May 31, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:44 PM


Sacrificial Nation (Paul W. Kahn, March 29, 2010, The Utopian)

Americans have long been unilateralists in the use of force. On human rights, the story is no different. The U.S. only started to accept human rights conventions when it discovered the power of attaching reservations to its instruments of ratification. Those reservations are intended to deny the treaties any domestic legal effect. The U.S. commitment to international human rights law goes exactly this far: Americans agree to abide by the conventions just to the extent that they coincide with that which is already required by domestic law.

The political and legal phenomena we confront here are elements of American exceptionalism. This can hardly find its ground in justice, when the whole point is to reject a neutral point of view. The claim that rules that apply to the rest of the world do not apply to the United States is not a conclusion we can reach behind the Rawlsian veil of ignorance. It is not a claim to which others can or should be sympathetic. Lack of sympathy is one thing; failure to understand is another. American exceptionalism, many think, is simply the expression of self-interest by an imperial power. Others respond that it is really not in American self-interest at all. Whether or not it is, focusing on self-interest will not take us to the heart of the matter. American exceptionalism predates the U.S.'s new and likely short-lived status as a hyper-power. If neither justice nor interest explain American exceptionalism, what does?

America is not just a political project; it is a political-theological project. That religion is an important aspect of American life is hardly a startling proposition. America begins with communities of Christian exiles. It is not an accident that the American Revolution was framed by the first and second Great Awakenings. Christian movements were prime movers in 19th and early 20th century politics -- from abolition, to prohibition. It was long a commonplace to describe America as a "Christian nation." No other country in the West so easily accepts the deep penetration of religious faith into its political rhetoric. "In God, we trust."

Population surveys of American church attendance and religious beliefs always astound the modern cosmopolitan. Still, these numbers and these expressions of faith lead us in the wrong direction, if we react by thinking that Christian influence is simply that of a particularly powerful interest group. There may be such influence, but to focus on it is to misunderstand the point of a political-theological inquiry into American exceptionalism. That point has little to do with the large number of Americans who happen to be Christians, but rather with the way in which "the Christian imagination" provides the deep structure of American political belief.

If the purpose of American governance were simply to solve coordination problems among individuals, then justice would be the appropriate measure of political life. However, Americans do not believe in America because it is a means to some other good. It is itself a source of meaning that can displace all others. [,,,]

This appeal to sacrifice is not just anachronistic political rhetoric. Rather, it remains the framing narrative of American political identity. When the World Trade Towers are attacked on 9/11, the thousands of deaths are not seen as victims of a mass murder. Rather, their deaths are the latest iteration of the relationship that every citizen bears to the popular sovereign. That sovereign can always demand a life; citizenship is never free of the possible test of faith. Sacred violence, not individual well-being, bears the meaning of this state. Americans hear, and want to hear, the rhetoric of ultimate sacrifice: "from these honored dead . . . this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom." Still today, under this vision of national rebirth, terrible violence is accomplished. This time, the violence is directed outward, but why not, for America brings the "good news" that through sacrifice comes freedom.

Suppose that Saddam had simply followed the provisions of the UN Resolutions and granted Iraqis political freedom. This form of regime change would have been entirely satisfactory to America. Instead he tried to maintain his oppression of the Shi'a majority in particular, and so we sacrificed to liberate them. It is not the violence that matters, but the results. We use force unilaterally in order to secure the universal rights of others. And we refuse to be bound by transnational conventions because they may not meet those universalist standards.

Bearing Witness in a Time of War (Richard John Neuhaus, 6/08/07, First Things)

The following homily was delivered by Fr. Neuhaus at the annual Memorial Mass of the Military Vicariate at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., on the Feast of the Ascension, 2007 [...]

We are servants of a disputed sovereignty. In the responsorial psalm we declared, "God mounts his throne to shouts of joy." Christ has ascended his throne, but his rule is challenged by rival thrones. For us who believe, St. Paul says in today's second lesson, it is the fact that Christ rules "far above every principality, authority, power, and dominion." But the principalities and powers of the present age still rage against his rule. We are the servants of a disputed sovereignty.

In today's gospel reading from Luke chapter 24, we hear the words of Jesus, "You are the witnesses of these things. . . . Stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high." The apostles stayed in the city and then, clothed with pentecostal power from on high, went out to the ends of the earth. And they continue to go, until the end of time. Christ goes with us, St. Paul says, in the form of the Church, "which is his body, the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way." In the face of the principalities and powers, we bear witness to his disputed sovereignty. In the loneliness of military camps, in the terror of battle, in the emptiness of loss, you who are chaplains bear witness to the presence, the sacramentally Real Presence, of "the one who fills all things in every way."

As the sovereignty of Christ is disputed, so also is the ministry of the military chaplain disputed. How, it is asked, can those who serve the Prince of Peace also serve in the wars of the principalities and powers of the present age? It is an old question, but a question that continues to be asked, and understandably so. It is a question that addresses, as St. Augustine would put it, the right ordering of our loves and loyalties.

The second century "Letter to Diognetus," which is explaining the Christians to a pagan reader, says, "For the Christians, every foreign country is a homeland, and every homeland is a foreign country."

In the right ordering of our loves and loyalties, we are patriots of this foreign country called America, which is also our homeland; but we are patriots bound by a higher patriotism to the country that is our true home—the country, the Kingdom, where the sovereignty of the ascended Lord is no longer disputed. Like St. Thomas More, we are "the king's good servants, but God's first." And we are the king's better servants because we are God's first.

Jesus says, "And you will be my witnesses." As chaplains, you are the witnesses of Christ and his Church to a new order of undivided love and allegiance. That kingdom is now present by faith's anticipation of what is to be. There are many important things a chaplain does: he teaches, he counsels, he encourages, he consoles. But, above all, the chaplain is a witness to the sovereignty of Christ and his kingdom. He is a witness to what is to be; he is a witness to what, for those who believe, already is. Through him, Christ makes sacramentally present a new heaven and a new earth. A new heaven and a new earth where the conflicts of the principalities and powers are no more. A new heaven and a new earth that is now, by the gift of faith, peace in the midst of battle.

Speaking last October to the International Congress of Military Ordinariates, Pope Benedict declared: "The Church is missionary by nature and her principal task is evangelization, which aims to proclaim and witness to Christ, and to promote his gospel of peace and love in every environment and every culture."

In situations of mortal conflict, in a world too often marked by the absence of peace and love, your task is to bear witness to a promised new world order. In doing so, you are the nation's good servants, but God's first. You are witnesses to the sovereignty of Christ, a sovereignty now disputed but one day to be acknowledged by all.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:30 PM


Moral Hazards: Two literary thinkers ponder sin and belief in a disenchanted world (Stephen Prothero, June/July/August 2010, bookforum)

But what is evil? Eagleton never really says. He starts off well, taking liberals and Marxists alike to task for wishing the idea away. Later he blasts Richard Dawkins and other "new atheists" for their "mindless progressivism"—their "staggeringly complacent belief that we are all becoming kinder and more civilised." But right about the time he floats the notion that evil's motto is "For the hell of it," it becomes hard to shake the suspicion that Eagleton is succumbing to a similar sort of progressive complacency. His desire not to sound like a bourgeois moralist overwhelms his desire to say something new—or even plain—about evil.

At a minimum, any book of this ilk needs to provide a clear definition of its controlling term, including how evil differs from related matters such as wickedness, immorality, and wrongdoing. Here Eagleton flirts with the notion that evil is about "purposeless or nonpragmatic wickedness." On this view, Stalin would be immoral but not evil, since he "massacred for a reason," while Hitler would be both immoral and evil, since he presumably massacred without one. By the same logic, terrorism today is wicked but not evil, since terrorists have their purposes and their politics. So far, so good. But not long after he advances this logic, Eagleton withdraws it, concluding on further reflection that evil does "have purposes of a kind" and "a grisly kind of rationality," too.

Eagleton, who was raised Irish Catholic, shows his roots in Scholasticism when he describes evil as "a condition of being as well as a quality of behaviour," but his best theorizing here is psychological rather than theological. Drawing heavily (and usefully) on Sigmund Freud's theory of the death drive, he interprets evil as a sort of vampirism, "leeching life from others in order to fill an aching absence in oneself." Evil's enemy, he writes in his most sure-footed jab at his subject, "is not so much virtue as life itself."

Though he self-identifies as a Marxist and a Catholic, Eagleton is also something of Calvinist, if by that term we mean someone for whom the Christian faith torques around the tension between a sovereign God and a sinful humanity.

Anti-Socialist Realism: a review of Everything Flows by Vasily Grossman (Michael Weiss, May 18, 2010, New Republic)
Communism did not bring about classlessness; it sharpened pre-existing class divisions and fashioned the signed denunciation into the main weapon of warfare. Envy was thus allowed to masquerade as the true power of the powerless. Grossman understood that the genius of a system that inculpates everyone is that it also abolishes moral absolutes and leaves only one arbiter of right and wrong: the state, which can change its mind overnight about the culpability of Jewish doctors, the enmity of the Third Reich and anything else. Ideology is supposed to traffic in historical inevitability. Instead it traffics in caprice.

The abolition of absolute morality is not what ranks as Grossman’s most lasting insight; it is his more controversial one about the moral equivalence between Hitlerism and Stalinism. Only the polemics of Partisan Review from the 1930s and '40s compete with the intellectual sophistication Grossman brought to bear on this wrought and by no means settled comparison. (Among leftists in the 1930s and 1940s this was perhaps the most sensitive question of all. Friendships were ended by the suggestion of such an analogy.) We understand at once why Life and Fate, which Grossman finished in 1959, stood no chance of being published in Russia even during the Khrushchevite cultural “thaw” (the book itself was “arrested” and only smuggled to the West in microfilm samizdat years later by Vladimir Voinivich.) In one scene, a Nazi Obersturmbannfuhrer attempts to ingratiate himself with an Old Bolshevik prisoner-of-war by telling him the truth: “A red workers’ flag flies over our People’s State too. We too call people to national Achievement, to Unity and Labour. We say, ‘The Party expresses the dream of the German worker’; you say, ‘Nationalism! Labour!’ You know as well as we do that nationalism is the most powerful force of our century. Nationalism is the soul of our epoch. And ‘Socialism in One Country’ is the supreme expression of nationalism.”

In Grossman’s hands, this is not the Devil’s grand inquisition so much as the morbid cunning of history, a theme he amplified more poignantly in Everything Flows by implicitly comparing the Holocaust to another state-perpetrated atrocity: the Holomodor, or Ukrainian Terror Fame of 1932-1933, which claimed the lives of three to five million peasants. Grossman equates the destruction of “kulaks” with the destruction of European Jewry, again putting his own thoughts into the mouth of a former accomplice to evil. This time it’s the penitent and fatally ill Anna Sergeyevna, in whose lodgings and sexual embrace Ivan Grigoryevich will ultimately find comfort. Anna was a chairman of a collective farm during Stalin’s starvation genocide and her confession about the events that took place is widely cited for its almost journalistic quality. Robert Conquest, author of the pathfinding history of the Terror Famine, The Harvest of Sorrow, has repeatedly referred to the following passage for its subtextual resonance with the Shoah:

They convinced themselves that the kulaks

were evil, that it was best not to even touch them...

The kulaks’ towels were unclean, their children were

disgusting, their young women were worse than lice.

The activists looked on those who were being

dispossessed as if they were cattle, or swine... They

were not even human beings; goodness knows what

they were—some kind of beasts, I suppose.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:23 AM

I DON'T KNOW WHO THIS GUY IS... (via Jay Ostrander):

...but they've been advertising the heck out of his new show during Justified. Now I'll watch it.

Playing off of his riff--when I was in college, thirty years ago, I had the only color tv in my dorm and we had only one in our fraternity. We also just used the pay phones in our hallways. (The only guys who had private phones in their rooms were the ones with girlfriends elsewhere.) And no one answered the phones when they rang.

Walk across the Dartmouth campus today (every foot of it with wireless access) and every kid is watching tv, emailing, or Skyping on his/her laptop.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:14 AM


Mankell status unknown after aid convoy attack (The Local, 31 May 10)

The whereabouts of Swedish author Henning Mankell and the other ten Swedish activists onboard ships in the Gaza aid flotilla attacked by Israeli troops in international waters, remained unknown as the ships began to dock on Monday afternoon.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:19 AM


Dividing the House (Thomas L. Krannawitter, May 31, 2004, Claremont Institute)

In 1854, Abraham Lincoln was a political failure. He had served in the Illinois state legislature as well as one term in the U.S. House of Representatives, but his political career was marked with unsuccessful bids for nominations and lost elections.

The passage of Kansas-Nebraska propelled Lincoln back into national politics. He saw more clearly than anyone the moral transformation and corruption of the American mind, as slavery was coming to be viewed more as a positive good than a necessary evil. From 1854 until his assassination in 1865, human equality was front and center in Lincoln's politics, forming the heart of his opposition to slavery as he attempted to remind his fellow citizens of the principles of freedom.

Douglas's "popular sovereignty," which informed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, meant that slavery would no longer be prohibited by Congress; rather, inhabitants of a territory could keep slavery in, or keep it out, as they pleased. Douglas never tired of saying that he "don't care if slavery is voted up or down." For Lincoln, the ambiguity over slavery pointed to the fundamental, philosophic problem of morality: Either right and wrong are fixed absolutes, or they are relative to time, opinion, or power. There was no middle ground between the view that slavery was a moral wrong to be contained and placed in the course of ultimate extinction, and slavery as a moral right to be championed and allowed to spread. Either all human beings share a common nature and are therefore equal in their natural rights, or not; slavery must be right or it must be wrong. And "if slavery is not wrong," said Lincoln, "nothing is wrong."

As Lincoln explained, "popular sovereignty" or self-government is right, so long as it is equated with what Madison called the "social compact"—a nation of men voluntarily governing themselves in recognition of and for the protection of the equal natural rights of each. But "popular sovereignty" had no just application to slavery; divorced from the principle of human equality, "popular sovereignty" becomes tyranny. "When the white man governs himself, that is self-government; but when he governs himself and also governs another man…that is despotism." Drawing upon the principles of the Declaration of Independence, Lincoln argued, "my ancient faith teaches me that 'all men are created equal,' and that there can be no moral right in connection with one man's making a slave of another."

Forgetting that the principle of equal natural rights precedes and legitimizes self-government—that government neither creates nor legitimizes rights—America was becoming a house divided against itself over the question of slavery. This was the theme Lincoln sounded in his widely published "House Divided" speech in 1858, which not only described the growing split in America, but also drove the opposed sides further apart. At the Gettysburg cemetery five years later, Lincoln would interpret the Civil War as a test, whether America, or any nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal, could long endure.

For his unwavering insistence on the wrongness of slavery, and his call for Congress to reinstate the terms of the Missouri Compromise and restrict the spread of slavery, Lincoln was twice elected to the highest office in America. He would preside over the bloodiest conflict in American history, a conflict caused in large part by his own refusal to let Americans ignore all that was at stake in the fight over slavery. On Good Friday, April 14, 1865—four years to the day after the surrender of Fort Sumter—the Great Emancipator gave the last full measure of devotion, his life cut short by the bullet of an assassin.


From the moment of Lincoln's death there has been widespread denial that the Civil War had much to do with slavery. Historians, political scientists, economists, and partisans locate the source of conflict with states rights, national power, or economic disputes over tariffs, banks, and money policies. These narratives continue to be repeated in high school and college textbooks today.

But while these subjects were, without question, disputed before and after the Civil War, they do not explain why brothers, cousins, and fellow citizens took up killing one another. They ignore the question of justice that has always been the spring for the most critical moments in American politics. The Kansas-Nebraska Act and surrounding historical events reveal how the problems of slavery and race became tied to questions of justice in mid-19th-century America.

Chronologically, the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 falls precisely midpoint between the crisis of California statehood and the crisis of the Democratic party, both of which turned on the question of slavery. In 1848, six years prior to Kansas-Nebraska, gold was discovered in California. The rush to the West was unprecedented. By the time Congress convened in 1849, the people of California had skipped over the usual process of territorial organization and were asking for entry into the Union, complete with their own proposed state constitution. The trouble was that Californians wanted to be admitted as a free state, prohibiting slavery within their jurisdiction. This the South would not accept.

It was not that southerners were clamoring to take their slaves to the Golden State—common opinion held that slavery could never flourish in the climes of California. What most incensed Southerners was the moral condemnation of slavery implied by California's constitutional prohibition of it. As Lincoln commented later, "there California stood, kept out of the Union, because she would not let slavery into her borders."

Southerners made open threats of secession and disunion unless slavery was granted the moral equivalency of freedom and allowed a legal foothold in California. Ohio's Columbus Delano thundered in response, "We will establish a cordon of free states that shall surround you; and then we will light up the fires of liberty on every side until they melt your present chains and render all your people free." In this environment of uncompromising passions, California had to wait two years for statehood.

In 1850 California was finally admitted to the Union, but not until the North made a number of concessions to slavery. These included a new and tougher fugitive slave law, under the terms of which a fee of $10 would be paid to a commissioner if he declared an alleged runaway slave to be the property of a pleading slave owner; only $5 would be paid if the alleged slave was found to be a free man.

Six years after Kansas-Nebraska became law, another event revealed the importance of slavery and the impending crisis of the Union. In April 1860, the Democratic Party held its national convention in Charleston, South Carolina. At one of the longest and certainly the most vicious of American party conventions, Democrats were split between those who supported Stephen Douglas and his doctrine of "popular sovereignty"—which included the right of a territory to exclude slavery is they so chose—and those who championed the position announced by the Supreme Court in the 1857 case, Dred Scott v. Sandford.

Dred Scott held that all blacks, slave and free alike, were ineligible for American citizenship. Further, the court opined, slave owners possessed a constitutional right in their slave property, and therefore it was unconstitutional for either Congress or the people of a territory to prohibit slavery from federally owned lands. Beginning with his debates against Douglas in the fall of 1858, no one had done more than Lincoln to highlight the opposition between Douglas's "popular sovereignty" and Dred Scott: Either the people of a territory had a right to vote slavery up or down, or a slave owner had a right to take his slave property into any territory he pleased, regardless of what the people there favored.

The Democratic Party—the only truly national political organization on the eve of the Civil War—could not reconcile these differences. The climax of the meeting came with the speech of Alabama's William Yancey. Ignoring all questions of tariffs, banks, and internal improvements, Yancey spoke to a whooping and excited crowd, telling them that the fundamental error of northern Democrats was their acceptance of the view that slavery was evil. Had northern Democrats defended slavery as a good and benign institution all along, he explained, the party would be united; because they had not, the blame for the Democratic schism lay with the North, not the South.

Twelve years earlier, during the 1848 Democratic convention, Yancey had led a failed movement for southern delegates to walk out of the convention unless the party adopted a platform declaring that neither Congress nor a territorial legislature could exclude slavery from a territory. In the 1860 convention, however, he would prove to be successful. When the convention failed to nominate a presidential candidate, delegates from the entire lower South walked out of the convention, with Yancey and his fellow Alabamans leading the way. There was no cause for the disruption of the convention other than slavery. This was the first real act of secession: As historian Don Fehrenbacher has noted, any Democrat who would not accept Stephen Douglas as the Democratic nominee for president, would never accept Abraham Lincoln as the Republican President of the United States.

The two wings of Democrats ended up holding separate conventions in 1860, nominating two Democratic candidates for the presidency, Stephen Douglas and John Breckinridge. The split among Democrats, which can be traced back to Douglas's Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, made victory for Abraham Lincoln a virtual certainty.

Immediately after Lincoln's election in November of 1860, southerners began a movement for secession from the Union. In Apostles of Disunion, historian Charles Dew reviews the speeches of "secession commissioners" as they traveled throughout the South during the secession winter of 1860-61, trying to persuade fellow southerners to leave the union. In this critical moment, with nothing less than the future of the United States and constitutional government at stake, the arguments advanced to justify secession had little to do with states' rights or the old squabbles over tariffs and banks. The turning of the tide toward disunion and civil war rested squarely on the question of race and slavery, and the moving force within the South was a powerful fear that blacks would come to be viewed as the equals of whites.

As Judge William Harris from Mississippi argued before the Georgia legislature, blacks were "an ignorant, inferior, barbarian race, incapable of self government, and not... entitled to be associated with the white man." Perhaps the greatest fear, warned Georgian Henry Benning before the Virginia secession convention, was that "our women will suffer horrors we cannot contemplate in imagination." Other secession commissioners were even more direct. Leroy Pope Walker, Alabama's commissioner dispatched to Tennessee, and later the first Confederate secretary of war, predicted that if the South did not secede immediately, everything it valued would be lost: "First our property," then "our liberties," and finally the greatest Southern treasure of all, "the sacred purity of our daughters." The wives and daughters of the South would be lost to "pollution and violation to gratify the lust of half-civilized Africans."

This is the ugly truth of the American South on the eve of the Civil War. Abraham Lincoln understood the powerful grip racism had on American public opinion, which is why he calculated his rhetoric to move that opinion, subtly and gently, back to the idea that all men are created equal. It is why, on the eve of the Civil War, Lincoln wrote to Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens that "the only substantial difference between us" is that "you think slavery is right and ought to be extended; while we think it wrong and ought to be restricted." No one reading the literature of the antebellum period can honestly deny that slavery and race were at the heart of the Southern resolve to make war on the union rather than accept Lincoln's election.


Critics of America often point to the existence of slavery during the first four score and seven years of our nation's history as evidence of our moral depravity and hypocrisy. Of course, slavery was not unique to America. What was unique in America was that for the first time in human history a nation of slave owners declared their independence and founded a new nation upon the only moral principle by which slavery can be condemned as wrong: human equality.

Throughout history and in most places on earth, slavery was not a problem; it was normal, part of tradition. But in America, where morality and justice were illuminated by the universal principle of human equality, slavery became a massive problem. In America, a public, political fight broke out over slavery, with principled, irrefutable arguments being made about its injustice.

Unlike the monarchies and imperial powers of the world, however, America had already achieved a large measure of government by consent; America could not settle internal disputes with royal decrees. One of the great paradoxes of slavery in America was the fact that if slavery, the ultimate denial of government by consent, was to be abolished, it had to be done through the consent of the governed. It is the essence of American tragedy that the principle of freedom could not triumph over the principle of slavery through speeches and papers. Instead, it required muskets and cannons. Nonetheless, it is through speeches and papers that we can learn why in the American Civil War, might was in the service of right.

Indeed, the Civil War itself is perhaps the greatest testament to the goodness of America: so important a problem was it, that free white citizens were willing to fight and die to rid blacks of slavery and save the Union founded in opposition to it. At their best, white Americans of the Civil War understood that the fate of the black man was intrinsically tied to their own fate; that there was no compromise between universal freedom and universal slavery; that the rights of white men could not be secured if they failed to secure the rights of the blacks among them. These were irresistible conclusions drawn from human equality, what Lincoln called the father of all moral principle in us.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:10 AM


China Won’t Rule The Skies: …anytime soon, says Loren Thompson. It's a long way from having its own version of the F-22 fighter to challenge the US. (Loren Thompson, 5/27/10, The Diplomat)

One of the persistent characteristics of the F-22 Raptor fighter programme over its 25-year history has been the propensity of supposed experts to misjudge the plane’s capabilities. Accounts periodically appear about how this or that new radar has ‘unmasked’ the stealthy aircraft—and all of them have been wrong.

Other reports wrongly describe the performance features, mission potential and maintenance costs of on-board equipment. And then there are the stories concerning how soon potential adversaries of the United States such as Russia or China will field their own ‘fifth generation’ fighters.

Such stories are intrinsically speculative, because so much of what the F-22 contains or can do is secret. For instance, sources often refer to the Raptor as a ‘flying antenna,’ without really describing the imposing array of sensors and signal-processing systems incorporated into the design. Similarly, the stealth (or ‘low observable’) features of the airframe are often discussed in public forums, but without any detailed technical treatment of the many technologies that must be integrated in order to render the plane nearly invisible to adversaries.

As a consequence, because so little of what makes the F-22 unique is in the public record, claims that China may one day soon field an equivalent tactical aircraft shouldn’t be taken seriously. Not only does China lack the necessary experience or expertise in a number of relevant technologies, but it has never demonstrated the system-integration skills required to bring all those technologies together in a functioning airframe. Despite frequent reports in US media about the forays of Chinese cyber-sleuths into US information networks, they’ve never managed to breech the firewalls surrounding highly-classified fighter technology. And, even if they had, the ability of Chinese engineers to utilize the insights obtained would be doubtful.

Better stick to assembling knick-knacks...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:05 AM


Mayas mastered rubber long before Goodyear (Thomas H. Maugh II, 5/31/10, Los Angeles Times)

Hundreds and perhaps even thousands of years before Charles Goodyear discovered the vulcanization process that made commercial rubber viable, Mesoamerican peoples were carrying out a similar process to produce rubber artifacts for a broad variety of uses, two MIT researchers have found.

By varying the amount of materials they added to raw rubber, Mesoamericans were able to produce bouncy rubber balls for the Mayas' ceremonial games, resilient rubber sandals and sticky material used to glue implements to handles, the research shows.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:56 AM


When trade unions lose their power: The short-lived strike by Air India employees makes one thing clear: the days of rampant trade unionism are over (T N Ninan, 5/31/10, Rediff)

The country's mood has changed when it comes to industrial action. The official statistics say it too, loud and clear.

Guess how many cases of industrial action there were in all of 2009 - a grand total of 69, counting both strikes by workers and lock-outs by managements. The number of man-days lost was 2.27 million. Back in the heyday of unionism in the 1970s and the 1980s, it used to be 10 times that number.

If there is a single episode which made the tide turn, it was the prolonged strike in Mumbai's textile mills that Datta Samant led in 1982.

That ended with almost none of the mills re-opening, except under government control - only for the majority to shut down anyway. Workers in Mumbai learnt the hard lesson that those in Kolkata were already absorbing: if you pushed things too far, you not only would not get a wage hike, you would lose your job. There hasn't been another such industry-wide showdown in 28 years.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:34 AM

60-40 NATION:

GOP upbeat about gubernatorial prospects, Midwest (LIZ SIDOTI, 5/31/10, AP)

With a fundraising advantage, a favorable political landscape and victories in New Jersey and Virginia last fall, Republicans are aiming for the GOP to emerge from November controlling at least 30 states. They argue that it would make it hard for Obama to win re-election.

Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, the chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, suggests the GOP's take has some merit, saying in a recent fundraising solicitation: "We must stop the GOP from winning 30 governors' seats, and in turn, stop them from defeating President Obama and taking away our Democratic majorities."

Controlling 26 states to the GOP's 24, Democrats are on defense.

They're operating in a difficult environment — an economic recession that's forced governors to cut services or raise taxes or both — to make up budget shortfalls. And traditionally the party that controls both the White House and Congress loses seats. Issues like immigration also could affect the outcome.

Democrats privately say they likely will lose states; Republicans are virtually assured of winning Democratic-held open seats in Kansas, Tennessee, Oklahoma and Wyoming. And polls show Iowa Gov. Chet Culver in such serious trouble that he's widely expected to lose to former Gov. Terry Branstad, favored in the GOP primary.

Republicans have mounted similarly strong challenges to other Democrats across the Midwest and the Great Lakes — and Democrats acknowledge that states in that region will be among the toughest to win given that they have suffered the brunt of the recession.

Many Democrats doubt they'll hold onto auto-dependant Michigan, which has the nation's highest unemployment rate at 14 percent in April.

And they have their work cut out for them in: Ohio, where Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland faces former GOP Rep. John Kasich; Pennsylvania, where Democrat Dan Onorato, the Allegheny County chief executive, faces GOP Attorney General Tom Corbett to succeed the outgoing Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell; and Wisconsin, where Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle is retiring. Milwaukee's Democratic mayor, Tom Barrett, will run against whoever emerges from a crowded GOP primary in September.

Republicans also are making a play for the scandal-scarred but Democratic-leaning Illinois but they say it will be hard for Republican state Sen. Bill Brady to win even though Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn was the deputy of disgraced former Gov. Rod Blagojevich. And the GOP is trying to beat back Democratic efforts to win in Minnesota, where Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty is leaving office presumably to run for president.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:29 AM


Double or quits: Russia has to succeed in modernization (Russia Today, 5/31/10)

According to Medvedev, “we have no other opportunity”. “If we fail in carrying out modernization, a disintegration of the country and degradation of the economy will follow. This suits none of us,” the president stated.

The president noted that a lot of work has been done in recent years and “the country has been developing in an absolutely correct direction." Russian people "have managed to strengthen the state, reform the economy, and create a framework for the political system," he said as quoted by Itar-Tass.

However, Medvedev admitted that "the country has been moving not that fast as we would like it to."

"Now the time has come to change the paradigm of development, not to strengthen what has been achieved, but to engage in the development of the whole of society and the economy," he said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:12 AM


Israel minister sees "scandal" over ship killings (Moira Sidoti, May 31, 2010, Reuters)

An Israeli cabinet minister said he anticipated "a big scandal" following the killing of more than 10 activists aboard Gaza-bound aid ships boarded by Israeli security forces on Monday.

The deaths aboard the flotilla of six boats, including vessels flying the flag of Israel's rare Muslim ally Turkey, drew calls for an inquiry from the European Union, and expressions of shock from France and the United Nations.

"It's going to be a big scandal, no doubt about it," Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, the trade minister, told Reuters Insider in an interview in Doha, where he was on a visit to Qatar, one of the few Arab states where Israeli officials can travel.

"The whole thing was a provocation from its beginning. They planned it almost two months ago, and we tried all the way to explain to them: 'Gentlemen don't try to do it because we have all the right to defend ourselves'," he said in English.

You can't argue both that the Palestinians are free to determine their own future but refuse to do so and that interdicting their freedom to trade is an Israeli defense matter. The blockade just gives the Palestinians an opportunity to force the contradiction.

A Special Place in Hell (Bradley Burston, 5/31/10, Ha'aretz)

In going to war in Gaza in late 2008, Israeli military and political leaders hoped to teach Hamas a lesson. They succeeded. Hamas learned that the best way to fight Israel is to let Israel do what it has begun to do naturally: bluster, blunder, stonewall, and fume.

Hamas, and no less, Iran and Hezbollah, learned early on that Israel's own embargo against Hamas-ruled Gaza was the most sophisticated and powerful weapon they could have deployed against the Jewish state.

Here in Israel, we have still yet to learn the lesson: We are no longer defending Israel. We are now defending the siege. The siege itself is becoming Israel's Vietnam.

Of course, we knew this could happen. On Sunday, when the army spokesman began speaking of a Gaza-bound aid flotilla in terms of an attack on Israel, MK Nahman Shai, the IDF chief spokesman during the 1991 Gulf war, spoke publicly of his worst nightmare, an operation in which Israeli troops, raiding the flotilla, might open fire on peace activists, aid workers and Nobel laureates.

Likud MK Miri Regev, who also once headed the IDF Spokesman's Office, said early Monday that the most important thing now was to deal with the negative media reports quickly, so they would go away.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:00 AM


BREAKING THE CYCLE: A Conversation with Emanuel Derman (Edge, 5.27.10)

Eventually Wall Street came knocking at the door, as a result I believe of rising interest rates in the late '70s. Wall Street suddenly started having a lot more trouble managing their inventory when interest rates became a risky business. They were hiring more and more computer people and applied mathematicians, physicists. I took a job at Goldman Sachs in late 1985. I wasn't quite the first of the people who went from physics to finance or the first of the quants, but I was among the early group. It was very exciting because Goldman was small in those days, maybe 5,000 people. A few years earlier it had probably only been 2,000 people. So you got to know everybody and see them in the cafeteria and it was intimate in a good way.

There was a very close linkage between people who were doing technical work and people who were trading or doing sales. There weren't a lot of barriers to dealing with different people. It was a place that valued you if you had a skill, no matter what it was, if you were a good lawyer or if you were a good computer programmer. They might treat you as a geek if you were more of a scientist than a businessman or an MBA or a lawyer. Nevertheless they needed what you had and they respected it. So I really enjoyed working there. For me it was a shot in the arm after being at Bell Labs and having felt like I had quit physics. I suddenly got excited again about doing something new.

In terms of how physics figured into Wall Street at that point, I was among the first physicists there. I don't know if I was literally the first, but I was certainly among the first few, although there had been three of four engineering people in the group I was in who had been there a few years longer.

It was kind of a natural match for physicists because first of all options and interest rates were becoming big in terms of sales and marketing and hence valuation and hedging were necessary. Most of the models that had been developed in the financial world for treating the risk of bonds or the risk of options or valuing options were all essentially diffusion models, related to diffusion of heat in classical physics. Physicists spend their life doing this kind of stuff, so even if they didn't know much finance, it was very easy. In fact, when I came, the guy I worked for said to me, read this paper by Cox, Ross and Rubinstein over the weekend and then start trying to fix this program that I wrote for valuing options which seems to have some problem for bond options rather than stock options. I literally spent the week reading this paper and learned economics out of it.

Now Wall Street is much more sophisticated. The hurdle is higher. You really have to know something before you start. But in those days it was enough just to be a reasonably smart person who was willing to learn. So I leapt into it. There weren't a lot of textbooks. It was very exciting to be in a field where there wasn't much traditional stuff to learn and to study.

Although it was economics, the mathematics was very similar to that of physics, and physicists are kind of jack of all trades in that they can do modeling, they can do mathematics, they can do numerical analysis and they had to do their own programming pretty much. They were not like business people who needed somebody they could give the programming to.

To build a model of options — there are a lot of little things that can go wrong. If there is a gap between the person who understands the model and the person who does the implementation, then a lot of little things can go wrong which you have an incredibly hard time rooting out because the person who understands the theory can't implement it and the person who understands the implementation can't understand what might be wrong when you get some mistake. [...]

There's a lot of talk about the role of algorithms and the change in markets. The financial world has changed a lot since I worked in it and the biggest change is more people are playing with more of other people's money. When most of the banks were partnerships, they had to be in it for the long run because people who were partners were playing with their own capital and taking risk with their own assets. Their money was tied up for 10 or 15 years. Even if somebody retired, they still couldn't take their money out of there. They just got paid interest while it was being used and drawn down. So there was a certain culture of not taking extreme risks because you didn't really have limited liability. Ultimately you could be broken completely by your company going bankrupt. With trading houses going public, they're playing with other people's money. They're immediately liquid in terms of stock and cash payment. The culture in all of these places has changed in that it's make money liquid and fast. The way this crisis has been treated exacerbates that attitude in that if you do badly, the government bails you out and if you do well, you keep the profits.

I used to hear 10 years ago at Goldman from colleagues that there was going to be doom one day at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac because they were hedge funds in disguise. To some extent the government and regulators have encouraged this and they still haven't tackled the problems at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and are doing with them what they accuse Wall Street banks of doing, which is treating them as off-balance sheet and not counting the money they are spending on them as real money.

In terms of algorithmic trading, that's a big change too. I'm not against it — it's inevitable from a technology point of view. You trade airline tickets with computers. You buy things off the internet. There is no way people are going to trade stocks in vast amounts by making verbal or written orders. Stocks are going to be traded electronically and eventually bonds, currencies and everything else will be traded electronically too.

It's unfair, though, to allow high-frequency traders to get what essentially amounts to insider trading, to getting an early look at trades and deciding what to do because they are allowed to put powerful computers closer to the stock exchange. That doesn't make it a flat playing field.

Also, people who benefit from it tend to over-accentuate the need for efficiency. Everybody who makes money out of something to do with trading tends to say, oh, we're got to do this because it makes the market more efficient. But a lot of the people who provide this so-called liquidity and efficiency are not there when you really need it. It's only liquidity when the world is running smoothly. When the world is running roughly, they can withdraw their liquidity. There is no terrible need to be allowed to trade large amounts in fractions of a second. It's kind of a self-serving argument. Maybe a tax on trading to insert some friction isn't a bad idea, just as long term capital gains are taxed lower than short term gains.

Economics is a strange field. One of the things I noticed on Wall Street was that firms use the economists to talk to clients but their trading desks don't necessarily pay attention to what the economists are saying. Unexpected things happen unexpectedly and damage positions and net worths. I don't think there is a good quantitative solution to all of this. I sometimes get letters from mathematicians in Europe saying that they have come up with a better formula for capturing risk or for valuing risk or for trying to control or measure risk. You can do better than VaR but there isn't one formula, one number, that is going to save you in the end.

More important is incentives and disincentives and making sure that people understand they are going to pay the penalties for their own mistakes and somebody isn't going to bail them out. Jim Grant, who writes a newsletter called "Grant's Interest Rate Observer" that I like, had a column recently pointing out that in Brazil they haven't had a big banking crisis and that there, anybody who runs a trading firm is personally responsible for losses. It's not company risk. It comes down to their own assets. So they are much more cautious about this. Those kinds of incentives are going to make a much bigger difference than finding a better mathematical formula for handing risk.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:50 AM


Obama’s Katrina? Maybe Worse (FRANK RICH, 5/30/10, NY Times)

FOR Barack Obama’s knee-jerk foes, of course it was his Katrina. But for the rest of us, there’s the nagging fear that the largest oil spill in our history could yet prove worse if it drags on much longer. It might not only wreck the ecology of a region but capsize the principal mission of the Obama presidency. [...]

Of all the president’s stated goals, none may be more sweeping than his desire to prove that government is not always a hapless and intrusive bureaucratic assault on taxpayers’ patience and pocketbooks, but a potential force for good. [...]

We expect him to deliver on this core conviction. But the impact on “the people” of his signature governmental project so far, health care reform, remains provisional and abstract. Like it or not, a pipe gushing poison into an ocean is a visceral crisis demanding visible, immediate action.

One would hardly expect Mr. Rich to get that calling it the UR's Katrina is a witticism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:47 AM


Polls: Support for Japanese PM falls to 17 percent (AP, 5/30/10)

Public support for Japan’s embattled prime minister fell to 17 percent amid rising calls for his resignation over his broken campaign promise to move a U.S. military base off a southern island, polls showed Monday.

The dismal approval rating came a day after a small party opted to leave Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s three-party coalition in protest over his decision Friday to keep the U.S. base on Okinawa, weakening the alliance ahead of a July election.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:29 AM


Even Sopranos Get the Blues (ANTHONY TOMMASINI, 5/25/10, NY Times)

In her liner notes for the album, just released in Europe and due in the United States on June 8, she writes that the “genre referred to as ‘crossover’ usually has performers singing popular music in a classically trained style with amplification and traditional instrumentation.” Her goal, she explains, is “to bypass the middle ground and get to the other side of the divide entirely.” In an interview included with the promotional materials, she is blunter, asserting that “this album is not crossover,” that it occupies the “other extreme of the spectrum,” that making the recording was like visiting “a parallel universe.”

Ms. Fleming and her handlers are being curiously sheepish about her legitimate accomplishments on this album. Vocally she has turned herself into an indie rock singer: from the opening track, the Muse song “Endlessly” (available since March as a single on iTunes), she sounds more like Annie Lennox than “America’s favorite soprano,” as she has long been billed. I would not have guessed that this was Renée Fleming from the hushed, breathy, deep-set singing captured here.

So why the defensiveness? In concept there is nothing wrong with artists from one genre performing music from another. And classical crossover has an honorable history, dating from the early decades of recording, when Caruso made as much money from his hit recordings of popular songs like “For You Alone” and “Over There” (George M. Cohan’s rally-the-home-front song during World War I) as from arias like “La donna è mobile” and “Vesti la giubba.”

In the beginning crossover ventures were harmless fun. In the 1940s, when the Wagnerian soprano Helen Traubel recorded “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’ ” and “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” her fans were delighted, though her pop work, which included occasional appearances in nightclubs and even a Broadway show, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Pipe Dream,” caused ripples of disdain in the opera houses where she sang. The genre earned its bad rap over the years from innumerable pandering recordings, like Plácido Domingo’s 1981 album “Perhaps Love,” which featured a duet with John Denver in the title song. Mawkish to be sure, but within months it went gold on the charts.

the inner voice (lection, 1/03/09)
At one point in the great soprano Renée Fleming's career, her personal manager "stressed batting instead of fielding" (The Inner Voice 114). Fleming, he decided, should proactively take her own path through the concert and opera worlds, instead of reacting to whatever offers came along. While doing so, Fleming sought out a sport psychologist, who gave her the same advice one might give "to a fourteen-year-old girl in tennis whites" (154). And when Fleming is really "on," her feeling is like that of a sport performer:

I expect it's the same kind of experience for an athlete — in that case, it's the concept of going into the zone. There is a kind of suspension of thinking involved, as though there is so much inspiration and ease that it feels as if you're channeling the music rather than singing it. Reaching that place allows me, in a sense, to step out of the music's way and leave my mind free to discover new shadings in a role that I might have missed in the past. (156)

If Renée Fleming were a ballplayer, she would have been a low draft pick who stuck with her craft in the minors for a few years and then all at once became a big star in the majors. Opera is like that; the whole effect of the performance, like that of baseball, is intensely collaborative, but it's the stars that people turn out to see: Pavarotti hitting a high C, Barry Bonds nailing a fastball. Caruso is the Babe Ruth of opera (its greatest draw, a jovial hero), Callas its Ted Williams (supremely talented, intriguing, hard to get along with).

Happy Heroine (TIME, 11/11/46)

At first by default, and increasingly by merit, Helen Traubel has become the greatest Wagnerian soprano singing in the world today. She is the first great soprano at the Met to sing Wagner and nothing but (Flagstad sang Beethoven's Fidelia). She is also the first American-born Brünnhilde and Isolde who didn't study at the Wagnerian shrine at Bayreuth. Until 1940, when she sang in Canada, Helen Traubel had never been out of the U.S. She has never crossed the Atlantic.

Helen Traubel at 43 is a prima donna in technique but not in temperament. A hearty, buxom woman with auburn hair and green eyes, she is as relaxed as a double-jointed shortstop. According to her husband, she is so chronically good-natured that "no one is ever quite sure whether she is stupid or lethargic." She was born above her father's drugstore in the old German section of South St. Louis, and brought up in so deeply Germanic an environment that she still punctuates her conversations with ach and ja.

As a skinny tomboy with red pigtails she liked to romp over to Grossmama's, where amateur violinists and cellists sawed their way through Brahms and Beethoven while writers on the local German-language newspaper argued politics and were kept from quarreling by matriarchal Grossmama ("her strength lay in her gentleness"). At mealtimes, as many as 30 sat around Grossmama's huge table to eat her Sauerbraten, Hasenpjeffer, herring salad and Torten and Kaffee stollen. "We had a gemütlich upbringing," says Traubel. "Our theory was 'lucky is the person who is happy.' "

Father was a soft touch. Every day Helen lined up her schoolmates at his soda fountain. Helen was rationed to two sodas a day, but usually managed to borrow against the future. Father read Andersen's and Grimm's fairy tales to his kids; if there was a vaudeville show he took them, and never mind about classes. Summers he and Helen fished in Wisconsin; winters it was duck hunting in the Illinois River, and Helen had a small shotgun made specially for her. During baseball season, Helen got up from her school desk promptly at 2 p.m. every day, strode out to meet her father. Their box was directly over the dugout, and Helen knew all the St. Louis players in both leagues.

Nobody—least of all her teachers—could understand how that Traubel girl managed to get any education at all. Even the teachers assumed that Helen would be a singer; sometimes they'd ask for a song. Helen would sing Meet Me Tonight in Dreamland; if any boy groaned, "I'd bounce him on the head as I went by." When she got too far behind in her studies Father Otto hired a tutor, told her to "kindly stuff this little goose." Says Helen Traubel today: "I may be a numskull scholastically, but what I remember of my family—it was so wonderful. So I misspell a word!"

The question is whether there was not a distinct branch of a native American music coming into existence around the sport. Certainly there were exceptionally lively and unhackneyed compositions being written. And certainly the ties that link baseball and music have been close and significant. That eminent baritone, Bing Crosby, owns 10% of the Pirates, but lots of musicians before him owned ball clubs. Angelo's Base Ball Fever of 1867 was dedicated to Lew Simmons of Philadelphia, the Bing Crosby of his day, the leading minstrel, who owned the Philadelphia Athletics, a pioneer club that antedated Connie Mack's Athletics. Helen Traubel, the opera star, owned part of the St. Louis Browns. Harry Frazee, the owner of the Boston Red Sox, sold Babe Ruth, Herb Pennock, Carl Mays and half a dozen lesser players in order to get money to back his musical comedies. Before the turn of the century the Phillies had a fine first baseman named Sydney Farrar, whose daughter Geraldine became the famous opera star.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:19 AM


Colombia election surprise: Juan Manuel Santos routs Antanas Mockus: Polls had suggested that upstart Antanas Mockus was in a dead heat with Juan Manuel Santos in the Colombia presidential election. But Mr. Santos won the first round handily. He will face Mr. Mockus on the final ballot on June 20. (Sara Miller Llana, May 30, 2010, CS Monitor)

[T]he results of the first round Sunday, with 99 percent of votes counted, show that security remains a top concern. Otilia Girado, who was born on the islands around the Caribbean city of Cartagena, says that President Uribe's tough stance against guerillas, drug lords, and paramilitaries transformed their lives. Before he was president, fewer visitors came to Cartagena – and the islands – because they were afraid of violence in surrounding rural areas, she says.

“Now we have jobs,” says Ms. Girado, looking on a beach overrun with tourists on a recent day. “I hope that Santos continues to keep the peace, because nothing matters without peace.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:11 AM


World Cup winners (Simon Kuper, May 29 2010, Financial Times)

The European colonisers, especially the British, taught Africans football for their own good. “It is our hope in these our games to stiffen the backbone of these our boys by teaching them manliness, good temper, and unselfishness – qualities ... which have done so much to make many a Britisher,” wrote a missionary doctor in Kenya in 1909. But Africans soon made the British game their own. Black South Africans, for instance, adapted their tribal traditions of “praise names” to give favourite players nicknames such as Junior Certificate, Kalamazoo or Scotch Whisky.

Later, the sport helped turn randomly created African territories into nations with a shared nationalism. The lines that colonialists had drawn on old maps became independent states in the 1950s and 1960s, but often it was the national football teams that gave these new states a shared national feeling. Sometimes the national team was about the only thing that bound the different ethnic groups together. The historian Eric Hobsbawm, recalling watching his initial homeland Austria play in the 1930s, wrote: “The imagined community of millions seems more real as a team of 11 named people.”

The Algerian case is striking. In 1958, as the country fought France for its independence, 10 Algerian professional footballers based in France snuck home and founded a “national team” of the FLN, Algeria’s National Liberation Front. One player, symbolically, abandoned the French national team then preparing for the World Cup. The FLN team played fundraising matches as far afield as North Vietnam, attracting global attention. When they played, writes Alegi, “the imagined nation of Algeria was made real for 90 minutes”.

The question is whether the increasing multiethjnicity of national teams can break down the intrinsically ethnic character of the very idea of a "nation."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:03 AM


One-day wonder: How fast can a word become legit? (Erin McKean, May 30, 2010, Boston Globe)

A couple of weeks ago, an apparently totally made-up new word seemed to set the land-speed record for the jump from “early use” to “inclusion in a dictionary.” On May 12, the word malamanteau showed up in the Web comic xkcd, where it was defined as “a neologism for a portmanteau created by incorrectly combining a malapropism with a neologism.”

It’s not the clearest definition ever written, but the idea is that a malamanteau blends one or more not-quite-right words to create a completely new one. Examples include the classic misunderestimated, bewilderness (as in “lost in the bewilderness”), and insinuendos (innuendo + insinuation).

The comic in which it appeared — self-described as a “webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language,” and beloved by Web geeks — showed the word malamanteau as the subject of a Wikipedia page, with the caption: “Ever notice how Wikipedia has a few words it really likes?”

And just like that, we were off. In a sterling example of life imitating art, a Wikipedia page for malamanteau was speedily created — and just as rapidly deleted for “not being a real word,” but not before generating thousands of words of discussion as to its “realness,” “notability,” and general usefulness or lack thereof.

...for Opocalypse™?

May 30, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:27 PM


Defensive Concerns Remain as U.S. Team Heads to South Africa (JERÉ LONGMAN, May 30, 2010, NY Times)

On Saturday, Torres brought vitality to the American attack in the second half but also played insistently on defense, which has been a liability that has limited his playing time. He said he had been watching videos of Michael Bradley to hone his commitment to defense.

“I think I’ve matured pretty well,” Torres said. “Everything I’ve learned, I take it to the field. These past few days, I’ve been watching videos on how to defend a little more and close the gaps. Usually, I would just defend one man, and the other one I would leave him. Now I’m watching my back, trying to close the gaps, trying to get the ball.”

Also coming on at halftime at forward was Robbie Findley, who impressed with his speed, mobility and passing. He has struggled to score early in the Major League Soccer season with Real Salt Lake and was a surprise choice for the World Cup roster. But Bradley hopes that Findley can help fill a void left by the absence of Charlie Davies, putting defenses on their heels, opening space for himself and creating channels for Donovan and Dempsey to operate from the wings.

“Robbie’s been fantastic,” Howard said. “His touches are tidy. There was one play where he tracked all the way back and broke up a play; it’s easy to let someone else do that. He’s got pace. He can jump for a guy who’s not that big. He causes center backs problems. His touches haven’t been getting away from him. He’s a really good X factor to have.”

Dempsey opened Saturday’s match at forward, but the ball seemed to get caught in his legs a couple of times. He played more effectively in the second half on the left side of midfield, scoring the winning goal. As Turkey’s defense was stretched by Torres and Findley, Donovan also found more room on the right side, where he played over the winter for Everton in the English Premier League.

If Torres and Holden kept a commitment to defense, in addition to their playmaking ability, the side could be even better than they were last year.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:54 AM


Your guide to hating the Celtics (Ted Green, May 30, 2010, LA Times)

Now, so you can hate them properly and profoundly, here they are, the Boston Celtics:

No. 34, Paul Pierce: He is their best scorer and a load for anyone to guard, including Ron Artest. But the Celtics' captain flops more than a large-mouthed bass taking his last breath while dangling from a fishing line at the end of a pier. Every time Pierce shoots, he acts like he's been hit by a train. Usually, he hasn't been touched. Two years ago, he fell during the Finals against the Lakers and went off in a wheelchair. An actual wheelchair! Five minutes later, he was dropping three-pointers all over TD Banknorth Garden. He actually came back into the game with the music from "Rocky" blaring over the public-adress system. Yo, Paulie, that was such a bad con job, Sylvester Stallone is a better actor than your are. By the way, Pierce's idea of a fun night is going clubbing and getting stabbed. Good times! If you'll be seeing him for the first time, you'll hate him before the first quarter of Game 1 is even close to over, guaranteed. And by the way, Pablo, your headband is usually crooked.

No. 21, Kevin Garnett: Last you may have seen him, he was goin' all Karate Kid upside the arms of Dwight Howard in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals. Hey, K.G., who's your instructor, Mr. Miyagi? Garnett is, or maybe was, a great player, Hall of Fame caliber, but once he joined the Celtics, he officially became annoying, arrogant and insufferable, like the rest of them. He is now impossible to root for in any manner. His emotional tearfest in the immediate aftermath of the Celtics' '08 Finals win over the Lakers remains today one of the truly legendary and awkward postgame microphone meltdowns. One more good cry, which is what you always expect from a Celtic.

No. 20, Ray Allen: This guy is one of the greatest jump shooters in basketball history. Totally clutch. And he may have the prettiest stroke ever. Money when it matters. He's also a heckuva nice guy, even though his momma stands up too much and looks like she's even cockier than K.G. I know I'm not giving you any reason to hate him, but never forget the overriding issue: that damn green uniform.

No. 43, Kendrick Perkins: This guy looks meaner than Cerberus, the three-headed dog who guarded the gates of Hades. You get scared just looking at his picture on Google images. He looks like he would shove his grandma in the middle of the back if it meant getting a rebound. Perkins has the offensive skill set of your average blacksmith or lumberjack. Instead, he does what can euphemistically be called a lot of the dirtywork for the Celtics, dirty being the operative word. He'll have six fouls by the second quarter, two of which are called. He is also a human moving screen. He sets the only pick in the NBA where the player is actually running full-speed into the man he's screening. This is very often not called a foul, just because he's a Celtic. He is prone to getting technical fouls, usually immediately after waking up in the morning.

No. 9, Rajon Rondo. This is the point guard who is faster than any Laker. He's an emerging star and acts like it, too. If he were any more conceited, he'd dribble with his left hand and carry a hand-mirror with his right. He preens more than TV news anchors. If he has a weakness, other than the villainous franchise he suits up for, it's his shooting. He has trouble making open five-footers in empty gyms, much less full arenas. Just remember this kid is, like, 8 years old and already as arrogant as the rest of them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:44 AM


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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:58 AM


Obamacare taking on water (Jeffrey H. Anderson, 5/28/10, Washington Examiner)

Since passage, reports have revealed that ObamaCare would cost over $1 trillion by any standard, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), not “merely” $940 billion as previously reported (while its total costs in its real first decade, 2014 to 2023, would continue to be well over $2 trillion); that ObamaCare has prompted major corporations to discuss dropping their employer-provided health-care plans; that businesses would have to file 1099s not only for every person to whom they pay $600 in wages but for every vendor with whom they do $600 in business, thereby imposing a paperwork nightmare and incentivizing companies to avoid doing business with a myriad of small firms rather than a handful of big ones; that ObamaCare would create 159 new federal agencies, offices, or programs; that the Obama administration’s Medicare Chief Actuary says ObamaCare would raise U.S. health costs by $311 billion in relation to current law and would shift about 14 million people off of employer-provided insurance — and some of them onto Medicaid; that ObamaCare’s would discourage employment, as — for example — hiring a 25th worker would cost a business $5,600 in addition to wages and benefits; that ObamaCare would impose a severe marriage penalty, offering additional subsidies as high as $10,425 a year if couples merely avoid marriage; that a lone provision in ObamaCare, which would penalize employers if their employees spend more than 9.5 percent of their household income on insurance premiums, would cut the net income of businesses like White Castle by more than half; that even though ObamaCare was supposed to get people out of emergency rooms and into doctors’ offices, those who build emergency rooms say the effect will be just the opposite and that they are gearing up for increased business; that doctors shortages are looming and would be accentuated by ObamaCare, both because more people would seek care (otherwise, what would the $2 trillion be buying?) and because fewer people would likely enter a demanding profession that would now promise greater restrictions and lower pay; and that President Obama’s nominee to head Medicare and Medicaid under ObamaCare is an open advocate of the British National Health Services’ NICE (National Institute of Clinical Excellence) and its methods of rationing care.

These revelations appear to have taken a toll. Together, they seem to have made a notoriously unpopular law significantly less popular.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:55 AM


Those nuisance voters (Chicago Tribune, 5/30/10)

Rod Blagojevich must be wondering how he can introduce the Sestak affair into his upcoming trial on charges of, um, trying to barter a U.S. Senate seat.

If this episode looks something short of brazenly corrupt and illegal, it doesn't leave the president looking like a shining agent of change, either. In the first place, it involved the kind of grubby deal-making that has to be kept out of sight because it would offend the public. In the second, the goal was to deny voters a reasonable option at the polls.

The president further tarnished his knightly armor by deciding to stonewall the whole issue. Sestak said back in February that the administration had offered him a job to withdraw, but the White House stubbornly refused to address the issue for months — on the apparent premise that what the citizens don't know can't hurt them.

Candidate Obama promised to transcend the pettiness of our politics. But this gambit makes him look small … and like an old hand at the Chicago way.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:49 AM


Legalize Immigration (Steve Chapman, 5/30/10, Real Clear Politics)

There is a simple way to stop the lawless stream, protect Americans living on the border, improve adherence to law and reduce the costs of accommodating people who have no right to be here.

The solution? Stop focusing on trying to keep illegal immigrants out and start focusing on letting legal immigrants in.

Enforcement-only advocates often say they are not opposed to foreigners coming here as long as they follow the rules and obey the law. They should take a number and wait their turn, we are told, like the teeming masses of yore. It makes perfect sense until you discover that for most of those who want to come, legal admission is just about impossible.

"A peaceful, hardworking 24-year-old in Mexico or Central America who knows of a job in the United States for which no Americans are available simply has no legal means of entering the United States," writes policy analyst Daniel Griswold of the libertarian Cato Institute.

Foreigners with in-demand skills, like computer scientists, may get work visas. Close relatives of legal immigrants can also be admitted, though they often have to wait years. But if you don't fit in one of those slots -- well, how do you say "fugheddaboutit" in Spanish?

Griswold suggests a big boost in the number of temporary worker visas, which would mean Mexicans and Nicaraguans would no longer have to undertake a death-defying trek across the Sonoran Desert, or squeeze into the trunk of a smuggler's car, for the privilege of working at a sweaty, low-wage job.

They wouldn't need to swipe Social Security numbers to get counterfeit documents. They would be far more likely to work on the books and pay taxes. They would come under the cover of federal and state labor regulations, so they would no longer undercut native employees.

They would stop enriching Mexican criminal organizations that make a business of human trafficking. They would gain more of a stake in participating in and preserving our way of life.

Xenophobes might fear that expanding legal immigration would produce a big jump in the foreign-born population.

...when you turn their claim upon them, the nativists actually don't favor legal immigration as a solution precisely because it increases immigration. They are anti-immigrant, not anti-illegality.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:17 AM


Inside the mind of North Korea's Kim Jong-il: North Korea's dictator Kim Jong-il has provoked a dangerous international crisis, yet again. Our correspondent examines the weird and worrying mind of the Dear Leader (Aidan Foster-Carter, 30 May 2010, Daily Telegraph)

In the state newspapers there is hysteria about "traitors". In Pyongyang's markets, prices have rocketed - especially for tinned meat, sugar, portable gas stoves and other goods needed to survive a war.

Last week Kim Jong-Il used an extraordinary cabinet meeting to order North Korean ministries to prepare for "all possible unforeseen circumstances, including the worst-case scenario", while the army's combat readiness was raised to the highest level.

One nuke delivered during a Politburo meeting and North Korea would be free of the bondage we've left it in for 60 years.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:06 AM


U.S. rallies to beat Turkey
(Tampa Bay Times, 5/30/10)

Landon Donovan set up second-half goals by Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey to lead the United States over Turkey 2-1 on Saturday in its second-to-last exhibition before the World Cup.

"We're going to be as good as we want to be," Donovan said. "And if we play the way we're capable of playing, we can beat a lot of teams in the world."

May 29, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:17 PM


Captain Retro: Is time traveler Tim Severin the greatest living explorer? Probably—but you'll never get him to admit it. (Mark Jenkins, June 2004, Outside)

AN ICY WAVE CRASHES DOWN into the open boat. The four cramped, wool-clad seamen are bailing desperately, yet faithfully as monks. Trapped in a gale, sailing west between Iceland and Greenland, they have scarcely slept in 36 hours. They're stunned by prolonged hypothermia and weak with exhaustion, and spirit alone is keeping them alive. That and the unlikely hardiness of their craft, the 36-foot Brendan, a twin-masted Irish curragh featuring the latest sixth-century design and materials. Built to flex like a sea serpent and thereby absorb an ocean flogging, the hull was hand-stitched from 49 ox hides, each a quarter-inch thick, waterproofed with wool grease, and stretched over a 36-foot rib cage of Irish white ash. Nearly two miles of leather thongs bind the traditional frame together.

Another wave curls high over the leather boat and explodes down upon the sailors, knocking them off their feet. They are knee-deep in gelid gray water, with food and clothing, skinned seagulls and whale blubber, sheepskins and oilskins—the ancient flotsam of death at sea—sloshing about them. Thick tarps, stretched gunwale to gunwale, deck three-quarters of the Brendan, but where the helmsman must stand there is a gaping hole. If it is not covered, the boat will founder in this tempest, and the ocean will summarily swallow the sailors and their dream.

The captain suddenly recalls the spare ox hides stowed aboard to patch a potential tear from icebergs. In the midst of the gale, the hides, stiff as war shields, are dragged out, perforated with a knife, and lashed together. The makeshift shell is mounted over the gap. The helmsman must now stand in a small porthole, fingers frozen stiff as wood—but the boat stops sinking.

In time, the storm, unsuccessful at killing the sailors, thunders away, and fog settles upon the cold sea. Like a ghost ship, the curragh floats onward, into the maze of icebergs off the east coast of Greenland.

ACCORDING TO LEGEND, Saint Brendan sailed from Ireland to Newfoundland 1,400 years ago, but the expedition described above took place in the late 20th century, led by a heretical explorer named Tim Severin.

"There's no question that the Brendan voyage was my most dangerous journey," says Severin, speaking so softly my tape recorder barely picks up his voice. "The margins were very slim. It set the threshold for fear. Once you've been really, really scared and then you come through and everything's fine at the end, it's very difficult to get as frightened again."

Severin and I are having lunch at the Casino House, in the quiet hills of County Cork, Ireland, Severin's home for more than 30 years. A slight 63-year-old man with blue-green eyes, a lean, handsome face, and a thin neck wrapped in a paisley cravat, Severin looks more like a distinguished British intellectual than one of the finest modern adventurers. In truth, he is both: recipient of the prestigious Founder's Medal of the Royal Geographical Society as well as the Livingstone Medal of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society, author of 15 books, winner of numerous literary awards, and the only man to have built and sailed five different seagoing vessels of ancient design.

In an age when stunts of extraordinary physical skill are regularly performed with little apparent purpose beyond 15 minutes of fame—hucking 100-foot waterfalls, snowboarding Everest—and the risks transparently outweigh lasting value, Tim Severin is an adventurer cut from a different cloth.

"No one's tried another Brendan voyage, and my advice is, don't," Severin says, laughing.

The Brendan Voyage has always been a favorite and someone recently posted the RTE Television film account of the voyage online. It's great too.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:09 PM


India's Communist party faces defeat in its West Bengal heartland: The opposition Trinamool Congress smells blood as corruption and the rise of violent Maoism take their toll on the CPIM (Jason Burke, 5/29/10, The Observer)

Today's municipal elections are unlike any for decades: the Communists, who have held West Bengal's main towns almost without a break since the 1970s, are facing disaster. Kolkata, the capital of the state and the only major Indian metropolis currently held by the party, may be lost. This time defeat is likely to be definitive and could signal the beginning of the end for the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPIM), which is among the biggest and oldest communist parties in the world.

Opposition politicians in the city of 15 million are confident of victory. "No doubt, no sweat, we will win in Calcutta by a thumping majority," claimed Partha Chatterjee, a leader of the All India Trinamool ("grassroots") Congress party (TMC), the main opposition locally. "We have support from the poor, the students, the middle class. People are oppressed, repressed. They have had enough. They want change."

Chatterjee's claim is not merely bombastic. Earlier this year, the Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm said that the collapse of the Communists in West Bengal was one of the developments that had surprised him most in recent years. The comment made front page headlines locally and forced hasty rebuttals from the CPIM national leadership in Delhi.

He's still surprised communism doesn't work?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:14 PM


The darndest TV star (Warren Cole Smith, May 28, 2010, World)

[T]he mainstream media tended to neglect Linkletter’s behind-the-scenes role in the rise of the conservative movement. He was an entrepreneur and free-market advocate who made millions in television, and millions more outside of medium, as the author of 20 books, several of which were national bestsellers (Kids Say the Darnedest Things and Old Age Is Not for Sissies), and in business ventures that ranged from commodities trading to hula hoops.

His public persona, as an affable TV host, was mostly apolitical through the 1940s and ’50s. But he was a supporter of Ronald Reagan through the ’60s, and his image took on a new dimension when his daughter died of a drug-related suicide in 1970. He spoke out more forcefully against drugs and against what he called the “moral decline” of the country, and President Nixon appointed him to an anti-drug commission. He put his money and his celebrity status to work for conservative causes and the Republican Party. When the American Association for Retired Persons (AARP) began to champion liberal political causes, he became a spokesman for a conservative alternative to AARP called USA Next. He also served on the board of Pepperdine University, a Christian college in Malibu, Calif., near his home.

When he gave speeches to conservative groups—which he often did—he was usually introduced to audiences, many of whom were too young to see him in his heyday, by a reel of TV clips showing him with Reagan and other conservative icons. These clips established his conservative “bona fides” and invariably “fired up” the groups. But the speeches themselves were the true “highlight reel.” Into his mid-90s, he would speak in a forceful and polished tone, for a half-hour or more, with no notes whatsoever. He reveled crowds with anecdotes of Reagan and the early days of television, but—in true show-biz “leave ’em laughing, leave ’em crying” fashion—he would close with words of appreciation for the group he was speaking to, and he would exhort them to even greater sacrifice and commitment.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:45 PM


R.I.P., Dennis Hopper (Steven Zeitchik, May 29, 2010, LA Times)

Dennis Hopper died Saturday morning in Southern California at the age of 74. Hopper, who had been suffering from prostate cancer for some time, was of course a screen legend who had roles in numerous films including "Rebel Without a Cause," "Apocalypse Now" and "Blue Velvet," and of course also directed, co-wrote and co-starred in the generation-defining "Easy Rider."

A lot of the obits are referring to Easy Rider as counter-cultural. But given that everyone was rooting for the rednecks to whack the annoying bikers, wasn't it the quintessential cultural conformity film? Or, as The Wife put it, "Much as I dislike The Man, I hate hippies."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:43 PM


Czech election won by centre-right (EuroNews, 5/29/10)

The Czech Republic is heading for a new centre-right coalition favouring tough austerity measures, following the country’s general election. [...]
Now it seems the Czech Republic, under a Civic Democrat-led coalition, could sample a bout of belt tightening to avoid a Greek-style economic crisis.

“If these results are confirmed, it would give a great chance to create a coalition of fiscal responsibility – a coalition that this country needs in these uneasy times and one we’re ready to create,” said Civic Democrat leader Petr Necas.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:38 PM


Wittels does it again, streak at 53 games (TIM REYNOLDS, 05/29/10, Daily Caller)

Garrett Wittels used a headfirst slide to keep his hitting streak alive. It helped extend Florida International’s season as well.

Wittels pushed his hitting streak to 53 games, five away from Robin Ventura’s NCAA Division I record, with an infield single Saturday in the eighth inning of FIU’s game against Florida Atlantic in the Sun Belt Conference tournament at Murfreesboro, Tenn. [...]

Wittels’ success is something that FIU didn’t even see coming this season. When the Golden Panthers opened their schedule, Wittels — who struggled mightily at the plate last year as a freshman — wasn’t expected to be an everyday player.

Now, he’s gotten a hit in every game in which he’s played in 2010. And thanks in part to that, FIU has likely played itself into consideration for an at-large berth into the NCAA field.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:33 PM


The Shirky Principle (Kevin Kelly, April 2, 2010, The Technium)

"Institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution." -- Clay Shirky

I think this observation is brilliant. It reminds me of the clarity of the Peter Principle, which says that a person in an organization will be promoted to the level of their incompetence. At which point their past achievements will prevent them from being fired, but their incompetence at this new level will prevent them from being promoted again, so they stagnate in their incompetence.

The Shirky Principle declares that complex solutions (like a company, or an industry) can become so dedicated to the problem they are the solution to, that often they inadvertently perpetuate the problem.

...the entire federal buraucracy and in favor of sunsetting every law and agency within the bill that creates them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:23 PM


Rafsanjani boosts pressure on Iran regime before anniversary (AFP, 5/29/10)

Opposition sympathiser and powerful cleric Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani has ratcheted up the pressure on the Iranian regime ahead of the first anniversary of the disputed presidential election.

The former president's website has again posted scathing pro-opposition remarks he made last year that criticised both the regime and supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei himself.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:14 PM


At NYC sci fest, asking ‘What if we’re holograms?’ (SAMANTHA GROSS, 05/29/10, AP)

Brian Greene works in a world where scientific reasoning rules all and imagination leads to the most unlikely truths.

Greene and other “string theorists” are exploring a possible scenario in which people and the world around us are actually a 3-D holographic projection of two-dimensional data that exists outside the accessible universe. [...]

Greene’s attempt to explain where our consciousness might reside, if we are indeed simply projections, is intriguing and perhaps less than comforting:

“It’s there, too,” he says. “Consciousness is nothing but the physical processes taking place in the brain. … Consciousness is just another interaction of particles.”

...they're still stuck on their faith in the physical world.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:11 PM


Dempsey paired at forward with Altidore (AP, 5/29/10)

Clint Dempsey has been paired at forward with Jozy Altidore for the United States’ last exhibition game before leaving for the World Cup in South Africa.

Dempsey was pushed up from his usual midfield spot against Turkey on Saturday in the absence of Charlie Davies, still recovering from injuries sustained in an October car crash.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:09 PM


Obama to attend Krishna reception to make a point (Chidanand Rajghatta, May 30, 2010, Times of India)

This week, in background conversations and on-record briefings on the eve of the first so-called "Strategic Dialogue" between the two sides from June 1-4, officials, particularly Americans, made strenuous efforts to counter the perception of the slideback, and set the stage for an autumn visit to India by President Obama that is all but penciled into the diplomatic calendar.

"The Obama administration attaches great importance to our relations with India, and as president Obama himself has said, this will be one of our signature partnerships in the 21st century," the US pointman for region Robert Blake said on Friday.

Not convinced? Well, in that case, Obama himself will make the point again.

Dispensing with the previous rite of very senior Indian cabinet ministers getting a Presidential drop-in during White House meetings or a walk-through the Oval office for brief chats with the President, Obama, in a rare gesture, will drive down to State Department in Foggy Bottom on Thursday to attend a reception Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be hosting for External Affairs Minister S M Krishna. He will also speak on the occasion.

....with Indians to prove he doesn't hate India... How about not screwing up relationships with our allies in the first place?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:02 PM


Gaydar really exists: Scientists prove gay people are more able to pick out fellow homosexuals (Fiona Macrae, 27th May 2010, Daily Mail)

Our brains are wired to take in the bigger picture, meaning that if we are shown a square filled with rectangles and asked what is inside, we can easily be fooled into saying 'squares'.

When the men and women were asked similar questions, the heterosexuals replied more quickly but were less accurate, the journal Frontiers in Cognition reports.

The homosexuals took longer but got more answers right, particularly when asked about the smaller shapes, suggesting they were able to see the small details as well as the bigger picture. [...]

Adopting such a perceptual style presumably increases the likelihood of detecting perceptual clues indicative of homosexual orientation, which facilitates finding like-minded social peers and potential friends and sex mates.

Differences in attention to detail have previously been shown among religious groups, with Italian Roman Catholics looking at the bigger picture more than those with secular views and Israeli Orthodox Jews paying less attention to detail than Israeli non-believers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:30 AM


Arms across the ocean: The British historian Norman Stone's 'personal' account of the Cold War is by turns passionately opionated, scabrously humorous and shamelessly partisan: a review of The Atlantic and Its Enemies: A Personal History of the Cold War by Norman Stone (Matthew Price, The National)

[I]n Stone’s telling, it is economics, not armaments and military manoeuvres, that take pride of place. His vignettes on the Korean War and the Cuban missile crisis have the feel of a school primer. But on the economic issues confronting the West, Stone mounts a bold, if not altogether persuasive, argument. For Stone, the spectre haunting the West was not communism, but Keynsianism. America and Europe boomed through the 1950s and 1960s. In Western Europe, it seemed, social democracy could deliver the goods, literally: France had refrigerators and West Germany, washing machines. “Nato developed its own financial military complex,” he writes, “and the central banks were part of it.”

Still, financial arrangements in the Atlantic world were ever precarious. The dollar – and its crucial adjunct, cheap oil – underpinned the whole system, but by the end of the 1960s, this hard-won stability was starting to break apart. The United States, pouring money into the war in Vietnam and into LBJ’s Great Society programmes, unleashed waves of inflationary pressures that, combined with oil shocks of the 1970s, would bring about a sea change for the Western economies. Inflation was the genie unleashed from the bottle, and getting it back in would vex governments across the Atlantic world.

Reviewing the decade, Stone finds little good to say about this turn in the West. It had become “extraordinarily self-indulgent”. He approves of the coup in Chile that brought Augusto Pinochet to power (with not a little bloodshed) and the economic reforms the General put into place after seizing the presidency.

He commends Helmut Schmidt’s gestures to the USSR and East Germany – the so-called “Ostpolitik” – and generally rhapsodises about the performance of the German economy, but for Britain his scorn is unrelenting. “Since 1815 Germans had been asking why they were not English. After 1950, the question should have been the other way about: why was it preferable to be German?” America’s central partner in the Atlantic alliance was in thrall to the unions – Stone hates them – and spent money ontoo generous a welfare state: “The overall Atlantic crisis was displayed at its worst in England.” (He refers to nationalised industries as “a sort of non-violent protection racket.”)

The Third Way experiment in Chile demonstrated that there was an alternative to suffocating socialism or heartless capitalism. Thatcher and Reagan broke the unions. Howe and Volcker (with Thatcher and Reagan's support) tamed inflation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:19 AM


Options studied for a possible Pakistan strike (Greg Miller, 5/29/10, Washington Post)

The U.S. military is reviewing options for a unilateral strike in Pakistan in the event that a successful attack on American soil is traced to the country's tribal areas, according to senior military officials.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:57 AM


Politics as usual for Obama (Liz Sidoti, 5/29/10, AP)

[O]bama has a political problem.

Because what did take place was backroom bargaining, political maneuvering and stonewalling, all of which run counter to the higher — perhaps impossibly high — bar Obama has set for himself and his White House to do things differently.

The White House's reluctant acknowledgment of the chain of events shone a light on the unseemly, favor-trading side of politics — and at an inopportune time for Obama and Democrats as they seek to keep control of Congress.

This election year, angry voters have made clear they have little patience for politics generally and Washington politics specifically. And they are choosing candidates who promise to change the system — and ousting incumbents who fail to deliver.

But what may be even more troubling for the president is the question the episode raises: Has Obama become just like every other politician?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:51 AM


Germany suspends EADS helicopter purchase (Reuters, 5/25/10)

Germany is suspending its 3 billion euro (2.6 billion pounds) purchase of EADS's (EAD.PA) Tiger attack helicopter due to technical problems, potentially delaying delivery to its forces in Afghanistan until end-2011.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:45 AM


King Barack the Verbose: He is less accountable than the older kind of royalty. (Mark Steyn, 5/29/10, National Review)

Two years ago this week, then-Senator Obama declared that his very nomination as Democratic-party presidential candidate (never mind his election, or inauguration) marked the moment when “our planet began to heal” and “the rise of the oceans began to slow.” “Well, when you anoint yourself King Canute,” remarked Charles Krauthammer the other day, “you mustn’t be surprised when your subjects expect you to command the tides.”

Poor old Canute has been traduced by posterity. He was the Viking king of Denmark, England, Norway, and bits of Sweden, which, as Joe Biden would say, was a big (expletive) deal back in the 11th century. And, like Good King Barack, he had a court full of oleaginous sycophants who were forever telling him, as Newsweek editor Evan Thomas said of Obama, that he’s “sort of God.” So one day, weary of being surrounded by Chris Matthews types with the legs a-tingling 24/7, Canute ordered the footmen to take his throne down to the shore and he’d command the incoming waves to stay the hell out. Just like Obama, he would steer the very currents. Next thing you know, Canute’s got seaweed in his wingtips and is back at the palace wringing out his Argyll socks. “Let all men know how empty and worthless is the power of kings,” he said, “for there is none worthy of the name, but He whom heaven, earth, and sea obey by eternal laws.”

In other words, he was teaching his courtiers a lesson in the limits of kingly power. I’m a child of the British Empire and, back in my kindergarten days, almost all the stories we were taught about kings went more or less the same way. Generations of English children learned of Alfred the Great, King of Wessex back in the 9th century. Another A-list bigshot: Winston Churchill called him “the greatest Englishman that ever lived.” One day, during a tumultuous time in the affairs of his kingdom, he passed a remote cottage and called in on the local peasant woman to rest a while. Unaware of who he was, she went off to milk the cow and told him to mind the cakes she’d left on the hearth. He was a big-picture guy preoccupied with geopolitical macro-trends and he absentmindedly let the cakes burn. She took him to task (“You’re happy to eat the cakes but too lazy to keep an eye on them”) but, upon realizing he was the king, begged a thousand pardons. “No, no,” he said. “Entirely my fault.” And there in the rude hovel he humbly turned the woman’s loaves for her.

