- failed to recruit a candidate strong enough to scare Rep. Mark Kirk -- the Republicans' best bet -- from the race. The only luck they had was the decision by Sen. Roland Burris -- appointed by now-indicted former Gov. Rod Blagojevich to fill Obama's remaining term -- not to run to keep the seat.

The chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois -- Michael J. Madigan, the speaker of the Illinois House -- is the father of Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who rebuffed Obama and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee when they wooed her for the Senate. Papa Madigan, more concerned with keeping his state House majority, doesn't really care who the senator is.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:38 PM


The Three-Year Solution: How the reinvention of higher education benefits parents, students, and schools. (Lamar Alexander , 10/17/09, NEWSWEEK)

[S]ome forward-looking colleges like Hartwick are rethinking the old way of doing things and questioning decades-old assumptions about what a college degree means. For instance, why does it have to take four years to earn a diploma? This fall, 16 first-year students and four second-year students at Hartwick, located halfway between Binghamton and Albany, enrolled in the school's new three-year degree program. According to the college, the plan is designed for high-ability, highly motivated students who wish to save money or to move along more rapidly toward advanced degrees.

By eliminating that extra year, three-year degree students save 25 percent in costs. Instead of taking 30 credits a year, these students take 40. During January, Hartwick runs a four-week course during which students may earn three to four credits on or off campus, including a number of international sites. Summer courses are not required, but a student may enroll in them—and pay extra. Three-year students get first crack at course registration. There are no changes in the number of courses professors teach or in their pay.

In April, Lipscomb University in Nashville also announced a three-year option, along with a plan for veterans to attend tuition-free and make it easier and cheaper for community-college students to attend Lipscomb. Lipscomb requires its three-year-degree students to take eight semesters, which means summer school is required. Still, university president Randy Lowry estimates that a three-year-degree student saves about $11,000 in tuition and fees. [...]

Adopting a three-year option will not come easily to most schools. Those that wish to tackle tradition and make American campuses more cost-conscious may find it easier to take Trachtenberg's advice: open campuses year-round. "You could run two complete colleges, with two complete faculties, in the facilities now used half the year for one," he says. "That's without cutting the length of students' vacations, increasing class sizes, or requiring faculty to teach more." Simply requiring one mandatory summer session for every student in four years—as Dartmouth College does—would improve his institution's bottom line by $10 million to $15 million dollars, he says.

Whether they experiment with three-year degrees, offer year-round classes, challenge the hidebound tenure system—or all of the above—universities are, like the automakers, slowly realizing that to stay competitive and relevant they must adapt to a rapidly changing world.

...outside of the social cache--diminished by the fact that any idiot can go to college now--what value does a degree generally add?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:21 PM


Portrait of 9/11 ‘Jackal’ Emerges as He Awaits Trial (MARK MAZZETTI, 11/15/09, NY Times)

Not long after he was rousted from bed and seized in a predawn raid in Pakistan in March 2003, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed gave his captors two demands: He wanted a lawyer, and he wanted to be taken to New York.

After a nearly seven-year odyssey that took him to secret Central Intelligence Agency jails in Europe and an American military prison in Cuba, Mr. Mohammed is finally likely to get his wish.

The best part of this whole dog and pony show is that if he were to be acquitted there is less than no chance that the UR would free him. Indeed, if the press were adversary enough to ask the question the President would be forced to acknowledge that fact.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:41 AM


Iran 'has rejected' nuclear deal: French FM (AFP, 11/15/09)

Iran has in effect rejected a UN-brokered deal aimed at preventing Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said in an interview published on Sunday.

"In practice, the answer has almost been given and it is negative. That is a shame, a shame, a shame," Kouchner told the Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot ahead of a visit to the region later this week.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:39 AM


Obama's gamble on free trade pact (John Armstrong, 11/16/09, New Zealand Herald)

Engagement is one thing; marriage is another step altogether. No doubt that distinction was in the back of the minds of Barack Obama's speechwriters when the American President spoke on Saturday of "engaging" with New Zealand and the three other Trans Pacific Partnership countries with the goal of shaping a regional free trade area which spans the Pacific.

"Engaging" with something does not amount to "endorsing" it. Has the President allowed himself a bit of wriggle room in case pressure builds back home which makes it too difficult politically for him to push the free trade barrow?

Likewise, was his ambitious talk of a mega-trade pact reaching across the Pacific designed to stifle criticism coming from the other direction - that from American business leaders worried that the United States' free trade agenda had stalled and who fear being shut out of Asian markets as a result?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:34 AM


You Watch Out, Ali!: Cassius Clay is the champion and will be the favorite when he meets Cleveland Williams for the heavyweight title Monday, but the Big Cat, in superb condition, is powerful, and his knockout record is awesome (Martin Kane, November 14, 1966, Sports Illustrated)

For a long time now, ever since he won the world heavyweight championship from Sonny Liston in one of prizefighting's stranger battles—with both fighters trying to quit and only Liston succeeding—followers of boxing have been hoping to see Muhammad Ali, the former Cassius Clay, truly tested. The test would now seem to be in the offing. This Monday in Houston's huge Astrodome the largest crowd ever to attend a fight indoors will see Ali pitted against Cleveland Williams, the Big Cat from Yoakum, Texas. Williams is rightly considered to be the strongest puncher around. Everyone knows that Ali's speed of foot is sensational, that his reflexes are superb and that his punching is at least respectable, but no one yet knows whether he can take a punch well. Certainly he never has gone about the ring looking to be hit. The hardest blow to the head he ever has suffered was Henry Cooper's left hook in their first fight, and that put Ali down hard. He came back, however, to win by a knockout.

Cooper's lonesome hook is not to be compared in power to any blow that Cleveland Williams throws with either hand. For this reason alone, when Williams challenged Ali there were murmurs of dissent in Muhammad's tent. No one in his right mind ever really wants to fight Williams.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:30 AM


A Shtick With a Thousand Lives (ARI KARPEL, 11/15/09, NY Times)

MEL BROOKS and Carl Reiner have been cracking each other up for nearly 60 years. The two met while working on Sid Caesar’s early television series “Your Show of Shows,” when they cooked up a routine in which Mr. Reiner played an earnest, unnamed TV interviewer, and Mr. Brooks, the 2,000 Year Old Man.

In a Yiddish accent, the old guy held forth on the questionable wisdom of an absurdly long life, touching on topics including parenthood (“I have over 42,000 children — and not one comes to visit me”), Shakespeare (“He was a dreadful writer.” “Every letter was cockeyed, he had the worst penmanship I ever saw in my life!”) and the Black Plague (“Too many rats, not enough cats”).

The shtick yielded five comedy albums, television appearances with Ed Sullivan and Steve Allen and a 1975 animated television special, all of which are included in Shout! Factory’s remastered 50th anniversary four-disc reissue (three CDs and one DVD), “The 2000 Year Old Man: The Complete History,” in stores Nov. 24.

Of course, their funniest bit ever doesn't feature them nor was it written by them. It's the depiction of the Sid Caesar writers in the film, "My Favorite Year."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:19 AM


Stuart Holden's American World Cup dream (Paul Forsyth, 11/15/09, The Scotsman)

STUART HOLDEN'S family moved to the United States when he was ten years old. The young Aberdonian didn't know it then, but Scotland's national team were destined to make only one more appearance on the game's biggest stage before disappearing into the wilderness.

Across the Atlantic, the country where he would grow up was heading in the other direction, about to qualify for the third of six consecutive World Cup finals. For a young footballer with big ambitions, it was the right move at the time.

At least, that's the way it looks 14 years later. As another qualifying campaign draws to a close, with Scotland not even fit for this weekend's play-offs, those who have already booked their place in next summer's finals include a US team with a lad by the name of Holden in their ranks. He is 24 now, with a Texan drawl and American citizenship, but it's the same Holden all right, born in Scotland, to a Scottish mother, with a Scottish accent to turn to when the mood takes him.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:09 AM


Barack Obama bowed to Japanese emperor as 'protocol' (MIKE ALLEN | 11/14/09, POLITICO

A senior administration official said President Barack Obama was simply observing protocol when he bowed to Japanese Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko upon arriving at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo on Saturday.

Barack takes a bow (Washington Times, 4/07/09)
The bow was an extraordinary protocol violation. Such an act is a traditional obeisance befitting a king's subjects, not his peer. There is no precedent for U.S. presidents bowing to Saudi or any other royals. Former President Franklin D. Roosevelt shook hands with Saudi King Abdulaziz in February 1945. Granted, Mr. Roosevelt was wheelchair-bound, but former President Dwight D. Eisenhower shook hands when he first met King Saud in January 1957. Mr. Obama's bow to the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques does not help his image with those who believe he is secretly a Muslim, and why he chose to bow only to the Saudi King and not to any other royals remains unexplained.

No Americans of any station are required to bow to royalty. It is one of the pillars of American exceptionalism that our country rejected traditional caste divisions. Article I Section 9 of the Constitution forbids titles of nobility and stipulates that no officeholder or government employee may "accept of any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince, or foreign state" without the consent of Congress. Judith Martin wrote in her Miss Manners column in 2001 that bowing "is not an ordinary bit of foreign etiquette one might adopt out of courtesy when traveling. ... Americans do not properly bow to any royalty. We show respect for other countries' leaders the same way we do to our own."

In fairness to Mr. Obama, we ought not assume that he isn't just completely ignorant of American tradition.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:04 AM


Dodd's danger (NY Post, November 14, 2009)

Quinnipiac University poll shows nearly the whole field of potential GOP Senate challengers -- regardless of how well-known they are -- doing quite well against Dodd.

Leading the pack: former Rep. Rob Simmons, who outpolls Dodd, 49 percent to 38 percent.

Even former World Wrestling Entertainment executive Linda McMahon gets 43 percent to Dodd's 41.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:01 AM


World Leaders Back Delay to Final Climate Deal (Reuters, 11/15/09)

U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders on Sunday supported delaying a legally binding climate pact until 2010 or even later, under a compromise deal for next month's Copenhagen summit.

This is the Unicorn Rider at his most useful, achieving W's ends with less resistance.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:32 AM


Concerns Rise Around Obama's First Swing Through Asia (Jonathan Weisman, 11/15/09, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL)

On Sunday, leaders of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum dropped efforts to reach a binding international climate change agreement in Copenhagen next month, settling instead for what they called a political framework for future negotiations. [...]

The U.S. and Russia now appear unlikely to complete a nuclear arms reduction accord by Dec. 5, when the current Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty expires. Obama met for closed-door consultations with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, but National Security Council Russia specialist Michael McFaul said major issues remain, and the two countries are working out a "bridging agreement" to extend previous arms-ratification rules.

On trade, the U.S. president committed this weekend to re-engage the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a fledgling free trade alliance in the region. But a presidential shift in tone toward more trade engagement will face its real test Thursday when Obama visits South Korea to discuss a free trade agreement with that country that remains stuck.

And on Iran, Obama and Medvedev were left to warn leaders of the Islamic republic once again that "time is running out." Iran has yet to agree to a Russian offer to provide nuclear material for research in exchange for the closure of a nuclear reactor that Western powers say could be used to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons.

Halfway through his Asian tour, Obama is confronting the limits of engagement and personal charm.

He's been handed a moment when the rest of the world is begging for freer trade but doesn't have the stomach to run with it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:10 AM


Zelaya Refuses to Recognize Honduran Vote (AP, November 15, 2009)

Ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya insisted late Saturday that he will not accept any deal to restore him to office if it means he must recognize elections later this month.

In a letter addressed to President Barack Obama, Zelaya also repeated his accusation that Washington reversed its stance on whether the Nov. 29 vote should be considered legitimate if he was not in office.

No one cares.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:07 AM


No love for Michael Moore's latest (NY Post, November 15, 2009)

It's a little early to issue a death certificate for the career of Michael Moore -- but his latest film, "Capitalism: A Love Story," has grossed just $14 million in seven weeks of release.

Lucky for him he doesn't believe in markets.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:50 AM


Barack Obama's personal story no substitute for policy in Asia (Rowan Callick, 11/16/09, The Australian)

IT is Barack Obama's personal story, and the brilliant way in which he works that into a national narrative, that continues to prove his greatest asset.

In Japan at the weekend, he attempted to develop that now-familiar theme into an international message. [...]

There remains, however, a policy-development gap. Instead, perhaps surprisingly, this White House has seen - despite the upbeat rhetoric surrounding the President's brief visit to Asia, his first in office - something of a retreat in policy terms, in ambition for the US's role in the region.

The Hall of Presidents just re-opened at Disney with the new Obamatron. When they display the long arc of history from slavery to a black president it makes you realize how remarkable his election was. Then the robot speaks and the speech the White House submitted is such pabulum your mind numbs. He seriously equates the American Dream with kindness and generosity rather than liberty and the opportunity that flows therefrom. It's stunning.

And note how it pales in comparison to W's contribution which it replaced:

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:45 AM


The Price of Free (NICHOLAS CARR, 11/15/09, NY Times)

A few months ago, while stalking the aisles of my local Best Buy, I gave in to techno-temptation. I bought a Blu-ray player. What I didn’t realize until I unpacked the gadget was that it does a lot more than just spin high-definition discs. It is, as they say, Web-enabled. As soon as I plugged it into an outlet in my living room, its built-in WiFi antenna sniffed out my home network and logged on. The Blu-ray player became a gateway between the Internet and my television set.

Ever since, and much to my surprise, I’ve been using the device more to transmit Internet content than to play discs. I stream TV shows and movies from Netflix, music from Pandora and videos from YouTube. Beyond my existing $11-a-month Netflix subscription, I haven’t forked out a penny for any of this programming. It comes flowing out of the Web, whenever I summon it, free.

My new viewing habits must make Brian Roberts very nervous. The more I play movies and TV shows from the Web, the less I use my cable TV service. I almost never order pay-per-view movies anymore. And I recently canceled my premium Showtime subscription. Most of Showtime’s best programs, including “The Tudors,” “Weeds” and “Dexter,” are available to stream through Netflix, as are a lot of the movies currently playing on Showtime’s Starz network. Why pay $23 a month when I can get the stuff for almost nothing?

I have a feeling that it won’t be long before I and a whole lot of other people start asking similar questions about pay-TV subscriptions in general.

There's a risk here for the content providers. The pay-per-view option is a dead man walking, but we're all accustomed to ads being intermingled with our shows, magazine articles, news stories, etc. If they take the lead and make it easy for us all to stream what they provide with the ads still included, they can keep making money. Most of us would prefer to be doing these things legitimately and don't mind the advertising. But if they delay for long enough, we'll get used to ad-free fee-free content and then where does their revenue come from?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:42 AM


Report: Bill would reduce senior care: Medicare cuts approved by House may affect access to providers (Lori Montgomery, 11/15/09, Washington Post)

A plan to slash more than $500 billion from future Medicare spending -- one of the biggest sources of funding for President Obama's proposed overhaul of the nation's health-care system -- would sharply reduce benefits for some senior citizens and could jeopardize access to care for millions of others, according to a government evaluation released Saturday.

The report, requested by House Republicans, found that Medicare cuts contained in the health package approved by the House on Nov. 7 are likely to prove so costly to hospitals and nursing homes that they could stop taking Medicare altogether.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:07 AM


Christie's charisma is already a force: Biting and blunt, he revels in the public side of politics - unlike the man he'll replace. (Jonathan Tamari, 11/15/09, Philadelphia Inquirer)

In public appearances since Election Day, Christie has been blunt, funny, pugnacious, decisive, and, above all, forceful. He has been comfortable joking with teens and mingling with politicians, in control when dealing with the press, and defiant toward opponents and detractors.

Christie's words seem to barrel downhill toward his audience. His answers, often short on detail, are long on punch.

Take, for example, his comments a day after his victory, when he toured a Newark charter school and talked up his plans for education.

"If anybody thinks I'm kidding about this, they're going to watch. I am not going to continue to allow urban children to be failed and cheated by failing public schools," Christie told reporters.

When he said the "forces" against reform were powerful, he was asked to clarify: Did he mean the teachers union, which had blitzed the state with anti-Christie mailers after he declined even to seek its endorsement?

"That's exactly who I'm talking about," he said.

Christie's public persona is a sharp contrast to that of Gov. Corzine, who often has been fumbling in the spotlight and meandering in his speech, leaving the public and lawmakers to parse his words for possible meanings.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:03 AM


China Pressured Australia to Refuse Uighurs-Palau President (AAP, Nov 14, 2009)

China may have pressured Australia to refuse to take six Uighur men released from Guantanamo Bay and sent to the Pacific island nation of Palau, President Johnson Toribiong says.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:51 AM


Obama rules out Copenhagen treaty (Edward Luce and Kevin Brown, November 15 2009, Financial Times)

Barack Obama conceded on Sunday that next month’s Copenhagen summit would not produce a legally binding agreement to tackle global warming, in a move that prompted groans of disappointment from environmental groups.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:41 AM


SC senator forces U.S. change on Honduras (James Rosen, 11/15/09, McClatchy Newspapers)

After demanding for months that deposed Honduran President Mel Zelaya be restored to power, senior State Department officials now say they'll accept the outcome of Nov. 29 elections in the Central American country even if Zelaya doesn't reclaim his post. [...]

DeMint, by contrast, cited a Honduran Supreme Court ruling, later approved by the Honduran Congress, that the military had followed constitutional provisions in removing Zelaya and installing Roberto Micheletti as interim president.

While the U.S. government froze aid and took other punitive steps, DeMint held up two State Department nominations all summer and into the fall.

Christopher Sabatini, policy director at the Council of Americas, a New York-based organization of international businesses, said DeMint has had a major impact on the Obama administration's evolving response to the Honduran strife.

"DeMint's role has been disproportionate to his interest in Latin America," Sabatini said. "He chose to take a stand on this, and he plunged headlong into it. He drew a line in the sand."

In August, a report by the nonpartisan Library of Congress concurred with DeMint, saying that Zelaya's ouster was legal, though it said Honduran soldiers had overstepped the law in secreting him out of the country.

...if you lead, he'll follow.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:38 AM


Pacquiao pummels Cotto to claim welterweight crown (Javno, 11/15/09)

Filipino Manny Pacquiao made history by becoming the first fighter to win seven world titles in as many weight classes with a stunning final round technical knockout of Miguel Cotto.

Pacquiao looked unstoppable for the third consecutive fight, knocking Cotto down twice in the early rounds Saturday before putting the finishing touches on in the 12th round to claim Cotto's World Boxing Organization welterweight title.

The Filipino dominated from the second round on, putting a stunning display of boxing skills and laying a savage beating on the Puerto Rican champion at the MGM Grand hotel and casino.

Referee Kenny Bayless finally stopped the slaughter 55 seconds into the final round with Cotto unable to defend himself from Pacquiao's lightning quick combinations.

FYI: The fight is posted at The Box.

No claim is too outlandish for 'greatest ever' fighter Manny Pacquiao: The scalp of Floyd Mayweather Jr is the final evidence Pacquiao needs to take the title of best pound-for-pound fighter in the world (Lawrence Donegan, 15 November 2009, Guardian SportsBlog)

It is always hard to separate the reality from the fantasy in the world of professional boxing, especially when ageless circus barkers like Bob Arum are involved, but one of the many beauties having Pacquiao around is that he makes everyone's life easier.

He is hyperbole made flesh, the man for whom no claim is too outlandish. So it is that when Arum, who promotes the Filipino's fights, steps up the microphone and says Pacquiao is the "Tiger Woods of boxing" those who are listening are inclined to give the suggestion a fair hearing. Likewise when Arum stood up and said, as he did in the aftermath of last night's display, and that Pacquiao is the greatest boxer he had ever seen "and I've seen them all, including Ali, Hagler and Sugar Ray Leonard" no-one laughed they simply started debating.

Is the Filipino that good? Well, the truth of it is we will never know. Cross-generational comparisons in sport are the every definition of futility– like trying to catch a deluge in a paper cup, as a wise songwriter once decreed. Is he better than Ali? You might as well ask if Arkle was better than Sea the Stars. Same animal, different sport altogether.

Still, there are some things we can say about Pacquiao that are surely beyond debate, the first being that, as boxer, he has exceeded all expectations, perhaps even his own.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:31 AM


Obama demands release of Burma democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi (Leo Lewis, 11/15/09, Times of London)

President Obama today demanded the release of Nobel prize-winner Aung San Suu Kyi during an unprecedented encounter that put him at the same table as the prime minister of Myanmar’s pariah military government.

The United States president’s message, in which he also pushed for the release of other political prisoners held by the Myanmar regime, was delivered to prime minister Thein Sein during a meeting with the leaders of 10 Southeast Asian countries that comprise ASEAN.

...he finally did the right thing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:20 AM


Read Steve's Book (Rich Karlgaard, 11/30/09, Forbes)

From the 1980s until recently the coastal cities boomed.

And now? Large- and medium-size cities in low-tax, right-to-work states--that would be the unhip, red ones--are outperforming the rest of the country. The country's best observer of regional economics, Joel Kotkin, described this trend in a recent article:

"Virtually all the [hip] cities [in blue states] have suffered below-average job growth throughout the decade. Some, like Portland and New York, have added almost no new jobs; others, like San Francisco, Boston and Chicago, have actually lost positions over the past decade. In contrast, even after the current doldrums, San Antonio, Orlando, Houston, Dallas and Phoenix all boast at least 5% more jobs now than a decade ago."

About government spending, Kotkin notes there are two kinds: good and bad.

"The problem here is more than just too-large government; it lies in how states spend their money. Massive public spending increases over the past decade in California, New Jersey, Illinois and New York have gone overwhelmingly into the pockets and pensions of public employees. … Cities like Mobile, Ala.; Houston, Tex.; Charleston, S.C.; and Savannah, Ga. have been investing in port facilities to take advantage of the planned widening of the Panama Canal. Similarly, places like Kansas City and the Dakotas are looking to boost their basic rail and road networks to support export-heavy industries."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:38 AM


Children of Mars: How did astronomer Paul Davies come to propose that life arose on Mars and then seeded the Earth? Here he elucidates a theory that could offer us insights into the nature and origins of life. (Paul Davies, August 2007, Cosmos)

What we do know is life established itself on Earth surprisingly rapidly. Our planet was mercilessly pounded by giant asteroids until about 3.8 billion years ago, yet rocks from Western Australia as old as 3.5 billion years contain tantalising fossil evidence of sophisticated microbes (see "Life on Earth", Cosmos 14, p60). Many scientists have interpreted this speedy appearance as evidence that life came here from space.