In the age of kings, we were taught that kings were human, with human failings. Now, in the age of citizen-presidents, we are taught that government has unlimited powers over “heaven, earth, and sea.” Unlike Canute and Alfred, the vanity of Big Government knows no bounds. Tim Flannery, the Aussie global warm-monger who chaired the Copenhagen climate circus a few months back, announces with a straight face that “we’re trying to act as a species to regulate the atmosphere.” Never mind anything so footling as the incoming tides, but the very atmosphere! How do you do that? Well, first, take one extremely large check. Next, add several extra zeroes to it. Then, toss it out the window. “He whom heaven, earth, and sea obey by eternal laws”? Hah! That’s chickenfeed compared to the way things are gonna be once heaven, earth, and sea are forced to submit to a transnational micro-regulatory regime.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:34 AM


Democratic strategist James Carville upset about oil spill; White House pushes back (Anne E. Kornblut, May 28, 2010, Washington Post)

The irascible Democratic strategist has been on a rampage over the government handling of the spill in his native gulf region, accusing President Obama of "political stupidity" and saying the administration has been "lackadaisical."

"It just looks like he's not involved in this," Carville said Wednesday on ABC's "Good Morning America." Visibly agitated, Carville said: "Man, you got to get down here and take control of this, put somebody in charge of this thing and get this moving. We're about to die down here."

Carville -- nicknamed the Ragin' Cajun as far back as his days as an adviser to President Bill Clinton -- has grown more outraged with each passing day, culminating with his taking a boat tour of the damaged waterways on CNN earlier in the week.

Now irritated White House officials are pushing back.

"James has always been a very passionate person, and this is obviously a very emotional issue for him," said David Axelrod, a White House senior adviser. "What I haven't heard is exactly what he thinks we should do that we aren't doing. We're just looking for constructive ideas, and we're not turning any away."

...used to be able to seal its leaks. It's just that the UR has made a totem of nuclear weapons.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:31 AM


Indo-Israeli missile successfully test-fired: DRDO chief (Sandeep Unnithan, May 28, 2010, India Today)

The Indo-Israeli Long Range Surface to Air Missile (LR-SAM) was successfully test fired in Israel last fortnight. "The 70-km missile was fired at an electronic target and met with its initial objectives," DRDO chief Dr Vijay Saraswat said in an exclusive interview with India Today.

The second test of the missile will be held in India sometime later this year. The missile will be integrated by Indian technicians. The LR-SAM area defence missile is being jointly developed by India and Israel under a Rs 2500 crore project which began in 2006. The missile, also called the Barak-2 are to equip the three guided missile destroyers of the Project 15A class. The three destroyers are to join the Indian navy in one year intervals beginning in 2012.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:27 AM


Bill Clinton has evolved into Obama's Mr. Fix-It (Philip Rucker and Paul Kane, 5/29/10, Washington Post)

Clinton has become the "Michael Clayton" of the Obama White House, a roving, always on-call fixer who lends his political skills to help Obama and the Democrats in tough situations. Clinton is campaigning and raising money in places where Obama is less (or less than) welcome. And, as was revealed Friday, he has been an intermediary on sensitive, off-the-grid conversations with candidates such as Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.), whom he tried -- on behalf of the White House -- to talk out of running for the Senate.

One of Clinton's lowest political moments as president was when his party lost both houses of Congress in 1994. Now, with Obama's Democratic majority similarly imperiled, 44 is turning to 42 for help. In a toxic environment where candidates are running away from the establishment, Clinton has swooped in to Arizona, Georgia, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New York and Pennsylvania, and he is expected to make more stops before November's midterm elections.

Republicans have taken notice, suggesting that Clinton might play a bigger role this cycle than Obama. "President Obama spends his days in the Oval Office, but it appears, more and more, that he has no idea how to use it," said GOP strategist Kevin Madden. "Bill Clinton isn't in the Oval Office these days, but he knows how to use the presidency."

...but it sure would be nice if we could dump the UR now and bring back Bill, instead of suffering two more years of amateur hour.

May 28, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:54 PM


Is Obama's 'cool' too cold for ravaged Gulf? (Howard Fineman, 5/28/10,

In fairness to Obama, he likely had no idea that he was being perceived this way. He doesn’t quite get it. And the reason we elected him was, in part, precisely because of his cool, sometimes almost chill, demeanor (coupled with his evident intelligence, studiousness and unflappability).

But if there was a time to flap, this was it.

At the end of the long and lugubrious hour, Obama conceded error and manned-up on the buck-stops-here question. “I take responsibility,” he said. “It’s my job to make sure that everything is done to shut” the well. “The federal government is fully engaged, and I’m fully engaged.”

As forthright as that was, much of the rest of the press conference was lawyerly, bureaucratic and political. At various times he blamed the Bush administration, the Congress, the past practices of the Minerals Management Service, the 1990 law under which he was “operating” and politics in general.

He half-way hung his interior secretary out to dry (a couple of times), saying that Ken Salazar had moved — but not fast enough — to change the culture of the famously corrupt and toothless MMS.

“Salazar came in and started cleaning house, but the culture had not fully changed in MMS ... There wasn't sufficient urgency in terms of the pace of how those changes needed to take place,” said the president, who later reiterated, “Ken Salazar was in the process of making these reforms ... obviously, they weren't happening fast enough. If they had been happening fast enough, this might have been caught.”

The president even claimed he didn’t know that the head of the MMS had just that morning been let go, an assertion that drew skepticism from his questioner and elicited from Obama the first broad grin I have ever seen that looked completely — I mean completely — disingenuous.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:49 PM


Japan and US seal controversial deal over Okinawa military base (Danielle Demetriou, 28 May 2010, Daily Telegraph)

The decision marks a humiliating U-turn for Japan's prime minister Yukio Hatoyama, who won widespread support in last year's election with his popular pledges to relocate troops off Okinawa and pursue a "more equal" relationship with the US.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:47 PM


WH Had Clinton Try to Ease Joe Sestak Out of Pennsylvania Race (AP, May 28, 2010)

Forced to disclose backstage political bargaining, President Barack Obama's embarrassed White House acknowledged on Friday that it enlisted Bill Clinton to try to ease Rep. Joe Sestak out of Pennsylvania's Senate primary with a job offer.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:35 PM


He Was Supposed to Be Competent: The spill is a disaster for the president and his political philosophy. (Peggy Noonan, 5/28/10, WSJ)

I wonder if the president knows what a disaster this is not only for him but for his political assumptions. His philosophy is that it is appropriate for the federal government to occupy a more burly, significant and powerful place in America—confronting its problems of need, injustice, inequality. But in a way, and inevitably, this is always boiled down to a promise: "Trust us here in Washington, we will prove worthy of your trust." Then the oil spill came and government could not do the job, could not meet need, in fact seemed faraway and incapable: "We pay so much for the government and it can't cap an undersea oil well!"

This is what happened with Katrina, and Katrina did at least two big things politically. The first was draw together everything people didn't like about the Bush administration, everything it didn't like about two wars and high spending and illegal immigration, and brought those strands into a heavy knot that just sat there, soggily, and came to symbolize Bushism. The second was illustrate that even though the federal government in our time has continually taken on new missions and responsibilities, the more it took on, the less it seemed capable of performing even its most essential jobs. Conservatives got this point—they know it without being told—but liberals and progressives did not. They thought Katrina was the result only of George W. Bush's incompetence and conservatives' failure to "believe in government." But Mr. Obama was supposed to be competent.

...a guy with no executive experience would be a competent president?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:02 AM


Baby Steps to New Life-Forms (Olivia Judson, 5/27/10, NY Times)

Intelligent design. That’s one goal of synthetic biology, a field that was catapulted into the news last week with the announcement that a group of biologists had manufactured a genome that exists nowhere in nature and inserted it into a bacterial cell. The dream is that, one day, we’ll be able to sit and think about what sort of life-form we’d like to make — and then design and build it in much the same way we make a bridge or a car. [...]

Already, we have improved on nature to create versions of genes and proteins that do not exist in the wild. [...]

One problem with creating life from the drawing board is that evolved biological systems are complex, and often behave in ways we cannot (thus far) predict. Although we can specify the DNA sequence to make a particular protein, we cannot always predict what the protein will look like or how it will interact with other proteins in the cell. Also, to a large extent, biological systems are not standardized: Yes, we have become good at making DNA, but we do not yet have a “basic” cell, into which everything else can be slotted. In short, while we can copy genomes, and edit them lightly, we are a long way from writing one from scratch.

Although we cannot yet express ourselves fluently in nature’s genetic language, however, there is the tantalizing possibility that we might one day write our own.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:52 AM


Swedish growth hits European big league (The Local, 28 May 10)

Sweden has exceeded analysts' economic forecasts with quarterly growth up 1.4 percent and year-on-year figures placing the country at the top of the European pile. [...]

Sweden's GDP expanded three percent in the 12 months to March 2010, the statistics office said.

Swedish bank Handelsbanken said that "all-in-all, these figures show that Sweden stands out as a top performer in the EU family."

Besides being isolated and Lutheran, Sweden did not adopt the euro and the right/center government has adopted Third Way reforms. It is very nearly ludicrous to speak of it (and its northern neighbors) and countries like Italy and Greece as sharing a "European" identity.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:44 AM


The Recovery: Why Deflation Remains a Threat: Economic growth isn't strong enough yet to keep deflation at bay—and turmoil in Europe and market jitters amplify the risk (Peter Coy, 5/27/10, BW Magazine)

Bargains are everywhere in America these days. Men's shirts and sweaters were 3.4 percent cheaper this April than a year earlier. Prices also fell for eggs, peanut butter, bananas, potatoes, hotel and motel rooms, cosmetics, curtains, rugs, tools, and lawn care. Excluding gasoline and other energy items, the consumer price index rose just 0.9 percent for the year. That's the smallest increase since January 1962, when John F. Kennedy was President.

Everybody likes to save money, but flat to falling prices are not entirely good. They're a symptom of continued weakness nearly a year after the U.S. economy supposedly hit bottom. The same softness of demand that keeps goods cheap is pressuring workers. Annual growth of average hourly earnings fell from 3.5 percent in April 2007 to 1.6 percent this April.

As demography and therefore economies in the developed world collapse, as innovation makes energy in particular cheaper, and as manufacturing shifts away from China where it's become too expensive, how exactly is any pressure going to develop on prices in America?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:41 AM


Why conservatives should oppose Arizona's immigration law (Connie Mack, May 28, 2010, Washington Post)

The latest issue freedom-loving conservatives should be concerned about is the Arizona immigration law.

This law clearly challenges citizens' freedoms, and it does so by putting some Americans at risk of losing their freedoms while others stand little or no chance of being affected.

During World War II, while a German American hero and future president -- Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower -- led the allied forces in Europe, this country put Japanese Americans in detention camps. That outrage was wrong. We destroyed lives and undermined the very fabric of our Constitution.

We did so under the guise that we were at war and in crisis. But it is precisely at such times that we must take extra measures to safeguard our rights, our freedoms and our nation.

Instead, America took away the constitutional rights of citizens -- a shameful overreach of the government.

The Arizona immigration law reminds us of how fear and distrust can lead to bad laws and even more government overreach into the private sector and our private lives.

May 27, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:32 PM


Fears grow of Labor election loss (Dennis Shanahan, 5/28/10, The Australian)

THERE are senior and experienced federal Labor MPs who say quietly and privately that they can see the possibility "that we could lose the election".

This is incredible not only because the people are not newcomers unused to dealing with falls in polling and tough periods of politics, but also because no Labor MP at all would have even thought it possible six months ago.

The incredible nature of this situation is heightened for Labor because where there was once certainty about how to defeat the Coalition there is now tension within the ranks about what should be done.

A "class war" waged against the "rich mining barons" over the new mining profits tax is losing its appeal by the day as collateral damage to the sharemarket, public confidence, retirement funds and claims about the future of the resources industry suggest any such plans are counterproductive.

The proposed resource super-profits tax thrust on to unsuspecting miners has united these normally warring barons in an unprecedented fashion.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:29 PM


Unlike the UR, Mr. Christie clearly thinks politics is fun.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:03 PM


Western Political Models and Their Metaphysics, Part II: On the Differences between a Republic and a Democracy (Claude Polin, 05/26/10, First Principles)

[A] few standard characteristics of a republican city.

In order for the citizens to be allowed to be meaningful parts of the whole, and not mere grains in a sand pile, they must be given the very means of some independence, a true independence but one which at the same time does not sever their ties to their fellow citizens, which does not prevent them from loving the whole of which they are only parts, a real freedom, but one they love no more than they love their membership in the community. This is a very delicate independence indeed, and this tricky balance has not always been achieved in traditional societies, but I think it has always lived in the minds of the wise men of the past as the ideal to be pursued. It has but one natural basis: the average citizen must enjoy some kind of personal property that allows him not to be dependent for his very survival on the good will and the support of the others. And this means another balance between an excessive wealth that induces the illusion of an ability to live alone, and a wretchedness that turns everyone into beggars at the mercy of the others (Rome ceased to be a republic when the average Roman started demanding bread and circuses, like a slave at the hands of his masters). In other words, the chances for a city to be a republic are directly proportional to its being what has been called since Aristotle a middle-class society. Which points to a society with a sturdy rural agrarian foundation (“our governments,” warned Jefferson, “will remain virtuous for many centuries, as long as they are chiefly agricultural”). Of course, most of our contemporaries look with contempt on such a backward society, but that is only because they are blind to the evidence of common sense that society obtains between men only when one’s living is not achieved at the expense of the other.

There is another evidence, not only acknowledged but extolled in classical societies: beyond a certain size a city cannot be a republic. There comes a point when the difference between individuals and the whole of which they are part becomes so great that it becomes impossible for them to feel like a member of that whole, to feel they are citizens. The natural birthplace and habitat of a republic is a local community. Which means the only way for a republic to grow in size is the very one that was used for the individuals to gather into a society: a large republic is by nature a confederation of smaller ones. But again, even a confederation runs the risk of growing to a point beyond which there is too great a disproportion between the constituent communities and the whole that they are supposed to form. Rome ceased to become a republic when it became an empire.

Let me add a third basic feature: the core of the common good is actually acted upon when all are left to their own particular callings while having at heart to contribute something to the common wealth; when all are willing to go about their own affairs and even promote their own interests, but unwilling to do anything that would bring harm to the community; when all strive not to be a burden to the community, not to be dependent on the others, but also look forward to contributing something to it, not asking what their country can do for them, but what they can do for their country. I’m fully aware there may be something utopian in the idea that everyone can contribute something significant—that is, meaning something to the community. But I think nevertheless it is definitely realistic to maintain that there is no republic when all citizens do not aim as much as possible at doing just that, however minute it may be.

And finally I would like to allude to a fourth basic feature of a republic. It is of the essence of a republic to admit only a minimum of government, whose limited activities are moreover subjected to the consent of the people. The reason why seems to me to be the following one. If there is no republic in which the average citizen is not a man who enjoys the freedom to order his private life according to his best judgment, while feeling a propensity to play to his best his role in the functioning of the whole—that is, to serve the community—then it is obvious that a republican city is one whose organization is essentially natural and spontaneous. Its laws stem not from the imagination of some providential man but from the natural talents and vocations of its citizens, who naturally tend to organize themselves into a viable entity—that is, to resemble an organism whose organs tend to complement one another, each doing his own thing, but at the same time serving the others. Then two things are obvious. First, the government is to the republican city what the head is to the body: a particular organ whose function is crucial but essentially limited. Crucial because its main object is to ensure the smooth working of the whole, to make sure that no cell grows at the expense of the others, as well as to protect the body against external aggressions. But limited because this does not entail interfering with the natural way each part performs its particular role. That is to say, a republican government is limited to warranting justice and providing defense (and possibly helping a stricken organ to recover its health). This essential limitation has one essential consequence: since what is the common good has nothing to do with the decree of a Rousseauist general will; and since on the contrary its management requires mainly wisdom, sedate judgment, equity, and experience, there must be some propensity to entrust it to men of good intellectual standing and moral repute. At this rate what then makes a republic is not so much the actual participation of all the citizens in the performance of the governing function as their consent to their being governed, and therefore the existence of channels through which they can express their possible grievances (principibus nolite semper confidere). Which is why, all in all, the best regime in which the republican idea may bloom is probably the famous mixed one that all classical philosophers have always hailed, up to and including, I believe, the Founding Fathers of the American Republic.

2. Now I think a democracy is be understood as the exact opposite of a republic.

...but of whether it risks making individuals too independent of their fellow men.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:35 AM


Why You Should Get a Health Savings Account (Philip Moeller, May 26, 2010, US News)

While you can use the HSAs to pay for expenses, some experts advise participants to let their HSA balances build up in they can afford it. Unlike health retirement accounts (HRAs), unspent balances in HSAs can rollover indefinitely from year to year. Unneeded plan balances can be invested like 401(k)s, and the earnings from these investments will never be taxed so long as withdrawals are spent on qualifying health expenses. And with such expenses in retirement looming as a big wild card, wouldn't it be nice to build up a tax-sheltered nest egg to help pay those bills when the time comes?

Financially, the only bad news about HSAs is that people can no longer contribute to them when they turn 65. There are exceptions when a 65-year-old person is still working and using private insurance and not Medicare. Or when that 65 year-old is still carried on the private health policy of a spouse who is still working. "Once you're enrolled in Medicare, you no longer can contribute into an HSA, but you can still use an HSA," says Kathy Campbell, head of product engineering at Aetna.

Medically, the impact of HSAs has so far been as eye-opening as their potential financial benefits. Employers and insurers have been sensitive to allegations that these lower-cost plans shift health spending to individuals so that employers can reduce health care benefit expenses. To date, however, any cost savings to employers have not been associated with reduced health care for employees.

Among large private insurers -- UnitedHealthcare, WellPoint, Aetna, and Cigna -- all said internal studies have persuasively shown that people with their high-deductible HSA plans actually take better care of themselves than people with traditional health insurance coverage. "People do not skimp on the care that they need," says Will Giaconia, vice president in charge of consumerism products at Cigna. "In fact, they get more engaged in their health."

It turns out that when people have their own money on the line, they become more informed health care consumers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 AM

"a"? TRY, "THE ONLY":

U.S. Assets Are a Safe Haven…Again: Nervous investors flock to American stocks and Treasuries (Vincent Del Giudice and Daniel Kruger, 5/25/10, BW Magazine)

Investors spooked by the Greek debt crisis have been seeking shelter in the dollar. Global purchases of U.S. equities, notes, and bonds totaled $140.5 billion in March, more than double economists' projections, after net buying of $47.1 billion in February, the Treasury Dept. reported on May 17.

The figures mark a change from last year, when investors, concerned about the potential impact of U.S. budget deficits on the dollar, moved money to other countries. "Diversification was a major deadweight on the dollar last year," wrote Alan Ruskin, head of foreign-exchange strategy at Royal Bank of Scotland Group (RBS) in Stamford, Conn., in a note to clients. "Reverse diversification is now a major source of vulnerability for the euro."

Where does the rest of the global economy turn if we start paying down debt?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:10 AM


Spain's Turmoil (Alejandro Bermudez, Headline Bistro)

Last Sunday, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero announced that the government would hold firm on spending cuts that would mean the largest elimination of social benefits since the 1936 Civil War. These include cutting government salaries and retirees’ benefits, raising the retirement age, hiking taxes and eliminating all child benefits in a country with the lowest birth rate in Europe.

Zapatero himself has admitted that these policies, so unpopular that his own party-controlled unions have threatened a massive strike, could mean his political demise after six unexpected years in power. After all, he was only elected three days after the 2004 terrorist attacks on Madrid’s commuter train system that left nearly 200 dead, which resulted in his Socialist party promising to pull Spain out of the Iraq war.

Zapatero kept his promise of pulling Spain’s army out of Iraq, but his government, riding on an unprecedented economic windfall created by the opposing party, focused exclusively on social and moral issues.

Thus, in five years, the razor-thin Socialist majority in Congress passed laws that made divorce easier to obtain, legalized gay marriage and homosexual adoption, expanded the availability of abortion beyond any other European country and reduced financial support for families.

Although the opposition to such measures provoked the largest street demonstrations ever seen in Spain, the majority of Spaniards preferred to carry on with the secularist, happy-spending trend fueled by Spain’s real estate bubble.

When you have a declining population real estate is a bubble.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:58 AM


Duncan Smith outlines radical welfare reforms: Work and Pensions Secretary promises to transform Britain's "bust" welfare system. (New Statesman, 27 May 2010)

The coalition government is to lay out its plans for radical reform of Britain's "bust" welfare system. The new Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, plans to create a new welfare to work programme that makes benefits more conditional on willingness to work.

Duncan Smith claims that at present it is not worth going from the dole into work if the job pays £15,000 or less. He told the Guardian that many people on benefits view those who take up job offers as "bloody morons". [...]

Duncan Smith also suggested that ministers were prepared to cut back on welfare payments targeted at the middle class. "My general view is that the benefit system is a deeply ineffective and costly way of subsidising people's lives. If you want to help people above a certain income the route to do that is through tax - it is simple, straightforward and easy. The benefit system is about helping people in difficulty," he said.

They should bring in Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich to help sell it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:47 AM


Two Theories of Change (DAVID BROOKS, 5/24/10, NY Times)

When I was in college I took a course in the Enlightenment. In those days, when people spoke of the Enlightenment, they usually meant the French Enlightenment — thinkers like Descartes, Rousseau, Voltaire and Condorcet.

These were philosophers who confronted a world of superstition and feudalism and sought to expose it to the clarifying light of reason. Inspired by the scientific revolution, they had great faith in the power of individual reason to detect error and logically arrive at universal truth.

Their great model was Descartes. He aimed to begin human understanding anew. He’d discard the accumulated prejudices of the past and build from the ground up, erecting one logical certainty upon another.

What Descartes was doing for knowledge, others would do for politics: sweep away the old precedents and write new constitutions based on reason. This was the aim of the French Revolution.

But there wasn’t just one Enlightenment, headquartered in France. There was another, headquartered in Scotland and Britain and led by David Hume, Adam Smith and Edmund Burke. As Gertrude Himmelfarb wrote in her 2004 book, “The Roads to Modernity,” if the members of the French Enlightenment focused on the power of reason, members of the British Enlightenment emphasized its limits.

The Long War is just the extended defeat of the French by the British, with only Islamicism left to fall.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:28 AM


The great American book that refutes Rand Paul: A book published nearly 50 years ago utterly destroys any distinction between private and public discrimination (Michael Lind, 5/25/10, Salon)

As a native of Texas, where white-only businesses were legal until the Civil Rights Act passed, where interracial marriage was illegal until the Supreme Court issued its holding in Loving v. Virginia in 1967, and where private racial discrimination in housing was legal until President Johnson pushed through one of his personal obsessions, the Fair Housing Act of 1968, I can suggest a book that Rand Paul and like-minded libertarians really ought to read: John Howard Griffin's "Black Like Me."

Griffin, a native of Dallas, was at different stages in his polymathic career a decorated combat veteran in World War II, a music teacher, a philosopher, a novelist and a convert to Catholicism. In 1959, with the help of a dermatologist in New Orleans, this white Southerner had his skin darkened so that he could try to understand what black people experienced in the segregated South. Published in 1961, "Black Like Me" was the book that emerged from his journal entries. It became a best-seller and made Griffin (who was portrayed by James Whitmore in a 1964 movie adaptation) an international celebrity.

It also made him, his elderly mother and wife and children the targets of threats, including a public hanging in effigy in the town where he lived at the time, Mansfield, Texas. For a while, the Griffins and their children found safety by living in Dallas with Decherd Turner and his wife, Martha Anne (who were close friends with my family in later years). Before becoming one of the world's greatest librarians, running first the Bridwell Library at Southern Methodist University and then the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas, Turner had grown up on a small farm in Missouri, where every Christmas morning his father forced the family to gather on the front porch of the farmhouse while he fired a round into the sky shouting, "God bless Jefferson Davis!" Inheriting the ebullience of his father while rejecting the politics, Turner shared Griffin's strain of defiant Southern liberalism. His typically fearless response to the threats against his friend was to offer him not only his home but also an office and a public lecture at SMU.

Having been forced out of his home and his town and into hiding by white supremacists, Griffin had no patience for the kind of sophistry employed by people like Barry Goldwater and Rand Paul, who argue that, while they are personally opposed to private sector racism, they believe that a commitment to individual liberty requires us to tolerate racial discrimination by private businesses, but not by public agencies.

On rereading "Black Like Me" with Rand Paul's controversial comments in mind, I was struck by how very few truly public places there were in the apartheid South. Employers, subdivisions, stores, restaurants, gas stations, hotels -- Rand Paul would have allowed all of these to be segregated to this day because they are privately owned. According to this disingenuous theory, in the segregated South everyone, black or white, should have had a right to work, eat and sleep at the small-town post office or police station, because they were public agencies -- but no right to work, eat or sleep anywhere else.

May 26, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:32 PM


Justice Scalia Praises Elena Kagan’s Lack of Judicial Experience (Teddy Davis, May 26, 2010, ABC News)

“When I first came to the Supreme Court, three of my colleagues had never been a federal judge,” said Scalia who joined the Court in 1986 after being nominated by President Reagan. “William Rehnquist came to the Bench from the Office of Legal Counsel. Byron White was Deputy Attorney General. And Lewis Powell who was a private lawyer in Richmond and had been president of the American Bar Association.”

“Currently, there is nobody on the Court who has not served as a judge --indeed, as a federal judge -- all nine of us,” he continued. “. . . I am happy to see that this latest nominee is not a federal judge – and not a judge at all.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:06 PM


What Did Jesus Do?: Reading and unreading the Gospels. (Adam Gopnik, 5/24/10, The New Yorker)

ven if we make allowances for Mark’s cryptic tracery, the human traits of his Jesus are evident: intelligence, short temper, and an ironic, duelling wit. What seems new about Jesus is not his piety or divine detachment but the humanity of his irritability and impatience. He’s no Buddha. He gets annoyed at the stupidity of his followers, their inability to grasp an obvious point. “Do you have eyes but fail to see?” he asks the hapless disciples. The fine English actor Alec McCowen used to do a one-man show in which he recited Mark, complete, and his Jesus came alive instantly as a familiar human type—the Gandhi-Malcolm-Martin kind of charismatic leader of an oppressed people, with a character that clicks into focus as you begin to dramatize it. He’s verbally spry and even a little shifty. He likes defiant, enigmatic paradoxes and pregnant parables that never quite close, perhaps by design. A story about a vineyard whose ungrateful husbandmen keep killing the servants sent to them is an anti-establishment, even an anti-clerical story, but it isn’t so obvious as to get him in trouble. The suspicious priests keep trying to catch him out in a declaration of anti-Roman sentiment: Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar or not, they ask—that is, do you recognize Roman authority or don’t you? He has a penny brought out, sees the picture of the emperor on it, and, shrugging, says to give to the state everything that rightly belongs to the state. The brilliance of that famous crack is that Jesus turns the question back on the questioner, in mock-innocence. Why, you give the king the king’s things and God God’s. Of course, this leaves open the real question: what is Caesar’s and what is God’s? It’s a tautology designed to evade self-incrimination.

Jesus’ morality has a brash, sidewise indifference to conventional ideas of goodness. His pet style blends the epigrammatic with the enigmatic. When he makes that complaint about the prophet having no honor in his own home town, or says exasperatedly that there is no point in lighting a candle unless you intend to put it in a candlestick, his voice carries a disdain for the props of piety that still feels startling. And so with the tale of the boy who wastes his inheritance but gets a feast from his father, while his dutiful brother doesn’t; or the one about the weeping whore who is worthier than her good, prim onlookers; or about the passionate Mary who is better than her hardworking sister Martha. There is a wild gaiety about Jesus’ moral teachings that still leaps off the page. He is informal in a new way, too, that remains unusual among prophets. MacCulloch points out that he continually addresses God as “Abba,” Father, or even Dad, and that the expression translated in the King James Version as a solemn “Verily I say unto you” is actually a quirky Aramaic throat-clearer, like Dr. Johnson’s “Depend upon it, Sir.”

Some of the sayings do have, in their contempt for material prosperity, the ring of Greek Cynic philosophy, but there is also something neither quite Greek nor quite Jewish about Jesus’ morality that makes it fresh and strange even now. Is there a more miraculous scene in ancient literature than the one in John where Jesus absent-mindedly writes on the ground while his fellow-Jews try to entrap him into approving the stoning of an adulteress, only to ask, wide-eyed, if it wouldn’t be a good idea for the honor of throwing the first stone to be given to the man in the mob who hasn’t sinned himself? Is there a more compressed and charming religious exhortation than the one in the Gospel of Thomas in which Jesus merrily recommends to his disciples, “Be passersby”? Too much fussing about place and home and ritual, and even about where, exactly, you’re going to live, is unnecessary: be wanderers, dharma bums.

This social radicalism still shines through—not a programmatic radicalism of national revolution but one of Kerouac-like satori-seeking-on-the-road. And the social radicalism is highly social. The sharpest opposition in the Gospels, the scholar and former priest John Dominic Crossan points out in his illuminating books—“The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant” is the best known—is between John the Faster and Jesus the Feaster. Jesus eats and drinks with whores and highwaymen, turns water into wine, and, finally, in one way or another, establishes a mystical union at a feast through its humble instruments of bread and wine.

The table is his altar in every sense. Crossan, the co-founder of the Jesus Seminar, makes a persuasive case that Jesus’ fressing was perhaps the most radical element in his life—that his table manners pointed the way to his heavenly morals. Crossan sees Jesus living within a Mediterranean Jewish peasant culture, a culture of clan and cohort, in which who eats with whom defines who stands where and why. So the way Jesus repeatedly violates the rules on eating, on “commensality,” would have shocked his contemporaries. He dines with people of a different social rank, which would have shocked most Romans, and with people of different tribal allegiance, which would have shocked most Jews. The most forceful of his sayings, still shocking to any pious Jew or Muslim, is “What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him unclean, but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him unclean.” Jesus isn’t a hedonist or an epicurean, but he clearly isn’t an ascetic, either: he feeds the multitudes rather than instructing them how to go without. He’s interested in saving people living normal lives, buying and selling what they can, rather than in retreating into the company of those who have already arrived at a moral conclusion about themselves.

To a modern reader, the relaxed egalitarianism of the open road and the open table can seem undermined by the other part of Jesus’ message, a violent and even vengeful prediction of a final judgment and a large-scale damnation. In Mark, Jesus is both a fierce apocalyptic prophet who is preaching the death of the world—he says categorically that the end is near—and a wise philosophical teacher who professes love for his neighbor and supplies advice for living. If the end is near, why give so much sage counsel? If human life is nearly over, why preach in such detail the right way to live? One argument is that a later, perhaps “unpersonified” body of Hellenized wisdom literature was tacked on to an earlier account of a Jewish messianic prophet. Since both kinds of literature—apocalyptic hysterics and stoic sayings—can be found all over the period, perhaps they were merely wrenched together.

And yet a single figure who “projects” two personae at the same time, or in close sequence, one dark and one dreamy, is a commonplace among charismatic prophets. That’s what a charismatic prophet is: someone whose aura of personal conviction manages to reconcile a hard doctrine with a humane manner. The leaders of the African-American community before the civil-rights era, for instance, had to be both prophets and political agitators to an oppressed and persecuted people in a way not unlike that of the real Jesus (and all the other forgotten zealots and rabbis whom the first-century Jewish historian Josephus names and sighs over). They, too, tended to oscillate between the comforting and the catastrophic. Malcolm X was the very model of a modern apocalyptic prophet-politician, unambiguously preaching violence and a doctrine of millennial revenge, all fuelled by a set of cult beliefs—a hovering U.F.O., a strange racial myth. But Malcolm was also a community builder, a moral reformer (genuinely distraught over the sexual sins of his leader), who refused to carry weapons, and who ended, within the constraints of his faith, as some kind of universalist. When he was martyred, he was called a prophet of hate; within three decades of his death—about the time that separates the Gospels from Jesus—he could be the cover subject of a liberal humanist magazine like this one. One can even see how martyrdom and “beatification” draws out more personal detail, almost perfectly on schedule: Alex Haley, Malcolm’s Paul, is long on doctrine and short on details; thirty years on, Spike Lee, his Mark, has a full role for a wife and children, and a universalist message that manages to blend Malcolm into Mandela. (As if to prove this point, just the other week came news of suppressed chapters of Haley’s “Autobiography,” which, according to Malcolm’s daughter, “showed too much of my father’s humanity.”)

As the Bacchae knew, we always tear our Gods to bits, and eat the bits we like. Still, a real, unchangeable difference does exist between what might be called storytelling truths and statement-making truths—between what makes credible, if sweeping, sense in a story and what’s required for a close-knit metaphysical argument. Certain kinds of truths are convincing only in a narrative. The idea, for instance, that the ring of power should be given to two undersized amateurs to throw into a volcano at the very center of the enemy’s camp makes sound and sober sense, of a kind, in Tolkien; but you would never expect to find it as a premise at the Middle Earth Military Academy. Anyone watching Hamlet will find his behavior completely understandable—O.K., I buy it; he’s toying with his uncle—though any critic thinking about it afterward will reflect that this behavior is a little nuts.

In Mark, Jesus’ divinity unfolds without quite making sense intellectually, and without ever needing to. It has the hypnotic flow of dramatic movement. The story is one of self-discovery: he doesn’t know who he is and then he begins to think he does and then he doubts and in pain and glory he dies and is known. The story works. But, as a proposition under scrutiny, it makes intolerable demands on logic. If Jesus is truly one with God, in what sense could he suffer doubt, fear, exasperation, pain, horror, and so on? So we get the Jesus rendered in the Book of John, who doesn’t. But if he doesn’t suffer doubt, fear, exasperation, pain, and horror, in what sense is his death a sacrifice rather than just a theatrical enactment? A lamb whose throat is not cut and does not bleed is not really much of an offering.

None of this is very troubling if one has a pagan idea of divinity: the Son of God might then be half human and half divine, suffering and triumphing and working out his heroic destiny in the half-mortal way of Hercules, for instance. But that’s ruled out by the full weight of the Jewish idea of divinity—omnipresent and omniscient, knowing all and seeing all. If God he was—not some Hindu-ish avatar or offspring of God, but actually one with God—then God once was born and had dirty diapers and took naps. The longer you think about it, the more astounding, or absurd, it becomes. To be really believed at all, it can only be told again.

You can easily imagine what He'd do today, break tortilla with illegals.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:59 PM


Climate Fears Turn to Doubts Among Britons (ELISABETH ROSENTHAL, 5/27/10, NY Times)

Last month hundreds of environmental activists crammed into an auditorium here to ponder an anguished question: If the scientific consensus on climate change has not changed, why have so many people turned away from the idea that human activity is warming the planet?

Nowhere has this shift in public opinion been more striking than in Britain, where climate change was until this year such a popular priority that in 2008 Parliament enshrined targets for emissions cuts as national law. But since then, the country has evolved into a home base for a thriving group of climate skeptics who have dominated news reports in recent months, apparently convincing many that the threat of warming is vastly exaggerated.

A survey in February by the BBC found that only 26 percent of Britons believed that “climate change is happening and is now established as largely manmade,” down from 41 percent in November 2009. A poll conducted for the German magazine Der Spiegel found that 42 percent of Germans feared global warming, down from 62 percent four years earlier.

It was always odd for a country whose default philosophy is skepticism to be so credulous on this one issue.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:18 PM


U.S. Calls on the Might of Herculez (Matthew Futterman, 5/26/10, WSJ)

During his tenure at the top Bradley has favored players who play abroad – only three Major League Soccer players dot this roster.

That might explain the mild surprise of seeing DaMarcus Beasley, who has had a down year with Glasgow Rangers but won back Bradley’s trust with a solid camp. He’s also been there before, and he’s in good company in the midfield, which is where the team’s stars, Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey play. Maurice Edu made the squad as a midfielder but is versatile enough to play in the back as well, while Benny Feilhaber could provide another scoring threat. Ricardo Clark could also see quality minutes. Left off was Alejandro Bedoya, a flashy 23-year-old with a bright future.

In the back, captain Carlos Bocanegra and Oguchi Onyewu, who has recovered from knee surgery, are the anchors. Clarence Goodson was tough as nails against the Czechs and will make his World Cup debut. He gets the nod over Heath Pearce and Chad Marshall. Pearce had a rough game Tuesday night, missing coverage on several occasions, and showed he isn’t quite ready for top international play yet. Jonathan Bornstein and Steve Cherundolo will be on the wings, and Stuart Holden, current master of the set piece, will also help in the back.

Go with a 4-2-2-2 (really a 4-2-4)

Altidore & Gomez

Dempsey & Donovan

Bradley & Clark


Attack like heck up front with the central midfielders and central defenders holding down the fort and the outside backs on the defense providing service to the front four but getting back to cover the wings (no one in the soccer world exploits the width of the field the way they should).

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:34 AM


Master crafters: The National come back from the drawing board (DANIEL BROCKMAN, May 25, 2010, Boston Phoenix)

The music that they’ve been cranking out for the past decade reflects this dogged persistence: elegantly crafted rock that is by turns somber and expansive, patient and insistent, bouncingly buoyant when it isn’t pinned to the ground by the gravelly baritone of lead vocalist Matt Berninger. Starting out in late-’90s Cincinnati, the band sprang from the ground with a kind of somber Americana whose leaves began to turn colors when they relocated to New York. There, they played with a quiet perseverance that escalated their profile in slow shifts: first with the overwhelmingly positive reception of 2005’s Alligator, then in 2007 when rapturous acclaim marked the release of Boxer. If the hype never percolated into full-blown hysteria, it at least followed the mood and feel of National songs — most of which build slowly, a steady-yet-perky beat working as a fulcrum on which the escalating drama pivots to an eventual climax.

Devendorf is oddly desultory about the National blueprint. “The whole trajectory of our songs is almost bordering on predictable, you know? Where it’s like a slow burn, and then it peaks, and then it’s over. And you know, why not just have it peak earlier? Or maybe just not peak? I guess I have a different perspective on our music, because to me each song is like a construction project I’m working on.” He may be on to something — but if the National’s music can be considered predictable, it’s in the same way that tennis great Roger Federer just keeps nailing winning serves. “We tend to write and record each track like a jeweler, you know? Like, each song is making a fine necklace or something. Each record, we think, ‘This one we will make looser, all scrappy and rough around the edges’ — but then we just wind up doing the same thing.”

He’s being modest, of course: “the same thing” for the band entails densely woven songs with enough rock-and-roll punch and melodic heft to linger in your craw long after the last notes fade. High Violet has much that could be considered sad-sack melodrama from a lesser band, but in the National’s hands, drowsy downers like “Sorrow” and “Bloodbuzz Ohio” are filled with jittery and tense percussive touches and moments of churchy elegance that elevate them from pop songs to paeans to the power of the human heart.

The National Play Nation's Capital (NPR, June 20, 2007)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:13 AM

Bacon-Wrapped Chicken Wings (The Denver Post, 05/26/2010, From "Ribs, Chops, Steaks & Wings," by Ray "Dr. BBQ" Lampe)

10 fresh whole chicken wings
10 slices of thinly sliced bacon
Finely ground pepper, as needed


Soak 20 toothpicks in water for at least 1 hour.

With a sharp knife, cut off the tips of the chicken wings and save them for stock. Slash the inside of the wing joint to help them cook more evenly, but don't cut them all the way through. Straighten the wings and wrap each wing with a slice of bacon starting at the top and spiraling to the bottom. Secure with toothpicks. Season the bacon-wrapped wings liberally with the pepper.

Prepare the grill for cooking over indirect heat. Grill the wings for 30 minutes. Flip and cook for another 30 minutes, until the bacon is crispy and the wings are fully cooked. Remove the wings to a platter and let rest for 5 minutes. You may serve the wings whole, but if you'd prefer to serve them in segments, cut them apart now, taking care to keep the bacon in place. Remove the toothpicks and serve.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:55 AM


Europe is a dead political project: This is the beginning of the end for the EU unless it can find the capacity to start again on radically new bases (Étienne Balibar, 5/25/10,

Within a single month, we have witnessed Prime Minister George Papandreou of Greece announcing his country's possible default, an expansive European rescue loan offered to him on the condition of devastating budget cuts, soon followed by the "downgraded rating" of the Portuguese and Spanish debts, a threat on the value and the very existence of the euro, the creation (under strong US pressure) of a European security fund worth €750bn, the Central European Bank's decision (against its rules) to redeem sovereign debts, and the announcement of budget austerity measures in several member states.

Clearly, this is only the beginning of the crisis. The euro is the weak link in the chain, and so is Europe itself.

It is because they were unable to forge the EU into a chain that Greece, Spain and Portugal could get away with their shenanigans in the first place. The euro was pretty muich the only link. Break that and there's nothing but a trade zone, which is all there should have been to begin with.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:48 AM


Victory: Campaigners celebrate after BAA withdraws Heathrow third runway plans (Paul Teed, 5/26/10, The Guardian)

Campaigners are rejoicing after winning an “historic victory” over BAA as the air operator finally withdrew its planning application for a third runway at Heathrow.

BAA’s decision this week marked the end of a six year battle by residents, eco-activists and councils. It came after the new coalition Government scrapped the plans in a joint policy agreement on May 12.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:42 AM


Police coalition challenges Arizona law (Kevin Johnson, 5/25/10, USA TODAY)

About a dozen major city police chiefs will meet today with Attorney General Eric Holder to oppose the controversial Arizona immigration law that they fear could drive a wedge between the community and local law enforcement.

The police coalition, including officials from Houston, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Salt Lake City and Tucson, represents the largest group of officers to speak against the measure, set to take effect July 29. [...]

"All of us … are opposed to this," Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck said, adding that the law will likely discourage witnesses and victims of crimes from cooperating with police. "This bill breaks the trust with our communities."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:38 AM


House Democrats would add $50 billion in domestic spending to war legislation (Walter Alarkon, 05/25/10, The Hill)

House Democrats want to attach to a war spending bill a host of domestic spending provisions that would cost more than the war funding alone.

House Democrats want to add about $50 billion in additional domestic spending to legislation funding the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, which already bankrolls some domestic programs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:30 AM

Fiesta Tamale Pie (Cheryl Klynn, The Bay Area News Group)

¾ cup cornmeal

1 cup beef broth

1 pound hamburger or ground turkey

1 teaspoon chili powder

½ teaspoon cumin

14- to 16-ounce jar thick and chunky salsa

16-ounce can whole-kernel corn, drained

16-ounce can black beans or kidney beans, drained

¼ cup sliced ripe black olives

½ cup reduced-fat cheddar cheese, shredded

1. In large bowl, mix cornmeal and broth, let stand five minutes.

2. Stir in beef, chili powder, cumin, salsa, corn, beans and olives. Pour into 3½-quart slow cooker. Cover and cook on low 5-7 hours or until set.

3. Sprinkle cheese on top, cover and cook five minutes or until cheese melts.

May 25, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:06 PM


John Cleese knew the parrot was dead (Bruce Haigh, 26 May 2010, Online Opinion)

People are angry with Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. He has jilted his traditional support base. Some are clinging to the hope that he will see the error of his ways and change. Most have given up on him; however, that does not mean that they will not vote Labor at the forthcoming election.

Respect and Rudd are not words that they would put together. Rudd’s lack of belief in anything except his personal ambition has registered. He has blown the well of public goodwill and support, it is draining away, he will not be able to cap it. He is a ventriloquist’s dummy walking. His words mean nothing to most people, they switch him off, do the washing up, get a cup of tea when they see him on TV or hear him on the radio.

Forget opinion polls with crafted questions. I am originally from Western Australian and recently spent a week there. From all walks of life I did not hear one good word said about Rudd. The tide has turned, the vain glorious emperor has no clothes. It is too late for Rudd, the country has already made its judgment about him.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:03 PM


Get To Know Clarinetist Artie Shaw (Mike Plaskett and Dale Abraham, May 22, 2010, WDUQ)

The musicianship is of such a high order that there can be no wonder why Shaw's was among the top bands of the Swing Era — and no wonder why no one can quite make music like it today. At some point, even Shaw himself quit playing that way, and in fact quit playing altogether. He retired his clarinet in the mid-1950s. In a 1994 New York Times article, Shaw said, "I did all you can do with a clarinet... any more would have been less."

So let's explore Artie Shaw's boldly swinging musical persona of the late 1930s. He made incredible music for which there is no duplicate and no substitute.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:26 PM


The End Of Habeas Corpus: This Is “Justice” In Obama’s America (Kenneth J. Theisen, 25 May, 2010, Countercurrents)

The denial of this basic right means that these prisoners have no right to a hearing in which a judge would review the evidence against them and could potentially order their release. This is "justice" in Obama’s America. The Obama administration has once again advanced the political and legal agenda begun by the Bush regime. If this ruling is not overturned, many prisoners of the U.S. war of terror could be held indefinitely.

My gosh, it's almost as if they're the same as the prisoners in every other war we've ever fought!

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:24 PM


Country dwellers live longer, report on 'rural idyll' shows: Greener life delivers up to two years longer life for rural men and women and closes life-expectancy gap between rich and poor, says ONS study (Randeep Ramesh, 5/25/10,

It's official: move to the countryside and you live longer. Men in rural areas on average can expect to celebrate their 78th birthday – two years longer than those in the city – while women will pass 82, almost a year and a half more than their urban peers, new figures show.

The Office for National Statistics, which looked at Britain in the seven years until 2007, examined whether a "rural idyll" populated by older, wealthy migrants from the cities had demonstrable health benefits compared with the life of their urban peers, living in more crowded, less green spaces and served by more pressured public services.

The result was unequivocal. Life expectancy at birth, according to the research, "improved with increasing 'rurality' and those born in village and dispersed areas could expect to live longer than those in town and fringe areas. Even the poorest people fared better in the countryside. Rural poor men lived for a year longer than their urban peers."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:08 PM


Arizona immigration law fallout may hurt census (Haya El Nasser, May. 25, 2010, USA Today)

Whatever its future, the law could not have come at a worse time for the 2010 census. Many civic groups fear the law will discourage cooperation, jeopardizing the additional federal dollars and rising clout that can come with an increasing population.

The once-a-decade government count of every person in the United States began in March with a giant mailing-out. Seventy-two percent of U.S. households responded by mail - 67 percent in Arizona and 64 percent in Santa Cruz County. Arizona had below-average participation in the past two censuses as well. Despite concerns that Hispanics would ignore the census in large numbers this time, there were early signs that didn't happen during the mail-in phase.

Since May 1, eight days after the immigration law was signed into law, 635,000 Census Bureau workers nationwide started going door to door to every home that did not send back the forms. They will return up to six times until they get answers to the 10 questions on the form.

In Arizona, some responses may be difficult to come by.

"I've talked to friends and people in the community, and they're saying - whatever they think of the law, wherever they stand on the issue - 'I'm not going to open the door to anyone right now,' " said Tucson City Council member Regina Romero, who represents Ward 1's predominantly Hispanic neighborhoods.

"People are scared, they're frightened," said Laura Cummings, a Census employee who works with local groups to build community support. "We really don't know what the effect will be."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:05 PM


Is Europe Turning Japanese? (Stephen Fidler, 5/25/10, WSJ)

The dismal growth prospects of many European countries has raised an increasing number of questions about whether large parts of the continent will emulate Japan of the 1990s and endure a decade-long economic stagnation.

Stagnation? Is there any reason to believe these places aren't already in or headed for permanent decline?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:02 PM


Rocket Scientists Use Darwinian Software to Evolve Better Ion Engine Designs: Natural selection goes to space (Denise Ngo, 05.25.2010, Popular Science)

An ion engine designed to power future spacecraft has achieved its optimal design via software that simulates Darwinian evolution.

One does try not to laugh at them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:25 AM


Bettye LaVette: Tiny Desk Concert (Frannie Kelley, 5/21/10, NPR)

We were not prepared for Bettye LaVette's appearance in the NPR Music offices. We thought we were — having set up our cameras and recording gear and signed in all the friends who had heard she was scheduled to play and beaten down our door.

But then she blew into the room and conquered it before she'd sung a single note. She teased Bob Boilen mercilessly and told all the women how beautiful they were. She had reporters and producers doing her bidding all over the building. But after we cleared a spot for her to perch on the corner of Bob's desk, she went to work.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:16 AM


An Admiral Outmaneuvered (Edward N. Luttwak, 5/24/10, Daily Beast)

Blair’s mistake was that he actually tried to do his job, integrating and upgrading the enormously expensive and stupendously ineffectual “intelligence community,” with its grossly overfunded and mostly uncoordinated bureaucracies. It is not their fault: They grew over the decades of the Cold War to confront the immensity of the Soviet Union, with its tens of thousands of frequently upgraded armored vehicles, thousands of aircraft, hundreds of warships, ballistic missiles out the wazoo, globally active diplomacy, variously loyal communist parties around the world, and formidable espionage service. That called for a vast effort of detection and surveillance with satellite sensors, communication intercepts, open-source collection, and the analysis of the immense amounts of raw data thus gathered.

Now, by contrast, there is only the exceedingly lethargic growth of China’s armed forces (they are deploying 1970s fighters in 2010), the scant Russian effort to slowly rebuild a fraction of Soviet capabilities, the small-time banditry of North Korea, meandering Iran with its disaffected and exceedingly leaky elite—and of course 25,000 ragged Taliban peasants. The vast structures still in place are grossly excessive and ill-focused for today’s threats, while it is simply futile to respond to others: There is simply no way of detecting in time the hitherto quiet-living Muslim who will decide to blow himself up, or to suppress the advocacy of jihadist violence embedded in Islam; though it is true that the pursuit of Osama Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri could be a tad less lackadaisical.

U.S. intelligence has gotten every biog question and most small ones wrong for its 70 years of existence--time to scrap it and start over. Open Source the whole thing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:13 AM


The Perfect Storm: Six Trends Converging on Collapse (Matthew Stein, 5/19/10, Huffington Post)

6. Over Population: This is the elephant in the room that few are talking about. In the last decade, we have added more people to the population of our planet than were added between the births of Jesus and Abraham Lincoln. In the mid 1980s our world first overshot its capacity to provide for its human population, yet this population continues to grow and we continue to live on borrowed time. One thousand years after Jesus walked the Earth, human population was around 1/2 billion. Eight hundred years later this population doubled to 1 billion. It took only 130 more years to double to 2 billion in 1930. When I was a kid in 1960, world population hit 3 billion people and it only took another 40 years to double to 6 billion in the year 2000.

It is anticipated that the world's population will reach 7 billion in the year 2012, meaning that between the start of the year 2000 and the end of 2012 (barring some huge catastrophe that kills hundreds of millions), more people will have been added to the population of our world than lived on the entire planet just two hundred years ago! There is simply no way we can achieve a sustainable future unless our population stops growing and starts shrinking. Either nature will do this for us, with starvation and plagues spreading across the planet as our natural and man-made systems fall apart, or mankind will use its intelligence and free will to proactively implement positive solutions to these issues.

The only thing uglier than the Malthusian Right is the Malthusian Left.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:07 AM


Shale gas will change the world (Gideon Rachman, May 24 2010, Financial Times)

It has long been known that the US is sitting on potentially huge supplies of unconventional shale gas. But until recently, these reserves were very hard to exploit. Now, however, technological breakthroughs mean that many of the economic and technical concerns about exploiting shale gas reserves are being dealt with. Over the past three years, American production has soared. This year, the US overtook Russia to become the world’s biggest gas producer for the first time in a decade.

The result is that the shipping terminals that the US built to receive liquid natural gas from overseas are now lying virtually empty. The rise of shale gas, which can be used to produce electricity, reduces dependence on domestically produced, but dirty, coal. If cars powered by electricity or gas improve, shale gas would also reduce reliance on Middle Eastern oil.

Both the EU and China are excited by the idea that they too may soon enjoy a shale gas bonanza. Chinese foreign policy has increasingly been driven by the need to secure energy supplies. But China looks as if it may have its own shale gas reserves, and has signed an agreement with the US to look into exploiting them.

The excitement in Europe is even more pronounced. Just as North Sea oil and gas supplies are running down, the British are hoping that they may discover exploitable supplies of shale gas in Wales and north-west England. The Poles, who have their own special reasons to fear energy dependence on Russia, also think they have exploitable reserves. Radek Sikorski, the Polish foreign minister, recently visited Houston to talk to the big US energy companies about shale gas.

Even if European reserves are not as promising as some hope, the EU still stands to benefit indirectly from American shale gas. Supplies of liquid natural gas from Africa and the Gulf, which might have gone to the US, are now being redirected to Europe – reducing the Union’s dependence on Russian gas.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:58 AM


Meat. Salt. Fire.: Grilling Argentine-style involves the primal basics (Bill Daley, 5/25/10, Chicago Tribune)

Take a gander at the back jacket of "Seven Fires: Grilling the Argentine Way" by superstar Argentine chef Francis Mallmann and Peter Kaminsky, a cookbook author and food writer from Brooklyn, N.Y. There Mallmann stands in open field, stacks of plates and logs beside him, tending what he calls an "infiernillo," or "little hell," a blazing double-tiered fire topped by a sloping griddle.

"What Francis strives for is carbonization, but not incineration," said Kaminsky. "A French chef would grill a steak rare and blue in the center. The Argentines want a salty crust and otherwise wall-to-wall color. The bigger the piece of meat, the lower the heat to achieve that crust and to get uniform color."

Other distinctive Argentine grilling practices, according to Kaminsky, include moving the meat closer or farther away from the flame along that sloping griddle, depending on the heat required, and the use of black iron skillets and griddles over the coals for much of the cooking. Sometimes there's no grill at all; that sort of setup is called an asado.

"Basically (it's) a campfire with large hunks of meat or whole animals impaled on stakes in front of it," writes Raichlen in his new cookbook, "Planet Barbecue!" (Workman, $22.95). "The heat is controlled by positioning the stakes closer to or farther away from the fire."

Mallmann charmingly likens getting that technique right to going on a first date.

"It is something that you look forward to with great anticipation and a little anxiety," he writes. "You can never know exactly what the conditions will be: the day can be windy or cold, the wood may be seasoned or green. In a way, every time you cook over wood outdoors, you are starting fresh in a strange kitchen. Once you have done it enough, however, you will always be able to adapt."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:53 AM


Contested Will: Why have so many intelligent people been so dotty about the authorship of Shakespeare's plays? (Francis Phillips, 25 May 2010, MercatorNet)

In case readers tremble at this title, thinking that yet another eccentric contender for the mantle of the man from Stratford has come forward, let me reassure them at the outset: James Shapiro, a professor at Columbia University, tells us early on in this erudite and entertaining book that “I happen to believe that William Shakespeare wrote the plays attributed to him”. In a further startling display of common-sense, he adds that he doesn’t believe that truth is relative “or that there are always two sides to every story.”

What interests Shapiro then, is not Shakespeare’s identity but why it has ever been challenged; why, during the last 200 years, there has been so much ink spilled by literate and scholarly persons trying to shoehorn highly improbable candidates into Shakespeare’s Tudor slippers. Indeed, I myself know a clever and well-read man who actually re-named his home “De Vere House”, in honour of a popular contender, the 17th Earl of Oxford, so I have a personal interest in what Shapiro discovers.

He emphasises that for two centuries after Shakespeare’s death his authorship of the plays and poems was never in question. It was not until 1785 that the matter first arose, gathering impetus during the Victorian period so that by 1850 there were innumerable books and articles on the subject. Choosing Francis Bacon and Aubrey de Vere as representative of this strange literary activity, Shapiro reminds the reader that Shakespeare did not live in an age of memoir and that the known facts of his life are very few. No-one thought to interview his friends or his family after his death until a generation had passed and it was too late. Shapiro speculates, though he does not develop this idea - as Clare Asquith has done in Shadowplay - that the playwright might have followed a suspect faith (Catholicism) and therefore might have deliberately destroyed much evidence. Certainly, the very few explicit references to contemporary events in the plays suggest that Shakespeare chose not to employ them.

What is clear is that from the 18th century Shakespeare scholar, Edmund Malone, onwards, the altered sensibility and self-consciousness of the age caused investigators to assume that the plays – and especially the Sonnets – must be autobiographical; that their author “could only write about what he had felt or done, rather than heard about, read about, borrowed...or imagined.”

I love me some me, how could he not love him some he?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:46 AM


In the absence of debate, Iraq and Afghanistan go unnoticed (Fred Hiatt, May 24, 2010, Washington Post)

You would hardly know, from following this year's election campaign or the extensive coverage of last week's primaries, that America is at war.

Those elected to Congress in November will face fateful decisions on the continued deployment, or not, of U.S. forces in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet those wars, and the wisdom of committing to or withdrawing from them, have hardly been mentioned in the hard-fought campaigns of the spring.

The case for the UR always rested on his pursuing W's policies but the lunatic Left not minding.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:39 AM


Hezbollah entrenched in Lebanon years after Israel left
(Natalia Antelava, 5/25/10, BBC News)

Ten years on since the withdrawal, the UN together with the Lebanese army patrol the border area. But flapping in the breeze along the fence are yellow and green flags of Hezbollah. Waving next to them is the flag of the group's biggest foreign backer - Iran.

It is Hezbollah that has real control over what happens in southern Lebanon and many villagers say they like the arrangement.

"It's the resistance, its weapons and [Hezbollah leader] Hassan Nasrallah who make us feel safe here," says Fawwaz Mohammed. "Without the resistance we could never be free." [...]

Today, it is arguably the most powerful militia in the Middle East and inside Lebanon it also functions as a sophisticated political organisation which has won elections, which has a track record of doing serious social work, and which is clever at marketing itself.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:34 AM


Debt and the demographics of aging: Keeping elderly productive is key to defusing entitlement time bomb (Dr. Robert N. Butler and Michael W. Hodin, May 21, 2010, Washington Times)

Greece's recent fiscal meltdown wasn't caused just by carefree government spending. It was an inevitable result of the country's aging population, which has long been accustomed to extravagant health care and retirement benefits. This is what happens when 19th-century policy prescriptions are applied to 21st-century realities.

That's why the most recent European bailout package is only a short-term remedy to the complex issue of global aging. For decades, Europe has built a health-and-welfare system designed around providing support to its citizens at what in an earlier time might have been the very first signs of senior citizenship. Greeks are eligible for government pensions at age 53. The problem will only get worse. Over the next 40 years, a third of Europeans will be older than 60. The debt crisis is really just a proxy for the aging crisis that is coming to every country in the world.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:32 AM


GOP tries to upend NC campaign backed by tea party (MIKE BAKER, 5/24/10, Associated Press)

"Mr. D'Annunzio has disqualified himself by his background, his record and his behavior," said Tom Fetzer, North Carolina's Republican Party chairman. He said the GOP embraces the tea party but doesn't believe a person with such a checkered past should be the party's nominee.

In Hoke County divorce records, his wife said in 1995 that D'Annunzio had claimed to be the Messiah, had traveled to New Jersey to raise his stepfather from the dead, believed God would drop a 1,000-mile high pyramid as the New Jerusalem on Greenland and found the Ark of the Covenant in Arizona. A doctor's evaluation the following month said D'Annunzio used marijuana almost daily, had been living with another woman for several months, had once been in drug treatment for heroin dependence and was jailed a couple times as a teenager.

The doctor concluded that his religious beliefs were not delusional. A judge wrote in a child support ruling a few years later that D'Annunzio was a self-described "religious zealot" who believed the government was the "Antichrist." The judge said he was willfully failing to make child support payments.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:29 AM


Unfounded fear of immigrant crime grips Arizona (Daniel Griswold, 5/25/10, Washington Times)

According to the most recent figures from the U.S. Department of Justice, the violent crime rate in Arizona in 2008 was the lowest it has been since 1971; the property crime rate fell to its lowest point since 1966. In the past decade, as illegal immigrants were drawn in record numbers by the housing boom, the rate of violent crimes in Phoenix and the entire state fell by more than 20 percent, a steeper drop than in the overall U.S. crime rate.

Arizona suffers from its share of crime, but it is not out of proportion for a large city. Among similar-sized metro areas, such as Boston, Dallas, Detroit, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., Phoenix had the lowest violent crime rate in 2008. In Detroit, which is not known as a magnet for illegal Hispanic immigrants, the rate was three times that of Phoenix.

The story is much the same in communities along Arizona's long border with Mexico. Crime rates there are stable and, if anything, lower than in the rest of the state.

According to a story in the Arizona Republic this month, the assistant police chief in Nogales, Roy Bermudez, "shakes his head and smiles when he hears politicians and pundits declaring that Mexican cartel violence is overrunning his Arizona border town. 'We have not, thank God, witnessed any spillover violence from Mexico,' Chief Bermudez says emphatically. 'You can look at the crime stats. I think Nogales, Arizona, is one of the safest places to live in all of America.'"

May 24, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:54 PM


No evidence organic foods benefit health: study (Reuters, 5/24/10)

he review, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, adds to findings reported last year by the same research team.

In that study, the researchers combed through 162 articles published in the scientific literature over the last 50 years, and found no evidence that organic and conventional foods differ significantly in their nutrient content.

For the current review, the researchers were able to find only 12 published studies that met their criteria for evaluating the health effects of organic foods.

"A surprising and important finding of this review is the extremely limited nature of the evidence base on this subject, both in terms of the number and quality of studies," write Dr. Alan D. Dangour and his colleagues.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:46 PM


Bad news for Patty Murray and Senate Dems (Steve Kornacki, 5/24/10, Salon)

Rossi, a former state senator who narrowly lost the 2004 gubernatorial race (in a controversial recount) and a follow-up bid in 2008, is by far the strongest Republican prospect. Polls have (mostly) shown him competitive with Democrat Patty Murray, a three-term incumbent, while the other three GOP prospects trail her badly.

Rossi emerged from his '04 campaign as a generally sympathetic figure in the state. But he picked the wrong year to wage a comeback campaign. Running against a powerful anti-Republican (and pro-Obama) tide in 2008, he lost a rematch with Christine Gregoire by six points.

But in the more GOP-friendly environment of 2010, Rossi figures to be more formidable, and Democrats in D.C. have actively worked to keep him on the sidelines.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:38 PM


Obama Delivers Another Clunker (Peter Beinart, 5/24/10, Daily Beast)

Obama’s problem is not that he doesn’t have big, serious ideas about foreign policy. To the contrary, he has several of them, which he trots out again and again. The first is “collective security,” the idea that the same forces that threaten the United States—global warming, terrorism, nuclear proliferation, financial collapse—also threaten most other nations, and that they can only be solved through intensive global cooperation. In the United States, collective security was the brainchild of Woodrow Wilson, who told Americans that they were entering World War I not to restore the European balance of power, but to create a League of Nations that would bring all the world’s “civilized” nations together to safeguard their common interest in prosperity and peace. It has been the default liberal foreign policy vision ever since.

It has also been a failure ever since, while the other 13 points of Wilsonianism--which the Gipper and W in particular fought for--have succeeded.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:36 PM


A Holy Alliance between Rome and Moscow Is Born: The common objective: the "new evangelization" of Europe. A delegation of the Russian Orthodox Church visits the Vatican, which publishes an anthology of the patriarch's writings. A meeting between Kirill and Benedict XVI keeps getting closer (Sandro Magister, 5/24/10, Chiesa)

Benedict XVI will soon create a new "pontifical council" expressly dedicated to the "new evangelization." Not for mission countries where the congregation "de propaganda fide" is already at work. But for the countries of ancient Christian tradition that are today in danger of losing the faith.

Pope Joseph Ratzinger wants to link his pontificate to this initiative. And this was the main topic that he discussed one morning in the spring of 2009, at Castel Gandolfo, with four prominent cardinals he had called for consultation: Camillo Ruini, Angelo Bagnasco, Christoph Schönborn, and Angelo Scola, the last being the most resolute in promoting the institution of the new office.

Meanwhile, one great ally has already united with the pope from outside of the Catholic Church, in this enterprise of a new evangelization.

This great ally is the Russian Orthodox Church.

On the afternoon of Thursday, May 20, immediately before the concert given for Benedict XVI by the patriarchate of Moscow began in the audience hall, the president of the department of external relations for the patriarchate, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk (in the photo), said exactly this to the pope: that the Catholic Church will not be alone in the new evangelization of dechristianized Europe, because it will have at its side the Russian Orthodox Church, "no longer a competitor, but an ally."

The positive relationship that has been established between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Church of Rome is one of the most stunning achievements of Benedict XVI's pontificate.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:12 PM


The View from the Sidelines: Jeb Bush on the Republican future. (Fred Barnes, May 31, 2010, Weekly Standard)

For Republican candidates, “This is a good time to be a little less constrained in your thinking,” Bush says. “Candidates that win will be a little emboldened. They’re not going to take the traditional point of view that we can’t be too provocative because we’re going to upset the population. Think big and bold. Fill the space. Paint in Britto-like colors, not pastels. My man Romero Britto. He’s our favorite artist, a Brazilian artist.” Britto paintings hang on the walls of Bush’s office.

“My guess is, post-November, should things go well, you’re going to see the emerging Cantor-Ryan wing of the Republican party—the policy activists—in their ascendency,” Bush says. “They’ll be in the ascendency in the Senate as well. And you’ll have activist conservative governors. In 2011, I think you’re going to see all sorts of efforts to act on the belief in entrepreneurial capitalism and limited government.”

He’s read Paul Ryan’s “Roadmap” for reform, “all 95 pages of it. It’s fantastic. Paul Ryan is the only elected official that’s actually laid out a plan. He has a very thoughtful, realistic approach to dealing with this fiscal crisis, and he’s the only guy out of 300 million people that I’ve seen that has done so.”

For the country to prosper, Bush thinks a dramatic increase in immigration is needed. He’s sympathetic to Arizona’s tough response to a surge in illegal immigrants and also supports “comprehensive reform,” code for stiffer border security and a path to citizenship for illegals living here. But, he says, “This whole debate in Washington is missing one key ingredient, the real world ingredient. How are we going to grow to create jobs, real jobs, private sector jobs that aren’t created out of fiat money?”

Bush’s answer is to reject President Obama’s economic plan and adopt “sustained economic growth as a policy. Part of that would be to create a new immigration system that allowed us to have a guest worker program .  .  . and would open our country to capitalists, entrepreneurs, technologists, researchers. They would come. The only way you can grow is to have a meaningful immigration strategy that says growth is good.”

But that—and especially amnesty for illegals—can’t occur until the border with Mexico is secure. “More fence, sure,” Bush says. “It’s just no one trusts Washington until you show the good faith of protecting the border.”

Bush has done a back-of-the-envelope calculation about what an economic growth strategy could produce. Obama’s policy won’t generate more than 1.5 percent growth annually, he says. But with “lower taxes, more rational regulation, limiting the power of government in general, particularly in Washington, investing in research, innovation, education—and get out of the way, trust capitalism to work and you can achieve easily 2 percent more per year,” Bush insists. “You end up with $3.5 trillion of extra economic activity, more than the entire economy of Germany.”

Not bad, and there’s an additional benefit: unifying conservatives. “We have all these factions inside the conservative cause, people focused on social issues, or libertarian leave-me-alone issues or paleocons or neocons or traditional conservatives,” Bush says. “It seems to me if you ask what is the one thing that we all agree on, [it’s] that we passionately agree that entrepreneurial capitalism works.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:04 PM


No Longer ‘Lost,’ but Still Searching (MIKE HALE, 5/25/10, NY Times)

As the final two and a half hours of “Lost” unspooled on Sunday night, Desmond and Jack walked into a cave for the final showdown with evil, and Desmond said, “This doesn’t matter, him destroying the island, you destroying him.” Jack, serious to the end, replied, “All of this matters.”

It was the sort of thesis-antithesis, drama-of-ideas moment that the show had always specialized in. The problem was that several hours later, after the show’s mystical, walk-into-the-white-light ending, it was Desmond who would be proved more right. The battle Jack was about to engage in with the monster inhabiting the body of John Locke mattered in the way that the proper placement of X’s and Y’s matters in an equation — meaning on “Lost” always having been largely abstract, as if it were a product of flow charts rather than imagination.

But when the entire island story line we had been following for six seasons turned out not to matter very much within the internal organization of the show’s narrative — to be largely disconnected from that final quasi-religious resolution of the plot — it was deflating, despite the warm feelings the finale otherwise inspired.

...was when the folks at Cheers failed to introduce Vera in the final episode and have her be played by someone of Salma Hayek level hotness.

[Though we'll concede that having the MASH unit overrun by Chicoms with ensuing mass execution is a close second.]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:00 PM


The Gathering Revolt against Government Spending: In the past, rebellions against fiscal policy have concentrated on taxes rather than spending. This time is different. (Michael Barone, 5/24/10, National Review)

It has long been a maxim of political scientists that American voters are ideologically conservative and operationally liberal. That is another way of saying that they tend to oppose government spending in the abstract but tend to favor spending on particular programs. It’s another explanation of why the culture of appropriators continued to thrive after the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994 and during the eight years of George W. Bush’s presidency.

In the past, rebellions against fiscal policy have concentrated on taxes rather than spending. In the 1970s, when inflation was pushing voters into higher tax brackets, tax revolts broke out in California and spread east. Ronald Reagan’s tax cuts were popular, but spending cuts did not follow. Bill Clinton’s tax increases led to the Republican takeover and to tax cuts at both the federal and state levels, but spending boomed under George W. Bush.

The rebellion against the fiscal policies of the Obama Democrats, in contrast, is concentrated on spending.

...spending, spending, spending.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:15 AM


Dystopia & Utopia: Is it time for dystopian novelists to end the reign of the free-market idealists? (Keith Gessen, May/June 2010, Book Forum)

Looking at American fiction of the same time, you see something like the exact opposite phenomenon. Instead of books looking to the future to understand the present, there were big counterhistorical novels: Michael Chabon on Jews exiled to Alaska, Philip Roth on the election of the anti-Semite Charles Lindbergh to the presidency. Nathan Englander, who grew up on Long Island, published a novel about Jews under Argentinean fascism, and Junot Díaz, who grew up in New Jersey, published one about the Dominican Republic. This, too, in its own way, was strange. If the efflorescence of historical-trauma novels in the mid- to late 1990s in the United States could be dismissed simply as the guilt-ridden scribblings of a prosperous, self-satisfied nation that didn't think it had anything else to trouble itself over, these new-millennium histories and counterhistories were something different.

No, they aren't. Faced with the fact that there is no existential tension for Jews in America but longing for it, they just invented places in their own mind and pretended they were possible.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:06 AM


PETA buys stock to gain influence in boardrooms (MICHAEL J. CRUMB, 05/24/10, AP)

An animal-rights group known for sending out scantily clad demonstrators to protest fur and other provocative stunts has gained influence in boardrooms with a more traditional tactic: buying company stock.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has been buying shares for seven years and now owns a piece of at least 80 companies, including McDonald’s and Kraft Foods. It hopes to influence their animal welfare policies on such things as how chickens are slaughtered or buying pork from suppliers that keep pregnant sows in small crates. By buying stock, PETA is guaranteed the right to present its ideas directly to officials and other shareholders, many of whom would otherwise would likely pay little attention to the group.

“It gives us a new forum in which to present the research we’ve done to company executives, their shareholders and the public,” said Ashley Byrne, a senior campaigner for PETA.

...even our radicals are democratic capitalists.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:02 AM


As Reform Takes Shape, Some Relief on Wall St. (ERIC DASH and NELSON D. SCHWARTZ, 5/23/10, NY Times)

The financial reform legislation making its way through Congress has Wall Street executives privately relieved that the bill does not do more to fundamentally change how the industry does business.

Despite the outcry from lobbyists and warnings from conservative Republicans that the legislation will choke economic growth, bankers and many analysts think that the bill approved by the Senate last week will reduce Wall Street’s profits but leave its size and power largely intact.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:59 AM


The End of Peter Pan Fiscal Policy: How to think about America’s budget problems. (Duncan Currie , 5/24/10, National Review)

America’s public-debt-to-GDP ratio is already higher than it has been since the 1950s. Writing in National Affairs, economist Donald Marron, who served as acting CBO director and a White House economic adviser under Pres. George W. Bush, says the most immediate objective of U.S. fiscal policy should be to stop that ratio from rising. He stresses that this would not require balancing the federal budget; indeed, it would be possible to run moderate deficits while simultaneously trimming the debt-to-GDP ratio, provided the economy was expanding at a fast enough pace.

Think of it this way: To maintain a constant debt-to-GDP ratio, we would have to maintain an identical deficit-to-growth ratio. For example, writes Marron, if we had a debt-to-GDP ratio of 60 percent and a deficit equal to 3 percent of GDP, then nominal GDP growth (that is, real growth plus inflation) would have to reach 5 percent in order to keep the ratio from increasing. The fact that such a humble aim — holding the debt-to-GDP ratio steady — seems so quixotic in the short run indicates the severity of America’s fiscal plight. Marron, who is now director of the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, believes a practical, attainable medium-term goal should be to reduce the ratio to 60 percent by 2020. But over the long haul, he adds, even 60 percent would be unacceptably steep. From the mid–20th century through the early 2000s — until the Wall Street panic — the average ratio was roughly 40 percent.

Given the magnitude of our budget problems, it is unrealistic to think that tax hikes alone, or spending cuts alone, or economic growth alone, would be sufficient to fix them. Let’s say that real annual GDP growth averaged 3.8 percent over ten years. That hasn’t happened since the 1960s and 1970s, Marron reminds us, and it is very unlikely to happen in the decade ahead — but even with that level of growth, the federal government would still see only modest deficit reduction without serious fiscal reforms.

No, we don’t have a “silver bullet,” but we do have empirical evidence to guide our policy decisions. Marron cites a paper by Harvard economists Alberto Alesina and Silvia Ardagna, who studied OECD data from 1970 to 2007 and concluded that “spending cuts are much more effective than tax increases in stabilizing the debt and avoiding economic downturns.”

Are there any specific countries whose fiscal achievements offer grounds for optimism? In an April 16 New York Times article, George Mason University economist Tyler Cowen pointed to Canada, which was forced to address its persistent debt woes after being rocked by spillover effects from the 1994–95 Mexican peso crisis. Prior to the recent global financial shock, our northern neighbor had balanced its federal budget consistently for more than a decade. According to government projections released in early March, Canada’s deficit-to-GDP ratio will peak at 3.5 percent in the current fiscal year before plunging to 0.1 percent of GDP by 2014–15. The Canadian parliamentary budget officer, an independent federal watchdog, puts the latter figure at 0.6 percent of GDP, which is still comparatively low.

Indeed, at a time of surging debt burdens in the U.S., Europe, and Japan, Canada stands out as a beacon of fiscal stability. It now boasts the lowest ratio of total government net debt to GDP among all G7 countries. Since the mid-1990s, its federal debt has dropped from 68.4 percent of GDP to around 35 percent of GDP. Meanwhile, Canada’s rating in the Index of Economic Freedom (compiled by the Wall Street Journal and the Heritage Foundation) has improved markedly. The 2010 Index ranks Canada ahead of the U.S., owing to its superior scores in the categories of business freedom, trade freedom, fiscal freedom, financial freedom, property rights, and freedom from corruption. Doesn’t the Great White North have a lavish welfare state? Yes, but as a share of GDP, aggregate Canadian government spending is significantly lower today than it was 15 years ago.