About 20 years ago I began toying with the idea that life started on Mars and somehow found its way to Earth. Being a smaller planet, Mars would have cooled more quickly than Earth, and consequently, could have been ready for life sooner.

...and that they have to explain away the evidence of Design.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:35 AM


This Way to the Ruin: a review of The British Constitution by Anthony King (David Runciman, London Review of Books)

Does Britain need a written constitution? Of course it does, which is why, as Anthony King points out at the start of this readable and illuminating book, it has one already. Whatever its detractors might think, Britain is not some folkloric society governed according to immemorial custom on the nod and the wink of the people in the know. Most of the rules of modern British political life, from the 1701 Act of Settlement on, are set down in statutes, which in total run to many hundreds of pages and cover everything from the maximum duration of Parliaments to the relationship between British and EU law. Not everything is written down – there are no statutes determining the role of the prime minister or fixing the responsibilities of cabinet government – but then again, no constitution has everything written down. The American constitution, which is often held up as a model of all-seeing sufficiency, leaves a great deal out, including the rules governing the country’s electoral system: the principle of first past the post is an integral feature of the constitutional order, but nowhere is this actually specified. In fact, it is rare for modern constitutions to fix the details of the electoral system. This is perhaps because one of the few that tried – the Weimar constitution, Articles 17 and 22 of which established that all federal elections should be conducted according to the principle of proportional representation – was such a disaster.

What Britain lacks is not a written constitution, but a codified one. Codification – or what King calls ‘Constitutions with a capital C’ – joins all the different written provisions together, and tries to provide them with some underlying coherence. Where that coherence is lacking, the process of codification requires some of the existing documents to be rewritten or jettisoned altogether. The distinctive character of Britain’s constitutional arrangements is a reflection of the fact that it has never been through such a process, and so it is not really clear how all its different bits do fit together. Britain also lacks a set of written rules that establish how the constitution can be changed. Almost all capital-C constitutions have provisions of this kind; the business of codification encourages people to reflect on the circumstances in which it is appropriate to rewrite a constitution, and this usually means removing the drafting of constitutional amendments from the normal political process. But in Britain, Parliament can draft new statutes amending the constitution any time it likes, and it does not have to worry whether these new statutes can be justified in relation to what exists already. The result is that, to many eyes, the British constitution is just too easy to tinker with.

But despite the fact that the British constitution has been tinkered with a great deal over the past generation, and the past decade in particular, this is probably the wrong lesson to draw. The salient feature of British constitutional politics is that it is just an extension of politics per se, and how easy it is to change things depends on how the political stars are aligned.

The most useful thing they could do is enumerate and enhance the monarch's power.

November 14, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:15 PM


US, ASEAN fail to call for Suu Kyi's release (VIJAY JOSHI, 11/15/09, Associated Press)

President Barack Obama and his Southeast Asian counterparts are calling on Myanmar's junta to hold credible elections, but have stopped short of demanding the release of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:40 PM


Has Obama peaked? Yes, he has: Yes, he made history. Unfortunately, it’s all downhill from there. (STEVEN STARK, November 12, 2009, Boston Phoenix)

In reality, Obama peaked the night he was elected.

That astonishing evening was both a blessing and a curse for our 44th president. As the first African-American elected to the Oval Office, Obama made the history books in indelible fashion, generating an uplifting sense of national pride and renewal along the way.

That alone is more than many presidents accomplish in a lifetime. But that achievement— if that's what you want to call it — came a very long year ago, before he was even president. The 10 months since he took the oath of office have been a letdown, even to most of his supporters.

Obama still doesn't seem to grasp that the collective Election Night reverie is over, and that now we are waiting for him to lead us in real time. Sure, a little bit of hubris was probably inevitable, but it led Obama to conclude, despite what he said back then, that the historic election had been about him. When in the end, as always, it was about us.

Um, no. It's only and always about him to him.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:58 PM


Can Alternative Energy Save the Economy and the Climate?: The "new energy" economy rolls forward even as hopes for an international deal to combat climate change at Copenhagen shift into reverse. (Douglas Fischer, 11/13/09, Scientific American)

"The vast majority of the utility industry (has) pretty much accepted the reality that CO2 is something they have to cope with," said Revis James, director of the energy technology assessment center for the Electric Power Research Institute, or EPRI, a California-based nonprofit that helps drive long-range development and is coordinating carbon capture experiments at coal plants in the Midwest and Southeast.

Failure in Copenhagen won't "substantially stop what's going to happen," James added. "The utilities have to deal with (carbon emissions). They have to respond one way or another."

Many business leaders and policy analysts counter the status quo - a piecemeal, federated approach to carbon and energy emissions - doesn't carry enough of a signal to produce the revolution required of our economic and energy sectors.

Private-sector investments and regional and local government efforts to boost "green" technology are good, they say. But that's just the down payment: The transformative change necessary to avoid the worst warming won't come until the international community firmly sets a global standard in place.

"What you want is something sustainable, predictable and long-term," said Roby Roberts, spokesman for Vestas Americas. "That's what you want out of the climate rules, but that's going to be a few years away."

You'll never get it from international climate rules, but would from a punitive national gas tax.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:57 PM


WH Touts New Report That Calls Gov't Plan "Ill-Advised" (Philip Klein, 11.12.09, American Spectator)

Council of Economic Advisers Chair Christina Romer on Thursday touted the findings of a new report about reforms that could reduce health care costs - even though the same study warned lawmakers to avoid "ill-advised proposals such as the public option" and suggested market-based reforms such as encouraging health savings accounts.

In addition, the report by the Business Roundtable that Romer described as "important" and "powerful," argued that market-based approaches such as health savings accounts would lower costs, while the tax on high-priced health care plans supported by the White House could mean higher costs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:43 PM


Clicker aims to be TV Guide for Internet shows (Ed Baig, 11/12/09, USA Today)

Vowing to be a TV Guide for all Internet television, Clicker launches publicly Thursday, following a 58-day invitation-only “beta” period.

Founder and CEO Jim Lanzone says Clicker has indexed over 40,000 full episodes from more than 1200 sources, including sites such as Hulu, in more than 1,200 categories. Its catalog also includes 30,000 movies from Netflix Instant Streaming and Amazon Video on Demand, as well as more than 50,000 music videos from over 20,000 artists. (You’ll be told if you have to pay to watch something.)

Clicker’s data includes programming that appears online from all the usual broadcast suspects (and many more), as well as broadcast-quality Web originals. Certain podcasts are also indexed -- lectures and academic panels at Stanford University, for instance -- but Clicker isn’t meant to find every last clip on YouTube. It also brings up only what it considers to be legal content.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:26 PM


The Religion of Liberalism, Or Why Freedom and Equality Aren't Ultimate Goals: An Interview with James Kalb, author of The Tyranny of Liberalism (Ignatius Insight, November 12, 2009)

James Kalb, who holds degrees from Dartmouth College and Yale University, is a lawyer and independent scholar who lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. His book, The Tyranny of Liberalism: Understanding and Overcoming Administered Freedom, Inquisitorial Tolerance, and Equality by Command, was published by ISI Books last year. He spoke recently with Carl E. Olson, editor of Ignatius Insight, about conversion, liberalism, conservatism, and Catholicism. [...]

Ignatius Insight: You spend quite a bit of time, understandably, in the book defining liberalism and variations thereof. For the sake of clarity, what is a relatively concise definition of the liberalism you critique? What are its core principles and beliefs?

James Kalb: By liberalism I mean the view that equal freedom is the highest political, social, and moral principle. The big goal is to be able to do and get what we want, as much and as equally as possible.

That view comes from the view that transcendent standards don't exist--or what amounts to the same thing, that they aren't publicly knowable. That leaves desire as the standard for action, along with logic and knowledge of how to get what we want.

Desires are all equally desires, so they all equally deserve satisfaction. Nothing is exempt from the system, so everything becomes a resource to be used for our purposes. The end result is an overall project of reconstructing social life to make it a rational system for maximum equal preference satisfaction.

That's what liberalism is now, and everything else has to give way to it. For example, traditional ties like family and inherited culture aren't egalitarian or hedonistic or technologically rational. They have their own concerns. So they have to be done away with or turned into private hobbies that people can take or leave as they like. Anything else would violate freedom and equality.

In his excellent new book on Moses and America's enduring relationship with the Jewish founder, Bruce Feiler talks about how the image of the liberator must be paired with that of the lawgiver. Moses doesn't lead his people to freedom but to a new form of "bondage," to the laws of God. He also includes a lengthy discussion of the iconography of the Liberty Bell. So it was especially amusing to note the juxtaposition of a colonial stock across the way from a replica of the bell in Disney's Liberty Square.

From Blogger Pictures

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:33 PM


Charles Darwin and the children of the evolution: The naturalist outraged the church, prompting a bitter debate that still sets creationists against evolutionists. Now a sinister link has emerged between his work and the recent spate of high-school killings by crazed, nihilistic teenagers (Dennis Sewell , November 8, 2009, The Sunday Times)

You wouldn’t know from the celebrations of Charles Darwin’s life this year that the amiable Victorian gent portrayed in those TV drama-docs pottering around the garden of his home in Kent has been fingered as a racist, an apologist for genocide, and the inspiration of a string of psychopathic killers.

The Darwin double anniversary (2009 marks both the bicentenary of his birth and 150 years since the first publication of On the Origin of Species) has featured much vanilla hoopla: the Royal Mail issued commemorative stamps; Damien Hirst designed the dust jacket for a special edition of Darwin’s masterpiece; Bristol Zoo offered free admission to men with beards, and the Natural History Museum served pea soup made to a recipe devised by Darwin’s wife, Emma. The conclusion of dozens of lectures, articles and education packs for schools has been that Darwin wasn’t just a brilliant scientist, but a thoroughly good egg.

With hardly a mention that his name has been associated with some of the most infamous crimes of modern history, it is as if there has been an unspoken agreement to accentuate the positive [...]

In America, where Darwin’s writings on morality and race have come under particularly intense critical scrutiny because of the enduring creationist debate, he has been accused of fostering moral nihilism and scientific racism, and even of promoting an ethic that found its ultimate expression in the Holocaust. Most startling of all, a connection has now been drawn between Darwin’s theories and a rash of school shootings. In April, 1,000 people gathered at sunset in Littleton, Colorado, to commemorate the victims of the Columbine high school massacre, 10 years on. Darrell Scott, whose daughter Rachel was the first of the 13 children to be murdered, and whose son Craig narrowly escaped being shot, cannot understand why so little attention has been paid to the motivation of the killers, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, and their interest in Charles Darwin’s ideas. “Harris wore a ‘Natural Selection’ T-shirt on the day of the killings. They made remarks on video about helping out the process of natural selection by eliminating the weak. They also professed that they had evolved to a higher level than their classmates. I was amazed at the frequent references to evolution, and that the press completely ignored that aspect of the tapes.”

Much of the evidence remains sealed under a court order issued to minimise the risk of copycat killings, but from those documents that are in the public domain, it is clear that Eric Harris fantasised about putting everyone into a violent computer game that only the fittest could survive. And, like Darwin himself, he noted how vaccination might be interfering with nature’s weeding process. In his rantings Harris said he wished there were no vaccines, or even warning labels on dangerous goods, “and let natural selection take its course. All the fat, ugly, retarded, crippled dumbass, stupid f***heads in the world would die… Maybe then the human race can actually be proud of itself”.

As the attorney for the families of six of the students killed at Columbine, the Denver lawyer Barry Arrington has come across more in a similar vein. “I read through every single page of Eric Harris’s journals; I listened to all of the audio tapes and watched the videotapes… It became evident to me that Harris consciously saw his actions as logically arising from what he had learnt about evolution. Darwinism served as his personal intellectual rationale for what he did. There cannot be the slightest doubt that Harris was a worshipper of Darwin and saw himself as acting on Darwinian principles.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:27 PM


Obama Is Losing Independent Voters: A number of recent polls show the president would be wise to shift right. (SCOTT RASMUSSEN AND DOUGLAS E. SCHOEN , 11/14/09, WSJ)

Deficit reduction and reining in spending are critically important priorities for the vast majority of the electorate. Indeed, according to a Rasmussen Reports Poll conducted at the end of last month, voters say deficit reduction is most important and health care is a distant second.

Moreover, according to a poll released by the Kaufman Foundation in September, a plurality of voters (32%) think the federal government should cut tax rates on payrolls and businesses to stimulate employment, particularly at a time when unemployment is at double-digits. Mr. Obama campaigned on tax cuts for 95% of the American people, but according to a Rasmussen Reports poll released in mid-August, just 6% of likely voters expect to get a tax cut. Over 40% of respondents believe that they will get a tax increase.

The off-year elections in New Jersey and Virginia were indeed a warning sign to Mr. Obama. While the presidents ratings aren't likely to dip much further by year's end—given the size and support of his base—by focusing exclusively on his base he could create lasting political problems that plague the remainder of his term.

Unless Mr. Obama changes his approach and starts governing in a more fiscally conservative, bipartisan manner, the independents that provided his margin of victory in 2008 and gave the Democrats control of Congress will likely swing back to the Republicans, putting Democratic control of Congress in real jeopardy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:24 PM


Beating Florida's Theme-Park Hordes: Hotels at Disney, Universal offer ways to shrink waits, but the rooms at one badly need some magic (LAURA LANDRO, 11/14/09, WSJ)

We started out at the Contemporary, where we could check in early. As at the Royal Pacific, we'd chosen club-level accommodations, which cost more than standard rooms but were more than worth it at Disney, at least, for the extras like concierge services and a lounge with food. (At present, club-level rooms start at $530 nightly vs. $295 for a standard room.) Our travel agent was able to upgrade my brother and sister-in-law to a larger family suite, with big terraces overlooking the pools, lagoon and the Victorian-style Grand Floridian in the distance.(That hotel, along with the Polynesian Resort, is also on the monorail.) The Contemporary's all-suite 14th floor is the only one that doesn't have internal corridors looking over the central atrium, making it quieter and less hectic-feeling. Families can also rent apartment-style accommodations with kitchens in the new Bay Lake Tower, adjacent to the Contemporary, that's part of the Disney Vacation Club time-share program.

My room on the 12th floor, with a king bed, had a big flat-screen TV, sleek desk area, small pull-out sofa and a pretty marble bath with motion-detector lights for nighttime and towels folded in the shape of Mickey Mouse or a swan each night. The club lounges on both floors, which put out a light breakfast and snacks at intervals into the evening, are also great places to watch fireworks, which the girls loved.

Our one big frustration was navigating the Disney restaurant-reservation system, which felt like dealing with HAL, the malevolent computer from "2001: A Space Odyssey." We couldn't book anything we wanted at a reasonable time online; a phone reservationist insisted on getting my name, address, phone number and credit-card information before she would tell me if anything we wanted was available. Then she said it wasn't. When I asked for alternatives, she asked for all the information over again. Next, we tried the Contemporary's concierge. The young man tried hard to get us a reservation at the hotel's California Grill, but failed. (He left us free passes to Epcot Center as consolation.)

Finally, on my arrival I sat down with two other concierges. They were terrific, recommending alternatives and arduously booking them online, no easy task for them, either: It took half an hour on two occasions to do it all. (A Disney spokesman said the reservation system's information-gathering is necessary to improve its database for the benefit of guests, such as differentiating people with similar names.)

The first table we got was at Citricos, at the Grand Floridian, and the grouper and short ribs were excellent. At Epcot's Coral Reef the next evening, the seafood was pretty good as well, despite the scuzzy feel and the food-littered carpets. My nieces, ages 7 and 10, were thrilled to face the giant aquariums with guests and staff scuba-diving alongside marine life, including a shark.

The monorail station on the fourth floor turned out to be hugely convenient and hugely packed—budget-tight parents beware, there's a giant Disney store nearby. After many rides and events, we took a break at the Contemporary's stark pool, which loses points on landscaping but gains some (at least for 10-year-olds) with its long, winding water slide.

...and it rocked.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:22 PM


A Hint of Hype, A Taste of Illusion: They pour, sip and, with passion and snobbery, glorify or doom wines. But studies say the wine-rating system is badly flawed. How the experts fare against a coin toss. (LEONARD MLODINOW , 11/14/09, WSJ)

[W]hat if the successive judgments of the same wine, by the same wine expert, vary so widely that the ratings and medals on which wines base their reputations are merely a powerful illusion? That is the conclusion reached in two recent papers in the Journal of Wine Economics.

Both articles were authored by the same man, a unique blend of winemaker, scientist and statistician. The unlikely revolutionary is a soft-spoken fellow named Robert Hodgson, a retired professor who taught statistics at Humboldt State University. Since 1976, Mr. Hodgson has also been the proprietor of Fieldbrook Winery, a small operation that puts out about 10 wines each year, selling 1,500 cases

A few years ago, Mr. Hodgson began wondering how wines, such as his own, can win a gold medal at one competition, and "end up in the pooper" at others. He decided to take a course in wine judging, and met G.M "Pooch" Pucilowski, chief judge at the California State Fair wine competition, North America's oldest and most prestigious. Mr. Hodgson joined the Wine Competition's advisory board, and eventually "begged" to run a controlled scientific study of the tastings, conducted in the same manner as the real-world tastings. The board agreed, but expected the results to be kept confidential.

There is a rich history of scientific research questioning whether wine experts can really make the fine taste distinctions they claim. For example, a 1996 study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology showed that even flavor-trained professionals cannot reliably identify more than three or four components in a mixture, although wine critics regularly report tasting six or more. There are eight in this description, from The Wine News, as quoted on, of a Silverado Limited Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 that sells for more than $100 a bottle: "Dusty, chalky scents followed by mint, plum, tobacco and leather. Tasty cherry with smoky oak accents…" Another publication, The Wine Advocate, describes a wine as having "promising aromas of lavender, roasted herbs, blueberries, and black currants." What is striking about this pair of descriptions is that, although they are very different, they are descriptions of the same Cabernet. One taster lists eight flavors and scents, the other four, and not one of them coincide.

That wine critiques are peppered with such inconsistencies is exactly what the laboratory experiments would lead you to expect. In fact, about 20 years ago, when a Harvard psychologist asked an ensemble of experts to rank five wines on each of 12 characteristics—such as tannins, sweetness, and fruitiness—the experts agreed at a level significantly better than chance on only three of the 12.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:18 PM


Medicines to Deter Some Cancers Are Not Taken (GINA KOLATA, 11/13/09, NY Times)

[I]t turns out, there is a way to prevent many cases of prostate cancer. A large and rigorous study found that a generic drug, finasteride, costing about $2 a day, could prevent as many as 50,000 cases each year. Another study found that finasteride’s close cousin, dutasteride, about $3.50 a day, has the same effect.

Nevertheless, researchers say, the drugs that work are largely ignored. And supplements that have been shown to be not just ineffective but possibly harmful are taken by men hoping to protect themselves from prostate cancer. [...]

A few ways are known for sure to prevent cancer; the biggest is to avoid cigarette smoking. That alone would drop the cancer death rate by a third. No other measure comes close.

Another huge success, for breast cancer, is to avoid taking estrogen and progestin at menopause. Sales of those drugs plummeted in 2002 after a federal study, the Women’s Health Initiative, concluded that they did not prevent heart disease and might increase breast cancer. The next year, the breast cancer rate dropped by 15 percent after having steadily increased since 1945.

The vaccine for human papilloma virus, protects against most strains of the virus, which causes cervical cancer.

But other measures that are often assumed — and marketed — as ways to prevent cancer may not make much difference, researchers say.

For example, public health experts for years recommended eating five servings of fruits and vegetables a day to prevent cancer, but the evidence is conflicting, at best suggestive, and far from definitive.

Low-fat diets were long thought to prevent breast cancer. But a large federal study randomizing women to a low-fat or normal diet and looking for an effect in breast cancer found nothing, said its director, Ross L. Prentice of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.

Fiber, found in fruits, vegetables and grains, is often thought to prevent colon cancer, even though two large studies found no effect.

“We thought we would show relationships that were strong and true,” said Dr. Tim Byers, professor of epidemiology at the Colorado School of Public Health, “particularly for dietary choices and food and vegetable intake. Now we have settled into thinking they are important but it’s not like saying you can cut your risk in half or three-quarters.” Others wonder whether even such qualified support is misplaced.

There has to be a reason the research disappointed, said Colin B. Begg, chairman of the department of epidemiology and biostatistics at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Perhaps the crucial time to intervene is early in life.

“That’s one possibility,” Dr. Begg said. “The other is that it’s all sort of nonsense to begin with.” [...]

Dr. Peter Greenwald knows the dashed hopes of cancer prevention research firsthand. As far back as 1981, when he arrived at the National Cancer Institute to direct “cancer prevention and control,” Dr. Greenwald began thinking about testing whether simple measures, like vitamin supplements, could prevent common cancers.

He focused on what looked like it could be a sure thing — beta carotene, found in orange fruits and vegetables as well as in green leafy vegetables.

The body converts beta carotene to vitamin A, which can prevent cancer in rats. People eating the most fruits and vegetables had less cancer. And the more beta carotene in a person’s blood, the lower the cancer risk. Lung cancer seemed particularly vulnerable to beta carotene’s effects, particularly in smokers and former smokers.

What was needed was cause-and-effect evidence, studies showing that if people bolstered their beta carotene and vitamin A levels, they would be protected from cancer. The cancer institute decided to take it on with two large studies.

But not only did the supplements not work, but there was evidence that beta carotene might actually increase cancer risk in smokers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:15 PM


With Pacquiao-Cotto, Boxing Is Ready for a Rebirth, Again (GREG BISHOP, 11/15/09, NY Times)

All week, as anticipation built for Saturday night’s welterweight title fight between Manny Pacquiao and Miguel Cotto, those with a vested interest looked beyond.

They pointed to the record number of news media credentials issued, to the sponsors suddenly interested in boxing, to Tuesday’s introductions that drew an estimated 700 fans, to the celebrities who asked for tickets, to the Friday weigh-in hosted by the actor Jeremy Piven.

Then they hoped, the same way they have hoped for years, that this fight and the interest that it garnered would boost boxing back to relevance. [...]

The September bout between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Juan Manuel Márquez produced one million pay-per-view buys, according to HBO. It expects Pacquiao-Cotto to draw a similar number — which is viewed with skepticism — and if it does, that would mark the first time since 1999 that two fights exceeded one million in the same year.