Of course, Canada enjoys certain structural advantages. For one thing, the oil-rich country is a net energy exporter; for another, it has a relatively small defense budget, thanks to the U.S. security umbrella. Its fiscal gains were driven partly by a massive commodity windfall. Those gains were diminished somewhat by the global credit bust, but Canada was insulated from the turmoil by its conservative banking system, which weathered the storm quite impressively and did not require a state bailout. As Cowen writes, Canadians tend to have a more benign view of government than do Americans, which arguably made it easier for Ottawa to enact painful spending cuts in the 1990s: “Citizens were told by their government leadership that such cuts were necessary and, to some extent, they trusted the messenger.”

We should also note that Canada introduced a federal value-added tax (VAT) in 1991. However, the VAT effectively replaced a manufacturing sales tax that had been hampering Canadian exports, and it has been slashed from 7 percent to 5 percent by the incumbent center-right government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, which has also scheduled reductions in corporate-income taxes. Today, Canada’s combined corporate-tax rate (31 percent) and its top personal-income-tax rate at the federal level (29 percent) are both lower than the equivalent rates in the U.S. (39 percent and 35 percent, respectively). On balance, household taxes are more progressive in the U.S. than they are in Canada, according to the OECD.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:37 AM


The long and short of American exceptionalism (Sol Sanders, 5/24/10, Washington Times)

American exceptionalism, as clever slogans are wont, metamorphosed over the decades. It has melded with the beliefs of religious reformers who originated some American Colonies, including the Pilgrims, Oona Anne Hathaway, William Penn and Lord George Baltimore. They saw themselves as precursors of a new social order. Their phraseology often borrowed from Judeo-Christian thought, specifically the Sermon on the Mount: "You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden."

Later, the founders of the American republic believed they were creating a new civilization on the western shores of the Atlantic, distinct from Europes old evils. When asked by a passer-by the result of the secret conclave of the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin, the grand old wizard of the American Revolution, told her, "We have created a republic, Madame, if you can keep it."

The latest to use the concept, if not the slogan itself, was Ronald Reagan, who in his 1989 farewell speech explained:

"I've spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don't know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace, a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity, and if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That's how I saw it and see it still."

This theme divides the nations polity today as perhaps no other intellectual current. Much of the self-anointed, sophisticated "political class" denigrates the whole idea. President Obama, for example, recently said in France he believed in American exceptionalism only as a rationalization every nation-state has for the importance of its own credo. Many in his most loyal political base have long argued American exceptionalism camouflages rampant chauvinism, xenophobia, arbitrary use of power for self-interest — even opportunism and greed.

The Shining City isn't walled.

May 23, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:56 PM


"Quantum": When physics got spooky: A new history of the birth of quantum physics brings the weird, protean, paradoxical subatomic world to life (Laura Miller, 5/23/10, Salon)

Much of the debate between Einstein and Bohr revolved around Einstein's intuitive rejection of the implication of the Copenhagen interpretation -- which is that objective reality, independent of any observer, doesn't really exist. Bohr, by contrast (and sounding a lot like Wittgenstein), insisted that physics isn't concerned with what is but solely with what we can say about it. Not only were these two geniuses battling over where to draw the line between the familiar, cause-and-effect world of classical Newtonian physics and the quantum Wonderland, they were sketching, erasing and resketching the boundary between science and philosophy, debating the nature of reality itself.

Einstein was for many years regarded as a stubborn, even senile holdout against the quantum gospel, but Kumar finds that view simplistic. "Quantum" concludes by surveying developments since the deaths of Bohr and Einstein, such as Bell's Theorem and the many worlds interpretation, some of which point to critical problems that the Copenhagen interpretation left unresolved. (One is how the phenomenon of the universe came to be in the first place if there was no one to observe the Big Bang.)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:25 PM


How Will Greece Get Off the Dole? (TYLER COWEN, 5/21/10, NY Times)

Greece’s currency, the euro, is stronger than that of its neighbor Turkey, so a holiday in Greece is more expensive. Yet Greece has not built enough luxury hotels, golf clubs and resorts to justify the cost difference. Over all, the greater expense of Greek goods and services, which are paid for in euros, lowers the country’s international competitiveness. Ideally, they should be priced in a weaker currency, which would be appropriate for a poorer country.

Over time this problem will worsen if productivity in Germany and France grows at consistently higher rates and the value of the euro puts Greek exports increasingly out of sync with market realities. One painful way out of this dilemma would be for Greece to engineer a continuing deflation of wages and prices, but Greek voters have already taken to the streets to pressure their government to preserve salaries and benefits, and planned deflation is difficult to sustain in any case.

The Germans and the French have been complicit in treating Greece as a wealthier country than it really is. The strong euro keeps exports from the poorer euro zone nations noncompetitive and also makes it easier for Greece and other lower-income euro zone nations to buy German and French exports; both tendencies benefited German and French commercial interests.

To make matters worse, following its accession to the euro zone, Greece began spending and borrowing as if its future productivity would be high. The European Central Bank treated Greece as a fiscally responsible nation by buying some Greek bonds, which were then highly rated. Many European banks followed suit, and this meant an unjustified credit boom for the Greek state. Greece was able to pursue unsustainable policies; for instance, many Greeks retire before age 60 with benefits at three-quarters salary. Such a luxury is uncommon even in far wealthier countries like the United States.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:08 AM

Martin Gardner, 95, math and science writer, dies (AP, 05/22/10)

Allyn Jackson, deputy editor of Notices, a journal of the American Mathematical Society, wrote in 2005 that Gardner “opened the eyes of the general public to the beauty and fascination of mathematics and inspired many to go on to make the subject their life’s work.”

Jackson said Gardner’s “crystalline prose, always enlightening, never pedantic, set a new standard for high quality mathematical popularization.”

The mathematics society awarded him its Steele Prize for Mathematical Exposition in 1987 for his work on math, particularly his Scientific American column.

“He was a renaissance man who built new ideas through words, numbers and puzzles,” his son, a professor of special education at the University of Oklahoma, told The Associated Press.

Gardner also became known as a skeptic of the paranormal and wrote columns for Skeptical Inquirer magazine. He wrote works debunking public figures such as psychic Uri Geller, who gained fame for claiming to bend spoons with his mind.

Most recently he wrote a feature published in Skeptical Inquirer’s March/April on Oprah Winfrey’s New Age interests.

Former magician James Randi, now a writer and investigator of paranormal claims, paid tribute to Gardner on his website Saturday, calling his colleague and longtime friend “a very bright spot in my firmament.”

-ARCHIVES: Martin Gardner (Skeptical Inquirer)
-ESSAY: Bill Maher: Crank and Comic> (Martin Gardner, November / December 2009, Skeptical Inquirer)
-ESSAY: Bobby Fischer: Genius and Idiot (Martin Gardner, September / October 2009, Skeptical Inquirer)
-ESSAY: David Bohm and Jiddo Krishnamurti (Martin Gardner, July 2000, Skeptical Inquirer)
-REVIEW: of THE MIND'S BEST WORK By D.N. Perkins (Martin Gardner, NY Times Book Review)
-PROFILE: For Decades, Puzzling People With Mathematics (JOHN TIERNEY, 10/20/09, NY Times)
-PROFILE: Ten Outstanding Skeptics of the Century (Skeptical Inquirer)
-PROFILE: Profile: Martin Gardner, the Mathematical Gamester: For 35 years, he wrote Scientific American's Mathematical Games column, educating and entertaining minds and launching the careers of generations of mathematicians (Philip Yam, December 1995, Scientific American)

The clerk at the Barnes and Noble bookstore in downtown Manhattan is not all that helpful. Having had limited success with smaller retailers, I am hoping that the computer can tell me which of Martin Gardner's 50 or so books are available in the store's massive inventory. Most of his books, of course, deal with recreational mathematics, the topic for which he is best known. But he has also penned works in literature, philosophy and fiction. I am looking specifically for The Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener, Gardner's essays that detail his approach to life. The clerk tells me to try the religion section, under "Christian friction." Is he kidding?

A scowl breaks across Gardner's otherwise amicable face after I relate the story. He is puzzled, too, but for a different reason. The book has nothing to do with that, Gardner insists. He makes it a point to describe himself as philosophical theist—in the tradition, he says, of Plato and Kant, among others. "I decided I couldn't call myself a Christian in any legitimate sense of the word, but I have retained a belief in a personal God," Gardner clarifies.

-Three puzzles from Martin Gardner (1914-2010) (Philip Yam, 5/22/10-, Scientific American)
-REVIEW: of SCIENCE: GOOD, BAD AND BOGUS By Martin Gardner (Timothy Ferris, NY Times Book Review)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:02 AM


Why Cameron prefers coalition to being alone with his own party: The prime minister is happily centred with the Lib Dems on one wing and the Tory right on the other (Andrew Rawnsley, 5/23/10, The Observer)

David Cameron even went so far as to remark that he was happier to be ruling in coalition with the Lib Dems than he would have been leading a Conservative government with a small majority. Many voters will find that attractive, the Tory leader saying he's more delighted to be working with another party than ruling in splendid isolation. That is one of the reasons he says it. Much of his own party will find that sentiment both incredible and reprehensible. Conservative MPs grasped the logic of entering coalition with the Lib Dems in preference to forming a Tory minority government vulnerable to having the rug pulled from underneath it at any time. It is something else for their leader to declare publicly that, even if the Tories had won a majority, he'd rather be power-sharing with the Lib Dems. Here is their leader saying that he is actually glad that 20 Tory MPs are not drawing a ministerial salary because Lib Dems are sitting behind the desks they expected to occupy. Here is their leader telling his party that he's not that bothered to have binned large chunks of the policies that they fought for at the election.

To David Cameron, the merits of coalition start with hard electoral calculation. Beginning tomorrow, when George Osborne unveils the first tranche of spending cuts in tandem with his Lib Dem deputy David Laws, this government will be making decisions with a high potential to make it screamingly unpopular. Sharing the burden of responsibility between two parties makes cold electoral sense, which is why the chancellor was just as signed up to the idea of a coalition as the prime minister. The two men assume that they will need the span of a full parliament to get through the financial pain. They will have to trudge through the dark valley of cuts for a long time before they reach sunnier pastures where they can start to offer sweeter things to the voters. During the coalition negotiations, it was the Tories who pressed for a five-year deal rather than the four-year compact initially preferred by the Lib Dems. The Lib Dems' other important concession in those talks was to fall in with the Tory plan, also formed with an eye on the electoral clock, to start those cuts this year rather than next.

In return, the Tories have surrendered a lot on policy. When he was being interviewed during the election campaign, David Cameron never seemed entirely comfortable defending either his tax break for marriage or the inheritance tax reductions which were going to favour the most affluent. Well, now we know he never really was that enthusiastic about those policies. They were sacrificed at a very early stage in the coalition negotiations.People on the Lib Dem side of the talks say that they were almost embarrassed by how readily their Tory counterparts were ready to scuttle what were supposed to be Conservative flagships. The Tory leader has also shunted the repeal of the Human Rights Act and disengaged from the idea of starting a struggle with the European Union to try to repatriate powers from Brussels.

The beauty of the coalition, from David Cameron's point of view, is that it has given him the perfect excuse to ditch commitments which he had come to regret because they were dated, unaffordable, distracting from the central economic challenges facing this government or just plain stupid.

He knows he has to tread a little carefully with his own side where there is already a toxic build-up of resentment about what he has done and suspicion about where he might try to take them next. So he reassures the Daily Mail that Britain "still has a Conservative prime minister. My Conservative beliefs will not change". Yes, of course he is still a Tory. What he did not say in that article was that his beliefs about Conservatism are just not the same as those of the Daily Mail or a lot of his backbenchers. see the advantages of being "forced" to compromise with the other party, or at Clinton '93-'94 and W '05-'06 to see the disadvantages of one's own party emboldened into self-destruction.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:51 AM


The European Idea lies dead, killed by the credit crunch: The crisis in the eurozone marks the end of the dream of the continent as a superpower (Rafael Behrf, 5/23/10, The Observer)

History offers only two models for the integration of different countries, with competing national interests and rival strategic ambitions, into a single, unified economic and political system. There is conquest and there is the European Union.

Some of the EU's more hysterical critics don't see much difference between the two. But in reality, there is something superb in the agreement by European nations to set aside centuries of slaughter, and create a single marketplace whose rules are decided by collaboration and compromise. It is the only miracle ever performed by committee.

That, in essence, is the European Idea. It is not a destination but a trajectory – from atavistic nationalism to co-operative internationalism. The assumption has been that "ever-closer union", as mandated by the 1957 Treaty of Rome, must be desirable because the alternative would be a relapse into ever-wider disunion, a path forbidden by atrocious history. So the crisis currently afflicting the euro is not just financial, it is existential. Never before has one of the EU's grand projects looked so close to going into reverse. would have been able to impose cuts on the state of Greece from above. There is not one because the nationalism from below was always stronger than the transnationalism of the elites. But what truly doomed the EU was simple demographics.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:48 AM


This is the Queen's Speech of a team in a tearing hurry: The Queen's Speech shows that Nick Clegg and David Cameron want to get things done, and fast (Matthew d'Ancona, 5/23/10, Daily Telegraph)

In his masterly new book on the rise of Barack Obama, The Bridge, David Remnick reflects on the transition from the campaign trail to the White House: "In these inaugural days it was hard for [Obama] – for anyone – to acknowledge that governing would be far different from campaigning, a switch from poetry to prose, from celebration and adulation to battle and compromise, even defeat… He would encounter his own limitations, and the public would see the gulf between romance and accomplishment." [...]

For all their Rat Pack insouciance as a double act, Cameron and Nick Clegg are suddenly communicating a furious, implacable desire to get things done, and get them done fast. Last week's 36-page document spelling out more of the coalition's programme for government was predictably attacked for the number of reviews and commissions it lists. Some policies are indeed already languishing in the long grass. But what is striking is how many are not. Our sneak preview of this Tuesday's Queen's Speech is an encouraging insight into a Government that is determined to take action immediately and aggressively.

So what went right? Part of the answer lies in Cameron's character. Though he came of age in the Thatcher decade, a season of Conservative radicalism, his temperament is not excitable: he is not drawn to the demotic, the angry flourish, the waving of the Tory fist. Occasionally, he can be downright diffident. But it is a mistake to confuse this aspect of his personality with a lack of ambition, as politician and policymaker. He has always wanted to leave his mark, not just hold the top job.

...that all the UR cared about was adding President to the top line of his resume.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:41 AM


The Obama effect -- Are you with him or against him? (David S. Broder, May 23, 2010, Washington Post)

Halfway through the 2010 primary season, the fundamental tension in the American political system is becoming more clear: A liberal government is struggling to impose its agenda on an electorate increasingly responsive to an activist conservative movement operating inside the Republican Party.

The Contract this time should just lay out a series of immediate spending cuts, permanent budgetary measures (like restoring Gramm-Rudman), civil service reforms, and specific layoffs and department/agency cuts and terminations so that the party has an agenda to govern on and so that the Right is distracted from its tangential lunacies.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:14 AM


In Disraeli's footsteps: Cameron's scramble for power (Andrew Adonis, 5/23/10, Independent)

David Cameron looks on Benjamin Disraeli as a hero. I haven't visited the graveyard of Hughenden parish church of late, but I imagine gasps of astonished admiration issuing forth from the founder of modern Conservatism. For Cameron has pulled off a coup in some ways modelled on Disraeli's masterstroke in "dishing the Whigs" and projecting himself into the premiership in 1868. The longer-term effect in rebranding the Tory party may be of similar consequence. [...]

Cameron did a Disraeli, sweeping Nick Clegg off his feet and presenting him with an ever larger hoard of gifts, including the referendum on the alternative vote which Lib Dems prize above all. By this means – after five days of alarums and excursions – Hughenden Man persuaded Clegg to put him in office. In the process, Cameron also hopes to have isolated his own right wing and appropriated Liberal branding so that he, too, is seen as leading a new centrist Lib-Con party able to win a majority against Labour.

As for the Lib Dems, who suffered the greatest disappointment on 6 May, their right side is already half consumed by Cameron, and their larger left is now prey to Labour, the Greens, and, no doubt, a breakaway "true Liberal" party hereafter. A similar fate befell the Liberals when they last formed a peacetime coalition with the Tories, but that is another story.

The meaning of conservatism: Disraeli followed Burke’s “politics of imperfection”, while Thatcher favoured Hayek’s free-market ideas. To which line of political thought are today’s Tories the heirs? (Jonathan Derbyshire, 08 October 2009, New Statesman)
The political historian and former Labour MP David Marquand thinks that the left is getting it dangerously wrong in charging Cameron with "crypto-Thatcherism". He sees the Conservative leader as a "Whig imperialist", a descendant of Burke who offers "inclusion, social harmony and evolutionary adaptation to the cultural and socio-economic changes of his age". Supposing that Marquand is right, where does this leave Cameron in relation to the recent history of his own party? To answer that question, one needs to look back more than 30 years.

In October 1976, the philosopher Anthony Quinton was invited to deliver the T S Eliot memorial lectures at the University of Kent. He took as his topic the history of conservative thought in England, tracing a lineage that stretched from the Tudor thinker Richard Hooker, via Bolingbroke, Burke and Disraeli, to the 20th-century political theorist Michael Oakeshott. The conservatism espoused by these thinkers was, Quinton argued, a "politics of imperfection" - that is, their views about the nature and proper extent of government were rooted in a vision of human weakness. For Burke and the others, men are morally and intellectually imperfect creatures, and political authority - specifically, the authority that inheres in customs and institutions - is to be understood as a remedy or palliative for that imperfection.

The principles of this venerable tradition guided Tory politicians from Disraeli and Lord Salisbury to Stanley Baldwin and Rab Butler. But by the time Quinton came to give his lectures, the Conservative Party was preparing to abandon them. Two years earlier, Margaret Thatcher and Keith Joseph had founded the Centre for Policy Studies, one of a number of "New Right" think tanks that would make the intellectual running in British politics in the late 1970s, and would transform the Tories from the party of Burke and Hume into the party of Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek - turning it from a conservative party, in the Quinton sense, into a classical or neoliberal one that would begin a long and ultimately destructive march through many of Britain's most established institutions. [...]

There was nothing especially conservative about Hayek's free-market ideas. One of the modern masterpieces of authentically conservative thought, Oakeshott's Rationalism in Politics, contains a single, solitary reference to the Austrian thinker - and a critical one at that. The "main significance" of Hayek, Oakeshott maintained, was not the "cogency of his doctrine, but the fact that it is a doctrine. A plan to resist all planning may be better than its opposite, but it belongs to the same style of politics." It belonged, in other words, to a "rationalist" style in thrall to the "illusion of the evanescence of imperfection".
Disposition, not a creed

Conservatism for Oakeshott, by contrast (and this places him squarely in the tradition explored by Quinton), was not a creed, but a “disposition". Such beliefs as the Oakeshottian conservative holds are acquired piecemeal, over the long haul; they are inductions from
experience, not deductions from logical or metaphysical premises. The conservative is certainly disposed towards limited government, say, but not on the basis of general, abstract ideas about choice or autonomy, or some "natural right" theory of private property.

The same held true for Burke, whose conservatism was based on a distrust of all ideologies. The reason he denounced the French Revolution was that he saw in it an attempt to remake a society in the image of abstract ideals. But politics, in his view, was not a rational science; it couldn't be, because it was limited by what human beings, imperfect creatures that they are, are capable of knowing.

When Quinton gave his lectures, the capture of the Conservative Party by the neoliberal "New Right" was not yet complete, but he knew which way the wind was blowing. Looking across the Atlantic, Quinton noted that in the United States, in "colloquial speech . . . a conservative is a defender of legislatively untrammelled free enterprise, of the absolute rights of property ownership, with an eccentric fringe of adherents who drive around in vans with placards on them, proclaiming the un­constitutional character of the federal income tax". Conservatism, in other words, had congealed into an ideology, a set of inflexible principles. To be a "conservative" was simply to hold a particular bundle of beliefs - about socialised medicine, taxation, the minimal state and so on.

By the mid-1980s, this was true of British conservatism, too. And in remaking itself in the image of the American Republican right, the Conservative Party forgot not only Burke's warnings about the dangers of a priori theorising in politics (like other experimental sciences, he wrote, the "science of building a commonwealth" cannot be taught as if it were logic), but also Disraeli's concern with the ravaging effects of an unchecked free market.
During his second stint as prime minister, between 1874 and 1880, Disraeli had overseen wide-ranging legislation designed to mitigate the depredations of industrial capitalist expansion. The Employers and Workmen Act and the Public Health Act, both passed in 1875, were part of an attempt to impose on the owners of industrial property the kinds of obligations to the propertyless that had in the past been assumed by rural squires. It could be argued, moreover, that Disraeli was the first British politician to accept that it was one of the responsibilities of the state to provide essential public services; and that, in doing so, he took the first steps, however tentative, towards the establishment of the welfare state. That is certainly the revisionist view of Marquand, who sees the Beveridge report as being as much a victory for the "Whig imperialist" tradition, in which he counts Burke and Disraeli, as it was a triumph for Keynesianism.

So, rather than railing against the spread of big cities and the growing influence of the commercial spirit, Disraeli recognised that these changes were largely irreversible. The task of a conservative politics, therefore, was not to take refuge in a kind of reactionary immobilism or nostalgia, but rather to work to attenuate the most serious consequences of a new set of social conditions.
No going back

In this, as in other respects, Disraeli was a Burkean. He understood that, in Burke, the "disposition to preserve" had combined with an "ability to improve". His most substantial work of political theory, the Vindication of the English Constitution (1835), is, among other things, a paean to what he calls the "spirit of conservation and optimism". (The Vindication is also a thoroughgoing attack on Benthamite utilitarianism, which Disraeli regarded as the attempt to measure or judge political institutions according to a formal principle - the principle of utility, according to which an action or policy is desirable to the extent that it promotes the "greatest happiness of the greatest number". He thought that rule hopelessly abstract: it may well be the task of government to increase happiness, but it is always the happiness of some particular group or other, not the sum of "human happiness", whatever that might be.)

Disraeli saw that Burke's traditionalism, the view that political knowledge was a matter not of logic, but of accumulated collective wisdom, did not entail a belief in the restoration of an earlier, putatively ideal state of affairs. "A state without the means of some change," Burke had written, "is without the means of its conservation." Conservatism, in other words, is not the same as counter-revolution.

One vital caveat here is that the point of conservative support for free markets is that they allow imperfect men to screw up and then sort out, hopefully, the better ideas from the worse ones.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:07 AM


Republican Djou wins Hawaii special (ALEX ISENSTADT, 5/23/10, Politico)

According to unofficial results, Djou had 39 percent of the vote, followed by state Senate President Colleen Hanabusa at 30 percent and former Democratic Rep. Ed Case at 27 percent. [....]

“Eighteen months ago, President Obama carried this district with seventy percent of the vote, which makes Charles Djou’s victory an impressive one,” National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions said in a statement.

...but it's still 40%.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:03 AM

ON CRUSADE (profanity alert):

When Uncle Sam met the Taliban: The remote Korengal Valley was one of the most dangerous postings in Afghanistan – before US forces pulled out last month, they experienced more than 40 fatalities. Sebastian Junger joined one of America's toughest units to find out what it means to feel the fear… and do it anyway (Sebastian Junger, 5/23/10, The Observer)

It soon became clear that if I were to get killed over the course of the next year, Restrepo – the most isolated base in the most hotly contested valley of the entire American sector – was almost certainly the place it would happen. It wasn't likely, but it was possible, so I had the strange experience of knowing the location of my fate in advance. That made Restrepo an easy focus for all my fears, a place where the unimaginable had to be considered in detail. Once, while leaning against some sandbags, I was surprised to feel some dirt fly into my face. It didn't make any sense until I heard the gunshots a second later. How close was that round? Six inches? A foot? When the implications of that kind of thing finally sink in you start studying the place a little more carefully: the crows that ride the thermals off the back side of the ridge, the holly oaks shot to pieces first by the Americans and then by the enemy, and the C-wire and the sandbags and shantytown hooches (soldiers' living quarters) clinging to the hillsides. It certainly isn't beautiful up there, but the fact that it might be the last place you'll ever see does give it a kind of glow.

For some reason my worry about dying took the form of planning the attack that would kill me – kill us all – in the most minute detail. Some of the men thought the place was impregnable, but I had other ideas. You'd want to hit Restrepo at four in the morning, I decided, while everyone was asleep or groggy from sleeping pills. (They take them to keep from jerking awake at night from imaginary gunfire.) First you'd hit the south-facing guard tower and take out the Mark 19, a belt-fed grenade machine gun that could stop almost any assault in its tracks. After that you'd rake the gun ports with small-arms fire from the south and west and send successive waves of men up the draw. The first wave would absorb the Claymore anti-personnel mines and the second probably wouldn't make it either, but by the third or fourth, you'd be inside the wire fighting hooch to hooch.

At night I put my vest and helmet at my feet and kept my boots tied loosely so that I could jam my feet into them but not trip over the laces. Arranging my things so that I could be out the door in 30 seconds was how I coped with those fears. It didn't work very well. I'd lie awake at night amazed by the idea that everything could change – could, in fact, end – at any moment. And even after I went to sleep those thoughts would just continue on as dreams, full-blown combat sequences that I wallowed through like a bad action movie. In those dreams the enemy was relentless and everywhere at once and I didn't have a chance.

As a civilian among soldiers I was aware that a failure of nerve by me could put other men at risk, and that idea was almost as mortifying as the very real dangers up there. The problem with fear, though, is that it isn't any one thing. Fear has a whole taxonomy – anxiety, dread, panic, foreboding – and you could be braced for one form and completely fall apart facing another. Before the firefights everyone got sort of edgy, glancing around with little half-smiles that seemed to say, "This is what we do – crazy, huh?" and those moments never really bothered me. I trusted the guys I was with and usually just concentrated on finding cover and getting the video camera ready. The fights themselves went by in a blur; if I remembered even half of what happened I was doing well. (I always watched the videotape afterward and was amazed by how much dropped out.) I truly froze only once when we got hit unexpectedly and very hard. I didn't have my body armour or camera near me – stupid, stupid – and endured 30 seconds of paralysed incomprehension until Tim darted through fire to grab our gear and drag it back behind a Hesco retaining wall.

Combat jammed so much adrenaline through your system that fear was rarely an issue; far more indicative of real courage was how you felt before the big operations, when the implications of losing your life really had a chance to sink in. My personal weakness wasn't fear so much as the anticipation of it. If I had any illusions about personal courage, they always dissolved in the days or hours before something big, dread accumulating in my blood like some kind of toxin until I felt too apathetic to even tie my boots properly. As far as I could tell, everyone up there got scared from time to time, there was no stigma to it as long as you didn't allow it to affect the others, and journalists were no exception. Once I got completely unnerved when Second Platoon was standing by as a quick-reaction force for Firebase Vegas, which was about to get attacked. This was my last trip, I was days from leaving the Korengal forever, and there was a chance that in the next few hours a Chinook would drop us off in the middle of a massive firefight on the Abas Ghar. I was getting my gear ready for the experience – extra water, extra batteries, take the side plates off my vest to save weight – but I guess my face betrayed more anxiety than I realised. "It's OK to be scared," Moreno said to me, loud enough for everyone else to hear, "you just don't want to show it…"

There are different kinds of strength, and containing fear may be the most profound, the one without which armies couldn't function and wars couldn't be fought (God forbid). There are big, tough guys in the army who are cowards and small, feral-looking dudes who will methodically take apart a SAW while rounds are slapping the rocks all around them. The more literal forms of strength, like carrying 70kg up a mountain, depend more obviously on the size of your muscles, but muscles only do what you tell them, so it still keeps coming back to the human spirit. Wars are fought with very heavy machinery that works best on top of the biggest hill in the area and used against men who are lower down. That, in a nutshell, is military tactics, and it means that an enormous amount of war-fighting simply consists of carrying heavy loads uphill.

I wore a body armour vest like the soldiers did – they called it an IBA – and a helmet, which they called a Kevlar. Together those weighed around 15kg. I had a 2kg video camera, 2kg of water in a CamelBak, and maybe another 8kg of food and clothing if we were going out overnight. I had my blood type, "O POS", written on my boots, helmet and vest, and I had my press pass buttoned into a trouser pocket along with a headlamp, a folding knife, and notebook and pens. Everything I needed was on me pretty much all the time.

Giving in to fear or exhaustion were the ways in which a soldier could fail his platoon, but there were ways a reporter could screw things up as well. Tim broke his ankle on a night operation on the Abas Ghar, but the medic told him it was only sprained so that, mentally, Tim would think he could walk on it. And he did. There was no other way to get him out of there, and if the platoon were still on the mountain at dawn they were going to get hammered. He walked all night on a fractured fibula with only Motrin as a painkiller, and they didn't tell him it was broken until he got to the KOP. They put a steel plate and a bunch of screws into his leg and a few months later he was back in business.

Several years earlier, in Zabul, I'd asked the battalion commander how discreet I had to be on my satellite phone, and he just said, "Big-boy rules, I hope I don't have to explain what that means." Tim was playing by big-boy rules up there, which essentially means making your interests secondary to those of the group no matter how much it costs you.

"There are guys in the platoon who straight up hate each other," I was told one morning by Battle Company's Brendan O'Byrne, who seemed to have a knack for putting words to the things that no one else wanted to talk about. We were sitting in ambush above the village of Bandeleek listening to mortars shriek over our heads, and there wasn't much to do but flinch and talk about the platoon. "But they would also die for each other. So you kind of have to ask, 'How much could I really hate the guy?'"

May 22, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:12 PM


Divorce hinders poorer children (Cheryl Wetzstein, 5/22/10, Washington Times)

"Divorce is particularly harmful for children's [economic] mobility," Thomas DeLeire and Leonard M. Lopoo said in their report, "Family Structure and the Economic Mobility of Children."

The two academics examined more than 30 years of data on some 2,200 families. In addition to tracking the incomes of parents and their now-adult children, the researchers looked at parental marital histories.

The data showed that parental divorce was a serious impediment to children's upward mobility.

Among children of low-income parents, only 26 percent of those whose parents divorced managed to climb into the middle or top income levels when they reached adulthood.

In comparison, half of the children raised by their married parents climbed out of poverty. Even children of poor unwed mothers did better than children of divorce - 42 percent of low-income children born to single moms eventually exceeded their mothers' incomes.

And it's not just poverty--children from "bad" marriages also do better than children from divorces.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:10 PM


Who’s Resurrecting New Orleans?: Mitch Landrieu sees a problem that city government can fix. (Nicole Gelinas, Spring 2010, City Journal)

Mitch Landrieu, who takes office as New Orleans’s first elected post-Katrina mayor in May, is already proving to be a radical—in a good way. “The city of New Orleans is not safe,” he said in February. “When New Orleans is best known for crime, something is drastically wrong. That has to change.”

Landrieu’s calm assertion may not sound like much to someone living in a city used to competent policing. But it’s a revolution for New Orleans. The city’s long-held tolerance of poisonous violence was rooted in some combination of the following beliefs, not all of them in harmony with one another. First, crime isn’t that high; it’s a national media exaggeration, notwithstanding a per-capita murder rate that’s eight times New York’s figure. Second, crime is high, but the criminal-justice system can’t do anything about it; crime is a by-product of illiteracy and poverty. Third, crime is high, but you shouldn’t worry; if you’re not dealing drugs, you probably won’t end up dead.

But Katrina washed away these old attitudes. After the massive hurricane hit nearly five years ago, New Orleanians decamped to other cities and saw that these governments adequately protected public safety. When they returned, they decided that they were working too hard fixing up their houses and neighborhoods to let their city slip back into the old ways. New residents, too, demand some basic protections from the city in which they have invested so much. There’s a strange new sense of self-sufficient competence infusing New Orleans, and citizens are trying to hold their government to the same standard.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:05 PM


Crisis Imperils Liberal Benefits Long Expected by Europeans (STEVEN ERLANGER, 5/22/10, NY Times)

Europeans have boasted about their social model, with its generous vacations and early retirements, its national health care systems and extensive welfare benefits, contrasting it with the comparative harshness of American capitalism.

Europeans have benefited from low military spending, protected by NATO and the American nuclear umbrella. They have also translated higher taxes into a cradle-to-grave safety net. “The Europe that protects” is a slogan of the European Union.

But all over Europe governments with big budgets, falling tax revenues and aging populations are experiencing rising deficits, with more bad news ahead.

With low growth, low birthrates and longer life expectancies, Europe can no longer afford its comfortable lifestyle, at least not without a period of austerity and significant changes.

...that showed the point of the Marshall Plan and NATO was to destroy Europe so we'd never have to intervene in another war there who would contest their veracity?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:02 PM


300,000 jobs in public sector face the axe (Jonathan Oliver, 5/22/10, Times of London)

AT least 300,000 Whitehall and other public sector workers may lose their jobs as the coalition government sets to work cutting the £156 billion budget deficit.

As George Osborne, the chancellor, prepares to unveil the first £6 billion of cuts tomorrow, the full scale of the job losses that will follow has begun to emerge.

The initial savings to be announced will target such items as civil servants’ perks, which include taxis, flights and hotel accommodation.

No one's going to mind balancing the budget on the backs of the bureaucrats.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:57 PM


Obama wins the right to detain people with no habeas review (Glenn Greenwald, 5/21/10, Salon)

Few issues highlight Barack Obama's extreme hypocrisy the way that Bagram does. As everyone knows, one of George Bush’s most extreme policies was abducting people from all over the world -- far away from any battlefield -- and then detaining them at Guantanamo with no legal rights of any kind, not even the most minimal right to a habeas review in a federal court. Back in the day, this was called "Bush's legal black hole." In 2006, Congress codified that policy by enacting the Military Commissions Act, but in 2008, the Supreme Court, in Boumediene v. Bush, ruled that provision unconstitutional, holding that the Constitution grants habeas corpus rights even to foreign nationals held at Guantanamo. Since then, detainees have won 35 out of 48 habeas hearings brought pursuant to Boumediene, on the ground that there was insufficient evidence to justify their detention.

Immediately following Boumediene, the Bush administration argued that the decision was inapplicable to detainees at Bagram -- including even those detained outside of Afghanistan but then flown to Afghanistan to be imprisoned. Amazingly, the Bush DOJ -- in a lawsuit brought by Bagram detainees seeking habeas review of their detention -- contended that if they abduct someone and ship them to Guantanamo, then that person (under Boumediene) has the right to a habeas hearing, but if they instead ship them to Bagram, then the detainee has no rights of any kind. In other words, the detainee's Constitutional rights depends on where the Government decides to drop them off to be encaged. One of the first acts undertaken by the Obama DOJ that actually shocked civil libertarians was when, last February, as The New York Times put it, Obama lawyers "told a federal judge that military detainees in Afghanistan have no legal right to challenge their imprisonment there, embracing a key argument of former President Bush’s legal team."

That though is precisely what civil libertarians "won," a policy that keeps detainees in crappier conditions abroad instead of a stay at Club Gitmo.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:49 PM


On immigration, Obama is bound by race and politics: His image depends on a racial identity even it downplays it. Which makes confronting immigration problematic (Richard Benjamin, 5/22/10, Salon)

With his crammed domestic agenda and teetering approval ratings, President Obama is moseying away from immigration reform before the midterm elections. Even as he denounces Arizona's drastic new measure, law-professor-style, the president is sending mixed signals. In an episode still rankling Latino advocates, the president recently declared that Congress might not have the "appetite" to push for reform — just as Democratic senators were poised to roll out … a reform agenda.

Further clouding Obama's message is the fact that more immigrants were deported during his first year in office — more than 388,000 — than any other year in the republic’s history. To progressives, the president’s apparent "security first" approach makes it seem as though he's trying to appease conservatives at the expense of Latinos.

The big elephant in the room, one that Democrats and the media willfully ignore, is race. Not the race of immigrants — the race of the president.

The UR is purposelessly and sufficiently opaque that we can't draw any firm conclusions about his views on race, but a story that pretends to be discussing hidden racial themes that specifically arise when a black politician deals with the immigration question really ought to note the tension between blacks and the Latinos who they see supplanting them as the country's largest and most powerful "minority."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:45 PM


David Cameron writes for NOTW (David Cameron, May 22, 2010, News of the World)

Nick Clegg and I are agreed on this: Having a strong, united Government to lead this country is absolutely crucial, especially with the big problems we face today.

Labour have left a catastrophic legacy. They used up the Government cheque book, maxed out the country’s credit card and left us deep in debt.

But there’s been no apology. No shame. No sign that they have the faintest idea of what a mess they made or how angry people are. Worse still they’re making a joke out of it. On the first day in the Treasury one of our new Cabinet Ministers found a letter on his desk from the old lot.

It said: “I’m afraid to tell you there’s no money left... Good luck!” It’s like someone trashing your house then sticking a Post-it on the fridge making fun of it.

But after the anger has got to come the clean-up operation. Our new Government is doing what News of the World readers expect us to do — sorting out public spending. here, at the end of the WoT, the GOP can run on the Perot message of cutting government spending. The public is eager for it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:39 PM


REVIEW: of Nomad: A Personal Journey through the Clash of Civilisations by Ayaan Hirsi Ali (Michael Burleigh, The Scotsman)

Her previous book, Infidel, chronicled her flight from an arranged marriage and the oppressions of Islam to a new life in the Netherlands. She went from being a cleaner, via a political science degree, to becoming a MP, all in a remarkably short time; from the Middle Ages to modernity would be another way of putting it. Much of that book's fascination derived from the glaring contrasts between sunny Kenya (her family's place of exile) and the grey, generous and orderly Netherlands where she conned her way in, posing as a refugee from Somalia.

This deceit was dredged up by a party colleague, the former prison governor and immigration minister "Iron" Rita Verdonk, who sought to expatriate her. This episode, and the subsequent cravenness of Amsterdam neighbours who resented the conspicuous security Ms Ali warranted in the wake of the killing of Theo van Gogh, led to Ali's relocation to the US and a post at a prominent think tank. [...]

Ali is especially incensed about the ways western societies turn a blind eye to female circumcision or honour killings, the most blind of them all being critics of "colonial feminism" who think it is imperialist to criticise Third World barbarities, especially if the perpetrators are non-white males. In a move that seems almost designed to compound Ali's problems, this self-proclaimed atheist argues that the Christian churches should proselytise among Muslim immigrants to counter the Saudi-funded Wahhabism that has infiltrated itself, termite fashion, into so many European mosques.

One wonders what admirers as Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens will make of Ali's enthusiasm for Pope Benedict XVI and the "enlightened" Catholic Church, wherein, she argues, the rot of appeasement is less advanced than among Protestants. This is a bold and passionately written book, essential for any politician dealing with the closely related problems of Islamism and immigration.

Didn't taker her long to assimilate.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:33 PM


Breaking sports news video. MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL highlights and more.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:28 PM


Saved by the crown: What monarchs offer modern democracy (Joshua Kurlantzick, May 23, 2010, Boston Globe)

The tumultuous past two months in world politics have brought a surprise with them: Suddenly, monarchy seems relevant again.

In Belgium, where the fragile government constantly is on the verge of collapse, King Albert II has been essential in trying to prevent its dissolution, mediating between leading politicians and pushing them back to the bargaining table. After Britain’s recent election, as politicians from the Labor, Conservative, and Liberal Democrat parties struggled to negotiate a ruling coalition, Queen Elizabeth’s presence reminded Britons that the country retained institutions that would prevent it from really melting down.

And most notably, in Thailand, the chaos that has ruled the streets of Bangkok stems partly from fear over the country’s future after the eventual death of increasingly frail 82-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who has helped resolve past political crises by forcing the leaders of the army and the demonstrators to meet and reconcile. Without him, notes James Ockey of the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, “Thailand may not be able to resolve future crises without major conflict.” [...]

[I]n Europe and parts of Asia, many politicians, political scientists, and citizens have lately developed greater respect for the positive role a constitutional monarch can play in democracy. As in Belgium, monarchs can be arbiters of last resort when elected politicians cannot resolve deep divisions. They can offer their nations a unifying figure to prevent political crises from spiraling into something worse. And in an era of partisanship and diminished individual rights, monarchs can serve as a means of stability in a democracy that might otherwise tear itself apart. A.W. Purdue, author of the book “Long to Reign?”, argues that a king or queen “enables change to take place within a frame of continuity.”

Some political scientists have even argued for reviving defunct monarchies in the interest of democracy, especially in developing nations where monarchs could serve as figures of national unity to prevent ethnic and tribal bloodletting. Cambodia did so in the early 1990s following its civil wars, and the king helped inspire average Cambodians and heal wounds after the Khmer Rouge era. After the toppling of the Taliban in 2001, Afghanistan welcomed back former king Zahir Shah to launch the Loya Jirga and serve as a figure of unity as political parties bargained to build Afghan democracy. In Iraq, Sharif Ali bin Hussein, a descendant of the last monarch, has begun publicly arguing that a constitutional monarchy could help reduce the vicious ethnic and sectarian divides roiling the country. In Laos, where people can see the Thai monarchy on Thai television broadcasts, the exiled royal family has become a rallying point for some opponents of the authoritarian government. Southeast Asia academic Michael Vatikiotis argues, in an essay pushing for a return of the crown in neighboring Burma, that monarchy provided a unifying factor in that diverse society — a unifier ripped away during British colonial rule and never effectively replaced.

“The forlorn hope of progressive political change in Burma using all modern means,” he writes, “suggests that reaching back in time and resurrecting the long-dismantled monarchy could provide a prescription.”

A monarch would indeed perfect the Republic. It is an enduring tragedy that George didn't have sense enough to cut a deal with the colonists for their own state with him at its head.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:39 PM


Republicans optimistic on Hawaii election (ALEX ISENSTADT, 5/22/10, Politico)

Regardless of the outlook for November, after the GOP’s disappointing performance in the western Pennsylvania House special election Tuesday Republicans were eagerly anticipating the chance to pick up a seat that includes Obama’s birthplace.

“It takes some of the sting off,” said former Virginia Rep. Tom Davis, a onetime NRCC chairman. “For Republicans, it shows they can execute. This was not a slam-dunk. It’s a 70 percent Democratic district.”

“It’s important that we win one of two of these special elections,” added Jason Roe, a California-based GOP strategist who is involved in House races across the country. “We’ve got to make sure people don’t think we’ve lost our momentum.”

Unable to persuade Hawaii Democrats to clear the field or line up behind one of their two top candidates, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee announced earlier this month that it was pulling out of the race after spending more than $250,000 on TV ads blasting Djou.

Ballots in the unusual all-mail-in race were still trickling into the state’s elections office Friday.

On the eve of the election, with just one day until the voting period ended, state elections office spokesman Rex Quidilla said 50 percent of the voters in the Honolulu-based district who had received ballots had turned them in.

Just as the Democrats victory in a race that was determined by a competitive statewide primary on their side with none on the GOP side was rather meaningless, so too would a GOP victory by a mere plurality be in this one.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:30 PM


Kagan and the power elite (Renée Loth, May 22, 2010, Boston Globe)

Senator John Cornyn of Texas, a Republican member of the Judiciary Committee, complained last week that President Obama had chosen “another person from an elite law school here on the East Coast’’ when there are qualified law graduates “in the heartland’’ who should have been given a chance.

Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the ranking Republican on the committee, said he was concerned that Kagan “might be the kind of judge that often are quite favored in places like the Harvard faculty,’’ meaning activist liberals.

A widely circulated essay in Time magazine questioned whether the court’s Ivy League complexion might “risk undermining our high court’s intellectual diversity and encourage the kind of elitism that’s anathema to a democracy.’’

This faux populism is especially galling coming from Republicans, who were notably unconcerned about elitism on the court when the nominees were John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, or Anthony Kennedy (Harvard law grads all). Not to mention Samuel Alito or Clarence Thomas (Yale).

But it touches a chord with many Americans, who distrust elites — with the exception of sports stars. The antipathy is a strain in the national psyche easily exploited by culture warriors such as Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh, who polarize the country into pointy-headed intellectuals and “the rest of America.’’ Limbaugh stuck to the script this week, calling Kagan “a liberal elitist’’ who has “no clue how real Americans live.’’

Of course, given an opportunity to support a conservative justice who understands real life Mr. Limbaugh instead chose to blow up the GOP, Holding Court: There's a crackdown over Miers, not a "crackup." (RUSH LIMBAUGH, October 17, 2005, WSJ)
We conservatives are never stronger than when we are advancing our principles. And that's the nature of our current debate over the nomination of Harriet Miers. Will she respect the Constitution? Will she be an originalist who will accept the limited role of the judiciary to interpret and uphold it, and leave the elected branches--we, the people--to set public policy? Given the extraordinary power the Supreme Court has seized from the representative parts of our government, this is no small matter. Roe v. Wade is a primary example of judicial activism. Regardless of one's position on abortion, seven unelected and unaccountable justices simply did not have the constitutional authority to impose their pro-abortion views on the nation. The Constitution empowers the people, through their elected representatives in Congress or the state legislatures, to make this decision.

Abortion is only one of countless areas in which a mere nine lawyers in robes have imposed their personal policy preferences on the rest of us. The court has conferred due process rights on terrorists detained at Guantanamo Bay and benefits on illegal immigrants. It has ruled that animated cyberspace child pornography is protected speech, but certain broadcast ads aired before elections are illegal; it has held that the Ten Commandments can't be displayed in a public building, but they can be displayed outside a public building; and the court has invented rationales to skirt the Constitution, such as using foreign law to strike down juvenile death penalty statutes in over a dozen states.

For decades conservatives have considered judicial abuse a direct threat to our Constitution and our form of government. The framers didn't create a judicial oligarchy. They created a representative republic. Our opposition to judicial activism runs deep. We've witnessed too many occasions where Republican presidents have nominated the wrong candidates to the court, and we want more assurances this time--some proof. The left, on the other hand, sees the courts as the only way to advance their big-government agenda. They can't win national elections if they're open about their agenda. So, they seek to impose their policies by judicial fiat. It's time to call them on it. And that's what many of us had hoped and expected when the president made his nomination.

Some liberal commentators mistakenly view the passionate debate among conservatives over the Miers nomination as a "crackup" on the right. They are giddy about "splits" in the conservative base of the GOP. They are predicting doom for the rest of the president's term and gloom for Republican electoral chances in 2006. As usual, liberals don't understand conservatives and never will.

The Miers nomination shows the strength of the conservative movement. This is no "crackup." It's a crackdown. We conservatives are unified in our objectives. And we are organized to advance them. The purpose of the Miers debate is to ensure that we are doing the very best we can to move the nation in the right direction. And when all is said and done, we will be even stronger and more focused on our agenda and defeating those who obstruct it, just in time for 2006 and 2008.

Though I don't recall Mr. Limbaugh, like the neocons, complaining that she wasn't elite enough.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:19 PM


Let them in: Illegal immigrants are breaking the law of the land. In a forthcoming book, Joseph Carens makes the moral case for waiving it. (Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow, May 23, 2010, Boston Globe)

IDEAS: You write that after a certain period of time, people who entered the country illegally acquire a “right to stay.” On what grounds do they have this right?

CARENS: The fundamental argument is, over time people become members. Regardless of the terms under which they entered, the situation, the conditions under which they entered, they become members.

IDEAS: What does the word “member” mean to you?

CARENS: What makes you a member of society is living your life in a particular place, and having social connections with the other members of that society....The legal status of membership should flow from that social reality, rather than the legal status warping the social reality by excluding people.

IDEAS: There’s a story in the news right now about a college student in Georgia, Jessica Colotl, who was stopped for a traffic violation and may be deported because she came here illegally.

CARENS: She came at a young age, she clearly speaks English very well, has been a very successful student, she’s graduating from university. So I think this is a kind of classic example of what I’m saying about a person who has become an American. That’s where she grew up, that’s who she is. But she doesn’t have formal status. [...]

IDEAS: It seems surprising now, but I think I remember that amnesty was granted under Reagan?

CARENS: When Reagan was president, there was a law passed, this was a 1986 law, which did grant amnesty to a very substantial portion, not all, but a very substantial portion of the population of immigrants who were here without authorization at that time....There were huge numbers, millions, who were given legal status at that time....Until the last few years, this hasn’t divided so strongly along party lines. It’s only in the last few years that the Republicans as a party have been so vehemently anti-immigrant.

As a party the GOP hasn't had an anti-immigration leader since Coolidge and the rank and file overwhelmingly support legalizing illegals and then letting them stay.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:09 PM


Labour's new motto: immigration, immigration, immigration: Some Labour people have settled on a daft strategy: outflank the Lib-Cons from the right, and so satisfy the proles (John Harris, 5/21/10,

One element of New Labour theology, however, remains securely in place. You hear it in the pronouncements of the supposed leading candidates, and in anxious chatter around Westminster. The C2s – skilled manual workers, whose loyalties play a crucial role in so many marginals – have deserted Labour in droves, particularly men. Their key complaints are about supposed welfare malingerers, and new arrivals from abroad; and this is where Labour must focus that time-honoured ritual known as "listening and learning". So it is that the future of centre-left politics occasionally threatens to come down to kicking the dispossessed, and parroting the early summer's big Labour mantra: immigration, immigration, immigration.

All this is currently a matter of broad-brush rhetoric (strange how men so steeped in the forensic stuff of policy seem so hesitant about coming up with ideas of their own), but the signs are clear. When announcing his leadership bid on Wednesday, Ed Balls mentioned the "I" word endlessly, and praised a politician whose sour countenance and self-styled toughness have long embodied the most dried-up school of Labour politics: Phil Woolas, this week heard bemoaning the fact that Labour failed to make more of the policy whereby benefits are refused to those seeking indefinite leave to remain (which would have made for very uplifting posters).

As well as obligingly claiming that Labour has been deaf to worries about immigration, Andy Burnham has admiringly cited voters who thought that "money and help was going to people who were not, like them, trying to do the right things" – and he didn't mean your Bob Diamonds and Fred the Shreds. The Milibands, to their credit, have been much quieter on this stuff, though Ed saw fit to leaven his first leadership bid speech with the obligatory mention of an unidentified working-class voter who thought his benefit-claiming neighbours were swinging the lead. "We have hard thinking to do," he concluded, ominously.

Elsewhere, plenty of Labour people are truly ablaze. At a meeting of the parliamentary party at the end of last week, voices who last had their chance when Hazel Blears made her doomed bid for the deputy leadership reportedly piped up, talking about benefit claimants getting "something for nothing" and the need to sound strong notes on immigration controls. One myth is already doing the rounds: that Margaret Hodge's victory over the BNP in Barking was down to her strident line on somehow putting "indigenous" people ahead of new arrivals in the queue for public services, whereas Jon Cruddas's failure to romp home in Dagenham and Rainham came from his refusal to do anything similar. In fact, Cruddas's narrow margin of victory was down to boundary changes. Moreover, Cruddas's is actually the whiter of the two seats, which makes his achievement all the more remarkable.

Whatever, all this ugliness has a long and lamentable Labour pedigree. For a flavour of how the party responds to defeat, think back to the Crewe byelection, its witless class warfare and its maligning of the Tory victor as someone who opposed "making foreign nationals carry an ID card". Now, with Clegg and Cameron looking like the embodiment of bourgeois bleeding-hearts – all "Big Society" promises and strong talk on civil liberties – some Labour people seem to have come to a truly stupid conclusion: that the Con-Dem coalition has to be outflanked on the right, because the proles demand it. This takes us to what might prove the biggest problem of all: that four ex-wonks with limited life experience may not be the best people to divine what exactly it is that the fabled white working class is after.

The New 2010 Game Plan (Douglas Schoen, 5/22/10, Daily Beast)
[T]o fully take advantage of the sour and cynical public mood Democrats must move decisively to the right, clearly and unabashedly, as Mark Critz did in winning a surprising 10-point victory in Pennsylvania's 12th Congressional district. Critz made it clear in his special election victory that he was no liberal. He underscored that he was anti-abortion, anti-gun, and anti-Obamacare. The core message of the Critz campaign was that he was independent from President Obama, and had a distinctive agenda that was fiscally and socially conservative.

Put simply, the Critz victory shows that the only way the Democrats can win is by distancing themselves totally and irrevocably from the big government agenda of President Obama and the congressional Democrats, that polls show has been clearly been rejected by the American people.

...than when the Left tries to get out in front of "populism."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:39 AM


How Oil Saved Bobby Jindal (Reihan Salam, 5/21/10, Daily Beast)

In a series of impassioned public statements, Jindal has all but declared the fight against the oil spill as the moral equivalent of war. "We're going to do what it takes to protect our way of life," he's said, the clear implication being that legal niceties and ideology won't stop him from doing what he deems necessary.

Elected as the first Organization Kid governor, Jindal is a talented young wonk who first ran for governor in 2003 after a meteoric rise in state and national politics, After losing that election and winning election to Congress almost immediately afterwards, Jindal was careful not to become a creature of Washington. During Katrina, he traveled throughout the Gulf region in an effort to help guide the federal response to the disaster, bonding with local law enforcement officials and serving as a kind of governor-in-waiting as his erstwhile opponent, the hapless then-governor Kathleen Blanco, failed to project the competence that voters expected of her. Jindal's extraordinary energy in those days helped cement an impression of him as something more than a whiz-kid wonk. Rather, he come across as a hard-charging, decisive leader capable of getting results.

But since his election in 2007, Jindal has inevitably run into rocky shoals, thanks in no small part to a national economy badly battered by the downturn and the jobless recovery and the particular problems facing a notoriously corrupt, poverty-stricken state. Touted as a future presidential candidate, Jindal's response to President Obama's first State of the Union in February of last year was subject to withering critiques from the left and the right, with the blow softened only by an enthusiastic defense from talk-radio icon Rush Limbaugh. The speech was a simple paean to American exceptionalism and the virtues of economic laissez-faire, a fairly unexceptional and arguably overfamiliar litany of conservative cliches. The irony is that Jindal's expertise on the nitty-gritty details of Medicare reform and a range of other complex domestic issues meant that he was one of very few Republican leaders capable of making an incisive yet accessible critique of President Obama's domestic agenda. Yet instead of playing to his strengths, he channeled a good ol' boy tone that came across as cloying and unpersuasive. For whatever reason, it is crisis that brings out the best in Jindal, as we've seen in recent weeks.

With his data-rich calls for the creation of sand booms and other coastal defense measures, and his very visible efforts to pressure the federal government to take more aggressive action, Jindal has come to embody the response to the oil spill. There's something decidedly unconservative about Jindal's hands-on approach. Like former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who made a point of taking a leading role in responding to hurricanes and other natural disasters during his tenure, Jindal is playing the role of governor-as-action-hero.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:34 AM


The Postradical Legal Generation: Elite law schools, and the court nominees who come from them, have changed (David Fontana, 5/19/10, Chromicle of Higher Education)

All three graduated from their respective law schools (Obama and Kagan from Harvard Law School, Sotomayor from Yale Law School) at a time when most of the more-radical members of the faculty had either already disappeared or were losing their last battles. More than that generation, Sotomayor, Obama, and Kagan have avoided major ideological fights and the most polarizing legal issues. Indeed, in the cases of Obama and Kagan, they helped move their law schools beyond the more-polarizing ideological battles.

In that way, all three are part of the law-school "postradical generation." Just as that helps us better understand their careers, the dynamic also helps explain some of the difficulties Obama will have in appointing influential liberal judges.

The law and the law schools that teach it are temperamentally more conservative than the rest of the university. Anthropologists or sociologists do not teach their classes wearing suits, but law professors often do. While students in the humanities might be considered to have dressed up if they attend class in jeans, law students are often caught wearing nothing more casual than khaki pants. The professionalism of the American law school is evident.

...tend to be pretty honest about how illegitimate the Court's means of getting there are.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:28 AM


Paul Remarks Have Deep Roots (JONATHAN WEISMAN, 5/21/10, WSJ)

[T]o Democrats, some Republicans and even some libertarians, Mr. Paul's arguments seem detached from the social fabric that has bound the U.S. together since 1937. The federal government puts limits on pollutants from corporations, monitors the safety of toys and other products and ensures a safe food supply—much of which Mr. Paul's philosophy could put in question.

David Boaz, executive vice president of the libertarian Cato Institute, said that in many ways Americans are freer now than they were in any pre-1937 libertarian Halcyon day. Women and black citizens can vote, work and own property. "Micro-regulations" that existed before the Supreme Court shift, which controlled trucking, civil aviation and other private pursuits, are gone.

"Sometimes he talks the way libertarians talk in political seminars," Mr. Boaz said of Mr. Paul. "There are not really many people who want to reverse Wickard, but there are many professors who could make a good case for it." [...]

Mr. Paul's views differ from those of the Republican Party on some fundamental matters. Mr. Paul opposes the anti-terrorism PATRIOT Act, which he says infringes on civil liberties. He opposed the war in Iraq and says any war cannot be waged unless and until Congress formally declares it. And he has expressed misgivings about the nation's drug laws.

Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R, Ariz.) told the newspaper Politico that Mr. Paul's civil rights comments were comparable to "a debate like you had at 2 a.m. in the morning when you're going to college. But it doesn't have a lot to do with anything."

...he's even got Democrats, Republicans and Libertarians agreeing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:23 AM


Iran opposition figure lashes out at regime (ALI AKBAR DAREINI, 05/22/10, AP)

A senior opposition figure accused Iran’s hardline judiciary and conservative lawmakers of being instruments in the intimidation of pro-reform activists and the trampling of constitutional rights.

The remarks by Mahdi Karroubi, who has often criticized Iran’s leadership, were posted late Friday on his party’s website.

They come three weeks ahead of the first anniversary of the disputed June 2009 election, which the opposition claims President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won through massive vote fraud. The opposition says its leader, Mir Hossein Mousavi, was the rightful winner of the balloting.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:13 AM


One of Those Moments (Mark Steyn, 5/21/10, National Review)

Barack Obama’s remarkable powers of oratory are well known: In support of Chicago’s Olympic bid, he flew into Copenhagen to give a heartwarming speech about himself, and they gave the games to Rio. He flew into Boston to support Martha Coakley’s bid for the U.S. Senate, and Massachusetts voters gave Ted Kennedy’s seat to a Republican. In the first year of his presidency, he gave a gazillion speeches on health-care “reform” and drove support for his proposals to basement level, leaving Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid to ram it down the throats of the American people through sheer parliamentary muscle.

Like a lot of guys who’ve been told they’re brilliant one time too often, President Obama gets a little lazy, and doesn’t always choose his words with care. And so it was that he came to say a few words about Daniel Pearl, upon signing the “Daniel Pearl Press Freedom Act.”

Pearl was decapitated on video by jihadist Muslims in Karachi on Feb. 1, 2002. That’s how I’d put it.

This is what the president of the United States said: “Obviously, the loss of Daniel Pearl was one of those moments that captured the world’s imagination because it reminded us of how valuable a free press is.” [...]

Listen to his killer’s words: “The American Jew Daniel Pearl.” We hit the jackpot! And then we cut his head off. Before the body was found, The Independent’s Robert Fisk offered a familiar argument to Pearl’s kidnappers: Killing him would be “a major blunder . . . the best way of ensuring that the suffering” — of Kashmiris, Afghans, Palestinians — “goes unrecorded.” Other journalists peddled a similar line: If you release Danny, he’ll be able to tell your story, get your message out, “bridge the misconceptions.” But the story did get out; the severed head is the message; the only misconception is that that’s a misconception.

Daniel Pearl was the prototype for a new kind of terror. In his wake came other victims from Kenneth Bigley, whose last words were that “Tony Blair has not done enough for me,” to Fabrizzio Quattrocchi, who yanked off his hood, yelled “I will show you how an Italian dies!” and ruined the movie for his jihadist videographers. By that time, both men understood what it meant to be in a windowless room with a camera and a man holding a scimitar. But Daniel Pearl was the first, and in his calm, coherent final words understood why he was there:

“My name is Daniel Pearl. I am a Jewish American from Encino, California, U.S.A.”

He didn’t have a prompter. But he spoke the truth. That’s all President Obama owed him — to do the same.

One notes that neither Mr. Pearl nor his murderers felt his profession was significant to "the moment." But what's disturbing here is that the execution was essentially a media event for the jihadis, making a celebration of it as a press milestone truly bizarre.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:58 AM


Astronomer Copernicus to be reburied as hero (VANESSA GERA, 05/22/10, Daily Caller)

Copernicus, who lived from 1473 to 1543, died as a little-known astronomer working in what is now Poland, far from Europe’s centers of learning. He had spent years laboring in his free time developing his theory, which was later condemned as heretical by the church because it removed Earth and humanity from their central position in the universe.

After his death, his remains rested in an unmarked grave beneath the floor of the cathedral in Frombork, northern Poland, the exact location unknown.

At the urging of a local bishop, scientists began searching in 2004 for the astronomer’s remains and eventually turned up a skull and bones of a 70-year-old man — the age Copernicus was when he died. DNA from teeth and bones matched that of hairs found in one of his books, leading the scientists to conclude in all probability that they had finally found Copernicus.

In recent weeks, a wooden casket holding those remains has lain in state in a nearby city of Olsztyn, and on Friday they were toured around the region to towns linked to his life.

That ceremony came 18 years after the Vatican rehabilitated the Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei, who was persecuted in the Inquisition for carrying the Copernican Revolution forward.

Unfortunately, Copernicus and Galileo had it spectacularly wrong

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:56 AM


Redeeming 'Lost': Entertainment Weekly’s Jeff Jensen tells CT why the television show reminds him of C. S. Lewis's 'The Great Divorce.' (Interview by Sarah Pulliam Bailey, 5/21/2010, Entertainment Weekly)

Do you see any similarities between the show and religious faith?

I am religious. I am a Christian, and I have thought a lot about that. To be a Lost fan these past six years is to take a leap of faith. It was a leap of faith in the beginning that the show was going to be a mystery show, and it would ever give us answers.

Jack and Locke are the two great characters of faith in the show. Jack only had faith in himself. That philosophy came from his intellect and that bias [toward reason] was created from damage in his childhood. His whole worldview was broken down and rebuilt into something: "I think there is something bigger than myself, and I think there's something out there worth pursuing." That makes him in many ways the defining hero of Lost. Locke, no dummy himself, was even more so a product of damage, and all he was was a huge ball of yearning. He wanted something to believe and something to believe in him. He was looking for anything that would give him meaning and purpose. He lacked good discernment in terms of what was right and good. He got suckered by a devil into believing in something that wasn't true. In many ways, Locke represents a critique of religion and faith that agnostics and atheists believe about religion. Jack represents a view a lot of people of faith believe. There's something more, and if they can seek it out, they can find it.

That said, there's one big difference [between] my faith, my belief, my relationship to God, and my relationship to Lost. I know that at the end, I will somehow "know" the answers. I will die, and I am going into that death with this faith. I have no idea what heaven is, and I'm not terribly concerned about it. I'm interested in having a relationship with God and Jesus. I'm tending to that in the moment. I will go into the afterlife saying, "Okay. What happens now?" And I will know. If the equivalent with Lost is, we reached the end of a journey of faith with Lost and now Revelation awaits, answers will be given and theories will be confirmed—I don't know if we will get that. All I know is it's coming to an end, and we will have a story.

Lost reminds me a lot of C. S. Lewis's The Great Divorce, his version of Dante's Inferno. It's a vision of the afterlife, but C. S. Lewis was really describing the life that should be lived here and now. His whole idea is that the afterlife begins now. You are on the slope of heaven or the slope of hell. This was all set in an allegory of taking place in the afterlife. Lost has supernatural ideas and the island may or may not be a place of this world. It might be a spiritual existence or something like that. Its concerns definitely talk about things that are bigger and beyond this world. It's really about how we live our life right now. Can we live moral lives, ethical lives, can we live together without knowing what is right, Christianity or Buddhism? What is the proper political modality for our country: conservatism or liberalism? We're going to be fighting about these things forever, but do they even matter?

If we get to the end of the show and we don't know exactly who is good, who is evil, won't that be disappointing?

Lost begins that conversation by saying, "Who gets to decide who is good and evil?" Here on earth, who gets to decide who is right and who is wrong? What Lost wants to say is, We're not going to decide that. What we're going to say is that you decide that for yourself. This is the ultimate expression of free will. All these being equal, pursue a life of self-awareness so that you know yourself well; then, you decide moment to moment whether you are good or evil and then be that, hopefully choose the good.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:52 AM


Why Rand Paul Is Right … and Wrong: The new GOP Senate candidate in Kentucky would be wrong to oppose the 1964 civil-rights law, but his underlying concern was legitimate (Julian Sanchez, 5/21/10, Newsweek)

There's no doubt the libertarian argument, springing from the sanctity of private property, was adopted by bigots looking for respectable cover—and the line between them has not always been as sharp as this libertarian writer would like. Rand's father, libertarian icon Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), caught his share of flak over racially incendiary statements that appeared for years in his newsletter. Ron Paul didn't pen such gems as the suggestion that a group of black protesters hold their demonstration "at a food stamp bureau or a crack house" rather than the Statue of Liberty. But he had unwisely lent his name to a clique of libertarian writers whose misbegotten strategy was to rally the white working class against "big government" by exploiting resentment of the "parasitic Underclass."

Yet there's nothing intrinsically racist in the argument in favor of property rights—and indeed, any real liberal ought to at least have some sympathy for it. Strong property rights have often been the friend of unpopular minorities: Jim Crow laws were imposed precisely because racists feared the South's rigid caste system would collapse if business owners were free to integrate, as historian Charles Wynes noted in his 1961 study Race Relations in Virginia. After that long apartheid imposed on consumer preferences, it might have been too sanguine to hope market forces alone would have ushered in desegregation as rapidly as the Civil Rights Act did. But history is littered with tribal boundaries shattered by commerce, and formal law yielded no instant solution either. (A ban on formal segregation could only do so much in practice where majorities were determined to exclude blacks by means less explicit but barely more subtle than signs announcing "whites only.")

Anyone who values freedom of association should also recognize the real tradeoff that antidiscrimination law involves. In a free society, Americans have long believed, even people with repulsive views have a right to express them, and to join with like-minded bigots in private clubs and informal gatherings. It is not crazy to imagine that in a more just world, an ideally just world, respect for that freedom would lead us to countenance—legally, if not personally—the few cranks who sought to congregate in their monochrome cafés and diners.

Yet that's precisely why Paul's 1.0 argument breaks down on its own terms: at the scene of a four-century crime against humanity—the kidnap, torture, enslavement, and legal oppression of African-Americans—ideal theory fails. We libertarians, never burdened with an excess of governing power, have always had a utopian streak, a penchant for imagining what rich organic order would bubble up from the choices of free and equal citizens governed by a lean state enforcing a few simple rules. We tend to envision societies that, if not perfect, are at least consistently libertarian.

Unfortunately, history happened. happens every day.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:45 AM


Resenting African Christianity (Mark Tooley, 5.21.10, American Spectator)

Considerably less publicized but no less significant is the United Methodist Church, which now almost uniquely among liberal-led, old-line denominations continues to affirm orthodox teachings on marriage and sexual ethics. The traditionalist stance, dismaying to its liberal elites, is thanks partly to the denomination's growing African membership. Unlike the U.S. Episcopal Church, which is almost entirely U.S. members plus some small dioceses from Latin America and Taiwan, United Methodism is more fully international, with about one third of its members in Africa. Amid growing United Methodist churches in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Nigeria, among others, and a U.S. church losing about a 1,000 members weekly, the 11.4 million denomination likely will soon be majority African. At the church's next governing General Conference in 2012, probably 40 percent of the delegates will come from outside the U.S., even further diminishing liberal hopes.

Liberal church activists are reluctant to acknowledge that African Christianity has a firm mind of its own, preferring condescendingly to portray it as primitive and easily manipulated by conservative U.S. religionists. It is true that much of African Christianity is new, somewhat similar to fast growing, early American frontier revivalism in its earnest faith, populism, and strong sense of the supernatural. According to the World Christian Encyclopedia of 2001, Africa was less than 10 percent Christian in 1900 but was over 45 percent Christian by 2000. (This compares to Islam's growth in African from 32 percent to 40 percent.) About 20 percent of the world's Christians now live in Africa, and rates of active church attendance are higher in Africa than in much of old Christendom. One Congolese bishop estimated that more Congolese are in a United Methodist Church on a typical Sunday than in all the United States.

But liberal U.S. church activists usually sorely underestimate the depth and richness of African Christianity, including its intellectual traditions, some of which date to the early Church Fathers. Infamously, revisionist retired U.S. Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong once derided African Anglicans for having "moved out of animism into a very superstitious kind of Christianity," while condemning Third World "religious extremism" and "Pentecostal hysteria." In the patronizing spirit of Bishop Spong, some liberal activists claim African church leaders, in their opposition to liberal U.S. church trends, especially about sex, are merely U.S. pawns. A recent example comes from a Massachusetts watchdog of conservative groups called Political Research Associates, which commissioned a Zambian clergyman from the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts to expose the supposed manipulation of African churches. His report of last year, "Globalizing the Culture Wars: U.S. Conservatives, African Churches and Homophobia," outlines the conspiracy, which claims more or less that African Christianity's opposition to homosexual causes essentially originated in America. California mega-church pastor Rick Warren is one of the identified conspirators, as is my own Institute on Religion and Democracy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:41 AM


Why Are They Provoked By Saudi? (Mshari Al-Zaydi, 5/21/10, Asharq Alawasat)

What do hardline, right wing Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and an Iranian cleric called Mohammed Baqer Kharrazi have in common? The answer is their hatred of Saudi Arabia.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:26 AM


New and old: a review of China's Megatrends by John Naisbitt and Doris Naisbitt (Reviewed by Benjamin A Shober, Asia Times)

The Naisbitts begin their book with what they call the "8 Pillars of a New Society". Respectively, these include "emancipation of the mind, balancing top-down and bottom-up, framing the forest and letting the trees grow, crossing the river by feeling the stones, artistic and intellectual ferment, joining the world, freedom and fairness and from Olympic medals to Nobel prizes". (pg xii)

Several of these pillars obviously build off of slogans widely known inside and out of China that have come to well-represent the important and substantive changes the country has made; unfortunately, others seem to have been handed off directly from Xinhua and seem tinged with over-enthusiasm and what can come across like propaganda.

Early in China's Megatrends, the Naisbitts work to make what they, and other advocates of China's decades of reform, believe is a particularly important point: that whatever concerns we might have about China's political reforms, at the end of the day what matters is that China is delivering an improving standard of living for its people, and that this is what the people living in China care about most.

Further discussing Western frustration and understandably framing it as a misunderstanding by Westerners, the Naisbitts write, "Westerners like to focus on what China's 'reforms and opening up' mean in terms of Western thinking - with the conviction that the Western model is the best form of government. That approach will lead to disappointment and unrealistic expectations. The real answer lies not in ideology but in performance." (pg 4 - emphasis by reviewer) Such economic determinism (that politics follows economics) is easy enough to agree on, but the Naisbitts do not always draw out the potential limitations to a political system built entirely on economic advancement with truncated personal freedoms.

This Naisbitts' point is important because it tends to be poorly understood and appreciated by China's critics. After all, emerging from the historical misery the country was fighting to leave behind as it opened itself to the West, an embrace from Beijing of pragmatic economic and political reform, with the particular emphasis on improving quality of life, is a reasonable and important goal.

Equally important is the seed the Naisbitts plant distinguishing between Western cultures, which tend to be "individualistic", versus Eastern cultures, which are more "group-oriented" (pg 29). They write of this in more detail when they state:

The United States as the flag carrier of individual freedom in the world, and Europe as flag carrier for humanism, therefore feel the responsibility to admonish those countries and societies that do not live up to the universal values by which all individuals should abide. However, if you are from a group-oriented society, where loyalty is first to the group and then to the individual, you of course would believe that your way is the right way for you ... (pg 29)

This is a critical distinction, and one sometimes glossed over by critics of China.

As Bill Emmott explained The Sun Also Sets, describing why the notion of Japan's future dominance was ludicrous, the big problem is that in a group-oriented culture Mr. Naisbitt's first pillar is never planted. Such societies are non-innovative because individuals and their ideas are always subordinated to the group and the group-think.

There is one significant difference though between Japan and China, which may provide a future for the latter that was denied the former. Whereas even today only about 1% of Japan is Christian, China on the other hand has experienced an explosion of Christianization. That's the megatrend that matters, as it would transform them into a Western culture.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:17 AM


Obama's Impossibly Complex Win (Eric Alterman, 5/21/10, Daily Beast)

And again, like with health care, liberals left feeling queasy at best. Cantwell and Feingold voted against the bill. Merkley voted for it but complained that the reason his amendment was barred by the leadership was the fact that “it would probably pass and Wall Street doesn't want it to pass, but the second reason is, I believe that colleagues who were planning to vote no didn't want to have to vote no. If they voted no it would make Wall Street happy but would make their constituents mad, because this is the type of fundamental reform that is expected for us to get done.”

For a bit more déjà vu, Republicans, save three Northeasterners, and one Iowan up for re-election, all think it stinks. Once again, they are as one with Thomas J. Donohue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, who said, "If you want to drive capital out of the United States, this is your bill.”

So yes, we have a pattern here. The Obama team lets Congress take the lead and there, the lobbyists play their game of tug-of-war with the public interest. A watered-down rough draft emerges, in which the Republicans, after long negotiations, decide that, after all, they can’t really support the thing, much as they would like to in, say, some other universe. Even so, they get much of what they want simply because a) Democrats need lobbyists’ cash just as much as Republicans do, and b) the Obama administration remains desperate to pursue bipartisan solutions to America’s problems, even though it has long ago lost any hope of actually achieving them.

..."We have to do something...and this is something"? That's pretty much turned into the war cry of the UR.

May 21, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:32 PM


Appeals Panel Bars Detainees From Access to U.S. Courts (CHARLIE SAVAGE, 5/22/10, NY Times)

A federal appeals court ruled Friday that three men who had been detained by the United States military for years without trial in Afghanistan had no recourse to American courts. The decision was a broad victory for the Obama administration in its efforts to hold terrorism suspects overseas for indefinite periods without judicial oversight.

The detainees, two Yemenis and a Tunisian who say they were captured outside Afghanistan, contend that they are not terrorists and are being mistakenly imprisoned at the American military prison at Bagram Air Base.

But a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled unanimously that the three had no right to habeas corpus hearings, in which judges would review evidence against them and could order their release. The court reasoned that Bagram was on the sovereign territory of another government and emphasized the “pragmatic obstacles” of giving hearings to detainees “in an active theater of war.”

...these are victories for America against our enemies, not narrowly confined to certain presidents and their administrations.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:17 PM


Who Wrote Ron Paul's Newsletters?: Libertarian movement veterans, and a Paul campaign staffer, say it was "paleolibertarian" strategist Lew Rockwell (Julian Sanchez & David Weigel | January 16, 2008, Reason)

The tenor of Paul's newsletters changed over the years. The ones published between Paul's return to private life after three full terms in congress (1985) and his Libertarian presidential bid (1988) notably lack inflammatory racial or anti-gay comments. The letters published between Paul's first run for president and his return to Congress in 1996 are another story—replete with claims that Martin Luther King "seduced underage girls and boys," that black protesters should gather "at a food stamp bureau or a crack house" rather than the Statue of Liberty, and that AIDS sufferers "enjoy the attention and pity that comes with being sick."

Eric Dondero, Paul's estranged former volunteer and personal aide, worked for Paul on and off between 1987 and 2004 (back when he was named "Eric Rittberg"), and since the Iraq war has become one of the congressman's most vociferous and notorious critics. By Dondero's account, Paul's inner circle learned between his congressional stints that "the wilder they got, the more bombastic they got with it, the more the checks came in. You think the newsletters were bad? The fundraising letters were just insane from that period." Cato Institute President Ed Crane told reason he recalls a conversation from some time in the late 1980s in which Paul claimed that his best source of congressional campaign donations was the mailing list for The Spotlight, the conspiracy-mongering, anti-Semitic tabloid run by the Holocaust denier Willis Carto until it folded in 2001.

The newsletters' obsession with blacks and gays was of a piece with a conscious political strategy adopted at that same time by Lew Rockwell and Murray Rothbard. After breaking with the Libertarian Party following the 1988 presidential election, Rockwell and Rothbard formed a schismatic "paleolibertarian" movement, which rejected what they saw as the social libertinism and leftist tendencies of mainstream libertarians. In 1990, they launched the Rothbard-Rockwell Report, where they crafted a plan they hoped would midwife a broad new "paleo" coalition.

Rockwell explained the thrust of the idea in a 1990 Liberty essay entitled "The Case for Paleo-Libertarianism." To Rockwell, the LP was a "party of the stoned," a halfway house for libertines that had to be "de-loused." To grow, the movement had to embrace older conservative values. "State-enforced segregation," Rockwell wrote, "was wrong, but so is State-enforced integration. State-enforced segregation was not wrong because separateness is wrong, however. Wishing to associate with members of one's own race, nationality, religion, class, sex, or even political party is a natural and normal human impulse."

The most detailed description of the strategy came in an essay Rothbard wrote for the January 1992 Rothbard-Rockwell Report, titled "Right-Wing Populism: A Strategy for the Paleo Movement." Lamenting that mainstream intellectuals and opinion leaders were too invested in the status quo to be brought around to a libertarian view, Rothbard pointed to David Duke and Joseph McCarthy as models for an "Outreach to the Rednecks," which would fashion a broad libertarian/paleoconservative coalition by targeting the disaffected working and middle classes. (Duke, a former Klansman, was discussed in strikingly similar terms in a 1990 Ron Paul Political Report.) These groups could be mobilized to oppose an expansive state, Rothbard posited, by exposing an "unholy alliance of 'corporate liberal' Big Business and media elites, who, through big government, have privileged and caused to rise up a parasitic Underclass, who, among them all, are looting and oppressing the bulk of the middle and working classes in America."

Anyone with doubts about the composition of the "parasitic Underclass" could look to the regular "PC Watch" feature of the Report, in which Rockwell compiled tale after tale of thuggish black men terrifying petite white and Asian women. (Think Birth of a Nation crossed with News of the Weird.) The list of PC outrages in the February 1993 issue, for example, cited a Washington Post column on films that feature "plenty of interracial sex, and nobody noticing," a news article about black members of the Southern Methodist University marching band "engaged in mass shoplifting while in Japan," and a sob story about a Korean shop-owner who shot a black shoplifter and assailant in the head: The travesty is that Mrs. Du got five years probation, and must cancel a trip to Korea.

The populist outreach program centered on tax reduction, abolition of welfare, elimination of "the entire 'civil rights' structure, which tramples on the property rights of every American," and a police crackdown on "street criminals." "Cops must be unleashed," Rothbard wrote, "and allowed to administer instant punishment, subject of course to liability when they are in error." While they're at it, they should "clear the streets of bums and vagrants. Where will they go? Who cares?" To seal the deal with social conservatives, Rothbard urged a federalist compromise in their direction on "pornography, prostitution, or abortion." And because grassroots organizing is "plodding and boring," this new paleo coalition would need to be kick-started by "high-level, preferably presidential, political campaigns."

The presidential campaign Rothbard and Rockwell supported in 1988 was Ron Paul's run on the Libertarian Party ticket. In 1992, they were again ready to back Paul, until Pat Buchanan convinced the obstetrician to withdraw and back his conservative challenge to then-president Bush. "We have a dream," Rockwell wrote in that same January 1992 edition of RRR, "and perhaps someday it will come to pass. (Hell, if 'Dr.' King can have a dream, why can't we?) Our dream is that, one day, we Buchananites can present Mr. and Mrs. America, and all the liberal and conservative and centrist elites, with a dramatic choice....We can say: 'Look, gang: you have a choice, it's either Pat Buchanan or David Duke.'"

Carol Moore, a left-libertarian activist who opposed Rothbard, Rockwell, and Paul at the late 1980s Libertarian conventions that led to the paleo split, theorizes that the defeat made them bitter. "They had a tendency to be anti-PC," Moore told reason, "and it was really stepped up after they lost. They were really angry and not that funny." hear Rand Paul try to talk his way around the movement's rather revealing hatred of the greatest Kentuckyian of them all.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:57 AM


Immigration Is U.S. (Joel Kotkin, 05.20.10, Forbes)

In the 1850s the nativist Native American Party--reacting to a wave of Irish Catholic and German immigrants--declared that America faced "an imminent peril" from immigrants "of an ignorant and immoral character." [...]

Only immigration can provide the labor force, the expanding domestic markets and, perhaps most important, the youthful energy to keep our society vital and growing. Many bustling sections of American cities--the revived communities along the number 7 train line in Queens, N.Y., Houston's Harwin Corridor, Los Angeles' San Gabriel Valley--are dominated by immigrant enterprise. In contrast, the cities without large-scale immigration, such as Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, have stagnant and even declining populations.

In the future successful immigration will distinguish America from most key competitors. Globally, resistance to immigration or any form of linguistic, religious or ethnic diversity has become more commonplace. Over the past few decades Iran, Egypt, Turkey, Russia, Indonesia and the nations of the former East Bloc have constricted their concept of national identity. In Malaysia, East Africa and even the province of Quebec preferential policies have led successful minorities such as Jews, Armenians, Coptic Christians Indians and Chinese to find homes in more welcoming places, often in the U.S.

In recent decades Europe has received as many immigrants as the U.S., but it has proved far less able to absorb them. The roughly 20 million Muslims who live in Europe remain marginalized. In Europe, notably in France, unemployment among immigrants--particularly those from Muslim countries--is often at least twice that of the native born; in Britain as well Muslims are far more likely to be out of the workforce than either Christians or Hindus.

But in the U.S. immigrant workers with lower educations are more likely to be in the workforce than their nonimmigrant counterparts.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:53 AM


It tolls for thee: Flexibility on highway funding would make all the difference (The Economist, May 20th 2010)

The building and repairing of roads in America is paid for by a federal petrol tax, which replenishes the highway trust fund. Current transport revenues are too puny to cover existing commitments, to say nothing of new initiatives. Only congressional infusions of money from general revenues have prevented the trust fund from going into the red (see chart). Because people are driving less, and cars are more efficient, the petrol tax is not the money-spinner it used to be. But uncertainty, fears about climate change and environmental disasters have not improved the appetite for a rise in the tax rate. It has stayed at 18.4 cents per gallon since 1993. Mr Obama ruled out a petrol-tax increase almost from the beginning of his presidency, saying it would threaten recovery. The administration recently opposed a carbon fee on fuels in a draft Senate climate bill for similar reasons.

State governments, facing budget disaster, have mined other revenue sources, including tolls. Several states are financing new roads by introducing “high-occupancy toll” or HOT lanes, which carpoolers may use for nothing. But HOT lanes are typically built alongside normal lanes. Increasingly, state and local governments want to toll existing lanes, both to limit congestion and to raise funds that could be applied to all aspects of transport budgets. [...]

Tolling is economically efficient: it prices an overused resource (crowded roads). Apart from cutting congestion and raising money, tolls reduce carbon emissions and other pollutants. But Mr Obama has shown no interest in pushing for a change in the interstate tolling rule. Instead, legislators have scrambled to plug funding holes as best they can, primarily through transfers from general revenue. There is no specific reason why transport should be funded by transport revenues alone. But easy opportunities to tax—and thereby reduce—undesirable things are rare. In its current fiscal bind, America cannot afford to miss any.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:48 AM


The medicine starts to work: Profits are back at General Motors, but it is too soon to declare a return to health (The Economist, May 20th 2010)

The reasons for the turnaround are easy to fathom. The painful measures taken before and during GM’s period in Chapter 11 bankruptcy last year, which included closing factories, terminating brands, cutting back its dealer network, reducing benefits for retired workers, establishing new labour contracts and slashing debt from $54 billion to $14 billion, have transformed the competitiveness of the firm’s previously mired North American business.

Critically, the sales break-even point in GM’s home market has been lowered from about 16m vehicles a year to nearer 10m. With demand slowly picking up to an annualised sales rate of 11m in America so far this year, GM’s North American operations turned a corner, producing an operating profit of $1.2 billion.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:36 AM


Catholic bishops leave civil rights group after Kagan endorsement (Daniel Burke, 5/20/10, Religion News Service)

The U.S. Catholic bishops withdrew from a national civil rights coalition on Wednesday (May 19) after the group advocated on behalf of Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan.

The Washington-based Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
(LCCR) was founded in 1950 by African American and Jewish leaders to press for the passage of national civil rights laws. [...]

Progressive Catholics responded on Thursday by accusing the bishops of being "completely beholden to the extreme conservative wing of Catholicism."

"In recent months, (the bishops) have shown that it is more important to them that they placate the demands of a few loud conservatives than to promote civility, human rights and social justice," said Jon O'Brien, president of Catholics for Choice. that the bishops are completely beholden to the tenets of the faith.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:25 AM


GOP fingers culprit in Pa. election (SHIRA TOEPLITZ & CHARLES MAHTESIAN, 5/21/10, Politico)

POLITICO has learned that on Thursday, pollster Gene Ulm was asked to deliver a post-mortem on the race at a closed-door meeting hosted by Sessions and Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who is in charge of candidate recruitment for the NRCC, and attended by the vice-chairmen of the House GOP’s campaign operation, a group that included Reps. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), Tom Price (R-Ga.), Mike Conaway (R-Texas), Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and senior staff.

According to a Republican source familiar with the meeting, Ulm was questioned about how and why the loss occurred and whether anyone saw it coming. The group also discussed how to maintain party morale in the wake of a humbling defeat that seemed to defy other political indicators suggesting 2010 will deliver huge House gains for the GOP.

In a memo obtained by POLITICO that is scheduled to be circulated to House Republicans on Friday, Ulm wrote that the special election outcome was largely the result of a late-breaking surge of Democratic voters toward Rep. Joe Sestak in the high-profile Senate primary, a force that unexpectedly boosted turnout in southwestern Pennsylvania.

“The bottom line is that the special election coincided with very competitive Democratic primaries that inflated the number of base Democrats anxious to defeat Arlen Specter,” wrote Ulm, a top GOP pollster.

“The Democratic primary prevented the turnout depression we have seen in other races this year: 82,675 turned out to vote, making Election Day turnout 64.3% Democrat - 35.6% Republican,” noted Ulm. “This is overwhelmingly the most powerful factor impacting the results which makes this race different from other partisan contests held this year.”

It would be a GOP seat now if Arlen Specter hadn't been chased out of the party.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:21 AM


The education of an 'outsider' (BEN SMITH, 5/21/10, Politico)

[R]and Paul’s candidacy for the Senate is a reminder there’s a difference between campaigning as an outsider – and really being one.

His victory Tuesday in a Republican primary in Kentucky transformed him from a national curiosity to the object of real scrutiny, and put his radical libertarian principles to a political test. Almost immediately, he blinked, backing off Wednesday from his opposition to portions of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

But the civil rights controversy was likely only the first challenge to a candidate who comes in a long – and often unhappy – line of outsiders who make it to power, often to become part of a system that finds ways to reject them.

The Senate has been particularly hostile to self-styled outsiders. In recent years, wealthy businessmen like Peter Fitzgerald of Illinois and Mark Dayton of Minnesota took office only to find themselves marginalized or labeled eccentric. Neither sought a second term. The House has always been home to its share of misfits, from Paul's father, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, to the 1990s Idaho Congresswoman Helen Chenoweth, who grew famous for speculating about the threat from black federal helicopters.

He's got the full Chenoweth workin' too.

May 20, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:14 PM


Shaping World Cup squad: Difficult trims lie ahead: Seven players in the U.S. camp will have to be left behind. (Grahame L. Jones, May 20, 2010, LA Times)

There are nine defenders in camp, with the likelihood that Bradley will take all but one to South Africa. Steve Cherundolo and Jonathan Spector are the right backs. Oguchi Onyewu, Jay DeMerit, Carlos Bocanegra, Clarence Goodson and Chad Marshall are the center backs. Jonathan Bornstein and Heath Pearce are the left backs.

Spector and Bocanegra can also play left back, leaving Pearce on the bubble. But it is more likely that Marshall, with the least international experience of the defenders, will be the one left behind.

At the midfield spots things get complicated, not least of all because there are 12 midfielders in camp and also because Dempsey and Landon Donovan can play either there or up front.

Holding midfielders Michael Bradley, Maurice Edu and Ricardo Clark all seem to be a lock. Attacking midfielders Benny Feilhaber and Jose Francisco Torres also are a good bet to make it to the World Cup. Add Dempsey and Donovan to the mix and that makes seven.

Which leaves DaMarcus Beasley, Stuart Holden, Sacha Kljestan, Robbie Rogers and Alejandro Bedoya seeking the eighth and final midfield place. [...]

Then there are the six forwards: Jozy Altidore, who is a virtual certainty; Brian Ching and Eddie Johnson, who were on the 2006 team; and newcomers Edson Buddle, Robbie Findley and Herculez Gomez.

...that Dempsey is our 2nd forward, then why go?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:10 PM


Wall Street "Reform" Just More Crony Capitalism (Rep. Paul Ryan, 5/20/10, RCP)

Over the past decade, the thinking has been much less clear for conservatives. Being "pro-market" has been fundamentally confused with "pro-business." Conservatives who came to Congress to defend and promote free enterprise have often been led to believe that pathway lies in bolstering established firms as they navigate the maze of government regulations and taxes. These instincts are correct, but the implementation is often flawed. All too often, the results of these efforts have been to exacerbate crony capitalism - erecting barriers to entry against potential competitors to firms that are currently on top.

For their part, companies seeking such protection have a right to pursue their narrow self-interest; but when these actions involve reducing open competition and transparency for short term gain, they do so to the detriment of the very free enterprise system that made their success possible.

Republicans, who profess their zeal for democratic capitalism as the greatest source of human flourishing, all too often have aided the "kings of industry" in pulling the drawbridge up after they've taken the castle. Conservatives must recover the fundamentals of what is needed to defend the free enterprise system. We can begin by rejecting the current financial regulatory overhaul moving through Congress, and by offering alternatives that apply the essential principles that form a true free enterprise system. [...]

There is no shortage of innovative alternatives to the heavy-handed government approach making its way through Congress - alternatives that make the distinction between "pro-market" and "pro-business." Although a bold departure from the status quo, a proposal put forth by Boston University economist Laurence Kotlikoff calls for banks to stick to their fundamental purpose of financial intermediation rather than taking on the excessive risks with no strings attached that have lead to taxpayer-funded bailouts. Real reform must decouple America's economic well-being from the fate of a select few financial firms.

Another approach, one that works within the current financial framework, has been offered by Oliver Hart of Harvard University and Luigi Zingales of the University of Chicago. Their proposal addresses the "too-big-to-fail" question through the use of a market-based trigger that tells firms when to beef up capital. This approach is aimed to better balance "the need to curb reckless risk-taking...while making sure not to unduly constrain economic activity, investment and growth."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:59 PM


Europe is sleepwalking to decline. We need a Churchill to wake it up: Our leaders are peddling delusions. The eurozone has not been saved, the EU has no foreign policy, and others are making history (Timothy Garton Ash, 5/19/10,

Can anyone save me from Europessimism? I feel more depressed about the state of the European project than I have for decades. The eurozone is in mortal danger. European foreign policy is advancing at the pace of a drunken snail. Power shifts to Asia. The historical motors of European integration are either lost or spluttering. European leaders rearrange the deckchairs on the Titanic while lecturing the rest of the world on ocean navigation.

The crisis of the eurozone has only just begun. The bond markets have not been convinced even by last week's giant "shock and awe" bailout of Greece. The one thing that moved them was the European Central Bank's readiness to start buying eurozone government bonds, but it still costs multiples more for the Greek or Portuguese government to borrow than it does for the German government. A leading bond strategist tells me he now sees two alternatives: either the eurozone moves towards a fiscal union, with a further loss of sovereignty by member states and drastic deficit reduction imposed by this external constraint, or some of the weaker member states default, either inside the eurozone or by leaving it altogether. At which point capital flees, even more than it has already, from the weak to the strong: that is, from the eurozone to elsewhere and, within today's eurozone, to Germany.

The problem, of course, is that his Euroenthusiasm was for a nullity

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:47 PM

Fried chicken: A beautiful thing (Noelle Carter, 5/13/10, Los Angeles Times)

For frying, there's nothing better than lard. Maybe it's the flavor, maybe there's something to the way the fat reacts with the crust, but lard is a magical frying medium. (And there's a little hint of pork in every bite.)

You can also use a neutral, refined oil with a high smoking point, such as canola or vegetable; peanut oil is often preferred for its high smoking point. If you'd like, flavor the fat before adding the chicken by frying an onion, or some ham or bacon.

Chicken can be either pan-fried, or deep-fried. Unless I'm going for a thick, light crust where I need enough oil to keep the chicken suspended, I prefer to pan-fry. It dirties less oil, and it's easy to monitor all of the pieces frying at once. Use a good, heavy skillet to evenly distribute the heat (and I swear by cast iron the same way I swear by lard).

To pan-fry, melt enough fat in a skillet to come a good half to three-fourths inch up the side of the pan, and heat the fat to the right temperature, generally between 300 and 350 degrees. Too low, and the oil will soak into the crust rather than fry it; too high, and the crust might burn before your chicken is done. Use a thermometer to keep the heat at a consistent temperature, and make sure you've got a good, heavy skillet to evenly distribute the heat.

Fry the pieces until the crust is crisp and golden-brown and the meat is tender, anywhere from six to 10 minutes a side depending on the size of the piece (remember, white meat cooks more quickly than dark). Some recipes call for covering the pan with a lid while frying; although this helps retain heat and maybe cooks the pieces a little faster, I find it makes for a crust that's less crisp.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:09 PM

Grilled turkey burgers with barbecued onions (Carol Mighton Haddix, Chicago Tribune)

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 Spanish onions, halved, sliced thinly
2 tablespoons prepared barbecue sauce
1 1/4 pounds ground turkey (not lean)
1/4 cup each: milk, chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika or regular paprika
1/4 teaspoon each: salt, freshly ground pepper
4 sesame seed buns

1. Heat olive oil in a large, heavy skillet over high heat. Add onions; stir-fry onions 2 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low; cook, stirring often, until soft and starting to caramelize, about 15 minutes. Stir in barbecue sauce; cook 1 minute. Remove from heat. Cover; keep warm.

2. Meanwhile, prepare a grill or grill pan for medium-high heat. Lightly mix turkey, milk, parsley, paprika, salt and pepper in a large bowl; form into 4 patties. Grill until just cooked through, turning once, about 8 minutes. Place on bun bottoms; top each with onions and top buns.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:54 PM


Is this the end of the UK? (David Runciman, 5/27/10, London Review of Books)

[I]n the cold light of morning, once the dust had settled, and before Cameron and Clegg decided to stir it all up again, this looked like a pretty conventional sort of result. A tough economic climate, and a general weariness with and inside the governing party, was enough to produce a solid but hardly exceptional swing towards the main opposition party (the swing the Tories needed for an overall majority, of between 7 and 8 per cent, would have been much more historically unusual). The transformation of British politics that followed appears more like pure chance than anything else. Imputing it to the collective will of the British electorate would be a big mistake. One feature of the result was, however, highly unusual, though it has been rather lost sight of in all the subsequent excitement. For the first time there were two main opposition parties, not one. I am not referring to the Tories and the Liberal Democrats. I mean the Tories and Labour.

In England (and to a certain extent in Wales) the Conservatives were the obvious vehicle for voters wanting to express their dissatisfaction with the government. But in Scotland, where the SNP is in government and Labour the main opposition, the Tories made almost no progress at all. There the party that showed the biggest improvement in its vote share from 2005 was Labour. It’s true that the swing from SNP to Labour was negligible (around 0.1 per cent), but the mere fact that Labour was putting on votes in Scotland while shedding them by the bucketload elsewhere in the United Kingdom shows that there were two different elections being fought at the same time. Indeed, it’s just possible that there were three. The other place in the UK where the Labour vote held up much better than expected was London, and London is another place where Labour can claim to be in opposition, to Boris Johnson’s do-nothing, know-nothing mayoral administration. I wouldn’t want to make too many claims for the contribution this role reversal might have made to the final outcome. But it is clear that the public mood made this a difficult election for any government to fight. And Scotland and London are two places where Labour could pretend not to be in government at all.

This is a consequence of devolution, and seen from one perspective, devolution has now made the United Kingdom more or less ungovernable. It is very hard to imagine how a Conservative administration in Westminster, even with the support of the Liberal Democrats, will be able to impose painful spending cuts on Scotland and expect to survive there as a political force. Alex Salmond, the SNP first minister, is already cranking up the moral outrage at the mere thought of it. The Liberal Democrats do give the new government the ballast of some Scottish MPs (11 in all), but in reality it was the Lib Dems who suffered most in Scotland at the election – it was the only major party that saw its share of the vote drop significantly. Even its traditional gripes about proportional representation don’t hold in Scotland – there they get exactly what they deserve (just under 19 per cent of the votes, just under 19 per cent of the seats). However you juggle the numbers, in Scottish terms this new Westminster government really is a coalition of losers. But in the end it was even harder to see how that other possible coalition of losers – a Labour/ Lib Dem alliance – could have forced through tax rises in England, where the Tories have a clear majority of seats and had a margin of victory over Labour in the popular vote of more than 11 per cent. Politics in the UK is now comprehensively out of sync. If the public finances were in better shape, this might not matter so much. But with horribly difficult choices to be made by whoever is in power, the pressures are bound to build.

The Conservative Party, in theory, remains fully committed to the Union. David Cameron repeatedly and pointedly talks about having come into politics to serve ‘our country’, and by that he doesn’t mean England – he means the UK. Yet this election was meant to be the occasion when the Tories re-established themselves as a political presence in Scotland: the expectation among Scottish Tories until very recently was that they would win at least five seats and perhaps more. But they remain stuck on one. This may now be as good as it gets. It is true that the election did not produce the one result that could have signalled the end of the United Kingdom, if Tory dominance in England had been matched by SNP dominance in Scotland, leading to a deal on independence which would have squeezed Labour out in both. But that simply shows that the only party which still has any real political (as opposed to emotional) incentive to keep the Union intact is Labour. But an incentive is one thing; achieving the goal is another. The grisly and short-lived attempt to put together a progressive coalition that might have hooked up the nationalists along with Labour, the Lib Dems and the token Green showed the acute difficulties Labour currently faces in forming a truly national government. What no coalition of any stripe can change is the underlying reality of the situation: at present Labour can only govern England from Scotland, and the Tories can only govern Scotland from England.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:43 PM


Oil Trade With Iran Thrives, Discreetly (STEVE STECKLOW, SPENCER SWARTZ and MARGARET COKER, 5/20/10, WSJ)

None of the current sanctions proposals in the United Nations or the U.S.—including the latest ones agreed to this week by the U.S., Russia and China—would target Iran's oil-export business, which generates about half of its government revenues. Doing so, experts say, likely would drive up the commodity's price world-wide and result in higher gasoline prices in the U.S., of as much as $1 more a gallon, even though the U.S. doesn't import any Iranian oil.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:35 PM


Paul On Defense Over Civil Rights Act (Reid Wilson, 5/20/10, Hotline)

Ophthalmologist Rand Paul (R) is playing defense after saying in interviews he would oppose using the Civil Rights Act to impose restrictions on private businesses.

In interviews on MSNBC and with NPR this week, Paul would not say whether he would have voted for the '64 legislation, which banned many forms of discrimination. Paul said he did not support government involvement in private businesses.

In a statement today, Paul said he unequivocally supports the Civil Rights Act, and that sections of the bill are settled law. He would not support any efforts to repeal the measure, he said.

As a Constitutional matter the face with which he's saying the Feds ought not to have imposed desegregation on private entities is perfectly coherent. The face with which he's saying he doesn't care what the Constitution provides for is politically correct. Which wouldn't be so big a deal if he didn't pretend he was Caesar's wife.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:10 AM


Clegg has given Cameron his Clause 4 moment (David Lammy, 19 May 2010, Spectator)

The Tories won the most seats not just because we looked tired and stale as a government. It was because under Cameron, the Conservative party stopped falling for New Labour’s triangulation trap. Taking their cue from Bill Clinton, New Labour strategists made the decision to close down debate on certain issues, like crime, by moving to the right.

This tactic allowed the Labour leadership to focus political debate elsewhere. Four elections in a row were fought on ‘investment versus cuts’ in health, education and childcare. From the Labour benches I watched the Tories fall for the same trick over and over again. Their response was to move further to the right, hoping to remain distinctive. They looked less mainstream and moderate with every stroke.

Cameron understood this trap. Instead of becoming ever more shrill on issues like crime and civil liberties, Cameron sought to claim the progressive ground that the government had vacated. Labour found itself mocking the idea that children need love to steer them away from crime. We ended up defending a swath of authoritarian positions.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:58 AM


Robin Hood: A role model for conservative politicians (Ed Ross, 05/17/10, Daily Caller)

Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood, which opened to mixed reviews in American movie theaters on May 14, is an excellent educational film for current and future conservative American politicians. It reinforces the importance of championing limited government, individual rights, and freedom over the pursuit of self interest.

If you haven’t yet seen the film, this may confuse you. The countless versions of Robin Hood, from 1938’s Errol Flynn in The Adventures of Robin Hood onward, portrayed the medieval hero as a liberal. Robin always had the right talking points, but his main activities were the pursuit of his own interests and the redistribution of wealth. He pursued merriment with Lady Marian and his merry men. He fought for his beloved but absent King Richard the Lionheart and to recover his lost estates. And he taunted the Sheriff of Nottingham for entertainment. Most important, he took from the rich to give to the poor—a defining liberal characteristic.

Yes, those other Robin Hoods helped overthrow Richard’s brother, the evil King John, but only to restore Richard to the throne—the exchange of one absolute ruler for another.

While academics and critics have tried to co-opt Robin Hood for the Left, it can hardly be a more conservative tale.

NB: The BBC did an excellent series, Decisive Weapons, several years ago that included an episode on the longbow. Some have argued, contra The Longbow Theory of Democracy, that the weapon lacked the penetrating power to defeat armored men. But in one of the more exciting archaelogical finds of all time a sunken boat was raised with a batch of bows on board and they rurned out to be much larger and more powerful than historians had previously understood them to have been. The show is available at The Box

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:54 AM


When the Mask of Tolerance Slips (George Weigel, May 19, 2010, THE CATHOLIC DIFFERENCE)

Seven or eight years ago, when the about-to-be-enlarged European Union was embroiled in debate as to whether a new constitutional treaty's preamble could acknowledge Christianity as one source of contemporary Europe's commitments to human rights, democracy, and the rule of law, the Orthodox Jewish legal scholar Joseph H.H. Weiler coined the term "Christophobia" to describe the irrational contempt with which much of European high culture regards Christianity; Weiler also flagged eight sources of this derangement:

- guilt over a Holocaust falsely attributed to Christian anti-Jewish prejudice rather than to the racism of Nazi anti-Semitism;

- the "1968" mindset, which rejected all forms of traditional authority;

- a strange backlash to the Revolution of 1989, in which Christian conviction helped topple the hyper-secularism of European communism;

- the Christian Democratic hegemony exercised in many continental European countries in the decades immediately after World War II;

- the cultural habit of dividing everything into "left" and "right," with "left" being good, "right" being bad, and Christianity firmly identified with the "right";

- resentments against John Paul II, who didn't fit the secularist stereotypes;

- the distorted teaching of history in European elementary and secondary schools, according to which the 18th century secular Enlightenment is the sole root of 21st century democracy;

- the confusions and angers of the "children of 1968," whose own children were evincing interest in a Christianity their parents had rejected root-and-branch. the fact that the religious had Darwin right. That's what drives a lot of the really over-the-top New Atheist nonsense.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:51 AM


Old Etonians don’t care about being liked. That’s why they make good PMs (Toby Young, 19th May 2010, Spectator)

To the untrained eye, the social gulf that separates David Cameron and Nick Clegg is hard to spot. They are both sons of financiers, both ex-public schoolboys, both the products of elite English universities and both in their early forties. Indeed, when they gave their joint press conference in the Rose Garden last week it was reminiscent of the final scene in A Comedy of Errors in which two twin brothers are reunited after being separated at birth.

However, for those well versed in the manners and habits of the educated bourgeoisie, the differences between them could hardly be more pronounced. Cameron likes to remain aloof, whereas Clegg likes to be the centre of attention; Cameron is inner-directed, while Clegg is outer-directed; Cameron wants to be feared, Clegg wants to be loved. It all boils down to the difference between Eton and Westminster.

As a grammar school boy at Oxford it took me a while to tell the products of these two ancient public schools apart, but eventually I hit upon a method. It was the different way in which they tried to put me at my ease. A typical Old Etonian would make no attempt to conceal his sense of superiority but would talk to me as if I, too, was a member of the same exclusive club. A typical Old Wet, by contrast, would attempt to lower himself to my level, doing everything in his power to dispel any impression I might have that he thought himself superior.

The lengths to which Old Wets would go to appear ‘normal’ were often quite comic.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:47 AM


Trading toward Recovery: Congress should pass trade agreements to help the economy. (Geoffrey Michener and Brian McGraw, 5/20/10, National Review)

As the economy continues to stumble, Congress and President Obama have repeatedly refused a unique opportunity to bolster our workforce and our economy. Their inaction on three pending Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) — particularly one with Colombia (CFTA) — is costing U.S. consumers and businesses billions in lost opportunities.

The U.S. International Trade Commission estimates that the CFTA would increase U.S. GDP by $2.5 billion. Exports to Colombia would increase by $1.1 billion when tariffs — ranging from 10 to 35 percent per good — were lifted. On the import side, 90 percent of Colombian goods already enter the United States without any tariffs, but nevertheless, imports from Colombia are projected to increase by $487 million annually if the agreement is approved.

Economists from across the political spectrum have argued that reducing trade barriers is one of the most effective ways to spark economic growth. The Copenhagen Consensus, a Danish think tank, argues that completing the World Trade Organization’s Doha Round of trade talks could boost growth in the world’s poorest countries by 1.4 percent per year. The CFTA is a small but important piece of that puzzle. It is also low-hanging fruit. Negotiations were completed three years ago. All that’s left are votes by the House and Senate.

...just unfortunate that he's a 1920's one.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:36 AM


It's tea party vs. GOP establishment in Kentucky (ROGER ALFORD, May 12, 2010, AP)

The tea party is looking to the Kentucky Derby state to finish off its own Triple Crown of victories. [...]

A Paul win in Tuesday's primary would be the strongest sign yet that the tea party activists are on a roll after defeating three-term Sen. Bob Bennett in Utah last Saturday and forcing once popular Florida Gov. Charlie Crist to abandon the GOP for an independent Senate bid last month.

It also would be a wake-up call, if somehow still needed, for Republican incumbents facing challenges from movement-backed candidates six months before the midterm elections.

"I have a message from the tea party to those in D.C.," says Rand Paul. "A message that is loud and clear and does not mince words: We're coming to take our government back."

...there may not be a funnier claim than that Rand Paul is anything other than an establishment figure. He was raised on the public dime by a father who has been in Congress since the son hit puberty and was a candidate for his party's presidential nomination. He's an archetype of the degree to which the tea parties are a top-down Beltway project.

May 19, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:38 PM


Viagra may cause hearing loss (Francisca Ortega, May 18, 2010, Houston Chronicle)

According to researchers at the University of Alabama use of Viagra and other medications called phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitors (PDE-5i) such as Cialis and Levitra may be associated with hearing loss.

That' sounds like the "warnings" about priapism, a sales pitch in disguise.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:31 PM


Untangling Immigration's Double Helix: Arizona's new immigration law is only the latest in our nation's long history of conflicted feelings about the undocumented among us (PETER SCHRAG, 5/19/10, WSJ)

In 1751, Benjamin Franklin described the influx of German immigrants who were moving into Pennsylvania as "a Colony of Aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them and will never adopt our Language or Customs any more than they can acquire our Complexion." The effect, he warned, was that "even our Government will become precarious." Those words could have been written yesterday about Hispanics.

The issue of immigration has long troubled Americans. Arizona's new law, which gives police the power to detain those they suspect of being illegal aliens, is only the latest chapter in centuries of intermittent efforts to slow immigration, or stop it altogether.

Yet mixed with those doubts has been endemic ambivalence: the tension between the need of a huge unsettled continent for people to clear land, work factories, fields and mines, and build canals and railroads, and the fear of what those workers would bring. Today there's still the need for help in the fields, in the kitchens, in construction and, increasingly, in countless highly skilled jobs, yet the fear remains. Depending on economic conditions, the U.S. has tacked uncomfortably between our founding ideals of equality, tolerance and assimilation and doubt about who was fit to come and under what circumstances.

Immigration restrictionists argue that they object only to those who are undocumented—pejoratively, the "illegals." But the category is itself a creature of policy, arguably necessary for good social and economic reasons, but ever mutable and ever revised by economic conditions and public attitudes. Until the passage of national immigration restriction laws in the 1920s, there were no illegal immigrants, with the exception of the Chinese, who were categorically excluded in 1882, and those who failed the health and character screens at Ellis Island. (Occasionally, it was reported, some Chinese snuck across the southern border disguised as Mexicans.)

Still, many Americans have harbored doubts about unfit classes and "races" of immigrants for centuries.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:08 PM


Europe's Unsung Hereos (Steve Forbes, 5/19/10, Forbes)

Recently Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius of Lithuania dropped by our offices to discuss his small country's economic prospects. Unlike Greece, which has garnered headlines for its economic woes, Lithuania more than a year ago firmly faced up to the economic crisis and took stern measures. Government spending was slashed by 30%. Public-sector salaries were cut 20% to 30%. And pensions were knocked down an average of 5%. The prime minister himself took a pay cut of 45%. Yes, some taxes were raised, and the corporate rate was hiked from 15% to 20%. But then it was knocked back to 15% in January. And Lithuania's flat tax--also 15%--was left alone. Amazingly, Lithuanian unions went along with the government's policies. There were no street riots à la Greece.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:53 PM


Kinder, küche … Germany's lowest birthrate yet blamed on dated policy (Kate Connolly, 5/19/10,

Last year 651,000 babies were born in Germany, 30,000 less than the previous year. With only 8.2 children being born for every 1,000 citizens (compared with 9.3 in 2000), and with 10 in 1,000 citizens dying every year, Germany is nowhere near approaching a replacement rate that would keep the population stable.

And these clowns are worried about the euro?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:37 PM


The bright spot among Afghan woes (MICHAEL O'HANLON, 5/19/10, Politico)

A good way to understand what is going right in Afghanistan, rather than fixate on the Karzai government’s limitations, is to spend a few days in the field watching the Afghan army in its recruiting, training and operational planning. I had this opportunity last week. [...]

Literacy training is provided to the new Afghan soldiers, for only 11 percent are estimated to be literate. Pay has roughly doubled this year, which helps with retention as well as recruiting.

There are still equipment shortages for the Afghan security forces, but that is partly due to the inevitable slowness of the U.S. contracting system. These shortfalls are now being rapidly reduced.

New courses have been created for Afghan noncommissioned officers, the leaders crucial to any good military’s performance in the field. Graduates of Afghanistan’s military officer academy, who would have previously been steered to safe jobs by political allies, are now deployed where they are most needed -- in the field.

As a result, the Afghan army is now on track to reach its interim goal of 134,000 troops by this fall, and an ultimate size of roughly 171,000 by next year.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:35 PM


Global Demand for U.S. Assets Rose to Record in March (Vincent Del Giudice, 5/17/10, Bloomberg)

Global demand for long-term U.S. financial assets strengthened in March to a record as investors from China to the U.K. purchased the most Treasuries since November, a Treasury Department report said. [...]

Signs of a sustained economic recovery, including a rebound in earnings and stock prices, may increase demand for U.S. investments as concerns mount about the sustainability of government debt in Europe, economists said. The world’s largest economy has expanded for three consecutive quarters and added 573,000 jobs in the first four months of the year.

“Foreign institutions and individuals are still turning to the U.S. as a safe haven,” said Paul Christopher, senior international investment strategist at Wells Fargo Advisors LLC in St. Louis. “There was some concern foreigners were abandoning the U.S. currency. That fear was misplaced.” them in the only commodity that has one.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:31 PM


11 Surprising Natural Lessons from Mount St. Helens: What have scientists learned from 30 years of research and rebirth in the blast zone? (Lynne Peeples, 5/19/10, Scientific American)

Thirty years ago, on May 18, Mount St. Helens lost its top—3.7 billion cubic yards of mountain, to be exact. The peak of the Pacific Northwest icon dropped by about 1,300 feet in a matter of seconds, taking down with it enough trees to build 300,000 two-bedroom houses. Gone, too, were 200 homes, 57 human lives and most of the visible wildlife across 230 square miles.

"The first reaction for many of us was that what remained was a moonscape," recalls Jerry Franklin, professor of ecosystem analysis at the University of Washington. "But that proved to be very wrong."

Those initial bleak impressions were based on aerial views. As scientists got a closer look at the ash-laden ground, they discovered that the devastating losses had made room for remarkable gains—in terms of both ecosystem productivity and scientific progress.

Plants and animals that never stood a chance under heavy canopies of trees, or in the presence of predominating predators, began to flourish. Some of these species were brand new to the area, such as the western meadowlark. The resulting early-successional ecosystems turned out to be even more productive than those of the pre-eruption old-growth forests.

As the years went by, several lessons in fields ranging from biology to engineering to atmospheric science piled up. Zoologists studied curious cases of spiders windblown into the blast zone; volcanologists engineered stainless steel "smart spiders" to monitor ongoing volcanic activity; and forest managers took notice that areas left untouched by human hands after the eruption fostered greater biodiversity than places where people attempted to speed recovery by salvaging dead trees and planting new ones.

...your personal need to believe that you are alive at a uniquely significant moment has nothing to do with the mundane reality.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:22 PM


The Thatcherite road is all Europe has left: Solving the eurozone crisis will take more liberalisation than Germany wants to swallow (Bill Emmott , 5/20/10, Times of London)

The trouble is that it remains wholly unclear what the long-term solution will be. The immediate consequence of May 9 is that Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy have had to announce or start preparing budget cuts. That austerity in an already weak eurozone recovery adds to doubts about the sustainability of European growth. The longer-term consequence, say Germany, France and the European Commission, will be much stricter rules on budget deficits, with more intrusive surveillance of each other’s fiscal policies. But how, and with what punishments for breaking the rules?

Presumably, if Greece, Spain or any other country could not obey these rules the ultimate penalty would have to be expulsion from the euro. But Mrs Merkel has already described any exit from the currency as unthinkable.

Odd though it may sound, last Saturday at a conference in Bahrain I heard one German version of what that would imply. Steffen Kampeter, the No 2 in the German Finance Ministry, said that what would have to happen is a strictly enforced fiscal union, combined with a broad liberalisation of goods, services and labour markets. In other words, if monetary policy is in the hands of the European Central Bank, and there is no fiscal room for manoeuvre, the eurozone had better deregulate and turn Thatcherite. He is right. No other answer is on offer to the question of how the eurozone will restore growth and get itself out from under its debts.

You may well ask if Spain, Italy or Greece will accept that medicine. But you should also ask if Germany will either. After all, it is Germany that in recent years has blocked full liberalisation of services trade and a common energy policy.

So there are tough decisions ahead, and some tough arguments about them, amid more euro-crises. With little prospect of growth, investors can be forgiven for being sceptical about whether the Southern Europeans can emerge from their debts without a Latin American-style restructuring — and Mrs Merkel’s comments about “orderly state insolvency” have only fed that scepticism. Should that restructuring take place, there would have to be more write-offs by European banks, most of which have not yet had the sort of rigorous clean-up that has been done in America. This, rather than any rapid exit from the euro for Greece or Spain is the likely shape of the next euro-crisis.

None of this is good for Britain; this weak, deflating European economy is our main export market. If this debt crisis were to end up turning Europe Thatcherite, that would be something for us to celebrate. But that is, shall we say, a step or 12 ahead.

Mrs. Thatcher and neoliberalism in general have come off rather well from the "crisis of capitalism" that was supposed to be their death knell.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:48 PM


Home Prices Projected to Begin Rebound in 2011 (JAMES R. HAGERTY, 5/19/10, WSJ)

MacroMarkets, based in Madison, N.J., was co-founded by Robert Shiller, an economist at Yale University who helped create the Case-Shiller indexes. MacroMarkets creates securities that let people bet on the direction of various types of assets, including residential real estate. The survey by MacroMarkets was the first of what it says will be a monthly series involving about 100 analysts.

Mr. Shiller, who didn't contribute a forecast for the survey, said in an interview that the average prediction of a 12% price rise over five years was "a plausible scenario." During the housing boom, Mr. Shiller drew attention for bearish house-price comments that were far gloomier than the consensus but eventually proved to be on the mark.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:45 PM


Review: Casino Jack And The United States Of Money: Peering into evil conservative souls (CHRIS FARAONE, May 19, 2010, Bostoin Phoenix)

Had someone fire-bombed an annual college-Republicans' meeting in the early 1980s, he would have spared this country a lot of pain and strife.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:40 PM


Obama again disappoints the left (Ruben Navarrette, 5/19/10, San Diego UNION-TRIBUNE)

While Kagan’s critics on the left might actually help build her credibility with moderates, the shots she is taking from the liberal base could be another sign of the left’s disenchantment with Barack Obama.

The president’s pragmatic policies have already stirred up doubt and anxiety among various elements of the liberal coalition: teachers unions resistant to greater accountability and higher standards; civil libertarians concerned that Obama has continued George W. Bush’s detention and domestic wiretap policies; gays and lesbians disappointed that the president hasn’t done yet ended the federal ban on gay marriage; and immigrant activists frustrated by the administration’s failure to push for immigration reform. Having disappointed independents and energized conservatives, the president needs the support of liberal voters more than ever if he is going to win re-election in 2012.

Those on the left no doubt have some very legitimate reservations about what kind of justice Kagan would be. But it’s time for them to admit, if only to themselves, that those concerns extend well beyond the nominee to the president they helped elect. Kagan is just the latest vehicle for the frustration many liberals feel about Obama.

...would be so disconcerting it would destroy what little remains of his support.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:36 PM

60-40 KINGDOM:

Good news, boys: we’re not a left-wing nation: Britain should be natural territory for a Lib-Con alliance, but its partners must learn to socialise with each other, fast (Daniel Finkelstein, 5/19/10, Times of London)

Last week, during the constitutional crisis that culminated in Jaguar cars pulling off one of the most brilliant coups in the history of product placement, I heard the repeated claim that there is a “progressive majority” in this country that needs a “progressive alliance” to represent it.

I am not sure where this idea sprang from. “Progressive” is the sort of word that communists used to use in the 1980s when they were organising conferences that they didn’t want you to know were financed by the Soviet Union. Real people, most of whom spend a remarkably small fraction of their time organising popular fronts, don’t use it.

But I think what all this talk of progressive majorities is really about is asserting that most people in this country are broadly on the Left and that, intellectually, that is the only place where the Liberal Democrats can function. And both of these assertions are wrong. Quite wrong.

If Britain was a left-wing country, it would not have been necessary for Tony Blair to pull Labour so far to the Right that its leading figures hardly know what it stands for any more. [...]

Britain is, thankfully, an increasingly tolerant and socially liberal country. And people want the old, the sick and the vulnerable to be cared for. They don’t regard public spending cuts as a “liberation”, they are nervous of them and support public services. But at the same time they are tough on crime, angry about mass immigration, suspicious of government intervention and sceptical (though not generally all that interested) about the European Union. They don’t believe expansive promises from politicians, and they think that the welfare system is being fiddled. This is far from being a broadly left-wing country.

This is a Britain — moderate, socially liberal, economically liberal, tough-minded — to which this new coalition speaks; for which it could almost have been designed.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:31 PM


The Jobless: Why There's No Inflation: As long as unemployment stays above 9 percent, retailers' pricing power is nil. It's a situation that could last for years (Joshua Zumbrun, 5/13/10, Business Week)

The big factor keeping a lid on inflation is the jobless rate, which has stayed above 9 percent since May 2009. This near-record stretch of joblessness has held down wages and consumption. The Fed's preferred inflation gauge—the core personal consumption expenditures price index, which strips out price hikes in food and energy—rose at an annual rate of 0.6 percent in the first quarter, the slowest pace since records began in 1959, according to the Commerce Dept.

Retailers feel every day how weak their pricing power is. Bentonville (Ark.)-based Wal-Mart Stores (WMT) cut prices on more than 10,000 items after sales at U.S. stores opened at least a year fell 1.6 percent in the fiscal quarter ended Jan. 31. Home Depot (HD), the largest U.S. home improvement retailer, lowered prices in March on flowers, fertilizers, lawn equipment, and outdoor furniture, according to Craig Menear, executive vice-president for merchandising.

Inflation this low can sometimes slip into deflation. A drop in prices effectively boosts the cost of a loan, since a company finds it harder to generate the profit it needs to service its debt. Deflation has gripped Japan for years and proved impossible to stamp out.

The money supply, which grows robustly when banks are lending and consumers are borrowing, also points to declining inflation. The broadest measure of the money supply expanded at an annual rate of just 1.4 percent in the 12 months through April, vs. 8.4 percent a year earlier. That's a clear sign that consumers have switched from borrowing to saving. Says Gabriel Stein, a director at Lombard Street Research in London: "One of the signals of threatening deflation is if money supply grows very slowly." We're not in a deflation zone yet, but economists in the Bloomberg survey predicted inflation of only 1.2 percent this year, vs. 1.54 percent for 2009. All the more evidence, says Feroli, that rate hikes will be a long time coming: "The inflation data continue to look weaker and weaker."

...with jobs fleeing China because wages are too high and most developed economies facing demographic decline.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:14 AM

Grilled Bananas With Coconut-Caramel Sauce (The Denver Post, 05/19/2010, Adapted from "Steven Raichlen's Planet Barbecue!")

1/2 cup palm sugar or light brown sugar
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
8 apple bananas or 4 conventional bananas
Flat bamboo skewers

Combine the sugar and coconut milk in heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking to dissolve the sugar. Simmer briskly until thick, golden and very flavorful, about 5 minutes, whisking often. Remove the pan from the heat and let the sauce cool to room temperature. Place it in a deep bowl. (Can be prepared up to a day ahead and refrigerated, covered. Let the sauce return to room temperature before using.)

Heat grill to high. Brush and oil the grill grate. Peel bananas and skewer them through one end. Grill the bananas until they are lightly browned and partially cooked, 1 to 2 minutes per side.

Dip the bananas in the coconut-caramel sauce (or brush it onto on all sides) and return them to the grill. Continue to grill the bananas until they are darkly browned and sizzling, 1 to 3 minutes per side. A bamboo skewer should easily pierce the banana. Transfer to a platter or bowl. Spoon the remaining sauce on top and serve at once.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:08 AM


Kagan Criticized the Warren Court in Thesis (NATHAN KOPPEL And JESS BRAVIN, 5/18/10, WSJ)

In the Oxford paper, Ms. Kagan wrote that Supreme Court justices should rest their rulings squarely on a firm legal foundation, such as statutes and court precedents. Only then can court rulings command respect and stand the test of time, she wrote.

The paper, together with separate materials at the Library of Congress that depict Ms. Kagan's views as a Supreme Court clerk in 1987-88, show that at an early age she was willing to accept results contrary to her sympathies when she said her analysis showed the law required it.

In the thesis, she wrote that justices sometimes "attempt to steer the law in order to achieve certain ends and advance certain values.…Their concentration on end-results leads them to neglect legal means."

The paper focuses on the exclusionary rule, a criminal-law principle restricting prosecutors from introducing evidence seized illegally by law enforcement.

While an important principle, Ms. Kagan wrote, the Supreme Court overreached in its application during the 1960s, when the court was at its liberal zenith under Chief Justice Earl Warren.

In a 1961 case, written by Justice Tom Clark and joined by Justice Warren, the court overturned precedent and applied the exclusionary rule to state-court proceedings, without articulating a sound basis to do so, Ms. Kagan wrote.

"Simply put, the criminal justice systems of many of the states offended the ethical sensibilities of the Warren Court," she wrote.

In a range of cases, "the court asserted its right to no less than lead the nation," she added. "Essentially, the Warren Court lacked faith in the ability of the president, the congress or the state legislatures to guide America in the proper direction."

Towards the end, she concludes: "No court should make or justify its decisions solely by reference to the demands of social justice. Decisions should be based upon legal principle."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:04 AM


Catholic canteens five times cheaper (Anthony Klan and Nicolas Perpitch, 5/19/10, The Australian)

SCHOOL canteens built by the Catholic school system under the $16.2 billion stimulus scheme are up to five times cheaper than those delivered by state governments.

The 500-strong St Lawrence Primary School at Bluff Point, near Geraldton, 420km north of Perth, is building a new architect-designed canteen measuring 10m by 7.5m - about the size of a double car garage - for $4053 a square metre.

By contrast, the tiny and unusable 8.47m by 3.1m canteens being built across NSW for between $550,000 and $600,000 are costing taxpayers $23,000 per square metre. [...]

St Lawrence Primary School principal Michael Friday attributes the hands-on approach within the Catholic system as the reason why his school had avoided the massive building cost public schools face under the BER.

Mr Friday said he had worked closely with a local architect to ensure a new canteen and other buildings could be built within budget. "We were lucky in that the Catholic system . . . seems to have handled it exceptionally well," he said. "I know the government schools were told, 'This is what you're getting at your school', whereas we got to ask for what was going to meet our needs." [...]

Bill Walsh, executive officer of the NSW Catholic Block Grant Authority, which is handling $1.03bn of funds and delivering architect-designed buildings at a fraction of the cost of the public sector, said the authority set maximum construction rates for all Catholic schools, to prevent price gouging and rip-offs.

"We know what a building should cost; we didn't allow any price gouging" Mr Walsh said.

"We don't allow builders to say 'You've got funding of $3m, so this building is going to cost $3m'."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:03 AM


Spellbound by the willow wands that hold promise of great returns: The humble cricket bat is invested with almost mystical properties by players across the talent spectrum (Rob Bagchi, 5/19/10, The Guardian)

The bats we used at school and in the club's indoor nets in the mid-70s were as ancient as some of our teachers. Too old for gaudy stickers, they had the maker's name stencilled on them in black, usually with the autograph of some long-forgotten player, and the ones at the bottom of the bag had their cracks held together by glue and twine wrapped around the face. Some were covered in plastic sheaths that may have prolonged their life, but rendered them as meat-free as George Bernard Shaw's diet. When one innings was ended even more prematurely than normal with me left holding the handle and splice as the detached blade disappeared over extra cover, I resolved that the time had come to get a bat of my own.

But deciding what to buy was far from straightforward. As someone who obsessed about arcane details, each maker had some sort of connotation. Gray-Nicolls, with their scoops, were the preserve of the wristy, whippy stylists; Stuart Surridge Jumbos the clubbers and dynamic hitters; Hunts County the purists; Mitre the nurdlers.

Within a 10-mile radius of our house we had three batmakers: Slazenger, Crown Sports and Saint Peter, the latter enjoying a brief spell in the sun thanks to its sponsorship of Tony Greig during his shouty pomp and his use of its absurd boxing-style batting gloves. You could go to the factories and purchase a "second" quite reasonably, but I was determined not to compromise.

That meant a trip to the shop run by the former Yorkshire captain, Billy Sutcliffe, son of Herbert, in one of the Victorian arcades in Leeds. The place was so well-stocked with bats that one of the hazards of working there must have been buffoons ostentatiously farting in the cricket department just so they could drolly let rip with the "wind in the willows" gag.

There, solely because of Ian Botham's endorsement, I bought a Duncan Fearnley and was also persuaded to invest in a bat mallet, presumably the cricket equipment retailer's equivalent of Clark's trying to flog you shoe trees. After hours spent knocking it in, the bat became a constant companion. I never got to the stage of Geoffrey Boycott or Australia opener Geoff Marsh, practising forward defensives in the mirror while naked, but I did cherish it.

The cliche about bad workmen blaming their tools does not always ring true in cricket. The elite player has his certainty and confidence to protect, and here one thinks of Raymond Illingworth's excuse for one dismissal – "Ruddy umpire must have given me t'wrong guard". But the average player does invest mystical qualities in his bat, as if, like King Arthur and Excalibur, finding the right one will make up for all his deficiencies in talent and technique.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:00 AM


Glenn Beck's Golden Fleece: Rep. Anthony Weiner says Beck and Goldline are conspiring to "cheat consumers." A Mother Jones investigation into the right-wing's paranoid pitch for overpriced gold. (Stephanie Mencimer, May. 19, 2010, Mother Jones)

For more than a century, gold has held a special allure for the conservative fringe. Amid economic downswings and social upheaval, the precious metal has come to be seen as a moral and political statement as much as an investment. Ever since the late 19th century, when the gold standard became the center of a ferocious debate about the country's financial future, gold has been mythologized as bulwark against inflation, federal meddling, and the corrosive effects of progressivism. In the late 1970s, South African Krugerrands became a refuge from soaring interest rates and oil prices. In the '90s, militia groups fearful of big banks and the Federal Reserve hoarded gold.

And now, with the economy limping along and a black Democrat in the White House, gold mania has gone mainstream. Gold prices hit a recent high last December and remained strong as the European debt crisis unfolded this spring. John Paulson, the hedge-fund giant who made billions bundling and betting against Goldman Sachs subprime mortgage securities, has invested heavily in gold, even starting a new fund devoted solely to it. A recent New York Times poll [3] found that 1 in 20 self-identified Tea Party members had bought gold in the past year. Cashing in on all this is a raft of entrepreneurs who have tapped into financial insecurity and fever dreams of approaching tyranny. Nearly every major conservative radio host, including Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Michael Savage, and Dr. Laura Schlessinger, has advertised gold. But none has done more to cheer on the new gold rush than Glenn Beck.
One Beck fan told the FTC that Goldline had charged $369 for coins that could be bought elsewhere for 40 percent less.

Beck, whose various media enterprises brought in $32 million last year, according to Forbes, has a particular interest in plugging gold. Since 2008, Goldline has been one of his most reliable sponsors, underwriting his comedy tours and investing heavily in his radio show. Last year, after Beck called President Obama a racist [4], and mainstream advertisers bailed on his cable show, Goldline stuck by him. And its loyalty appears to have paid off. In an email, Goldline's executive vice president Scott Carter says that while its Beck sponsorship doesn't bring in the majority of its customers, it "has improved sales," which exceed $500 million a year.

In turn, Beck, has stood by Goldline. Last year, he made a promo video for the company [5] in which he stated, "This is a top-notch organization"—a quote featured prominently in Goldline ads on its own website. Until last fall, Goldline's website identified Beck as a paid spokesman. After the liberal watchdog Media Matters complained of a potential conflict of interest, Goldline modified its ad copy to indicate that it sponsors Beck's radio show, not Beck himself. Beck posted a video on his website [6] in which he unapologetically noted that he'd started buying from Goldline long before it was his sponsor, back when gold was $300 an ounce.

But there's still a powerful feedback loop between Beck and Goldline. The more worked up Beck gets about the economy or encroaching socialism, the more Goldline can employ those fears in pitching their products to his audience. But in putting his seal of approval on Goldline, "the people I've trusted for years and years," Beck has gone beyond simply endorsing an advertiser. A Mother Jones investigation shows that Beck is recommending a company that promotes financial security but operates in a largely unregulated no-man's land, generating a pile of consumer complaints about misleading advertising, aggressive telemarketing, and overpriced products. Just Tuesday, Rep. Anthony Weiner asked the Federal Trade Commission and the Securities and Exchange Commission to investigate Goldline for its "predatory policies." In an accompanying report, Weiner said that the company and conservative pundits had been working "hand in hand to cheat consumers": "Commentators like Glenn Beck who are shilling for Goldline are either the worst financial advisors around or knowingly lying to their loyal viewers."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:56 AM


Saudi woman beats up virtue cop (BENJAMIN JOFFE-WALT, 17/05/2010, Jerusalem Post)

A member of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, the Saudi religious police known locally as the Hai’a, asked the couple to confirm their identities and relationship to one another, as it is a crime in Saudi Arabia for unmarried men and women to mix.

For unknown reasons, the young man collapsed upon being questioned by the cop.

According to the Saudi daily Okaz, the woman then allegedly laid into the religious policeman, punching him repeatedly, and leaving him to be taken to the hospital with bruises across his body and face.

“To see resistance from a woman means a lot,” Wajiha Al-Huwaidar, a Saudi women’s rights activist, told The Media Line news agency. “People are fed up with these religious police, and now they have to pay the price for the humiliation they put people through for years and years. This is just the beginning and there will be more resistance.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:49 AM


Ferrell pitches, entertains in Round Rock (Mark Newman and Brian McTaggart, 5/07/10,

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:39 AM


May 18, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:50 PM


First Listen: Bettye LaVette, 'Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook' (Stephen Thompson, NPR)

LaVette's voice is so authoritative, in fact, that she's unafraid to reinvent songs that might have otherwise seemed untouchable. It's not that The Moody Blues' "Knights in White Satin," Elton John's "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me," Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here" and Paul McCartney's "Maybe I'm Amazed" are so unimpeachable that they can't possibly be approached by other singers; it's that they're so often instantly familiar in earlier incarnations. They can't be covered credibly and made fresh by just anybody. But Bettye LaVette is exactly the sort of singer to pull it off, as she does on the new, self-explanatorily titled Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook. A fearless iconoclast, she does these and other songs justice by injecting them with her own warmly brash personality; by burrowing into them and really inhabiting them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:41 PM


Hank Jones, Versatile Jazz Pianist, Is Dead at 91 (PETER KEEPNEWS, 5/17/10, NY Times)

lived on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and also had a home in Hartwick, N.Y.

Mr. Jones spent much of his career in the background. For three and a half decades he was primarily a sideman, most notably with Ella Fitzgerald; for much of that time he also worked as a studio musician on radio and television.

His fellow musicians admired his imagination, his versatility and his distinctive style, which blended the urbanity and rhythmic drive of the Harlem stride pianists, the dexterity of Art Tatum and the harmonic daring of bebop. (The pianist, composer and conductor André Previn once called Mr. Jones his favorite pianist, “regardless of idiom.”)

But unlike his younger brothers Thad, who played trumpet with Count Basie and was later a co-leader of a celebrated big band, and Elvin, an influential drummer who formed a successful combo after six years with John Coltrane’s innovative quartet, Hank Jones seemed content for many years to keep a low profile. [...]

He kept busy after leaving Fitzgerald. Among other activities, he began an association with Benny Goodman that would last into the 1970s, and he was a member of the last group Goodman’s swing-era rival Artie Shaw led before retiring in 1954. But financial security beckoned, and in 1959 he became a staff musician at CBS. He also participated in a celebrated moment in presidential history when he accompanied Marilyn Monroe as she sang “Happy Birthday” to President John F. Kennedy, who was about to turn 45, during a Democratic Party fund-raiser at Madison Square Garden in May 1962.

-ARCHIVES: The Late Pianist Hank Jones On NPR (Patrick Jarenwattananon, 5/17/10, NPR)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:31 PM


The return of the dollar (Joshua M. Brown, May 18, 2010 , CS Monitor)

As recently as two or three years ago, the Death of the Dollar and the strength of the euro was all anyone could talk about. What did they get wrong?

...and only the US has a future.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:25 PM


Hockey Playoffs Put Basketball Playoffs on Ice (Susan Shan, 5/17/10, Epoch Times)

This year, when torn between watching an NHL playoff game or an NBA playoff game being aired at the same time, the choice is really quite simple. The 2010 NHL playoffs blow away the NBA playoffs in every facet of sports.

In the 12 series that each sport has played to reach the conference finals, the NBA has been, quite frankly, boring. Only had one NBA series went the full seven games—the first round matchup between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Atlanta Hawks. Four sweeps have occurred, of which three came in the conference semifinals.

In contrast, the NHL has had no sweeps and four seven-game series with two coming in the conference semifinals. In addition, the NHL has had 15 overtime games, including a double overtime game and a triple overtime game. The NBA has had none.

...and get to the good stuffer quicker and while it's still Winter.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:24 PM


Kagan Nomination Leaves Longing on the Left (PETER BAKER, 5/10/10, NY Times)

[C]onservatives have largely succeeded in framing the debate, putting liberals on the defensive. Sonia Sotomayor echoed conservatives in her Supreme Court confirmation hearings last year by rejecting the idea of a “living” Constitution that evolves, and even President Obama recently said the court had gone too far in the past. While conservatives have played a powerful role in influencing Republican nominations, liberals have not been as potent in Democratic selections.

In that vein, then, no Democratic nominee since Thurgood Marshall in 1967 has been the sort of outspoken liberal champion that the left craves, while Justice Scalia has been joined by three other solid conservatives in Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. By all accounts, Mr. Obama did not even consider the candidates favored most by the left, like Harold Hongju Koh, his State Department legal adviser, or Pamela S. Karlan, a Stanford Law School professor.

“Why do the conservatives always get the conservatives, but we don’t get to get the liberals?” Senator Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa, asked the Web site Politico recently, voicing the frustration of the left when Ms. Kagan was considered a front-runner but was not yet Mr. Obama’s selection. “What the hell is that all about?”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:12 PM


US wholesale prices down in April (AFP, 5/17/10)

The producer price index -- the measure of wholesale inflation, or the prices that businesses pay for their goods -- dropped 0.1 percent in April after rising 0.7 percent in March. [...]

After stripping out food and energy, core prices for finished goods were up marginally by 0.2 percent.

Some analysts felt the April figures coupled with the current European debt crisis triggered risks of disinflation, commonly used by the Federal Reserve to describe situations of slowing inflation, which help keep interest rates down.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:18 AM


Tim Pawlenty budget a GOP model (Ben Smith, 5/17/10, Politico)

Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty's final budget, completed early Monday morning over the protests of angry Democrats and passed in a special session of the state legislature later in the day, positions the 2012 Republican presidential hopeful as the embodiment of conservative governance in hard economic times.

Pawlenty appears to have run the table on the Democratic majorities in both of the houses of the legislature, forcing them to drop plans for new surcharges and scrap their top priority, an expansion of federal and state-funded health care for some of the state's poor. They also enacted spending cuts that a court recently ruled Pawlenty could not make himself.

He will complete his two-term tenure at the end of this year having fulfilled his pledge not to raise taxes, with his approval ratings in positive territory, and having largely avoided the pragmatic compromises that often bedevil governors in polarized party primaries. His success gives him the accomplishments to match his conservative rhetoric, and set a high bar for other ambitious governors facing budget crises of their own in this lean year.

Unless Jeb announces, Mr. Pawlenty has to be considered the favorite for the nomination. He's got it all working for him--a governor, a conservative, an Evangelical, proximity to IA and no cracker accent, so he can carry NH.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:15 AM


The realities behind the immigration debate (Jeffrey Miron, 05/18/10, Daily Caller)

The reality is that only four policies can significantly reduce illegal immigration.

The first is allowing more legal immigration. This point is obvious but worth emphasizing. The United States has an illegal immigration problem because it restricts legal immigration. So long as large wage differences persist between the U.S. and other countries, especially Latin America, the desire to immigrate will persist and occur illegally if it is not permitted legally.

Legal migration, moreover, is good for America and rest of the world. Immigration allows people in poor countries to seek a better life here, bringing ideas and energy with them, and it shows the world that many people still regard America as the land of opportunity. Many immigrants are far poorer than the poorest Americans, so helping them makes far more sense than operating a generous welfare state.

Restrictions on immigration are also costly, since they create black markets, generate violence, and spawn corruption. Fences and borders patrols are expensive, and they do not seem to reduce the flow of illegal immigrants. So any attempt to reduce illegal immigration should eschew enhanced enforcement and instead increase legal immigration.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:04 AM


L.A. City Council agrees to job cuts if unions won't accept concessions (David Zahniser and Phil Willon, May 17, 2010, LA Times)

A divided Los Angeles City Council voted Monday to move ahead with plans to eliminate 761 positions while continuing to seek concessions from the unions that represent city employees.

On an 11-4 vote, the council pressed forward with an array of cuts, eliminating dozens of child-care workers, shortening library hours and drastically reducing the number of trees that will be trimmed.

The cuts, which also include up to 26 furlough days for each worker, are slated to go into effect July 1, the start of the new fiscal year.

“Hopefully, we have stopped wasting people’s time,” said Councilwoman Jan Perry, who pushed for the cuts. “We have demonstrated that we are serious.”

If LA can cut the public workforce, who can't?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:02 AM


Laura Bush opposes Arizona law, citing her Irish ancestors (PATRICK COOPER, 5/17/10,

Former First Lady Laura Bush has come out against the Arizona immigration law, pointing to the discrimination that her own Irish ancestors, named Welch, faced in their time.

In an interview with Fox News, Bush said the new law merely showed an upsurge in prejudice similar to what her Irish ancestors faced.

....doesn't she know that this wave of immigration is TOTALLY DIFFERENT!

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:56 AM


U.S. immigration court grants asylum to President Obama's African aunt Zeituni Onyango (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, May 18th 2010)

A U.S. immigration court has granted asylum to President Obama's African aunt, allowing her to stay in the country and setting her on the road to citizenship after years of legal wrangling, her attorneys announced Monday.

May 17, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:18 PM


Want to See Obama’s Future? Take a Look at Cory Booker.: Newark Mayor Corey Booker is converting campaign inspiration into capable governance. (Ellis Cose, May 17, 2010, Newsweek)

Booker's success at turning inspirational rhetoric into effective governance might well provide something of a template for Obama. And last week, as Booker basked in the afterglow of his recent reelection for a second term, I asked him to reflect on what he has done. "Four years ago, I was really selling … the rather ephemeral qualities of hope and possibility. 'Believe in me. Believe in us.' And those are all important things," he said. "But when you have nothing to back it up with, it made it very difficult … Now I can talk not just about what we're going to do, but point to examples of what we've done."

He has plenty to boast about, as The Star-Ledger, Newark's newspaper, pointed out in endorsing him: "Under Booker, gun violence in Newark has been cut in half. The city payroll has shrunk by 17 percent. New parks have sprouted up across the city. The Housing Authority has been brought back from the dead, and the pace of new construction of affordable housing has picked up. New programs have helped hundreds of released prisoners find jobs, arranged financing for small businesses and helped families combat foreclosure. The list of innovative programs goes on."

...does anyone really think the UR is going to be running on a record of cutting the federal workforce be nearly a 5th?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:01 PM


Options to fix Social Security’s looming shortfall (Associated Press, 05/17/10)

Social Security faces a projected $5.3 trillion shortfall over the next 75 years. Options for improving the program’s finances, with the percentage of the gap that would be eliminated:

—Immediately increase payroll taxes for workers and employers by 1.1 percentage points each, to 7.3 percent: 104 percent.

—Increase payroll taxes for workers and employers by 1 percentage point starting in 2022, and an additional percentage point starting in 2052: 103 percent.

—Increase payroll taxes for workers and employers by 1/20th of 1 percentage point each year for 20 years: 69 percent.

—Tax all wages including those above the current cap of $106,800, without providing additional benefits to high earners: 116 percent.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:57 PM


Candidate’s Words Differ From His History (RAYMOND HERNANDEZ, 5/17/10, NY Times)

At a ceremony honoring veterans and senior citizens who sent presents to soldiers overseas, Attorney General Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut rose and spoke of an earlier time in his life.

“We have learned something important since the days that I served in Vietnam,” Mr. Blumenthal said to the group gathered in Norwalk in March 2008. “And you exemplify it. Whatever we think about the war, whatever we call it — Afghanistan or Iraq — we owe our military men and women unconditional support.”

There was one problem: Mr. Blumenthal, a Democrat who is now running for the United States Senate, never served in Vietnam. He obtained at least five military deferments from 1965 to 1970 and took repeated steps that enabled him to avoid going to war, according to records.

He was pretty nearly the Democrats' only bright spot this cycle.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:46 PM


Blinded by Scientism: The problem with scientism is that it is either self-defeating or trivially true. F.A. Hayek helps us to see why. (EDWARD FESER, 5/09/10, The Public Discourse)

Scientism is the view that all real knowledge is scientific knowledge – that there is no rational, objective form of inquiry that is not a branch of science. There is at least a whiff of scientism in the thinking of those who dismiss ethical objections to cloning or embryonic stem cell research as inherently "anti-science." There is considerably more than a whiff of it in the work of New Atheist writers like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, who allege that because religion has no scientific foundation (or so they claim) it "therefore" has no rational foundation at all. It is evident even in secular conservative writers like John Derbyshire and Heather MacDonald, whose criticisms of their religious fellow right-wingers are only slightly less condescending than those of Dawkins and co. Indeed, the culture at large seems beholden to an inchoate scientism – "faith" is often pitted against "science" (even by those friendly to the former) as if "science" were synonymous with "reason."

Despite its adherents' pose of rationality, scientism has a serious problem: it is either self-refuting or trivial. Take the first horn of this dilemma. The claim that scientism is true is not itself a scientific claim, not something that can be established using scientific methods. Indeed, that science is even a rational form of inquiry (let alone the only rational form of inquiry) is not something that can be established scientifically. For scientific inquiry itself rests on a number of philosophical assumptions: that there is an objective world external to the minds of scientists; that this world is governed by causal regularities; that the human intellect can uncover and accurately describe these regularities; and so forth. Since science presupposes these things, it cannot attempt to justify them without arguing in a circle. And if it cannot even establish that it is a reliable form of inquiry, it can hardly establish that it is the only reliable form. Both tasks would require "getting outside" science altogether and discovering from that extra-scientific vantage point that science conveys an accurate picture of reality – and in the case of scientism, that only science does so.

The rational investigation of the philosophical presuppositions of science has, naturally, traditionally been regarded as the province of philosophy.

But dang is it fun watching them chase their tails.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:43 PM


People with common thyroid cancers may not need immediate treatment, study says (Thomas H. Maugh II, May 17, 2010, LA Times)

Autopsy studies also show that small thyroid cancers are present in most people who died from other causes, a finding similar to the observation of small prostate tumors in most men who die of other causes. Such findings suggest that most thyroid tumors (and prostate tumors) are a benign side effect of aging that can be safely ignored unless they suddenly start growing. Dr. Louise Davies and Dr. H. Gilbert Welch of the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice in Hanover, N.H., and the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in White River, Vt., compiled data from a national registry on 35,653 patients who were diagnosed with such small tumors, called papillary thyroid cancer, between 1973 and 2005; 440 of the patients did not undergo immediate treatment, which generally involves surgical removal of all or part of the thyroid gland.

Davies and Welch reported in the journal Archives of Otolaryngology--Head & Neck Surgery that, after six years of follow-up, 141 of the treated patients, less than half a percent, had died, compared to six of the untreated patients, or 1.4%.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:37 PM


Why Are More Americans Calling Themselves Pro-Life?: It's because of Obama, but not just for the reason you might think. (Jessica Grose, May 17, 2010, Slate)

[Nathaniel Persily, a professor of law and political science at Columbia Law School] has another explanation to add to the mix: He attributes the shift toward the pro-life label to Obama's softening of the language of Democratic support for abortion. Obama said about abortion in 2008 during his campaign that "there is something extraordinarily powerful about potential life and that that has a moral weight to it that we take into consideration when we're having these debates." For those in the mushy middle on abortion, hearing a president—even one who identifies as pro-choice—question the morality of abortion might scare them away from Planned Parenthood benefits.

Pro-choice and pro-life activists have competing theories of their own about why Gen Y in particular is tilting away from choice. Ten years ago, only 15 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds believed abortion should be illegal in all circumstances. Now 23 percent of Americans in that age range want to outlaw abortion. Some pro-choicers attribute the shift to abstinence-only sex education. Aimee R. Thorne-Thomsen, former executive director of the Pro-Choice Public Education Project, says she is skeptical of the Gallup numbers, but adds that twentysomethings have "grown up under a political system that demonized sexuality. Their consciousness has been under abstinence-only, promotion-of-marriage initiatives, so it's a very narrowly based idea of appropriate behavior." Which, for more young people in their 20s, does not include abortion.

Alternatively, the young pro-life activists I spoke to wonder if they have more support because of improved ultrasound technology. "My generation has seen ultrasound photos of ourselves and our siblings," Kelsey Hazzard, the president of, says, "so it's sort of hard to put the 'fetuses are just a clump of tissues' line past us."

The notion that more and more Americans are embracing the pro-life label is pretty terrifying for pro-choicers.

The terrifying specter of human life.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:33 PM


Abortion foes capitalize on health law they fought (RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR, Associated Press)

Abortion opponents fought passage of President Barack Obama's health care overhaul to the bitter end, and now that it's the law, they're using it to limit coverage by private insurers.

An obscure part of the law allows states to restrict abortion coverage by private plans operating in new insurance markets. Capitalizing on that language, abortion foes have succeeded in passing bans that, in some cases, go beyond federal statutes.

"We don't consider elective abortion to be health care, so we don't think it's a bad thing for fewer private insurance companies to cover it," said Mary Harned, attorney for Americans United for Life, a national organization that wrote a model law for the states.

Abortion rights supporters are dismayed.

Thanks, Barry!

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:29 AM


The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment (Peter Beinart, 6/10/10, NY Review of Books)

In 2003, several prominent Jewish philanthropists hired Republican pollster Frank Luntz to explain why American Jewish college students were not more vigorously rebutting campus criticism of Israel. In response, he unwittingly produced the most damning indictment of the organized American Jewish community that I have ever seen.

The philanthropists wanted to know what Jewish students thought about Israel. Luntz found that they mostly didn’t. “Six times we have brought Jewish youth together as a group to talk about their Jewishness and connection to Israel,” he reported. “Six times the topic of Israel did not come up until it was prompted. Six times these Jewish youth used the word ‘they‘ rather than ‘us‘ to describe the situation.”

That Luntz encountered indifference was not surprising. In recent years, several studies have revealed, in the words of Steven Cohen of Hebrew Union College and Ari Kelman of the University of California at Davis, that “non-Orthodox younger Jews, on the whole, feel much less attached to Israel than their elders,” with many professing “a near-total absence of positive feelings.” In 2008, the student senate at Brandeis, the only nonsectarian Jewish-sponsored university in America, rejected a resolution commemorating the sixtieth anniversary of the Jewish state.

Luntz’s task was to figure out what had gone wrong. When he probed the students’ views of Israel, he hit up against some firm beliefs. First, “they reserve the right to question the Israeli position.” These young Jews, Luntz explained, “resist anything they see as ‘group think.’” They want an “open and frank” discussion of Israel and its flaws. Second, “young Jews desperately want peace.” When Luntz showed them a series of ads, one of the most popular was entitled “Proof that Israel Wants Peace,” and listed offers by various Israeli governments to withdraw from conquered land. Third, “some empathize with the plight of the Palestinians.” When Luntz displayed ads depicting Palestinians as violent and hateful, several focus group participants criticized them as stereotypical and unfair, citing their own Muslim friends. [...]

Of course, Israel—like the United States—must sometimes take morally difficult actions in its own defense. But they are morally difficult only if you allow yourself some human connection to the other side. Otherwise, security justifies everything. The heads of AIPAC and the Presidents’ Conference should ask themselves what Israel’s leaders would have to do or say to make them scream “no.” After all, Lieberman is foreign minister; Effi Eitam is touring American universities; settlements are growing at triple the rate of the Israeli population; half of Israeli Jewish high school students want Arabs barred from the Knesset. If the line has not yet been crossed, where is the line?

What infuriated critics about Lapid’s comment was that his grandmother died at Auschwitz. How dare he defile the memory of the Holocaust? Of course, the Holocaust is immeasurably worse than anything Israel has done or ever will do. But at least Lapid used Jewish suffering to connect to the suffering of others. In the world of AIPAC, the Holocaust analogies never stop, and their message is always the same: Jews are licensed by their victimhood to worry only about themselves. Many of Israel’s founders believed that with statehood, Jews would rightly be judged on the way they treated the non-Jews living under their dominion. “For the first time we shall be the majority living with a minority,” Knesset member Pinchas Lavon declared in 1948, “and we shall be called upon to provide an example and prove how Jews live with a minority.”