This bout, which was to be held at the MGM Grand, sold out quickly, and thousands more paid $50 for one of the closed-circuit seats inside the casino.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:10 PM


Only two in five believe climate change caused by human activity (Daily Telegraph, 11/14/09)

Around a quarter of those questioned (28 per cent) by pollsters Populus for The Times agreed that climate change is "far and away" the most serious problem facing Britain, while a further 51 per cent said it was a serious problem, but not as serious as other issues.

The findings threaten to undermine Gordon Brown's position at next month's UN climate change conference in Copenhagen, when he will push for international agreement to cut carbon emissions.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:07 PM


Mock Funeral for Venice Dramatizes Flight of Residents From City’s Heart (RACHEL DONADIO, 11/15/09, NY Times)

At high noon on Saturday, a gondola bearing a hot-pink plywood coffin decked with yellow flowers made its way down the Grand Canal. Onlookers watched from the shore and shouted greetings from the Rialto Bridge before the boat alighted nearby in front of the Venice city hall.

Part photo opportunity, part political theater, the spectacle was the centerpiece of a fake funeral for the city of Venice. A group of prankster-provocateurs organized it to protest the fact that the number of residents in Venice’s historic center has dropped below 60,000, down from 74,000 in 1993, as rising rents and hordes of tourists have pushed thousands to the mainland.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:59 PM


Obama's Dangerous Obsession: In his speech at Fort Hood, the president invoked Abraham Lincoln with a mention of the afterlife. Lee Siegel says Obama’s worship and rhetoric could escalate a perilous war. (Lee Siegel, 11/13/09, Daily Beast)

For all of the men’s club atmosphere in the White House these days, this president has got to be the most feline, the most passive-aggressive leader the country has ever had. Obama likes to play all sides against the middle, but he also likes to agitate all sides in order to help him find exactly just where the middle is. And when trespassed against, he bides his time and strikes back by proxy. It’s not hard to imagine that Eikenberry’s leaked memos, which directly contradict McChrystal’s request for more troops, were meant by Obama as humiliating payback to McChrystal for trying to force Obama’s hand in public.

Obama has not made up his mind on what to do in Afghanistan, so the way he talks about war and about death in war is significant. Lately, it’s almost panic-inducing. After last Tuesday, it seems that Obama's well-known worship of Abraham Lincoln is starting to tip over into a fantasy of actually being Abraham Lincoln.

At Fort Hood, not only did Obama explicitly mention Lincoln, but he repeated a line from the Gettysburg Address almost verbatim—“We are a nation that is dedicated to the proposition that all men and women are created equal”—and twice borrowed cadences and language from that legendary brief speech. Echoing Lincoln’s “testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure,” Obama referred to a “nation” that “endures” three times. He also repeated the Gettysburg Address’s themes of sacrifice and necessary suffering.

Why should the president drawing on a great American figure like Abraham Lincoln be a cause for concern? It should worry us because you can admire Lincoln’s achievement in freeing the slaves and keeping the Union together, but also be horrified by his bloodlust in doing so, and his sense of himself as a biblical hero. You don’t have to be a despicable Lincoln-hater to not want to associate yourself with the smarmy and sanctimonious Lincoln-idolators. Any contemporary president who consciously models himself on Lincoln is quite possibly going to lead us all into hell.

Having no persona of his own, he has to take on others.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:48 PM


'Iran rejected nuclear deal, Obama postponing announcement' (JPOST.COM, 11/14/09)

Iran has completely rejected a UN-brokered nuclear deal, but US President Barack Obama has postponed the official announcement on Teheran's refusal due to internal political reasons, Israel Radio quoted a senior western official as saying Saturday.

So how did siding with the Twelvers against the Iranian people work out?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:46 PM


CMS: House health bill will hike costs $289B (Molly K. Hooper, 11/14/09, The Hill)

The House-approved healthcare overhaul would raise the costs of healthcare by $289 billion over the next 10 years, according to an analysis by the chief actuary at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

The CMS report is a blow to the White House and House Democrats who have vowed that healthcare reform would curb the growth of healthcare spending.

The GOP is just going to necklace them with this thing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:42 PM


Obama under fire on trade as Asia-Pacific leaders meet (AFP, 11/13/09)

US President Barack Obama came under fire Saturday from Asia-Pacific leaders for backsliding on free trade at a regional summit devoted to driving the world economy out of crisis.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:29 PM


Justicia Poetica (Roberto Lovato, November 13, 2009, The Nation)

As I watched the sad eyes of Lou Dobbs last night while he bade an abrupt farewell to his long career at CNN, I shed the tears that he apparently couldn't. I cried in part because, regardless of the Basta Dobbs campaign's--and my own--constitutional differences with his brand of anti-immigrant, anti-Latino propaganda disguised as news, one couldn't help but be moved by the fast and fiery demise of a media titan. It really was sad to watch the aging Dobbs go out without the slow grace and good will that characterized Walter Cronkite's departure in a previous media era.

Yet, while slightly moved by Dobbs's personal drama, I cried primarily because, as a member, relative and friend of the groups most vilified by Dobbs for so many years--Latinos and immigrants--I was inspired by the power of the movement to oust him, a movement that these same groups and their allies led. In the words of many a jubilant Twitterer and Facebook friend celebrating Dobbs' transition as a victory,"Si Se Pudo" (Yes We Could).

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:22 PM


Can Cameron deliver? (The Spectator, 11/14/09)

There is something about ‘compassionate conservatism’ that infuriates the Labour party, as if the very phrase were a deceitful contradiction in terms. The notion sends Gordon Brown into apoplexy. He can handle the Tories talking about economic efficiency or immigration, but he regards concern for the poorest as a subject purely for Labour. And for too many of the last 20 years, it has been. As a result Labour has incubated, through its dysfunctional welfare state, the most expensive poverty in the world. From the beginning of David Cameron’s leadership, he has focused on this outrage.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:32 PM

Jill's Chocolate Walnut Pie (Jackie Burrell, 11/13/09, Contra Costa Times)

9-inch unbaked pie shell

½ cup dark brown sugar, packed

½ cup soft butter or margarine

¾ cup granulated sugar

3 eggs

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ cup maple or corn syrup

½ cup half and half

1 cup walnut meats, chopped, plus some for decoration

1/3 cup chocolate chips

½ teaspoon vanilla

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line pie pan with pastry.

2. In top of double-boiler, cream together brown sugar and butter, stir in granulated sugar, eggs, salt, syrup and half and half.

3. Cook over hot, but not boiling, water for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, stir in
nuts, chocolate, if desired, and vanilla. Pour into lined pie shell; bake for about an hour and 5 minutes. Cool and serve plain or with whipped cream.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:10 PM


Hezbollah dismisses Obama pledges (BBC, 11/11/09)

The leader of Lebanon's mainly Shia movement Hezbollah says US President Barack Obama's promise to engage with Muslims has proved to be false.

Hassan Nasrallah said the US had shown its commitment to Israel by sending more military aid and backtracking on demands to stop West Bank settlements.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:09 PM


Recanvassing shows NY-23 race tightens even as Rep. Bill Owens is sworn into House seat (Mark Weiner, 11/12/09, The Post-Standard)

Conservative Doug Hoffman conceded the race in the 23rd Congressional District last week after receiving two pieces of grim news for his campaign: He was down 5,335 votes with 93 percent of the vote counted on election night, and he had barely won his stronghold in Oswego County.

As it turns out, neither was true. [...]

Now a recanvassing in the 11-county district shows that Owens’ lead has narrowed to 3,026 votes over Hoffman, 66,698 to 63,672, according to the latest unofficial results from the state Board of Elections.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:24 AM


Booker prize winner prefers driving a bus: Magnus Mills's debut novel was a Booker prize winner, but he still loves his day job as a bus driver. (Julian Flanagan, 11 Aug 2009, Daily Telegraph)

"I can't really imagine doing another job. The hours are long but I'm lucky. Because I'm better off than most drivers I can swap and do short, early-morning duties."

What do fellow drivers make of his writing? Mills stretches in his Metroline jacket, pale-eyed, tall and lanky. "They tend to forget. A couple of them have got my books but I don't know if they've read them. One inspector read my last book and was quite interested."

At the stop opposite Café Express, we await the 390 Mills will take over, drive to Archway, then across London to Notting Hill Gate. He holds his silver pocket watch in a long-fingered hand. The 390 pulls up. Mills smiles. "13.33, exactly on time."

Mills drives well, gliding along pitted, narrow hill streets, easing into stops, finishing at Archway depot. He walks around the bus, checking, then fills the log card. We chat ("We've got four minutes") before re-embarking. Mills notes the sagging driver's seat. "The seats were much better on the Routemaster. I once wanted a chair to write in, so I measured the seat of the Routemaster."

November 13, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:36 AM


Gourmet to All That (CHRISTOPHER KIMBALL, 10/09/09, NY Times)

The shuttering of Gourmet reminds us that in a click-or-die advertising marketplace, one ruled by a million instant pundits, where an anonymous Twitter comment might be seen to pack more resonance and useful content than an article that reflects a lifetime of experience, experts are not created from the top down but from the bottom up. They can no longer be coronated; their voices have to be deemed essential to the lives of their customers. That leaves, I think, little room for the thoughtful, considered editorial with which Gourmet delighted its readers for almost seven decades.

To survive, those of us who believe that inexperience rarely leads to wisdom need to swim against the tide, better define our brands, prove our worth, ask to be paid for what we do, and refuse to climb aboard this ship of fools, the one where everyone has an equal voice. Google “broccoli casserole” and make the first recipe you find. I guarantee it will be disappointing. The world needs fewer opinions and more thoughtful expertise — the kind that comes from real experience, the hard-won blood-on-the-floor kind. I like my reporters, my pilots, my pundits, my doctors, my teachers and my cooking instructors to have graduated from the school of hard knocks.

...we won't eat crap just because our betters tell us to. We want it to taste good. And if you read a book like Bill Buford's excellent, Heat, you'll find that chef's care less about taste than about their own ideas. They're just like any intellectuals.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:29 AM


Our future in their hands: It is a myth that David Cameron and George Osborne have no ideas – from elected police chiefs to parents setting up “free schools”, they have armed their party with policies that match their vision of a smaller state (Steve Richards, 05 November 2009, New Statesman)

Blair was ruthless in making the connections with his overall theme. By the autumn of 1996, he and Brown had agreed that they would not change the rates of income tax and would stick with the Conservatives' spending plans for the first two years of a new Labour government, although they did not make the dramatic announcement until the following January. Already Brown had announced strict fiscal rules to bind his economic policies in ways that were aimed at reassuring the markets. Privately, he was also planning for the independence of the Bank of England.

At the same time, Labour's small incremental policies sent out a signal about more ambitious commitments to social justice, although they were imprecise about what form those long-term ambitions would take. The pledge to cut some classroom sizes was emblematic, a tiny policy to be paid for by ending the assisted places scheme, which gave a small number of pupils access to fee-paying public schools. The only specific tax increase was an almost universally popular one, a windfall tax on the privatised utilities that had made huge profits. A great deal of detailed work was carried out to make sure the proposal was credible.

Cameron has policies that match his vision of a smaller state, and they have evolved consistently. His "hug a hoodie" speech in July 2006 did not signal a march towards the centre-left. His arguments were based on Iain Duncan Smith's theme about the centrality of the family in addressing issues relating to poverty. From the beginning, Cameron argued that other institutions such as the family and the voluntary sector must take a bigger role.

It is a myth that Cameron has few policies. Wherever you turn, there are proposals aimed at shrinking the state and, in theory, transferring power to users of services. The Conservatives plan to introduce elected police chiefs, allow parents to set up "free schools", abolish central targets for the NHS and establish a separate independent body to be in overall charge of the health service. Most fundamentally, they plan to set up an independent body to advise on public spending levels, historically the most important task of elected politicians. They have numerous policies focused on heightening accountability in the public sector. Taken with proposals to cut public spending in real terms, the policies flesh out Cameron's belief in a smaller state.

The entire premise of Thatcherism/Blairism/Bushism is that you can improve the delivery of core government services by making them consumer driven.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:53 AM


The 100 Best Films of the Decade: Art house or Blockbuster? Juno or Jason Bourne? Is The Bourne Supremacy really better than Brokeback Mountain? And if Finding Nemo made it, what the hell happened to Shrek? Tell us where we got it wrong, or right, and post your alternative lists below (Times of London, 11/06/09)

10 Hunger (Steve McQueen, 2008)
Provocative London-born artist McQueen directs a revelatory Michael Fassbender in a movie that purports to tackle the infamous 1981 IRA hunger strikes but is actually a hypnotic meditation on the ineffable mystery of human life. Achingly profound.

9 The Queen (Stephen Frears, 2006)
Compassionate and intelligent, witty and wicked, this account of what happened behind the Palace gates after the death of the Princess of Wales is a crown jewel of a movie. Helen Mirren is a very human HRH.

8 Casino Royale (Martin Campbell, 2006)
The high camp of the Brosnan era Bond is ditched, and Fleming’s hero returns rebooted (and Bourne-ified), with an intense turn from Daniel Craig, and some breakneck set-pieces. An opening parkour-style chase through Madagascar sets the tone.

7 The Last King of Scotland (Kevin Macdonald, 2006)
Forest Whitaker gives one of the great performances of the decade as Idi Amin. He nails the Ugandan dictator’s deadly charm — he’s a charismatic monster; part amiable buffoon, part stone-cold killer.

6 Slumdog Millionaire (Danny Boyle, 2008)
Twelve years after Trainspotting, Boyle produces a dizzying Mumbai-set romance that redefines the possibilities of a progressive yet commercially successful national industry. Oscars abound.

5 Team America: World Police (Trey Parker, 2004)
The South Park creators launch an assault on pretty much everyone, from North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il to poor, hapless Matt Damon. It’s jaw-droppingly offensive and wildly funny.

4 Grizzly Man (Werner Herzog, 2005)
Party nature documentary, part philosophical tract, Herzog’s eerie account of the life and brutal death of mildly unhinged bear-watcher Timothy Treadwell is a monumental piece of cinema — emotionally satisfying, intellectually stimulating, but primal to the core.

3 No Country for Old Men (Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, 2007)
The alchemic combination of the Coen brothers’ eloquent precision and Cormac McCarthy’s vivid nihilism makes for a bleakly compelling cycle of violence. The only thing more terrifying than Javier Bardem’s haircut is the clinical efficiency of his murders.

2 The Bourne Supremacy / The Bourne Ultimatum (Paul Greengrass, 2004, 2007)
The action movie is dragged, kicking and back-flipping, into the Noughties courtesy of Matt Damon’s amnesiac superspy and director Greengrass’s film-making élan. Marrying jittery docu-style camera work with healthy political cynicism, Greengrass transformed Bourne into an anti-Bond for the PlayStation generation.

1 Hidden (Cache) (Michael Haneke, 2005)
It is only as the decade draws to a close that it becomes clear just how presciently the Austrian director Michael Haneke tapped into the uncertain mood of the Noughties.

Haven't seen them all, but I'd add a few & rerank the Top 10 as follows:

1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

2. Lives of Others

3. Lord of the Rings Trilogy

4. Master & Commander

5. Bruce Almighty

6. Gladiator

7. Lagaan

8. Lady and the Duke

9. Wall*E

10. Dark Blue World

11. Night Watch

11. Donnie Darko

12. Zodiac

13. About Schmidt

14. Once

15. Lost in Translation

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:30 AM


A wild goose chase: a review of The Real Global Warming Disaster by Christopher Booker (Rodney Leach, 11/04/09, The Spectator)

The conventional view of global warming originates in the environmentalism of the Sixties. Alone, the Green movement might have done little more than raise awareness among consumers and legislators of the need to limit pollution and conserve natural resources. But in the Seventies environmentalism joined forces with the continuing backroom campaign of international bureaucrats for world government. At the time, temperatures had been falling, sparking fears of a new Ice Age. By the Eighties the trend had reversed. Runaway warming and cities submerged by rising seas replaced the spectre of Chicago and Rome buried under miles of ice. No matter. Either prediction would suffice to justify demands for a supranational agency to combat the selfish multinationals and greedy consumerism that threatened to destroy the planet.

Meanwhile science, once a field for open contests between falsifiable hypotheses, was increasingly a creature of government, a wartime development accentuated by the race for technological leadership in the Cold War. Preferment, careers and funding now depended heavily on state favour. Inevitably, academic integrity was compromised.

The collapse of Soviet Communism brought a fresh ally. The Left found in global warming an appealing new anti-capitalist cause, and when EU governments and US Democrats adopted ‘fighting climate change’ as their badge of environmentalist solidarity, an unstoppable coalition of forces had assembled, able to silence dissent and seduce or cow the media on a scale hitherto seen only in ideological or religious regimes. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) would be crowned the sole authority on climate science.

Fortunately, we Americans don't take sciencism seriously.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:36 AM


The revolution that the USSR didn’t see coming: The evil empire of Communism collapsed under the weight of its own folly: a review of Revolution 1989
By Victor Sebestyen (Jack Carrigan, 6 November 2009, Catholic Herald)

Sebestyen divides his book into three sections: the Cold War, the Thaw and Revolution. He begins by describing how the post-war Yalta conference affected the six countries unwillingly positioned within the Russian sphere of influence. What characterised the Soviet Empire was Byzantine bureaucracy, the dead weight of central planning and consequent economic stagnation. Corruption was rife, helped by the system of patronage and sycophancy known as nomenklatura. Spies, secret police and surveillance helped to keep the citizenry from fleeing the socialist paradise forced on them.

The six satellites had very different cultures, languages and traditions. The Soviet system, wedded to Marxist-Leninist orthodoxy and run by hard-line, hated, local placemen, was indifferent to these differences. Sebestyen provides fascinating details to show how Communism was enforced by these cynical apparatchiks. East Germany was effectively run by the Stasi (secret police). Their files ran to 125 miles of shelf space, each mile containing 17 million sheets of paper. In Poland, such was the rigidity of the Soviet market that there were no hairpins available throughout the Seventies. Theft in the workplace was common. A well-worn east European joke was: "We pretend to work and they pretend to pay us."

In the section on "the Thaw", the author details the various elements that came into play during the Seventies onwards. There were new personalities on the world stage, in particular Ronald Reagan, John Paul II, Margaret Thatcher and Mikhail Gorbachev. Each wanted an end to the Cold War. Reagan stated this explicitly; the Pope, visiting Poland after his election, declared: "I have come to talk about the dignity of man"; Margaret Thatcher, meeting Gorbachev for the first time, announced: "We can do business together." Gorbachev was the greatest mystery of all. The first Communist leader who could "walk, talk and think on his own", he believed, in a massive miscalculation of human nature, that the satellite countries, if allowed to govern themselves, would choose to join a "socialist commonwealth".

When he realised he was wrong it was too late to turn the clock back; in any case, he was instinctively a man of compromise, flexibility and imagination, with no stomach for violence and a wish to be popular - not obvious characteristics of his predecessors.

Behind the personalities Sebestyen emphasises a more profound feature: "The USSR had lost its will to run an empire." The satellites, propped up by subsidies, were a constant drain on its own resources; the age of sending in the tanks, as in Hungary in 1956 and Prague in 1968, was over. There was also the long, botched war in Afghanistan, where 100,000 troops were deployed and which the Russians knew they could not win.

The Soviet leader Yuri Andropov had remarked at the beginning, with some understatement: "The economy is backward, the Islamic religion predominates and nearly all the rural population is illiterate. This is not a revolutionary situation." recognizing how little Gorbachev understood what he was doing. He also thought that if dissent was allowed in the USSR proper the critique would be limited to Stalin. When it turned out the dissidents were just waiting to tear down the entire Revolution from its birth it was similarly too late.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:09 AM


'It's Good that Gorbachev Was a Weak Politician': The world is looking to Berlin as the city celebrates 20 years since the fall of the Wall. But in an interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE, Lech Walesa, the man who led Solidarnosc, says that the collapse of communism started in the Polish shipyards -- and that East German "deserters" endangered his ultimate success.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: There were, of course, a number of other attempts to revolt against Soviet rule in Eastern Europe. The Hungarians in 1956. The Czechs in 1968. Why did your Solidarnosc labor union succeed where others failed?

Walesa: The communists always beat back such attempts with their superior power. And they also staged demonstrations aimed at showing their support among the population as a way of establishing legitimacy. In 1980 in the shipyards, we tried to use the communists' strategy against them. We organized the people -- including workers outside of the shipyards -- and we received support from people from other countries. The Pope, who played the most important role, arranged a collective prayer, not just in Poland but also elsewhere. We found that there were millions of us. For the first time, the communists were not able to stage a demonstration that was larger than ours. As a result, they felt weak, and this was an important element in their ultimate defeat.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Still, even until late in the 1980s, it wasn't clear that communism was headed for collapse. Did you really believe that the Soviets would sit back and allow communist governments in Eastern Europe to be overthrown?

Walesa: The greatest fears I had came out of concern for what might be happening behind the scenes. We defeated communism, and the people in East Germany began to flee via the embassies of other countries. The Berlin Wall fell because of these deserters. I was worried that Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev would decide to block the mass escape and thus destroy our victory. The game was a dangerous one. It is good that Gorbachev was a weak politician and that everything went well.

November 12, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:44 AM


The Cross and the Stars: Catholics in the field of fantasy and science fiction. (Sandra Miesel, Catholic World Report)

The acknowledged masterpiece of Catholic SF is A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr. (1922-1996), a novel whose appeal broke genre bounds. Ironically, it was written when its convert author was no longer a practicing Catholic. During World War II Miller had participated in the bombing of historic Monte Cassino Abbey. His reparation was Canticle, a chronicle of scholarly monks laboring to rebuild civilization after a nuclear holocaust, only to see the historical cycle repeat. But God keeps writing straight with crooked lines and brings forth a new breed of human while ours escapes to the stars. Deeply depressed after his wife’s death, Miller committed suicide. Atheist Terry Bisson later completed—without cover credit—an unsuccessful sequel to Canticle entitled St. Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman.

R.A. Lafferty’s Past Master is another great critical favorite although it did not win a mass audience. Lafferty (1914-2002), a self-educated man who spent most of his life in Oklahoma, lived and died as an unfashionably conservative Catholic. A prodigious teller of tall and shaggy tales, his was the most eccentric talent ever to grace SF. Armed with “the high hilarity of love and laughter,” Lafferty says, “We must kill the Devil afresh every day.”

Past Master sends St. Thomas More a thousand years into the future to save a diabolical imitation of his Utopia by dying a kingly death. Similar concerns underlie Lafferty’s Fourth Mansions, which takes its title from St. Teresa of Avila and demolishes the evolutionary fancies of Teilhard de Chardin. His historical fantasy The Flame is Green pits a wild young Irishman against the Devil’s own son during the European revolutions of 1848. In the past, present, or future, Lafferty’s faith-drenched universe keeps gyring upward according to divine plan.

Among Lafferty’s keenest admirers is today’s premier Catholic SF writer, Gene Wolfe. A Grand Master of the field who sold his first story in 1965, Wolfe relishes his freedom to write about “everything that could exist.” (For the scope of “everything,” see his new collection The Best of Gene Wolfe.) This retired engineer’s unfettered imagination exploits the ambiguities of perception, language, memory, even identity. Beginning with The Shadow of the Torturer, Wolfe’s 12-volume Solar Cycle is fiction of dazzling virtuosity that presents two shocking Christ-figures: a torturer and a priest of false pagan gods. It is an epic of personal and planetary renewal that challenges readers’ capacity to follow non-linear narratives told by unreliable narrators. Those who persevere will see that man-made solutions cannot save Man. The Infinite alone can satisfy.

Like Lafferty and Gene Wolfe, Tim Powers acknowledges a debt to G.K. Chesterton. Also like Wolfe, he enjoys teaching writing. In an interview at Powers described himself as “fascinated with stuff that’s grotesque and weird and funny and dramatic.” He unveils mythic resonances behind meticulously researched historical settings, for instance putting the Grail King at the poker tables of Las Vegas (Last Call) or hiding Egyptian gods in Regency England (The Anubis Gates). Body-swapping and psychic vampirism are recurring elements in his fiction. Whether battling ghosts, pirates, or zombies, Powers’ heroes never prevail unscarred. His finest novel is Declare, a cross between the Arabian Nights and John le Carré spy thrillers. It is an explicitly Catholic story of grace vanquishing magic and malevolence older than the human race.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:00 AM


Turn America into a nation of savers: Smart policies could make savings, not consumption, the new norm. (Reid Cramer, November 9, 2009, CS MOnitor)

There is much promise in having savings deposits deducted from paychecks as a matter of course, as they are under 401(k) plans. Such a policy, call it AutoSave, would strategically build on inertia, which, it turns out, is one of the most powerful forces in the universe, along with compound interest. Unfortunately, only about half the workforce currently takes advantage of 401(k) plans with these automatic features, mainly because their employers do not offer them. The Obama administration has proposed remedying this by providing all workers access to a central clearinghouse of savings plans that they could access. It is certainly a step in the right direction, but we should also think more boldly.

What if, for example, the federal government established an account for every American, including children? These lifetime savings accounts could even be started at birth, so children would already have their own account when they reach school age and are ready to learn the value of savings and the basics of financial education.

Working adults could have a small portion of their paychecks, tax returns, and other government payments automatically deposited in these accounts and invested safely. People could always opt out and make withdrawals from their accounts, (with perhaps some funds locked away for special purposes such as education or retirement), but they would have to overcome the natural inertia of human nature to do so.

The UR could salvage his presidency if he and the GOP Congress finish the Ownership Society.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:47 AM


The Real Threat to Fed Independence: Unless we shrink large financial conglomerates, we will end up with a socialized banking system. (Henry Kaufman, 11/11/09, WSJ)

From what I could gather from a speech given by Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke at a conference sponsored by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston a few weeks ago, the Fed favors constraining giant institutions to the point where they would become, in effect, financial public utilities. They might be required to increase equity capital and to limit their activities in proprietary trading and other risky activities.

But under this arrangement, these large institutions nevertheless would still command a vast amount of private-sector credit. And when markets became unstable in the future, other financial institutions would merge in order to come under the government's protective too-big-to-fail umbrella.

If an overwhelming proportion of our financial institutions are deemed too big to fail, monetary restraint would fall heavily on institutions that are not. Pressure would sharply intensify on smaller institutions that mainly service local communities. Further consolidation would result, which in turn would reduce credit-market competition. At the same time, with increasing financial concentration, market volatility would increase.

All of this would narrow the gap between the Federal Reserve and the political arena. Taken to its logical conclusion, our market-based system of credit allocation would be replaced by a socialized financial system, and the Federal Reserve would become part of it.

A much better approach would be to prohibit any financial institution from remaining or becoming too big to fail. This would require that regulators downsize large financial conglomerates. In this process, the prime targets for divestiture should be financial activities that pose risk to the stability of the deposit function as well as operations that pose conflicts of interest.

Our financial system is at a crossroads. We can either succumb to the forces that are shifting markets toward greater government back-stopping and socialization. Or we can create a structure in which no institution is too big to fail, and a financial system that is supervised effectively by a modernized central bank.

Checks and balances are required in business, not just government.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:41 AM


War, Peace and Obama’s Nobel (Noam Chomsky, 11/05/09, In These Times)

The Nobel Peace Prize, of course, is not concerned solely with reducing the threat of terminal nuclear war, but rather with war generally, and the preparation for war. In this regard, the selection of Obama raised eyebrows, not least in Iran, surrounded by U.S. occupying armies.

On Iran’s borders in Afghanistan and in Pakistan, Obama has escalated Bush’s war and is likely to proceed on that course, perhaps sharply.

Obama has made clear that the United States intends to retain a long-term major presence in the region. That much is signaled by the huge city-within-a city called “the Baghdad Embassy,” unlike any embassy in the world.

Obama has announced the construction of mega-embassies in Islamabad and Kabul, and huge consulates in Peshawar and elsewhere.

Nonpartisan budget and security monitors report in Government Executive that the “administration’s request for $538 billion for the Defense Department in fiscal 2010 and its stated intention to maintain a high level of funding in the coming years put the president on track to spend more on defense, in real dollars, than any other president has in one term of office since World War II. And that’s not counting the additional $130 billion the administration is requesting to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan next year, with even more war spending slated for future years.”

You can see how it would be tiresome to always be on the wrong side of history, but how do people like this convince themselves that things are always getting worse and it's primarily America's fault in the face of so much evidence to the contrary?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:30 AM


Recession Upends German Zeal for Fiscal Prudence (NELSON D. SCHWARTZ and JUDY DEMPSEY, 11/11/09, NY Times)

Given the longstanding aversion to borrowing and spending that has shaped German fiscal policy since the great hyperinflation of the Weimar era during the 1920s, Mrs. Merkel and her new finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, have set off a fierce debate by proposing to cut taxes by 24 billion euro, or $35.9 billion, in 2010 and 2011, rather than immediately attack the country’s projected budget gap.

“I want us to do everything we can to create the conditions for new, stronger growth,” Mrs. Merkel said Tuesday, laying out her agenda in a speech before the Bundestag in Berlin. “Without growth, there will be no investment. Without growth, no jobs. Without growth, no money for education. Without growth, no help for the weak.” [...]

Indeed, a few prominent German politicians have started echoing the supply-side arguments propounded by former President Ronald Reagan and his economists in Washington in the 1980s and carried forward by the Republican Party ever since.

Even Germans can't be crazy enough to think inflation is the main problem they face.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:03 AM


Grand delusions: From crop circles and alien abductions to faith healers, many secretly believe in strange phenomena - and it has more to do with human psychology than with reality. (Lauren Monaghan, August 2009, Cosmos)

FROM COLOURFUL CRYSTALS that 'harmonise auras' to research groups studying 'unexplained' phenomena such as Bigfoot, crank science is everywhere. Some of it has gone mainstream, such as homeopathy, the treatment of ills with solutions so dilute they have no active ingredients. Another is astrology, the study of how the movements of the stars and the planets dictate our personalities and daily affairs.

Most present themselves with a peppering of real science, or at least sciencey sounding jargon. Their purveyors, too, come decorated with the trappings of science.

That "peppering" is exquisite.

November 11, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:43 PM


Controversial New Climate Change Data: Is Earth's Capacity To Absorb CO2 Much Greater Than Expected? (ScienceDaily, Nov. 11, 2009)

New data show that the balance between the airborne and the absorbed fraction of carbon dioxide has stayed approximately constant since 1850, despite emissions of carbon dioxide having risen from about 2 billion tons a year in 1850 to 35 billion tons a year now.
This suggests that terrestrial ecosystems and the oceans have a much greater capacity to absorb CO2 than had been previously expected.

The results run contrary to a significant body of recent research which expects that the capacity of terrestrial ecosystems and the oceans to absorb CO2 should start to diminish as CO2 emissions increase, letting greenhouse gas levels skyrocket.

Science has long since become too politicized for the facts to slow down the ideology.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:37 PM


Standing tall in harm's way (David Ignatius, November 11, 2009, Washington Post)

[W]hat's striking to me this Veterans Day is how healthy the military is, given all the weight it has been carrying for the country these past eight years.

Facing a new and disorienting kind of warfare, the military has learned and adapted. Rather than complain about their problems, soldiers have figured out ways to solve them.

In truth, the U.S. military may be the most resilient part of American society right now. The soldiers are clearly in better shape than the political class that sent them to war and the economic leadership that has mismanaged the economy. (I'd give the same high marks to young civilians who are serving and sacrificing in hard places -- the Peace Corps and medical volunteers I've met abroad and the teachers in tough inner-city schools.)

Through all its difficulties, the military has kept its stride. That sense of balance comes partly from the fact that soldiers are anchored to the American bedrock. This includes the stereotypical small towns in the South and Midwest that have military service in their DNA. But it also counts plenty of hardworking, upwardly mobile Hispanic and African American families in urban America that produce some of the best soldiers I know.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:19 PM


Republicans Edge Ahead of Democrats in 2010 VoteRegistered voters prefer: Republicans for the House, 48% to 44% (Jeffrey M. Jones, 11/11/09, Gallup)

Republicans have moved ahead of Democrats by 48% to 44% among registered voters in the latest update on Gallup's generic congressional ballot for the 2010 House elections, after trailing by six points in July and two points last month. [...]

Since Gallup regularly began using the generic ballot to measure registered voters' preferences for the House of Representatives in 1950, it has been rare for Republicans to have an advantage over Democrats. This is likely because more Americans usually identify as Democrats than as Republicans, but Republicans can offset this typical Democratic advantage in preferences with greater turnout on Election Day. Most of the prior Republican registered-voter leads on the generic ballot in Gallup polling occurred in 1994 and 2002, two strong years for the GOP.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:06 PM


Recipe: Bacon Gougères (Kathy Casey, owner of Kathy Casey Food Studios, 11/11/09, Seattle Times)

1/2 cup minced raw bacon (about 4 strips)

4 tablespoons salted butter

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup whole milk

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 cup flour

4 large eggs

3/4 cup grated high-quality Parmesan cheese

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. In a large sauté pan, cook the bacon over medium heat until crispy. Remove bacon to paper towels to drain, and measure out 2 tablespoons of the bacon fat into a medium-sized saucepan. (Note: you should get 2 tablespoons of bacon fat from the bacon — if there is not enough bacon fat, add additional butter to make 2 tablespoons).

3. To the saucepan with the bacon fat, add the butter, water, milk and garlic and cooked bacon, and bring to a slow simmer over medium-high heat.

4. All at once, add the flour, stirring it in quickly with a wooden spoon. Keep stirring — the mixture will come away from the sides of the pan and become thick and stiff. Keep stirring and turning over for about 1 minute. (You want to dry it out a bit.)

5. Transfer the mixture to a mixing bowl and, with an electric mixer, beat on medium-high speed. Add 1 egg and, as soon as it is partially incorporated, increase mixer speed to high. Add the remaining eggs, one at a time, when the previous egg is well-incorporated. The mixture should be smooth. Then mix in the cheese until just combined

6. Let the dough cool for about 5 to 10 minutes while you prepare your pans.

7. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. You will need 2 or 3 baking sheets, or work in batches. (If you don't have parchment, lightly spray baking sheets with nonstick vegetable spray and watch the bottoms of the puffs closely to prevent overbrowning.)

8. Drop the dough by heaping teaspoonfuls — they should be the size of a walnut — onto the parchment. Or you can pipe the dough from a bag with a plain 18 mm tip. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for about 14 minutes, or until puffs are golden, rotating pan halfway through baking. Serve warm.

9. You can make these a few hours in advance, keep at room temperature, then reheat in a hot oven for a few minutes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:57 AM


Health Savings Accounts Can Save Michigan Money (Mr. Michael D. LaFaive and Mr. James Porterfield, Nov. 9, 2009, Mackinac Center)

A health savings account (HSA) is an account into which pre-tax money is placed by an employer or an employee to pay for the employee's ongoing medical expenses. These accounts are married to a high-deductible insurance policy, known as a "consumer-directed health plan," to cover unpredictable big-ticket expenses.

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

Savings accrue to employers — in this case, the state — because high-deductible insurance premiums cost less than premiums associated with more traditional insurance, including PPOs or HMOs. An estimate by the AHIP Center for Policy and Research indicates that the number of people using HSA/CDHPs grew from 1 million in early 2005 to more than 8 million by January 2009. In 2008, large- and small-group HSA coverage leapt 35 percent and 34 percent, respectively.

To estimate what savings might be obtained by the state adopting HSAs for its classified workforce, assume the state would pay 100 percent of the premiums for the HDIP and fund 75 percent of the legally allowable employee contributions for each civil servant (state employees currently make premium contributions of 5 percent to 10 percent, depending on their coverage). Based on these and other assumptions, we estimate first-year savings of $106 million from moving civil service state employees into HSAs, and cumulative savings of up to $5.9 billion through 2021.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:53 AM


House resolution indicates America remains solidly behind Israel (Ghassan Michel Rubeiz, November 5, 2009, The Progressive)

[The] resolution called on the president and the secretary of state “to oppose unequivocally” the Goldstone report.

This sends a signal to Israel that it can get away with aggression.

It tells Palestinians that Congress cares nothing for them.

And it tells the Arab and Muslim worlds that Washington is not their friend.

The House resolution proves that rational debate in the Congress about Israeli policy is taboo.

What has American foreign policy to do with Reason?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:47 AM


U.S. Deploys Reaper Drones Off Somalia Just in Time for Pirate Season (Clay Dillow, 11.10.2009, Popular Science)

As this summer's Navy SEAL beatdown briefly brought to the world's attention, there's a festering piracy problem in the waters off the Horn of Africa. The pirates, in large part unchallenged, are growing bolder, striking in waters as far out as 1,000 nautical miles from Somali shores. Patrolling such large part swath of the Indian Ocean might be impossible if not for the tech the U.S. has recently rolled out to protect her maritime interests: unmanned Reaper drones armed with infrared eyes.

The remotely-piloted MQ 9 Reaper UAVs are similar to the ones seeking out (and destroying) targets in Eastern Afghanistan, and can stay aloft for 18 hours at a time -- good for patrolling massive stretches of ocean. When flying high, the Reaper is virtually invisible and its radar signature negligible, giving it the drop on any would-be hijackers. While Reapers can be armed with up to 14 Hellfire missiles, the UAVs patrolling the waters off Somalia aren't packing munitions. Instead, they are armed with cameras that can zoom in on suspected pirates from heights of up to 50,000 feet. Those high-powered optics, coupled with infrared sensors, could be the key to discouraging piracy in the long run.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:30 AM


Sonny Rollins: Confessions of a colossus: He jammed with Miles and went Zen with Coltrane. As Sonny Rollins heads to the UK, he reveals the secrets of his success (John Fordham, 1111/09,

Rollins is that rare thing: a consummate entertainer with a negligible ego. Even though he first took to the stage with a saxophone in 1949, he still wants every show to be different, and better than the last. At his best (and even as he nears 80, he can still find it, albeit in shorter bursts), Rollins thrills his listeners with a sense of infinite possibility.

The biggest star of this year's London Jazz festival, which opens on Friday, Rollins tends to save his loquacity for his saxophone; but he recently found time, after a run of American and European concerts, to talk. He still practises every day at his farmhouse in Germantown, upstate New York, does yoga and watches his diet, but the Rollins I spoke to was also taking stock, thinking it was time for some changes. [...]

"Let me tell you what I do want to do," Rollins says, warming to his theme. "If you've ever heard any Native American music, there's a repetitive sort of a beat to it, but paradoxically it's very freeing. It's different to what we know from jazz. It's not a loose, swinging beat; Native American music is solid, not so expansive. I like that feel. It's giving me more ability to express myself, and I'm trying to get my band to feel it. I'm interested in the social context of it, too, in Native American culture. I hate the word 'spiritual' because it's been so overused, but I've always wanted something beyond the secular in music. This has it." His plan is to have his rhythm section play with a Native American beat, while he improvises over the top. That's the plan for now, anyway.

Pssst...not spiritual...spirituals.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:24 AM


A Christmas Carol
Jim Carrey is brilliant in this retelling of the classic Christmas story -- this time with stunning computer-generated effects.
(Leticia Velasquez | Wednesday, 11 November 2009,

Rather than reducing the story line to a vehicle to showcase special effects and off-colour slapstick as do many Christmas-themed films, A Christmas Carol returns to the heart of the Dickens' story. It offers a piercing glimpse of a man in a prison of his own making. But then ghostly visitors quite literally lend him a hand to break free in time to celebrate Christmas. The stunning special 3-D effects were created with performance capture, a technique director Robert Zemeckis used in The Polar Express (2004) and Beowulf (2007).

The emotional power of the acting and the use of Dickens’ original dialogue maintain the strength of the story against the intensity of the special effects. Wild flights through the streets of London and unanticipated bits of levity kept it from being a downer and are likely the very things Dickens had intended with his descriptive passages. Surprisingly, this may be the film which best conforms to his original conception.

Though minor scenes from the book are not shown, and some liberties are taken with the plot, the central scenes are played with respect for their original meaning.

They even kept the bit about "excess populaion" needing to die and it produced an audible silence in the theater. It's too old for litle kids though. The 7 year old thought all the exposition "boring" and bailed early. The 10 year old was gone by ghost of Christmas Present.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:21 AM


Democrat Ben Nelson Draws a Line in the Sand on Health Care: Nelson Won't Vote for Health Care Bill That Looks Like the House Version (JONATHAN KARL, Nov. 11, 2009, ABC News)

"Well, first of all, it has more than a robust public option, it's got a totally government-run plan, the costs are extraordinary associated with it, it increases taxes in a way that will not pass in the Senate and I could go on and on and on," Nelson said in an interview that is part of ABC News' Subway Series with Jonathan Karl.

November 10, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:30 PM


Who Is a Jew? Court Ruling in Britain Raises Question (SARAH LYALL, 11/08/09, NY Times)

The questions before the judges in Courtroom No. 1 of Britain’s Supreme Court were as ancient and as complex as Judaism itself.

Who is a Jew? And who gets to decide?

On the surface, the court was considering a straightforward challenge to the admissions policy of a Jewish high school in London. But the case, in which arguments concluded Oct. 30, has potential repercussions for thousands of other parochial schools across Britain. And in addressing issues at the heart of Jewish identity, it has exposed bitter divisions in Britain’s community of 300,000 or so Jews, pitting members of various Jewish denominations against one another.

“This is potentially the biggest case in the British Jewish community’s modern history,” said Stephen Pollard, editor of the Jewish Chronicle newspaper here. “It speaks directly to the right of the state to intervene in how a religion operates.”

The case began when a 12-year-old boy, an observant Jew whose father is Jewish and whose mother is a Jewish convert, applied to the school, JFS. [...]

By many standards, the JFS applicant, identified in court papers as “M,” is Jewish. But not in the eyes of the school, which defines Judaism under the Orthodox definition set out by Jonathan Sacks, chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth. Because M’s mother converted in a progressive, not an Orthodox, synagogue, the school said, she was not a Jew — nor was her son. It turned down his application.

Nothing can stop a religion hell-bent on suicide.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:53 AM


The Relevance of Godwin's Law (Nick Cohen, 11/03/09, Standpoint)

Godwin's justly celebrated law states that as an online debate grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving the Nazis or Hitler approaches one. Anyone who engages in reductio ad Hitlerum instantly loses the argument because he or she begs questions and makes false comparisons.

Certainly the best thing about Godwin's Law is that it is an unintentional concession to Hitler, treating him and his thought as so unique that they are the only things to which nothing else can ever be compared. And yet, his sort of eugenic beliefs and one party dictatorship are actually common enough. And his murder tally was rather niggardly by comparison to his secular/rationalist peers (Mao, Stalin, etc.). What really scares folks who invoke Godwin's Law tends to be thinking through the opinions they hold.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:18 AM


How my party was betrayed by KGB boot-lickers (Gerald Kaufman, 04 November 2009, The Spectator)

When in 1983 I described Labour’s manifesto as ‘the longest suicide note in history’, I was drawing attention to the party’s apparently irreversible meltdown as an electoral force. As leader, Michael Foot was wedded to policies such as unilateral nuclear disarmament and leaving the European Economic Community. The strategy, if there was one, seemed to be to lose as many votes as possible.

The remarkable revelations published in the Chernyaev diaries make this attempted political suicide easier to understand. It is clear that key elements in the Labour party structure were determined to ingratiate themselves with Moscow — regardless of any adverse electoral impact in Britain. They show, vividly, how Labour was being poisoned by key officials who were laying the groundwork, apparently deliberately, for the debacle of 1983.

November 9, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:53 AM


Medical Industry Grumbles, but It Stands to Gain (DUFF WILSON and REED ABELSON, 11/09/09, NY Times)

[A]s attention now shifts to the Senate, where Democratic leaders are trying to merge two bills into one, virtually every business group with a stake in the outcome will be hoping to strike at least a slightly better deal than they found in the House version.

And they may indeed get a break from the Senate, where the need for Democrats to compromise to win 60 votes may ensure a more business-moderate outcome.

And yet, many analysts said on Sunday that even the House bill was not as bad for business as many in the health care industry might have feared when the overhaul effort began many months ago.

“All industries stand to gain from this legislation,” Steven D. Findlay, senior health policy analyst with Consumers Union in Washington, said in an interview. “They’re going to continue to fight their narrow issues and get the best that they can get. But all of them are aware they stand to gain significant new business and new revenue streams as more Americans get health coverage and money flows into the system for them.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:30 AM


Poll shows gloomy view in California (KENDRA MARR, 11/8/09 , Politico)

cuts and tax and fee hikes across the state, just 14 percent of voters there say that California is on the right track while 80 percent say the state is moving in the wrong direction, according to a new poll. [...]