But the message of the American Jewish establishment and its allies in the Netanyahu government is exactly the opposite: since Jews are history’s permanent victims, always on the knife-edge of extinction, moral responsibility is a luxury Israel does not have. Its only responsibility is to survive. As former Knesset speaker Avraham Burg writes in his remarkable 2008 book, The Holocaust Is Over; We Must Rise From Its Ashes, “Victimhood sets you free.”

This obsession with victimhood lies at the heart of why Zionism is dying among America’s secular Jewish young. It simply bears no relationship to their lived experience, or what they have seen of Israel’s. Yes, Israel faces threats from Hezbollah and Hamas. Yes, Israelis understandably worry about a nuclear Iran. But the dilemmas you face when you possess dozens or hundreds of nuclear weapons, and your adversary, however despicable, may acquire one, are not the dilemmas of the Warsaw Ghetto. The year 2010 is not, as Benjamin Netanyahu has claimed, 1938. The drama of Jewish victimhood—a drama that feels natural to many Jews who lived through 1938, 1948, or even 1967—strikes most of today’s young American Jews as farce.

But there is a different Zionist calling, which has never been more desperately relevant. It has its roots in Israel’s Independence Proclamation, which promised that the Jewish state “will be based on the precepts of liberty, justice and peace taught by the Hebrew prophets,” and in the December 1948 letter from Albert Einstein, Hannah Arendt, and others to The New York Times, protesting right-wing Zionist leader Menachem Begin’s visit to the United States after his party’s militias massacred Arab civilians in the village of Deir Yassin. It is a call to recognize that in a world in which Jewish fortunes have radically changed, the best way to memorialize the history of Jewish suffering is through the ethical use of Jewish power.

For several months now, a group of Israeli students has been traveling every Friday to the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, where a Palestinian family named the Ghawis lives on the street outside their home of fifty-three years, from which they were evicted to make room for Jewish settlers. Although repeatedly arrested for protesting without a permit, and called traitors and self-haters by the Israeli right, the students keep coming, their numbers now swelling into the thousands. What if American Jewish organizations brought these young people to speak at Hillel? What if this was the face of Zionism shown to America’s Jewish young? What if the students in Luntz’s focus group had been told that their generation faces a challenge as momentous as any in Jewish history: to save liberal democracy in the only Jewish state on earth?

...may be inexcusable for the alpha. Israel long since went from the former to the latter.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:23 AM


GM rides cost cuts, new-model sales to 1Q profit (Dee-Ann Durbin and Tom Krisher, 5/17/10, ASSOCIATED PRESS)

General Motors Co. rode expense cuts from its bankruptcy and strong sales of redesigned models to its first quarterly net income in nearly three years.

The $865 million first-quarter profit is a dramatic reversal from the huge $6 billion loss in the similar period last year. The last time the company made a quarterly profit was the second quarter of 2007, when it earned $891 million.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:32 AM


Nuke the Oil Spill: After nearly a month of failed efforts to stop the oil gushing into the Gulf, BP needs to get serious about destroying its well. Nuclear policy scholar Christopher Brownfield on the benefits of a nuclear explosion. (Christopher Brownfield, 5/17/10, Daily Beast)

[U]sing nuclear weapons, even for peaceful purposes, would be problematic for a president who stood in Prague and declared that the world should rid itself of such devices. If President Obama were to use a nuke to close this well, he would give other states an excuse to seek nuclear weapons of their own. After all, it was an argument for “peaceful nuclear explosions” that allowed India to justify its acquisition of nuclear weapons in the 1970s. We don’t need Iran making the same argument tomorrow. The dilemma seems clear: Either Obama leaves BP in charge of managing its own short-term interests, or he can take charge and stop this spill immediately by pulling the trigger on a nuclear option with severe political and environmental aftershocks.

But there could be be a third option that Obama might bring to the table, once we recognize that BP is just as concerned about salvaging its precious asset as it is about stopping the spill. Our military could potentially use a carefully placed combination of conventional explosives to collapse the well. Our technology is much better than that of the Soviet Union in 1966, so we should be able to make this work without having to go nuclear. I’m confident that the U.S. Navy, the Army Corps of Engineers, and some private-sector organizations could come together and make this happen. The only question is whether Obama will be bold enough to take charge of this problem at the risk of his presidency slipping down the deep, dark well.

Do we even need to ask the question?

Russia Suggest Nuclear Explosion to Cut Off Gulf Oil Geyser (CNN, 5/10/10)

During the Soviet years, Russia's communists had to deal with numerous oil disasters and on five different occasions they employed controlled, underground nuclear blasts to quickly solve the problem.

[The] underground explosion moves the rock, presses on it, and, in essence, squeezes the well’s channel," Pracda reported.

"It’s so simple, in fact, that the Soviet Union, a major oil exporter, used this method five times to deal with petrocalamities," added Moscow reporter Julia Ioffe, writing for True/Slant "The first happened in Uzbekistan, on September 30, 1966 with a blast 1.5 times the strength of the Hiroshima bomb and at a depth of 1.5 kilometers. KP also notes that subterranean nuclear blasts were used as much as 169 times in the Soviet Union to accomplish fairly mundane tasks like creating underground storage spaces for gas or building canals."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:11 AM


Labour's warning to new Government: 'there's no money left' (Daily Telegraph, 5/17/10)

Speaking at a press conference at the Treasury, [Liberal Democrat David Laws] told reporters: ''When I arrived at my desk on the very first day as Chief Secretary, I found a letter from the previous chief secretary to give me some advice, I assumed, on how I conduct myself over the months ahead.

''Unfortunately, when I opened it, it was a one-sentence letter which simply said 'Dear Chief Secretary, I'm afraid to tell you there's no money left', which was honest but slightly less helpful advice than I had been expecting,''

Mr Byrne insisted the message was meant as a private joke.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:01 AM


The rise and fall of New Labour: The architect of the Third Way argues that although the Blair-Brown years may not have been the new dawn promised in 1997, Labour’s achievements were still considerable. (Anthony Giddens, 17 May 2010, New Statesman)

From the outset, the architects of New Labour offered a compelling diagnosis of why innovation in left-of-centre politics was needed, coupled with a clear policy agenda. In outline, this diagnosis ran as follows: the values of the left - solidarity, a commitment to reducing inequality and protecting the vulnerable, and a belief in the role of active government - remained intact, but the policies designed to pursue these ends had to shift radically because of profound changes going on in the wider world. Such changes included intensifying globalisation, the development of a post-industrial or service economy and, in an information age, the emergence of a more voluble and combative citizenry, less deferential to authority figures than in the past (a process that intensified with the advent of the internet).

Most of Labour's policy prescriptions followed from this analysis. The era of Keynesian demand management, linked to state direction of economic enterprise, was over. A different relationship of government to business had to be established, recognising the vital role of enterprise in wealth creation and the limits of state power.

Hard as it is for the Left to accept, this diagnosis was pioneered by American economists advising Augusto Pinochet and then exported to Thatcher's England. Of course, the Right can't accept that Clinton and Blair pursued its conservative formula either. David Cameron, by bringing the Liberal Democrats into the fold, has a unique opportunity to make the Tories the first permanently Third Way party. The opportunity escaped George W. Bush on the scorched earth of Florida.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:51 AM


The Revenue Limits of Tax and Spend: Whether rates are high or low, evidence shows our tax system won't collect more than 20% of GDP. (DAVID RANSON, 5/17/10, WSJ)

"Hauser's Law," as I call this formula, reveals a kind of capacity ceiling for federal tax receipts at about 19% of GDP.

What's the origin of this limit beyond which it is impossible to extract any more revenue from tax payers? The tax base is not something that the government can kick around at will. It represents a living economic system that makes its own collective choices. In a tax code of 70,000 pages there are innumerable ways for high-income earners to seek out and use ambiguities and loopholes. The more they are incentivized to make an effort to game the system, the less the federal government will get to collect. That would explain why, as Mr. Hauser has shown, conventional methods of forecasting tax receipts from increases in future tax rates are prone to over-predict revenue.

For budget planning it's wiser and safer to assume that tax receipts will remain at a historically realistic ratio to GDP no matter how tax rates are manipulated. That leads me to conclude that current projections of federal revenue are, once again, unrealistically high.

Like other empirical "laws," Hauser's Law predicts within a range of approximation. Changes in marginal tax rates do not make a perceptible difference to the ratio of revenue to GDP, but recessions do. When GDP falls relative to its potential, tax revenue falls even more. History shows that, in an economy with no "output gap" between GDP and potential GDP, a ratio of federal revenue to GDP of no more than 18.3% would be realistic.

In this form, Hauser's Law provides a simple basis for testing the validity of any government's revenue projections. Today, since the economy already suffers from a large output gap that is expected to take many years to close, 18.3% must be a realistic upper limit on the ratio of budget revenues to GDP for years to come. Any major tax increase will reduce GDP and therefore revenues too.

But CBO projections based on the current budget show this ratio reaching 18.3% as early as 2013 and rising to 19.6% in 2020.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:40 AM


No breakthroughs in US, China human rights talks (Foster Klug, 5/16/10, Associated Press)

The United States and China reported no major breakthroughs Friday after only their second round of talks about human rights since 2002. [...]

Posner said in addition to talks on freedom of religion and expression, labor rights and rule of law, officials also discussed Chinese complaints about problems with U.S. human rights, which have included crime, poverty, homelessness and racial discrimination.

He said U.S. officials did not whitewash the American record and in fact raised on its own a new immigration law in Arizona that requires police to ask about a person's immigration status if there is suspicion the person is in the country illegally.

There hasn't been a moment like that since the USSR used to rightly throw Jim Crow back in our face.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:32 AM


Europe must reset the clock on stability and growth (José María Aznar, May 16 2010, Financial Times)

A return to the original stability and growth pact, which included stricter sustainability requirements for public accounts, would send a positive signal to the markets and bolster the euro. Moreover, the EU should encourage national stability pacts for all member states.

The Union also needs to revitalise growth and job creation, which is only possible with a new Lisbon agenda of structural economic reforms. To be successful, this must be comprehensive and require strict compliance.

To strengthen the euro, the message must also go out that the financial aid package for Greece is not a “bail-out”, which goes against the idea and spirit of the European economic and monetary union, but is instead a repayable loan. Otherwise, moral hazard will undermine the euro’s credibility and reduce the incentive for governments to keep their fiscal houses in order.

Greece must implement profound structural reforms to shore up its public finances, meet its financial commitments and return the borrowed money to its European partners under the terms of last week’s rescue plan, agreed between EU finance ministers, central bankers and the International Monetary Fund. But similar austerity is needed from all countries in the eurozone, especially those receiving the most scrutiny from international investors.

Spain is one of those countries.

...was driving him from office.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:08 AM


Australia stun Pakistan to reach World Twenty20 final (Jamie Lillywhite , 5/14/10, BBC)

Mike Hussey hit an exceptional unbeaten 60 from 24 balls as Australia beat Pakistan by three wickets to set up an ICC World Twenty20 final with England.

Pakistan made a huge total of 191-6 in St Lucia, with Kamran Akmal making 50 and his brother Umar blasting four sixes in an unbeaten 56 from 35 balls.

Cameron White hit five sixes in 43 from 31 balls but Australia seemed out of it needing 70 from the final five overs.

Yet Hussey's three sixes in the last over sealed it with a ball to spare.

The video is up at The Box and it's one of the great sports feats of recent years.

May 16, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:28 PM


Laura Bush: George Now Has A ‘Man Cave’ (Evan Perez, 5/16/10, WSJ: Washington Wire)

The Bushes’ new home in suburban Dallas boasts a satellite dish. “We have the huge-screen TV. That was one of the first things we bought and put upstairs in George’s man cave, that we call it, the one big room that’s upstairs, and where his desk is and his computer. And that’s where he likes to watch the Texas Rangers every night,” Laura Bush said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:25 AM


Civil rights vets uneasy with Kagan (Josh Gerstein, May 16, 2010, Politico)

Kagan, now 50, spent a good part of her 30s in the Clinton White House, where she was part of a cadre of advisers who endorsed the idea of de-emphasizing race-conscious government programs in favor of broader policies that targeted the poor and working class in a “race-neutral” way. That idea, clearly in vogue in centrist Democratic policy circles in the 1990s and since, is no longer terribly controversial with the public, but it has never been fully embraced by traditional civil rights organizations.

Other concerns contribute to the jitters among some civil rights advocates. No African-American became a tenured or tenure-track professor at Harvard Law School while Kagan was dean. And papers at the Clinton Presidential Library show that as a White House policy staffer she clashed with — and sometimes mocked — advisers involved with President Bill Clinton’s initiative on race.

One Clinton race adviser, Chris Edley, complained in a 1998 e-mail that Kagan was ignoring his efforts to contact her by phone, email and even “hallway greeting.” He threatened to resign, citing that rebuff and other policy disputes.

On the race initiative memos, Kagan often scrawled sarcastic notes like “Pretty exciting stuff!” She joined with domestic policy chief Bruce Reed in preparing a biting memo that declared that a “book” that the race staff prepared “isn’t bold and isn’t interesting.”

But more substantive concerns stem from her advocacy for moving focus away from traditional race-based efforts.

In a November 1997 memo to Clinton, Kagan and Reed argued, “We believe that the central focus of the race initiative should be a race-neutral opportunity agenda that reflects these common values and aspirations. Of course, there is still a need for strong civil rights enforcement, narrowly tailored affirmative action programs and certain other kind of targeted initiatives….But the best hope for improving race relations and reducing racial disparities over the long term is a set of policies that expand opportunity across race lines and, in doing so, force the recognition of shared interests.”

“I can’t see the NAACP, the Urban League, or the Mexican Legal Defense Fund adopting that kind of language,” Brittain said. “It would certainly not be embraced….They would probably consider it watered down and only adopt it if forced.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:10 AM


The Scourge of Juristocracy: When rights are at issue, Americans instinctively turn to the courts. It is an undemocratic habit that they have exported, along with the underlying institutions, with dismaying success. (James Grant, Spring 2010, Wilson Quarterly)

The United States may not be the world’s indispensable nation, as its secretary of state famously claimed a dozen years ago, but it has certainly been the indispensable inspiration in the global spread of democracy. The irony is that while this has not led to a great deal of imitation of American institutions such as the presidency, the single most widely replicated feature of the American political system is also its most undemocratic one.

Since the end of World War II, there has been a worldwide convergence toward U.S.-style judicial supremacy—or what some observers now call “juristocracy.” In both long-established and new democracies, as Ran Hirschl shows in his excellent book Towards Juristocracy (2004), constitutional reforms have taken political power away from elected politicians and shifted it to unelected judges. When democracies were established in Southern Europe in the 1970s, in Latin America in the 1980s, and in Central and Eastern Europe and South Africa in the 1990s, they almost all included a strong judiciary and a bill of rights.

Of the mature democracies that have embraced juristocracy in the postwar rights revolution, Israel is one of the most extreme examples. As Aharon Barak, the president of the Israeli Supreme Court from 1995 to 2006, once claimed, “Nothing falls beyond the purview of judicial review. The world is filled with law; everything and anything is justiciable.” Even the most contentious questions—such as “Who is a Jew?”—were questions for the court to answer. Barak made it clear that the main influence on his approach was the U.S. Supreme Court, the decisions of which were “shining examples of constitutional thought and constitutional action.”

From the beginning, Americans have embraced and idolized the notion of fundamental, higher-order, immutable law that is somehow superior to politics. It is a view that entails rights enshrined in a constitution and interpreted by judges, who extend their authority over ever larger domains. In the 20th century, the U.S. Supreme Court demonstrated an increasing readiness to actively resolve politically controversial issues, from Roe v. Wade (1973), which established the right to abortion, to its decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission earlier this year, which overturned legislation that barred corporations from sponsoring political ads to influence elections—a “devastating” ruling, as President Barack Obama described it, which “strikes at our democracy itself.”

Modern judicial activism is in many ways an expression of the old belief that democracy must be tempered by aristocracy—an idea that was prevalent in the late 18th century and now masquerades in democratic garb. The main vehicle by which judicial activism has been brought about is, of course, the language of rights. Coinciding with the articulation of the secular, anti-religious feelings of the Enlightenment, the flourishing of constitutional debate in the 18th century witnessed regular appeals to the idea of inalienable natural rights, which took on a sacred role. But it was only in the latter half of the 20th century that the idea (now described as human rights) became an intrinsic part of legal and political discourse. For many today, a world without rights enforced by a judiciary is unthinkable. Especially in undemocratic regimes and in new or unstable democracies beset by deep corruption and other ills, rights-based judicial review is a necessary protection against arbitrary government. But in ostensibly healthier democracies, it inevitably comes at a cost.

Judges are themselves just an arbitrary government and their fundamental interest is their profession, not the Republic.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:38 AM


Why Do We Continue to Believe Bizarre Things? (Michael Fumento, 5/13/10, AOL News)

Why in an age saturated with information, do we believe such bizarre things? Things like crop circles, alien abductions, and 9/11 conspiracy theories? Why do we believe wild Toyota stories like the 94 mph "runaway Prius"? The gearbox allowed shifting into neutral by merely reaching out a finger, but the driver told credulous reporters he was afraid to do so because he needed to keep both hands on the steering wheel. And regarding that cell phone in his hand?

Why a steady stream of mass hysterias, like swine flu?

We believe bizarre things for many reasons, but at the core is that despite our computers and communications devices and other gadgets, and despite all the scientific discoveries made, we still have pretty much the same brains as Paleolithic man some 40,000 years ago.

Being the sophisticates we are, magic belongs to other times and other cultures! Not hardly.

We fear what we don't understand, so when lacking an explanation that suits us, we simply assign one. With Paleolithic man, because he understood so little, most things were magic. Thunder and lightning, the appearance of game, illness. The Ancient Greeks and Romans simply assigned all unexplained phenomenon to "the gods." During the Middle Ages, black magic came into its own and a crop failure could mean a hot time for a an ugly old crone in the village.

Because we are so heavily wired to accept magic as an explanation, most of us at best think Occam's razor -- a 14th century principle that says the simplest and most likely explanation is probably the best -- is the latest product from Gillette. At worst we actually employ the opposite, skipping over the likely and latching onto the bizarre. Minor things like physical impossibility are ignored.

The false sense of sophistication is the key. On the one hand, it makes people refuse to accept that most of these syndromes are just psychosomatic. On the other, it has created a belief that Man is so powerful that we must be altering Creation in such fundamental ways that it creates catastrophes, health risks, etc. And, finally, the faith that Reason would reveal the inner workings of the entire Universe to us leaves us so frustrated at the stuff we can't explain that people would rather invoke hoodoo than admit ignorance.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:28 AM


Palin Says 'We're All Arizonans Now' in Speech Defending State's Immigration Law (Associated Press, 5/16/10)

Arizona's governor enlisted the help of former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin Saturday to defend a new law cracking down on illegal immigration, as calls spread for an economic boycott of the state.

Nevermind that Ronald Reagan demanded that walls be torn down, not built or that he passed the biggest immigration amnesty in human history, just consider his Bitburg Speech to get some sense of how closely he identified with refugees tryiong to make a better life for themselves:
[T]oday freedom-loving people around the world must say: I am a Berliner. I am a Jew in a world still threatened by anti-Semitism. I am an Afghan, and I am a prisoner of the Gulag. I am a refugee in a crowded boat foundering off the coast of Vietnam. I am a Laotian, a Cambodian, a Cuban, and a Miskito Indian in Nicaragua. I, too, am a potential victim of totalitarianism.

The one lesson of World War II, the one lesson of nazism, is that freedom must always be stronger than totalitarianism and that good must always be stronger than evil. The moral measure of our two nations will be found in the resolve we show to preserve liberty, to protect life, and to honor and cherish all God's children.

Anyone who likes at a Mexican immigrant and sees a foreigner rather than a fellow child of God has misapprehended what it is to be a Republican, a conservative, a Reaganaut, an American.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:26 AM


Temporary visa insanity (REUVEN BLAU, May 16, 2010, NY Post)

In June of 2008, Dimitry Fursov left his hometown of Voronezh, in southwestern Russia, for what seemed like the opportunity of a lifetime — the chance to spend the summer working in the United States.

A few weeks later, he was dead — brutally beaten with a pool cue in a Brooklyn billiards hall.

Fursov’s tragic odyssey has cast light on a troubled, little-noticed program that brings 2,000 to 3,000 Russian students to New York City every year. They come here, as 19-year-old Dimitry did, with dreams of seeing America, looking for more permanent work, or making new friends, but instead find themselves without a job or a place to live, several students told The Post. Others drift to the more seedy side of Long Island, stripping or dealing drugs to make ends meet.

Even the successful can pose a problem, however. Many — no one knows how many, but it could number in the hundreds each year — stay in the US long after their visas expire. Critics say that’s because there’s little to no oversight of such programs.

It's one of the worst kept secrets of the anti-immigrationists, that niice white lab tech you work with, who came here legally, is an illegal now too.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:16 AM


Those with obsolete skills struggle as economy shifts (Catherine Rampell, 5/16/10, The New York Times)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:12 AM


So Much for Europe's Superiority (Joel Kotkin, 05/16/2010, New Geography)

If there’s going to be a European dream, they better start importing people or creating them. Otherwise, the European workforce will be dying out, literally. Between 2000 and 2050 the population of the U.S. between 14 and 64 is projected to expand by some 44 percent, while that of the EU contracts by 25 percent and Japan’s by over 40 percent.

With its growing workforce, the United States will require substantial economic growth in order to stave off downward mobility of its young population. Europe’s prime challenge will be to pay for its aging population with a diminished workforce, and perhaps find ways to invest in faster growth economies. Europe’s future may be as the world’s coupon-clippers, consultants and waiters.

Yet this may not be the fate of all Europe, particularly if the grand neo-Bonapartist European is allowed to fizzle and national characteristics can reassert themselves. The aptly named PIGS (Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain) make clear that you can not enjoy a Scandinavian welfare state with a Mexican-style economy. You have to earn the right to six weeks of vacation and Porsche-level heath-care plans.

This contrasts with the productive, disciplined countries of the north—roughly today’s version of the Medieval Hanseatic League—who continue to export goods and services enough to sustain their expansive, and generally less corrupt, welfare states. Essentially you have the sunny, good food and times countries—an arc from Portugal to Spain—and the gloomier places like Scandinavia, the Netherlands and Germany.

A secular kind of Protestant ethic is alive and well in post-Christian Europe.

What they ought to be importing is African Evangelicals.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:05 AM


What's So Special?: Can this relationship be saved? (Fred Barnes, May 24, 2010, Weekly Standard)

Less than an hour after David Cameron became British prime minister last week, he got a congratulatory phone call from President Obama. That was merely a courtesy. What the president said was not. “As I told the prime minister,” the president said in a statement later, “the United States has no closer friend and ally than the United Kingdom, and I reiterated my deep and personal commitment to the special relationship between our two countries, a bond that has endured for generations and across party lines.”

Given Obama’s role in tearing down the once formidable partnership between the United States and the United Kingdom, his words may represent a significant shift in his foreign policy.

It's a good idea for the more fatherly William Hague to handle the relationship than the younger brotherly Cameron. Hold out the promise of winning back Daddy's love and the UR will do anything you ask.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:02 AM


Labour leadership battle: Ed Miliband aims to win back voters attracted by Tony Blair (Daily Telegraph, 5/16/10)

Ed Miliband, the Labour leadership candidate, today said he wanted to win back the voters that Tony Blair attracted in 1997. could join the governing coalition.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:00 AM


HK election aims to pressure Beijing for democracy (MIN LEE, 05/15/10, AP)

Hong Kongers voted Sunday in territory-wide special elections triggered by five opposition legislators who resigned in the hopes of pressuring Beijing to implement full democracy in this former British colony.

The five former lawmakers, who represent each of Hong Kong’s five major electoral districts, quit in January with the intention of setting up a showdown against pro-Beijing candidates that will serve as a de facto referendum on democracy.

While Hong Kong has continued to enjoy Western-style civil liberties under Chinese rule, its top leader is picked by a committee stacked with Beijing loyalists and its 60-member legislature is half-elected, half chosen by interest groups.

May 15, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:30 PM


Frank Field given role as poverty czar by Cameron (Isabel Oakeshott, 5/16/10, Times of London)

FRANK FIELD, the senior Labour backbencher, has been given a role in the new coalition government leading a review into tackling poverty.

The former welfare minister who became a fierce critic of his party’s immigration policy, will become a “poverty czar” under David Cameron.

In another surprise appointment, the prime minister has asked the left-wing commentator Will Hutton to lead the drive to cut public sector pay. He has been charged with drawing up a new pay system for civil servants.

The Conservatives began courting Field some months ago, triggering speculation he might be considering defecting from Labour. The former welfare minister made no secret of his frustration with Gordon Brown’s regime. He is expected to recommend new policies designed to get the poor off benefits and into work.

...this is the sort of crossover we'd have seen from W.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:01 PM


Cameron, the Whig in Tory clothing (Dominic Lawson, 5/15/10, Times of London)

The other comical aspect of this denouement is the apparently genuine belief of the advocates of a Lib-Lab coalition that somehow Clegg and his colleagues were guilty of a great betrayal. Yet over the past few years not just Clegg, but also Chris Huhne, David Laws and even Vince Cable — all now in the cabinet — had repeatedly fulminated against new Labour’s quangocracy, its gross abuses of personal liberty, its bloated bureaucratisation and every other aspect of what David Marquand termed “the heavy-handed, statist, democratic collectivism that has been second nature to Labour governments since the 1920s”.

Marquand, one of the founding members of the SDP, who gave his support to new Labour and later bitterly regretted it, made that observation in an article for The Guardian two years ago which now appears visionary. In it, he warned the left that they “had rediscovered one of the oldest tropes in the rhetorical armoury of self-styled progressives” by asserting that David Cameron was a man who “may talk the talk of harmony and cohesion but won’t — can’t — walk the walk”. Marquand presciently identified Cameron as a politician in the “Whig-imperialist tradition [that] reigned for most of the 19th century and virtually the entire interwar period ... it shaped the three great reform acts that slowly widened the suffrage.”

Benjamin Disraeli had his own celebrated formulation of this political phenomenon: a sound Conservative government was “Tory men and Whig measures”.

The idea that it is possible both to be a Tory and a reformer has always been hard for the left to grasp.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:05 PM


The European Union as a Retired Great Power (Ivan Krastev, May/June 2010, American Interest)

Diverse factors have contributed to Europe’s sour mood, the most important being demography, democracy, loss of geopolitical importance and lack of leadership.

Demographic reality, in particular, plays a critical role in explaining Europe’s fears about the future. Europe’s population is aging, its support ratio is shrinking, and the new generation of workers isn’t large enough to restore the balance. The data projections tell us that the median age in Europe will increase to 52.3 years in 2050 from 37.7 years in 2003, while the median age for Americans in 2050 will be only 35.4 years. Europe’s share of global GDP is thus liable to shrink in the decades to come, for immigration is unlikely to provide Europe with a solution for its demographic weakness. European publics are frightened by any prospect of growing immigration; indeed, Europe’s failure to integrate the fast-growing number of second- and third-generation European-born “immigrants” lies at the core Europe’s newly felt insecurity. Europe’s economics demands more immigrants than Europe’s politics is ready to tolerate.

Europe’s democracy, in turn, which is of far more recent vintage in most of the continent than present citizens would prefer to recall, was conditioned on ethnically homogeneous societies and well-functioning welfare states. Both conditions are now under intense pressure, leading elites increasingly to fear the return of identity politics in Europe. Extreme parties are invading the political mainstream, and some of the current majority groups are frightened by the decline—real or imaginary—of their influence and power. According to a 2008report of the British government’s Office of Communities and Local Government, white people are less likely to feel they can influence decisions affecting their country. The threatened majorities—majorities that display characteristics normally attributed to minority groups—are the new political force in many European democracies.

Europe’s loss of geopolitical centrality also helps explain its change of heart. The reason is not simply that European powers are not major actors on the international scene; that has been true for decades. What is new is that Europe no longer projects itself into where the action is taking place. Contrary to its behavior in the 1990s, the European Union today is a risk-averse, neither-here-nor-there power. It has been paralyzed by a deficit of solidarity, imagination and sound leadership. whether American leaders (Marshall, Truman, etc.) intentionally used the Marshall Plan and NATO to destroy the continent or whether that was accidental.

Is it the Euro or the Yugo? (Kurt Brouwer, 5/15/10, Fundmastery)

The highly-touted European currency, the Euro, is performing more like the ill-fated Yugoslavian car maker, the hapless Yugo. And, there is a pretty good analogy between the problems inherent in the fractious group of countries that make up the European Union and the fractious group of countries that made up the now-defunct country of Yugoslavia, where the Yugo was born. You know the regions I’m thinking of–Bosnia, Serbia, Montenegro etc. Once the veneer of nationality was swept away, Yugoslavia quickly descended into a hellish nightmare of civil war and racial hatred.

Maybe I’m overstating things a bit, but the events in Greece over the past few weeks do not suggest a peaceful outcome is nigh as riots, strikes and social strife rock the country.

Yugoslavia, like "Europe," is the veneer, what gets exposed is the nationalism, making for war, not civil war. Happily, they're too old to fight anymore.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:01 PM


The Return of the Raj (C. Raja Mohan, May/June 2010, American Interest)

Western analysts, some British excepted, seem not to appreciate two historical facts: that the Indian armed forces contributed significantly to Allied efforts in the 20th century’s two world wars; and that India’s British Raj was the main peacekeeper in the Indian Ocean littoral and beyond. And it is not just the West that is ignorant of the security legacy of the British Raj; India’s own post-colonial political class deliberately induced a collective national amnesia about the country’s rich pre-independence military traditions. Its foreign policy establishment still pretends that India’s engagement with the world began on August 15, 1947.

The image of Indian troops marching in Paris should remind the world that India’s military past could be a useful guide to its strategic future. If the United States and India can together rediscover and revive the Indian military’s expeditionary tradition, they will have a solid basis for strategic cooperation not only between themselves but also with the rest of the world’s democracies. The Bush Administration showed an instinctive sense of this possibility when it committed itself to assisting India’s rise and boosting its defense capabilities. President Barack Obama does seem to have a fund of goodwill toward India, which was reflected in his decision to receive Prime Minister Singh in November 2009 as the first state guest at the White House. But it is not clear if the Obama Administration has a larger strategic conception of the prospects for military and security cooperation with India. [...]

More Americans than ever now see beyond India’s third-worldish rhetoric and appreciate its quiet affection for power and realpolitik. Ever more Indians appreciate the genuine opportunities for strategic, economic and political partnership with the United States and the West in general. This appreciation accelerated dramatically during the tenure of the Bush Administration, having just come off a stretch of poor relations during the Clinton years.

Although Indian opposition to the “liberal wars” of the 1990s was couched in terms of sovereignty and non-intervention, the real problem for India was the potential threat of American meddling on the Kashmir question. India faced an intense insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir supported from across the border beginning in the late 1980s, a serious effort by Pakistan to “internationalize” the dispute, and the Clinton Administration’s constant hectoring on India’s nuclear efforts and human rights. Unsurprisingly, India resolved to resist these new “Wilsonians” in the security debates following the Cold War.

Eventually, Washington figured this out. The Clinton Administration in its final year, and the Bush Administration throughout its tenure, sought to make amends and develop a new level of political understanding between the two nations. Clinton stepped back from linking improved ties to progress on Kashmir and non-proliferation. The Bush Administration fell almost completely silent on Kashmir and put an end to nearly four decades of Indo-U.S. quarreling over nuclear issues. It also exerted itself to prevent an Indo-Pak war in the winter of 2001–02. Taken together, all of this opened the way for constructing a new security partnership.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:43 PM


Thinking Again: What Do We Mean by Mind? (Marilynne Robinson, 5/07/10, Commonweal)

By ‘‘self-awareness’’ I do not mean merely consciousness of one’s identity, or of the complex flow of thought, perception, memory, and desire, important as these are. I mean primarily the self that stands apart from itself, that questions, reconsiders, appraises. I have read that microorganisms can equip themselves with genes useful to their survival—that is, genes conferring resistance to antibiotics—by choosing them out of the ambient flux of organic material. If a supposedly simple entity can by any means negotiate its own enhancement, then an extremely complex entity largely composed of these lesser entities—that is, a human being—should be assumed to have analogous capabilities. For the purposes of the mind, these might be called conscience or aspiration. We receive their specific forms culturally and historically, as the microorganism does also when it absorbs the consequences of other germs’ encounters with the human pharmacopoeia.

If the brain at the level of complex and nuanced interaction with itself does indeed become mind, then the reductionist approach insisted upon by writers on the subject is not capable of yielding evidence of mind’s existence, let alone an account of its functioning. One who has inquired into the properties of hydrogen and oxygen might reasonably conclude that water is a highly combustible gas—if there were not his own experience to discourage this conclusion. As proof of the existence of mind we have only history and civilization, art, science, and philosophy. And at the same time, of course, that extraordinary individuation. If it is true that the mind can know and seek to know itself in ways analogous to its experience of the world, then there are more, richer data to be gleaned from every age and every culture, and from every moment of introspection, of deep awareness of the self.

The strangeness of reality consistently exceeds the expectations of science, and the assumptions of science, however tried and rational, are inclined to encourage false expectations. As a notable example, no one expected to find that the expansion of the universe is accelerating, and that the rate of its acceleration is accelerating. It is a tribute to the brilliance of science that we can know such things. And it is also an illustration of the fact that science does not foreclose possibility, including discoveries that overturn very fundamental assumptions, and that it is not a final statement about reality but a highly fruitful mode of inquiry into it.

The fact of the accelerating expansion of the universe is a conclusion arrived at in the first place by observation. Theory and hypothesis have followed. What was thought to be known about the effect of gravity, that it would slow cosmic expansion, could not be reconciled with new data, and a major and novel factor, in effect an antigravitational force, emerged as a hypothesis in a changed conception of the universe. The best wisdom and the most venerable of natural laws do not have standing to preclude our acknowledging solid data, though the grounds for refusing to take account of them could perfectly well be called “scientific.” The exclusion of what the brain does from an account of what the brain is is “scientific” in just the same sense. By this kind of reasoning, the laws of nature supposedly tell us what we must exclude from what we might otherwise consider entirely relevant, one example being our own inwardness. This distinction between science and parascience is important in considering the mind over against the materialist position that would understand it in reductionist terms, that is, in terms that limit the kinds of interpretation that are appropriately brought to bear on it. The neo-Darwinists argue that the brain evolved to maximize the chance of genetic survival, to negotiate access to food and sex, presumably before the species evolved to the point where the prolonged helplessness of infants made genetic survival dependent in some degree on cooperation. Therefore, they tell us, we may not assume that any motive can depart from an essential qualitative likeness to these original motives. The “evolutionary epic” explains the brain exhaustively.

But “the material” itself is an artifact of the scale at which we perceive. We know that we abide with quarks and constellations, in a reality unknowable by us in a degree we will never be able to calculate, but reality all the same, the stuff and the matrix of our supposedly quotidian existence. We know that within, throughout, the solid substantiality of our experience indeterminacy reigns. Making use of the conceptual vocabulary of science to exclude a possibility which in a present state of knowledge—or a former one—that vocabulary would seem to exclude, has been the mission of positivist thinking since Auguste Comte declared scientific knowledge effectively complete. If doing so is a reflex of the polemical impulse to assert the authority of science, understandable when the project was relatively new, it is by now an atavism that persists as a consequence of the same polemical impulse.

The ancient antagonist that has shaped positivism and parascientific thought and continues to inspire its missionary zeal is religion. For cultural and historical reasons, the religions against which it has opposed itself are Christianity and Judaism, both of which must be called anthropologies, whatever else. “What is man that thou art mindful of him?” The very question is an assertion that mindfulness is an attribute of God, as well as man, a statement of the sense of deep meaning inhering in mindfulness. If I were not myself a religious person, but wished to make an account of religion, I believe I would tend toward the Feuerbachian view that religion is a human projection of humanity’s conceptions of beauty, goodness, power, and other valued things, a humanizing of experience by understanding it as structured around and mirroring back these values. Then it would resemble art, with which it is strongly associated. But this would dignify religion and characterize the mind as outwardly and imaginatively engaged with the world, as, in parascientific thought after Comte, it never is.

Steven Pinker says, “Religion is a desperate measure that people resort to when the stakes are high and they have exhausted the usual techniques for the causation of success.” Then a little farther on he lists the “imponderables” that lie behind the human tendency toward religion and also philosophy. These imponderables are consciousness in the sense of sentience or subjective experience, the self, free will, conceptual meaning, knowledge, and morality. He says, “Maybe philosophical problems are hard not because they are divine or irreducible or meaningless or workaday science, but because the mind of Homo sapiens lacks the cognitive equipment to solve them. We are organisms, not angels, and our brains are organs, not pipelines to the truth.”

How odd that these “imponderables” should be just the kind of thing humankind has pondered endlessly. Neo-Darwinism allows for hypertrophy, the phenomenon by which evolution overshoots its mark and produces some consequence not strictly useful to the ends of genetic replication, the human brain as case in point. How strange it would be, then, that this accident, this excess, should feel a tropism toward what Pinker himself calls “the truth.”

Beauty is in the I of the beholder.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:29 PM


Tory/Lib Dem coalition wins public approval in ICM poll: The Liberal/Conservative coalition has won high levels of public approval, with nearly two thirds of voters backing the new Government, a Sunday Telegraph/ICM poll shows. (Patrick Hennessy, 15 May 2010, Daily Telegraph)

The survey, the first by ICM since election day, showed 64 per cent of voters thought that the Liberal Democrat/Conservative coalition was the right way forward for Britain after the general election resulted in a hung parliament.

It was backed by 87 per cent of those who voted Tory this month and 77 per cent of Lib Dem voters.

Overall, the Conservatives have gained one point since the election and are on 38 per cent. The Lib Dems, by contrast, have slipped significantly since polling day and are down three points to 21 per cent. Labour have gained three points to 33 per cent.

Labour's rise exactly mirrored the Lib Dems' fall - suggesting that disillusioned supporters of Nick Clegg's party have simply switched to Labour.

...waiting for conservative pundits to say this is what the GOP should take away from the British election.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:54 AM


Europe is unprepared for austerity (Gideon Rachman, May 10 2010, Financial Times)

I used to think Europe had got it right. Let the US be a military superpower; let China be an economic superpower – Europe would be the lifestyle superpower. The days when European empires dominated the globe had gone. But that was just fine. Europe could still be the place with the most beautiful cities, the best food and wine, the richest cultural history, the longest holidays, the best football teams. Life for most ordinary Europeans has never been more comfortable.

It was a great strategy. But there was one big flaw in it. Europe cannot afford its comfortable retirement.

Greece’s financial crisis is, unfortunately, an extreme example of a broader European problem. Investors have been looking nervously at debt-levels and budget deficits in Spain, Portugal and Ireland for months. But even Europe’s big four – Britain, France, Italy and Germany – are hardly immune from concern. Italy’s public debt is about 115 per cent of gross domestic product. Some 20 per cent of this needs to be rolled over during the course of 2010. Britain is currently running a budget-deficit of nearly 12 per cent of GDP, one of the largest in Europe. George Osborne, who is likely to end up as chancellor of the exchequer in the new government, has described Britain’s official economic forecasts as a “work of fiction”. The French government has not produced a balanced budget for more than 30 years. And one of the reasons for the deep bitterness in Germany at bailing out Greece, is the knowledge that Germany is already struggling to balance its own books.

It is true that the citizens of Latvia and Ireland have already swallowed actual cuts in wages and pensions. But these are both countries that have experienced real poverty in living memory, followed by massive and unsustainable booms. They know that the last few years have been a bit unreal.

As the riots on the streets of Athens illustrate, however, not all Europeans will react so stoically to deep cuts in spending. Many have come to regard early retirement, free public healthcare and generous unemployment benefits, as fundamental rights. They stopped asking, a long time ago, how these things were paid for. It is this sense of entitlement that makes reform so very difficult. As the British election has just amply illustrated, politicians are extremely reluctant to confront voters with the harsh choices that need to be made.

...and they will have earned that sense of entitlement.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:51 AM


Cameron and Clegg: what is their body language really saying?: David Cameron and Nick Clegg look alike, sound alike, and come from equally privileged backgrounds - but just how similar are they in reality? Leading body language expert James Borg scrutinised the new Prime Minister and his deputy during their crucial first few days in office. Here, he reveals the unspoken signs (James Borg, 15 May 2010, Daily Telegraph)

After the introductory handshake, we saw both men pat each other on the back, a signal which neuropsychologists refer to as a “parental” gesture. And what do most parents signify with this movement to their young? “I’m in charge.” It’s a status reminder, and can be especially important in the 'first among equals’ situation in which Cameron and Clegg now find themselves.

But their body language was more complex than that. Cameron patted Clegg first, who reciprocated with a pat of his own. Cameron then patted back, and Clegg did the same… before Cameron gave the assertive final pat with his right – dominant – hand as he ushered his deputy through the door. This was both a classic repeat display of courtship, and a barely concealed power struggle. Crucially, by doling out the final pat, Cameron had the last word in the vernacular.

The press conference that followed was a chance to meet the “newlyweds”. Cameron came across as more assured, more prime ministerial in his manner and delivery, making frequent references to his new partner by gesticulating towards him with his right hand. When he gives a speech, Cameron has an unconscious habit of splaying his fingers, an open-hand gesture that projects trustworthiness. This in stark contrast to the closed, clunking fist deployed by the previous resident of Number 10.

Clegg, in between looking at his notes, attempted his now-signature delivery technique of looking straight ahead. However, with his general facial expressions more subdued than usual, he glanced down more than Cameron – a sure sign of nerves. After all, he had something to be nervous and indeed embarrassed about, after being exposed earlier in the week as having been in talks on the sly with Labour – the romantic equivalent of an “ex-girlfriend” – before finally deciding to go to the altar with the Conservatives.

When Clegg spoke, it was interesting to note that Cameron orientated his entire body towards him. When we are completely at ease and interested in another person, we turn not just our head but our whole body – and often the feet – towards them.

When Cameron spoke of the challenges facing his administration, Clegg only turned his head in his direction. He also displayed a number of micro-expressions, fleeting subconscious gestures that last between three and five seconds, but which display discomfort. Clegg bit his lip on a number of occasions and touched the inside of his mouth with his tongue. This was noticeable especially when the subject of proportional representation was raised, and when it was announced that Clegg would be standing in at Prime Minister’s Questions when Cameron was otherwise engaged in “lots of foreign travel”. What could Clegg be worried about – stepping up to the mark?

There was a change in Clegg’s later demeanour. As the Prime Minister spoke, Clegg orientated his whole body and feet towards him – a noticeable shift. As the prime minister answered questions, Clegg began to give nods and respectful glances. Rather than implying complete agreement, this usually suggests something more crucial to a working relationship – deference. Clegg is acknowledging that, although he is now a powerful player, Cameron is very much the man in charge.

Perhaps the most extraordinary – and entertaining – part of the conference came in response to a journalist’s reminder that Cameron had once called Clegg “a joke”. Their playful riposte offers hope for this coalition. The mock indignation as Clegg walked away and Cameron, leaning on the lectern, urging him plaintively to “Come back!” suggests there is more than a degree of mutual liking between the two. Both felt sufficiently at ease to be playful in public with each other, and the way they both responded in jest reflects that degree of comfort. We never saw such antics with New Labour, whose ministers were never at ease with themselves, let alone with the Opposition.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:10 AM


He’s No Henry Clay: The president’s aversion to compromise. (Fred Barnes, May 17, 2010, Weekly Standard)

It’s true that compromise is not always feasible in politics. It may not have been on health care because Obama and Republicans had different goals. The president wanted (and got) a measure that vastly expands the federal government’s control over the health care system. Republicans preferred to roll back government and give individuals control over their own care.

But Obamacare was an exception. When the two sides of a debate share the same goals but differ on the means of achieving them, a compromise along the lines enunciated by Clay is quite possible. His formula remains as relevant as it was in 1850.

For a compromise to work, Clay said it must be win-win. “Each side must feel that it gained something that is essential to its interest as a result of the compromise,” writes historian Robert Remini in his new book At the Edge of the Precipice: Henry Clay and the Compromise that Saved the Union.

This principle could be applied to financial reform. Republicans want to prevent any further bailouts of financial institutions “too big to fail.” Democrats are bent on increasing Washington’s role in regulating Wall Street. These goals are not mutually exclusive.

Nor are the goals of the two sides on immigration reform and cap and trade. Republicans insist that steps—such as erecting hundreds of more miles of fence—to secure the southern border must come first. The top Democratic priority is a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants already in this country. The two are compatible.

Cap and trade legislation aims to reduce our reliance on unfriendly countries for oil and to curb greenhouse gases. Democrats want to do this through increased government intervention in energy markets and the economy. Republicans—a good number of them anyway—would prefer a carbon tax that could achieve both goals without either a bigger government role or a powerful, new bureaucracy in Washington. These goals don’t conflict.

Obama’s mistake, and it’s a major one, is not understanding the value of compromise, both for him and the country. By relying solely on Democratic majorities, he’s caused his popularity to collapse and jeopardized passage of his agenda. Clay knew better. “Many men who are very wise in their own estimation .  .  . will reject all propositions of compromise, but that is no reason why a compromise should not be attempted to be made,” he said. I’m not sure which men “wise in their own estimation” Clay had in mind. But if he were around today, we’d recognize the target of his advice instantly, wouldn’t we?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:03 AM


Governor out to rebrand Arizona over immigration law criticism (Ginger Rough and Dawn Gilbertson, May. 14, 2010, The Arizona Republic)

Acknowledging that Arizona has developed a serious image problem because of its tough new immigration law, Gov. Jan Brewer and tourism-industry leaders said Thursday that they will launch a new effort to stanch the flow of lost trade and convention business in the state.

The legislation and firestorm of negative publicity that followed brought calls for boycotts, moved groups to back out of local conventions and led several cities to cut business ties with Arizona companies. [...]

Officials were just starting to see signs of life when the backlash over the new immigration law began, said Debbie Johnson, CEO of the Arizona Tourism Alliance and the Arizona Hotel and Lodging Association.

To date, dozens of cities and groups have announced boycotts. Arizona has lost at least 30 to 40 meetings and conventions, she said.

"We were surprised by (the boycotts)," Johnson said. "We didn't think it was going to be a tourism issue. This is a political issue."

The new task force has about 15 members representing business throughout the state's tourism industry.

They said stopping the boycotts is a top priority because they are worried about the approximately 200,000 hotel workers, restaurant employees and others who could lose their jobs if the industry can't find a way to lure new business here.

As part of their effort, officials plan to revive a past campaign that encourages Arizonans to take advantages of specials and deals and vacation within the state. How to rebrand the state to potential visitors has not yet been decided.

A big issue, Johnson said, is "tentative" bookings and new business, those groups that have indicated they were interested in coming here between 2011 and 2015 but are now refusing to sign contracts.

"We're hearing from our sales people in the hotels and resorts, that people aren't returning their calls anymore - that they don't even want to talk to Arizonans," she said. that the Governor and other supporters of the law now argue that it will have literally no effect.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:55 AM


The Crippling Price of Public Employee Unions (Mortimer B. Zuckerman, May 14, 2010, US News)

The straw (well, more like an iron beam) that breaks the camel's back is the unfunded portions of state pension plans, healthcare, and other retirement benefits promised to public sector employees at a time when federal government assistance to states is falling—down by roughly half in the next fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.

It is galling for private sector workers to see so many public sector workers thriving because of the power their unions exercise. Take California. Investigative journalist Steve Malanga point out in the City Journal that California's schoolteachers are the nation's highest paid; its prison guards can make six-figure salaries; many state workers retire at 55 with pensions that are higher than the base pay they got most of their working lives. All this when California endures an unemployment rate steeper than the nation's. It will get worse. There's an exodus of firms that want to escape California's high taxes, stifling regulations, and recurring budget crises. When Cisco's CEO, John Chambers, says he will not build any more facilities in California, you know the state is in trouble.

The business community and a growing portion of the public now understand the dynamics that discriminate against the private sector. The public sector unions organize voting campaigns for politicians who, on election, repay their benefactors by approving salaries and benefits for the public sector, irrespective of whether they are sustainable. And what is happening with California is happening in slower motion in the rest of the country. It must be one of the reasons the Pew Research Center this year reported that support for labor unions generally has plummeted "amid growing public skepticism about unions' power and purpose."

There has been a transformation in the nature of our employment. Labor is no longer dominated by private sector industrial workers who were in large part culturally conservative and economically pro-growth. Over recent decades public sector employment has exploded and public workers have come to dominate the labor movement. These public sector employees have a unique and powerful advantage in contract negotiations. Quite simply it is their capacity to deliver political endorsements and votes for the very people who are theoretically on the other side of the negotiating table. Candidates who want to appear tough on crime will look to cops, sheriffs' deputies, prison guards, and highway patrol officers for their endorsement.

These unions will naturally back a candidate willing to support better pay and benefits for their members, and this means as much as, or more than, the candidate's views on law enforcement. The result has been soaring pay and the ability of state police and other safety officers to retire with pensions that place an increasingly unbearable financial burden on the states. In California, such retirees at age 50 often receive pensions at 90 percent of their pay; comparable retirees in most other states get about half their final working salary.

When even leading Democrats start recognizing this it ought to be possible to begin dealing with the problem.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:38 AM


The Tea Party Jacobins (Mark Lilla, 5/27/10, NY Review of Books)

A little over a decade ago I published an article in these pages titled “A Tale of Two Reactions” (May 14, 1998). It struck me then that American society was changing in ways conservative and liberal commentators just hadn’t noticed. Conservatives were too busy harping on the cultural revolution of the Sixties, liberals on the Reagan revolution’s “culture of greed,” and all they could agree on was that America was beyond repair.

The American public, meanwhile, was having no trouble accepting both revolutions and reconciling them in everyday life. This made sense, given that they were inspired by the same political principle: radical individualism. During the Clinton years the country edged left on issues of private autonomy (sex, divorce, casual drug use) while continuing to move right on economic autonomy (individual initiative, free markets, deregulation). As I wrote then, Americans saw “no contradiction in holding down day jobs in the unfettered global marketplace…and spending weekends immersed in a moral and cultural universe shaped by the Sixties.” Democrats were day-trading, Republicans were divorcing. We were all individualists now.

What happened? People who remember the article sometimes ask me this, and I understand why. George W. Bush, who ran on a platform of “compassionate conservatism,” seemed attuned to the recent social changes. The President Bush who emerged after September 11 took his party and the country back to the divisive politics of earlier decades, giving us seven years of ideological recrimination. By the time of the last presidential campaign, millions were transfixed not by the wisdom or folly of Barack Obama’s policy agenda, but by absurd rumors about his birth certificate and his “socialism.” Now he has been elected president by a healthy majority and is grappling with a wounded economy and two foreign wars he inherited—and what are we talking about? A makeshift Tea Party movement whose activists rage against “government” and “the media,” while the hotheads of talk radio and cable news declare that the conservative counterrevolution has begun.

It hasn’t. We know that the country is divided today, because people say it is divided. In politics, thinking makes it so. Just as obviously, though, the angry demonstrations and organizing campaigns have nothing to do with the archaic right–left battles that dragged on from the Sixties to the Nineties. The populist insurgency is being choreographed as an upsurge from below against just about anyone thought to be above, Democrats and Republicans alike. It was galvanized by three things: a financial collapse that robbed millions of their homes, jobs, and savings; the Obama administration’s decision to pursue health care reform despite the crisis; and personal animosity toward the President himself (racially tinged in some regions) stoked by the right-wing media.1 But the populist mood has been brewing for decades for reasons unrelated to all this.

Many Americans, a vocal and varied segment of the public at large, have now convinced themselves that educated elites—politicians, bureaucrats, reporters, but also doctors, scientists, even schoolteachers—are controlling our lives. And they want them to stop. They say they are tired of being told what counts as news or what they should think about global warming; tired of being told what their children should be taught, how much of their paychecks they get to keep, whether to insure themselves, which medicines they can have, where they can build their homes, which guns they can buy, when they have to wear seatbelts and helmets, whether they can talk on the phone while driving, which foods they can eat, how much soda they can drink…the list is long. But it is not a list of political grievances in the conventional sense.

Historically, populist movements use the rhetoric of class solidarity to seize political power so that “the people” can exercise it for their common benefit. American populist rhetoric does something altogether different today. It fires up emotions by appealing to individual opinion, individual autonomy, and individual choice, all in the service of neutralizing, not using, political power. It gives voice to those who feel they are being bullied, but this voice has only one, Garbo-like thing to say: I want to be left alone.

A new strain of populism is metastasizing before our eyes, nourished by the same libertarian impulses that have unsettled American society for half a century now. Anarchistic like the Sixties, selfish like the Eighties, contradicting neither, it is estranged, aimless, and as juvenile as our new century. It appeals to petulant individuals convinced that they can do everything themselves if they are only left alone, and that others are conspiring to keep them from doing just that. This is the one threat that will bring Americans into the streets.

Welcome to the politics of the libertarian mob.

...Mr. Lilla's insight here would be even more profound. For what W did was begin the process of extending that ethos of American individualism into the Arab world, while, at the same time, fostering Third Way (compassionate conservative) reforms of the domestic social welfare net and advocating for things like the free movement of goods and people globally. Libertarian hatred of the President was so virulent not only because they don't care about the people he was trying to help outside the US but because, while his sort of reforms increase individual choice and power, they retain the framework of a government mandated social security system. To understand Tea Partyism you have to recall that it began with the BDS of Anti-War, the American Conservative, Dick Armey, etc., not with the election of the UR.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:35 AM


U.S. to Hire Adviser for IPO of GM (RANDALL SMITH and SHARON TERLEP, 5/15/10, WSJ)

The Treasury Department is interviewing Wall Street bankers to advise the government on an IPO of General Motors Corp., the most serious sign yet that the government is moving to end its auto-industry ownership. [...]

[T]he Obama administration is hopeful GM will go public this year. Ron Bloom, President Obama's top car-industry adviser, said this week he is optimistic the move could come by year's end. Administration officials have been pleased with GM's progress since bankruptcy. The auto maker repaid its U.S. loan ahead of schedule and is expected on Monday to report solid first-quarter earnings.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:33 AM


US-SKorea trade deal a victim of US politics (FOSTER KLUG, 05/14/10, AP)

Leading senators and a group of former officials are pushing the Obama administration to send a stalled U.S.-South Korean free trade deal to Congress. But with November elections looming, the accord may already be dead this year.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:27 AM


The Kingmaker: When it comes to electing Iraq's next prime minister, Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's vote may be the only one that counts. (Babak Dehghanpisheh, 5/14/10, NEWSWEEK)

[I]n terms of raw influence, Sadr is now the most powerful man in Iraq. Almost immediately after the March 7national elections, audience-seekers from Baghdad began arriving in Iran—a vice president, and even a personal envoy from Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki himself, together with senior representatives from every other major political bloc in Iraq. And they came bearing offerings: the prime minister's envoy was ready to free Mahdi Army detainees in exchange for Sadr's support, and the emissary representing Ayad Allawi, the candidate who had won the most votes, promised a generous array of ministerial postings. (Representatives from both the prime minister and Allawi's bloc deny making these offers.) Almost three months after the balloting, the election's official results have yet to be certified. But when that finally happens, it's clear that Sadr will cast the deciding vote on Iraq's next prime minister.

Sadr's beard is streaked with gray now, but he hasn't lost his fire in the four years since NEWSWEEK called him "the most dangerous man in Iraq." "The military resistance will continue," he warned in a recent interview with Al-Jazeera. "We are inside the political process, but I will deal with the politicians in a political way and with the nonpoliticians in a nonpolitical way." He and his followers insist that his Mahdi Army will remain armed and ready to fight at least until the Americans get out of Iraq. "As long as there is this kind of occupation, we have a right to keep this wing," says Sadrist spokesman Sheik Salah Obeidi.

At present the emphasis is on politics—and that's enough to worry about. It looked like grounds for hope when Allawi's nonsectarian Iraqiya list of candidates captured at least a slim plurality of seats in the March elections. Many observers saw it as a clear sign that Sunnis had finally decided to participate in the political process in a meaningful way. But that hope faded with the recent announcement by the Sadrist--dominated Iraqi National Alliance and Maliki's State of Law coalition that they were joining forces, essentially forming a Shiite mega-coalition—a merger that Tehran has intensely lobbied for since even before the election.

Iraq's Constitution gives the first shot at forming the new government to Allawi, as leader of the party that won the most seats. Still, the Maliki-Sadr coalition is scarcely inclined to let him have the votes he'll need. Together they now control the single largest bloc of seats in the Iraqi Parliament, effectively shutting out Allawi's Sunni partners from any serious role in the upcoming government. "The only alliance that we are scared of is one that is established on a sectarian basis, just like 2005," says Taha Luhaibi, who ran on the Iraqiya ticket. "If such an alliance happened again, it would be a big shock for the Iraqi people." The fear is a return to a broad, Sunni-led insurgency, an outcome that seemed unthinkable right after the vote.

We're not there yet. In fact, Maliki can't hope to form a new government without Sadr's help--and the Sadrists have a deep-rooted hatred of Maliki, remembering the bloody military offensives he approved against the Mahdi Army in Basra in 2007 and in Sadr City in 2008. Shortly after the elections the Sadrists held an unofficial referendum to decide who should be the next prime minister, and Maliki finished a miserable fourth, with 10 percent of the vote, behind former prime minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari; Moqtada's distant cousin (and brother-in-law) Jafar Sadr; and a Sadrist M.P. named Qusay al-Suhail. Moqtada himself mentioned the bad blood in his recent interview with Al-Jazeera. "We have negative ideas about Maliki," he said. "He refused to share the powers, as if he owned the whole government. This was wrong." If the Sadrists back Maliki at all, they're sure to demand major political concessions, including an agreement to leave the Mahdi Army alone.

That willingness to work within the political system if it vindicates the Shi'a majority but to act militarily if it can not even protect them is precisely what is required.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:25 AM


The KJV Effect: American prose and the King James Bible. (Mark Noll, 4/23/2010, Books & Culture)

Robert Alter's careful examination of the ways in which the KJV informed the novels of six significant American authors aims to record how "the resonant language and the arresting vision of the canonical text" continue to echo in American cultural memory. His title is itself taken from the KJV's rendering of Jeremiah 17:1—"The sin of Judah is written with a pen of iron, and with the point of a diamond: it is graven upon the table of their heart." Without stating his intention in so many words, Alter is recording a specific indebtedness before awareness of its presence fades, as the biblical origin of so much common English has faded into a mere recognition of something old-fashioned, quaint, or musty in the prose of Herman Melville, William Faulkner, Saul Bellow, Ernest Hemingway, Marilynne Robinson, and Cormac McCarthy.

Alter's short book spins off enough sparkling asides to inspire a shelf of very long volumes. On, for example, why England's canonical novelists seem less indebted to the language of the KJV than the United States' (because American fiction has always exhibited a heteroglossia, to use Bakhtin's term, where writers deliberately mix levels of diction that English deference to decorum did not permit). Or how academic literary study now treats works written in English as if they were translations originally composed in another language (because translated fiction can capably communicate the power relationships in novels, but hardly ever what is communicated by an author's style, and American English departments have been obsessed with questions of power instead of "reading the untranslatable text"). Or why in Alter's view the KJV remains the best of all English Bible translations (because it comes closest to the direct, concrete, and parallel style that marks the Hebrew and much of the Greek in Scripture).

Despite a wealth of telling general commentary, Alter's main business is to show through close readings how much his six novelists drew upon biblical style in creating their own works. Along the way, he also raises an overarching issue of great importance about the relationship of biblical style to biblical content, but that he leaves as an open-ended question for another day.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:08 AM


The Pretender: a review of THE FLIGHT OF THE INTELLECTUALS by Paul Berman (ANTHONY JULIUS, NY Times Book Review)

Over the past 10 years, Paul Berman has been exploring a theme: the repudiation by liberal intellectuals of their values and ideals. The theme has been elaborated in several books — “Terror and Liberalism,” “Power and the Idealists” and now “The Flight of the Intellectuals.” Berman himself is a man who identifies “with the liberal left.”

It is a good theme, and it has attracted the attention of other writers too — the British journalist Nick Cohen, for example, examined it in his estimable 2007 book “What’s Left? How the Left Lost Its Way.” Indeed, so fertile is this idea, so appealing is it as an object of inquiry, we may even speak of a distinct category of recent books devoted to elaborations of it. Richard Wolin’s “Seduction of Unreason,” on the intellectual romance with fascism, is a distinguished instance, written from the left. Paul Hollander’s “End of Commitment,” on intellectuals, revolutionaries and political morality, is another, this time from the right. The many books written in the last 20 years about the German philosopher Martin Heidegger’s complicity with Nazism represent further instances of the genre.

The masterwork, however, is still ­Julien Benda’s “Treason of the Intellectuals.” This book, written in 1927 by one of the leading French intellectuals of the early 20th century, may be regarded as the inaugural work of the line. Berman’s own books can usefully be read as restatements (in their own register, of course) of Benda’s polemic against his fellow intellectuals.

For Benda, the intellectual betrays his vocation when he compromises his commitment to universalist values. The temptation to make such compromises, he argues, lies principally in the appeal of national sentiment, to which intellectuals are quick to subordinate themselves. And the role they assume as nationalists is to conceptualize political hatreds. Benda, a supporter of Dreyfus, deplored the eagerness of some French writers to play this degraded, ignominious role.

For Berman, the contemporary intellectual’s temptation is somewhat differently constituted. It consists of the following elements: the false identification of liberal values with an oppressive West, and of political Islamism with an oppressed third world; an unreflective, unqualified opposition to every exercise of American power; a certain blindness regarding, or even tenderness toward, contemporary expressions of anti-Semitism.

It is against these betrayals of vocation — colored in certain cases by self-hatred and defeatism — that Berman sets himself.

Nationalism, anti-Americanism, anti-Semitism...they're all just reactions against universal Judeo-Christian ideals.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:03 AM


Why New Zealand is a lifestyle superpower : Nick Bryant reflects on New Zealand's mix of controlled fury, subtle charm and social harmony, and asks why the rest of the world can't be more like it. (Nick Bryant, 5/14/10, BBC)

Of course, I would not want you to think that my fondness for New Zealand merely flows from my love of rugby.

No, there's the fabulous food and wine, some of the most flavoursome coffee that you will find anywhere in the southern hemisphere - if not the world - and the sharp freshness of the air, all of which make it one of the great lifestyle superpowers of the world.

There's also a funky arts scene, and a deep-held love of literature - the Kiwis are very bookish.

And such has been the global success of its film industry - with global mega-hits like the Lord of the Rings trilogy - that Wellington is now known as Wellywood.

They're even planning to erect giant capital letters high on a hill above the airport to spell out that success.

The irony is that the New Zealand film industry, under the tutelage of its most successful director, Sir Peter Jackson, is renowned for virtual reality.

This in a country where the real reality is so hard to beat.

As an Anglospheric island, New Zealand can't help but succeed.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:58 AM


The Predictable and Inevitable Blowback (David Sirota, 5/15/10, In These Times)

Imagine, if you can, an alternate universe.

Imagine that in this alternate universe, a foreign military power begins flying remote-controlled warplanes over your town, using on-board missiles to kill hundreds of your innocent neighbors.

...when you think it's only in an alternate universe that thousands of your neighbors were killed by foreigners flying planes.

May 14, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:17 PM


Memo Suggests Kagan Backed Funds for Religious Groups (LAURA MECKLER, 5/14/10, WSJ)

At issue was "charitable choice," a provision of the sweeping welfare overhaul that Mr. Clinton signed in August 1996. The provision made it clear that churches and religious groups could receive contracts and vouchers to participate in welfare and other social-service programs without changing their religious nature.

The provision was not particularly controversial in the welfare debate, which focused on work requirements and time limits for aid to the poor. It became more contentious under President George W. Bush, who expanded participation of religious groups in government programs.

In December 1996, Mr. Clinton saw a U.S. News and World Report piece on the subject, and he scrawled a note to his domestic policy adviser, Bruce Reed, saying he would like to pursue the issue. "We need to decide what if anything to do w/ this in WRef [welfare reform]. I think there are possibilities," the president wrote to Mr. Reed.

That was forwarded to Ms. Kagan with a note asking for the status of the religious provisions in the new welfare law.

At the bottom of the page, Ms. Kagan wrote an undated note to Mr. Reed saying the Department of Justice was trying to get Congress to alter the charitable choice provision in a technical corrections bill, used to clean up errors in the larger measure. She indicated she didn't favor that effort.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:32 PM


Penalties - Science is on the spot (AFP, 13 May 2010)

A mathematical study of penalties at Liverpool's John Moores University puts the death nail into the "blast-it-and-hope" approach.

The perfect penalty, it found, is a ball that is struck high, targeted precisely to the right or left of the goalie, and fast, travelling at 25-29 metres per second (90-104 kilometers or 56-65 miles per hour).

Anything faster than this boosts the chance of a miss because of inaccuracy, while anything slower helps the goalie to intercept it.

Moving swiftly to take the penalty (less than three seconds after the whistle is blown) gives the striker the element of surprise, while delaying the strike by more than 13 seconds makes the keeper unsettled, according to the researchers, who looked at decades of international matches involving England.

Waiting for the goalkeeper to move also boosted chances. However, waiting longer than 0.41 milliseconds caused a scoring chance to be halved. A runup of four to six steps was the most successful approach, while a long runup of 10 metres (yards) was the least.

Seen only through the prism of statistics, the balance in penalties is tilted massively in favour of the taker: between two-thirds and three-quarters of strikes result in a goal, according to various analyses in top-flight European club soccer.

Lies, Damn Lies, Statistics and ‘Soccernomics’ (JACK BELL, 11/02/09, NY Times)
In their new book “Soccernomics,” to be published in the United States on Tuesday, the author Simon Kuper and the economist Stefan Szymanski do for soccer what “Moneyball” did for baseball. It puts the game under an analytical microscrope using statistics, economics, psychology and intuition to try and transform a dogmatic sport.

“The heart of the matter,” Kuper said in a telephone interview from his home in Paris, “is that the thinking in soccer is outdated, backward and tradition-based. It needs a fresh look based on data. There’s a new global map, with countries like the U.S. and Japan already rising. And they will continue to rise at the expense of Europe as knowledge gets disbursed. And it’s happening very quickly.” [...]

“Of course the specifics are different than baseball, where there is more data, but what Bill James does for me is to look at sports from the outside,” Kuper said. “The importance of data in soccer has been underestimated. You need to get rid of the mystique and look at it in a cold way. There’s a reason the Oakland A’s don’t let their managers make picks in the amateur draft. The coach/manager is a middle manager, not concerned with the long term.”

Perhaps the authors’ most contentious assertion is that the balance of power in global soccer is about to change because of three factors — population, wealth and experience. And that, Kuper said, means that countries like the United States, China and even India have the potential to be among the sport’s elite.

Soccernomics is probably as good a book as could be written given the paucity of informed soccer analysis, which really only illustrates why America will quickly come to dominate the game. The understanding of the use of space and performance measurements abroad is primitive.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:29 PM


Schwarzenegger budget would eliminate welfare (Kevin Yamamura, 5/13/10,

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger asked lawmakers Friday to eliminate the state's welfare program starting in October and dramatically scale back in-home care for the elderly and disabled as part of his May budget revision to close a $19.1 billion deficit.

The Republican governor also proposed cuts to state worker compensation. Besides asking for a 5 percent pay cut, 5 percent payroll cap and 5 percent increased pension contribution, Schwarzenegger has proposed cutting one day per month of pay in exchange for leave credit.

The proposal would affect all state workers under the governor's authority, regardless of whether they are general fund or special fund employees. Employees would not be able to cash out any of this unused leave credit when they leave state service. The plan would replace the three-day-a-month furloughs, which are due to end June 30.

Too little too late to save the most disappointing American political career since U. S. Grant.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:19 PM


U.S. Approval of Killing of Cleric Causes Unease (SCOTT SHANE, 5/13/10, NY Times)

The Obama administration’s decision to authorize the killing by the Central Intelligence Agency of a terrorism suspect who is an American citizen has set off a debate over the legal and political limits of drone missile strikes, a mainstay of the campaign against terrorism.

The notion that the government can, in effect, execute one of its own citizens far from a combat zone, with no judicial process and based on secret intelligence, makes some legal authorities deeply uneasy.

To eavesdrop on the terrorism suspect who was added to the target list, the American-born radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who is hiding in Yemen, intelligence agencies would have to get a court warrant. But designating him for death, as C.I.A. officials did early this year with the National Security Council’s approval, required no judicial review.

“Congress has protected Awlaki’s cellphone calls,” said Vicki Divoll, a former C.I.A. lawyer who now teaches at the United States Naval Academy. “But it has not provided any protections for his life. That makes no sense.”

Obviously once he leaves our soil the government doesn't need a warrant to eavesdrop on him.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:33 PM


Conservative friends rise in support of Kagan (MARK SHERMAN, 5/14/10, Associated Press)

"She has had a remarkable and truly unusual record of reaching out across ideological divides," said Michael McConnell, a former federal appeals court judge who was nominated by President George W. Bush.

Longtime Kagan friend Miguel Estrada, whose appeals court nomination by Bush was blocked by Senate Democrats, said, "She's clearly qualified for the court and should be confirmed. Obviously, she's a left-of-center academic who never would have been picked by a Republican. But no one can doubt her intellectual accomplishments."

Former special prosecutor Kenneth Starr, who ran the investigation that led to President Bill Clinton's impeachment, said charges by some conservatives that Kagan holds extreme views are off-base.

"That's politics, and unfortunately confirmation politics have been very ugly, with a few happy interludes, ever since the nomination of Judge Robert Bork," Starr said on MSNBC.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:30 PM


Safe-haven frenzy drives bonds higher (Burton Frierson, 5/14/10, Reuters)

U.S. government bonds rallied on Friday, sending 10-year notes up a point in price as persistent worries over the euro zone's debt crisis led investors to ditch stocks for the safer harbor of Treasuries.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:43 AM


The Night the Cleveland Cavaliers Quit on Themselves: After an intimate season with Shaq, and a lifetime of longing, one man heads back to an off-season of sorrow — and bids LeBron good riddance (Scott Raab, 5/14/10, Esquire)

Most of the team — and this goes double for LeBron James — quit. They quit on their coach, quit on their fans, quit on each other, and quit on themselves. By the end of last night's game, they didn't even bother to pretend to care. Rather than risk a miracle, they stopped trying. They refused to foul and simply let the clock run out. Shaq by then was anchored to the bench with five fouls, his face utterly impassive. that as time runs out the losing team is forced to foul on every possession so the conclusion takes forever. But watching the Cavs neither foul nor try to get off quick shots when they had the ball really did make it seem like they'd quit. It was especially odd because Doc Rivers, for reasons known only to him, had Ray Allen (as good a foul shooter as God made) on the bench and Rajon Rondo (who makes Shaq look like Rick Barry) handling the ball.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:38 AM


Speech: The Economics of Happiness (Chairman Ben S. Bernanke, At the University of South Carolina Commencement Ceremony, Columbia, South Carolina, May 8, 2010)

I always find it difficult to choose a topic for a commencement talk. I am an economist, but my experience has been that people in a celebratory frame of mind are usually not that interested in an economics lecture. (I can't quite understand why not.) Instead, they are generally looking for something more personal and inspirational. So I thought I would split the difference between an economics lecture and inspirational remarks and speak briefly about what economics and social science more generally have to say about personal happiness, and what those ideas imply both for economic policymaking and the choices each of you will make as you leave college for other pursuits.

Why talk about happiness? Well, it's right there in the mission statement of the United States, the Declaration of Independence: The inalienable rights of Americans are "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." If Thomas Jefferson thought it was important to facilitate the pursuit of happiness, maybe we should think a bit about what that means in practice.

In exploring the question, researchers have distinguished between two related, but different, concepts--"happiness" and "life satisfaction." They use "happiness" to mean a short-term state of mind that may depend on a person's temperament, but also on external factors, such as whether it is a sunny or rainy day. They use "life satisfaction" to refer to a longer-term state of contentment and well-being. The relationship between life satisfaction and happiness, and the factors contributing to each, is not always straightforward. I'll come back to this issue later.

As you might guess, when thinking about the sources of psychological well-being, economists have tended to focus on the material things of life. This proclivity is why economic policymakers often emphasize the promotion of economic growth. The richer a country is, the higher the material standard of living of its average person. What applies to a country applies to individuals: Higher income equals a higher standard of living, which most people desire.

This traditional economist's perspective on happiness is not as narrow and Scrooge-y as you might think at first. If I were to ask you what you value in life besides goods and services--a nice car or house, for example--you might begin with, say, your health. Well, richer countries have more resources to devote to medical care, to good nutrition and sanitation, and to workplace safety, and for these and other reasons rich countries have higher life expectancies, lower infant mortality rates, and generally better health indicators than poor countries. Likewise, as the United States has grown richer over time, longevity and other measures of health have improved.

Another thing that most people value is a clean environment. Air and water quality are not included in the broadest measure of economic activity emphasized in government statistics, the gross domestic product (GDP), although some economists have worked on ways to do so. But again, rich countries have more resources to devote to maintaining a clean environment and do tend to have better air and water quality than poor and middle-income countries, notwithstanding the fact that rich countries by definition produce more goods and services. Rich countries also generally provide people more leisure time, less physically exhausting and more interesting work, higher education levels, greater ability to travel, and more funding for arts and culture. Again, these linkages, together with the benefits of enjoying a wide variety of goods and services, are the reason that economic policymakers--at the behest of the public--usually put heavy emphasis on job creation and growth. Along with price stability, maximum employment is one of the Congress's two mandated objectives for the Federal Reserve. And, indeed, economists researching happiness and life satisfaction have found that both inflation and unemployment detract from happiness, consistent with the focus on these macroeconomic conditions in the mandate of the Federal Reserve.

Even though I hope I have persuaded you that purely economic measures of personal well-being are not as narrow as sometimes thought, I have so far dodged the key questions: Ultimately, what makes us happy? What makes our lives satisfying in the long run? And, more subtly, how is the state of mind we call happiness, at least as social scientists define the term, related to our long-run life satisfaction? We can look inward for answers, but, at least for someone trained as a social scientist, the most direct way to tackle the question is just to go out and ask people--lots of people. In fact, psychologists for some time have been running surveys in which they have asked thousands of randomly selected people in countries all around the world to rate their own happiness or life satisfaction, and recently economists have gotten into the act. There is now a field of study, complete with doctoral dissertations and professorships, called "the economics of happiness." The idea is that by measuring the self-reported happiness of people around the world, and then correlating those results with economic, social, and personal characteristics and behavior, we can learn directly what factors contribute to happiness.

The results of these studies are quite interesting. One finding is that most people consider themselves to be reasonably happy, despite the undeniable hardships that many people face. Asked a question like, "Taken altogether, how would you say things are these days--would you say you are very happy, pretty happy, or not too happy?", about 90 percent of respondents in the United States reply that they are very happy or pretty happy, a relatively high percentage. Perhaps people don't want to admit to survey-takers that they are unhappy, but the explanation preferred by most researchers is that human beings are intrinsically very adaptable and are able to find satisfaction in their lives even in very difficult circumstances.