The poll showed that just 43 percent of voters approve of how Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer has handled her job, a dangerously low number for an incumbent.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:15 AM


Semi-Private Womb: Selling out abortion rights for health care reform. (William Saletan, Nov. 9, 2009, Slate)

To get the bill through, Pelosi traded away abortion.

Naral Pro-Choice America is furious. It points out that more than 85 percent of private health insurance plans cover abortion. By forbidding such plans from competing in the new, lucrative federally-supervised insurance exchanges, the bill would force them to drop abortion coverage. This would eliminate such coverage even for policyholders who pay their own way—"a radical departure from the status quo," the group complains.

The Planned Parenthood Federation of America seems even angrier. On Saturday, it announced its opposition to the House bill. According to PPFA President Cecile Richards, the bill strips women of abortion coverage even "in the private health insurance market" and leaves them "worse off after health care reform than they are today, violating President Obama's promise to the American people that no one would be forced to lose her or his present coverage under health reform."

Welcome to socialism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:13 AM


Girly men of Japan just want to have fun (Richard Lloyd Parry, 11/02/09, Times of London)

At the age of 18, Mitsuhiro Matsushita already has a good idea of his ideal future. After he graduates from university a few years of work will be followed by marriage to an industrious wage earner. When children arrive it will be Mitsuhiro who stays at home looking after them, baking cakes and biscuits and living the traditional life of the Japanese housewife.

None of this would be noteworthy but for one thing. Mitsuhiro is not a conventionally minded Japanese woman, but a thoughtful, articulate and fashionably dressed young man. And far from being a marginal eccentric he is a member of a large and growing tribe of Japanese manhood that is attracting the fascinated and anxious attention of companies, academics and the mass media.

Two phrases have been coined to describe them: soshokukei danshi or “herbivorous males”, and Ojo-man – or “girly men”.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:10 AM


Doubt in the Age of Obama (Christopher Caldwell, November 6 2009, Financial Times)

It is increasingly questionable whether there is any such thing as an Age of Obama. The president’s constituency is personal, not partisan. His charisma turns out to be non-transferable.

November 8, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:56 PM


Palestinians consider abandoning peace process (Adrian Blomfield, 08 Nov 2009, Daily Telegraph)

Just days after Mahmoud Abbas, the moderate president of the Palestinian Authority, announced his intention to quit, his colleagues gave warning that they were prepared to deploy the much feared "nuclear option".

Officials in the West Bank told The Daily Telegraph that the most important Palestinian decision making bodies were preparing to meet to discuss a proposal to dissolve the Palestinian Authority itself.

Even so, some Palestinian officials signalled they were prepared to discuss the long-feared "nuclear option" in response to what they described as Israeli intransigence and American betrayal. [...]

Were the PA to be abandoned, Israel would be forced to extend the scope of its occupation and retake control of social services. It would also effectively end all hopes for a two-state solution.

Once Ariel Sharon was gone there was no Israeli leader strong enough and wise enough to force a state of their own upon them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:53 PM


George W. Bush makes secret visit to mourning families at Fort Hood; Laura Bush goes too (Andrew Malcolm, 11/07/09, LA Times)

Last night former President George W. Bush and his wife Laura made a secret visit to the devastated military families at Fort Hood.

The Bushes instructed the commander of the mourning military base that they wanted no publicity. With their Secret Service detail, Bush and his wife made the 30 mile trip unannounced from their ranch near Crawford, Texas Friday evening.

Fox News broke news of the visit this afternoon. Other sources said the former first couple spent about two hours meeting with the wounded, family and soldiers, talking quietly and at times hugging them as they did in private at other times of crisis such as post-9/11.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:48 PM


Health care overhaul faces stone wall in Senate (RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR, 11/08/09, Associated Press)

The government health insurance plan included in the House bill is unacceptable to a few Democratic moderates who hold the balance of power in the Senate.

If a government plan is part of the deal, "as a matter of conscience, I will not allow this bill to come to a final vote," said Sen. Joe Lieberman, the Connecticut independent whose vote Democrats need to overcome GOP filibusters.

"The House bill is dead on arrival in the Senate," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said dismissively.

Democrats did not line up to challenge him. [...]

In Senate, the stumbling block is the idea of the government competing with private insurers. Liberals may have to swallow hard and accept a deal without a public plan in order to keep the legislation alive. As in the House, the compromise appears to be to the right of the political spectrum.

Outside the Beltway, that's referred to as the middle.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:30 PM


Abortion Was at Heart of Wrangling (DAVID M. HERSZENHORN and JACKIE CALMES, 11/08/09, NY Times)

It was late Friday night and lawmakers were stalling for time. In a committee room, they yammered away, delaying a procedural vote on the historic health care legislation. Down one floor, in her office, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi desperately tried to deal with an issue that has bedeviled Democrats for more than a generation — abortion.

After hours of heated talks, the people she was trying to convince — some of her closest allies — burst angrily out of her office.

The results of that fight, waged heavily over two days, were evident as one liberal Democrat after another denounced the health care plan because of abortion restrictions, even though they were likely to hold their noses in the end and vote for the bill itself.

“If enacted, this amendment will be the greatest restriction of a woman’s right to choose to pass in our careers,” said Representative Diana DeGette, Democrat of Colorado, one of the lawmakers who left Ms. Pelosi’s office mad.

After all, what's the point of a health care bill that doesn't fund murder?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:38 AM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:45 AM


Babies are found to cry in their mother's tongue: Just days after birth, German and French infants' wails mimicked the patterns of their languages. Researchers believe they started to pick up on the melodies in the third trimester. (Karen Kaplan, 11/07/09, , LA Times)

They may not be old enough to talk, but babies less than a week old know how cry in their native language.

Researchers have known that infants have the ability to mimic speech starting around 12 weeks of age. They also show a preference for spoken language that mirrors the rhythm, melody and intensity patterns of their mother tongue. [...]

The scientists said that fetuses start to pick up on the melody of ambient language during their third trimester in the womb. They can't hear all of the phonetic details of their mothers' speech, but they can perceive the overall patterns or phrases and sentences. Imitating those patterns probably helps newborns endear themselves to their mothers, the researchers theorized.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:24 AM


The Quiet Death of the Kyoto Protocol: Reading the climate news in recent weeks, one might start to wonder who won the last election. (Samuel Thernstrom, November 5, 2009, The American)

Reading the climate-change news in recent weeks, one might wonder who won the last election.

The Obama administration has rejected the Kyoto Protocol (ensuring it will expire), adopted some of former President George W. Bush’s key positions in international climate negotiations, and demurred when asked about reports that the president has decided to skip the December climate summit in Copenhagen. United Nations climate negotiator Yvo de Boer has concluded that it is “unrealistic” to expect the conference to produce a new, comprehensive climate treaty—which also describes the once-fond hopes for passage of domestic climate legislation this year—or even in Obama’s first term.

This is not how it was supposed to be.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:22 AM


Some Vaguely Heretical Thoughts on Health-Care Reform (John Cassiday, 11/04/09, The New Yorker)

I regard an expansion of the government safety net as ethically essential, economically justified, and long overdue. It is indefensible for a country as rich as the United States to fail to provide adequate health care for many of its citizens. In extending our health-care system, all we are doing is catching up with Otto Von Bismarck’s Germany, which recognized a hundred and twenty-five years ago that universal health and disability coverage, along with old age pensions and a system of public education, were essential elements of a modern society. Moreover, given the reluctance of “Blue Dog” Democrats, such as Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson, to support anything that smacks of big government, and President Obama’s determination to coöperate with moderate Republicans, the proposed reform may be the most that can be accomplished today. But we will be dealing with its consequences for decades to come, and I think it’s important to be clear about what the reform amounts to.

Let’s remind ourselves of the basics. There are two big (and linked) problems with the current health-care system. It excludes 46.3 million Americans, according to the Census Bureau, and it is inordinately expensive. The proposed reform purports to tackle both of these problems; in fact, it only addresses the first one in any systematic manner. The future cost savings that the Administration and its congressional allies are promising to deliver are based on wishful thinking and sleight of hand. Over time, the reform, as proposed, would almost certainly add substantially to the budget deficit, thereby worsening the long-term fiscal crisis that the country faces. Financing this measure alone wouldn’t break the U.S. Treasury. Other elements of the fiscal picture, such as the looming increases in interest payments on the national debt and an explosive growth in Medicare spending as the baby boomers retire—are far larger. But the numbers involved in health-care reform are still significant—perhaps one per cent of annual G.D.P.

The Pelosi bill, in particular, wouldn’t do much, if anything, to address the overall escalation in health-care costs, much of which is rooted in the nature of insurance, where individuals consume costly health services, and different people—the other members of their risk pool—pay for them. This is the “moral hazard” problem that the economist Kenneth Arrow identified as long ago as 1963. [...]

What about the proposed cost savings? They, too, are questionable. Most of them consist of reductions in Medicare outlays, which, according to this C.B.O. analysis, would save four hundred and twenty-six billion dollars between 2010 and 2019 compared with current plans. Look a bit more closely, and you find that more than half of the Medicare savings (two hundred and twenty-nine billion dollars) come from cutting payments to providers of services under the regular program; most of the rest (a hundred and seventy billion dollars) come from changing the way payments are set in the Medicare Advantage program. Does anybody really believe that these savings will materialize? For decades now, Congress has been promising to reduce the growth of Medicare outlays, and yet every year they continue to go up. The reasons are straightforward: the population is aging; seniors are politically active; and health-care treatments, particularly for the aging, continue to evolve in complex and costly ways.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:15 AM


Saudi court upholds child rapist crucifixion ruling (Reuters, 11/03/09)

A Saudi court of cassation upheld a ruling to behead and crucify a 22-year-old man convicted of raping five children and leaving one of them to die in the desert, newspapers reported on Tuesday.

Peter insisted that he be crucified head down, rather than up, lest he appear to be presumptuous. But it's a helpful reminder of just how radical Christ's execution was, not just for God to die but in the worst way known.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:04 AM


Morality without God?: Dialoguing with a Dartmouth professor who says there is (Marvin Olasky, 11/21/09, World)

The prestigious Oxford University Press sent me the new book Morality Without God by Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, a Dartmouth professor. (I'm going to quote him a lot, so I'll use his initials.) WSA begins by complaining that his students quote to him Dostoevsky's favorite line, "If God is dead, everything is permitted." WSA then argues that we don't need God: We all should simply agree not to harm others—cause death, pain, or disability—unless there is "adequate reason."

Wondering if WSA is one of those exceedingly rare secular professors with the courage to be pro-life, I emailed him to ask. He responded that there is no "simple solution to this complex problem . . . the moral problem of abortion cannot be solved by citing religious texts or religious leaders."

Hmm . . . How can it be solved? WSA wrote, "What matters is the present and future harm to the fetus and others. This does not solve the problem, but it tells us where to focus our discussions. I hope this helps."

Hmm . . . It helps only if WSA can tell us how to compare "harm to the fetus" (death) to other harms, so I emailed him again. He responded, "The bottom line is that I think some moral problems are insoluble. . . . They are just too difficult for us to figure out. . . . The answer, 'I do not know,' should become common."

Hmm . . . I asked WSA whether people could really make "I don't know" the default statement. He responded, "Why not? People get used to having a belief about everything, but they do not have to. Life can be lived like an experiment where you guess but do not believe until you see how it turns out."

Wow. My first thought was that he was describing how liberals lived in the 20th century. Let's wait and see how the rule of Stalin, Mao, Castro, and other Communists turns out: We don't want to assume that the preaching of class conflict, envy, and resentment will have any real-life effects.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:49 AM


Riding high: The DNA of the domesticated horse shows evolution at work (The Economist, 11/05/09)

A team of researchers led by Claire Wade, then at the Broad Institute, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, collaborated on the project, which is reported in the latest issue of Science. They analysed DNA from a mare called Twilight (pictured above) to reveal a genome that consists of up to 2.7 billion base pairs (the “letters” in which the genetic message is written). This is slightly larger than the genome of a dog, but smaller than that of a human or a cow. They also compared Twilight, a thoroughbred, with members of other horse breeds. [...]

The equine genome also indicates how extensive crossbreeding was in horse evolution.

Species stasis and breeding by an intelligent agent, just the way evolution was supposed to work, eh?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:19 AM


The Ingratiator: Fire Sudan envoy Scott Gration. (The Editors, November 5, 2009, New Republic)

Scott Gration is an embarrassment. As Barack Obama's special envoy to Sudan, Gration has a dual mission: to help win justice and peace for the nearly three million Darfuris who currently live in camps after being subjected to genocide by Sudan's government; and to prevent that same odious government from initiating another slaughter in southern Sudan, where a 2005 peace agreement is looking more tenuous by the day.

How is he doing? Since taking the job in March, Gration has gone about ingratiating himself to the Sudanese government--an odd choice given that the government is a genocidal one

...since his entire foreign policy is based on ingratiating himself with dictators, genocidal or not?

November 7, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:19 AM


Turning New Jersey red (RUSS SCHRIEFER, 11/7/09, Politico)

Just as important as the political environment being “open” to electing a Republican was the candidate and his message.

For seven years Chris Christie earned a stellar reputation as a U.S. attorney, convicting over 136 public officials on corruption charges. His work earned bipartisan praise, even from Gov. Corzine. We believed from day one that Christie’s record as an independent crime fighter gave voters the permission they needed to believe he could change Trenton, particularly with taxes and the economy. This summer, when an FBI raid brought down numerous public officials, it was less about corruption and more about New Jerseyans once again being disappointed by a state government out of control.

In a time of economic uncertainty, voters, particularly independents, cared more about New Jersey’s status as the highest taxed state in the nation than Christie’s driving record or his weight (both of which were subjects of Corzine ads). By focusing on the economic message and not getting distracted by launching retaliatory personal attacks on Gov. Corzine, we kept talking to voters about issues they cared about. one wants to pay for it. Let Democrats run on spending more while you run on cutting what it costs us all.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:12 AM


The Rose Garden Path (Peggy Noonan, 11/06/09, WSJ)

[I]t's too simple to say this was a vote against Obama. Yes, he went to Jersey three times and draped himself like a shawl around the Democratic incumbent. But the crowds showed and nobody booed and everyone had a good time. What happened actually is more interesting. They just didn't listen to him.

Listen? The UR's appeal is based entirely on looking at the facade he presents.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:10 AM


She Ran to Gunfire, and Ended It (JAMES C. McKINLEY Jr., 11/07/09, NY Times)

The police officer who brought down a gunman after he went on a shooting rampage at the Fort Hood Army base here was on the way to have her car repaired when she responded to a police radio report of gunfire at a center where soldiers are processed before being sent overseas, the authorities said Friday.

As she pulled up to the center, the officer, Sgt. Kimberly Denise Munley, spotted the gunman, later identified as Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, brandishing a pistol and chasing a wounded soldier outside the building, said Chuck Medley, the director of emergency services at the base.

Sergeant Munley — a woman with a fierce love of hunting, surfing and other outdoor sports — bolted from her car, yanked her pistol out and shot at Major Hasan. He turned on her and began to fire. She ran toward him, continuing to fire, and both she and Major Hasan went down with several bullet wounds, Mr. Medley said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:03 AM


Obama's Frightening Insensitivity Following Shooting (ROBERT A. GEORGE, Nov 6, 2009, NBC Chicago)

At about 5 p.m., cable stations went to the president. The situation called for not only his trademark eloquence, but also grace and perspective.

But instead of a somber chief executive offering reassuring words and expressions of sympathy and compassion, viewers saw a wildly disconnected and inappropriately light president making introductory remarks. At the event, a Tribal Nations Conference hosted by the Department of Interior's Bureau of Indian affairs, the president thanked various staffers and offered a "shout-out" to "Dr. Joe Medicine Crow -- that Congressional Medal of Honor winner." Three minutes in, the president spoke about the shooting, in measured and appropriate terms. Who is advising him?

Anyone at home aware of the major news story of the previous hours had to have been stunned. An incident like this requires a scrapping of the early light banter. The president should apologize for the tone of his remarks, explain what has happened, express sympathy for those slain and appeal for calm and patience until all the facts are in. That's the least that should occur.

Indeed, an argument could be made that Obama should have canceled the Indian event, out of respect for people having been murdered at an Army post a few hours before. That would have prevented any sort of jarring emotional switch at the event.

Did the president's team not realize what sort of image they were presenting to the country at this moment? The disconnect between what Americans at home knew had been going on -- and the initial words coming out of their president's mouth was jolting, if not disturbing.

...all it requires is that we alter our behavior in reaction to it. He ought to be able to continue his normal functions as president after such a one off event, just do so with appropriate acknowledgment of the losses. That Bill Clinton fake somberness is much worse.

And, let's face it, not only is the UR not eloquent but he's Tom Hagen, not Vito Corleane.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:55 AM


Rival Lebanon factions agree on unity government (BASSEM MROUE, 11/07/09, Associated Press)

Hariri's Cabinet lineup appears to have given the opposition the seats they have been demanding for months, including the Telecommunications Ministry.

A Hezbollah statement issued Saturday said the opposition leaders agreed during the meeting "to go ahead with the formation of a national unity government according to what was agreed upon during negotiations."

It added that they "hope that this step will be for the good of Lebanon and its people."

During the months-long negotiations, one of the most contentious points was the demand by Hezbollah and its allies that Jibran Bassil stay on as telecommunications minister, a sensitive post for security reasons.

Hariri refused to give the position to the opposition.

Hariri ultimately relented, but only if the minister was not Bassil, but rather another member of his party. Bassil will become Minister of Power and Hydraulic Resources in the future Cabinet, according to the daily Al-Akhbar that is close to Hezbollah.

Why not all the seats in South Lebanon and none in North Lebanon?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:44 AM


McGinn widens lead over Mallahan for Seattle mayor (The Associated Press, 11/07/09)

Environmentalist Mike McGinn has widened his lead over cell phone executive Joe Mallahan to 1,209 votes in the race for Seattle mayor.

Mike McGinn wants more light rail in Seattle, vote within two years (Emily Heffter, Seattle Times)
Mike McGinn pledged this morning to bring a plan before voters within two years to expand light rail to more neighborhoods within Seattle.

Neighborhoods that could be connected, he said: West Seattle, Ballard, Fremont, Queen Anne and Belltown. [...]

McGinn mentioned the possibility of funding the light-rail extensions with car-tab taxes, sales taxes or other taxes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:38 AM


Unique homecoming to Vietnam for US commander: On the day his side lost the Vietnam War, Hung Ba Le fled his homeland at the age of 5 in a fishing trawler crammed with 400 refugees. Thirty-four years later, he made an unlikely homecoming - as the commander of a U.S. Navy destroyer. (BEN STOCKING, 11/07/09, Associated Press)

On the day his side lost the Vietnam War, Hung Ba Le fled his homeland at the age of 5 in a fishing trawler crammed with 400 refugees. Thirty-four years later, he made an unlikely homecoming - as the commander of a U.S. Navy destroyer.

Le piloted the USS Lassen on Saturday into Danang, home of China Beach, where U.S. troops frequently headed for R&R during the war, which ended on April 30, 1975, when the southern city of Saigon was taken by communist troops from North Vietnam.

That was the day Le and his family embarked on an uncertain journey in a fishing boat piloted by Le's father, who was a commander in the South Vietnamese navy. They were rescued at sea by the USS Barbour County, taken to a U.S. base in the Philippines, a refugee camp in California and finally to northern Virginia, where they rebuilt their lives.

But what do immigrants add to our culture?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:36 AM


Revolutionary War hero becomes honorary US citizen (WILLIAM C. MANN, 11/07/09, Associated Press)

Finally, Gen. Casimir Pulaski became an American citizen on Friday, 230 years after the Polish nobleman died fighting for the as yet-unborn United States.

President Barack Obama signed a joint resolution of the Senate and the House that made Pulaski an honorary citizen.

The UR's finally done something worthwhile.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:24 AM


Whale Riders: a review of LEVIATHAN by Scott Westerfeld Illustrated by Keith Thompson (AUSTIN GROSSMAN, November 5, 2009, NY Times)

Scott Westerfeld’s “Leviathan” is a tightly paced young adult novel set in an alternate version of the First World War and a welcome addition to the steampunk genre: a neo-retro period adventure. Just as cyberpunk reimagined science fiction with computers, steampunk reinvents it through a fantasy of the technological past. Its signature style is a whimsical Jules Verne-ian, 19th-century take on high technology — gadgets, gauges and goggles take the place of circuits and fusion reactors. Its genteel heroes and heroines display both the pluck of idealized Victorian adven­turers and their understanding of formal dress. [...]

If it poses a big question, that question would be, Wouldn’t it be cool if the First World War had been fought with genetically engineered mutant animals, against steam-­powered walking machines like the ones from “The Empire Strikes Back”? And the answer is, Yes, it would.

Now to sneak it onto his Amazon Wish List...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:21 AM


Troubling Signals On Free Speech: In his eagerness to please international opinion, President Obama has taken a small but significant step toward censoring free speech. (Stuart Taylor Jr., Oct. 31, 2009, National Journal)

It was nice to hear Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton say on October 26, "I strongly disagree" with Islamic countries seeking to censor free speech worldwide by making defamation of religion a crime under international law.

But watch what the Obama administration does, not just what it says. I'm not talking about its attacks on Fox News. I'm talking about a little-publicized October 2 resolution in which Clinton's own State Department joined Islamic nations in adopting language all-too-friendly to censoring speech that some religions and races find offensive.

The ambiguously worded United Nations Human Rights Council resolution could plausibly be read as encouraging or even obliging the U.S. to make it a crime to engage in hate speech, or, perhaps, in mere "negative racial and religious stereotyping." This despite decades of First Amendment case law protecting such speech.

Okay, so he's like a Jimmy Carter with an anti-Human Rights agenda....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:16 AM


The abortion deal (Patrick O'Connor, 11/07/09, Politico)

Abortion opponents won a huge last-minute concession late Friday night after Democratic leaders agreed to grant them a vote on an amendment that would effectively bar insurers that participate in the exchanges from offering coverage for abortions.

Members of the Rules Committee approved a vote on the amendment early Saturday morning after hours of negotiations in Speaker Nancy Pelosi's Capitol office, so the full House will get a chance to vote on it when the broader health care bill comes to the floor.

Leaders reluctantly made the decision after working for days to broker a truce that would garner a blessing from the Conference of Catholic Bishops. But the church, according to members and aides, wouldn't accept a compromise crafted by Indiana Rep. Brad Ellsworth that would have established a body to make sure private insurance companies don't use federal funds to pay for abortions.

November 6, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:18 PM


Zelaya-Micheletti Honduras Deal Risks Trouble for Obama (Tim Padgett, Nov 6, 2009, TIME)

When the U.S. last week finally brokered a deal between ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya and the man who replaced him following the June 28 coup, de facto President Roberto Micheletti, observers wondered how the Obama Administration had won Micheletti's agreement. That's because the pact allowed for Zelaya to be restored to office before Honduras' Nov. 29 presidential election - a prospect Micheletti had fiercely opposed. But as the dust settles, the more common question this week is, What was Zelaya thinking when he signed this accord?

The Oct. 30 agreement, in fact, leaves it to the Honduran congress to decide whether the leftist Zelaya should be restored before the presidential vote (in which he's not a candidate). But Zelaya, still holed up in the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa since sneaking back into the country from exile in September, appears to have grossly miscalculated the odds of the legislature voting in his favor, and that leaves a cloud of uncertainty hanging over the accord. On Friday, Zelaya told Radio Globo that the accord was "dead," adding that there was "no sense in deceiving Hondurans."

It ought to have been apparent to Zelaya that when the pact was inked, only a quarter of the chamber's 128 deputies backed his reinstatement - even his ruling Liberal Party is split on the issue - and the math has barely budged since then. U.S. officials say they hoped that four months after the coup, the congress would be less of an anti-Zelaya hothouse and therefore more amenable to letting him finish the last three months of his term as the democratically elected President.

...or isn't the gist here that Obama was duped, "observers" were duped, Mr. Padgett was could Zelaya have not realized he'd been duped!

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:52 PM


Vulnerable Democratic freshman abandon the health care bill (Kathy Kiely, November 06, 2009 , USA Today)

Some of the most vulnerable Democrats in the House are starting to flake off the health care bill.

There are a dozen first-term Democrats representing districts that Republican presidential nominee John McCain won last year. So far, six have announced that they will vote against their party's health care bill.

Update, 5:43 p.m. ET: Now there are seven. The New York Daily News has just published a statement from hometown Rep. Michael McMahon, D-N.Y. He's in the no column. "I believe the net negatives of this bill outweight the positive effects," McMahon says.

Five of those announcements came today. All of the lawmakers who announced opposition cited concerns about the price tag of the legislation, estimated by the Congressional Budget Office to be more than $1 trillion over 10 years.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:13 PM


Ellsworth angers abortion foes (Thomas B. Langhorne, November 6, 2009, Louisville Courier Press)

Eighth District U.S. Rep. Brad Ellsworth, D-Ind., might have expected that his amendment to the health care reform bill, which he says will ensure no federal funds are used to provide elective abortions, would be opposed by Planned Parenthood. [...]

But the Ellsworth amendment, which House leaders have said they may incorporate into the bill, also has sparked a furious backlash among national, state and local anti-abortion groups who typically support Ellsworth.

Pitted against the Ellsworth amendment are the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the National Right to Life Committee, Indiana Right to Life and Vanderburgh County Right to Life.

"It was a bayonet in the back from someone who said he was on our side," said Doug Johnson, Washington, D.C.-based legislative director for the National Right to Life Committee. [...]

The crux of the Right to Life case against the Ellsworth amendment is that it does not strike what Johnson calls "trump-all" language in the health care reform bill that states, "Nothing in this Act shall be construed as preventing the public health insurance option from providing for or prohibiting coverage of services described in paragraph (4)(A)."

The services described in paragraph (4)(A) are "abortions for which the expenditure of federal funds appropriated for the Department of Health and Human Services is not permitted."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:42 PM


Hoyer: House vote may be pushed back (AP, 11/06/09)

House Democrats acknowledged they don't yet have the votes to pass a sweeping overhaul of the nation's health care system, and signaled they may push back the vote until Sunday or early next week. [...]

The apparent problem: Democrats have yet to resolve intraparty disputes over abortion funding and illegal immigrants' access to health care.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:04 AM


Obama cedes the center (Michael Gerson, November 6, 2009, Washington Post)

Advocates of purity politics on both left and right see Tuesday's lessons differently. "If you abandon Democratic principles in a bid for unnecessary 'bipartisanship,' " said the Daily Kos, "you will lose votes." But what could this possibility mean in practice? Would Democrats have saved Virginia and New Jersey if they embraced a single-payer takeover of American health care? If they proposed another trillion dollars in new debt? Yes, Democratic turnout and enthusiasm were down in both states. But this is probably because Obamamania was an acute, not chronic, malady. And though Obama remains fairly popular, his liberal policies look considerably less appealing without his winning personality on the ticket.

Others make a similar argument with a different ideology: If only more conservatives were nominated, such as Doug Hoffman in New York's 23rd Congressional District, the party might be pure enough to excite the base. Liberal Republicans who eventually endorse Democrats, such as Hoffman's opponent, should probably expect a conservative primary challenge. But this strategy is self-destructive when universalized. Would Republican appeal throughout the Northeast really be expanded by more ideological nominees? Though the Republican Party will remain the conservative party nationally, it is not possible for Republicans to win everywhere with an identical conservative message.

The Republican candidates who won on Tuesday were generally conservative, but not angry. They were supported by the Republican base but spent most of their time reaching toward the middle. It was a center-right victory in a center-right country.

Politicians who have run for governor -- say, Bill Clinton -- had a good feel for the politics of the center. Obama has yet to demonstrate it. According to the White House, on election night he was "not watching returns" -- displaying a French monarch's indifference to America's shifting middle.

Now comes Obama's largest test, which will determine the ideological atmosphere for the 2010 election. If the president -- opposed by a majority of Americans, with almost no support from the other party -- imposes an ideologically divisive health reform, it will smack of radicalism, reinforce polarization and may cede the ideological center to Republicans for years to come.

His most significant accomplishment to date is that no one feels like he represents them. He's alienated Left, Right and Center. This is only possible because the clothes have no emperor. There is no core Obama for any group to relate to.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:02 AM


Obamacare's nasty surprise: Fewer insured, higher costs might be the result (Martin Feldstein, November 6, 2009, Washington Post)

This well-intentioned feature would provide a strong incentive for someone who is healthy to drop his or her health insurance, saving the substantial premium costs. After all, if serious illness hit this person or a family member, he could immediately obtain coverage. As healthy individuals decline coverage in this way, insurance companies would come to have a sicker population. The higher cost of insuring that group would force insurers to raise their premiums. (Separate accident policies might develop to deal with the risk of high-cost care after accidents when there is insufficient time to buy insurance.)

The higher premium level would cause others who are currently insured to drop coverage, pushing premiums even higher. The result would be a spiral of rising premiums and shrinking numbers of insured.

In an attempt to prevent this, the draft legislation provides penalties for individuals who choose not to buy insurance and for employers that do not offer health insurance. But the levels of these fines are generally too low to cause a rational individual to insure.

Consider: 27 million people are covered by health insurance purchased directly, i.e. outside employer-based plans. The average cost of an insurance policy with family coverage in 2009 is $13,375. A married couple with a median family income of $75,000 who choose not to insure would be subject to a fine of 2.5 percent of that $75,000, or $1,875. So the family would save a net $11,500 by not insuring. If a serious illness occurs -- a chronic condition or a condition that requires surgery -- they could then buy insurance. Since fewer than one family in four has annual health-care costs that exceed $10,000, the decision to drop coverage looks like a good bet. For a lower-income family, the fine is smaller, and the incentive to be uninsured is even greater.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:48 AM


Obama Faces His Anzio (PAUL KRUGMAN, 11/06/09, NY Times)

[P]resident Obama came into office with a strong mandate and proclaimed the need to take bold action on the economy. His actual actions, however, were cautious rather than bold.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:46 AM


Illegal immigration issue threatens healthcare vote (Jared Allen, 11/05/09, The Hill)

The illegal immigration issue is emerging as the biggest threat to passing healthcare reform in the House.

Congressional Hispanics have threatened to vote against the bill because of a last-minute threat from within the Democratic Caucus to bolster the House bill’s immigration restrictions to match those included in the Senate Finance bill.

What's universal about a bill that excludes 14 million hard working Americans? (Even if more than half are already insured.)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:42 AM


Democrats Pose Health Bill Hurdle (NAFTALI BENDAVID, 11/06/09, WSJ)

Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu says she generally backs President Barack Obama's health-care overhaul efforts. But she'd like to see a few items in the bill before voting for it, including bigger federal Medicaid payments for her home state of Louisiana, extended health coverage for her pet cause of foster children, and help for teaching hospitals in her state.

While pushing more spending in those areas, Ms. Landrieu also wants the plan to cut the overall amount the nation spends on health care.

It's only been 10 months, but Democrats have never gotten past the threshold question: is their health care reform supposed to cover more or cost less?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:27 AM


Supreme Court query puts Janet Napolitano on the spot (JOSH GERSTEIN, 11/6/09, Politico)

On Monday, the justices asked the Justice Department to provide its views on Arizona’s attempt to force employers to verify the immigration status of potential employees. The law being challenged in the cases was signed by Napolitano in 2007, when she was governor of Arizona.

Napolitano, who was a defendant in the litigation, has stated that she believes the law is constitutional, but business groups and immigration reform advocates generally in President Barack Obama’s camp are asking the Supreme Court to strike down the statute.

“It is awkward, given the fact that she signed the law,” said Glenn Hamer of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, one of the organizations asking the Supreme Court to take up the issue. “It’s got to be a difficult situation for the administration.”

It's a function of his being a reactionary rather than of personal spite, but has any president since Nixon made a more consistent practice of embarrassing his own cabinet members by making them reverse themselves?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:24 AM


David Cameron: My faith and fear of failure (Geordie Greig and Joe Murphy, 06.11.09, Evening Standard)

David Cameron today revealed his faith in God, his fear of failure and his dread that another of his children could die.

In his most intimate interview so far, he said he prayed regularly but did not feel he had “a direct line” to God.

“If you are asking, do I drop to my knees and pray for guidance, no,” he said, adding that he had been a “questioning Christian” who struggled with tenets like the virgin birth.

“But do I have faith and is it important, yes. It's not always the rock that perhaps it should be.” [...]

David Cameron gave his strongest backing yet to London's long-awaited Crossrail scheme.

He said he had studied "all the economic arguments" and concluded that Crossrail could transform the capital.

"I think Crossrail has that transformational capability, to make London a more effective and economically successful city," he said.

"I back Crossrail. I want Crossrail to go ahead."

His comments will be a huge boost to Mayor Boris Johnson who is fighting to ensure the £16 billion east-west line is under construction in time for his re-election campaign.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:23 AM


Tina Fey's 10 Favorite 30 Rock Moments: The Emmy-winning comedian tells The Daily Beast what really cracks her up on 30 Rock. (Nicole LaPorte, 11/05/09, Daily Beast)

LIZ: Why are you wearing a tux?

JACK: It’s after six. What am I, a farmer?

November 5, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:05 PM


Election results rattle some Democrats: With independent voters favoring GOP candidates in New Jersey and Virginia, many in Congress wonder whether they'll lose electoral support themselves if they stick with Obama on controversial issues. (James Oliphant and Peter Nicholas and Christi Parsons, November 5, 2009, LA Times)

Exit polls circulating on the House floor Wednesday were even more unnerving to Democrats. The Republican candidates, the polls indicated, had received the votes of two-thirds of independent voters.

Now, as the entire House of Representatives and a third of the Senate prepare for next year's midterm elections, some moderate Democrats are wondering whether they can afford to follow President Obama's ambitious legislative agenda on such controversial issues as healthcare and climate change. One said the results were a "wake-up call."

"There are going to be a lot more tensions between the White House and Congress," predicted Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), a member of the Blue Dog Coalition of fiscally conservative Democrats. "They've been under the surface so far -- and they're going to come out in the open."

The president's agenda already has been bogged down by an extended and draining battle over healthcare, one that could stretch into the new year.

After that bruising fight, bitter conflicts loom over climate change, financial market reform and immigration. That sets up a potential conflict between the White House and some Democrats who want to avoid controversial votes that can -- and almost certainly will -- be used against them by their opponents in next year's campaigns.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:01 PM


Barack Obama's 'dithering' hurts Afghan mission, British sources say: US President Barack Obama’s indecision over his strategy for Afghanistan threatens to undermine the Western mission, British sources have said. (James Kirkup, 05 Nov 2009, Daily Telegraph)

One British source said that the absence of a clear strategy from the US, the largest troop contributor in Afghanistan, is hampering the British Government’s attempts to maintain public support for an increasingly unpopular conflict.

“The truth is that until we have some clarity from Obama, it’s going to be hard for us to explain to people what we’re doing there,” the source said.

Britain is urging Hamid Karzai to send more Afghan forces to Helmand province to support British troops there.

Mr Karzai was returned for second term this week after an election widely agreed to have been flawed and corrupt.

“We need the Americans to have a clear message for Karzai about what he has to do, but that’s just not there at the moment,” said the British source.

The private frustrations of British ministers and commanders were echoed by General Lord Guthrie, a former Chief of the Defence Staff, who said the American deliberations had brought the Afghan mission to a pivotal moment.

“It’s a tipping point because of President Obama’s delayed decision on whether to send more troops,” Lord Guthrie said.

...but it does matter in terms of our allies ability to trust us.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:56 PM


AP sources: Authorities had concerns about suspect (LARA JAKES, 11/05/09, Associated Press)

Federal law enforcement officials say the suspected Fort Hood, Texas, shooter[, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan,] had come to their attention at least six months ago because of Internet postings that discussed suicide bombings and other threats. [...]

One of the Web postings that authorities reviewed is a blog that equates suicide bombers with a soldier throwing himself on a grenade to save the lives of his comrades.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:39 PM


Liberal lawmakers defy Obama on Patriot Act (LARRY MARGASAK, 11/05/09, Associated Press)

Defying the Obama administration, the House Judiciary Committee voted Thursday to remove from the USA Patriot Act a tool for tracking non-U.S. citizens in anti-terrorism investigations.

The committee, dominated by Democratic liberals, also voted to amend the anti-terrorism law to curb the government's surveillance and seizure powers.

The bill went to the full House on a 16-10 vote along party lines, with Republicans casting all the votes in opposition. might suspect this was a set-up and just a much needed chance for the UR to smack down the liberals.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:36 PM


Secularism 'means fall in births' (BBC, 11/05/09)

Europe is facing a population crisis because of attacks on religion by secular writers, Britain's chief rabbi has said.

Lord Sacks blamed Europe's falling birth rate on a culture of "consumerism and instant gratification".

He said the continent was "dying" and accused its citizens of not being prepared for parenthood's "sacrifices". [...]

The 61-year-old, who took his seat in the Lords last week, said: "Wherever you turn today - Jewish, Christian or Muslim - the more religious the community, the larger on average are their families.

"The major assault on religion today comes from the neo-Darwinians."

...that Nature selects against Darwinists.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:15 PM


The Worst Bill Ever: Epic new spending and taxes, pricier insurance, rationed care, dishonest accounting: The Pelosi health bill has it all. (WSJ, 11/01/09)

Speaker Nancy Pelosi has reportedly told fellow Democrats that she's prepared to lose seats in 2010 if that's what it takes to pass ObamaCare...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:12 PM


700 Million Worldwide Desire to Migrate Permanently: U.S. tops desired destination countries (Neli Esipova and Julie Ray, 11/02/09, Gallup)

The United States is the top desired destination country for the 700 million adults who would like to relocate permanently to another country. Nearly one-quarter (24%) of these respondents, which translates to more than 165 million adults worldwide, name the United States as their desired future residence. With an additional estimated 45 million saying they would like to move to Canada, Northern America is one of the two most desired regions.

Instead of all the stimulus rigamarole, the UR could have just done immigration amnesty first. The economy would be skyrocketing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:03 PM


Zelaya Asks for U.S. Stand on Coup (OLGA R. RODRIGUEZ, Nov. 05, 2009, AP)

Ousted President Manuel Zelaya is asking the Obama administration why, after pressing for his reinstatement, it now says it will recognize upcoming Honduran elections even if he isn't returned to power first.

...trusted the UR to negotiate on his behalf.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:59 PM


U.S. Worker Productivity Jumps, Costs in Record Drop (Shobhana Chandra, 11/05/09, Bloomberg)

The productivity of U.S. workers surged in the third quarter at the fastest pace in six years as companies squeezed more from remaining staff to boost profits.

The measure of employee output per hour jumped at a 9.5 percent annual rate, topping the highest estimate of economists surveyed by Bloomberg News, Labor Department figures showed today in Washington. Labor costs fell at a 5.2 percent rate, capping the biggest 12-month drop since records began in 1948.

Seasonal hiring should restore some inefficiency.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:53 PM


7 Hardin County officials switch to GOP (BLAIR DEDRICK ORTMANN, November 4, 2009, Beaumont Enterprise)

Seven Democratic Hardin County elected officials announced Wednesday they will become Republicans.

Sheriff Ed Cain, who confirmed his switch earlier this week, was joined at Wednesday’s formal announcement by County Judge Billy Caraway, Precinct 4 Commissioner Bobby Franklin, County Attorney Rebecca Walton, Precinct 5 Constable Wayne McDaniel, Precinct 4 Justice of the Peace Kent Walker and Precinct 5 Justice of the Peace Butch Cummings.

As each of the officials spoke, they repeated the same theme — their beliefs and values have stayed the same, but are no longer reflected by the Democratic Party.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:22 PM


Christie Pledges Fight on Taxes and Business Rules (DAVID M. HALBFINGER, 11/05/09, NY Times)

Governor-elect Christopher J. Christie of New Jersey, basking in praise from Republicans who hailed him as the party’s new star, said Wednesday that he would move quickly to suspend new regulations on business and find ways to lower crushing property taxes, the nation’s highest.

Mr. Christie also said he would enforce a stricter cap on increases in spending at the local level — the primary driver of the rising property taxes that have set off anger among voters.

In Newark, the governor-elect sought to show that he would make urban education a priority, traveling to a charter school and pressing his argument that children in the poorest cities were being held back by teachers’ unions blocking school vouchers and merit pay.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:16 PM


Tuesday's Suburban Vote Swing: Even a five-point shift would mean big Democratic losses in 2010. (Karl Rove, 11/05/09, WSJ)

Barack Obama was said to have redrawn the electoral map by winning Virginia last year with 53% of the vote. On Tuesday, Republican Bob McDonnell flipped the state back to the GOP, winning his election for governor with 59% of the vote. Mr. Obama carried New Jersey easily last year with 57% of the vote. This year, despite being outspent 3-to-1, Republican Chris Christie ousted Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine there by 49% to 45%. Mr. Obama carried Pennsylvania last year by 10 points. On Tuesday, Republican Judge Joan Orie Melvin was elected to the state's Supreme Court by 53% to 47%, leading a GOP sweep of six of seven statewide contests.

The trend here is that suburban and independent voters moved into the GOP column. The overall shift away from Democrats was 13 points in Virginia, 12 points in New Jersey, and eight points in Pennsylvania.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:08 AM


Finally, an Authentic G.O.P. (ALEX CASTELLANOS, 11/05/09, NY Times)

While the conservative base was energized yesterday — conservative turnout was up 7 percent in Virginia and 5 percent in New Jersey from 2008 — something else took Republican candidates across the finish line: They remembered that their principles were good for more than saying no. Republicans won’t find a more conservative candidate than Bob McDonnell if they draw lots from National Review’s subscription list. He didn’t abandon or “moderate” his principles to win the middle. Instead, he complemented them with an optimistic, populist vision of economic success.

Mr. McDonnell offered suburban voters, working women and independents a better way to increase jobs and expand the economy, from the bottom up. It was a stark contrast to what Americans are seeing in Washington, where elitist Democratic politicians, in bed with the Wall Street establishment, are taking Americans’ tax dollars away to invest in arrogant, top-down public-sector schemes. This helped Mr. McDonnell forge a powerful coalition involving not just independents but also young voters; he won the under-30 vote by 10 percent. Thanks for the opportunity, President Obama. On Tuesday, Nov. 4, in Virginia a New Republican Party was born. See you in 2010.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:59 AM


Hope, change, and the reality that 365 days brings (John Baer, 11/05/09, Philadelphia Daily News)

Is America ungovernable? Is Obama trying too much? Or is it just that governing is a ton tougher than campaigning?

Many of you will be too young to recall that the disastrous string of presidencies after Ike produced much hand-wringing about how America was ungovernable. Of course, the replacement of Jimmy Carter with Ronald Reagan ended that nonsense.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:51 AM


Dooley the hero as Ireland defeat Scotland in hurling/shinty international (Offaly Express, 31 October 2009)

SHANE Dooley capped what was an already unforgetable October with the winning goal for Ireland in the hurling/shinty international against Scotland on Saturday.

The Offaly player got the better of the Scottish defence to fire home an unstoppable shot in injury time to break the deadlock in a tight game.

If you want to watch the thriller and don't have access to it on The Box, just email me--we have 13 invites to give out.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:45 AM


Democrats Confront Coalition Strains (PETER WALLSTEN and JONATHAN WEISMAN, 11/05/09, WSJ)

Voters ages 18 to 29, who made up more than one in five of the 2008 electorate in Virginia and voted overwhelmingly for the president, were just 10% of voters there Tuesday; those who went to the polls backed the Republican, Bob McDonnell, by a wide margin.

White House senior adviser David Axelrod said the 2010 elections would almost certainly revolve around Mr. Obama's agenda. He added the president will have an easier time using his popularity to win votes for Democrats if the candidates help the president with his legislative agenda. "You're not going to excite those voters by running away," he said. "You're going to excite them by helping create success."

Young people don't care about health care. They don't need any. That's why reform has to force them to buy it. It's just a tax on them and even youngsters hate taxes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:32 AM


In U.S., Majority Now Say Obama’s Policies "Mostly Liberal": Fewer than half believe he has kept his election promises (Lydia Saad, 11/04/09, Gallup)

A majority of Americans now see President Barack Obama as governing from the left. Specifically, 54% say his policies as president have been mostly liberal while 34% call them mostly moderate. This contrasts with public expectations right after Obama's election a year ago, when as many expected him to be moderate as to be liberal.[...]

While most Americans say it is important to them that President Obama keep the promises he made during the campaign (82%), far fewer, 48%, currently believe he has done so. This represents a slide in support for the president on this measure since April, when nearly two-thirds of Americans (65%) said he was keeping his promises.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:30 AM


Inability to lower taxes helped cost Gov. Corzine his job (Karl Vick, 11/05/09, Washington Post)

In the end, Republican Chris Christie was propelled into the New Jersey governorship by the same force that pushed him so far ahead in early polls in the year-long campaign: angry, widespread resentment over the state's finances, especially the property taxes that incumbent Jon S. Corzine was elected promising to cut.