Another area of this research bears directly on what I said earlier about the relationship between income and happiness. Some years ago the economist Richard Easterlin showed that, just as would be expected, wealthier people in any given country are more likely to tell a survey-taker that they are happy with their lives than are poorer people in the same country. However, Easterlin also found two other things that don't fit so well with the economic perspective. First, he found that as countries get richer, beyond the level where basic needs such as food and shelter are met, people don't report being any happier. For example, although today most Americans surveyed will tell you they are happy with their lives, the fraction of those who say that they are happy is not any higher than it was 40 years ago, when average incomes in the United States were considerably lower and few could even imagine developments like mobile phones or the Internet. Second, he found that--again, once you get above a basic sustenance level--on average, people in rich countries don't report being all that much happier than people in lower-income countries. The finding that people in rich countries don't report much greater happiness than those in lower-income countries--even though, in any given country, the rich say they are happier than the poor do--is called the Easterlin paradox, after its discoverer.

Now, research in social science is hardly ever the final word, and a large body of more recent research has contested Easterlin's results, finding that people in rich countries may, on average, be happier or more satisfied after all. But this research still suggests that the increase in happiness flowing from greater wealth is moderate. For example, reported levels of life satisfaction among Americans are similar to reported levels among Costa Ricans, who have about one-quarter the per capita income. So I am going to continue under the assumption that, although wealth and income do contribute to happiness and life satisfaction, other factors must also be very important. Or, as your parents always said, money doesn't buy happiness. Well, an economist might reply, at least not by itself.

What could explain Easterlin's finding that, beyond a certain point, wealth and income don't buy happiness? Easterlin's own view, taking an economic perspective, is that people's happiness depends less on their absolute wealth than on their wealth compared with others around them. If I live in a country in which most people have only one cow, and I have three cows, then I will have lots of social status and self-esteem and will thus feel happy. But if everyone around me has a luxury car, and I am hung up on status, I won't feel very special unless I have both a luxury car and an SUV. This relative-wealth hypothesis can explain why rich people are happier than poor people in the same country, but also why people in richer countries are not on average much happier than people in poorer countries. It's the big fish in a little pond phenomenon.

There is certainly something to this explanation. "Rich" is a relative term. When I was a kid, having a color television was a major status symbol. Now, most households have color TVs, often more than one. Your sense of how well off you are economically depends a great deal on your expectations and aspirations, which in turn are largely formed by the community in which you live.

Easterlin's research and interpretation, I think, has some personal application. We all know that getting a better-paying job is one of the main reasons to go to college, and achieving economic security for yourself and your family is an important and laudable goal. But if you are ever tempted to go into a field or take a job only because the pay is high and for no other reason, be careful! Having a larger income is exciting at first, but as you get used to your new standard of living, and as you associate with other people in your new income bracket, the thrill quickly wears off. Some interesting studies of winners of large lottery prizes, even in the millions of dollars, found (as you would expect) that they were happy and excited on learning that they had won. But only six months later they reported being not much happier than they were before they won the lottery. The evidence shows that, by itself, money is not enough. Indeed, taking a high-paying job only for the money can detract from happiness if it involves spending less time with your family, stress, and other such drawbacks.

Human adaptability, which I mentioned earlier, also helps to explain the Easterlin paradox. Rich or poor, you tend to get used to your circumstances. Lottery winners get used to being wealthier, and their psychological state may ultimately be not much different than it was before buying the winning ticket. Have you ever said, "If I can just do or get X, I'll be happy"? "X" might be to graduate, get a promotion, or be named to the all-star team. Well, it appears to be a scientific fact that it's not true. No particular achievement or occurrence can guarantee long-term happiness by itself, because you will get used to your new status and your degree of happiness will eventually revert to something close to what it was before X, whatever it was, occurred. Interestingly, Adam Smith, the intellectual father of modern economics, understood this point; he once wrote: "[T]he mind of every man, in a longer or shorter time, returns to its natural and usual state of tranquility. In prosperity, after a certain time, it falls back to that state; in adversity, after a certain time, it rises up to it." Does this mean that achievement is not worth the effort, that nothing we can do can make us happy? Not at all, and I'll explain why in a moment.

But first, let's revisit the central question. If, as your parents always told you, money doesn't buy happiness, then what factors do contribute to life satisfaction? Psychologists and economists have done good work on this point, going your parents one better by identifying statistically just what factors are linked to self-reported happiness and how short-run happiness is related to, but distinct from, long-run life satisfaction.

Some of them won't surprise you, but are nevertheless worth repeating. Happy people tend to spend time with friends and family and put emphasis on social and community relationships. We are social creatures. Research has demonstrated that happiness and life satisfaction are perhaps more closely related to participating meaningfully in a network of friends, family, and community than any other factor. I urge you to take this research to heart by making time for friends and family and by being part of and contributing to a larger community.

Another factor in happiness, perhaps less obvious, is based on the concept of "flow." When you are working, studying, or pursuing a hobby, do you sometimes become so engrossed in what you are doing that you totally lose track of time? That feeling is called flow. If you never have that feeling, you should find some new activities--whether work or hobbies.

Another finding is that happy people feel in control of their own lives. A sense of control can be obtained by actively setting goals that are both challenging and achievable. Ultimately, though, there are many things in our lives we cannot control. So it also is important to recognize what is and is not within our control, to cultivate the flexibility to accept unexpected change with equanimity, and to focus our efforts on achieving goals at the limit of, but still within, our reach.

Finally--and this is one of the most intriguing findings--happiness can be promoted by fighting the natural human tendency to become entirely adapted to your circumstances. One interesting practical suggestion is to keep a "gratitude journal," in which you routinely list experiences and circumstances for which you are grateful. Devices like gratitude journals help people remain aware of the fortunate aspects of their lives, offsetting the natural human tendency to take those things for granted after a while.

Happiness research can be useful for individuals, but it also has implications for policymakers. For one, the policy goals of promoting economic growth and employment, though not--as we have seen--the only appropriate goals, are worthwhile nonetheless. On average, as I have already noted, citizens of richer countries report higher levels of life satisfaction, no doubt in part because they tend to be healthier, to have more leisure time to pursue hobbies or socialize, and to have more interesting work. Generally, richer countries also have fewer citizens in severe poverty.

But, again, many things beside income contribute to feelings of well-being. For example, as I mentioned, social interactions appear very important for individual happiness. One application of this insight--and this is just an example of the type of research connected with the "economics of happiness" that may bear policy insights--involved a program in Canada in which recipients of employment insurance or income assistance were offered jobs in community development and opportunities to develop a social network. Being unemployed is stressful, not just because of loss of income but also because of feelings of loss of control and diminished self-worth. But individuals who participated in these opportunities reported higher satisfaction than those who did not. Further study could shed light on the effectiveness of alternative approaches to traditional unemployment insurance programs.

More generally, economic policymakers should pay attention to family and community cohesion. All else equal, good economic policies should encourage and support stable families and promote civic engagement. And to help people feel in control of their own destinies, policies should respect the autonomy of individuals, families, and communities to make their own decisions whenever possible, as research has confirmed the intuitive notion that individual freedoms contribute to life satisfaction.

Notwithstanding that income contributes to well-being, the economics of happiness is also a useful antidote to the tendency of economists to focus exclusively on material determinants of social welfare, such as the GDP. GDP is not itself the final objective of policy, just as an increase in income may not be a good enough reason for you to change jobs. Obtaining broader measures of human welfare is challenging, but not impossible. Indeed, the United Nations has produced its human development reports for 20 years, and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has been engaged in a comprehensive project to examine the progress of societies in order to ensure that economic policymaking focuses on improving human welfare, broadly construed.

But even though GDP or income should not be the only goal of our strivings, we can go one step further and recognize as well that happiness itself, at least to the extent that the term is associated with immediate rather than long-lasting feelings and emotions, should not be our only goal either. Remember that I began by distinguishing between happiness and life satisfaction. Happiness is just one component of the broader, longer-term concept of life satisfaction, and only one indicator of how the fabric of our lives is being shaped by our choices and circumstances. I am reminded of a story about Abraham Lincoln. According to the story, Lincoln was riding with a friend in a carriage on a rainy evening. As they rode, Lincoln told the friend that he believed in what economists would call the utility-maximizing theory of behavior, that people always act so as to maximize their own happiness, and for no other reason. Just then, the carriage crossed a bridge, and Lincoln saw a pig stuck in the muddy riverbank. Telling the carriage driver to stop, Lincoln struggled through the rain and mud, picked up the pig, and carried it to safety. When the muddy Lincoln returned to the carriage, his friend naturally pointed out that he had just disproved his own hypothesis by putting himself to great trouble and discomfort to save a pig. "Not at all," said Lincoln. "What I did is perfectly consistent with my theory. If I hadn't saved that pig, I would have felt terrible."

The story points out that, sometimes, happiness is nature's way of telling us we are doing the right thing. True. But, by the same token, ephemeral feelings of happiness are not always reliable indicators we are on the right path. Ultimately, life satisfaction requires more than just happiness. Sometimes, difficult choices can open the doors to future opportunities, and the short-run pain can be worth the long-run gain. Just as importantly, life satisfaction requires an ethical framework. Everyone needs such a framework. In the short run, it is possible that doing the ethical thing will make you feel, well, unhappy. In the long run, though, it is essential for a well-balanced and satisfying life.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:32 AM

NO ESCAPE (via The Daily Caller):

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:38 AM


Why Factories Are Leaving China: A labor shortage is trimming margins for exporters, who are moving to Vietnam, India, and elsewhere (Dexter Roberts, 5/13/10, BW Magazine)

As costs climbed in Taiwan two decades ago, Ben Fan moved his lighting factory to take advantage of China's cheap labor. Now, with Chinese wages on the rise, he's moving again. "It's just like what happened in Taiwan," says Fan, chairman of Neo-Neon Holdings, which sells lamps and lighting fixtures to big retailers including Home Depot (HD), Target (TGT), and Wal-Mart (WMT). "Chinese don't want to work in factories anymore."

So Fan is expanding his factory in Vietnam, where wages are $100 a month, one-third what he pays in China. He plans to shift 85 percent of his production across the border, and by December he'll have 8,000 workers in Vietnam—up from 300 a year ago—and just 5,000 in China, down from 25,000 in 2008.

Over the past two years, millions of jobs have moved to China's interior or elsewhere in Asia as factory owners try to cut costs. In Guangdong, the mainland's top exporting province, wages have almost doubled in the past three years, and more than half the factories can't find enough workers. The number of migrants who traveled to coastal provinces for work fell by 9 percent last year, to 91 million. "This lack of labor will only get worse," says Willy Lin, chairman of the Textile Council of Hong Kong, a trade association.

Factory owners complain that the higher wages are devastating profits, especially as their customers continue to squeeze them for lower prices.

The most remarkable thing about China is that its decline is going to come when it has achieved such a low standard of living. Japan, comparatively, became one of the most advanced economies before it began its slide.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:15 AM


Garnett stands tall after sitting: He made punching ticket much easier (Frank Dell’Apa, May 14, 2010, Boston Globe)

The Celtics knew they had this one after Garnett dunked for an 88-74 advantage with 5:53 remaining, the celebration starting as Cleveland called a timeout. Garnett started the sequence, taking possession as Mo Williams lost his dribble, then going behind his back to start the transition.

But the Celtics had to play this one out, and the Cavaliers were within 92-85 with 2:07 to go. Then came a 40-second possession, capped by a Garnett turnaround jump hook. Before that possession, only one Celtic — Kendrick Perkins — had been able to grab an offensive rebound. But after Paul Pierce’s drive was blocked, there was Garnett to follow. And miss with a hook shot. And to follow again, this time going to Rajon Rondo, the Celtics calling a timeout with 1:36 left. The Celtics then went to Garnett to clinch the win, the only Celtic field goal of the final 4:37.

“Over the course of the season I’ve been fortunate to be healthy and can honestly say I’ve gotten stronger,’’ Garnett said. “And the playoffs come around, it’s time to step it up another notch, and that’s all I’ve been trying to do, nothing more, nothing less than that, it’s no secret. I take care of my body, I’m a workaholic when it comes to trying to better myself and nothing’s changed, so it’s paying off.’’'s the way he intimidates teammates into playing defense.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:11 AM


Buyouts, not bailouts, for teachers (Matt Miller, May 13, 2010, Washington Post)

The coming teacher firings are doubly disastrous because labor contracts and state laws require that most layoffs be done on the basis of seniority -- that is, newer teachers get the ax first. The trouble with this "last-in, first-out" rule is that layoffs are made with no concern for whether the teachers in question are any good. Yet in many big districts, huge efforts have been made in recent years to hire talented young teachers via programs such as Teach for America and the New Teacher Project to work with the nation's neediest children. With one awful stroke, these layoffs could eviscerate years of such recruiting, giving poor kids the shaft once again.

This injustice is especially acute when, as great senior teachers in high-poverty schools have told me with passion, many of their long-serving colleagues are just going through the motions, hanging on until generous pensions click in. If it's really "all about the children," it's insane to fire younger teachers, no matter how effective they are, in order to protect more senior teachers, no matter how weak (and, incidentally, more costly) they may be.

The dilemma is compounded by the fact that teacher pensions represent a mammoth unfunded liability -- at least $330 billion nationally, according to a recent Manhattan Institute study, and perhaps as much as $900 billion if calculated conservatively. The longer that ineffective senior teachers hang on, the higher these pensions soar, because they're typically based on a teacher's highest annual incomes near the end of a career.

What to do? The federal government should turn calamity into opportunity by putting a Harkin-sized pot of money on the table that districts can tap to offer buyouts to senior teachers. This is what a business would do to refresh its workforce and begin to pay down outsized pension obligations. A 20-year veteran can cost twice as much in salary as a newer teacher -- and three or four times as much once retirement benefits and pensions are factored in. If a district can offer, say, a year's pay as an incentive for an ineffective senior teacher to retire early, it can bring in (or save) several younger ones and come out ahead fast.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:03 AM


William Hague must not allow himself to be swayed by anti-American Lib Dems: Britain's relationship with the US is more important than the one with Brussels (Con Coughlin, 14 May 2010, Daily Telegraph)

[W]hile Mr Hague can offer Washington reassurance that Britain will remain a staunch ally, the same cannot be said for his coalition partners. The overwhelming majority of Lib Dems not only oppose the war in Afghanistan and the possibility of military confrontation with Iran, but are deeply anti-American in their world view.

Like Mr Obama, the Lib Dems opposed the 2003 Iraq war. But any similarities in political outlook end there. After assuming office, the president quickly grasped the idea that rogue states such as Iran and Islamist terrorists required robust action; the Lib Dems, though, remain stuck in an Iraq war time-warp, where their world view is determined by the events of seven years ago, rather than the challenges the West faces today.

Thus the only mention of America in the Lib Dem manifesto complains of how Britain's "subservient" relationship with America has led to the neglect of our core values and interests. And in his only major pre-election foreign policy speech, Nick Clegg, the Lib Dem leader, launched a strong attack on the Anglo-American alliance, declaring that Britain's "strategic interests will not be served unless we release ourselves from the spell of default Atlanticism which has prevailed so strongly since Suez".

This is not the view of the Eurosceptic Mr Hague who, as his new role dictates, is responsible for determining the course of Britain's relations with the outside world. He believes that Washington is a far more reliable guarantor of our national security than Brussels.

The challenge for him is to ensure his view prevails, and not the anti-American pacifism espoused by his Lib Dem coalition partners.

The sad fact is that England has outlived its usefulness to us in global security matters. Recall that George W. Bush didn't just allow Tony Blair to try to use the "threat" of WMD to sell the Iraq War to his reluctant parliament and people but startled the PM by telling him not to sweat it if he couldn't bring Britain into the war, we'd be happy to do it ourselves with no hard feelings.

Britain should cultivate closer trade ties with both Europe and the Anglosphere and leave its defense to us.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:56 AM


A Hidden History of Evil: Why doesn’t anyone care about the unread Soviet archives? (Claire Berlinski, Spring 2010, City Journal)

Pavel Stroilov, a Russian exile in London, has on his computer 50,000 unpublished, untranslated, top-secret Kremlin documents, mostly dating from the close of the Cold War. He stole them in 2003 and fled Russia. Within living memory, they would have been worth millions to the CIA; they surely tell a story about Communism and its collapse that the world needs to know. Yet he can’t get anyone to house them in a reputable library, publish them, or fund their translation. In fact, he can’t get anyone to take much interest in them at all.

Then there’s Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovsky, who once spent 12 years in the USSR’s prisons, labor camps, and psikhushkas—political psychiatric hospitals—after being convicted of copying anti-Soviet literature. He, too, possesses a massive collection of stolen and smuggled papers from the archives of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, which, as he writes, “contain the beginnings and the ends of all the tragedies of our bloodstained century.” These documents are available online at, but most are not translated. They are unorganized; there are no summaries; there is no search or index function. “I offer them free of charge to the most influential newspapers and journals in the world, but nobody wants to print them,” Bukovsky writes. “Editors shrug indifferently: So what? Who cares?”

The originals of most of Stroilov’s documents remain in the Kremlin archives, where, like most of the Soviet Union’s top-secret documents from the post-Stalin era, they remain classified. They include, Stroilov says, transcripts of nearly every conversation between Gorbachev and his foreign counterparts—hundreds of them, a near-complete diplomatic record of the era, available nowhere else. There are notes from the Politburo taken by Georgy Shakhnazarov, an aide of Gorbachev’s, and by Politburo member Vadim Medvedev. There is the diary of Anatoly Chernyaev—Gorbachev’s principal aide and deputy chief of the body formerly known as the Comintern—which dates from 1972 to the collapse of the regime. There are reports, dating from the 1960s, by Vadim Zagladin, deputy chief of the Central Committee’s International Department until 1987 and then Gorbachev’s advisor until 1991. Zagladin was both envoy and spy, charged with gathering secrets, spreading disinformation, and advancing Soviet influence.

When Gorbachev and his aides were ousted from the Kremlin, they took unauthorized copies of these documents with them. The documents were scanned and stored in the archives of the Gorbachev Foundation, one of the first independent think tanks in modern Russia, where a handful of friendly and vetted researchers were given limited access to them. Then, in 1999, the foundation opened a small part of the archive to independent researchers, including Stroilov. The key parts of the collection remained restricted; documents could be copied only with the written permission of the author, and Gorbachev refused to authorize any copies whatsoever. But there was a flaw in the foundation’s security, Stroilov explained to me. When things went wrong with the computers, as often they did, he was able to watch the network administrator typing the password that gave access to the foundation’s network. Slowly and secretly, Stroilov copied the archive and sent it to secure locations around the world. [...]

No one talks much about the victims of Communism. No one erects memorials to the throngs of people murdered by the Soviet state. (In his widely ignored book, A Century of Violence in Soviet Russia, Alexander Yakovlev, the architect of perestroika under Gorbachev, puts the number at 30 to 35 million.)

Indeed, many still subscribe to the essential tenets of Communist ideology. Politicians, academics, students, even the occasional autodidact taxi driver still stand opposed to private property. Many remain enthralled by schemes for central economic planning. Stalin, according to polls, is one of Russia’s most popular historical figures. No small number of young people in Istanbul, where I live, proudly describe themselves as Communists; I have met such people around the world, from Seattle to Calcutta.

We rightly insisted upon total denazification; we rightly excoriate those who now attempt to revive the Nazis’ ideology. But the world exhibits a perilous failure to acknowledge the monstrous history of Communism. These documents should be translated. They should be housed in a reputable library, properly cataloged, and carefully assessed by scholars. Above all, they should be well-known to a public that seems to have forgotten what the Soviet Union was really about. If they contain what Stroilov and Bukovsky say—and all the evidence I’ve seen suggests that they do—this is the obligation of anyone who gives a damn about history, foreign policy, and the scores of millions dead.

...we wouldn't dwell on Hitler either. Our silence as regards the USSR reflects our shame.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:48 AM


Tories rule: but liberal Tories with a New Labour legacy: The bold risk Cameron and Clegg took means that instead of a lurch to the right, this regime will keep vying for the centre (Martin Kettle, 5/13/10,

This week, both Cameron and Clegg did very brave and hazardous things with their parties to create Britain's new government. In this paper, much of the attention has inevitably focused on Clegg, his tough negotiating tactics with a weak hand, his deft outmanoeuvring of Labour, his determination to take the Liberal Democrats back into government for the first time since the steamship era, his willingness to risk the political price. Like it or loathe it, Clegg's strategy has been a bold leap in the dark.

But don't underestimate what Cameron has done too. To take the Conservative party and force it into coalition with anyone, especially the Liberal Democrats, took some nerve. To do it on the basis of a notably liberal programme, involving concessions over many cherished, more rightwing policies, is genuinely audacious, especially when it also meant excluding some of his own lieutenants from cabinet seats. Cameron's bold thrust has been compared with Blair's overthrow of clause IV in 1996. But whereas Blair's victory blighted no Labour career or interest group, Cameron's has created a resentful salon des refusés within his own party.

No Conservative leader has taken such a risk for such essentially liberal ends in living memory. Disraeli's embrace of parliamentary reform in 1867 is a distant parallel – a move that overturned Tory orthodoxy and catapulted the party of reaction towards the democratic era. Baldwin's readiness to let the Labour party into government in 1924, thereby killing the Liberals for nearly a century, has echoes too. Both were daring ploys that ensured the longterm health of a new kind of Tory party.

However, those future rewards were by no means obvious when Disraeli and Baldwin threw the dice. And the same must surely be said about Cameron's ploy.

Think of it as Thatcherism with a smiling face.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:43 AM


Muslim women find an ally for more rights: the Koran: Courageous figures like Indonesia's Siti Musdah Mulia are showing Muslim women how to break out of bondage by using the Koran. (John Hughes, May 13, 2010 , CS Monitor)

Instead of blatantly waving the banner of democracy, certain to raise charges of being tools of Western cultural imperialism, these women are quietly working within the culture, rather than against it, citing progressive interpretations of Islam itself as justification for women’s empowerment, particularly in education and the workplace.

Coleman applauds the work of a global women’s movement, musawah (“equality” in Arabic), in researching how the laws of Islam elevated women’s rights in Arabia upon the faith’s 7th-century arrival there. Islamic laws prohibited the killing of girl babies, upheld the right of women to own property, the right to choose their own husbands and impose conditions on the marriage, and to divorce their husbands. They entitled women to an education, to dignity and respect, and the right to think for themselves.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:36 AM

NOT LOVE SONGS (profanity warning):

Public Image Ltd. Returns For A Thrilling Live Concert (Bob Boilen, NPR)

Language Advisory: This live concert recording contains language that is not suitable for all audiences.

After a nearly 20-year hiatus, the highly revered and often imitated post-punk group Public Image Ltd. has re-formed and launched a new U.S. tour. The band made a stop in Washington, D.C., for a full concert, recorded live at the 9:30 Club.

Public Image Ltd. was frequently overlooked when it originally formed and released a string of records in the 1980s and early '90s, or maybe it was looked at for the wrong reasons. The band is the creative vision of John Lydon, not the angry punk he called "Johnny Rotten" in The Sex Pistols. When The Sex Pistols broke up, it was expected that any new band Lydon fronted would be a punk group. In fact, the first single from Public Image Ltd. pretty much was. It was called "Public Image," and was straight out of The Sex Pistols' bag of tricks. Lydon, in fact, wrote the song back in the day, but everything that came after that cut was so different: The music was slower, more open and groove-based. The poetry and the subject matter was all different, while the singing — though distinctly Lydon — was more spacious. It was still in your face, but it wasn't ugly.

Over the years, Public image has created music that felt original, with roots in dub, reggae and pop. Later, it grew more upbeat and rocky and danceable, even incorporating some Celtic sounds. The band has seen nearly 40 members come and go, with one constant: John Lydon. It's his band, for sure.

May 13, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:51 PM


Ankara turns away as EU ambitions fade (Charles Bremner, 5/13/10, Times of London)

Turkey is growing impatient with being cold-shouldered by the European Union, and resistance to its bid for membership is stoking Ankara’s ambition to turn towards the Muslim world.

President Gül said that the EU and its leaders stood at an historic crossroads and had to decide whether or not to welcome Turkey in.

“They are at a point where they need to decide whether the Union is a closed entity, whether the current borders of the EU will define it for eternity, or whether it should plan 50 years ahead and think of its grandchildren, the future,” he told The Times and other European newspapers in his hillside palace. always made more sense for them to ally with India/Israel/Iran/America.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:29 PM


Immigration and IDs: A Modest Proposal: All Americans—whether brown, white, or black—should be required to carry a passport showing they are red, white, and blue. (Christopher Dickey, May 13, 2010, Newsweek)

As it happens, when I was in Arizona for a conference last month I carried my passport everywhere I went. Not that I really expected to be asked for it: I was born in Tennessee and my Scots-Irish, English, German, and Danish forebears got me an exemption from such tribulations, even in Arizona, simply because they were all white. The fact is, I always carry my passport. After years living and working in Europe, the Middle East, and Central America, I've grown used to the idea that cops can ask me for my "papers" any time they choose.

In police states, this is a pretty ugly process—most often an attempt at intimidation, or extortion, or both. In democracies, it can be pretty ugly, too, and sometimes for the same reasons. But you get used to it, and if we're serious about drawing lines against illegal immigration—which is all about defining who is a card-carrying American and who is not—a national ID is the obvious first step. Without it, we're left guessing who "looks like" or "sounds like" a bona fide gringo.

So, to be fair, my modest proposal is that all Americans inside America, not just outside, should be required to have passports and to carry them at all times. Whenever any American is asked for an ID, he or she should have to produce one issued by the federal government.

...but the second obviously needs to be checkpoints where authorities would require everyone to show their passport.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:24 PM


Black, Brown, and Beige: Duke Ellington’s music and race in America. (Claudia Roth Pierpont, May 17, 2010, The New Yorker)

An unshakable dignity seems to have been instilled in Ellington from childhood, and Cohen examines the aspiringly genteel society in which the much beloved boy grew up. Ellington’s father, who worked for years as a butler in a prominent white home, saw that his family’s dinner table was always formally set, no matter the lack of funds at any given time. His pious mother virtually worshipped her son—who was her only child until he was sixteen, when his sister finally came along. And Ellington worshipped his mother in return; he fondly remembered her playing parlor tunes and hymns on the piano—he said the music made him cry—and he attributed his lifelong confidence to her frequent assurances that he was blessed, which he had always believed.

And why not? Edward Kennedy Ellington was born in 1899, in Washington, D.C., at a time when the nation’s capital was arguably the best place for an African-American child to live. The largest urban Negro community in the country maintained its own opera company, classical-music groups, and literary societies; its segregated schools taught African history, stressed proper manners and speech, and were intent on producing students who were, in Ellington’s phrase, “representative of a great and proud race.” For many years, from Emancipation through the imposition of onerous racial restrictions by the Wilson Administration, climaxing in a brutal, white-sparked riot following the First World War, the upper stratum of the city’s black population held to a proto-Harlem Renaissance ideal: demonstrate how civilized, intelligent, and accomplished we are, and racism will fade away. One need not demand respect if one commands it.

Ellington acquired the nickname “Duke” on the brink of adolescence, and, whatever its source (accounts differ), it indicates the superior impression that the boy already made—not an insignificant trait in an era when outstanding black musicians were known professionally as Bubber, Sonny, and Cootie. If he was intended for leadership, however, it clearly wasn’t going to proceed from his scholastic efforts. Although his schooling may have afforded him an inner strength, Ellington was a careless student, even in music (where his only grade on record is a D). But then he didn’t respond to formal training of any kind. Early piano lessons failed to hold his interest, and he learned to play mostly on his own, mastering James P. Johnson’s notoriously difficult “Carolina Shout”—well enough to impress Johnson—by slowing down the piano roll and matching his fingers to the depressed keys. When he wanted to go further, he charmed his way into pickup lessons from the professionals who hung out in the local poolroom. He was careful to point out, later on, that these early masters included both conservatory-trained musicians and unschooled “ear cats” who couldn’t read a note, and that he had freely learned from both.

Charm, drive, and an audacious talent: he was barely out of his teens before he had established the Duke’s Serenaders and several other nicely profitable dance bands, and was supporting himself—and a wife and baby—in style. Yet, by his own account, even when he felt sure enough to try his fortunes in New York, age twenty-four, he had never actually written music. He had composed a few songs in his early years, and began composing again as soon as he hit Tin Pan Alley, but he had never written anything down and wasn’t entirely certain that he could. Ellington was himself something of an “ear cat,” and even as he learned what he needed to know, and his music became increasingly complex, his instinctual bias was for the more instinctual art. Partly, this was the natural democrat’s appreciation of the tough and unschooled African-American “gutbucket” sound; partly it was the natural aristocrat’s desire to make everything look easy. (“How was I to know that composers had to go up in the mountains, or to the seashore, to commune with the muses for six months?”) Other popular composers have faced similar gaps between their early training and their goals; George Gershwin’s solution was to make himself a lifelong student, working with a series of teachers on harmony, counterpoint, orchestration. Ellington didn’t have the temperament for this approach, nor did it appear to offer what he needed. He had something all his own, something that made the arduous process of writing music yield immediate and exhilarating results: he had his band.

The scrappy band of the early Kentucky Club days became an orchestra of a dozen players at the Cotton Club. But Ellington wanted an even larger sound: more color, more detail, more possibilities. By the time of the first European tour, in 1933, there were fourteen players, plus a vocalist; the group that was ultimately known as Duke Ellington and His Famous Orchestra had grown, by the mid-forties, to nineteen players, travelling and recording together, working and virtually living together, fifty-two weeks a year. These musicians were Ellington’s inspiration, not merely as professionals but as individuals with irreplaceable musical personalities. He did not write a “Concerto for Trumpet,” in 1939; rather, it was a “Concerto for Cootie”—that is, a work designed for the specific articulations of the superb trumpet player Cootie Williams, who replaced Bubber Miley and had already been with Ellington for about ten years. (“You can’t write music right,” Ellington told this magazine, more than sixty years ago, “unless you know how the man that’ll play it plays poker.”)

But these musicians were sometimes his collaborators in a more unusual way, described by reporters who sat in, marvelling, on working sessions. Ellington would start off with a melody, or even just a few bars that were quickly tweaked and critiqued into a theme. Then, one by one, the improvisations began—Barney Bigard on clarinet, Johnny Hodges on alto saxophone, Tricky Sam Nanton on trombone were all especially fluent—with each player improving on the last player’s phrases, elaborating and extending, while the trombonist /copyist Juan Tizol caught the accumulating effects on paper (albeit not quite as fast as they kept coming). Ellington approved or rejected the additions, made changes and issued challenges, then usually took the results home and worked the whole thing over. The next day, there would be a few hours of refinement and repetition, until the piece was fixed and memorized. (Ellington always preferred memorization: how could you let loose if your nose was stuck in a score?) By this method, the time for creating or arranging a new number—most numbers were about three minutes long, the standard length of a 78-r.p.m. recording—appears to have been just two days. “My band is my instrument,” Ellington said, and the way he played it explains his music’s extraordinary mixture of freedom and control.

This collaborative process could create difficulties when Ellington employed a melody that he had overheard one of the musicians playing, or that a musician had sold him for a regulation fee. The main tune of “Concerto for Cootie,” for example, was something that Ellington bought from Williams for twenty-five dollars, a sum believed to be reasonable by both parties until, a few years later, words were added and it became a hit as “Do Nothing Till You Hear from Me”—with no royalties for Williams. Johnny Hodges, the band’s most gorgeously lyrical player and a fount of melody—he contributed the tunes for “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” and “I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart”—became so annoyed that, during performances, he mimed rubbing dollar bills between his fingers when Ellington launched into a number that Hodges felt was rightly his. One of Ellington’s most beloved songs, “Sophisticated Lady,” has several contributing claims and was described by the trombonist Lawrence Brown as “one of those where everybody jumps in.”

But, as Billy Strayhorn pointed out, the various contested melodies were musical scraps that would not have amounted to anything had Ellington not labored to smooth out rough parts, create harmonies, add bridges, and set them in a coherent musical frame. None of Ellington’s musicians—not even Strayhorn—ever composed a hit on his own. Most important, all these works turned out to sound purely and recognizably like Ellington. For those who doubted that he was a “real” composer, here was the conundrum: How could the band have created Ellington, when Ellington created the band?

Despite the air of insouciance, Ellington took his composing seriously. It was gratifying to have people sit and listen to his music in a proper theatre, as they did for the first time in 1930, when the band accompanied Maurice Chevalier during a Broadway run and filled out the bill for an entire act. Coast-to-coast radio broadcasts from the Cotton Club had won the band an enormous following, and it gave concert-style performances throughout its first national tour, in 1931, usually performing in movie theatres between shows. Recordings had similarly prepared the way in England and France, where, in 1933, the band appeared on variety bills in the biggest venues, and was met with a respect that, for all its popularity, it had never known at home. Members of the group were suddenly being discussed not merely as entertainers but as artists, and it seemed that every note they played was considered to be—in the words of one British critic—“directly an expression of Duke’s genius.”

Artist. Genius. Claims of this sort had been made before the European tour, but during the mid-thirties they began to take hold. Cohen documents Irving Mills’s long-term publicity campaign to build his client just such a gold-plated image, unprecedented for an African-American. It does not impugn Mills’s belief in Ellington’s artistry to note that his goal was to share this belief with the increasingly large, white, record-buying public. Most of the campaign revolved around Ellington’s gifts as a composer (“Again!” ran the ad for a new song, “Solitude,” in 1935. “The stamp of Ellington’s genius!”), and Ellington fed the fire with the release of several longer compositions. “Creole Rhapsody” (1931), “Reminiscing in Tempo” (1935), and the conjoined “Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue” (1937) all took up two or more sides of 78-r.p.m. recordings—until then a length generally granted only to works of classical music, and a sign that Ellington was extending the notion of musical seriousness beyond its conventional bounds. He told reporters that he was working on a symphonic suite and an opera, both based on the history of the American Negro people. It was just a matter of time before he got to Carnegie Hall.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:18 PM


Don't Underestimate Britain's New Coalition: While Americans might find the sudden Conservative-Liberal Democrat marriage unbelievable, the union makes sense in less-polarized Britain. Clive Irving on why Cameron and Clegg are just what the country needs—and why their partnership will work. (Clive Irving, 5/12/10, Daily Beast)

Like most of the rest of Western Europe, the Brits have become far less polarized according to old party dogmas. Thank Tony Blair for this. He crafted a viable new political center—partly from the moderate rump of his own party and partly by luring defectors from both the Tories and Lib Dems. That gave him his three electoral victories.

Under Gordon Brown, New Labour lost that ground. Some of the unreconstructed apparatchiks of old Labour regained influence in Brown’s circle and their ideas began to sound dangerously statist, arousing old memories of overmighty bureaucracies. Worse, Brown failed to get away with the idea that by managing his way out of the economic meltdown he was absolved of having helped to engineer it in the first place.

What Britain is interested in now is managerial competence. Nothing concentrates the mind like staring into a great, yawning black chasm. That’s the economy the new Conservative/Lib Dem alliance inherits and will have to manage. And in the way that the new Tory Prime Minister David Cameron and the Lib Dem Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg are presenting both themselves and their ideas, these two 43-year-olds look like just the kind of guys you would want to take over a sick company.

For sure, each of the coalition parties has its lunatic fringe. But the real dynamic that has magically materialized in the past 24 hours is the force of reason at the center. Cameron and Clegg were both able to confidently disregard the balking of their more extreme factions.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:11 PM


First Listen: The Black Keys, 'Brothers' (Bob Boilen, 5/09/10, NPR)

Like its predecessors, Brothers is remarkably, consistently strong stuff, though this one feels a bit tamer, with more of an R&B influence. The album was recorded mostly in a studio dripping with the sounds of Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett and The Rolling Stones (circa Sticky Fingers), and even finds The Black Keys covering soul singer Jerry Butler.

Exceptionally well-produced by Auerbach and Carney themselves — though "Tighten Up" is produced by Danger Mouse — Brothers was mixed by Tchad Blake, a genius in making sounds pop from the speakers while giving definition to the playing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:56 PM


Peanut Allergy Cases Triple in 10 Years (Jeanna Bryner, 5/13/10, LiveScience)

More than 3 million Americans now have some kind of nut allergy, with cases of peanut allergy in children more than tripling between 1997 and 2008, according to a report released this week.

"These results show that there is an alarming increase in peanut allergies, consistent with a general, although less dramatic, rise in food allergies among children in studies reported by the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention]," said lead researcher Dr. Scott Sicherer, professor of pediatrics at the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. "The data underscore the need for more study of these dangerous allergies."

That's not what needs to be studied--parents and doctors should be.

Speaking of which, Doubt Is Cast on Many Reports of Food Allergies (GINA KOLATA, 5/11/10, NY Times)

Many who think they have food allergies actually do not.

A new report, commissioned by the federal government, finds the field is rife with poorly done studies, misdiagnoses and tests that can give misleading results.

While there is no doubt that people can be allergic to certain foods, with reproducible responses ranging from a rash to a severe life-threatening reaction, the true incidence of food allergies is only about 8 percent for children and less than 5 percent for adults, said Dr. Marc Riedl, an author of the new paper and an allergist and immunologist at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Yet about 30 percent of the population believe they have food allergies. And, Dr. Riedl said, about half the patients coming to his clinic because they had been told they had a food allergy did not really have one.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:16 PM


N.J. gov. sets tone for US (A.B. Stoddard, 05/12/10, The Hill)

In a movie version of this important story of our time, the bold, undaunted officeholder would look much like the boyish, handsome David Cameron — Great Britain’s new Conservative prime minister — who called on his countrymen Tuesday to embrace an “age of austerity.”

But this is America. So the fearless leader willing to be honest with voters, to part with what cannot be paid for, is actually not dashing, nor is he eloquent. He is an overweight Bruce Springsteen devotee, a former prosecutor with a remaining trace of a Turnpike accent who is intent on rescuing New Jersey. If he succeeds, Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.) could become a major political force in the years to come, whether he likes it or not.

The UR's administration should be sufficient to remind voters why only governors make good presidents.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:45 PM


How Badly Will the Democrats Do?: A few trends to watch ahead of November (Karl Rove, 5/13/10, WSJ)

The most important metric is presidential job approval. President Obama is now at 51% in Gallup and 47% in Rasmussen. When Democrats lost 54 seats in 1994, Bill Clinton's job approval was at 46%. Every president has been lower by the midterm than at the start of that year. Mr. Obama was at 50% in early January. Add a persistently high jobless rate and it points to a worse-than-normal year for Congressional Democrats.

A second factor is the generic ballot—which measures voters' preference for voting for a Republican or a Democrat. At the end of the 2008 election, Democrats led in the Gallup generic ballot by 12 points. Today, the parties are tied at 45%. At this point in 1994, the GOP was nearly five points behind. By Election Day, it was five points ahead.

...could well turn out to be recruitment. In 1994 everyone was so surprised by the GOP sweep that many of the races were won by folks who would have had trouble being elected dog catcher in a normal year. This time, the tide has been apparent from so far out that the folks running are even competent.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:24 PM


Forget 'Stone-Ground' and 'Multi-Grain.' For Health And Taste, The Right Answer Is 'Whole Grain.' (Jesse Kornbluth, 5/12/10, Huffington Post)

What do you gain when all three parts of a grain --- bran, germ and endosperm --- are present in a bread, cereal, cake or muffin?

First, antioxidants and vitamins. Whole grains are richer in Vitamin E, iron, fiber and magnesium than other grains. Why? Because most of the vitamins and antioxidants are packed in the bran and germ --- which you lose in processed grains.

Second, better health. Whole grains reduce cholesterol and blood pressure, cutting your chance of getting heart disease. If you have diabetes, whole grains regulate blood glucose; if you don't, as recent studies show, women can reduce the risk of diabetes by eating more whole grains. [...]

This is where King Arthur Flour comes in. In our house --- and many others --- it's the gold standard of whole grain purity, at every step of the process. The company was founded in 1790, after all. It's headquartered in Vermont. It's now employee-owned.

And the King Arthurites are not narrow-minded about whole grains --- they make a whole grain white flour. Let me say that again: whole grain white flour. That means you can make a cake or bread that looks exactly like the most poisonous product from the least conscious bakery in town. Your cakes and breads won't taste "funny." And you get all that whole grain goodness. (King Arthur flours are available in some supermarkets and in many health-minded groceries. Here's a store locator for King Arthur flour.)

My wife is a baker. She's not crazed --- not a single loaf of bread has been made in our oven, nor is that likely --- but every week or so, she and our daughter slip on their aprons and have a kitchen baking party. The cookbook she uses? King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking: Delicious Recipes Using Nutritious Whole Grains.

This is a brick of a book: 612 pages, 400 recipes, lots of color photographs and informative charts. But it thins out quickly. There are, for example, 175 pages of breads. Eliminate a few other categories, and the thing becomes quite manageable.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:18 PM


...on the one hand, there's nothing not to like about a Mrs. who would rather discuss why the Bruins can't score than what The Daughter is learning in her puberty science unit at school, but, on the other, they have revealed to them an entirely new world of advertising, containing many of the great secrets of the male. Thus, The Wife pulled one of the most profoundly under-handed manuevers in the history of marriage last night, admonishing me that going behind her back to have a KFC Double Down--which The Boy and I have already been strictly forbidden ever to eat--would be "the moral equivalent of adultery."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:10 AM


Japan prime minister sags dangerously in polls (ERIC TALMADGE, 05/13/10, Daily Caller)

Public support for Japan’s Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, who swept to power less than a year ago with approval ratings over 70 percent, has fallen so low that he is now in a danger zone from which few of his predecessors recovered. [...]

A national poll released this week by the Yomiuri, Japan’s top-selling newspaper, found the approval rate for Hatoyama’s Cabinet plummeted to 24 percent in May, down 9 percentage points from the previous month. [...]

Recent prime ministers whose Cabinet’s approval rating has fallen into the 20-percent level have generally had to resign.

“He is in a very difficult spot,” Tomoaki Iwai, a political science professor at Tokyo’s Nihon University, said Thursday. “If he doesn’t quit, support levels will not go back up. But if he does, that will not solve any problems. There is basically nothing he can do right at this point.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:05 AM


Goodbye to Europe as a high-ranking power (Richard Haass, May 12 2010, Financial Times)

Even before this economic crisis, Europe was weakened by a political crisis. Many Europeans have been preoccupied with revising European institutions, but repeated rejections of the Lisbon treaty demonstrate that a united Europe no longer captures the imagination of many of its residents. Lacklustre leadership of European organisations is both a cause and a result of this loss of momentum.

Behind this drift is the stark reality that Europeans have never quite committed to Europe, largely because of the continued pull of nationalism. If Europeans were serious about being a major power, they would trade the British and French United Nations Security Council seats for a European one. This is not about to happen.

Europe’s drift also manifests itself militarily. Few European states are willing to devote even 2 per cent of their budgets to defence; and what they spend their money on makes little sense. National politics and economics dictate expenditures, so there is much replication of what is not relevant and little investment in what is needed. The whole is less than the sum of its parts.

Afghanistan is a case in point. The European contribution there is substantial, with more than 30,000 soldiers from EU countries. But the involvement is uneven, with nearly a third of the troops coming from the UK. In many cases the roles are diluted by governmental “caveats” that limit missions, a lack of equipment and commitments of uncertain duration. European political culture has evolved in ways that make it harder to field militaries willing to bear the cost in blood; the US secretary of defence describes this as “the demilitarisation of Europe – where large swaths of the general public and political class are averse to military force and the risks that go with it”. All this limits Nato’s future role, as Nato mostly makes sense as an expeditionary force in an unstable world, not as a standing army on a stable continent.

Time and demographics will not improve the situation. Europe’s population has levelled off at about 500m and is rapidly ageing. By mid-century the percentage of Europe’s adults who are older than 65 is projected to double. Fewer will be of military age; a smaller number will be working to support the retired.

...that people think Europe used to be influential, when we intervened to save it from Imperialism, Nazism, and Communism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:44 AM


War, democracy and culture in classical Athens (David Pritchard, 13 May 2010, Online Opinion)

To win over such notoriously boisterous and censorious audiences, politicians were forced to negotiate and articulate the self-perceptions, norms and perceived interests of lower-class Athenians. Out of this dynamic of mass adjudicators and elite performers in competition with each other emerged a strong popular culture, which supported the liberty and political capability of every citizen, the rule of law and the open debating of policies and ideas.

Classical Athens was also the leading cultural centre of the Greek world. The disciplines of the visual arts, oratory, drama and literature were developed to a far higher level of quality in this city than any other, with many of the works produced there becoming canonical for Graeco-Roman antiquity.

Ever since Johann Winckelmann this cultural revolution has been interpreted primarily as the product of Athenian democracy. Certainly the new requirement for elite poets, politicians and litigants to compete for the favour of mass audiences drove rapid innovations in oratory and drama.

For example, the celebrated plays of Athens were performed in front of thousands of citizens at festival-based contests. While the eponymous archon selected and paid the poets, the training and costuming of the performers were the responsibility of chorus sponsors. These elite citizens had a great deal riding on the performance of their choruses. Victory translated into political influence and support, while the generous financing of choruses could be canvassed during trials to help win over lower-class jurors. For the sake of their careers poets too wanted to be victorious. Although the judging of choral contests was formally in the hands of magistrates, they were guided by the vocal and physically active responses of the largely lower-class theatre goers.

Since the regular attendance of ordinary citizens at dramatic and choral agēnes or contests continually enhanced their appreciation of the different forms of performance, sponsors and poets found a competitive advantage by pushing the boundaries of the genre, whether it be tragedy, comedy, satyric drama or dithyramb.

Athens is rightly revered for such achievements; by contrast, its contemporaneous military revolution is never praised and is not widely known. During the fifth century Athens widened, amplified and intensified the waging of war, regularly attacked other democracies, and was a constant source of death and destruction among the Greeks. More than any other polis this city invented or perfected new forms of combat, strategy and military organisation and was directly responsible for raising the scale and destructiveness of Greek warfare to a different order of magnitude.

In so doing the Athenian dēmos overcame popular prejudices which elsewhere tended to stifle military innovations. By the time its dēmokratia was consolidated, Athens was the dominant military power in the eastern Mediterranean. War now dominated the politics of the city and the lives of thousands of upper- and lower-class citizens. Foreign policy was the mainstay of political debate. Fifth century Athenians waged war more frequently than ever before: they launched one or more campaigns in two out of three years on average and never enjoyed peace for more than a decade. They also directed more public money to war than to all other polis-activities combined, considered military service the duty of every Athenian and accepted extraordinarily high losses of fellow citizens on military campaigns.

A striking feature of the history of fifth-century Athens is the timing of this so military revolution. The intensification and transformation of war by the Athenians directly follow the popular uprising of 508 and coincide with the flowering of Athenian culture, which was in large part brought about by democracy.

The contemporaneity of these developments opens up some challenging possibilities. The military hyperactivity of fifth-century Athens may be another product of popular government and hence the dark side of its cultural revolution. Among contemporary witnesses of Athenian war-making, perceptions of the positive impact of democracy on military performance were more widespread than is usually assumed. Demosthenes, Isocrates, Herodotus and especially Thucydides canvassed how the democratic political practices of the Athenians underwrote their exemplary record of military success.

That democracy itself may be a major cause of the Athenian revolution in military affairs finds support in a number of groundbreaking political-science studies, which have appeared in the last several years. For example, Dan Reiter and Allan Stam have put beyond doubt the general superiority of democracy in waging war. Drawing on the database of all modern wars compiled by the US Army, they demonstrate statistically that modern democracies have enjoyed far greater military success than other types of regime, winning over 90 per cent of the wars that they have initiated and around 80 per cent of all wars which they have fought. In addition a series of recent studies show that while modern democracies may rarely fight each other, they have frequently fought colonial wars or attacked weaker non-democratic neighbours.

This research challenges the so-called Realist School which has dominated the theory of international relations since World War II and whose antecedents can be traced back to Thomas Hobbes’ interpretation of Thucydides. Proponents of this school assume that every state rationally calculates its foreign policy on the basis of what will maximise its security, power and economic wellbeing, regardless of the type of political regime it may have.

In addition these recent studies confound two pieces of popular wisdom about democracy.

The first of these is that democracies are particularly bad at prosecuting wars. Expressed most famously by Alexis de Tocqueville, this assumes that the liberty of a democracy undercuts military discipline, while the fear its leaders have of the voters and the complexity of its decision-making mean that the tough policies which are necessary for security are not always introduced quickly enough or at all.

Second, this evidence of democratic bellicosity contradicts a cherished view of our post-war era that democracies are intrinsically peace-seeking: they abhor violence in international relations, prefer nonviolent forms of conflict resolution and fight wars reluctantly, doing so only in self defence. In recent decades political scientists have developed this second popular belief into a general theory, which postulates that democracies rarely fight each other and hence should be promoted on a regional basis for the sake of peace and security. These popular beliefs and the dominance of the Realist School help explain why so little research has been done by ancient historians and political scientists on democracy’s impact on foreign policy in any period of world history.'d think that prejudice would be a thing of the past, but The Boy was playing Civilization or some other such role-playing game and democratic cultures are considered inferior at war to dictatorships. Yell that into the bunker.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:35 AM


Welcome To 'The Real World'--White House Edition: Kagan nomination shows Team Obama's tunnel vision. (Dan Gerstein, 05.12.10, Forbes)

The most revealing comment came from top Obama strategist David Axelrod. Speaking on Bloomberg TV, Axelrod, who himself has never held a job other than reporter and politico, boasted that Kagan "brings as broad an experience as you can hope for, in all three branches of government." Yes, you read that right. In the narrow confines of Obamaland, working on Capitol Hill, in the White House and in the judiciary now apparently counts as the triple crown of life experience in this country.

Now, in a different context, you might write off a statement like that to standard operating spin--or if you were being generous, you might forgive Axelrod for leaving out the word "government" before "experience." But when you listen to all the other hoot-inducing hyperbole coming out of the White House this week--and look at the exceedingly exclusive resumes of the folks doing the spinning--it's hard not to take that line at red-faced value. Or to see it as of a piece with the many out-of-touch statements and gestures that all the president's men and women have made over the past three years, starting with Obama's infamous "Bitter-gate" incident during the campaign.

That does not mean this White House is fatally elitist, or as some hyperventilating conservatives suggest, contemptuous of the masses. The problem, as I originally argued last fall, is that the otherwise diverse Obama team is intellectually and culturally monochromatic. There are no recovering Bubbas or James Carville types who grew up in Sarah Palin's version of the real America and who were acculturated to engage with and win over blue-collar workers. Nor are there policy mavericks like former Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey, or deal-cutters like former Louisiana Sen. John Breaux, who are programmed to think outside the box, reach beyond their circles--or at least tell the president the difference between Elena Kagan and Joe Sixpack.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:31 AM


The Not-So-Odd Couple: It seems like the right-leaning David Cameron would make an awkward coalition partner for the left-leaning Nick Clegg. Actually, they'll get along famously. (William Underhill, 5/12/10, Newsweek)

[C]onservatives have given ground on electoral reform (they will accede to a referendum), agreed to lower rates for the poor, and postponed proposals to cut an inheritance tax for the rich. To share the spoils of victory, five Liberal Democrats will be joining the cabinet.

And on Europe—the most contentious issue for these two parties—there's less daylight between the two than there once was. The Lib Dems had wanted to Britain to join the euro, but that's out of the question after the Greek fiasco undermined the credibility of a common currency. And the Conservatives had wanted a referendum on any future surrender of power to the European Union, but with the Lisbon Treaty (which sets formal limits on the power of Brussels) already ratified in the U.K., the debate on national sovereignty is effectively over. At any rate, the polls indicate that integration with Europe—either for or against—is low on the public's worry list.

In the end, though, Cameron's probably not even sorry to be pulled leftward by Clegg. The need for coalition makes a handy excuse to push through the kind of radical changes that he'd like to see, but which his party hardliners would have stopped, as a "progressive conservative" with the outlook of a social liberal. And now it will be tough for the right-wingers to complain: breaking up the coalition might mean a return to the opposition benches, where they just spent 13 years. Partnerships work best where there's mutual advantage. This one might just flourish.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:29 AM


Democratic Senator asks evangelical leaders to convert a Republican on immigration reform (Liz Goodwin, 5/12/10, Yahoo: Newsroom)

[I]n an interesting twist, evangelical leaders, including Richard Land, the president of the public policy wing of the Southern Baptist Convention, and Rev. Leith Anderson, president of the National Association for Evangelicals, which represents 40 denominations, have started a push for comprehensive immigration reform, reaching a consensus they didn't have the last time the country tried to pass reform and failed. The NAE is running a full-page ad calling for reform in Roll Call tomorrow, which I wrote about here.

Land and the other evangelical leaders hope to help the country move on from the term "amnesty," which they say is needlessly divisive. It's impractical and immoral to deport the estimated 12 million people living in the U.S. illegally, they say, and those who qualify should be allowed to become legal if they meet certain requirements, like paying back taxes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:25 AM


New poll full of bad news for Democrats (Holly Bailey, 5/11/10, Yahoo: Newsroom)

Democrats already knew they were facing a tough Election Day this November, but new poll numbers out tonight show the party has lost significant ground with a crucial voting bloc. The latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll finds that self-described independent voters, credited with helping Democrats take control of Congress in 2006, have switched their allegiance to Republicans.

According to the poll, 38 percent of so-called independents say they will vote for Republicans this November, with only 30 percent for Democrats. Four years ago, ahead of the '06 midterms, the same poll found that 40 percent of independents favored Democrats, with only 24 percent for Republicans.

May 12, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:32 AM


Chile and Britain: left alliances, right futures (Justin Vogler, 12 May 2010, OpenDemocracy)

The temptation to see a Chilean parallel to British experience is one of the enduring motifs of feature commentary on the South American country. Andy Beckett, in his book Pinochet in Piccadilly: Britain and Chile’s Hidden History (Faber, 2002), explores the theme in a more substantial way by identifying a curious tendency for the two countries’ politics to echo one another. The events of 2010 - the election of the centre-right Sebastian Piñera as Chile’s new president on 17 January following two decades of centre-left governance, and now the accession to power of the Conservative Party’s David Cameron in London (in coalition with the Liberal Democrats) after thirteen years of Labour rule - offers a new twist on an old theme.
The echoes

The modern era offers several examples of such interplay. Most of the lasting consequences of Salvador Allende’s Unidad Popular government of 1970-73 in Chile, for example, mirrored the legacies of Clement Attlee’s Labour government of 1945-51: among them state-owned extractive industries and free milk for schoolchildren. When Allende was replaced in a violent coup d’etat by General Augusto Pinochet, Chile became the laboratory for the kind of neo-liberal reforms later associated with Margaret Thatcher. it saved the rest of us the need for a fascist interlude.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:19 AM


Welfare Wagons: The new electric cars are powered by taxpayer credits. (Holman Jenkins, 5/12/10, WSJ)

Let's concede that the Leaf and Volt will be nifty gadgets, but not unless we're going to start subsidizing Ferraris for the tiara set is it possible to imagine a more regressive tax subsidy.

In particular, the Leaf is a car for a wealthy hobbyist, good for a trip of 100 miles after which it becomes an inert lump at the end of your driveway (or behind a tow truck) for the many hours it will take to recharge.

The Volt at least is a car someone might live with, since it can run indefinitely on gasoline once its 40-mile battery charge runs out. Nonetheless, GM continues to make startling claims that the car will get 50 mpg in gas-powered mode and will have a 300-mile range—even as the company strangely declines to specify how many gallons the gas tank will hold.

Never mind. iPad lust applies to cars too, and early adopters can be expected to line up around the block. But it is insane to subsidize these vehicles with taxpayer dollars.

Even if you believe saving gasoline is a holy cause, subsidizing electric cars simply is not a substitute for politicians finding the courage to jack up gas prices. Think about it this way: You can double the fuel efficiency of any car by putting a second person in it. You can increase its fuel efficiency to infinity by refraining from frivolous trips.

These are the incentives that flow from a higher gas price. Exactly the opposite incentives flow from mandatory investment in higher-mileage vehicles. You paid a lot for a car that costs very little to operate—so why not operate it? Why bother to car pool? Why not drive across town for a jar of mayonnaise?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:11 AM


Ireland, the Pig getting out of the muck: If you’re deep in debt, the Irish can show you a way out (Bronwen Maddox, 5/11/10, Times of London)

Ireland, like Spain and Greece, used the low interest rates of the eurozone to go on a property splurge. The implosion, in the global turmoil, of that bubble led to a crisis in Irish banks, which needed a rescue of between €40 billion and €50 billion. Last year Ireland had a budget deficit of an eye-watering 14.3 per cent of gross domestic product. That outstrips Greece’s 13.6 per cent, and Britain’s 12 per cent. This year it may drop to 11.7 per cent, but that is still four times the eurozone limit, and Ireland is still vulnerable to shocks from Greece.

But the markets have not taken flight from Irish debt because Mr Cowen, despite his dour demeanour, has talked through big pay cuts. Police and teachers have had their salaries cut by 15 per cent, ministers by 5 per cent and others have had pay frozen.

Mr Cowen has a popular Finance Minister in Brian Lenihan, and is said to be direct and inclusive in Cabinet. He has reminded the Opposition that in the boom it accused government of spending too little, not too much. Above all, he has constructed a package which many unions accept (although others reject it). This trades off some protection for pay until 2014, with pension cuts beyond.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:08 AM


The Most Corrupt States (The Daily Beast, 5/12/10)

As money pours into the Gulf, The Daily Beast crunches the numbers, from public embezzlement to private sector fraud, for all 50 states to rank which play dirty—and which have cleaned up their act.

Corruption used to be pretty simple—or at least harder to track. One man ran one political machine in each city, which served as the nexus of business, politics and money. But computers and technology have democratized the possibilities for graft, as well as the tools to catch the bad guys.

“Contention over the issue is a healthy thing,” says Michael Johnston, a professor of political science at Colgate University, “because as long as people are inclined to stand up and say, ‘Wait up you can’t do that,’ then you’ve got a debate going over the sources and limits and uses of power.”

That debate will surely pick up around the Gulf, as billions begin to flow down to cover what could become one of the biggest cleanups in world history. With that in mind, The Daily Beast examined a wide range of available data to rank the level of corruption in all 50 states.

..we really are better than you.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:28 AM


The slapstick side to Islamic terrorism: Chris Morris’s depiction of jihadists as dunces who hate slags and Maccy D’s is scarily accurate. (Neil Davenport, 5/12/10, Spiked)

In a climactic scene in Chris Morris’s debut feature-length movie Four Lions, armed police ask aspiring jihadist Waj (Kayvan Novak), who is about to blow up a kebab shop, what his demands are. ‘Um, we don’t have any demands’, he replies, gormlessly.

In a single stroke, Morris – and his fellow writers, Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain of Peep Show fame – rip apart the supposed political pretensions of deluded jihadists and also have a sly cackle at the Islamists’ expense. We should expect nothing less from three of the sharpest, most forensic comedy minds in Britain, and, on an observational level at least, Four Lions works very well.

The film opens with a botched attempt to record a martyrdom video, which is deeply absurdist and also captures the narcissistic degeneracy of jihadism in all its non-glory. [...]

Morris has apparently done years of research, and it shows. One of the most acute parts of the film is the interaction between Omar and his more traditionally religious brother. ‘Don’t give me that look’, says Omar. ‘You’re doing the face again’, he says, as his brother indicates growing disapproval of Omar’s apocalyptic fantasies. This cleverly echoes the experience of the 7/7 bombers from Leeds, who, contrary to received wisdom, radicalised themselves rather than being brainwashed at a local mosque or by some hook-wielding preacher.

So what, exactly, is getting these ‘four lions’ all fired up? Omar makes passing, unconvincing references to ‘Western imperialism’ and says: ‘Just pretend you’re from Gaza.’ But he actually spends more time railing against McDonald’s, consumerism and the ‘kaffir slags’ who go out dancing on a Friday night. That’s right: they possess some very mainstream liberal prejudices.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:58 AM


Cameron’s daring will change politics for ever: A Tory partnership with the Liberal Democrats has wiped out the anti-Conservative majority at a stroke (Daniel Finkelstein, 5/12/10, Times of London)

Emerging from the cinema a few years back, having watched Kevin Costner’s Dances with Wolves, my friend remarked that he thought it the greatest film ever made. I looked sceptical. “Well,” he said. “Something has to be.”

So in the same spirit, let me write something I have always fancied writing without appearing ridiculous. And now I can. This is a defining moment in British political history. Something has to be.

Like Robert Peel’s decision to repeal the Corn Laws, and split the Conservative Party for a generation, or Stanley Baldwin’s gentle manoeuvring to install the first Labour Government in 1924 and thus dish the Liberals, David Cameron’s generous offer to the Liberal Democrats has changed British politics for ever. Whether it succeeds or not.

On Friday morning, as he surveyed the election result, Cameron was able to see that the new arithmetic of the House of Commons represented both a huge challenge and a big opportunity. And the decision he made — to treat it as an opportunity — will be the making of him or the breaking of him. There has been, in the past 15 years, so much talk of Tony Blair’s Clause Four moment. Well, offering coalition to the Liberal Democrats on such broad terms is far more audacious than that.

There are obviously some lines he can't cross without compromising conservative principles, but the more of the Liberal Democrat agenda he adopts the less reason for it to exist as a separate party and the broader the appeal of the Tories.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:53 AM


Israel: Iran, Syria, NKorea New 'Axis of Evil' (MALCOLM FOSTER, 5/12/10, AP)

Israel's foreign minister on Wednesday declared North Korea, Syria and Iran the new "axis of evil," claiming that North Korean weapons seized in Bangkok in December were bound for Middle Eastern militant groups Hamas and Hezbollah.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said during a visit to Japan that the three countries are cooperating and pose the biggest threat to world security because they are building and spreading weapons of mass destruction.

For all that he got right, W's refusal to accept the deal Iran was offering after 9-11 and his failure to regime change Damascus after doing Baghdad were big mistakes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:49 AM


Patrick blasts immigration crackdowns (Michael Levenson, May 12, 2010, Boston Globe)

Governor Deval Patrick yesterday blasted Arizona’s new immigration law, accused his gubernatorial opponents of grandstanding on the issue, and said supporters of such crackdowns were “trying to invent a villain for political purposes.’’

Addressing a roundtable of reporters from ethnic news media outlets, Patrick offered some of his most extensive comments to date about a highly charged debate that has flared in the governor’s race.

“Let me be clear: As long as I have anything to say about it, there’s not going to be an Arizona law in Massachusetts,’’ he said. “I can’t see such a thing passing our Legislature. But if it did, I would veto it.’’

It's not enough to not be hostile, MA in particular, but all of NE really, needs immgration to off-set demographic decline.

Number of N.E. Catholics tumbles: Study finds ethnic, geographic transformation (Michael Paulson, March 9, 2009, Boston Globe)

The American Religious Identification Survey, a national study being released today by Trinity College in Hartford, finds that the Catholic population of New England fell by more than 1 million in the past two decades, even while the overall population of the region was growing. The study, based on 54,000 telephone interviews conducted last year, found that the six-state region is now 36 percent Catholic, down from 50 percent in 1990.

In Massachusetts, the decline is particularly striking - in 1990, Catholics made up a majority of the state, with 54 percent of the residents, but in 2008, the Catholic population was 39 percent. At the same time, the percentage of the state's residents who say they have no religious affiliation rose sharply, from 8 percent to 22 percent.

"It's quite an amazing change," said Barry A. Kosmin, one of the study's authors. He is the director of the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society & Culture, a research center at Trinity that was founded after two previous versions of the study, in 1990 and 2001, found a sharp increase in the number of Americans who say they are not religious.

"You have a transformation of the Catholic population in two ways - one is a relocation, from the Rust Belt to the Sun Belt, and the second is an ethnic transformation, a replacement of Irish-Americans by Latino-Americans in the Catholic Church," he said.

The study confirms findings by other studies, particularly by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, that have found the size of the Catholic population in the United States to be relatively stable - about one-quarter of the nation's population - as immigration by Catholics, mostly from Latin America, makes up for a decrease in American Catholics whose families emigrated from Europe.

May 11, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:21 PM


David Cameron is the new Prime Minister: Queen confirms Conservative leader as PM following Gordon Brown's emotional resignation on steps of No 10. (Heidi Blake and Andrew Hough, 11 May 2010, Daily Telegraph)

20.35 The Queen has invited David Cameron to form a Government. Britain has a new Prime Minister - the twelfth of Her Majesty's reign - and the Buckingham Palace guards salute him as he drives away.

The Palace released the following statement: "The Queen received the Right Honourable David Cameron this evening and requested him to form a new administration. The Right Honourable David Cameron recognised Her Majesty's offer and Kissed Hands upon his appointment as Prime Minister and First Lord of the Treasury."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:30 PM


"For Better": The science of marital unhappiness: Our divorce rate is a myth? Snoring causes breakups? A new book applies rigorous research to the modern marriage (Margaret Eby, 5/11/10, Salon)

Salon called Parker-Pope to talk about the science behind monogamy, our mythical divorce rate and Americans' problem with arranged marriage.

Monogamy isn't normal among other animals, so why should we be trying for something that biology isn't telling us is absolutely necessary?

It's true that monogamy and sexual fidelity are not common in nature, but it certainly does occur. There is no other area of human behavior in which we defer entirely to biology -- if we did that, every woman would have 10 kids. The very essence of human nature is the ability to control our impulses and make choices. Almost without exception, men and women say they value monogamy in relationships. So while it isn't absolutely necessary from a biological standpoint, from a social, cultural and emotional standpoint, it's important to many people and that's why we try for it.

But popular culture must play a large role in feeding this obsession with monogamy.

It doesn't seem to be just cultural. Psychiatrist Michael Liebowitz notes that biologically our brains have evolved two distinct chemical systems for romance: One brings people together and one keeps people together. From an evolutionary standpoint, men and women need to be attracted to each other long enough to reproduce and men need to form enough of an attachment that they stick around to protect and feed the kids. 

There really isn't an evolutionary explanation for why humans stick together after children are raised. But even without a biological imperative, monogamy is consistently valued across cultures. Anthropologist Helen Fisher points out that even in most polygamous cultures, fewer than 10 percent of men choose to have more than one wife at a time. She argues that monogamy is "pretty standard" for the human species.

However, there are legal, financial and social benefits in this culture to being married. There are studies that show a difference between the two. If you look at same-sex couples who don't have the right to marry, you definitely see higher breakup rates earlier in the relationship. But once they cross the 10-year mark, or they buy a house together or adopt a child, then you get into a legal commitment. And legal ties definitely do bind us. Being legally entangled with somebody appears to help couples weather storms better than those who can just walk away.

It’s surprising that the oft-cited statistic that half of marriages now end in divorce isn’t actually true. Why do we think divorce is so much more common than it is?

The 50 percent divorce rate is really a myth. The 20-year divorce rate for couples who got married in the 1980s is actually around 19 percent. Everyone thinks marriage is such a struggle and it’s shocking to hear that marriage is actually going strong today. It has to do with how you look at the statistic. If the variables were constant, then a simple equation might work to come up with the divorce rate. But a lot of things are changing. And it is true that there are groups of people who have a 50 percent divorce rate: college dropouts who marry under the age of 25, for example. Couples married in the 1970s have a 30-year divorce rate of about 47 percent. A person who got married in the 1970s had a completely different upbringing and experience in life from someone who got married in the 1990s. It's been very clear that divorce rates peaked in the 1970s and has been going down ever since.

...we could only barely convince the JP to use the phrase "til death" in the ceremony. He kept telling us it was old-fashioned and no one used it any more. We explained that we're the rest of our generation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:23 PM


Tories home in on Downing Street (Evening Standard, 11.05.10)

The Conservatives are on the brink of an historic deal with the Liberal Democrats which will see David Cameron finally installed in Downing Street.

Gordon Brown was expected to travel to Buckingham Palace to tender his resignation to the Queen, perhaps as early as Tuesday evening, bringing down the curtain on 13 years of Labour rule.

Conservative and Lib Dem negotiating teams continued their talks in the Cabinet Office amid a growing expectation that a deal was in the bag.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:15 PM


Kagan Might Pass as a Bush Supreme Court Choice (Ann Woolner, 5/11/10, Bloomberg)

If Elena Kagan replaces John Paul Stevens on the U.S. Supreme Court, George W. Bush might wish for another try at persuading the justices to rule his way on a couple of items.

Take his notion that suspected enemies locked up at Guantanamo Bay have no right to challenge their detentions in federal court. The high court nixed that policy as unconstitutional by a bare 5-4 majority, with Stevens writing for the majority. If Kagan had been there instead, there is a decent chance the court might have stamped its approval.

Then there was the Bush administration’s attempt to relieve the Environmental Protection Agency of regulating green house gas emissions from cars. A 5-4 majority led by Stevens in 2007 said the agency couldn’t ignore the duties Congress gave it under the Clean Air Act.

Given what Kagan has written about the president’s power over administration agencies, it’s clearly possible that she might have flipped the court in favor of the White House on that one, too.

...she'd be a justice today.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:12 PM


The Disappointing Kagan Pick (Matthew Rothschild, May 11, 2010, The Progressive)

Unfortunately, Kagan’s government experience is with the Executive Branch and with upholding its powers. That’s what she did as Solicitor General, remember. She went to bat for the Presidency.

And this President, like George W., has embraced a vast expansion of Executive Powers. So Kagan or her deputies have repeatedly gone into court to invoke the undemocratic doctrine of state secrets. And they’ve gone into court to assert the right to hold any person, captured by the military or the CIA or by some foreign power anywhere in the world, for an indefinite period of time at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan—without recourse to any due process rights whatsoever.

In Maqaleh v. Gates, she told a federal court: “When it comes to military facilities, unlike Guantanamo, that are truly abroad—particularly those halfway across the globe in an active war zone—courts in the United States exceed their role by second-guessing the political branches about the reach of habeas jurisdiction.”

It’s no surprise that Kagan disdains due process for detainees. At her confirmation hearings as Solicitor General, Kagan testified that she had no problem with that.

Well, I do. And Justice John Paul Stevens sure did. And the Constitution does.

The Constitution is utterly silent as regards matters outside the borders of the Republic it creates.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:07 AM


I share their despair, but I'm not quite ready to climb the Dark Mountain: To sit back and wait for the collapse of industrial civilisation is to conspire in the destruction of everything greens value (George Monbiot, 5/11/10,

A new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences calculates deforestation rates between 2000 and 2005 in the countries with the largest areas of forest cover. The nation with the lowest rate was the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The nation with the highest, caused by a combination of logging and fire, was the United States. Loss of forest cover there (6% of its own forests in five years) was almost twice as fast as in Indonesia and 10 times as fast as in the DRC. Why? Because those poorer countries have less money to invest in opening up remote places and felling trees.

The wealthy nations are plundering not only their own resources. The environmental disasters caused by the oil industry in Ecuador and Nigeria are not driven by Ecuadorian or Nigerian demand, but by the thirst for oil in richer nations. Deforestation in Indonesia is driven by the rich world's demand for palm oil and timber, in Brazil by our hunger for timber and animal feed.

The Guardian's carbon calculator reveals that the UK has greatly underestimated the climate impacts of our consumption. The reason is that official figures don't count outsourced emissions: the greenhouse gases produced by other countries manufacturing goods for our markets. Another recent paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that the UK imports a net 253m tonnes of carbon dioxide, embodied in the goods it buys. When this is taken into account, we find that far from cutting emissions since 1990, as the last government claimed, we have increased them. Wealth wrecks the environment.

So the Dark Mountain Project, whose ideas are spreading rapidly through the environment movement, is worth examining. It contends that "capitalism has absorbed the greens". Instead of seeking to protect the natural world from the impact of humans, the project claims that environmentalists now work on "sustaining human civilisation at the comfort level which the world's rich people – us – feel is their right".

Today's greens, it charges, seek to sustain the culture that knackers the planet, demanding only that we replace old, polluting technologies with new ones – wind farms, solar arrays, wave machines – that wreck even more of the world's wild places. They have lost their feelings for nature, reducing the problem to an engineering challenge. They've forgotten that they are supposed to be defending the biosphere: instead they are trying to save industrial civilisation.

That task, Paul Kingsnorth – a co-founder of Dark Mountain – believes, is futile: "The civilisation we are a part of is hitting the buffers at full speed, and it is too late to stop it." Nor can we bargain with it, as "the economic system we rely upon cannot be tamed without collapsing, for it relies upon … growth in order to function". Instead of trying to reduce the impacts of our civilisation, we should "start thinking about how we are going to live through its fall, and what we can learn from its collapse … Our task is to negotiate the coming descent as best we can, whilst creating new myths which put humanity in its proper place".

Though a fair bit of this takes aim at my writing and the ideas I champion, I recognise the truth in it.

Presumably their name comes from the equally anti-human Mount Doom?

From whence derives this belief that they are "supposed to be defending the biosphere" and be unconcerned for civilization? Who gave them this charge? Gaia?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:57 AM


Rights and Wrongs (George Packer, May 17, 2010, The New Yorker)

Obama, in his Cairo speech and throughout his first year in office, has rightly felt the need to cleanse the air of the arrogance and the folly of his predecessor. There is no more American moralizing or hectoring about freedom, no simplistic division of the world into good and evil. Instead of “with us or against us,” the key phrase in Obama’s foreign policy has been “mutual interest and mutual respect.” Rather than asserting America’s moral right to dominate, Obama has spent much of his term renewing American partnerships with countries like Russia, rebuilding multilateral institutions like the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and trying to engage with hostile regimes like Iran.

Not coincidentally, the only place where the UR has had any foreign policy success is in Iraq, ground zero of W's democratic folly.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:51 AM


Multiple U.S. missiles kill 14 Taliban in Pakistan, officials say: As many as 18 missiles are fired near the Afghan border. Identities of those killed are not available. (The Associated Press, May 11, 2010)

The number of missiles fired into North Waziristan was unusually high, reflecting multiple targets.

They struck cars, homes and tents across a wide area in the Doga area, where insurgents have hideouts and training facilities, two intelligence officials said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media. The identities of the people killed in the attack were not immediately known.

North Waziristan has been the target of nearly all of about 30 other American attacks this year. In recent months, it has become a new haven for militants who fled a Pakistani army offensive in their previous stronghold, neighboring South Waziristan.

The strike Tuesday was the third since Pakistani-American Faisal Shahzad was arrested after allegedly abandoning a bomb-laden SUV in Times Square. He has reportedly told investigators that he received training in Waziristan and U.S. officials have said evidence showed the Pakistani Taliban played a role in the plot.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:41 AM


Lessons for the GOP from the UK Election (Fred Barnes, May 9, 2010, Weekly Standard)

[S]imply being the opposition party, and nothing more, often minimizes the size of a party’s victory. It’s the easy we’re-not-them approach. Relying on it – and a bad economy, in the British case -- a party is prone to neglect the importance of making a strong case for itself.

In the British election, this was one reason Labor was able to turn out its core vote and keep Conservatives from winning a majority. The lesson for Republican, facing an unpopular Democratic Party, is obvious: don’t expect circumstances to win for you. You need to run an aggressive campaign.

· Conservatives took a softer tack as the election neared. Though Britain’s budgetary crisis was worsening and everyone agreed the deficit must be cut, Conservatives “spelled out relatively little in the way of expenditure cuts,” Andrew Stuttaford wrote in THE WEEKLY STANDARD in March. They emphasized their vow to protect spending for the National Health Service. In the three presidential-style debates, Conservative leader David Cameron talked about serious “differences” between his party and Labor and the third party Liberal Democrats, but the differences didn’t sound dramatic.

·Conservatives “failed to make a compelling case how to restore an environment of growth and opportunity capable of bringing Britain out of its profound economic doldrums,” wrote Ryan Streeter of the London-based Legatum Institute. That they were “vague on economic fundamentals is particularly astounding.”

The problem, in short, was a failure to put sufficient distance between themselves and their opponents. Voters didn’t think Conservatives were much better than Labor in fixing the economy. The result, despite the economic distress in England: no majority.

What does the mean for Republicans? They have to make certain voters understand how different their agenda is from that of Democrats and President Obama. Republicans followed this strategy in 1980, when Ronald Reagan campaigned on a 30 percent across-the-board tax cut and in 1994 with the Contract for America.

This year, a “distance” strategy would require Republicans to emphasize their plan to repeal Democratic health care legislation, not merely to tinker with it. Also, they would benefit from adopting most or all of the reforms in Congressman Paul Ryan’s “A Roadmap America’s Future.” Those would put daylight between Republicans and Democrats.

Labour had the benefit of still being associated with Tony Blair. Democrats have thoroughly distanced themselves from Clintonism. And the Liberal Democrats, though their politics is a hodge-podge, advocate many Thatcherite policies and just by being the third party seem Third Way. The Tories and Lib-Dems between them got roughly 60% of the vote to Labour's 30%.

A GOP that ran on the Ryan agenda--essentially finishing W's agenda--would have the Third Way to itself in opposition to a consciously and determinedly Second Way Democratic Party. That is our 60-40 formula.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:34 AM


How to Pay Down the Debt: Economic growth is the best bet (James Pethokoukis, May 17, 2010, Weekly Standard)

[T]he Obama deficit panel might want to take a peek at a 2009 study by Harvard University’s Alberto Alesina and Silvia Ardagna. It examined 40 years of debt reduction plans by advanced economies and found that “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.” They’re also associated with higher economic growth. But spending cuts alone are probably not enough. The budget-cutting Roadmap for America’s Future of Representative Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican, intelligently cuts future social insurance benefits as a share of the economy and partially shifts Americans into private retirement and health care plans. So far, so good. But the Ryan plan would take seven long decades to restore American indebtedness to pre-financial crisis levels.

So reduced spending needs a policy partner. Wealth taxes would only drive the wealthy and their portfolios to overseas tax havens. And the infamous “bond market vigilantes” would eventually catch up to the inflation-istas when the United States tried to roll over trillions in shorter-term Treasuries. (Think Lehman and Bear Stearns when their short-term funding dried up.) That leaves the growth option. Indeed, that is typically how successful countries in the UBS study managed to get their books in order; they grew their economies faster than they added debt. Faster growth would also accelerate the dividends from the Ryan plan since his blueprint cautiously uses the slow-growth CBO estimate.

Easier said than done, of course. The Econ 101 way to boost growth is by having more workers becoming ever more productive. With the growth in the U.S. labor force likely to slow in coming years, workers and companies will need to get even more innovative. And there is no one policy to help make that happen. It will take a full-spectrum effort: lower taxes on companies and capital, pork-free spending on infrastructure and basic research (beyond health care), an education system that teaches students rather than feathering the nests of teachers’ unions. Every aspect of U.S. public policy will need to be optimized for economic growth. Now that sounds like a worthy subject for a Washington commission. other nations fail over those decades, where does the world economy get the low-risk debt it requires to conduct financial transactions if we aren't generating enough of it and how does our workforce not grow as young people all over the world flock to the one viable economy?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:29 AM


Trading in Fantasy (FELIX SALMON, 5/11/10, NY TImes)

Yet as Lionsgate Films, one of the few studios supporting the market, has recognized, a futures contract on box office receipts would be great news for the industry. For one thing, if the market got big enough, it would allow studios to easily hedge their investments in movies just by entering into a simple derivatives transaction. Studios could essentially sell contracts on their movies’ grosses into the open market, and pocket the proceeds. They would lose money on the contract if the movie does well, but in that case they’d make enough money on the movie itself to cover their derivatives losses.

That kind of thing would be a lot easier, and a lot cheaper, than the studios’ current methods of trying to hedge exposure and sell risk: the financing arrangements behind a typical Hollywood movie, with countless co-producers and incomprehensible accounting, make the average collateralized debt obligation look simple and transparent.

And even if the studios didn’t participate in the market, they would still benefit. People care much more about things they bet on, and the fake-money version of these contracts — the online Hollywood Stock Exchange, in operation since 1996 — has done wonders for increasing awareness of coming films among its users, without a single dollar of publicity and marketing money being spent.

What’s more, the contracts for the proposed market would be based on the first four weeks of box-office results, not just the opening weekend. A lot of people, of course, would be betting on that opening-weekend number, which is more a function of hype than a movie’s long-term chances of success. Just as many, however, would wait until the movie comes out, watch it on its opening weekend, make their own qualitative determination of how well it will continue to perform over the rest of the month and then place their bets accordingly.

May 10, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:09 PM


Will One in Four Americans Die of Cancer? (Maggie Mahar, 5/10/10, Taking Note)

Dartmouth's Steven Woloshin, Lisa M. Schwartz and H. Gilbert Welch broke out the possibility of dying of cancer by age, sex, and smoking status in an article published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute in 2008. It turns out that if you are a 50-year-old man who never smoked, the chances that, over the next 10 years, you will die of one of the cancers that are most likely to kill men ( prostate cancer, lung cancer, or colon cancer) are just 4 out of 1,000. That is a 0.4% chance. (The odds are higher, 5 out of 1,000, that you will die in an accident). If he is a smoker, the odds for a 50-year-old man more than quadruple, to 21 out of 1,000.

For a 50-year-old woman who doesn't smoke, the chances of dying of lung, breast,ovarian or cervical cancer over the next 10 years stand at 7 out of 1,000; if you smoke the odds rise to 20 out of 1,000. The authors of the study define a "non-smoker" as someone who has smoked less than 100 cigarettes in her life. A "smoker" is someone who has inhaled more than 100 cigarettes and smokes now (any amount.) If you quit smoking, your odds of dying of cancer are cut in half ten years later.

Moreover, it's worth noting that the likelihood of dying of cancer are one in four for all 25-year old men (smokers and non-smokers lumped together) born in 1985. Back in 1975, projections suggested that a man born that year had only a 18% chance of dying of cancer, while a woman had a 16% chance. By 1985, the odds for a man had risen to 25%, and for a woman to 20%. This is because we are living longer. In the past, a person was more likely to be killed by heart disease or an infection before cancer caught up with him or her. (Typically cancer tumors are diagnosed at age 67.)

Another way of putting this is to say that the longer you live, the more likely it is that cancer will cause your death.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:41 PM

A STRANGER TO PRINCIPLE (via Bryan Francoeur):

Top Obama aide says president is open to reviewing Miranda issue (Associated Press, May 10, 2010)

President Barack Obama is open to the idea of reviewing Miranda warnings for terrorist suspects, Senior White House adviser David Axelrod said Monday.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:38 PM


DCCC Pulling Out of Hawaii (Shira Toeplitz, May 10, 2010, CQ)

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee announced Monday morning that it will no longer invest resources in the May 22 special election in Hawaii's 1st Congressional district, effectively ceding the race to Republicans and likely setting the party up for what could be their first special election loss of the cycle.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:36 PM


How Bennett got Clubbed (Politico, 5/10/10)

The Club for Growth can claim another Republican casualty after last weekend’s GOP convention in Utah, where the anti-tax group plowed money into successfully organizing opposition to Sen. Bob Bennett’s bid for a fourth term. [...]

In total, the group spent $177,750 on the primary, largely on phone calls to delegates, online strategy, mailings and robo-calls in an effort to put as many anti-Bennett delegates in the room last weekend as possible. The linchpin of the Club’s effort was a push to turn out sympathetic participants to 2,000 caucuses that were held on March 23, where Republicans chose the delegates who ultimately rejected Bennett.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:34 PM


Kagan in '97 urged Clinton to ban late abortions (JILL ZEMAN BLEED, 5/10/10, Associated Press)

As a White House adviser in 1997, Elena Kagan, President Barack Obama's new Supreme Court nominee, urged then-President Bill Clinton to support a ban on late-term abortions.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:29 PM


Elena Kagan’s Supreme Court nomination: Liberals react (Mike Riggs, 5/10/10, The Daily Caller)

At Salon, Glenn Greenwald wrote: “It’s anything but surprising that President Obama has chosen Elena Kagan to replace John Paul Stevens on the Supreme Court. Nothing is a better fit for this White House than a blank slate, institution-loyal, seemingly principle-free careerist who spent the last 15 months as the Obama administration’s lawyer vigorously defending every one of his assertions of extremely broad executive authority. The Obama administration is filled to the brim with exactly such individuals — as is reflected by its actions and policies — and this is just one more to add to the pile.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:17 PM


Dallas Braden throws perfect game for Oakland A's, grandma Peggy Lindsey tells A-Rod to 'stick it' (Peter Botte, 5/10/10, NY DAILY NEWS)

Peggy Lindsey had just watched A's lefthander Dallas Braden make baseball history, and after celebrating a perfect game by her grandson, she couldn't resist sending a Mother's Day message to his verbal sparring partner.

"Stick it, A-Rod," Lindsey said, minutes after a career-defining moment for Braden, who has been engaged in a war of words with the Yankee star since mid-April over unwritten rules about the pitcher's mound.

It was just three days ago that a video of Braden talking about a fight with A-Rod surfaced, to which the Yankee star responsed by saying he didn't "want to extend (Braden's) 15 minutes of fame." [...]

Lindsey, who raised Braden after his mother, Jodie Atwood, died of cancer when he was a high school senior, got in the "stick it" jab while speaking to reporters in Oakland following yesterday's game.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:34 AM


The Welfare State's Death Spiral (Robert Samuelson, 5/10/10, Real Clear Politics)

What we're seeing in Greece is the death spiral of the welfare state. This isn't Greece's problem alone, and that's why its crisis has rattled global stock markets and threatens economic recovery. Virtually every advanced nation, including the United States, faces the same prospect. Aging populations have been promised huge health and retirement benefits, which countries haven't fully covered with taxes. The reckoning has arrived in Greece, but it awaits most wealthy societies.

Americans dislike the term "welfare state" and substitute the bland word "entitlements." The vocabulary doesn't alter the reality. making benefits more clearly something that you are entitled to because you funded them in the first place.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:04 AM


Kagan is nominee, Democrats say: Obama to announce high court choice today (Peter Baker, 5/10/10, New York Times)

President Obama will nominate Solicitor General Elena Kagan as the nation’s 112th justice, choosing his own chief advocate before the Supreme Court to join it in ruling on cases critical to his view of the country’s future, Democrats close to the White House said yesterday. [...]

In making his second nomination in as many years, Obama was not looking for a liberal firebrand as much as a persuasive leader who could attract the swing vote of Justice Anthony M. Kennedy and counter what the president sees as the rightward direction of the court under Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. Particularly since the Citizens United decision invalidating on free speech grounds the restrictions on corporate spending in elections, Obama has publicly criticized the court, even during his State of the Union address with justices in the audience.

The problem for the Left is that in appointing two single women to the bench Mr. Obama runs the risk that their collegiality will lead them into the arms of the conservative majority, which already has even Justice Breyer attending the Red Mass. They're especially unlikely to alienate the only "family" they'll now have.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:56 AM


A Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition could work (Tom Clougherty, May 8, 2010, CS Monitor)

Many people have talked about how a Lib Dem–Labour coalition would be a ‘progressive’ alliance against conservatism. But could a Tory-Lib Dem pact actually signal a far more welcome realignment of British politics – a union of liberals against statists and authoritarians? Perhaps that is going too far.

I know that any British government, whatever its composition, is going to be more statist than I would like. But maybe for classical liberals like me, this will at least be a government we can do business with.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:51 AM


Bang goes the theory: How physicists lost touch with reality: From Einstein's formulations to the Hadron Collider, experiments stretch the limits of science. So why are physicists reluctant to test out their ideas? (Anil Ananthaswamy, 10 May 2010, Independent)

Dark energy is the latest and most daunting puzzle to confront cosmologists, adding to another mystery that has haunted them for decades: dark matter. Nearly 90 per cent of the mass of galaxies seems to be made of matter that is unknown and unseen. We know it must be there, for without its gravitational pull the galaxies would have disintegrated. Cosmologists in particular and physicists in general, are now faced with the stark reality that roughly 96 per cent of the universe cannot be explained with the theories at hand. All our efforts to understand the material world have illuminated only a tiny fraction of the cosmos.

And there are other mysteries. What is the origin of mass? What happened to the anti matter that should have been produced along with matter during the big bang? After almost a century of success at explaining our world using the twin pillars of modern physics – quantum mechanics and Einstein's general theory of relativity – physicists have reached a plateau.

The way forward will involve reconciling quantum mechanics with general relativity into a theory of quantum gravity. In situations where the two domains collide – where overwhelming gravity meets microscopic volumes, such as in black holes or in a big bang – the theories don't work well together. In fact, they fail miserably. One of the most ambitious attempts to bring them together is string theory, an edifice of incredible mathematical complexity. Its most ardent proponents hope that it will lead us not just to quantum gravity but to a theory of everything, allowing us to describe every aspect of the universe with a few simple equations.

But the theory's hoped-for denouement is nowhere in sight. Far from explaining our universe, string theory seems to predict the existence of 10,500 universes or more. Crucially, the theory is so far from being verified experimentally that it has become the poster child of what is wrong with physics today. Theory has lost touch with experiments – and, so, with reality.

The greatest advances in physics have come when theory has moved in near-lockstep with experiment. Sometimes the theory has come first and sometimes it's the other way around. It was an experiment in 1887 by Albert Michelson and Edward Morley – showing that the speed of light is not dependant on the motion of the observer – that influenced Einstein's 1905 formulation of the special theory of relativity. A decade later, Einstein produced the general theory of relativity, but it was only after experiments in 1919 verified a fascinating implication of general relativity – the bending of starlight by the sun's gravity – that the theory gained widespread acceptance. And throughout the early to mid-1900s, theorists and experimentalists jostled and outdid each other as they shaped quantum mechanics. An equally fruitful collaboration occurred in the 1960s and 1970s, when particle physicists theorised about the fundamental particles and forces that make up the material world, and experiments confirmed their startlingly accurate predictions. But this energetic interplay is now deadlocked. The discovery of dark energy and dark matter, along with the failure, so far, of experiments to find the Higgs boson (thought to give elementary particles their mass), has allowed theorists free rein. Ideas abound, adrift in a sea of speculation.

These physicists, like the Darwinists, have decided that the world isn't Created, even if their results demonstrate that it is, so they have to make up more and more fanciful theories and eschew the scientific method.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:46 AM


US failing to tighten ecological oversight, say activists: Charges that ecological review waived on 26 new offshore drilling projects come as latest attempt to seal well fail (Suzanne Goldenberg, 5/09/10,

The Obama administration waived environmental reviews for 26 new offshore drilling projects even as the BP oil disaster spewed hundreds of thousands of gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico, environmental activists said today.[...]

The Centre for Biological Diversity said that even after the disaster, the Obama administration did not tighten its oversight of offshore drilling. An investigation by the respected environmental group revealed that since 20 April, when an explosion the Deepwater Horizon rig killed 11 workers, 27 new offshore drilling projects have been approved by the Mineral Management Service (MMS) the regulatory agency responsible for overseeing extraction of oil, gas and other minerals.

All but one project was granted similar exemptions from environmental review as BP. Two were submitted by the UK firm, and made the same claims about oil-rig safety and the implausibility of a spill damaging the environment, the centre said.

"This oil spill has had absolutely no effect on MMS behaviour at all," said Kieran Suckling, the director of the centre. "It's still business as usual which means rubber stamping oil drilling permits with no environmental review."

...that areas governed by Republicans weathered Katrina reasonably well, but that the Democrat area fared poorly?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:42 AM


Hung parliament: Cameron’s PR coup to wrong-foot Labour: The full extent of David Cameron's audacity is beginning to emerge (Benedict Brogan, 09 May 2010, Daily Telegraph)

He is offering to trade reform of the voting system for a two-year deal with Nick Clegg that would deliver economic and social change and, in particular, the painful cuts needed to reduce the deficit. Suddenly, it is the Conservatives who are the radicals.

Until now the Liberal Democrats looked to Labour to deliver "fair votes" – their catchphrase for replacing the existing first-past-the-post system with something that better matches the number of votes cast with the number of seats each party gets in the Commons. Tony Blair led them up the garden path before 1997, only to go back on his word once he was safely in No 10 with a thumping majority.

Now in a twist that is causing consternation among some Tories, it is Mr Cameron who is in a position to deliver what Labour could not: a new way of electing MPs, which might be just enough to persuade Mr Clegg to throw in his lot with the Conservatives. The power-sharing deal could make Mr Cameron prime minister within 48 hours.

Just as it took the Right-wing Likud Party in Israel to broker peace with Egypt, or the Tories to start peace talks with the IRA, so it looks as if Mr Cameron has bucked convention in an attempt to redefine British politics in his favour.

The Right should be concerned, subsuming the Lib-Dems is a threat to them.

May 9, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:51 PM


The quiet weapon: Meet a man who plans to balance the federal budget without raising taxes and put the U.S. economy on sure footing without bailouts, overhauls, or takeovers: Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan (Edward Lee Pitts, 5/22/10, World)

"I'm not interested in being here to be an efficient tax collector for the welfare state, or for helping just run the bureaucratic trains a little more efficiently," [Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan] proclaims. "I want to fight for the American idea."

What is that American idea? To Ryan the nation is a place where its leaders, inspired by the founders, act on the belief that God—not government—creates rights. The practical consequences of that truth translate into equal opportunity in free-market democracy, something Ryan calls moral.

With a high-stakes battle of ideas raging in Washington over big- and small-government solutions, Ryan believes this is his moment. "This is everything I believe in, everything I've studied. It is what I am wired for."

Ryan calls this era of federal bailouts, takeovers, and overhauls "scary"—but he also has a hard time hiding his excitement. He says that he spies a silver lining in the Democrats' expensive ambitions: Voters are talking about the country's identity. "They just threw a bucket of cold water in the face of every voter," Ryan said of the Democrats. "They woke us up out of our sleepwalk."

The fact that Ryan now sees himself at the center of the congressional debate over government's role is something that surprises him. While a student at Miami University in Ohio, Ryan thought he'd become an economist. He read the likes of Milton Friedman and Ayn Rand and envisioned a life of theories. But he eventually learned that public policy is the arena where ideas really live or die. "That is what built this country—good ideas," he says.

Post-graduation stints as a speechwriter for Jack Kemp, at a conservative think tank, and as legislative director for Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas led to Ryan's successful run for an open House seat in 1998. He was just 28.

After almost a decade of near anonymity in Congress, Ryan's 2007 ascension as the ranking Republican on the House Budget Committee gave him the staff resources and the clout to let out his inner economist. He now also is senior member of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee. From those perches he has crafted a roadmap to privatize Medicare and Medicaid, provide vouchers for many federal programs, replace employee-sponsored health insurance plans with individual tax credits, and impose tough controls on federal spending.

The Congressional Budget Office, the nonpartisan number crunchers, determined that Ryan's roadmap delivered on its promises of balanced budgets and smaller deficits (unlike its projections for Obamacare). Under current policies, the CBO concludes that the nation in 2080 will devote 34 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) to government spending; under Ryan's plan, the CBO predicts that federal spending in 2080 would fall to less than 14 percent of the GDP while the government would enjoy a 5 percent annual surplus. And all without raising taxes. In fact, Ryan proposes a flat tax of two rates: 10 percent and 25 percent.

"The political people were telling me, 'Don't you dare introduce this. That's bad politics. It's political suicide,'" Ryan recalls of the critics scared off by the sweep of his vision.

Ryan has resisted the idea that the minority party should lay low and wait for its moment, and now the wonkish behavior is starting to pay off.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:18 AM


How Not to Alienate Hispanics (Ruben Navarrette, 5/09/10, Real Clear Politics)

• Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, is a vocal supporter of Arizona's new racial and ethnic profiling law. He's entitled to his opinion. He just has a problem with his colleague, Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., expressing a different one. During a recent interview on Fox News, King said he wondered if Grijalva's congressional district in southern Arizona hadn't already been "ceded" to Mexico. He accused Grijalva of "advocating for Mexico rather than the United States."

• Speaking at a tea party in San Diego County, Rep. Duncan D. Hunter, R-Alpine, was asked if he would "support deportation of natural-born American citizens that are the children of illegal aliens." After repeating the question to make sure he understood it, Hunter responded: "I would have to, yes." Predictably, the audience applauded. Citing the cost of illegal immigration on education, health care and jails, Hunter added: "We simply cannot afford what we're doing right now."

• Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, took to the floor of the House of Representatives and compared illegal immigrants to insects. Poe asked why the United States could prevent "illegal grasshoppers" from entering the country from Brazil but couldn't capture "thousands of people that cross the border every day on the southern border of the United States." This really perplexed Poe, who said illegal immigrants are "a little bigger than grasshoppers and they should be able to be captured easier."

• Discussing the Arizona law on MSNBC's "Hardball with Chris Matthews," Rep. Brian Bilbray, R-Carlsbad, claimed that concerns about racial profiling are unfounded because it really isn't so difficult to detect illegal immigrants. When Matthews asked Bilbray to name a "non-ethnic" way for police to determine if someone is in the country illegally, the congressman said: "They will look at the kind of dress you wear, there's different type of attire, there's different type of - right down to the shoes, right down to the clothes."

Questioning the loyalty of members of Congress? Urging the deportation of U.S. citizens? Comparing illegal immigrants to grasshoppers? And saying that illegal immigrants wear a certain type of clothes? They can't be serious.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:06 AM


Nietzsche: A Philosophy in Context: a review of FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE: A Philosophical Biography By Julian Young (FRANCIS FUKUYAMA, NY Times Book Review)

The most serious issue raised in this or any other study of Nietzsche concerns the nature of his politico-cultural program, the “transvaluation of all values,” that was to take place in the wake of the death of Christianity. Young properly criticizes attempts by the Nazis to appropriate Nie­tzsche as one of their own. He points out that despite some casual anti-Semitism in his early years, the older Nietzsche became a principled anti-anti-Semite, an opponent of Bismarck and a critic of the German chauvinism that emerged after the Reich was unified in 1871.

Nietzsche, however, hoped for a future hierarchical society in which the labor of the many would support the greatness of the few, one in which the cultural cacophony of contemporary liberal societies would be replaced by the solidarity of a single, common culture. Young argues that this was not really a political project, and that the Übermensch at the top of the pyramid should be thought of less as a Hitler-like dictator and more as a spiritual leader, whom he compares variously to the Dalai Lama or Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei. Cultural conformity was not, for Young’s Nietzsche, something to be enforced through political power, but rather something generated spontaneously through communal participation in art, much as the ancient Greek polis had been bound together through the common performance of tragedy.

This then explains the central role that music played in his philosophy. Nietzsche, a talented pianist and occasional composer, had great hopes that Richard Wagner’s music might somehow serve as the foundation for a refounding of German culture on the basis of a unifying art, and for that reason he entered eagerly into the circle of Wagner and his wife, Cosima. He broke with the composer not because he ceased to believe in the project, but because he felt that Wagner himself was too crude an individual to implement it.

But understanding Nietzsche’s project as a cultural rather than a political one should not blind us to its terrible implications. For while one might be able to create a small-scale community based on common and voluntary commitment to art, as Wagner sought to do in Bayreuth, scaling up such a project to society as a whole, with all its de facto diversity, would require dictatorial political power. The mystical origins of Nietzsche’s Dionysian community are an open invitation to the unleashing of irrational passion that is perfectly happy to squander the life of any individual standing in its way. Ayatollah Khamenei is indeed a much better model of Nietzsche’s future leader than the power­less Dalai Lama.

Young’s biography illustrates concepts from Nietzsche’s books with examples drawn from the contemporary world, so one finds Diana, Princess of Wales; “The Truman Show”; and the Iraq war popping up in incongruous places. Some of these are helpful, but many simply detract from the book’s seriousness, like the dozen or so references to global warming scattered through the text.

Whether we acknowledge it or not, we continue to live within the intellectual shadow cast by Nietzsche. Postmodernism, deconstructionism, cultural relativism, the “free spirit” scorning bourgeois morality, even New Age festivals like Burning Man can all ultimately be traced to him. There is a line running from “Beyond Good and Evil” to Justice Anthony Kennedy’s assertion (in Planned Parenthood v. Casey) that liberty is “the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe and of the mystery of human life.”

Perhaps the ugliest words ever written by a justice.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:56 AM


Gogol Bordello: Trans-Continental Hustle, CD review (Thomas H Green, 07 May 2010, Daily Telegraph)

It’s produced by Rick Rubin, more famous in recent years for reigniting creative light in older stars such as Johnny Cash and Neil Diamond rather than the visceral fare of the bands he made his name with (Slayer, Red Hot Chili Peppers). Here he brilliantly helps Hutz draw on the sonic pizzazz of Brazil, where the singer now lives, and combine it with his patented Balkan hoedown. The results, delivered in a heavily accented bar room roar, are gauche and melodramatic but have riveting folk-punk resolve. Rampant with fiddle and bandoneon, it packs a punch, joyfully untainted by pop irony. The ghost at the party is Joe Strummer.

-Gypsy Punk Group Gogol Bordello in Concert (All Songs Considered, July 18, 2007)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:40 AM


Taleban disown Times Square ‘Idiot Bomber’ (Giles Whittell, 5/08/10, Times of London)

The alleged would-be Times Square terrorist was disowned by the Pakistani Taleban yesterday as American politicians called for him to be stripped of his US citizenship so he can be tried by a military tribunal.

Faisal Shahzad — nicknamed the “Idiot Bomber” for a series of blunders leading to his arrest — was praised by a spokesman for the Pakistani Taleban but disowned in the same breath.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:26 AM


Palin Stands By Fiorina Endorsement Amid Backlash From Supporters (, 5/08/10)

Despite facing fierce criticism from her supporters, Tea Party hero Sarah Palin isn't backing down from her endorsement of former Hewlett-Packard executive Carly Fiorina in the GOP's U.S. Senate primary in California.

Palin's endorsement surprised and outraged many of her supporters who expected her to pick Tea Party favorite Chuck DeVore.

"The governor is never one to go with the flow," Jason Recher, a spokesman for Palin said, explaining that the former Alaska governor respects the differing opinions but is sticking by her choice. "She is a very independent person, and she shakes things up in establishments -- including grassroots establishments -- all the time."

...but one waits for the grassroots establishmentarians to either actually refer to her as a Left Deviationist or say this endorsement was just a chick thing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:18 AM


The tricky art of Campromise: Coalitions always break down. Britain needs a (Fraser Nelson, 09/05/2010, News of the World)

DAVID CAMERON was right: Britain does have 'broken politics.' To see how broken, head down to the bookmakers.

The Tories won TWO MILLION more votes than Labour. A greater share than Blair's last election.

So who is the bookies' favourite to be the next Home Secretary? Er, Nick Clegg, leader of the Lib Dems.

Labour's Ed Balls - who was lucky to hold on to his seat - is now second- favourite to be Foreign Secretary.

When you see Harriet Harman STILL at 25-1 to be the next PM you know how desperate things really are.

The voters have spoken. Cam inspired the greatest Tory comeback since 1931. But the Westminster system is slanted against Tories. So he now needs the support of the Lib Dems to pass laws. Formal talks start in the Cabinet Office tomorrow.

Hung parliaments mean one thing in Britain: a new election. Coalitions always break down, usually within 18 months. Meanwhile, Britain is facing a fiscal emergency. We need leadership. Fast.

Cam has a four-stage plan: bring stability now, then seek a proper mandate when the next election comes. Gore v. Bush?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:12 AM


Cut Scotland loose – then we’ll have a fair voting system (Minette Marrin, 5/08/10, Times of London)

‘Wow,” said a wide-eyed young Liberal Democrat voter babe, staring over my shoulder on Friday at a coloured election map of Britain. “England is, like, totally blue.” How true. Huge swathes of England are Conservative. And, she noticed in the next instant, Scotland is, like, totally red and yellowish gold. Only one single constituency north of the border is blue.

As Alex Salmond of the Scottish National party said in the wee hours of Friday, it is “overwhelmingly clear” that Scotland does not want a Tory government: “I don’t believe they’ve got a mandate to run Scotland from fourth place.” Again, how obviously true. Yet, equally obviously, the Tories have got a genuine mandate to run England.

Last week’s strange election has convinced many voters that our electoral system needs reform. That question will be central to negotiations between party leaders this weekend as they compete for power in these impotent times.

While the psephological sophisticates discuss the arcana of proportional versus alternative voting, I have a simple suggestion that might have democratic appeal all round. And it would not stand in the way of any other electoral reform. It’s simply this: we Sassenachs must say no to the Scots. We must accept that we are united by geography but divided by politics: we cannot vote together any longer.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:10 AM


General Election 2010: Even if talks fail, Cameron has read the public mood correctly: In trying to achieve a Lib-Con alliance, David Cameron he has shown that the Conservatives are not a closed sect of the self-seeking (Matthew d'Ancona, 08 May 2010, Daily Telegraph)

Two weeks ago, I argued that, after the election, some form of agreement between David Cameron and Nick Clegg might be “the worst option available – apart from all the others”. What was then hypothesis is now rough-edged reality. The Tory leader’s statement at St Stephen’s Club in Westminster on Friday, making “a big, open and comprehensive offer to the Liberal Democrats” was one of his finest performances, delivered with the confidence of a prime minister and the honesty of a politician unafraid to absorb the message sent to him by the electorate. A man of Cameron’s background and talent is used to praise. The true test is how he deals with its withdrawal; or – as in this election result – partial endorsement that is hedged with qualifications and doubts.

Nor is it true that Cameron and his circle were amazed by this result. They had always known, and had always said, that to leap from the party’s position after the 2005 election (209 seats, using the redrawn boundaries) to a majority of one (326 seats) was a forbidding challenge. They knew that they might have to govern without a majority. Naturally, therefore, the possibility of talks with the Lib Dems lurked beneath many remarks and conversations – though not always publicly or obviously. George Osborne has long been an advocate of intelligent co‑operation with the third party where possible. Ten days before the election, I appeared on the BBC’s Campaign Show, interviewing Jeremy Hunt, the shadow culture secretary. We asked this senior Tory four times to rule out electoral reform at Westminster and he stuck religiously to the line that the Tories “oppose proportional representation”.

If this sounds like a trivial distinction, it isn’t. Properly understood, “proportional representation” means what it says: members of the legislature are drawn from party lists in strict proportion to the number of votes cast. But between this and first-past-the-post, there is a great spectrum of options, including the Alternative Vote system (a preferential method now favoured by Labour, where each MP has to secure 50 per cent of the local vote to get elected, using first, second, third preferences to identify that candidate) and AV-plus (recommended by Roy Jenkins’s Commission in 1998: like the Alternative Vote system, with top-up members being drawn from party lists).

Most of these systems retain, to a greater or lesser extent, the all-important constituency link between MP and voter. Personally, I still prefer first-past-the-post. But it is worth noting the under-acknowledged diversity and diverse impacts of the voting systems that will be at the heart of the talks between Tories and Lib Dems. Mr Hunt’s evasiveness in our interview was significant. In practice, some Tories will find that they cannot countenance anything other than the status quo. But others will discover attractions in some of the alternative systems once they are reassured that the constituency link is retained. Not all electoral reform is the same, and should not be treated as a homogeneous threat.

At any rate: only the smallest minds are scared of debate.

...there will soon be only two parties anyway.

May 8, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:57 PM


U.S. Urges Swift Action in Pakistan After Failed Bombing (JANE PERLEZ, 5/08/10, NY Times)

The new pressure from Washington was characterized by both the Pakistani and American officials as a sharp turnaround from the relatively polite encouragement adopted by the Obama administration in recent months. And it comes amid increasing debate within the administration about how to expand the American military’s influence — and even a boots-on-the-ground presence — on Pakistani soil.

Though the bombing in Times Square failed, Mr. Shahzad’s ability to move back and forth between the United States and Pakistan has heightened fears in the Obama administration that another attempt at a terrorist attack could succeed.

“We are saying, ‘Sorry, if there is a successful attack, we will have to act’ ” within Pakistan, one of the American officials said.

We must have missed that Congressional Declaration of War, huh?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:54 PM


Gates seeks big cuts in military spending: The Defense secretary invokes Dwight Eisenhower as he calls for spending reductions in military healthcare and the command structure. He wants to cut $10 billion to $15 billion from a $547-billion Pentagon base budget. (Julian E. Barnes, 5/08/10, Chicago Tribune)

Outlining the case for sharp cuts in the number of admirals and generals, Gates repeatedly invoked President Eisenhower's admonishment to spend what it takes to defend America's interests "and not one penny more."

"The private sector has flattened and streamlined the middle and upper echelons of its organization charts, yet the Defense Department continues to maintain a top-heavy hierarchy that more reflects 20th century headquarters superstructure than 21st century realities," Gates said.

Gates is seeking $10 billion to $15 billion in savings from the $547-billion Pentagon base budget.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:39 PM


Bonhoeffer Stood Fast: Martyred German pastor showed theology has consequences. (Collin Hansen, 5/04/2010, Christianity Today)

Last month marked 65 years since the doomed Nazi regime hanged German theologian and pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer on April 9, 1945. Christians across the theological spectrum continue to revere him. Some remember his advocacy for Jews, others his teaching on "costly grace," and still more his aid to officers plotting to assassinate Adolf Hitler.

But his legacy has been disputed over time. Some have championed him as a post-Christian prophet of ethics that transcend confession. Pacifists claim Bonhoeffer because he expressed scruples about war and his help with killing a head of state, even one so evil as Hitler. Many evangelicals revere him as an opponent of "cheap grace," champion of Life Together, and model of The Cost of Discipleship.

Eric Metaxas clears up many misconceptions, giving priority to Bonhoeffer's own words and actions, in a massive and masterful new biography, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. [...]

"Who stands fast?" Bonhoeffer asked. "Only the man whose final standard is not his reason, his principles, his conscience, his freedom, or his virtue, but who is ready to sacrifice all this when he is called to obedient and responsible action in faith and in exclusive allegiance to God—the responsible man, who tried to make his whole life an answer to the call of God."

Belief In Action: In Hitler's Germany, a Lutheran pastor chooses resistance and pays with his life (JOSEPH LOCONTE, 4/23/10, WSJ)

In April 1933, during the early months of Nazi rule in Germany, the "Aryan Paragraph," as it came to be called, went into effect. A new law banned anyone of Jewish descent from government employment. Hitler's assault on the Jews—already so evidently under way in his toxic rhetoric and in the ideological imperatives of his party—was moving into a crushing legal phase. German churches, which relied on state support, now faced a choice: preserve their subsidies by dismissing their pastors and employees with Jewish blood—or resist. Most Protestant and Catholic leaders fell into line, visibly currying favor with the regime or quietly complying with its edict.

Such ready capitulation makes the views of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a young Lutheran theologian in Hitler's Germany, all the more remarkable. Within days of the new law's promulgation, the 27-year-old pastor published an essay titled "The Church and the Jewish Question," in which he challenged the legitimacy of a regime that contravened the tenets of Christianity. The churches of Germany, he wrote, shared "an unconditional obligation" to help the victims of an unjust state "even if they [the victims] do not belong to the Christian community." He went further: Christians might be called upon not only to "bandage the victims under the wheel" of oppression but "to put a spoke in the wheel itself." Before the decade was out, Bonhoeffer would join a conspiracy to assassinate Hitler and pay for such action with his life.

In "Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy," Eric Metaxas tells Bonhoeffer's story with passion and theological sophistication, often challenging revisionist accounts that make Bonhoeffer out to be a "humanist" or ethicist for whom religious doctrine was easily disposable. In "Bonhoeffer" we meet a complex, provocative figure: an orthodox Christian who, at a grave historical moment, rejected what he called "cheap grace"—belief without bold and sacrificial action.

Eric Metaxas on "Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy" from Socrates in the City on Vimeo.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:36 PM


Democrats See Hopes for West Dim in Colorado (JEFF ZELENY, 5/08/10, NY Times)

When Barack Obama stood before an admiring audience at Mile High Stadium here and accepted his presidential nomination 21 months ago, Democratic leaders crowed about turning Colorado into a reliable stronghold, another step toward building the party’s strength in the West.

Those dreams of expansion have given way to hopes for survival.

Republicans are now well positioned for a statewide resurgence, threatening several Democratic seats in the midterm elections and raising questions about whether the opening chapter of the Obama administration has eroded gains that Democrats had been making here for the previous six years.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:32 PM


Brown rant crushes chance of Lib Lab Pact (david Wooding, May 8, 2010, News of the World)

The drama unfolded when Mr Brown called Mr Clegg — seen as “kingmaker” in the hung Parliament — to discuss a deal to prop up his Labour government.

Senior sources say the PM snapped after Mr Clegg insisted he must stand down as a condition of any Lib-Lab pact.

One said: “It all started going badly downhill when Nick politely suggested that he resign. The conversation quickly turned into a one-way rant by the Prime Minister.”

The outburst was so ferocious that the Lib Dem golden boy now privately fears a deal with Labour would be impossible.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:20 PM


Is American Fiction Killing the Tough Guy?: Lee Child's Jack Reacher is literature's latest Chandler-esque protagonist. Can he live up this legacy? (David Granger, May 2010, Esquire)

I finished Lee Child's new novel the morning that I read Robert B. Parker's obituary. Parker wanted to be the heir to Raymond Chandler, who was the direct descendant of Dashiell Hammett, who, with the Continental Op, created the only genre of fiction original to America: the tough-guy novel. The American tough-guy novel is distinct from thrillers or procedurals or mysteries because it features an honorable and tragic protagonist — a man driven to do the right thing even though doing the right thing will exact a fearsome personal price. This archetypal character has had legs — the Op, Sam Spade, Chandler's Philip Marlowe on up through Robert Towne's J. J. Gittes, Stephen J. Cannell's Jim Rockford, James Lee Burke's Dave Robicheaux, Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch, and Parker's Spenser, to name only a few.

I say that Parker wanted to be the heir to Chandler because while his desire was fierce, his ability proved lacking. His early Spenser novels came close to capturing the despair at the heart of the tough-guy hero, but Parker could not sustain it. Each new Spenser novel was slighter than the last, cheerier, too, and less tortured. For tough guys to be tough guys they must be out of sync with the world in which they find themselves, valuable only because they are more able, more competent, than other mortals. Over time, Spenser lost that.

..."protagonistic decline." The disease is especially virulent on television, where the folks playing the best characters want all their edges smoothed off to make them more likable (see the entire cast of MASH, unwatchable after one season).

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:16 PM


Obama now talking with possible high court picks (BEN FELLER, 4/22/10, ASSOCIATED PRESS)

With 59 usually reliable votes from Democrats and independents in the Senate, Obama is in a strong position to pick the person he wants. He would need 60 votes to head off a filibuster. Obama aides are confident that they can get that support and that Republicans won't go that route anyway.

Among the people Obama is considering for the court are federal appeals court judges Diane Wood, Merrick Garland and Sidney Thomas, former Georgia Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears, Solicitor General Elena Kagan, Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Harvard Law School dean Martha Minow.

The UR gets another Supreme Court pick and if you guess who he'll choose we've got some books to give away.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:07 PM


You can't be Sharon Jones because, well, you weren't (Chris Parker, 5/06/10, Indy Week)

Chiseled with a rugged, timeworn demeanor that shouts "don't gimme none of your lip," Sharon Jones' voice has enough character to exist in a Coen Brothers film. It's not one of those airbrushed beauties showcased on American Karaoke or the pop charts. Rather, it's a raw, primal force, unafraid to exclaim most anything.

Backed by the vacuum tightness of the Dap-Kings, Jones sounds more like a time traveler than a funk revivalist. You could swear she was there, singing soul and funk with the greats, and she sort of was: Jones sang with bands and backed other artists from the early '70s and into the '80s before shedding the soul goddess dream in favor of age-enforced pragmatism. Jones was a correctional officer on Rikers Island and had just turned 40 when Gabe Roth, the Dap-Kings' bassist and co-songwriter, and Philip Lehman, his partner in the Desco label, discovered her singing backup vocals for another soul survivor, Lee Fields. Much like spiritual kin Bettye LaVette, Jones draws upon a deep reservoir of struggle and doubt from which she forges the soul-shaking ache and frustration in her voice. She supplies a legitimacy that can't be faked because nobody handed her anything.

Of course, the style never really disappeared—the emergence of West Coast G-Funk with its raft of old samples has ensured that, along with the indefatigable road presence of George Clinton and his various offshoots. But when you consider the steady stream of neo-soul acts over the last two decades, you wonder where the disconnect is? Why aren't more people trying to make this music? Other than a handful of groups in the Dap-Kings' orbit—The Sugarman 3, Lee Fields, The Daktaris and to a lesser extent, The Budos Band and Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra—few have attempted to replicate that classic funk sound. And the sound is ostensibly lucrative: I Learned the Hard Way went to No. 15 on the Billboard charts and No. 2 on the Independent charts, and Jones has worked with Lou Reed and Michael Bublé.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:05 PM


Have food allergies? Many restaurants will cater to you (Joyce Clark Hicks, 5/05/10, Indy Week)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:46 PM


OPEC should act if oil falls below 65 dollars (, 5/08/10)

Oil prices have fallen sharply since late Monday as the dollar struck 14-month highs against the euro. [...]

On Friday, New York's main contract, light sweet crude for June delivery shed 2.00 dollars to 75.11 dollars a barrel.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:43 PM


Book blows 'cool' Obama's cover (ANI, May 9, 2010)

The outburst came after Gen. Stanley McChrystal gave a speech in London in which he publicly rejected proposals to turn the tide in Afghanistan with more drone missiles and special forces, a strategy backed mainly by vice-president Joe Biden.

Obama viewed McChrystal's comments as a bald attempt to back him into a Pentagon-backed plan more reliant on troop build-ups — and he soon ripped into top commanders for what he considered insubordination.

At the Oval Office, Obama told defense secretary Robert Gates and Gen David Petraeus that he was "exceedingly unhappy" with the Pentagon's conduct, adding that its leaks to the press were "disrespectful of the process".

"This was a cold and bracing meeting," an attendee said of the encounter, where Obama demanded to know "here and now" if the Pentagon would be onboard with any presidential strategy.

Petraeus later described himself as "chagrined", and both he and Gates "swore loyalty" to the President. Obama eventually supported a troop build-up.

Generals are world-class bureaucrats--the inexperienced UR never stood a chance.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:37 PM


Diary (David Bromwich, London Review of Books)

Obama sees himself as the establishment president. If a populist insurgency on the right presses hard against his legitimacy, if disappointed supporters stop giving money or knocking on doors, still he has the confidence of a leader whose standing is buoyed up by corporate leaders, by a famous general and the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, by a decent preponderance of Wall Street, and by the mainstream media, whose resources he deploys and channels with a relentlessness no other president has approached. Barack Obama, in the first 392 days of his presidency, put himself on public view for photographs, interviews, ceremonies, or mingling with the public in one way or another on all but 27 days. He gave more interviews in his first year than Bill Clinton and George W. Bush combined. His approval rating, which stood at 70 per cent a year ago, now hovers around 45 per cent, but it is possible for a president of doubtful popularity to win re-election if the mainstream voices rally to his side and the opposition lacks credible talent. Many people who voted for Obama in 2008 were voting against McCain and Palin. The same people are capable of voting that way again.

Obama’s calculations, then, are plausible and may pay off; yet he has made mistakes nobody would have predicted. The truth is that he did not come into office a fully equipped politician. He was new to the national elite and enjoyed his membership palpably. This came out in debates and town meetings where he often mentioned that the profits from his books had lodged him in the highest tax bracket. It would emerge later in his comment on Lloyd Blankfein and Jamie Dimon, the CEOs of Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan: ‘I know both those guys; they are very savvy businessmen.’ One can’t imagine Franklin Roosevelt or John Kennedy saying such a thing, or wanting to say it. They had known ‘those guys’ all their lives and felt no tingle of reflected glory. Obama has not yet recognised that his conspicuous relish of his place among the elite does him two kinds of harm: it spurs resentment in people lower down the ladder; and it diminishes his stature among the grandees by showing that he needs them.

John Heilemann and Mark Halperin in their absorbing history of the 2008 campaign, Race of a Lifetime, speak of Obama’s ‘million-dollar smile’.[*] It is indeed a great asset. His voice has proved not so sure a thing. It alters obviously and with discernible intent, according to its audience: taking on King-like overtones for a crowd of black people; in the Midwest dropping the terminal g and dipping into homey cadences (‘What we’re tryin’ to do’); massively sober in speeches to Congress but relaxed in town-hall meetings (with reliance on the word ‘folks’). The conscious Obama heft, audible everywhere, is something one either likes or doesn’t – on the order of Reagan’s genial roll of the head. On the other hand, the lack of humour can’t easily be converted to an advantage.

A spontaneous ability to laugh at oneself, or to make a witty remark that doesn’t wound, is always appreciated in a politician, but it has not been given to Obama. His self-depreciation is stiff and rehearsed, and his cutting comments always sting. His equability in interviews has partly concealed this defect from an admiring press; the radio shock-jocks make more of it, and dwell on his superior airs. When Obama feels edgy or tired, his manner turns condescending and priggish. It is at just such moments that he seems most heartily one of the elite. His saying to Hillary Clinton in an early debate when she called Obama likeable, ‘You’re likeable enough, Hillary,’ was an early example of the propensity. He did it again in the healthcare summit when John McCain was making heavy weather of the campaign promises Obama hadn’t kept, and Obama, where no response was necessary, chose to say: ‘Let me just make this point, John, because we’re not campaigning any more: the election’s over.’ Before the putdown, McCain had looked small and confused – there was dead air all around him – but Obama by his response awarded him the pathos of a beaten man. An oddly unpleasant schoolmasterish moment.

Obama’s besetting political fault is his automatic adoption of the tone of command, accompanied by a persistent reluctance to be seen as the source of the policy he commandeers. This especially marks his leadership of his party; and his precociousness has worked against him here. Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, adores Obama, and at public events can be seen to bestow on him the melting look of a senior sponsor for the protégé who has fulfilled every hope. Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader – who is widely blamed for the mismanagement of healthcare but likely took the hit for many wrong calls by the White House – was another early admirer. He noticed how bored Obama was in the Senate, and told him to run for president. When he won in 2008, Obama went to the head of the class, above the reach of pragmatic advice from people who could have taught him some things. They could have taught him, for one thing, that the Republicans of these years are not placable and will not ‘come around’.

The American establishment as a whole, rather than the leaders of a party, became Obama’s tutor in statesmanship. It was not an adequate substitute. Obama when he entered the presidency had seen more of the world than most people but less of America than many Americans. What he knew were the academic, the liberal-political and the corporate milieux, where doors swung open in gratitude and wonder at a man of his qualities. Fellow students at Harvard Law School and colleagues at the University of Chicago Law School knew him as a ‘mediator’ without marked opinions of his own. He left almost no trail of position papers – nothing substantial, quotable or quoted – though he cast votes and made decisions after listening to others make their case. He led a charmed life and aroused few suspicions. Two decades of ambitious but unadventurous apprenticeship on this pattern left him baffled at the first strong signs of resistance in 2009. Until that year, it is only a slight exaggeration to say the Republicans whom Obama had met were judges, lawyers, corporate leaders and academics. He had never encountered a determined man in the black hat quite like John Boehner, the congressional minority leader; as for Fox Radio, it was a distant island, heard of in chuckling rumours at dinner parties, its noises dissipated by the ocean of seminars and think-tanks in between. Obama is still mystified by the idea that there are people who don’t like him.

His sense of personal invincibility was always accompanied by an extreme cautiousness. Many people think this has served him well at a time of crisis. I don’t agree; I wish Obama had acted more boldly, and think he could have done so. The large majority who admired him a month into his taking office included people disgusted by two wars, by the Cheney-Bush encroachment on civil liberties, and by the scale of the support being requested from taxpayers for the banks and brokerage houses. The war party and the ‘banksters’, as they are now called, were discredited; the time was ripe for a change and Obama had run with the idea that he would be its executor. It was a moment in foreign policy to pull back from militarism, and in domestic policy to create jobs and reroute the economy without following the advice of those who had ruined it. There were opportunities for reform of a sort that comes less often than once in a generation. Yet Obama acted on the assumption that the establishment is one and irreplaceable, and must be served in roughly its present form. This assumption he seems to have acquired between the summer of 2008 – the time of his capitulation on domestic surveillance and his Aipac speech affirming support for Israel – and the National Archives Speech on security a year later. The trajectory was completed by the sacking last November of Greg Craig as White House counsel: Craig was the lawyer who drafted Obama’s original plan for the closing of Guantánamo.

If one were to compile an Obama Retreat Checklist – composed of the advisers whom he cut away when under pressure, or persons he nominated to important posts but withdrew from consideration – the names would include Zbigniew Brzezinski, Robert Malley, Rashid Khalidi and the anti-war Republican senator Chuck Hagel, whose leaked note to George W. Bush may have saved the US from a war with Iran in 2007. If one made it a list of incidents as well as persons, one would have to count the snub to Jimmy Carter that denied him a prominent part at the Democratic Convention of 2008 – a graceless as well as a gutless omission. By contrast, the delay in the closing of Guantánamo might be supposed an effect of sheer miscalculation, except that it so plainly falls in with the Obama style. Obama is unique among politicians in running out the clock when there are many minutes left on it and he is not ahead. He did that on Guantánamo. He did it with Israel-Palestine when he required a settlement freeze and then assumed, if he waited long enough, Netanyahu would grow amenable. He did it and still is doing it with Iran, where US policy remains in suspension: between the preference of Robert Gates and Admiral Mullen for a strategy of containment, by which Iran would give up nuclear-weapons research in return for a guarantee of regional security; and the counter-pressure from Dennis Ross, the antenna and prod of the Israel lobby within the White House, urging a series of tripwires by which sanctions would be followed by crippling sanctions and the failure of the latter would argue the necessity of bombing.

In Afghanistan and Iraq, Obama has seemed to prefer disengagement from war as soon as possible. But, thus far, he has shifted the burden rather than changed the pattern: the active war is now Afghanistan, with extensive deployment of Predator drones for assassinations in Pakistan also. Meanwhile, he has held on to the Bush protection of state secrets to counter lawsuits that accuse the US of torture. He has supported the Cheney-Bush violations of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. He has vowed to keep certain Guantánamo prisoners in indefinite detention under an emergency war provision still to be drafted. He has given reassurance to the lawyers from the Office of the Vice President and the Office of Legal Counsel under Bush that he does not intend to hold them accountable for the ‘torture memos’ that broke America’s treaty obligations. He has claimed a new presidential power to assassinate an American citizen on foreign soil, without process or oversight, when the citizen is accused of inciting violence against America. Finally, he has chosen to drop his nomination of a libertarian lawyer, Dawn Johnsen, to head the Office of Legal Counsel – a lawyer who would surely have disapproved the policy of placing the torture lawyers beyond accountability, and have discountenanced the idea that a president can authorise the assassination of an American.

How exactly can it have taken the Brights this long to figure out that the entirety of the UR's existence consists of the search for a replacement for the love of a father? That's why he is satisfied simply to have been elected president rather than doing anything with the presidency. All he was ever interested in was the seal of approval.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:26 PM


Not So Natural Selection: a review of What Darwin Got Wrong by Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini (Richard C. Lewontin, 5/27/10, NY Review of Books)

Nothing creates more misunderstanding of the results of scientific research than scientists’ use of metaphors. It is not only the general public that they confuse, but their own understanding of nature that is led astray. The most famous and influential example is Darwin’s invention of the term “natural selection,” which, he wrote in On the Origin of Species,

is daily and hourly scrutinising, throughout the world, every variation, even the slightest; rejecting that which is bad, preserving and adding up all that is good….

Darwin, quite explicitly, derived this understanding of the motivating force underlying evolution from the actions of plant and animal breeders who consciously choose variant individuals with desirable properties to breed for future generations. “Natural” selection is human selection writ large. But of course, whatever “nature” may be, it is not a sentient creature with a will, and any attempt to understand the actual operation of evolutionary processes must be freed of its metaphorical baggage. Unfortunately, even modern evolutionary biologists, as well as theorists of human social and psychological phenomena who have used organic evolution as a model for general theories of their own subjects, are not always conscious of the dangers of the metaphor. Alfred Russel Wallace, the coinventor of our understanding of evolution, wrote to Darwin in July 1866 warning him that even “intelligent persons” were taking the metaphor literally.

The modern skeletal formulation of evolution by natural selection consists of three principles that provide a purely mechanical basis for evolutionary change, stripped of its metaphorical elements:

(1) The principle of variation: among individuals in a population there is variation in form, physiology, and behavior.

(2) The principle of heredity: offspring resemble their parents more than they resemble unrelated individuals.

(3) The principle of differential reproduction: in a given environment, some forms are more likely to survive and produce more offspring than other forms.


Evolutionary change is then the mechanical consequence of variation in heritable differences between individuals whenever those differences are accompanied by differences in survival and reproduction. The evolution that can occur is limited by the available genetic variation, so in order to explain long-term continued evolution of quite new forms we must also add a fourth principle:

(4) The principle of mutation: new heritable variation is constantly occurring.

The trouble with this outline is that it does not explain the actual forms of life that have evolved. There is an immense amount of biology that is missing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:23 PM


Golf fan Tasered, arrested at Players Championship (AP, 5/07/10)

A 36-year-old man attending the second round of The Players Championship was subdued by a Taser on Friday.

Travis Parmelee, of Jacksonville, was charged with disorderly intoxication and resisting arrest without violence, said St. Johns County Sheriff's Office Capt. Dave Messenger.'s a website you could make money off of--amazingly, there is no But you could set it up and cover all these stories, plus encourage someone to become the first spectator to get the Taser Grand Slam, which would consist of being tasered at four major sporting events in one calendar year.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:55 PM


...on the Elena Kagan appointment.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:00 AM


Christie, Shunning Precedent, Drops Justice From Court (RICHARD PÉREZ-PEÑA, 5/04/10, NY Times)

Once again showing that he means to shake up Trenton, Gov. Christopher J. Christie declined on Monday to reappoint a sitting justice to the New Jersey Supreme Court, instead appointing someone who he said would show the restraint that was missing from the court.

The justice, John E. Wallace Jr., became the first one to seek reappointment and be refused by a New Jersey governor since the current State Constitution was adopted 63 years ago. [...]

Speaking to reporters in Trenton, Mr. Christie had only kind words for Justice Wallace, but he described the historically liberal court as “out of control” over the last three decades, usurping the roles of the governor and the Legislature in setting social and tax policies.

Mr. Christie, a Republican, campaigned last year as a conservative bent on changing the state’s back-scratching, free-spending political culture, and as governor he has not shied away from fights. In particular, he has proposed deep budget cuts, clashed with the teachers’ union and with much success encouraged voters to reject local school budgets and the related property tax increases.

“I think the governor clearly saw this court appointment as another way to indicate that Trenton is going to be changing,” said Ingrid W. Reed, director of the New Jersey Project at the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:56 AM


The End of the Euro: How the crisis in Greece could lead to the demise of Europe's most ambitious project (Niall Ferguson, 5/07/10, NEWSWEEK )

The euro seemed like such a good idea just 10 years ago. Europe had already achieved remarkable levels of integration as a trading bloc, to say nothing of its consolidation as a legal community. Monetary union offered all kinds of alluring benefits. It would end forever the exchange-rate volatility that had bedeviled the continent since the breakdown of the Bretton Woods system of fixed rates in the 1970s. No more annoying and costly currency conversions for travelers and businesses. And greater price transparency would improve the flow of intra-European trade.

A single European currency also seemed to offer a sweet trade. European countries with problems of excessive public debt would get German-style low inflation and interest rates. And the Germans could quietly hope that the euro would be a little weaker than their own super-strong Deutsche mark.

Monetary union had geopolitical appeal, too. In the wake of German reunification, the French worried that Europe was heading for a new kind of domination by its biggest member state. Getting the Germans to pool monetary sovereignty would increase the power of the other members over a potential Fourth Reich. And, best of all, it would create an alternative reserve currency to challenge the mighty U.S. dollar.

Still, when European Commission president Jacques Delors first proposed monetary union, it seemed a wildly ambitious project. Even when it was formally adopted as the third pillar of the European Union in the Maastricht Treaty of 1992, many economists—myself included—remained skeptical.

It was far from clear that the 11 countries that initially joined up constituted an "optimal currency area." A single monetary policy would likely amplify, rather than diminish, the fundamental differentials between highly productive Germany and the less efficient periphery.

But the worst defect in the design of the EMU, we argued, was that it was uniting Europe's currencies but leaving its fiscal policies completely uncoordinated. seemed like a bad idea and the notion of Europe as any sort of superpower utterly ludicrous, no?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:31 AM


PBS’ Masterpiece Mystery Deals with Communist Atrocity and UK, US Complicity: The long-running Foyle's War series establishes a foothold on the eastern front. (S. T. Karnick, May 8, 2010, PJM)

This week’s season premiere episode of the PBS drama series Masterpiece Mystery brought two very happy things. One, the return of the series Foyle’s War for a seventh season is quite welcome. Starring Michael Kitchen as Inspector Christopher Foyle, the chief police detective in a coastal English town during and after World War II, the series includes good mystery puzzles while taking quite seriously the moral implications of all of its characters’ actions.

The second good thing was the nature of the season premiere episode. “The Russian House” dealt with a very serious moral and political issue and foregrounded an atrocity committed by the Soviet Union with British complicity at the end of World War II. The brutal nature of the Soviet Communist regime is quite apparent in the episode. (The show can be found in repeats on local stations and will be viewable on the PBS Masterpiece website.)

For progressive-leaning PBS to broadcast such a program is rather uncommon and a nice change.

As Friend Ed Driscoll points out, this fictional entree to the topic is similar to Robert Harris's Enigma.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:22 AM


Wash. man arrested, accused of goat abuse (The Associated Press, 5/07/10)

Whatcom County Sheriff Bill Elfo says a 27-year-old man accused by a family member of sexually abusing a goat has been arrested.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:50 AM


Was That Blob in Your Kitchen Born in the Gold Rush?: Bakers Obsess Over Pedigree of Yeasty 'Starters'; Some End Badly (KATY MCLAUGHLIN, WSJ)

Marni Witkin normally feeds Happy twice a day. Once, she forgot to feed him for three straight days, and he looked distressed.

"I'm not necessarily a good pet owner," says Ms. Witkin, a Los Angeles Web site editor. After a few extra feedings, Happy was back to his bubbly old self.

Happy is no ordinary pet. He is a sourdough "starter"—a blob of wet flour, colonized by yeast and bacteria—that lives on her kitchen counter. Home bakers increasingly are using starters, which bring more nuance and flavor to bread than store-bought packages of yeast. Each time bakers add some starter to a batch of bread, they leave some behind. It grows on a diet of flour and water.

The recession and high unemployment have left people with less money for restaurant food but more time for ambitious baking recipes. Baking-supply company King Arthur Flour saw an 11% spike in flour sales in its last fiscal year. The Fresh Loaf, a baking website that discusses sourdough, now attracts 1.25 million page views a month, more than double the number two years ago.

It takes dedication to keep the burbling goo healthy, and home bakers can develop a fierce attachment to their starters. Many give them pet names, keep them growing for decades and worry about their health.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:47 AM


Los Campesinos perfoms in The Current studio (Bill DeVille, Minnesota Public Radio, May 3, 2010)

Los Campesinos! are an indie pop band formed in the UK in 2006. In August 2006, their rising popularity landed them a slot supporting Canadian supergroup Broken Social Scene. [...]

Los Campesinos' latest project is "Romance Is Boring." They stopped by The Current studios recently to play a few songs.

Songs performed: "Letters From Me To Charlotte," "Straight In At 101," and "The Sea Is A Good Place To Think Of The Future."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:36 AM


Six to Watch: TV detectives (Daniel Bettridge, 4 May 2010, The Guardian)

Idris Elba's Luther might not have a great deal in common with Miss Marple – I can't see him going down a storm in St Mary Mead, for instance. But that is the beauty of television crime-solving – it's a broad church, with room for amateur sleuths, moody inspectors, razor-sharp detectives and everything in between.

That, however, brings its problems – with every man and his dog apparently having a hand (or paw) in solving crime. So we've limited our search for the best television detectives to professional police or private detectives, rather than the full array of part-time consultants, busybodies and hobbyist gumshoes (although I'm sure we'll come to them another time). So here are our "top of the cops"– six great TV detectives to watch. Who would you have included?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:31 AM


Is Obama Overselling His Russia Arms Control Deal? (Dimitri Simes, Apr. 27, 2010, TIME)

I saw the real Russian attitude toward the treaty while participating in a Russian television program called "Think for Yourself." Broadcast after midnight, it is one of the few remaining shows during which participants can speak relatively freely on sensitive matters. There, prominent Russian specialists who had previously expressed concern about what the new treaty would look like were now endorsing it. According to Leonid Ivashov, a retired three-star general and well-known hard-liner, the treaty was a "real diplomatic success," because the Russian delegation "did not yield." Another well-known hardliner, Sergey Kurginyan, stated bluntly that "Russia could not have an easier partner on the topic of nuclear arms than Obama."

Russian experts and officials have this view because they believe that America made a tacit commitment not to develop an extended strategic missile defense. As a senior Russian official said to me, "I can't quote you unequivocal language from President Obama or Secretary Clinton in conversations with us that there would be no strategic missile defenses in Europe, but everything that was said to us amounts to this." In this official's account, the full spectrum of U.S. officials from the President to working-level negotiators clearly conveyed that the reason they rejected more explicit restrictions on missile defense was not because of U.S. plans, but because of fear that such a deal could not win Senate ratification. A senior U.S. official intimately familiar with the talks has confirmed that the Russians were advised not to press further on missile defenses because the Administration had no intention to proceed with anything that would truly concern Moscow. Yet putting specific constraints in the treaty could block the Senate ratification.

This background puts a different spin on the reference to the link between offensive and defensive weapons in the preamble of the new agreement and on the Russian government's unilateral statement on the treaty, which asserts that the agreement "can operate and be viable" only if America "refrains from developing its missile defense capabilities quantitatively or qualitatively." This language, coordinated in advance with the Obama Administration, means that Moscow might withdraw from the treaty if the U.S. deploys a meaningful strategic missile defense.

If the Administration actually wanted to build nuclear missile defenses, U.S. officials might be concerned about this prospect. Tellingly, however, the Administration has taken a rather benign view of the Russian statement, saying that since they have no plans for deploying strategic defenses in the foreseeable future, they had no reason to alarm the Russians with hypothetical situations.

Instead, the Administration publicly and privately conveyed to Moscow that if Washington decides to pursue strategic missile defense, the U.S. would work to develop it jointly with Russia.

The best case for ratifying the new treaty is that it doesn't really require either side to eliminate weapons it wants to keep.

...since the next president can blow it up just by resuming missile defense.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:25 AM


Top 10 American Soccer Players In Europe: Some of the country's best aren't playing at home. (Monte Burke, 05.03.10, Forbes)

Who are the best Americans playing in Europe? To get a list of the top 10, we turned to Castrol Rankings, which bills itself as the world's first soccer rankings system based on actual player performance in Europe's top five leagues--La Liga (Spain), Premier League (England), Bundesliga (Germany), Serie A and Ligue 1 (France). It also takes into account play in the Champions League.

Castrol relies on data gathered by Opta Sportsdata, which tracks individual player statistics in these leagues. The company tracks and scores every touch every player on the field makes in every match. A goal or completed pass is scored as a positive; a giveaway is scored as a negative. Matches are weighted by importance: For example a Champions League match would be given more weight than a regular season Ligue 1 game. Opta refreshes the statistics every month.

Fittingly, four of the best keepers in the EPL are American. But the real revelation this year was what a good coach can get out of Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan just by using them right. If Dempsey's club manager, Roy Hodgson, were given the team USA job we'd have a realistic shot at winning the World Cup this summer.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:55 AM


Navy League Sea-Air-Space Exposition (Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, Gaylord Convention Center, National Harbor, Maryland, Monday, May 03, 2010)

n order to be successful, the sea services must have the right make-up and capabilities. Surveying our current force, it is useful to start with some perspective – especially since the Navy, of all the services, has been the most consistently concerned about its size as measured by the total number of ships in the fleet.

It is important to remember that, as much as the U.S. battle fleet has shrunk since the end of the Cold War, the rest of the world’s navies have shrunk even more. So, in relative terms, the U.S. Navy is as strong as it has ever been.

In assessing risks and requirements even in light of an expanding array of global missions and responsibilities – everything from shows of presence to humanitarian relief – some context is useful:

* The U.S. operates 11 large carriers, all nuclear powered. In terms of size and striking power, no other country has even one comparable ship.
* The U.S. Navy has 10 large-deck amphibious ships that can operate as sea bases for helicopters and vertical-takeoff jets. No other navy has more than three, and all of those navies belong to pur allies or friends. Our Navy can carry twice as many aircraft at sea as all the rest of the world combined.
* The U.S. has 57 nuclear-powered attack and cruise missile submarines – again, more than the rest of the world combined.
* Seventy-nine Aegis-equipped combatants carry roughly 8,000 vertical-launch missile cells. In terms of total missile firepower, the U.S. arguably outmatches the next 20 largest navies.
* All told, the displacement of the U.S. battle fleet – a proxy for overall fleet capabilities – exceeds, by one recent estimate, at least the next 13 navies combined, of which 11 are our allies or partners.
* And, at 202,000 strong, the Marine Corps is the largest military force of its kind in the world and exceeds the size of most world armies.

Still, even as the United States stands unsurpassed on, above, and below the high seas, we have to prepare for the future. As in previous eras, new centers of power – with new wealth, military strength, and ambitions on the world stage – are altering the strategic landscape. If history shows anything, it is that we cannot predict or guarantee the course of a nation decades from now – the time it takes to develop and build the next generation of ships, a process that has been likened to building a medieval cathedral: brick by brick, window by window – over decades.

Our Navy has to be designed for new challenges, new technologies, and new missions – because another one of history’s hard lessons is that, when it comes to military capabilities, those who fail to adapt often fail to survive. In World War II, both the American and British navies were surprised by the speed with which naval airpower made battleships obsolete. Because of two decades of testing and operations, however, both were well prepared to shift to carrier operations. We have to consider whether a similar revolution at sea is underway today.

Potential adversaries are well-aware of our overwhelming conventional advantage – which is why, despite significant naval modernization programs underway in some countries, no one intends to bankrupt themselves by challenging the us to a shipbuilding competition akin to the Dreadnought race before World War I.

Instead, potential adversaries are investing in weapons designed to neutralize U.S. advantages – to deny our military freedom of action while potentially threatening America’s primary means of projecting power: our bases, sea and air assets, and the networks that support them.

We know other nations are working on asymmetric ways to thwart the reach and striking power of the U.S. battle fleet. At the low end, Hezbollah, a non-state actor, used anti-ship missiles against the Israeli navy in 2006. And Iran is combining ballistic and cruise missiles, anti-ship missiles, mines, and swarming speedboats in order to challenge our naval power in that region.

At the higher end of the access-denial spectrum, the virtual monopoly the U.S. has enjoyed with precision guided weapons is eroding – especially with long-range, accurate anti-ship cruise and ballistic missiles that can potentially strike from over the horizon. This is a particular concern with aircraft carriers and other large, multi-billion-dollar blue-water surface combatants, where, for example, a Ford-class carrier plus its full complement of the latest aircraft would represent potentially a $15 to $20 billion set of hardware at risk. The U.S. will also face increasingly sophisticated underwater combat systems – including numbers of stealthy subs – all of which could end the operational sanctuary our Navy has enjoyed in the Western Pacific for the better part of six decades.

One part of the way ahead is through more innovative strategies and joint approaches. The agreement by the Navy and the Air Force to work together on an Air-Sea Battle concept is an encouraging development, which has the potential to do for America’s military deterrent power at the beginning of the 21st century what Air-Land Battle did near the end of the 20th.

But we must also rethink what and how we buy – to shift investments towards systems that provide the ability to see and strike deep along the full spectrum of conflict. This means, among other things:

* Extending the range at which U.S. naval forces can fight, refuel, and strike, with more resources devoted to long-range unmanned aircraft and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities.
* New sea-based missile defenses;
* A submarine force with expanded roles that is prepared to conduct more missions deep inside an enemy’s battle network. We will also have to increase submarine strike capability and look at smaller and unmanned underwater platforms.

These changes are occurring even as the Navy is called upon to do more missions that fall on the low end of the conflict spectrum – a requirement that will not go away, as the new naval operational concept reflects. Whether the mission is counterinsurgency, piracy, or security assistance, among others, new missions have required new ways of thinking about the portfolio of weapons we buy. In particular, the Navy will need numbers, speed, and the ability to operate in shallow water, especially as the nature of war in the 21st century pushes us toward smaller, more diffuse weapons and units that increasingly rely on a series of networks to wage war. As we learned last year, you don’t necessarily need a billion-dollar guided missile destroyer to chase down and deal with a bunch of teenage pirates wielding AK-47s and RPGs.

The Navy has responded with investments in more special warfare capabilities, small patrol coastal vessels, a riverine squadron, and joint high-speed vessels. Last year’s budget accelerated the buy of the Littoral Combat Ship, which, despite its development problems, is a versatile ship that can be produced in quantity and go places that are either too shallow or too risky for the Navy’s big, blue-water surface combatants. The new approach to LCS procurement and competition should provide an affordable, scalable, and sustainable path to producing the quantity of ships we need.

There has been some talk that the rebalancing effort of the last couple of years – where resources and institutional support have shifted towards what is needed in the current conflicts and other irregular scenarios – has skewed priorities too far away from high-tech conventional capabilities. In reality, in this fiscal year the Department of Defense requested nearly $190 billion for total procurement, research, and development – an almost 90 percent increase over the last decade. At most, 10 percent of that $190 billion is dedicated exclusively to equipment optimized for counterinsurgency, security assistance, humanitarian operations, or other so-called low-end capabilities. In these last two budget cycles, I have directed a needed and noticeable shift – but hardly a dramatic one, especially in light of the significant naval overmatch that I described earlier.

These issues invariably bring up debates over so-called “gaps” between stated requirements and current platforms – be they ships, aircraft, or anything else. More often than not, the solution offered is either more of what we already have or modernized versions of preexisting capabilities. This approach ignores the fact that we face diverse adversaries with finite resources that consequently force them to come at the U.S. in unconventional and innovative ways. The more relevant gap we risk creating is one between capabilities we are pursuing and those that are actually needed in the real world of tomorrow.

Considering that, the Department must continually adjust its future plans as the strategic environment evolves. Two major examples come to mind.

First, what kind of new platform is needed to get large numbers of troops from ship to shore under fire – in other words, the capability provided by the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle. No doubt, it was a real strategic asset during the first Gulf War to have a flotilla of Marines waiting off Kuwait City – forcing Saddam’s army to keep one eye on the Saudi border, and one eye on the coast. But we have to take a hard look at where it would be necessary or sensible to launch another major amphibious landing again – especially as advances in anti-ship systems keep pushing the potential launch point further from shore. On a more basic level, in the 21st century, what kind of amphibious capability do we really need to deal with the most likely scenarios, and then how much?

Second – aircraft carriers. Our current plan is to have eleven carrier strike groups through 2040 and it's in the budget. And to be sure, the need to project power across the oceans will never go away. But, consider the massive over-match the U.S. already enjoys. Consider, too, the growing anti-ship capabilities of adversaries. Do we really need eleven carrier strike groups for another 30 years when no other country has more than one? Any future plans must address these realities.

...the Navy is ready for the one we fought five or six wars back.

May 7, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:58 PM


Miranda Worked!: The bizarre criticism of the Faisal Shahzad interrogation. (Emily Bazelon, May 5, 2010, Slate)

The case of Faisal Shahzad, the Times Square bombing suspect, is a spectacularly bad test case for arguing against the Miranda warning. But don't take my word for it. Listen to Glenn Beck, suddenly turned constitutional scholar: "We do not shred the Constitution when it's popular. We do the right thing," he said. Also, "How is it that saying a citizen should have their rights read to them … is controversial?"

This is always the correct position—and it's especially so in the Shahzad case. Miranda worked! Law enforcement officials can invoke a public safety exception and delay reading a suspect his rights to get information that would save lives. In Shahzad's case, the FBI invoked the public safety exception. The agency called in its crack interrogation team, asked Shahzad questions with no Miranda warning, and reaped what the FBI says was "valuable intelligence and evidence." Then Shahzad was read his rights. And lo and behold, he waived them and kept talking.

Huh? Isn't she saying that not reading him his rights until it was convenient for the authorities worked? The whim of the police isn't much of a standard, but since Miranda is aConstitutional it's good enough.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:43 PM


General election 2010: Clegg considers Cameron overtures in hung parliament: Nick Clegg to 'explore further' plans for economic and political reform with David Cameron, say Lib Dem sources (Polly Curtis, 5/07/10,

Nick Clegg has today held talks with David Cameron on the Conservative leader's "big, open and comprehensive offer" to Liberal Democrats, which could see the third party provide ministers in a coalition government.

Liberal Democrat sources tonight said the two men had agreed they should "explore further" plans for economic and political reform.

...Mr. Cameron can not only subsume the Lib-Dems but force modernization on the Tories.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:39 PM


Canadian bear a grizzly-polar cross breed (UPI May 2, 2010)

Genetic testing shows an unusual bear, shot in Canada's High Arctic region recently, was a cross between a grizzly and a polar bear, experts say. [...]

The Northwest Territories Environment and Natural Resources said in a release the animal may be the first recorded second-generation "pizzly" or "grolar bear" found in the wild.

"A wildlife genetics laboratory has since conducted DNA testing on the samples, and the results of the testing point to the animal being a second-generation hybrid bear which resulted from the mating of a polar-grizzly bear female with a male grizzly bear," the department said.

The accurate scientific name is "bear."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 PM


Obama's court pick is imminent (Mike Allen, 5/07/10, Politico)

Look for President Obama to name his Supreme Court pick Monday, and look for it to be Solicitor General Elena Kagan, a former Harvard Law dean. The pick isn’t official, but top White House aides will be shocked if it’s otherwise.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:17 PM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:24 AM


U.S. Adds 290,000 Jobs in April; Rate Rises to 9.9% (CHRISTINE HAUSER, 5/08/10, NY Times)

The American economy continued to add jobs in April in a further sign that an economic recovery was on track.

Payrolls surged with an unexpectedly strong 290,000 jobs last month, the Labor Department reported on Friday, while the unemployment rate rose to 9.9 percent. “This is unambiguously a strong report for growth implications,” James O’Sullivan, chief economist at MF Global, said. “It adds to the evidence that the pickup in growth is leading to a clear-cut pickup in employment. It is very clear there has been a bounce here, and momentum has been up.”

With revisions on Friday, April was the fourth consecutive month that the economy added workers (a revised 230,000 jobs were added in March, instead of 162,000). Besides March, February was revised from a loss of 14,000 jobs to a gain of 39,000. With a January gain of 14,000, the cumulative increase came to 573,000 jobs in four months.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:56 AM


The Marbury Myth: John Marshall’s famous decision does not support judicial supremacy. (Robert Lowry Clinton, 5/06/10, National Review)

In its Marbury opinion, the Court (per Chief Justice John Marshall) ruled that Section 13 of the Judiciary Act of 1789, which authorized the Court to issue writs of mandamus in original (trial) jurisdiction to any “persons holding office under the authority of the United States,” impermissibly enlarged the Court’s jurisdiction beyond the terms of Article III of the Constitution, which restricts the Court’s trial jurisdiction to cases involving ambassadors, public ministers, consuls, or states. This meant that, although Marbury had a legal right to his commission that was violated by Madison’s failure to perform a ministerial duty, the Court could not provide the requested relief because the congressional extension of the Court’s jurisdiction was unconstitutional.

In the final pages of his Marbury opinion, Chief Justice Marshall argued that a legislative act in conflict with the Constitution is void, and then carefully restricted the Court’s power to invalidate such acts to instances in which the Court is forced to ignore either the Constitution or the statute in order to decide a particular case. The only time this situation can arise is when the constitutional and statutory provisions involved are addressed to the Court itself, as in Marbury. In other words, under Marbury’s reasoning, the Court is not entitled to “reach out” and invalidate a legislative act simply because the Court doesn’t like it, or even because the Court believes that some other agency of government has done something unconstitutional.