"I'm tired of Corzine. We have the highest property taxes in the United States," said John Kempton, a retired funeral director delighted to help lay the Democrat to rest as a one-term governor. He smiled over his coffee at a diner counter in Ocean County, a woodsy, middle-class suburban expanse of the state's midsection, where the verdict on Corzine was especially emphatic: Christie, 65.7 percent; Corzine, 28.5 percent.

"Ocean County is emblematic of the dissatisfaction with high property taxes, and dissatisfaction, really, with the definitive promises that Corzine made about taxes four years ago," said Peter J. Woolley, director of polling at Fairleigh Dickinson University.

When I worked on the gubernatorial, almost a quarter century ago, the number one issue was property taxes. If Christie can drive them down he's golden.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:25 AM


President Obama's overexposure helped GOP's victories (MICHAEL J. HUDOME, 11/5/09, Politico)

Here’s a simple, yet overlooked explanation for Republican victories in the Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial races this week: President Barack Obama is overexposed.

No longer does his base find it interesting to see or hear from its ubiquitous president.

Obama is on television all the time. You can’t swing a dead cat without seeing a video clip or photo or hearing his voice. 24/7.

It’s a permanent campaign, the likes of which our country has never seen.

He’ll talk about anything, from “Dad’s need to go back to school” to “We must get the Olympics for Chicago.”

The other day the eldest wanted to stay home from school with the sniffles: "Obama told us we should not go to school if we're the least bit sick."

November 4, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:29 PM


Climate change belief given same legal status as religion (Stephen Adams and Louise Gray, 03 Nov 2009, Daily Telegraph)

An executive has won the right to sue his employer on the basis that he was unfairly dismissed for his green views after a judge ruled that environmentalism had the same weight in law as religious and philosophical beliefs.

In a landmark ruling, Mr Justice Michael Burton said that "a belief in man-made climate change ... is capable, if genuinely held, of being a philosophical belief for the purpose of the 2003 Religion and Belief Regulations". [...]

John Bowers QC, representing Grainger, had argued that adherence to climate change theory was "a scientific view rather than a philosophical one", because "philosophy deals with matters that are not capable of scientific proof."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:26 PM


Palestinians in statehood warning (BBC, 11/04/09)

Palestinians might have to abandon the goal of an independent state if Israel continues to expand Jewish settlements, the chief Palestinian negotiator said.

At a news conference in the West Bank, Saeb Erekat said it was a "moment of truth" for President Mahmoud Abbas.

It's their own version of a nuclear weapon. Israel can neither afford to treat them as full citizens nor deny them such treatment if they ask it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:09 PM


SC man gets 3 years in prison for sex with horse (AP, 11/04/09)

- A South Carolina man caught on video having sex with a horse was sentenced Wednesday to three years in prison after pleading guilty for the second time in two years to abusing the creature. [...]

[Rodell] Vereen was arrested in July after Barbara Kenley caught him entering the barn at Lazy B Stables in Longs, about 20 miles northeast of Myrtle Beach. She had been staking out the stable for more than a week after setting up a surveillance camera and videotaping Vereen's assault on her 21-year-old horse named Sugar.

Kenley said she became suspicious because her horse was acting strange and getting infections, and she noticed things were moved around the barn and dirt was piled up near the horse's stall.

It wasn't the first time she'd caught Vereen. In late 2007, Kenley found him asleep in the hay after assaulting her horse. For that offense, he also pleaded guilty to buggery, received probation and had to register as a sex offender.

Mr. Vereen has to have moved there from Washington....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:01 PM


Hobson’s Choice: The antigovernment protesters in Iran, who had been careful to distance themselves from America, have just asked the West not to sell them out. (Babak Dehghanpisheh, 11/04/09, Newsweek )

President Obama reacted standoffishly to this summer's contested election in Iran, implying that he didn't want to poison the cause of protesters by associating them too closely with the United States. As a result, he was flayed by democracy advocates who said his support was too tepid to inspire the Iranian protesters. Today, we learned that they may have a point.

This afternoon Iran celebrated the 30-year anniversary of the American embassy takeover in Tehran. The custom is for annual official demonstrations to denounce the Great Satan, but this year was different. Although the government had warned reform-minded protesters (who still come out on major occasions since the election unrest subsided) to stay home, tens of thousands of them hit the streets again today—to protest against their own government. They chanted, "Death to dictator," as usual, to protest President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's contested election in June. But, for the first time anyone can remember, they also yelled, "Obama, Obama! Either with them or with us!" The "them" in the chant means Ahmadinejad and the regime writ large.

...but moments like that leave us no other choice.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:55 PM


Lessons from the 2009 election results (Michael Barone, 11/04/09, Washington Examiner)

[H]ere I want to credit for this observations longtime Democratic pollster and political analyst Pat Caddell, affluent suburban voters moved sharply toward Republicans in 2009.

Bergen County, New Jersey, a 56%-42% Corzine constituency in 2005, came within a point or two of voting for Christie, and in Virginia McDonnell carried 51%-49% Fairfax County—Republican for years but recently in cultural issues and with an increasing immigrant population Democratic (60%-39% Obama in 2008). I

n addition, Westchester County, New York, voted 58%-42% for a Republican county execctive after voting almost exactly the opposite way, in a race involving the same two candidates, four years before . The Philadelphia suburban counties, increasingly Democratic in 1996, 2000, 2004 and 2008, voted Republican in a partisan race for the Supreme Court in 2009.

From the 1996 election up through and including 2008., affluent counties in the East, Midwest and West have trended Democratic, largely through distaste for the religious and cultural conservatives whom voters there have seen (not without reason) as dominant in the Republican party. Now, with the specter of higher tax rates and a vastly expanded public sector, they may be—possibly—headed in the other direction. An interesting trend to watch.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:59 PM


Obama: Shutter failing schools and bring down the teacher 'firewall': In a tough talk on education, the president spells out criteria for winning $4.35 billion in federal grants. He challenges rules that say teachers should not be judged by how their students perform. (Christi Parsons, November 4, 2009, LA Times)

Declaring that there should be "no excuse for mediocrity" in public schools, President Obama this afternoon pledged to push for recruitment of better teachers, better pay for those who succeed and dismissal of those who let their students down.

When principals are trying to determine which teachers are doing well, he said, they should be able to consider student performance as part of the evaluation.

And when schools are failing, "they should be shut down," Obama said. "But when innovative public schools are succeeding, they shouldn't be stifled, they should be supported."

The president's tough words -- fighting words, for some union officials -- came as Obama spoke to students and teachers at a charter middle school here.

Although he turns the poetry into prose, he does best when he just imitates George Bush.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:48 PM


President Obama: One Year After Winning it All (Rasmussen Reports, November 04, 2009)

The core promise made down the stretch to voters by candidate Obama was a pledge to cut taxes for 95% of all Americans. Now, more than 40% expect a tax hike and hardly anybody expects their taxes to go down. Not surprisingly, 74% of voters now view the president as politically liberal.

Just 33% believe the stimulus package has helped, and most opposed other economic initiatives including the takeover of General Motors and the cash-for-clunkers program. Among the priorities established by the president, voters consistently see deficit reduction as the most important but least likely to be achieved.

The health care plan proposed by the president is struggling and is supported by just 42% of voters nationwide. Confidence in the War on Terror spiked during the first weeks of the Obama administration but has now fallen to the lowest level in nearly three years. On a related topic, one of the president’s earliest initiatives, his promise to close the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, initially received mixed reviews but is now opposed by most Americans.

Sixty-five percent (65%) of voters now expect politics in Washington to become more partisan over the coming year.

...but Democrats don't actually believe in cutting them, so they toss the promise as soon as they take office.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:47 PM


Is Obama an alien? ‘V’ and the age of hysteria (Bernie Quigley, 11/04/09, The Hill)

The appearance of “V,” a refried UFO show on ABC, suggests that President Barack Obama is a dangerous alien. What’s interesting is that this new series is by a major network that went unconscionably gaga over Obama last year.

Such reportage — the gushing, idolatrous positivism issued by Katie Couric and Charles Gibson in the 2008 race, a perfect, present-day equivalent of Aldous Huxley’s “feelies” — is viewed here as it is with Huxley: as totalitarian. Elizabeth Mitchell, Earth Mother incarnate from the “Lost” series, back from True North to form an underground, is definitely worth the watch. Maybe they are cruising under the censors as they do in “Lost,” like the 19th-century Russians did, but the insurgents here very definitely view the federal government with its “sleeper cells” bringing “endless wars,” duplicitously “spreading hope,” pitching healthcare bribes to the clerks and proles and cultivating the blind devotion of the young in the Maoist and Leninist traditions as totalitarian. This could get interesting.

Now people are doing it by accident.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:44 PM


Obama's Honeymoon is Over: One year after Obama won the presidency, many are questioning him on the economy and Afghanistan (Kenneth T. Walsh, November 4, 2009, US News)

A year later, much of Obama's initial luster has faded. His job approval ratings now hover at just over 50 percent, polarization in Washington is as bad as ever, and much of his agenda has stalled on Capitol Hill. Unemployment is near 10 percent, provoking widespread anxiety in the middle class. Only 36 percent of Americans say the country is heading in the right direction, while 52 percent say things are "off on the wrong track," according to the latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll. All this indicates a more pessimistic attitude than Americans exhibited at the start of the Obama era.

Just as important, the nation is deeply divided over Obama's pushing the government into more areas of national life. Forty-eight percent say government "is doing too many things better left to businesses and individuals," while 46 percent say government should do more to solve problems, the NBC/Wall Street Journal survey found. Many say that Obama's spending programs, which were enacted by the Democratic majority in Congress and have created a $1.4 trillion budget deficit this year alone, are profligate. Most Americans still like their 48-year-old leader as an individual, considering him a good family man and role model, according to the polls, but charisma and good intentions are no longer enough.

There's a considerable upside for the UR in his very failure to achieve any change. It means he just needs to change the atmospherics--a la Bill Clinton after November 1994--and he can be re-elected to work with the Republican Congress.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:40 PM


Zelaya Stumbles in Bid to Lead Honduras Again (Reuters, 11/04/09)

Ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya may have jeopardized his bid to return to power by agreeing to a U.S.-brokered pact to end a four-month political crisis because the pact contains no guarantees for him. [...]

The United States, Honduras's top trading partner, has stopped pushing for Zelaya to be reinstated as part of ending Central America's worst political crisis in two decades.

"The accord favors the de facto government," said political consultant Thelma Mejia. "It's a straitjacket for Zelaya." that we can't know whether or not he deserves credit for shafting the Bolivarista.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:15 AM


Even safe Democrats feeling at risk (JONATHAN ALLEN, 11/4/09, Politico)

Jim Costa’s path to reelection isn’t the toughest among House Democrats, but that doesn’t mean the California Democrat feels safe voting for a House health care overhaul bill that he says is too costly and does too little to help rural districts like his own.

“I think we’re all vulnerable next year,” said Costa, who won with nearly three-quarters of the vote last year in a district that President Barack Obama carried with 60 percent.

Costa is one of a handful of moderate House Democrats from relatively stable districts who aren’t yet on board with the health care bill and whose “no” votes could force colleagues in more marginal districts to cast offsetting — and potentially perilous — “yes” votes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:04 AM


Top Iranian cleric: Taking over US Embassy in 1979 was wrong (JPOST.COM, 11/04/09)

"The occupation of the American embassy at the start had the start of Iranian revolutionaries and the late Imam Khomeini and I supported it too," [Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri] was quoted by Agence France Presse as saying.

"But considering the negative repercussions and the high sensitivity which was created among the American people and which still exists, it was not the right thing to do."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:00 AM


GOP moving ahead in Wash. statehouse contests (CURT WOODWARD, 11/04/09, Associated Press)

The only Democratic legislator from rural Eastern Washington lost to a Republican challenger Tuesday.

With about 60 percent of the expected vote reported, Republican Terry Nealey defeated freshman Rep. Laura Grant, D-Walla Walla, about 57 percent to 43 percent. Grant was appointed to the seat early this year after the death of her father, Bill Grant, who held the job for more than 20 years.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:56 AM


In court races, it looks like the GOP cashed in on the low turnout (John Baer, 11/04/09, Philadelphia Daily News)

Pittsburgh Republican Joan Orie Melvin won the bitter if barely visible battle for state Supreme Court against Easton Democrat Jack Panella. With 93 percent of the state vote counted late last night, Orie Melvin held an insurmountable 53-47 lead.

It was a contest fueled by trial lawyers' money and partisan politics in which Orie Melvin was vastly outspent and faced a 1.2 million-voter registration deficit.

She gives the high court (currently 4-3 Democratic) a 4-3 Republican edge starting in January. That puts the GOP in the driver's seat in drawing legislative district lines after the 2010 census, which could impact state politics for a decade.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:50 AM


Q & A: Biologist Richard Dawkins on the evolution debate (Lori Kozlowski, November 4, 2009, LA Times)

Throughout the book, you seem to have a deep respect, almost a love, as if you are in awe of the process. Is evolution your religion?

Well, I don't want to say that. [...]

In the preface, you explain that evidence for evolution grows by the day and has never been stronger. What recent evidence do you believe has been the strongest?

I think probably evidence from molecular genetics which is pretty recent. I describe the very excellent work of Richard Lenski at Michigan State on bacterial evolution.

[Lenski's long-term experiment, underway since 1988, has tracked the genetic changes that have evolved in 12 populations of originally identical E. coli bacteria.]

At the end of which [intelligent-design] process they all remain E. coli bacteria, effectively arguing against Darwinism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:48 AM

Focaccia: Recipe from Rima Barkett and Claudia Pruett
"Cooking Dinner: Simple Italian Family Recipes Everyone Can Make" (Contra Costa Times, 11/04/09)

3 cups flour

1 tablespoon sea salt

1 tablespoon active dry yeast

1¼ cups club soda or sparkling water

½ cup olive oil

1. The day before or two hours ahead, mix the flour, salt and yeast in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook. Add club soda and beat for 3 minutes, starting on low speed and increasing to high. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let rise overnight at room temperature or in a warm place for 2 hours.

2. Pour olive oil into a rimmed 9x12 inch baking pan. Transfer dough to pan and gently spread to fill. Flip the dough over so both sides are bathed in olive oil. Make little dimples on the top of the focaccia with your fingers, then let rise in a warm place for 1 hour.

3. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Make more dimples in the dough. Bake 20-25 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven and let stand for 10 minutes. Then cut into squares or long slices and serve the same day.

Variation: Add rosemary and thinly sliced tomatoes, zucchini and onions just before baking.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:43 AM


Insurance discounts for healthy habits spur debate in Washington: Safeway says it's a smart incentive: charging lower premiums for people who lose weight, quit smoking or start exercising. Some medical groups say it's a new way to exclude pre-existing conditions. (Janet Hook, November 4, 2009, LA Times)

Who could object to rewarding people who quit smoking, lose weight or start to exercise? The American Cancer Society and the American Heart Assn., for starters.

Some companies are charging lower insurance premiums to workers who meet benchmarks for healthy living. The Senate's healthcare overhaul legislation would expand the trend.

But instead of cheering the proposal, some patient advocacy and health groups are worried that it could mean higher rates for less-fit Americans, possibly pricing them out of their employers' insurance plans.

"It is a way of cherry-picking," said Dick Woodruff, senior director of federal affairs for the American Cancer Society.

For the consumer. They can pick the lower rate or the higher by their own moral choices.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:38 AM


A referendum Mr Cameron COULD give the people (David Davis, 04th November 2009, Daily Mail)

What we should do is, in my view, clear. We should have a referendum, not on the treaty, but on the negotiating mandate that the British Government takes to the European Union.

This has many virtues. It allows the British people to express their view on the future of their nation. Most of all, it gives the Government a formidable negotiating weapon.

Referendums terrify the European Commission and the political elites who run Europe. They are clear statements of the popular will. They force issues to be stated in clear and unambiguous terms. They are impossible to ignore.

That is why the European reaction to referendums is to make concessions. Look at the history. After Ireland's first rejection of the Lisbon Treaty, the European Council conceded legally binding protocols pledging to keep the treaty out of taxation policy, family and social issues (such as the right to life, abortion and euthanasia), and Ireland's traditional military neutrality.

Denmark has obtained similar opt-outs after a referendum, and the defeat in the French and Dutch referendums led to the rewrite of the original European Constitution.

So referendums are incredibly powerful weapons. What is more, they are necessary if a single nation is going to achieve any material change.

The Europeans are past masters at the permanent negotiation that makes up the federal project. They know all the tricks of isolation, pressure, delay, coalition, vague language, and institutional and judicial expansion.

They are entirely capable of repackaging rejected ideas over and over until they get them accepted. Lisbon is a good example of this. Indeed they are capable of retabling a rejected proposal five or ten years later, after the relevant national governments have changed.

So if we are to be able to manage our relationship with the European Union, let alone change it, we need to have a powerful weapon like a referendum.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:35 AM


Democrats See Health-Care Timetable Slipping (JANET ADAMY and PATRICK YOEST, 11/04/09, WSJ)

Time is running short for Congress to deliver a health bill to President Barack Obama before the end of the year, prompting lawmakers to prepare for the debate to carry into 2010.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid indicated Tuesday that the chamber may not meet its goal of passing a bill in the next several weeks. "We're not going to be bound by any timelines," the Nevada Democrat said. are however bound by political reality.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:32 AM


Gas Supplies Growing Even as Prices Fall (BEN CASSELMAN, 11/03/09, WSJ)

Energy companies started predicting a sharp cutback in the amount of natural gas pumped in the U.S. more than a year ago.

But even though gas prices now hover 30% below a year earlier, the promised reduction never came. And this week, two major natural-gas companies reported big increases in production, while a third, Devon Energy Corp., announced that its new East Texas well was yielding 31 million cubic feet of gas a day, one of the most prolific U.S. wells this year.

As a result, storage facilities are brimming with record gas supplies, and prices are likely to remain soft.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:32 AM


Obama's world outreach teetering (Jim Lobe, 11/05/09, Asia Times)

[D]isappointment is clearly on the rise among those here and in the region who believed that Obama's realist foreign policy strategy of "engaging" foes, and his oft-repeated determination to achieve a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict "from day one" of his presidency promised rapid improvement in Washington's standing after eight years of decline under former president George W Bush.

"There is a general concern now, especially in the Arab world, that the administration is not delivering with respect to any issues in the region," said Chas Freeman, a former ambassador to Saudi Arabia who withdrew his appointment to chair the National Intelligence Council (NIC) this year in the face of a media campaign by neo-conservative critics close to Israel's Likud Party.
"I think there's been quite a difference between how Obama as a person is perceived and how the US government as an institution is perceived," he added. "I think what may be happening is that Obama is sinking into the generally negative view of the US government in the region rather than transcending it as he once did."

"He started really well, particularly in his speeches in Istanbul [in April] and in Cairo [in June], in changing how the region perceives America and in setting forth a vision of the kinds of relationships he wanted," said Steven Clemons, director of the American Strategy Project at the New America Foundation.

"But those words have not been followed up by the kind of deep restructuring of policy vis-a-vis Afghanistan, Iran, Syria, and the Palestinians that [former President Richard] Nixon implemented toward China," he added.

...that one aspires to be Nixonian but can't meet the standard.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:25 AM


'Change has come' ... or has it? (JOHN F. HARRIS, 11/4/09, Politico)

Obama may not have promised change would be easy. But he did convey what now looks like a too-glib impression that he could unite opposites and reconcile contradictions by the power of personality — hard to do when his own personality has competing strands.

Obama has the soul of an ideologue. He wants to be a transformational president — unconfined by the limitations of conventional politics and determined to put a lasting mark on his era.

In his first year, he has presided over more new domestic spending than Bill Clinton, the last Democratic president, did in eight years. The “big bang” agenda he laid out earlier this year on health care, energy and financial regulation unmistakably signaled his ambition to vastly expand the role of government in American life.

But Obama also has the soul of an operative. He and his West Wing team — dominated at the top by people whose expertise is in the world of campaigns and Washington maneuvers — have proved to be far more familiar political types than they admit to themselves or than was forecast by his insurgent campaign and the expansive, at times almost messianic, rhetoric that powered it.

“What surprises me most is the loss of Barack Obama as movement leader,” Malika Saada Saar, a human rights organizer, said on POLITICO’s Arena forum.

...the goal of which was nothing more than to add a line at the top of his resume. He did everything he set out to do already.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:22 AM


The Story of 'Operation Orchard': How Israel Destroyed Syria's Al Kibar Nuclear Reactor: In September 2007, Israeli fighter jets destroyed a mysterious complex in the Syrian desert. The incident could have led to war, but it was hushed up by all sides. Was it a nuclear plant and who gave the orders for the strike? (Erich Follath and Holger Stark, 11/02/09, Der Spiegel))

The Israelis took a pinprick approach to dealing with the "little" Assad. In 2003, the air force conducted multiple air strikes against positions on the Syrian border, and in October Israeli fighter jets flew a low-altitude mission over Assad's residence in Damascus. It was an arrogant show of power that even had many at the Mossad shaking their heads, wondering how Assad would respond to such humiliating treatment.

At that time, the nuclear plant on Euphrates had likely entered its first key phase. In the spring of 2004, the American National Security Agency (NSA) detected a suspiciously high number of telephone calls between Syria and North Korea, with a noticeably busy line of communication between the North Korean capital Pyongyang and a place in the northern Syrian desert called Al Kibar. The NSA dossier was sent to the Israeli military's "8200" unit, which is responsible for radio reconnaissance and has its antennas set up in the hills near Tel Aviv. Al-Kibar was "flagged," as they say in intelligence jargon.

In late 2006, Israeli military intelligence decided to ask the British for their opinion. But almost at the same time as the delegation from Tel Aviv was arriving in London, a senior Syrian government official checked into a hotel in the exclusive London neighborhood of Kensington. He was under Mossad surveillance and turned out to be incredibly careless, leaving his computer in his hotel room when he went out. Israeli agents took the opportunity to install a so-called "Trojan horse" program, which can be used to secretly steal data, onto the Syrian's laptop.

The hard drive contained construction plans, letters and hundreds of photos. The photos, which were particularly revealing, showed the Al Kibar complex at various stages in its development. At the beginning -- probably in 2002, although the material was undated -- the construction site looked like a treehouse on stilts, complete with suspicious-looking pipes leading to a pumping station at the Euphrates. Later photos show concrete piers and roofs, which apparently had only one function: to modify the building so that it would look unsuspicious from above. In the end, the whole thing looked as if a shoebox had been placed over something in an attempt to conceal it. But photos from the interior revealed that what was going on at the site was in fact probably work on fissile material.

One of the photos showed an Asian in blue tracksuit trousers, standing next to an Arab. The Mossad quickly identified the two men as Chon Chibu and Ibrahim Othman. Chon is one of the leading members of the North Korean nuclear program, and experts believe that he is the chief engineer behind the Yongbyon plutonium reactor. Othman is the director of the Syrian Atomic Energy Commission.

By now, both Israeli military intelligence and the Mossad were on high alert. After being briefed, then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert asked: "Will the reactor be up and running soon, and is there is a need to take action?" Hard to say, the experts said. The prime minister asked for more detailed information, preferably from first hand.

The CIA Catches a Big Fish

Istanbul , a CIA safe house for high-profile defectors, February 2007. An Iranian general had decided to switch sides. He was a big fish, of the sort rarely caught in the nets of the CIA and the Mossad.

Ali-Reza Asgari, 63, a handsome man with a moustache, was the head of Iran's Revolutionary Guard in Lebanon in the 1980s and became Iran's deputy defense minister in the mid-1990s. Though well-liked under the relatively liberal then-President Mohammad Khatami, Asgari fell out of favor after the election victory of hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2005. Because he had branded several men close to Ahmadinejad as corrupt, there was suddenly more at stake for Asgari than his career: His life was in danger.

Sources in the intelligence community claim that Asgari's defection to the West was meticulously planned over a period of months. However Amir Farshad Ebrahimi, a former Iranian media attaché in Beirut who fled to Berlin in 2003 and who had known Asgari personally for many years, told SPIEGEL that the general contacted him twice to ask for help in his escape -- first from Iran in the second half of 2006 and later from Damascus. In Ebrahimi's version of events, Asgari succeeded in crossing the border into Turkey at night with the help of a smuggler. Ebrahimi says he only notified the CIA and turned his friend over to the Americans after Asgari had reached Istanbul.

But from that point on, the versions of the story coincide again. The Americans and Israelis soon discovered that the Tehran insider was an intelligence goldmine. For the Israelis, the most alarming part of Asgari's story was what he had to say about Iran's nuclear program. According to Asgari, Tehran was building a second, secret plant in addition to the uranium enrichment plant in Natanz, which was already known to the West. Besides, he said, Iran was apparently funding a top-secret nuclear project in Syria, launched in cooperation with the North Koreans. But Asgari claimed he did not know any further details about the plan.

After a few days, the general's handlers flew him from Istanbul, considered relatively unsafe, to the highly secure Rhein-Main Air Base near Frankfurt. "I brought my computer along. My entire life is in there," Asgari told his friend Ebrahimi, who identified him for the Americans. Asgari contacted Ebrahimi another two times, once from Washington and then from "somewhere in Texas." The defector wanted his friend to let his wife know that he was safe and in good hands. The Iranian authorities had announced that Asgari had been "kidnapped by the Mossad and probably killed." But then nothing further was heard from Asgari. The American authorities had apparently created a new identity for their high-level Iranian source. Ali-Reza Asgari had ceased to exist.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:17 AM


Maine voters reject gay-marriage law (>David Crary and Glenn Adams, 11/04/09, ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Voters in the northeastern state of Maine repealed a state law that would have allowed same-sex couples to wed, dealing the gay rights movement a heartbreaking defeat in the corner of the country most supportive of gay marriage.

Gay marriage has now lost in every single state -- 31 in all -- in which it has been put to a popular vote.

The sad thing is that there are not similar objections to allowing formal contractual obligations that do not claim to replicate marriage, but activists have wasted all their time, effort, and money on marriage in order to get the social imprimatur.

But, as Camille Paglia has said:

Homosexuality is not 'normal.' On the contrary, it is a challenge to the norm; therein rests its eternally revolutionary character. Note I do not call it a challenge to the idea of the norm. Queer theorists - that wizened crew of flimflamming free-loaders - have tried to take the poststructuralist tack of claiming that there is no norm, since everything is relative and contingent. This is the kind of silly bind that word-obsessed people get into when they are deaf, dumb, and blind to the outside world. Nature exists, whether academics like it or not. And in nature, procreation is the single, relentless rule. That is the norm. Our sexual bodies were designed for reproduction. Penis fits vagina: no fancy linguistic game - playing can change that basic fact. However, my libertarian view, here as in regard to abortion, is that we have not only the right, but the obligation to defy nature's tyranny. The highest human identity consists precisely in such assertions of freedom again!

Abnormal relationships don't fit normal institutions.

No one has much interest in pursuing gays into their bedrooms to punish their transgressions, but neither do we have much interest in letting them destroy one of the central institutions of our civilization.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:14 AM

HE'LL WIN IT IN '10...:

Scozzafava Spoils Doug Hoffman's Run? (John McCormack, November 4, 2009, Weekly Standard)

With 92 percent of precincts reporting, Democrat Bill Owens claimed victory over conservative Doug Hoffman by a 49 percent to 45 percent margin. Republican Dede Scozzafava got six percent of the vote. Her name remained on the ballot though she dropped out of the race and endorsed the Democrat over the weekend--a move that may have been the decisive event that denied Hoffman a stunning upset Tuesday night. [...]

Another factor that contributed to Hoffman's loss was that his name was buried on the ballot (see here). Watertown's Mayor Graham says that "coming off line D, it became increasingly difficult to get out of the 40s"--i.e. in the forty-percent range. "When you think about it, when you go from nothing--a guy on the street--to 46 on a minor party line is pretty good in a way, but making a statement doesn't really compare to winning."

...but ballot confusion was always going to be the main thing working against him.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:13 AM


In Iran, From Heroes to State Enemies (MICHAEL SLACKMAN, November 3, 2009, NY Times)

As Iran marks the anniversary of an event that helped define its political identity, many former hostage-takers and their allies are committed to the political opposition, and therefore pose a credible threat to the leadership’s legitimacy, analysts said.

“The fact that so many of the students of ’79 eventually came to a reformist position in Iranian politics is not such a mystery when you remember that the reformist position in Iranian politics is not necessarily a pro-Western position,” said Michael Axworthy, a former British diplomat and Iran expert who lectures at the University of Exeter.

The perception that the hostage siege — once the signature event in the founding of the Islamic republic — has developed into a domestic liability is especially true this year, Iran experts said. Ever since the protests and crackdown after the disputed presidential election last summer, opposition supporters have seized on public anniversaries as a chance to take to the streets, as they are expected to on Wednesday.

Most telling, and perhaps most damning, said the Iran expert Rasool Nafisi, is the reformists’ increasingly popular slogan. It is, simply, “Iranian republic.”

Not “Islamic republic.”

November 3, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:13 PM


AP: Christie Gives GOP Stunning Win In N.J.: By Defeating Corzine, Former U.S. Attorney Deals Big Blow To President Obama, Who Carried The State Easily In 2008 (CBS, 11/03/09)

In the end, all the stumping in the world from the President of the United States wasn't going to stop regime change in New Jersey's highest office.

Republican Chris Christie ended Democrat Jon Corzine's four-year run in Trenton with a narrow victory on Tuesday, The Associated Press projected. Independent Chris Daggett, thought of by many as the wildcard who could upset the order of things by siphoning off votes from Christie, finished well back. [...]

Independent voters gave President Barack Obama a huge advantage in the state last year, but they heavily favored Christie on Tuesday.

Nervous W.H. intervened in N.J. race; top Obama adviser now in charge (Ben Smith, 10/29/09, Politico)
One of President Barack Obama’s key political advisers has become the central strategist in New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine’s bruising campaign for re-election, a race the White House desperately wants to win to avert the consequences for its own agenda of a Republican winning in a traditionally Democratic state. [...]

The race is seen as extremely close, complicated by the presence of a third candidate, Chris Daggett. For the White House, it’s a crucial symbolic prize. With Democrat Creigh Deeds running far behind his Republican rival in Virginia, the New Jersey race – once believed to be hopeless for Corzine – is now seen as the White House’s best bet to make the 2009 election cycle a political wash and to calm the nerves of congressional Democrats approaching the crucial 2010 midterm elections.

Both Obama and Vice President Joseph Biden have campaigned for Corzine in the state, and Obama has cut television and radio ads for the governor. This Sunday, on the final weekend of the campaign, the president is returning to New Jersey for two events to try to pull Corzine over the finish line.

Benenson, the chief pollster in Obama’s 2008 campaign, along with David Plouffe, his former campaign manager, and a handful of others, make up a political inner circle that still meets regularly with White House senior advisor David Axelrod. Just as Bill Clinton once dispatched his political team to take over troubled campaigns from New York to Israel, Benenson’s arrival in New Jersey has stirred perceptions of a White House takeover – something he flatly denied.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:30 PM


'09 Exit Polls: Vast Economic Discontent Spells Trouble for Dems in 2010 (GARY LANGER, Nov. 3, 2009, ABC News)

Perhaps most striking – though simply confirmatory of national polls – were views on the economy. A vast 90 percent in New Jersey and 85 percent in Virginia said they're worried about the direction of the nation's economy in the next year; majorities, 55 percent and 53 percent, respectively, said they're "very" worried about it.

In Virginia, voters who expressed the highest levels of economic concern supported McDonnell by a very wide margin, 73-26 percent. Moreover, 46 percent called the economy the single top issue in their vote, far and away No.1, and those economy voters favored McDonnell over Deeds by a 10-point margin in preliminary results. (An additional 14 percent called taxes their top issue – and those voters went for McDonnell by a far broader margin.)

Deeds did better with young voters than with their elders, but in Virginia – as in the New Jersey gubernatorial race as well – the preliminary results indicated a sharp drop-off in turnout by voters under age 30 compared with 2008 and previous years.

Another, related factor in Virginia was an increase in turnout by conservatives, who accounted for 39 percent of voters in preliminary results, up from 33 percent in 2008.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:26 PM


Republican Bob McDonnell wins Virginia governor's race (Associated Press/, 4 November 2009)

As if on cue, Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid indicated today that lawmakers may not complete healthcare legislation this year, missing Obama's deadline on his signature issue and pushing debate into a congressional election year.

...but will in an election year trending GOP?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:11 PM

THE ISSUE ITSELF... (via Steve Jacobson):

European court: No crucifixes in Italian schools (AP, 11/03/09)

In a decision that could force a review of the use of religious symbols in government-run schools across Europe, the court ordered Italy to pay a euro5,000 ($7,390) fine to a mother in northern Italy who fought for eight years to have crucifixes removed from her children's public school classrooms. The Italian government said it would appeal.

Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said the crucifix was a fundamental sign of the importance of religious values in Italian history and culture and was a symbol of unity and welcoming for all of humanity — not one of exclusion.

He said a European court had no right intervening in such a profoundly Italian matter and said "it seems as if the court wanted to ignore the role of Christianity in forming Europe's identity, which was and remains essential." actually less important than the notion a transnational court should dictate what sovereign states do. The Tories shouldn't find it so hard to grab onto Euroskepticism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:05 PM


Creationism, Minus a Young Earth, Emerges in the Islamic World (KENNETH CHANG, 11/03/09, NY Times)

Some academics at the conference worried that the rejection of some aspects of evolution might leave Islamic countries at a disadvantage in scientific education. Dr. Hameed said a negative reaction to evolutionary theory could reflect a struggle to retain cultural traditions and values against Western influences, even though Islamic creationists readily borrowed many of the arguments from Western creationists, just removing the young-Earth aspects.

There is some indication that in the West, where non-Islamic influences are strongest, Islamic creationism may be stronger in reaction to the outside pressure. For example, high school students at Islamic schools in and near Toronto were far more doubting of evolution than students in Indonesia or Pakistan, the McGill researchers found. A majority of the students at the Canadian Islamic schools disagreed that a significant body of data supported evolution and that all life came from the same common ancestors.

At the same time, many of the Canadian Muslims even acquired young-Earth creationist beliefs, which are thoroughly Western in origin. Only half the students surveyed at the Islamic schools in the Toronto area thought fossils showed that life had existed for billions of years and had changed over time, compared with the 86 percent of the students in Pakistan.

In a study financed by the National Science Foundation, Dr. Hameed and his colleagues will survey the beliefs of Muslim doctors in five Muslim countries — Egypt, Iran, Malaysia, Pakistan and Turkey — and compare them with Muslim doctors in non-Muslim countries — Turkish doctors in Germany, Pakistani doctors in Britain, and Turkish and Pakistani doctors in the United States.

“We actually expect, especially in Europe, where they have a harder time merging in the culture,” Dr. Hameed said, “harsher rejection of evolution in England and Germany” than in Muslim countries.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said that Sunnis constitute a majority of the population in Iraq.

What a bizarre notion. Americans just won pretty much every Nobel prize and we reject Darwinism.

N. B. As Brother Cohen points out, the correction is hilarious.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:49 PM


Last-minute NY 23rd poll: Conservative Doug Hoffman surges, but ... (Andrew Malcolm, November 2, 2009 , LA Times)

It now sounds as if the national party, which originally backed Scozzafava as the choice of state party county chairpeople, has gotten the new grass-roots message. This afternoon, House Minority Leader John Boehner said he regrets having backed Scozzafava.

Now listen to the RNC's new ad by clicking here. The "Pelosi/Paterson train wreck," "real conservative change," "proven conservative ideas like lower taxes."

But did you notice anything missing from that ad? Listen again.

It doesn't mention the candidate's name. Hmmm.

Well, the new last-minute polling by the Siena Research Institute shows Hoffman gaining momentum and pulling away to a 41-36 lead over Owens among likely voters. However, the pollsters said many of Scozzafava's supporters seem to have moved into the "undecided" column, which has increased to 18% -- keeping the outcome hard to predict.

However, the numbers also show that Hoffman's support among Republicans has soared from 27% in mid-October, before the Palin/Thompson/Armey endorsements, to 50% last Saturday and 63% today.

Meanwhile, Owens' support among Republicans moved from 19% to 13% to 14%, and his support among Democrats went from 55% to 66% to 62%.

Hence, the arrival of Biden to shore up his own base.

The irony of the Right making a hero of an open borders Republican is worth the price of admission, but as you read all the pundits saying he represents the capture of the GOP by its radical theocrat wing, getting a majority instead of a plurality would be beautiful, since it would mean the general electorate had joined the church.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:23 PM


Mr. Deeds for Governor (Washington Post, October 18, 2009)

There are plenty of reasons why Mr. Deeds is the better choice for governor in the Nov. 3 election. He has stood with Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, the incumbent, and his predecessor, now-Sen. Mark R. Warner, in support of the sane fiscal and budgetary choices that have made the state one of the best-governed and most business-friendly in the nation. Mr. McDonnell has generally spurned those policies, most notably by opposing Mr. Warner's landmark tax package in 2004, which attracted bipartisan support as it boosted public safety and education and protected the state's finances. Mr. Deeds has compiled a moderate record on divisive social issues that reflects Virginia's status as a centrist swing state. Mr. McDonnell has staked out the intolerant terrain on his party's right wing, fighting a culture war that seized his imagination as a law student in the Reagan era.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:18 PM


Alien Seduction: ABC's sci-fi series V, which premieres tonight, tackles questions of blind faith, asking, "Would we believe them?" (Todd Hertz, 11/03/2009, Christianity Today)

In the original V, the conquest of powerful reptilian aliens—known as the Visitors—was a metaphor for Hitler's Germany. The Vs rose to power with Nazi-like propaganda, persecution, and overwhelming military force. But the new V isn't about dominating with might. Led by their beautiful and diplomatic leader Anna, these Visitors attack not with guns but with hope. These aliens appear with messages of peace, love, and understanding. They arrive in sleek, elegant ships hovering over 29 major cities, and promise amazing technological advancements. They heal the sick. They raise spirits.

They come—in a desperate time of war, disease and despair—as earth's saviors. As one skeptical character says, "The world is in bad shape; who wouldn't welcome a savior right now?"

And the show asks: Would we believe them? "The chief allegory here is the idea of blind devotion," said V executive producer Jeffrey Bell in an interview with Christianity Today. "If anyone is showing up and saying something too good to be true, are people thinking? Are they asking questions? Are they prepared and informed? Are you just accepting and believing what you are told?"

We'll assume it's accidental, but the Obama and his followers metaphor is awfully strong.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:28 PM


The Best American President India's Ever Had: That's George W. Bush. (Ashok Malik, 11.03.09, Forbes)

On Oct. 30 and 31, George W. Bush visited New Delhi and Bombay for meetings with India's political, strategic and business establishment. In the Indian capital, he addressed an audience of federal government officials, parliamentarians, business executives and foreign policy wonks that comprised the most receptive gathering the former American president had encountered in a long, long time.

As Bush left the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit--a high-profile conference organized by a leading Indian newspaper--the ambassador of a major country, a NATO ally, could be seen shaking his head, recovering from the standing ovation the 43rd president had received on his way out (a repeat of the effusive applause on his way in): "Can't think of too many countries where he'd get such a reception ... India and Israel maybe ..." "And Poland ..." his interlocutor added. "And Poland ..." the ambassador repeated, still a little dazed.

...than to be loved in India and Poland?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:08 PM


If Only Obama's Performance Mattered More. (Rick Perlstein, 11/03/09, Daily Beast)

With too few exceptions, Obama very much not among them, the Democrats have shown neither the willingness nor the ability to foment populist politics from the left.

...when your ideas are so unpopular.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:04 PM


Obama betrays hope created by Cairo speech (Craig Nelson, 11/03/09, The National)

It’s official: forget Cairo. Fold up the speech and throw it in the bin, or put it in that already bulging folder marked “Bad Faith & Broken Promises”.

That seems to be the unintended but unavoidably obvious message of the about-face by the US president Barack Obama and his decision last weekend to press ahead with Israeli-Palestinian talks despite Arab and Palestinian demands that Israel halt West Bank settlement construction first.

Interestingly, Mr Obama did not make the announcement himself. He put his travelling secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, up to it during a stop in Jerusalem on Saturday.

But make no mistake: the onus for the decision falls on Mr Obama himself. And in its vindication of violence over diplomacy and stalling over engagement, Mr Obama’s move ranked him alongside George W Bush, the man whose record he ran against to win the presidency.

...W was vindicating his core values and doing so to peoples' faces. The UR is following the polls and sending out underlings.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:50 PM


Berkshire buying Burlington Northern railroad (Associated Press, November 3, 2009)

Making a $34 billion bet on the future of the U.S. economy, Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc. on Tuesday agreed to buy Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp.

"Berkshire's $34 billion investment in BNSF is a huge bet on that company, CEO Matt Rose and his team, and the railroad industry," Buffett said in a statement.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:39 AM


Europe's quiet leader (Anne Applebaum, November 3, 2009 , Washington Post)

[P]artly by default and partly by design, Merkel is now the de facto leader of Europe. Over in Britain, Gordon Brown's Labor Party is immolating itself. Over in France, President Nicolas Sarkozy's attention-deficit issues propel him from one project to the next, to the irritation of everybody. The Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, is under endless investigation, and everyone else is too small or too preoccupied to compete. Even when the European Union chooses its next president later this year, he (and it almost certainly will be a he) will find it extremely difficult to do anything that contradicts the wishes of Merkel, who regularly tops lists of the world's most powerful women.

In fact, the more I watch her, the more I am convinced that her femaleness holds the key to her success. Under her watch, Germany has continued to grow more powerful, more influential, more dominant than ever before.

German population in decline (RDA, 1/19/09)
Demographic changes have been pinpointed as an important if challenging opportunity for coach holiday travel over the coming years. It is, therefore, important for all involved not only to keep an eye on current economic forecasts and developments in source markets and holiday destinations but also to keep a close eye on medium to long-term demographic changes and developments.

Germany’s population has been in decline since 2003 but has been shrinking faster then expected according to the Germany Federal Statistics Office. The statisticians reckon with a decline of ca. 0.2 % to 82.06 million. There were 150,000 to 160,000 more deaths in 2008 than births. In 2007 142,000 more people died than were born. Immigration and emigration were in equilibrium. In previous years immigration was dominant.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:33 AM


27% Say Hillary Would Be Better President Than Obama (Rasmussen, November 02, 2009)

Just 14% of U.S. voters say Hillary Clinton would be doing a worse job as president than Barack Obama if she had won last year’s Democratic presidential nomination.

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 27% of voters think Clinton would be doing a better job as president while 49% say she would be performing about the same.

Ms Clinton demonstrated considerable skills as a legislator, reaching across the aisle to work with conservative Republicans. She'd have done something by now. Better the UR and nothing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:32 AM


Clinton wishes he had left White House "in a coffin" (Reuters, Nov 2, 2009)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:30 AM


Planned Parenthood Director Quits After Watching Abortion on Ultrasound (Joseph Abrams, 11/02/09, Fox News)

The former director of a Planned Parenthood clinic in southeast Texas says she had a "change of heart" after watching an abortion last month — and she quit her job and joined a pro-life group in praying outside the facility.

Abby Johnson, 29, used to escort women from their cars to the clinic in the eight years she volunteered and worked for Planned Parenthood in Bryan, Texas. But she says she knew it was time to leave after she watched a fetus "crumple" as it was vacuumed out of a patient's uterus in September.

'When I was working at Planned Parenthood I was extremely pro-choice," Johnson told But after seeing the internal workings of the procedure for the first time on an ultrasound monitor, "I would say there was a definite conversion in my heart ... a spiritual conversion."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:07 AM


A Glimpse of the Future? (BOB HERBERT, 11/03/09, NY Times)

What was missing from these appearances by the president and vice president was the feeling of excitement that should accompany the early stages of an important national mission. Mr. Obama made his appearance in Arcadia, delivered his remarks and quickly moved on to other matters. The nation was not moved. The president’s remarks were not widely heard.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:03 AM


Numbers Don't Support Migration Exodus to "Cool Cities" (Joel Kotkin 11/03/2009, New Geography)

Net migration, both before and after the Great Recession, according to analysis by the Praxis Strategy Group, has continued to be strongest to the predominately red states of the South and Intermountain West.

This seems true even for those seeking high-end jobs. Between 2006 and 2008, the metropolitan areas that enjoyed the fastes