Thus, Marbury-style judicial review is very limited in scope. It is restricted to cases in which Congress has unconstitutionally meddled with the Court’s functions. This is surely why the case was largely ignored by courts and legal commentators as a precedent for judicial review until the late 19th century. The Court itself didn’t notice that Marbury had anything to do with judicial review until 1887, and even then it misread the case as authorizing judicial review of state law — which Marbury had nothing to do with. It was not until 1895 that the Court first cited Marbury as a precedent for judicial review of national law, despite having invalidated some 20 congressional acts by that time. Stop and think for a moment about what this means: The case that is used as the leading precedent for modern judicial supremacy was not even regarded as an instance of judicial review until 92 years after it was decided!

All told, of the 88 citations of Marbury by justices of the Supreme Court between 1803 and 1957, only ten refer to the judicial power to invalidate laws, and all ten advance highly restrictive notions of that power, confining it to a narrow range of cases. Nowhere can we find even a suggestion that the Court is the ultimate or exclusive arbiter of all constitutional questions. If Marbury really authorized judicial supremacy, why wouldn’t someone on the Court have said so during its first century and a half?

It was in 1958 that everything changed.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:13 AM


Mollohan’s Harbingers in West Virginia (Greg Giroux, 5/07/10, CQ-Roll Call)

As he campaigns for a 15th term in the northern 1st district, [Rep. Alan B. Mollohan (D-W.Va.)] is airing television ads sharply critical of state Sen. Mike Oliverio (D), whose quest for the Democratic nomination on May 11 is the congressman’s most serious intraparty challenge in many years. Mollohan, who is accusing his competitor of having a right-wing agenda, wouldn’t be criticizing Oliverio if he didn’t think he was a threat.

Polls also reveal weakness for Mollohan. After Oliverio released a poll conducted for his campaign that had him leading Mollohan by 8 points, Mollohan’s campaign responded with a poll that had the congressman ahead, albeit by just 9 points and with just 45 percent of the overall Democratic vote. That’s not an impressive showing for a member of Congress who has represented the district for nearly three decades and whose father preceded him in the House.

Mollohan’s less-than-stellar standing in the Democratic primary has prompted CQ Politics to change the rating of the West Virginia 1 general election race to Tossup from Likely Democratic. The new rating means that the Republicans are as likely to capture the seat as Democrats are to defend it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:13 AM


Whitman weighs in on immigration: Candidate for governor says she would veto Arizona-style bill (John Marelius, 5/06/10, San Diego UNION-TRIBUNE)

Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman said in San Diego on Thursday she opposes the Arizona anti-illegal immigration legislation and would veto such a bill if it were sent to her desk as governor.

“I understand the frustrations that Arizonans have with the abject failure of the federal government to secure the border of the United States,” she said. “However, if such a law came to me as governor of California, I would oppose it. And the reason is I think I have a better plan to solve this most urgent problem.”

Whitman’s opponent for the Republican nomination, state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, supports the Arizona law that requires law enforcement officers to question people they suspect of being in the country illegally.

He initially opposed the law, but said in a Sunday debate in San Jose that last-minute revisions seeking to avoid racial profiling “have taken care of, from my point of view, of any concerns.”

Sure, they gutted the bill, but that makes the only point of retaining it the ugly symbolism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:01 AM


Which Cities Save Commuters the Most With Public Transport? (Sara Murray, 5/06/10, WSJ)

The average price for regular fuel in the U.S. has risen to $2.83 a gallon — nine cents higher than a month ago and about 80 cents higher than a year ago. Factor in the cost of parking and New York City residents save the most by opting for mass transit: $1,149 a month and $13,784 a year.

Both Boston and San Francisco residents also, on average, save more than $1,000 a month by using public transportation, according to the report. Nationally, public transit riders save about $9,293 a year and about $774 each month.

There were some surprises in the list of top 20 cities for saving. Some relatively smaller cities, such as Cleveland, Minneapolis and Honolulu all ranked in the top 15, allowing citizens to save between $800 and $900 a month.

The more populated Washington, D.C., meanwhile, fell relatively low on the list in 15th place, with residents saving $757 a month. And in last place, Pittsburg, where locals could save $681 a month or $8,174 a year if they opt for mass transit instead.

...the waste is staggering.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:52 AM


US takes the war into Pakistan (Syed Saleem Shahzad, 5/08/10, Asia Times)

The approval given to the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) by the administration of President Barack Obama to expand drone strikes in Pakistan's tribal regions is on face value a declaration of war by the US inside Pakistan. The move comes at a time when Pakistan is trying to win some breathing space to delay an all-out operation in North Waziristan, home to powerful militant groups and an al-Qaeda headquarters.

The CIA was given authority on Wednesday to expand strikes by unmanned aerial vehicles against low-level combatants, even if their identities are not known. Obama had previously said drone strikes were necessary to "take out high-level terrorist targets". [...]

The plain fact cannot be missed: North Waziristan is the nerve center of the Afghan resistance and as long as Pakistan delays, the US will take matters into its own hands.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:37 AM


El-Baradei in America: Former IAEA director Mohamed El-Baradei's controversial visit to the United States has provoked a backlash at home (Gamal Essam El-Din, 5/06/10, Al-Ahram Weekly)

On 26 April, El-Baradei addressed a two-hour meeting of some 200 Egyptian Americans in Harvard University on "the future of democracy in Egypt". El-Baradei painted a bleak picture of political and economic conditions in Egypt. El-Baradei, also founder of the National Association for Change (NAC), explained that his agenda for reform aims at turning Egypt into "a social democracy" like the Western European countries of Austria and Sweden.

According to Mohamed Abul-Ghar, a Cairo University professor and the NAC's coordinator for foreign relations, El-Baradei's Harvard address focussed on explaining the NAC's seven objectives. "These," Abul-Ghar told Al-Ahram Weekly, include "amending the constitution, eliminating the state of emergency, abolishing military tribunals, releasing political prisoners, [ensuring the] separation of powers, improving Egypt's record on human rights and issuing a unified law for regulating places of worship." Abul-Ghar disclosed that El-Baradei had assured Egyptian-Americans -- mostly Copts -- that his agenda stresses that all Egyptians, regardless of religion or sex, are equal in rights."

Responding to a question about his relations with the Muslim Brotherhood, El-Baradei stressed that "the Brothers" should be allowed to participate in political life as long as they "abide by democracy and democratic rules".

El-Baradei renewed his attacks against the 23 July 1952 Revolution, arguing that Egypt should return to the democracy it lost in 1952. He stressed that he is against the principle of "reserving a quota of seats in parliament for workers and farmers". "The best guarantee for all classes to be represented in parliament is to establish a democratic system and conduct fair elections," El-Baradei argued.

He also underlined again that he would run in presidential elections "only if elections are free and fair and the constitution is amended to allow independent politicians to run."

According to El-Baradei, "the US administration has no excuse [for] condemning the record of human rights violations in the world and keeping a blind eye on what happens in Egypt."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:10 AM


Tories Gain but Fail to Take Parliament (JOHN F. BURNS and ALAN COWELL, 5/07/10, NY Times)

The Conservatives, led by David Cameron, were set to win the largest number of seats but not an outright majority. Labour, seeking a fourth term, lagged in second place while the third party, the left-of-center Liberal Democrats, failed to make the gains forecast before Thursday’s vote.

Without an unassailable victory, Mr. Cameron — and the country — could be heading for days of agonizing uncertainty as the two main parties set about trying to outmaneuver each other for power.

Under Britain’s uncodified constitution, parties with a plurality of the votes may form a minority government, as happened in the 1970s, but the rules also permit the incumbent prime minister to remain in office and try to negotiate an alliance.

But any new government must be able to withstand an early confidence vote in Parliament.

In any event, the result seemed to spell the end of a 13-year run of undiluted Labour power that began with a landslide victory for Tony Blair in 1997.

By mid-morning on Friday, the Conservatives had gained 92 parliamentary seats, Labour had lost 86 and the Liberal Democrats were down by six seats compared to the 2005 vote. The Conservatives also won the largest number of votes with an estimated 36 percent of the ballot compared to 29 percent for Labour and 23 percent for the Liberal Democrats.

A BBC projection forecast that the Conservatives would secure 306 seats, Labour 261 and the Liberal Democrats an unexpectedly low 54.

The electoral math seemed to have left even the most experienced politicians baffled about what the vote meant. co-opting the Lib-Dems and their agenda

Nick Clegg: We simply didn't get what we hoped (Evening Standard, 07.05.10)

Nick Clegg expressed his disappointment at the Liberal Democrats' poor showing in the general election.

The party's share of the vote has increased by about one per cent but this has failed to translate into seats, with polls and results showing that it is unlikely to increase its numbers of MPs. [...]

Lib-Dem MPs and peers will hold a private meeting tomorrow as part of the process which would allow Mr Clegg to enter into a coalition with either Gordon Brown or David Cameron.

Under the complex “triple lock” system, Mr Clegg needs the support of the parliamentary party and the Lib-Dems' ruling federal executive in order to strike a deal.

UK's top 2 parties locked in election standoff (JILL LAWLESS and JENNIFER QUINN, Associated Press)
Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg dented Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown's hopes of staying in power by calling on the Conservatives to try to form a government, without indicating whether his centrist party would be willing to join a coalition.

As sitting prime minister, Brown would traditionally be given the first chance to put together a government. His left-of-center Labour party is seen as a more natural coalition fit with the Lib Dems, the third-place party now thrust into the role of potential kingmaker.

But Clegg said the party that had gained the most seats and the most votes — the Conservatives — should have "the first right to seek to govern."

"I think it is now for the Conservative Party to prove that it is capable of seeking to govern in the national interest," he said,

This was the best environment they'll ever have and they did nothing. There is no justification for the party particularly with a more openly Third Way Tory Party.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:06 AM


Margaret Hodge smashes Nick Griffin in Barking and tells BNP: Get out and stay out (Pippa Crerar, 07.05.10, Evening Standard)

The BNP, which was beaten into third place behind the Tories, is also understood to have lost most of its 12 seats on Barking & Dagenham council.

The disastrous result for the BNP, which saw its vote share drop by two per cent, immediately raised questions about Mr Griffin's future as leader.

Mrs Hodge said the people of Barking had “overwhelmingly” rejected the politics of hatred and prejudice.

“On behalf of the people of Britain, we in Barking have not just beaten, but we have smashed the attempts of extremist outsiders,” she said.

“The message from Barking to the BNP is clear — get out and stay out. You're not wanted here, and your vile politics have no place in British democracy. Tomorrow you're going to lose councillors and tomorrow we're giving you a clear message — pack your bags and go.”

Mr Griffin said: “Within the next five years the indigenous people of London will be in a minority in our own capital city. This is a wake-up call not just for London, but a wake-up call for the whole of Britain.”

May 6, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:05 PM


Egyptian game-changer: What are the prospects for the end of an authoritarian regime, now that a new personality has appeared on the horizon who may have found a way of uniting and focusing the diverse opposition? An international profile might make all the difference (Alix Dunn, 5 May 2010, OpenDemocracy)

Despite the seeming parallels between the 2005 multi-party excitement and the current buzz of reformation, a potential game-changer is a new political force – Mohamed ElBaradei. According to the constitutional amendment passed in 2005, he cannot legally run for president, but as the former director of the International Atomic Energy Agency and a Nobel laureate, ElBaradei is in a unique position to press for change. His international profile and growing internal celebrity has allowed him to openly criticize the regime, and organize discussions between policy actors, human rights NGOs, and the fragmented opposition groups. ElBaradei’s Facebook group has over 210,000 members and he has granted interviews on the Western media circuit, appearing in the likes of the Guardian and the Washington Post. And while major government newspapers have attempted to cast his 12-year tenure at the UN and his extensive time abroad as a sign of his disconnect with the Egyptian people, he has garnered support from inside Egypt. The few public appearances he has made in Egypt have resulted in large, class-crossing turnout and minimal government crackdown.

In February, he started the National Association for Change that outlines clear goals for constitutional reform, including open elections and more relaxed regulation of the registration of NGOs. The state has drastically constrained new NGO formation and activity, forcing many political active NGOs to register as civil corporations – a semantic difference that denies effective groups access to substantial amounts of US aid. The group has become an umbrella organization for scattered movements like the April 6th Youth Movement, reform candidates, and NGOs pressing for change. ElBaradei publically invited the workers involved in the May 2nd 2010 protests for a minimum wage hike to join the NAC, further subsuming a variety of oppositional and disenfranchised groups. And while groups like Kifaya (Change) have attempted to maximize the “cooperative differentiation” in the Egyptian oppositional sphere whereby groups “maintain a public face of solidarity towards the movement’s targets while differentiating themselves in communications with their constituencies” (Abdel-Rahman 2009; Bandy and Smith 2005) ElBaradei is the first symbolic individual to coordinate collective protest against repressive constitutional amendments. Cooperative differentiation is especially important in countries with such effective executive regimes. Without the ability of groups to coordinate in pressing for tangible goals, the required amount of political momentum would be impossible to muster given the ideological differences in the fragmented oppositional sphere. Having a common target can unite groups of varying backgrounds and make political compromise possible when reformation occurs and the official political sphere opens up.

By galvanizing these separate movements, and organizing discussions between traditionally wedged groups like the Muslim Brotherhood and secular reformists, ElBaradei has managed to concentrate the force of a traditionally frazzled opposition landscape to pursue specific, landmark changes in the entrenched one-party system. Though the Muslim Brotherhood has substantial political power because it effectively delivers aid when the government fails to, it is not as powerful as the Mubarak regime would like the international community to believe. A powerful Islamist organization ready to take-over at any moment of weakness, would and does, lend Mubarak substantial leverage in negotiating with western nations, particularly the US. ElBaradei managed to garner the group’s support for particular reforms, and an MB official agreed to consider voting for ElBaradei if he were to run for the presidency in 2011. Though the MB platform differs from ElBaradei’s own, they do share a similar view of the Israeli occupation of Palestine, a view that radically deviates from the Mubarak regime’s current policy of aiding Israel in sequestering Palestinians and denying the delivery of aid across the Egyptian/Palestinian border.

This type of collaboration and cross-platform dialogue would not be possible if it were not for a now virtually unitary target in Egypt: the president and his National Democratic Party. Response from the Government, aside from the push to alienate ElBaradei by casting him as an outsider, has been limited. Amendment 86 in the Egyptian constitution criminalizes protests for reform to change the constitution, meaning that the government has domestic legal recourse to prosecute ElBaradei, even if they choose not to. It is his international profile and his presence in the international media as the point person for the opposition movement that likely protects him from any overt action on behalf of the Egyptian authorities.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:00 PM


Exit polls forecast a 'cliffhanger' (Evening Standard, 07.05.10)

Britain was braced for an election "cliffhanger", as the Tories were forecast to be the largest party at Westminster - but fall short of an overall majority.

A TV exit poll said the Conservatives would win 305 seats, Labour 255 and the Liberal Democrats 61.

Politicians of all parties were cautious about the survey, which would leave Conservative leader David Cameron 21 seats short of the total that would automatically hand him the keys to No 10. [...]

The ratings in the BBC/ITV News/Sky News survey were a bitter blow for the Lib Dems, showing that an apparent surge of support after leader Nick Clegg was seen to have shone in Britain's first TV election debates had failed to translate into Commons seats. His party had 63 seats at the start of the campaign.

Paging David Broder....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:53 PM


Arizona's Law: Anti-Immigrant And Anti-Constitutional (Shikha Dalmia, 05.05.10, Forbes)

Brit Hume, a Fox News commentator, who had previously called the law “somewhat draconian,” came out swinging in its favor on Sunday--declaring that his initial characterization was completely wrong and the law is actually “totally sensible.” Meanwhile, the National Review crowd, which has yet to encounter an anti-immigration law that it doesn't like, put its full weight behind Arizona right from the get-go. In this it seems to be marching in lock step with the ultra-restrictionist Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) whose founder, Mark Krikorian, is a regular contributor to the magazine.

CIS advocates a moratorium on all immigration--illegal and legal, unskilled and skilled. And it pursues its agenda with as much finesse as Detective Clouseau displayed when pursuing criminals in Pink Panther movies. Two years ago, it released a study arguing against relaxing U.S. immigration restrictions on grounds that this would raise global greenhouse gas emissions. (Really! Check out the link.)

Even before the ink had dried on the Arizona law, CIS issued talking points insisting that it was nothing more than a mirror image of the federal law--a claim that Byron York, National Review's former White House correspondent, immediately repeated in his column. “Contrary to the talk [of the law's critics],” York declared, “it is a reasonable, limited, carefully crafted measure...that went to great lengths to make sure it is constitutional.” Likewise, National Review editor Rich Lowry maintained: “Arizona seeks only to enforce the nominal immigration policy of the United States.”

But such talk failed even to reassure Arizona's own legislators, who moved last Friday--less than two weeks after the law was passed--to amend the law's more draconian provisions after civil rights groups threatened to sue on constitutional grounds. However, even with these changes, the law raises equal protection and federalism issues large enough to drive a Mexican truck through.

The CIS types are more vile but at least they're honest with themselves.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:51 PM


US productivity grows 3.6% in first quarter (Associated Press, May 6, 2010)

The Labor Department said Thursday that productivity grew at an annual rate of 3.6 percent in the first quarter. That was better than the 2.5 percent increase economists had expected.

Unit labor costs dropped at an annual rate of 1.6 percent, a bigger decline than the 0.7 percent forecast. It marked the third straight quarterly decline, underscoring how much a severe recession has dampened wage pressures.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:43 PM


Robin Roberts was proud of his successes as well as his failures (Joe Posnanski, 5/06/10, SI)

A few years ago, I came home and found a message on the answering machine from someone who claimed to be Robin Roberts, the Hall of Fame pitcher. The person was calling because he had read some of my work, and he liked it, and he happened to be in Kansas City to see his brother and he wanted to meet me at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum so he could tell me some baseball stories.

My first thought was that it had to be a put-on. Hall of Famers don't just call up sportswriters they don't know because they want to chat. But I also had to admit that I didn't quite get why anyone would pretend to be the pitcher Robin Roberts (as he had to be known so as not to be confused with the television anchor Robin Roberts). And then, I had to admit that I really didn't know that much about the pitcher Robin Roberts.

I did a little research. The thing that jumps out at you when you look back at Roberts' career are the complete games. From 1950 through 1956, Robin Roberts started 37 or more games and completed more than 20 games every season -- that's Deadball Era stuff. Roberts led the league in starts six straight years, in complete games five straight years, in innings pitched five straight years, in victories four straight years. He was, in those days, a force of nature. Put it this way: He threw 28 consecutive complete games in 1952-53, and he was so enraged when he got pulled after seven innings against Brooklyn* -- Bums Send Roberts To Showers! -- that, for perhaps the only time in his career, the genial Roberts refused to talk to reporters.

Even better, check out his saves for those years, when he'd pitch in relief between starts.

Hall of Fame pitcher Roberts dies at 83 (Marty Noble, 5/06/10,

"He was like a diesel engine," Roberts' teammate and fellow Phillies starter Curt Simmons said from his home in Arizona. "The more you used him, the better he ran. I don't think you could wear him out. The end of the 1950 season, I was in the Army and I think Bob Miller had a bad back. I know Robin had to throw almost every day."

Dallas Green, the former Phillies manager and pitcher, became one of Roberts' friends despite an eight-year difference in age. Green who broke into the Majors in 1956, attended Roberts' professional debut in 1948 in Wilmington, Del., where Green lived. Roberts' first game was as a member of the Blue Hens. "Robbie was a real special person to me," Green said Thursday. "I love him. He was as old-school as you could get. He'd just run and throw to get in shape. I tell all the kids that now."

Roberts contended that pitching came easily to him. "Too many people try to make it more complicated than it really is," he would say as part of his continuing effort to deflect praise. His efforts in that regard weren't as successful as his pitching. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1976.

He won 286 games overall and still was pitching in the Minor Leagues when he retired because he wanted 14 more wins. "Three hundred was big to him. He wanted it," Green said. "We were roomies at Reading in the old Eastern League and we were both at the end. Robbie just ran out of gas. The will was there. It was always there."

The second-leading all-time winner among the Phillies -- Steve Carlton won 241 games to Roberts' 234 -- Roberts was recognized primarily as a power pitcher until late in his career when he pitched for the Orioles, Astros and Cubs. His career strikeouts total of 2,357 was unremarkable. It ranks 40th all-time. But he walked merely 902 batters and never more than 77 in a season.

The numbers that distinguished him most during and after his 19-year career were his victories, shutouts (45), complete games (305) and home runs allowed (505), the most ever. But like fellow Hall of Famer Catfish Hunter, Roberts was renowned for limiting the damage. Sixty-five percent of the home runs he surrendered were hit with the bases empty.

His complete-games total ranks 38th all-time and nearly all of those who pitched more played well before Roberts broke in on June 18, 1948. He pitched 28 consecutive complete games from August 1952 to July 1953. What would closer Brad Lidge have done during Roberts' time with the Phillies?

That will remain an unknown, but Lidge certainly developed an appreciation for the pitcher now memorialized by a statute outside Citizens Bank Park.

"Every time he came around the clubhouse he would start talking about pitching," Lidge said Thursday. "He talked with me about my slider, and anything he had to say, I was all ears. Another thing about Robbie was that he never talked about the way things were when he played the game. He realized that the game changed with time. I was really fortunate to be able to talk with a living legend about pitching."

Lidge's teammate Jamie Moyer provided this perspective: "Almost every day I look at the Phillies Hall of Fame jerseys that hang in the hallway by the clubhouse. I try to appreciate what Robin did as a pitcher. Looking back at the impact he had on the game, it was special. He would always kid around when he came by and would be concerned about how I was and how my family was doing. I feel like I lost a friend. He bled Phillies Red. He was a true Phillie top to bottom."

Roberts' contemporaries saw him in a different light. "Probably the best fastball I ever saw was Robin Roberts'." Ralph Kiner once said. "His ball would rise around six or eight inches, and with plenty on it. And he had great control."

"He looks like the kind of pitcher you can't wait to swing at, but you swing and the ball isn't where you thought it was," the late Pirates slugger Willie Stargell once said.

"You know," Green said, "for all the success Robbie had, he did it without a breaking ball. He had that little 'slurvy' thing that was an ugly pitch. But he got you when it counted. A man on third with less than two out just didn't score. He'd bear down like nobody else. And he never threw at any one. That wasn't him."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:40 PM


Cavemen among us: Some humans are 4 percent Neanderthal: A new study concludes that humans mated with Neanderthals 50,000 to 80,000 years ago, leaving traces of the Neanderthal genome in some modern humans. (Pete Spotts, May 6, 2010 , CS Monitor)

Neanderthals and anatomically modern humans occupied the same general real estate in Europe and western Asia for roughly 50,000 years until the Neanderthals went extinct some 30,000 yeas ago. Scientists have reasoned that there must have been some level of interbreeding during that time.

With these new results, "there's very strong evidence that it did occur. There was gene flow from Neanderthals to the ancestors of all modern non-Africans," Dr. Reich says. The genome comparisons the team performed indicate a small amount of interbreeding that likely occurred during the period when they first came into contact with each other some 50,000 to 80,000 years ago.

"Anatonically modern" pretty much gives away the whole game.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:42 PM


Pandora’s Briefcase: It was a dazzling feat of wartime espionage. But does it argue for or against spying? (Malcolm Gladwell, May 10, 2010, The New Yorker)

n early 1943, long before Major Martin’s body washed up onshore, the German military had begun to think hard about Allied intentions in southern Europe. The Allies had won control of North Africa from the Germans, and were clearly intending to cross the Mediterranean. But where would they attack? One school of thought said Sardinia. It was lightly defended and difficult to reinforce. The Allies could mount an invasion of the island relatively quickly. It would be ideal for bombing operations against southern Germany, and Italy’s industrial hub in the Po Valley, but it didn’t have sufficient harbors or beaches to allow for a large number of ground troops to land. Sicily did. It was also close enough to North Africa to be within striking distance of Allied short-range fighter planes, and a successful invasion of Sicily had the potential to knock the Italians out of the war.

Mussolini was in the Sicily camp, as was Field Marshal Kesselring, who headed up all German forces in the Mediterranean. In the Italian Commando Supremo, most people picked Sardinia, however, as did a number of senior officers in the German Navy and Air Force. Meanwhile, Hitler and the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht—the German armed-forces High Command—had a third candidate. They thought that the Allies were most likely to strike at Greece and the Balkans, given the Balkans’ crucial role in supplying the German war effort with raw materials such as oil, bauxite, and copper. And Greece was far more vulnerable to attack than Italy. As the historians Samuel Mitcham and Friedrich von Stauffenberg have pointed out, “in Greece all Axis reinforcements and supplies would have to be shipped over a single rail line of limited capacity, running for 1,300 kilometers (more than 800 miles) through an area vulnerable to air and partisan attack.”

All these assessments were strategic inferences from an analysis of known facts. But this kind of analysis couldn’t point to a specific target. It could only provide a range of probabilities. The intelligence provided by Major Martin’s documents was in a different category. It was marvellously specific. It said: Greece and Sardinia. But because that information washed up onshore, as opposed to being derived from the rational analysis of known facts, it was difficult to know whether it was true. As the political scientist Richard Betts has argued, in intelligence analysis there tends to be an inverse relationship between accuracy and significance, and this is the dilemma posed by the Mincemeat case.

As Macintyre observes, the informational supply chain that carried the Mincemeat documents from Huelva to Berlin was heavily corrupted. The first great enthusiast for the Mincemeat find was the head of German intelligence in Madrid, Major Karl-Erich Kühlenthal. He personally flew the documents to Berlin, along with a report testifying to their significance. But, as Macintyre writes, Kühlenthal was “a one-man espionage disaster area.” One of his prized assets was a Spaniard named Juan Pujol García, who was actually a double agent. When British code breakers looked at Kühlenthal’s messages to Berlin, they found that he routinely embellished and fictionalized his reports. According to Macintyre, Kühlenthal was “frantically eager to please, ready to pass on anything that might consolidate his reputation,” in part because he had some Jewish ancestry and was desperate not to be posted back to Germany.

When the documents arrived in Berlin, they were handed over to one of Hitler’s top intelligence analysts, a man named Alexis Baron von Roenne. Von Roenne vouched for their veracity as well. But in some respects von Roenne was even less reliable than Kühlenthal. He hated Hitler and seemed to have done everything in his power to sabotage the Nazi war effort. Before D Day, Macintyre writes, “he faithfully passed on every deception ruse fed to him, accepted the existence of every bogus unit regardless of evidence, and inflated forty-four divisions in Britain to an astonishing eighty-nine.” It is entirely possible, Macintyre suggests, that von Roenne “did not believe the Mincemeat deception for an instant.”

These are two fine examples of why the proprietary kind of information that spies purvey is so much riskier than the products of rational analysis. Rational inferences can be debated openly and widely. Secrets belong to a small assortment of individuals, and inevitably become hostage to private agendas. Kühlenthal was an advocate of the documents because he needed them to be true; von Roenne was an advocate of the documents because he suspected them to be false. In neither case did the audiences for their assessments have an inkling about their private motivations. As Harold Wilensky wrote in his classic work “Organizational Intelligence” (1967), “The more secrecy, the smaller the intelligent audience, the less systematic the distribution and indexing of research, the greater the anonymity of authorship, and the more intolerant the attitude toward deviant views.” Wilensky had the Bay of Pigs debacle in mind when he wrote that. But it could just as easily have applied to any number of instances since, including the private channels of “intelligence” used by members of the Bush Administration to convince themselves that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

It was the requirement of secrecy that also prevented the Germans from properly investigating the Mincemeat story. They had to make it look as if they had no knowledge of Martin’s documents. So their hands were tied. The dated papers in Martin’s pockets indicated that he had been in the water for barely five days. Had the Germans seen the body, though, they would have realized that it was far too decomposed to have been in the water for less than a week. And, had they talked to the Spanish coroner who examined Martin, they would have discovered that he had noticed various red flags. The doctor had seen the bodies of many drowned fishermen in his time, and invariably there were fish and crab bites on the ears and other appendages. In this case, there were none. Hair, after being submerged for a week, becomes brittle and dull. Martin’s hair was not. Nor did his clothes appear to have been in the water very long. But the Germans couldn’t talk to the coroner without blowing their cover. Secrecy stood in the way of accuracy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:10 PM


Have your cake and make it, too (Susan Banks, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Cakes baked from scratch usually have a firmer crumb and are not as moist as those made from a mix. King Arthur Flour recognizes this and now sells a "cake enhancer" that the specialty baking company says is widely used in commercial baked products, and when added to scratch cakes, will make them moister and more "box like."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:04 PM


Hawaii House Seat Slipping Away From Democrats (Susan Davis, 5/06/10, WSJ)

Maryland Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen, who runs the Democrats’ campaign operation, told reporters that they would “have to re-evaluate” their efforts to win. Translation: The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is likely going to pull out of the race altogether.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:15 AM


Two countries, one looming political test (David S. Broder, May 6, 2010, Washington Post)

Thursday's voting in England, Scotland and Wales will determine whether it is possible to assemble a majority in Parliament for either the Labor government that has ruled for 13 years or the Conservatives, who have furnished the strongest consistent opposition. The rise of the third-force Liberal Democrats creates the possibility of a hung Parliament and a protracted period of inter-party bargaining.

Meantime, four years after Sen. Joe Lieberman showed in Connecticut that a prominent national Democrat could prevail at the polls as an independent, Charlie Crist, the Republican governor of Florida, has decided to attempt to duplicate that feat in the U.S. Senate race after losing the support of his party.

If either of the third-party or independent challenges succeeds on either side of the Atlantic, it would clearly signal to other ambitious politicians that old loyalties of the two-party era have been so weakened by the combination of modern media politics and tough economic times that they cannot prevail.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:12 AM


Remembering Ernie Harwell: To know the longtime voice of the Detroit Tigers, through the radio or in person, was to love him (King Kaufman, 5/05/10, Salon)

The best three days I ever spent on the clock were the three days I spent in Detroit with Ernie Harwell, the longtime voice of the Detroit Tigers, in 2002, his last year in the broadcast booth. [...]

When he announced that 2002 would be his last season, I wanted to write about him, so I got in touch with him through the Tigers, asking if I could come to Detroit for a few days, hang out with him, shadow him. A day or so later there was a voicemail message. That incredible voice was right on my phone! I saved it for as long as I could. I wish I still had it:

"King, this is Ernie Harwell from Detroit. I don't know that there's much to write about me, but sure, come on up."

I had planned to write about a fundamental shift in the way people follow baseball, about how Harwell was one of the last of the old radio men who were identified with a team as much as any player, often more than any player. Now, with most games on TV, far more games on national TV, larger squads of announcers and the Internet providing more baseball information than any one person could ever absorb, fans weren't dependent on that one broadcaster to serve as the conduit to their team.

Yes. Well, it seemed interesting in my head. A little of that stuff made it into the piece, but after about 10 minutes with Ernie Harwell, I knew that my story couldn't be about anything but Ernie Harwell.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:11 AM


Six of 10 Say Tea Party Support for a Candidate Makes No Difference (Bruce Drake, 5/05/10, Politics Daily)

Fifty-nine percent of Americans say Tea Party movement support for a congressional candidate wouldn't make much difference in their voting decision, according to a Washington Post/ABC News poll conducted April 22-25. Twenty-three percent say they would be more likely to oppose a Tea Party-favored candidate while 14 percent said they would be more likely to support him or her.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:05 AM


Stoudemire leads ‘Los Suns’ over Spurs, 110-102 (BOB BAUM, 05/05/10, Daily Caller)

Los Suns ganaron. That means the Suns won. Amare Stoudemire had 23 points and 11 rebounds, Channing Frye made 5 of 6 3-pointers, and Phoenix, wearing its orange “Los Suns” jerseys in part to protest Arizona’s new anti-immigration law, pulled away for a 110-102 victory over the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday night, taking a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference semifinals.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:56 AM


Chocolate Chip Cookies Worth Waiting For (Lee White, 5/06/10, The Day)

Ellie explained to me that these cookies never go flat and she was absolutely right. She said you must use Land O'Lakes margarine and King Arthur flour. She also said you should mix by hand. I didn't and I hope she will forgive me. [...]

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Given to me by Ellie Bengston (adapted from Gladys Jones-and just a little more from me).

Makes 25 to 30 cookies

2¼ cups King Arthur all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup (2 sticks) Land O'Lakes margarine, softened

1 cup brown sugar

½ cup granulated sugar

2 large eggs, nearly at room temperature

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 cups (12-ounce) packaged, real semi-sweet chocolate chips

2 cups coarsely cut walnuts (I used pecans that I had toasted)

In a small bowl, whisk flour, baking soda, and salt; put aside.

In a large bowl, cream margarine and both sugars in a large bowl (I used my KitchenAid, but you can beat them yourself if you're strong enough). In the KitchenAid, I mix at medium-high for about 2 minutes. With a rubber spatula, clean the bowl. Add eggs, one at a time, and vanilla and mix for a few minutes. Remove bowl from mixture and add chocolate chips and walnuts or pecans. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and chill (for a couple of hours or up to a day or two).

Turn oven to 375 degrees. Ready two or three ungreased sheet pans (I use my silicon sheets; if you don't have them, use parchment). Using a heaping teaspoon (I love my 1½-inch spring-loaded scoop), place round cookie batter on the pan, at least 1 inch apart. Bake at 10 or so minutes until lightly browned. Remove from the pan and let cool for 2 minutes, then remove to wire racks to cool completely.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:46 AM


Obama philosophy of influence puts him at odds with base on court nominee (Jon Ward, 5/05/10, The Daily Caller)

President Obama’s is at odds with his Democratic base on who he should pick to replace Justice John Paul Stevens on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Obama wants to put a politician on the court — or rather, he wants a jurist with political skills: the ability to get in a room (a court room, a back room) with the other justices, be likable, impressive and persuasive and win their vote.

“It’s very important that the president select somebody who can be persuasive with the other justices,” said Susan Liss, of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University. [...]

However, many among the president’s base want a liberal flame-thrower, not a lefty known for being liked by conservatives. All of the four names on the current short list – Diane Wood, Elena Kagan, Merrick Garland and Sidney Thomas – fit the second bill.

Intellectuals, for obvious reasons, believe that the brilliance of an opinion matters, as if a sufficiently bright argument were going to makr the outher justices yield to superior wisdom. The reality is that a great justice like William Brennan was perfectly willing to sign onto a moronic opinion if that meant the justice writing it would vote with him. The law is changed by the worst-reasoned case law, not the best.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:33 AM


Voting begins as final polls point to David Cameron victory (Daily Mail, 06.05.10)

The final newspaper polls of the campaign all put Conservatives in the lead with support ranging between 35% and 37%. The other two parties were vying for second place, with Labour apparently edging slightly ahead on 28%-29% and the Liberal Democrats on 26%-28%.

On an even swing, the figures would make the Tories the largest party, with between 268 and 294 seats in the House of Commons, but leave them well short of the 326 MPs Mr Cameron needs to lead a majority administration.

The polls suggest Labour could emerge with around 248-274 MPs, with the Liberal Democrats holding the balance of power on 77-82 seats.

But much will depend on performance in individual constituencies, particularly the 100 or so Labour/Conservative marginals which hold the key to tonight's result and where the fiercest battles have been fought.

Strategists believe that an unusually large number of voters will only make their minds up when they get into the polling booths, adding an additional layer of uncertainty to the result.

If the Lib Dems suffer a classic last-minute "third party squeeze", with voters gravitating to the two larger parties, it could even have the effect of handing the balance of power to the Welsh and Scottish nationalists or the Northern Irish parties.

The Democratic Unionist Party last night claimed that they were being courted by Mr Brown ahead of a possible hung Parliament, releasing a letter in which the Labour leader promised to maintain the size of the block grant from Westminster to Northern Ireland if he remains in 10 Downing Street.

...has to have the Oval Office fretting about what Mr. Cameron's victory over the Obama-like Mr. Brown tells us.

May 5, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:02 PM


Tea party comes up short in early primaries (DAVID ESPO, 05/05/10, AP)

With one race in Ohio yet to be settled, tea party-backed challengers and other outsiders were shut out in competitive House and Senate primaries across three states on Tuesday, the busiest night so far in an election season of optimism for Republicans.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:29 PM


Cardinal Pell, critic of the English hierarchy and no fan of the Tablet, takes charge of the world's Catholic bishops (Damian Thompson, May 5th, 2010, Daily Telegraph)

[A]ccording to authoritative sources in Rome, the Cardinal Archbishop of Sydney (a Benedict loyalist), is to succeed Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re (not a Benedict loyalist) as Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops. That will give him a significant degree of authority over the world’s 5,000 Catholic bishops. He will be able to “nudge” them – for example, to observe the conservative liturgical reforms for which he is partly responsible, such as the new English translation of the Missal.

And he will also have a huge say in who becomes a bishop in England Wales, a Church whose maladministration in recent decades has concerned him greatly. He knows this country well, and from an interesting perspective: while he was studying for his doctorate in church history at Oxford he served as chaplain to Eton. One of his best friends is Fr Alexander Sherbrooke, the OE parish priest of St Patrick’s, Soho, and one of the finest evangelists in London.

Cardinal Pell knows – knows for an absolute fact – that many English bishops are (a) not up to the job intellectually, and (b) passively obstructive towards Summorum Pontificum and Anglicanorum Coetibus. Future bishops will not enjoy the luxury of ignoring papal directives. Indeed, I suspect it won’t be long before certain current bishops have their collars felt. (Sorry to use such crude language, but he is an Aussie, and the way the E&W hierarchy ignores Vatican directives is little short of criminal.)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:23 PM


Dem Turnout Falls Off A Cliff (Reid Wilson, 5/05/10, Hotline)

Turnout among Dem voters dropped precipitously in 3 statewide primaries on Tuesday, giving the party more evidence that their voters lack enthusiasm ahead of midterm elections.

In primaries in NC, IN and OH, Dems turned out at far lower rates than they have in previous comparable elections. [...]

By contrast, GOP turnout was up almost across the board.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:09 PM


General election 2010: David Cameron eyes the prize
: Tories on course to regain power after 13 years (Patrick Wintour and Julian Glover, 5/05/10,

The Conservatives appeared to be on the brink of regaining power tonight at the end of one of the most tumultuous and tightly fought general election campaigns since the second world war.

A Guardian/ICM poll tonight showed the Conservatives with an eight-point lead over Labour, just short of what they need for an overall majority. The survey put the Conservatives on 36%, Labour on 28% and the Liberal Democrats on 26%.

There is no sign of Labour or the Lib Dems closing the gap on the Tories – and at least three other polls published tonight came up with similar results. Only one of the four polls projected Labour gaining the largest number of seats.

If the Guardian/ICM poll correctly predicts voting patterns, it would leave Cameron just short of an overall majority, but close to being able to rule with the help of unionist parties, especially if the Tory seat share is pushed higher by a stronger showing in the key marginals, the central goal of the well-funded Tory organisation. And it would leave Nick Clegg with little option but to give a Cameron minority government the first chance to try to push through a Queen's speech and budget.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:53 PM


New York Car Bomb Incident: Another False Flag? (Stephen Lendman, 05 May, 2010,

Good luck or something else? We've seen this too often not to be suspicious. This one, like others, has all the earmarks of a false flag, more likely given its coverage and location in Times Square on Saturday night, followed by a May 2 video saying the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility.

Who could imagine they had a branch office in New York, and no one even noticed. At least that's the impression from media disinformation, hyped to spread fear and prepare the public for what's to come, perhaps something much worse.

In addition, like previous times, a suspect is already in custody, a Muslim, of course, as part of the anti-Islamic post-9/11 rage, and given how abusively he may be treated (including frightening threats of life in prison or the death penalty), perhaps will confess to anything or make it appear that he did so headlines can blare it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:37 PM


US courts India in the Indian Ocean (Balaji Chandramohan, 5/05/10, Asia Times)

At the end of the 10-day joint naval exercise Malabar 10, conducted between India and the United States in the Arabian Sea, it became clear the two countries would further cooperate in the Indian Ocean to counter the rise of China in the years to come. The naval war games were held from April 23 to May 2, with these being the 14th in a series of exercises that began in 1992 after the end of the Cold War.

Unlike last year, this month's exercise was a bilateral rather than a multilateral affair. Countries that participated in the 2009 exercise were absent, including Singapore, Japan and Australia, leading to speculation these nations didn't want to antagonize Beijing. The absence of the Quadrilateral Initiative (known as "Quad" or the "axis of democracy") provides a glaring observation in the Malabar 10 exercise.

The Malabar 10 could be the start of a new great game between India and China in the Indian Ocean, with the United States acting as a leveler.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:27 PM


Top House Democrat Obey Won't Seek Re-Election (SUSAN DAVIS And GREG HITT, 5/05/10, WSJ)

Rep. David Obey (D., Wis.,), the third-longest-serving member of the House of Representatives, is calling it quits after more than 40 years in office, a Democratic Party official said.

The blustery and often blunt-spoken chairman of the House Appropriations Committee has decided he will not seek a 21st full term this November, the official said Wednesday.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:35 AM


Enhancing the Placebo (OLIVIA JUDSON, 5/03/10, NY Times)

[T]he most reliable source of a strong placebo effect appears to be: the doctor.

Placebo treatments are more powerful if your doctor believes in them. They are also more powerful if the doctor tells you so. In one study, for example, patients who had just come out of surgery were given a saline infusion, and — whenever they asked for it — the pain killer buprenorphine. However, some patients were told the saline infusion was a powerful painkiller, others that it might be one, while a third group wasn’t told anything. Over the course of three days, those in the “know-nothing” group asked for more buprenorphine than those in the “maybe” group, who in turn asked for more than those told they were getting a real drug.

Which highlights a problem. Since deception of patients is unethical, some argue that the placebo has no place in the actual practice of medicine.

But the matter is more nuanced. As the morphine example shows, the placebo effect also enhances “real” treatments. So the key is to figure out how to maximize that enhancement without lying. One idea would be to deliberately increase the element of formal ritual in medicine. Studies of “alternative” therapies show that strong placebo effects can be induced by ritual. Indeed, in mainstream medicine, surgery is the treatment most surrounded by ritual; perhaps this is one reason it appears to be the most powerful placebo.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:17 AM


Clueless on immigration (Ruben Navarette, 5/05/10, San Diego Union-Tribune)

Latino Democrats have been telling themselves that the reason Obama broke his campaign promise to work for immigration reform in his first year is because he had a full plate of other issues. They swallowed every disappointment – when the administration kept up the policy of raiding workplaces, when Obama dedicated just 37 words to immigration in his State of the Union address, when it was revealed that Immigration and Customs Enforcement uses quotas to ratchet up the number of deportations.

In the latest setback, activists are quietly fuming that Obama couldn’t summon a stronger word than “misguided” to describe Arizona’s racial profiling law – something for which The New York Times editorial page also took Obama to task.

Why would this surprise anyone? Obama has a poor record on immigration. As a senator, he joined Democratic leader Harry Reid in trying to kill an immigration reform bill with poison pill amendments – all to please organized labor, which preferred no bill to one with guest workers.

Obama has also been more than willing to play politics with the immigration issue for short-term gain. My theory is that Obama falls into the part of the liberal spectrum that is leery of immigration reform because of concerns that immigrant labor hurts blue-collar workers, especially African-Americans.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:09 AM


Tea party groups battling perceptions of racism (Amy Gardner and Krissah Thompson, 5/05/10, Washington Post)

"We don't want the worst elements to take this over," said Brendan Steinhauser, campaign director for FreedomWorks, a national group that helps coordinate tea party activists. "If they do, the tea party loses independents, it loses moderates, it loses people who don't tolerate this. Being a racist is one of the worst things you can be in this society. No one wants to be labeled this."

The challenge is made tougher by one of the defining elements of the tea party movement: No one person controls it. There is no national communications strategy. And incidents of racist slogans and derisive depictions of President Obama continue to crop up, providing fuel for critics who say the president's skin color is a powerful reason behind the movement's existence.

The problem with trying to be a party of individuals is that you aren't alone.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:03 AM


Coats wins right to face Ellsworth (WANE, 04 May 2010)

Coats, 66, retired from the Senate in 1998, has worked as a lobbyist and was U.S. ambassador to Germany under President George W. Bush. He overcame spirited challenges from four, including state Sen. Marlin Stutzman, a tea party favorite who was endorsed by South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, and former Rep. John Hostettler, who had the support of one-time presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas.

...the GOP just keeps nominating guys who can actually retain these seats, not just win them once, like in '80 and '94.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:48 AM


Poll: Independent Voters Deserting the Democrats in Droves (Peter Roff, 5/05/10, Thomas Jefferson Street blog)

By a margin of better than 2 to 1, self-identified independents agreed that an increase in the number of Republicans in Congress is necessary in order to bring about “a check and balance on runaway Washington government.” Independents also agreed that the country is on “the wrong track” by a 65 to 25 percent margin.

Most surveys, including this one from Resurgent Republic, show the GOP electorate approaches the upcoming election with much greater intensity than the Democrats. Sixty-four percent of Republicans now say they are “absolutely certain to vote” in November. [...]

The impact of all this could be staggering. The party in power, which, in 2010 is the Democrats, suffers an average loss of 41 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives when the president’s job approval rating is below 50 percent, where Obama’s seems to have, for the moment, settled.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:33 AM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:26 AM


ERNIE HARWELL | 1918-2010: Hall of Fame announcer dead at 92 (JOHN LOWE, 5/04/10, Detroit FREE PRESS)

Harwell had one of the longest runs by a broadcaster with one major league club, calling Tigers games for 42 seasons. For the first 32 of those seasons, he made and cemented his legacy by doing play-by-play on the radio. His Southern voice — rich and authoritative but not overbearing — became as distinctive to Michigan listeners as baseball itself.

Unlike some announcers in recent decades, Harwell didn’t litter his broadcasts with shouting, excessive talking or all-knowing pronouncements about players and managers. Listening to him was as pleasant as being at Tiger Stadium in the summertime. As he fell silent between pitches, listeners got to hear the sounds of the ballpark — the crowd’s buzz, the vendor’s cry — and absorb the rhythm of the game. Harwell thus became an ideal companion for a listener anywhere: the couch, the yard, the car or the boat.

“He’s a master craftsman,” former Tigers broadcaster Josh Lewin, now with the Texas Rangers, said in 2002. “He’s always kept it simple, which I think is part of his charm and staying power.”

In 2005, author and historian Curt Smith ranked Harwell as the third-greatest baseball announcer ever, only placing him behind Dodgers legend Vin Scully and Yankees stalwart Mel Allen. Just behind Harwell were St. Louis’ Jack Buck and New York’s Red Barber. Smith, a student of baseball broadcasting, had 10 criteria for his rankings, ranging from longevity and acclaim to voice and personality.

RIP Ernie Harwell (Joe Posnanski, 5/04/10)
In this life, you only get to meet so many beautiful people. I’ve been lucky. I knew Buck O’Neil. And I knew Ernie Harwell. This is the story I wrote about Ernie last September for Sports Illustrated. You know one of Ernie’s favorite poems was Sam Walter Foss’ “The House by the Side of the Road.” He would sometimes use a line or two during his broadcasts.

The key line in the poem: “Let me live in my house by the side of the road/and be a friend to man,”

For 92 years, William Earnest Harwell was a friend to man. Rest in peace Ernie.

-TRIBUTE: Ernie Harwell Remembered (
Celebrating Ernie Harwell: Memories, photos and audio of the legendary Tigers broadcaster, who died of cancer May 4. (May 5, 2010, Detroit Free Press)
-TRIBUTE: to Ernie Harwell (Deroit Free Press)
-TRIBUTE: Ernie Harwell had great optimism, humor (DREW SHARP, 5/05/10, FREE PRESS)
-TRIBUTE: Mr. Harwell, a humble, spiritual man (ROCHELLE RILEY, 5/05/10, FREE PRESS)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:21 AM


Luther, BBC One, review: Serena Davies reviews Luther, the new BBC One crime drama starring The Wire's Idris Elba (Serena Davies, 5/03/10, Daily Telegraph)

The BBC has done a very clever thing with its new cop series, Luther (BBC One). It has cast The Coolest Man In The World in the lead role. This man is Idris Elba. [...]

Luther, it turns out, is a zany detective series set on the mean streets of London. It’s beautifully shot, full of slick architectural vistas, and boasts the versatile and saucy Ruth Wilson as its villainess, an astrophysicist prodigy who shot her parents.

It is formulaic, though. Its “big idea” is that we know the killer from the start of each episode – something Columbo did for decades. Spooks writer Neil Cross has created a maverick cop who is haunted by that maverick cop cliché of having killed a man while on the job. His team think he’s unreliable but keep him on because of his brilliant criminal intuition (see also Wallander, Cracker, Prime Suspect).

And, unfortunately, Luther lets Elba down. That “brilliant” intuition isn’t brilliant enough. Its chief example last night came when Luther realised he was interviewing the guilty party because she didn’t yawn when he did, from which he decided she lacked empathy and had to be a murderer. By that logic, several of my colleagues are serial killers.

A few years back he was on an episode of Inspector Lynley and I was impressed at how good his accent was.

May 4, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:09 PM


I’d never voted Tory. But changing was easy: The tribalism of British politics is a mystery to me and I hope it doesn’t cost Cameron his chance to govern (Daniel Finkelstein, 5/03/10, Times of London)

[T]here was a problem. One I found more and more difficult to ignore. It just seemed that again and again, the Right was more, well, right. The economic policies coming out of the Left ranged from the disastrous to the silly. The unions, basically a destructive force, were accorded too much respect and given too much power. The Left seemed incapable of understanding the need for a strong defence policy. So in 1992 I became a Conservative.

Some of this Tony Blair could see and put right. I liked his social liberalism, I thought him often moderate and reasonable, I shared his Atlanticism, and (I duck for cover here) I found him rather charismatic, and still do. But I am not at all surprised that his new Labour project is ending in failure. Because while he changed much about Labour, there are things he couldn’t change.

Like every Labour government, this one has spent too much. On every single occasion — honestly, every time — the party has been in office for more than nine months, there has been a huge economic crisis, made worse by its public spending. Underpinning this mistake are two wrong-headed ideas that are deeply (indeed, almost unconsciously) held on the Left.

The first (understandable but incorrect) is that it is cruel to say no to requests for spending and to interest groups. The second is that for every problem there must be a government response. I am a pragmatic person. I don’t have some abstract, ideological aversion to ever spending taxpayers’ money. But surely Labour has now tested this approach to destruction.

Yet, if we abandon this spendthrift policy, we must reform public services so that they are sustainable on budgets that grow less quickly. And Labour has failed on this too. Its coalition of old and new — a gallery to which Gordon Brown was playing for more than a decade — slowed reform until Mr Blair ran out of time and the rest of us ran out of money and patience.

When Mr Cameron called himself the “heir to Blair”, I think this is what he meant. That the Conservative Party needed to change to face the modern world, to make itself a welcoming home for social liberals and moderates, and people who felt Tory rhetoric had been too harsh. And when it did so, it would be ready to put right what Mr Blair and Mr Brown got wrong. I hope he now gets the chance to see it through.

It's easy enough to understand that the Third Way projects of Margaret Thatcher and George W. Bush both provoked reactions from the unreformed First Way wings of their respective conservative parties and that, likewise, Bill Clinton and Tony Blair provoked their Second Way diehards. But David Cameron is the first self-consciously second generation of Third Way pols in a party that has already been through the reactionary phase--the 2012 Republican nominee will follow in short order--so the question is: can a party change permanently and embrace the middle road, which has shown itself to not only be effective as to policy but ridiculously successful as electoral politics? The party that did so would stand to dominate its country's politics for an era.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:25 PM


Broad Coalition of Religious Groups Push for Immigration Reform (Amy Sullivan, 4/30/10, TIME)

The near-universal support among religious groups for comprehensive immigration reform, including a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, is a change from the bruising fights over health reform that often saw faith leaders faced off against each other. But across theological lines, religious advocates say their traditions obligate them to care for immigrants. As the group New Evangelicals for the Common Good put it in a statement opposing the Arizona law: Throughout the Bible, God commands us in no uncertain terms to show kindness and hospitality to the foreigner and the stranger.

The Catholic Church is the biggest player in the push for immigration reform. The issue has long been a concern of the church and was a lesser-noted reason the bishops conference ultimately opposed health reform. The USCCB strongly criticized the health measure for prohibiting illegal immigrants from participating in the insurance exchange, writing that undocumented immigrants should not be barred from purchasing a health insurance plan with their own money.

The USCCB is encouraging swift action on comprehensive immigration reform through its Justice for Immigrants campaign, which has provided hundreds of thousands of postcards for parishioners to send to Congress and sponsored teach-ins on the issue in dioceses around the country. A March 2010 poll by Public Religious Research found that of church-going Americans, Catholics were the most likely to say they had heard their local clergy member speak sometimes or often about immigration reform.

But while Catholics may be the most visible religious supporters of immigration reform, they are a joined by a broad coalition of other faith advocates. The Interfaith Immigration Coalition includes Quaker, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, mainline Protestant, evangelical Christian, and Catholic organizations.

You can be a Christian or oppose immigration.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:23 PM


Roy Blunt Hits 50 Percent Mark in Missouri Senate Race (Bruce Drake, 05/4/10, Politics Daily)

Seven-term Republican Rep. Roy Blunt has slightly increased his lead over Democrat Robin Carnahan, Missouri's Secretary of State in their race to win the seat of GOP Sen. Kit Bond who is retiring, according to a Rasmussen Reports poll conducted May 3.

Blunt has now reached the 50 percent mark while Carnahan's support is at 42 percent, with 4 percent preferring another candidate and 4 percent undecided.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:21 PM


Mammograms catch few cancers in young women: study (Reuters, 5/04/10)

Mammograms detect few cancers in women under the age of 40 but cause expense and anxiety because women frequently get "false positives" that require follow-up to rule out cancer, researchers reported on Monday.

Mammograms did not detect any tumors among women under the age of 25, the researchers reported in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

The study of more than 117,000 U.S. women may reinforce controversial recommendations about the use of mammograms to screen for breast cancer among younger women.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:22 AM


Poll: Americans Sympathetic on Immigration, Desire Secure Borders (ALAN GOMEZ, May 4, 2010 , ABC News)

"On the one hand, they don't like the idea that people are breaking our immigration laws, that it appears we have a southern border that is out of control," Jimenez said. "On the other hand, they think the people coming here who work hard, who have dreams of a better life, are really participating in an American tradition that is as old as this country."

In the poll, 68 percent say it is extremely important or very important to halt the flow of illegal immigrants into the country, and 67 percent say it is extremely or very important to develop a plan to deal with about 12 million illegal immigrants in the USA. Yet 74 percent are somewhat or very concerned that tougher immigration laws would lead to harassment of Hispanics.

Immigration is one of those supposed hot button issues where the polling is actually rather consistent: an overwhelming majority of Americans are pro-immigration but wish they hadn't broken the law coming here. It's so easy to vindicate both concerns that only two parties bitterly divided over the similarity of their politics could fail to achieve reform.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:45 AM

First Listen: The National, 'High Violet' (Stephen Thompson, 5/02/10, NPR)

EPs and an odds-and-ends collection aside, High Violet is The National's fifth album, and it spends a good deal of time gently roughing up the glimmering beauty of its divine predecessor, Boxer. But the new record still achieves the balance that's made the band so widely beloved: It locates the sweet spot between majesty and mopery, catharsis and wallowing, soaring grace and wounded confessionals.

Formed in Cincinnati and based in Brooklyn, N.Y., The National finds Berninger collaborating with two pairs of brothers: Aaron and Bryce Dessner (both guitarists, with Aaron also playing piano) and Bryan and Scott Devendorf (on bass and drums, respectively). High Violet, their first new studio album in three years, will stream here in its entirety until its release on May 11.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:24 AM


Judicial Supremacy and the Constitution: We need to reclaim the Constitution from the Supreme Court. (Robert Lowry Clinton, 5/03/10, National Review)

What the Constitution does not do is establish the Supreme Court as the ultimate or exclusive arbiter of all constitutional questions, entitled to issue binding proclamations to other agencies of government on any constitutional issue whatsoever. Judicial supremacy, in this sense, was largely unknown throughout the first century and a half of our nation’s constitutional existence, and was not claimed even by the Court itself until 1958. In that year, the Court declared for the first time in its history that its constitutional decisions were the supreme law of the land, along with the Constitution itself, national laws, and federal treaties. This declaration effectively amended Article VI by judicial fiat, giving truth to the earlier remark of Chief Justice Hughes that “the Constitution is what the Court says it is.” Since that time, the Court has provided abundant evidence for the truth of Justice Scalia’s 1992 observation that “the imperial judiciary lives.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:56 AM


From Britain's conservatives, lessons for the GOP (E.J. Dionne Jr., May 3, 2010, Washington Post)

"There's something else you need to know about me," declared the earnest young politician, "which is I believe the test of a good and strong society is how we look after the most vulnerable, the most frail and the poorest." This lovely bleeding-heart-liberal sentiment was part of the closing statement offered by David Cameron, the leader of Britain's Conservative Party, at last week's final debate before this Thursday's election. And after a rocky campaign start, Cameron now leads in the polls and may well become the next prime minister.

Contrast Cameron's deliberate effort to reach out to voters who, as he has put it, have "idealism and progressive ideals hard-wired into their DNA" with what's happening in the Republican Party.

In today's GOP, someone like Cameron would be condemned as a big-government sellout and buried under a mountain of tea bags.

Marco Rubio's Rino status hasn't hurt him. And every contrender for the 2012 nomination is a Rino, being governors.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:53 AM


Feingold Return No Sure Thing (Stuart Rothenerg, 5/03/10, Roll Call)

Let’s be clear: Russ Feingold isn’t damaged goods the way Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is, and he isn’t running in a Republican-leaning state, the way Rep. Brad Ellsworth (D-Ind.) is. He’s an aggressive campaigner who has always tried to avoid the Washington insider label.

But Feingold’s numbers suggest a serious GOP challenger could make his life uncomfortable, and the fact that the three-term senator would go up with his first television ad in April is reason enough to take another look at the race.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:39 AM


Drivers--Not Cars--Are The Greater Danger: The brouhaha over Toyota's safety standards belies a much graver problem. (Michael Fumento, 05.03.10, Forbes)

Even bonafide defects rarely "cause" accidents. "Whether it's a defect or a child darting into the road, most crashes occur because drivers don't leave an adequate safety margin," says Leonard Evans, author of the book Traffic Safety. In one of those two Toyota accidents, the driver went 20 miles without putting the car into neutral, pushing the ignition button or glancing down to see there was a mat wedged under his accelerator and yanking it back. He ultimately slammed into another vehicle, incinerating its occupant.

Evans bemoans what he calls "the lethal American obsession with technical flaws." Indeed, a 1985 Federal Highway Administration study found only 2% of accidents were entirely related to the vehicle factors, while 12% could at least partly be blamed on the vehicle. Meanwhile 57% were due solely to driver error, and 93% involved driver error. Since then, dozens of new safety improvements have been added to vehicles.

May 3, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:23 PM


Arizona's Short-Sighted Immigration Bill (Joel Kotkin, 05.04.10, Forbes)

As Bill Frey of the Brookings Institute points out, there is a growing gap between the electorate, which is still largely white and older, and the much younger, far more rapidly growing Latino population. In Arizona Frey says the "cultural generation gap" between the ethnicity of seniors and children is some 40%, meaning that while 83% of senior are white, only 43% of children are. Nationwide, Frey estimates the gap in the ethnic composition of seniors and youths stands at a still sizable 25 points.

Arizona's large disequilibrium in the ethnicity of its generations is a product, in part, of the state's historic pull to white retirees. Yet its formerly booming economy, based largely around construction and tourism, required a massive importation of largely Latino, low-wage labor, much of it illegal. As a result over the past two decades, Arizona's Latino population has grown by 180%, turning what had been a 72% Anglo state to one that is merely 58% white.

You don't have to go very far--in fact just across the California border--to see what awaits Arizona's nativist Republicans. The Grand Canyon state's future has already emerged there. In the 1970s and 1980s California's generally robust economy made it a primary destination for immigrants from both Asia and Latin America. Comfortable in their Anglo-ness, papers like the Arizona Republic were dismissing California as a "third world state," particularly in the wake of the 1992 LA riots.

Like their Arizona counterparts today, many white Californians then were sickened by pictures of mass Latino participation in looting during the riots. Many were also concerned with soaring costs of providing social services to a largely poor immigrant population. Sensing an opportunity, in 1994 Gov. Pete Wilson--locked in tough re-election battle amid a deep recession--endorsed Proposition 187, a measure designed to prevent illegal aliens from accessing public services. The measure passed easily, with support from both whites and African-Americans. The strong backing among Independents and even some Democrats helped Wilson win re-election with surprising ease.

But the long-term consequences of 187 reveal the longer-term consequences for the GOP. During the Reagan era and even the first Wilson term, Latino voters split their votes fairly evenly between the parties. But after 1994 there was a distinct turn toward the Democrats, with the GOP share at the gubernatorial level falling from nearly half in 1990 to less than a third in subsequent election. In some cases, right-wing Republicans garnered even smaller portions of Latino voters.

This is a classic case of the past waging war on the future. that the younger generation will just have a different immigrant group they want to keep out.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:04 PM


The Left Loses Its Way by Abandoning 'Third Way' (Michael Barone, 5/03/10, Real Clear Politics)

Clinton "third way" New Democrats and Blair's "New Labor" party seemed to have a bright and long future ahead. Clinton's designated successor, Al Gore, despite some ham-handed campaigning, came out ahead in the popular vote in 2000 and lost the presidency by only some hundreds of votes in Florida. With Blair at its head, Labor won unprecedented re-election victories in 2001 and 2005.

Now, less than a generation later, both New Democrats and New Labour seem defunct.

Both parties have moved well to the left. Barack Obama and Blair's successor, Gordon Brown, head governments that are running budget deficits of 10 percent of gross domestic product. Both are promoting higher taxes and expansion of government programs.

The financial crisis is one reason for the large deficits. But it is undeniable that to varying extents both Obama and Brown have pursued more statist policies than their predecessors did a dozen years ago.

And it is undeniable, too, that both are in trouble with the voters.

In these circumstances, it is surprising that the pundit class is not chiding Obama and Brown for abandoning the politically successful policies of Clinton and Blair. The same pundit class is always ready to chide American Republicans and British Conservatives for not pursuing the courses that Rockefeller Republicans and pre-Thatcher "wet" Conservatives pursued with some political success a much longer time ago.

...who has the pundit class ever hated more than the two great Third Way pols of the Anglospheric Right, Maggie and W? They bitter-cling to the failed Second Way just as the Right does to the failed First. It is the people of the Anglosphere who have moved on.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:03 PM


Much to Love, and Hate, in a VAT (N. GREGORY MANKIW, 4/30/10, NY Times)

[C]onservatives have long argued that the American tax system is grossly inefficient and impedes the economy’s ability to reach its full potential. They contend that taxing consumption is better than taxing income, and a value-added tax does exactly that.

Moreover, a VAT is the twin of the flat tax that conservatives sometimes advocate. To see why, imagine that we started with a VAT. Then we add a wrinkle: We allow businesses to deduct wages, in addition to the cost of goods and services. We also require households to pay a tax on their wage income.

Other than shifting the responsibility for the tax on wages from the business to the household, it might seem that we haven’t done anything significant. Indeed, we haven’t. But the new tax system would no longer be a VAT. It would be the flat tax that Robert E. Hall and Alvin Rabushka first proposed back in 1981.

So why, if these two tax systems are really the same, are conservatives attracted to the flat tax and repelled by the VAT? It is because the flat tax is usually proposed as a substitute for our current tax system, whereas the VAT is often suggested as an addition to it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:25 PM

From Blog Stuff

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:07 PM


Ahmadinejad at the UN: US the real nuclear threat (Howard LaFranchi, May 3, 2010, CS Monitor)

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad condemned the United States and Israel as two of the world’s “real” nuclear threats and called for nuclear energy to be shared with all countries in his speech at a major United Nations nuclear non-proliferation conference Monday.

You'd think realizing that would curb his behavior some, except, of course, that he's nuts.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:57 PM


Growing America: Demographics and Destiny (Joel Kotkin, 05/03/2010 , New Geography)

Americans also are more settled than any time in our history-partially a function of an aging population-and thus more concerned with local developments. As recently as the 1970s, one in five Americans moved annually; in 2004 that number was 14 percent, the lowest rate since 1950. In 2008, barely one in 10 moved, a fraction of the rate in the 1960s. Workers are increasingly unwilling to move even for a promotion due to family and other concerns. The recession accelerated this process, but the pattern appears likely to persist even in good times.

Americans also prefer to live in decentralized environments. There are more than 65,000 general-purpose governments; the average local jurisdiction population in the United States is 6,200-small enough that nonprofessional politicians can have a serious impact on local issues. This contrasts with the vast preference among academic planners, policy gurus and the national media for larger government units as the best way to regulate and plan for the future.

Short of a draconian expansion of federal power, this dispersion is likely to continue. Roughly 80 to 90 percent of all metropolitan growth in the last decade took place on the periphery; at the same time, the patterns of domestic migration have seen a shift away from the biggest cities and toward smaller ones. As Joel Garreau noted in his classic Edge City, "planners drool" over high-density development, but most residents in suburbia "hate a lot of this stuff." They might enjoy a town center, a paseo or a walking district, but they usually resent the proliferation of high-rises or condo complexes. If they wanted to live in buildings like them, they would have stayed in the city.

Attempts to force major densification in these areas will be fiercely resisted, even in the most liberal communities. Some of the strongest anti-growth hotbeds in the nation are areas like Fairfax County, Va., with high concentrations of progressives-well educated people who might seem amenable to environmentally correct "smart growth"-advocating denser development along transit corridors. As one planning director in a well-to-do suburban Maryland county put it, "Smart growth is something people want. They just don't want it in their own neighborhood."

The great long-term spur to successful dispersion will come from technology, as James Martin first saw in his pioneering 1978 book, The Wired Society. A former software designer for IBM, Martin foresaw the emergence of mass telecommunications that would allow a massive reduction in commuting, greater deconcentration of workplaces and a "localization of physical activities … centered in local communities."

Technology would allow skilled people to congregate in communities of their choice or at home. Today not only knowledge workers but also those in construction trades, agriculture and other professions are home-based, conducting their operations out of trucks, vans or home offices.

Many leading-edge companies now recognize this trend. As much as 40 percent of IBM's work force operates full time at home or remotely at clients' businesses. Siemens, Hewlett-Packard, Cisco, Merrill Lynch and American Express have expanded their use of telecommuting, with noted increases in productivity.

At the same time, employment is shifting away from mega-corporations to smaller units and individuals; between 1980 and 2000, self-employed individuals expanded tenfold to include 16 percent of the work force. The smallest businesses, the microenterprises, have enjoyed the fastest rate of growth, far more than any other business category. By 2006 there were some 20 million such businesses, one for every six private-sector workers.

Hard economic times could slow this trend, but recessions have historically served as incubators of innovation and entrepreneurship. Many individuals starting new firms will have recently left or been laid off by bigger companies, particularly during a severe economic downturn. Whether they form a new bank, energy company or design firm, they will do it more efficiently-with less overhead, more efficient Internet use and less emphasis on pretentious office settings. In addition, they will do it primarily in places that can scale themselves to economic realities.

Simultaneously the Internet's rise allows every business-indeed every family-unprecedented access to information, something that militates against centralized power. Given Internet access, many lay people aren't easily intimidated into accepting the ability of "experts" to dictate solutions based on exclusive knowledge since the hoi polloi now possess the ability to gather and analyze information. Even the powerful media companies are rapidly losing their ability to define agendas; there are too many sources of information to mobilize mass opinion. The widespread breakdown of support for climate change is a recent example of this phenomenon.

Once the current drive for centralization falters, support for decentralization will grow, including progressive communities that now favor a heavy-handed expansion of federal power. Attempts to impose solutions from a central point will be increasingly regarded as obtrusive and oppressive to them, just as they would to many more conservative places like South Dakota. In the coming era, in many cases, only locally based solutions-agreed to at the community, municipal or state level-can possibly gather strong support.

This drive toward dispersing power will prove critical if we hope to meet the needs of an unprecedentedly diverse and complex nation of 400 million.

You can't, by definition, be diverse and be a nation. Likewise, since we aren't a nation there is no centriptal force that would hold us together in the way that the notion of all Frenchmen being a nation or all Germans or all Japanese makes them insoluble. The fact is that smaller states work better and just as we, the Canadians, the Australians, etc. just recreated Britain on a smaller scale, so too will a variety of states recreate America on a smaller scale.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:47 PM


Founding Amateurs? (GORDON S. WOOD, 5/03/10, NY Times)

THE American public is not pleased with Congress — one recent poll shows that less than a third of all voters are eager to support their representative in November. “I am not really happy right now with anybody,” a woman from Decatur, Ill., recently told a Washington Post reporter. As she considered the prospect of a government composed of fledgling lawmakers, she noted: “When the country was founded, those guys were all pretty new at it. How bad could it be?”

Actually, our founders were not all that new at it: the men who led the revolution against the British crown and created our political institutions were very used to governing themselves. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Samuel Adams and John Adams were all members of their respective Colonial legislatures several years before the Declaration of Independence. In fact, these Revolutionaries drew upon a tradition of self-government that went back a century or more. Virginians ran their county courts and elected representatives to their House of Burgesses. The people of Massachusetts gathered in town meetings and selected members of the General Court, their Colonial legislature. [...]

If one wanted to explain why the French Revolution spiraled out of control into violence and dictatorship and the American Revolution did not, there is no better answer than the fact that the Americans were used to governing themselves and the French were not.

There's another amusing Tea Party fact no one is mentioning, immigration limits were a cause of the Revolution.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:02 AM


It was an exercise in moral Botox: a review of You Don't Know Jack (Mary Eberstadt, In Character)

Thanks in part to the work of bioethicist Wesley J. Smith, we do indeed know plenty already about the doctor who might better be called Peeping Jack - more, in fact, than some readers will be able to stomach, even in a brief telling. As a medical student, he stalked corridors and entered rooms to watch people die. He next stalked prisons performing executions, repeatedly seeking the bodies of the condemned for experimentation -- a craving that led ultimately to his being ousted from residency in 1958.

He pioneered, if that is the word, experiments in transfusing blood from corpses into live people (and gave at least one human research subject hepatitis by doing so). He wanted to pioneer other tests too, but the medical establishment -- not exactly a squeamish bunch -- found his research interests somewhat alarming. He invented a killing machine he called the "Thanatron" and used it on his subjects -- most of them terminally sick, a few not -- until his license was revoked and he ran out of access to liquid poisons. At that point he started having people gas themselves instead via his "Mercitron." Smith believes that Kevorkian's eventual turn to assisting some 130 suicides was a default calling of sorts - something he turned to only when he was unable to gain access to what he really wanted. Those were the corpses of condemned prisoners - or perhaps we should make that "pre-corpses"; young Dr. Kevorkian proposed keeping them somewhat alive, near death, for purposes of medical experimentation.

What makes the HBO movie even more surreal is that Wesley Smith is hardly the only observer to have called out the ghoulish truth about Dr. Death over the years. Kevorkian's own record of public statements is such that Nancy Gibbs of Time once observed in a cover story that "Every time he speaks or writes he hands them [his critics] ammunition to dismiss him as a psychopath." Then there are the doctor's many grandstanding interviews and stunts in practically every corner of America where a camera could be found. If we don't know Jack after everything he's told us - and told us, and told us - then whom do we know?

Apparently no one, if the portrayal by HBO and the preternaturally gifted Pacino is to be believed. Their Jack is a crotchety, well-meaning, card-playing, persecuted (by the religious right, of course) sometime flautist and all-around aesthete ("Bach is my god"). In better news and to its credit, the movie does emphasize that Kevorkian is, of course, an atheist. I say "of course" because only a self-declared atheist could likely have gotten away with what Kevorkian did for as long as he did; no believer could have possibly have wrapped himself in the flag of supposed religious persecution as he and his lawyer managed for many years.

All of which may provide a key to understanding the enthusiasm for this project. Atheism in Hollywood today - like defending Roman Polanski a few months ago, or having movie stars wear reading glasses a few years before that - is a hot commodity.

A View to a Kill: Is Jack Kevorkian headed to a theater near you? (Wesley J. Smith, 12/14/05, National Review)
In reality, Kevorkian's notorious assisted-suicide campaign, which dominated the headlines throughout most of the 1990s, was driven by a ghoulish desire to conduct human vivisection, or "obitiatry," as he liked to call it. Yes, you read right. Kevorkian's primary motive in all that he did was to create the social conditions that would permit him to experiment on the people he was putting to death.

Kevorkian explained this yearning in his 1991 book Prescription Medicide: The Goodness of Planned Death, where on page 214 he admitted that assisting "suffering or doomed persons kill themselves" was "merely the first step, an early distasteful professional obligation." Instead of wanting to help the dying, Kevorkian candidly acknowledged, he was actually pursuing his own obsession. "What I find most satisfying," he wrote, "is the prospect of making possible the performance of invaluable experiments or other beneficial medical acts under conditions that this first unpleasant step can help establish — in a word obitiatry."

Why conduct invasive experiments on people being euthanized? On page 34, he expressed an intense desire to "study all parts of the intact, living brain." Why? On page 243, Kevorkian explained — and it was pure quackery:

If we are ever to penetrate the mystery of death — even superficially — it will have to be through obitiatry...Knowledge about the essence of human death will of necessity require insight into the nature of the unique awareness or consciousness that characterizes cognitive human life. That is possible only through obitiatric research on living human bodies, and most likely by concentrating on the central nervous pinpoint the exact onset of extinction of an unknown cognitive mechanism that energizes life.

Kevorkian's first targets in his quest to slice and dice people were not the ill, but the condemned. He spent years visiting prisons and corresponding with death-row inmates, seeking permission to conduct "obitiatric research" on those being executed.

Only after Kevorkian was thrown out of every prison he visited did he hit upon another angle. If condemned people were not going to be made available for "unfettered experimentation on human death," perhaps he could gain access to experiment on sick and disabled people. His front would be assisted suicide. But his goal would remain human vivisection.

Kevorkian appears to have pursued a three-step plan toward achieving his dream: First, popularize assisted suicide and make it seem acceptable; second, give society a utilitarian stake in assisted suicide by using the victims for organ procurement; and finally, gain permission to conduct his death experiments on the sick and disabled people he would be allowed to kill.

Kevorkian started by placing classified ads in newspapers offering "death counseling." To ensure that he would not be charged with murder, he jerry-rigged a suicide machine that required those whose suicides he was assisting to flip a switch to release deadly potassium chloride or other toxic chemicals into their veins. (When he lost his medical license and access to prescribed drugs, he turned to carbon monoxide as the killing agent.)

It is important to reiterate here that, contrary to the usual media descriptions, most of Kevorkian's victims were not terminally ill. Of the known 130 or so suicides that Kevorkian facilitated, about 70 percent of the people involved were disabled and depressed, the majority of them women. This is not surprising given Kevorkian's disdain for disabled people. He once called quadriplegics and paraplegics who were not suicidal "pathological," and exposed his sympathy for eugenics in a court document, asserting:

The voluntary self-elimination of individual mortally diseased and crippled lives taken collectively can only enhance the preservation of public health and welfare.

Ironically, it was Kevorkian's serial assisted suicides of disabled people (to general public applause) that roused the disability-rights community to become the nation's most effective opponent of legalizing assisted suicide and euthanasia.

Not only were most of Kevorkian's victims not dying, five weren't even sick. These included:

Marjorie Wantz, age 58, Ke